1966 and all that!

After taking the job as manager of the national team in 1963, using calm, measured terms, and with an understated confidence bereft of any braggart posturing, Alf Ramsey publicly declared that England would win the World Cup in 1966. Not that they might, or that they could, or even that they should; but very definitely that they would. Those practised, clipped tones were simply stating facts. England will win the World Cup in 1966. And they did! Of course, with hindsight it doesn’t sound so much ‘out there’ but back in 1963, to use the modern vernacular it took some bottle. Ramsey had one key factor on his side though, he knew that by adding his ideas and a few new faces to the players bequeathed him by Walter Winterbottom he could turn England into the best team in the world and one of the greatest in World Cup history. Continue reading →

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Penalties and slaying the monsters of the Id.

According to Freud’s model of the human psyche there are three elements which, when combined, comprise our mental state. The Id is the instinctive drives that are ours from birth. The Superego is the part that acts as our moral brake, a self-critical conscience formed from the norms of society and the Ego is the mediating element that balances the desires of the Id and the mores of the Superego. OK, that’s all the psychoanalysis precepts sorted now. So, what has any of this to do with putting a football into the net from twelve yards? Well, it may be that an understanding of this may explain how England managed to overcome their recalcitrance with penalty shootouts. Continue reading →

The ‘Little Witch’ and his spell among the Red Devils – Juan Sebastian Verón at Old Trafford.

It’s questionable whether there are many transfers involving expensive foreign imports to the English game that have evoked so much varied opinion as when Juan Sebastian Verón joined Manchester United from Lazio in July 2001. The deal was reported as being worth a then British record transfer fee, of around £28million. Continue reading →

From struggling reserve to record breaking goalscorer – The incredible story of Joe Payne.

Going back a few years or so, outlandish results and scoring feats were not that unusual, especially during the Boxing Day fixtures when any number of players may have been turning out in less than top notch condition. That to one side though, the feat of Robert ‘Bunny’ Bell still merits mention. On 26th December 1936, Oldham Athletic visited Bell’s Tranmere Rovers side and went back home with a 13-4 defeat and tails between their legs. Bell had netted nine of his team’s ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of goals, and should have added a tenth, but missed a penalty. Nine was pretty good though and constituted a Football League record for the most strikes in a single game. That missed penalty hardly seemed to matter, the game had been won, and it would surely be a long time before anyone would anyone would challenge Bell’s scoring record. Well, actually, not so much. Continue reading →

Jan Tomaszewski – The ‘Clown’ who had the last laugh.

England had won the World Cup in 1966, and offered up a more than reasonable defence of the trophy four years later, before heat, fatigue and an absent Gordon Banks did for them in Mexico. In 1974, the tournament would be back in Europe, in West Germany. Conditions would be much more akin to the climate in Britain, and England would have a chance to reassert themselves.

There was, of course, the somewhat irritating matter of a qualifying process to negotiate first, but in a group alongside Wales and Poland, to many fans it didn’t look like a problem. As it panned out, thanks to a ‘Curate’s Egg’ of a series of group matches, the final fixture would decide all. Poland were to visit Wembley on 17 October 1973. Should Sir Alf Ramsey’s charges prevail, the tickets to Germany would be booked, if the Poles could win or draw however, it would be sufficient for them to go through and England would fail to qualify for a World Cup Finals for the first time since they entered the fray in 1950. Continue reading →

Un-be-liev-able!

There are many reasons why certain goals are memorable. They can come in big matches, be part of an ongoing rivalry between the goalscorer and the team he nets against. Perhaps it’s the type of goal where the player runs the length of the pitch before rounding then goalkeeper and scoring, something especially difficult in an away game against a massive club in one of the biggest tournaments. Or, perhaps it’s the sort of goal that rewards a team for outstanding fortitude against the odds, when all seemed lost. Some goals have a few of these elements, but very few have them all, and this is the tale of one that does just that; a goal that Gary Neville described as “Un-bel-eive-able!” Continue reading →

Bohemian non-rhapsody – Three clubs, one name and the fans who saved the day.

Almost by definition, the story of any fan-owned club is going to be one of faded memories best viewed through sepia lenses, with an added touch of financial misdemeanours thrown in, often by past itinerant owners who rejoiced more in the money they could make from the club, more concerned with 20 pieces of silver than silverware or relative success on the pitch. There’s hardly ever a ‘good’ reason for fans to feel committed to taking over a club. It’s an action driven by necessity and the undimmed devotion to an institution that has seared its way into the souls of the people who gather to watch its trials and tribulations out there on the green sward. The story of Czech football club Bohemians is no different, except perhaps that on top of mismanagement there’s an unhealthy dollop of confusion and a less than clear legal position just to add a little extra spice to the plot. Continue reading →

Conduct Unbecoming – The 1967 Intercontinental Cup games between Celtic and Racing Club.

Any clash of cultures can be prey to disorder and dispute as two different, and sometimes diametrically opposing, views of the way things are conducted bump up against each other, with truculence and violence often the outcome. This can also be the case in sporting encounters when teams that are used to different ‘norms’ are placed on opposing sides of the same field. Whilst nowadays, the Intercontinental Cup, often now termed as the FIFA World Club Championship, is a structured, disciplined and well organised tournament, the early years of its existence were much less so, and the confrontations between Glasgow Celtic and Racing Club of Buenos Aries is very much a case in point. Continue reading →

Magyar Renaissance – The cherry red flame of Flórián Albert.

The Magnificent Magyars of Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis et al, who bedazzled and bewildered the pride of England’s Three Lions back in 1953, may well have been the greatest team in the world for the best part of a decade. Had they won the World Cup on a rain-sodden Berne pitch in 1954, there would even be less room for debate. When they were odds on favourites to adorn their glory with the Jules Rimet Trophy though, they squandered a two-goal lead to a West Germany team wearing boots fitted with revolutionary screw-in studs that allowed them to better adapt to the conditions, and the ultimate prize slipped through Hungarian fingers. By the time the next World Cup came around, South America’s Brazil and Pelé, the starlet who would become one of the greatest players ever to grace a football field had claimed the mantle. Hungary’s time in the sun had passed, the bright flare of their football dampened down by the aging of their Golden Generation, and a rain soaked Swiss pith. Now their accomplishments sat in the shadow cast by the, ironically, sun-yellow-shirted Brazilians and their exile initiated by Soviet tanks in 1956 precluded any return to their greatness.

As fires burn out though, just before their energy is spent, there’s often a late, last flaming of life, perhaps not as powerful as when in its hot and burning intensity, but still warm enough to give off a pleasing glow. For the Hungarian national football team, that late glow, arising as the embers of glory from the magical team created by Gusztáv Sebes were dying away, came from a new cherry-shirted hero; one that may even not have looked out of place amongst the luminaries of the mid-fifties. Continue reading →

The first Luis Suárez

Long before the Uruguayan version landed at the Camp Nou following his truncated and less than totally harmonious departure from Liverpool, a different Luis Suárez was wowing the Catalans in the famous Blaugrana colours of Barcelona. Rather than being part of a trident for the club, this Luis Suárez, became an integral part of a quartet, achieved hero status in Catalunya and then nationally, before being recognised as Spain’s first and, so far, only Ballon d’Or winner. He then took Serie A by storm and became a legendary figure for the Nerazzuri in Lombardy. His namesake, currently strutting his stuff alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona front line has a bit of work to do if he is to become recognised as the best Luis Suárez of all time. Continue reading →