Gianfranco Zola – “It was a love story between us and him, the fans and him.”

Of course, prices have gone through the roof in the intervening time and yes, he was 30 years-old when the deal went through but just 15 years ago, when Chelsea paid the princely sum of £4.5million to Serie A club Parma, and in return secured the services of Gianfranco Zola, it must count as one of the best pieces of business in the history of the West London club. Continue reading →

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Martín Palermo – A spot (or three) of bother and more than ‘one more’ miracle.

By almost any measure you choose to evaluate a player’s worth, Martin Palermo was an exceptional striker. The Argentine played in both Spain and Argentina netting 249 goals in 592 games across a career spanning almost 19 years. Slightly worse than a goal every other game, it’s a strike rate to be proud of for someone who, for most of his career, played at the highest level. Even in his international career for La Albiceleste, at a time when his opportunities were stymied by the presence of such luminaries as Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo, he delivered a highly-creditable nine goals in 15 appearances.

For all that success though, and even taking into account the occasion when he suffered a double fracture of his left leg after a wall collapsed on him whilst celebrating a winning goal for Villareal, the thing that most football aficionados will remember about Martin Palermo is when he had a spot – or perhaps more accurately three spots – of bother in a 1999 Copa América game against Colombia. There’s more to this story than that though. Continue reading →

The bride isn’t always the prettiest girl – How the World Cup taught us to adore those lovely losers.

At the World Cup, the teams that lift the biggest award the sport has to offer can go on to become the style setters for a generation. It happened after 1966 with England dispensing with genuine wingers. The Brazilians did it on a number of occasions, but especially perhaps in 1970, when they reinfused the game with an injection of Joga Bonito that made everyone want to play with such unfettered joy and in 2010, Spain raised the Roja banner for tiki-taka. For all the glory and acclaim that winners receive, and the flattering sincerity of imitation that so often follows however, love and affection doesn’t always go to the winners. In football’s four-yearly jamboree, whilst the bride is the star of the show, it’s often the bridesmaid that everyone falls for. It’s a World Cup legacy that taught us to cherish those who never make it to the alter. Continue reading →

Here come the Men in Black! – Match Officials and stepping into that river.

Once upon a time, there was a referee with a whistle, a watch and a notebook with a pencil, plus two linesmen, each with a flag, and that was about it. The man with the whistle, aided by his two ‘assistants’ – to give them their modern nom de guerre – was there to govern the game. Or, to quote from Law 5, “Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match.” For much of the life of the game of football, up to around fifty years or so ago, that’s the way it was, and that’s how everyone involved saw it. Continue reading →

Arsenal’s dark day in the Black Country in the greatest FA Cup shock of all time.

Let’s be honest, we all love a bit of giant-killing in the FA Cup, don’t we? That is, of course, so long as it isn’t our particular team on the wrong end of David’s slingshot. Over the years, there have been many famous – or should that be infamous – occasions when the ‘mighty’ have been cut down to size by a team who, on any other day, wouldn’t be on the same pitch as their more illustrious opponents. Who can forget Ronnie Radford’s goal for Hereford United against Newcastle, the outside left wheeling away in celebration, both arms aloft. What about Bobby Crawford rolling back the years to down Don Revie’s Leeds United for Colchester. Even last year, the then non-league side Lincoln City visited Premier League Burnley and came away with a famous victory. All these, plus many more you can probably conjure up from memory, are worthy of a place in the pantheon of momentus cup upsets, but arguably, the greatest ‘turn up for the books’ happened way back in 1933, on a cold January afternoon in the industrial heart of the Black Country in what is now the West Midlands. Continue reading →

Doble Ancho – The tale of a unique Oriundo

Quiz time! How many players can you name that have played in consecutive World Cup Finals. Ten? Come on now. Twenty? Now you’re trying. Any more? In fairness, to play in successive World Cup Finals is not as unusual as you may think. In international football, teams have tended to dominate for a period of a few years and, in such times, many of their established stars will have seen their time in the team straddle two of the four-yearly tournaments, with the best hitting repeated Finals. The Italians did in 1934 and 1938 for example, Brazil in 1958 and 1962 – plus in 1998 and 2002, the Dutch in 1974 and 1978, Argentina in 1986 and 1990, before the Germans went one better and contested three successive finals between 1982 and 1990.

With so many occasions of countries playing in consecutive finals, it’s really not that difficult to think of players who would have also done so. Membership of that particular club may will be limited, but it’s hardly exclusive. If we tweak the question a little though and enquire instead about players who have played in consecutive finals, but for two different counties, we’re in a totally different range of numbers. We’re talking one. Continue reading →

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 →

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 →