The 1974 World Cup and the missing piece in Holland’s almost ‘totaalvoetbal.’

hulshoff

The Olympiastdion in Munich on 7th July 1974. On a seasonably warm Bavarian afternoon, the coronation of Holland’s ‘Oranje’ was expected. Rinus Michel’s team had scorched the the pitches of West Germany with the vivid bright flame of their football. The ‘Cruyff turn’ had been born when Sweden’s Olssen, bamboozled by the Dutchman’s manoeuvre not only had to buy a ticket to get back into the stadium, he also needed a taxi to get back there, so far had he been sent the wrong way. A Brazil squad, shorn of Pele for the first time in a generation had eschewed their ‘jogo bonita’ for a style some called pragmatic, others called brutal. In a beauty and the beast contest however, the Dutch had eliminated the reigning champions. Whilst the Dutch masters created flowing football with the panache of an artist, the Brazilians were cutlass-wielding barbarians in comparison. Wherever they were when they saw the performance, the souls of the ‘Pearl,’ Gerson and Tostao would surely have been uneasy. Continue reading →

The Khrushchev of Burnley.

 bob-lord

Arthur Hopcroft described the late Bob Lord, chairman of Burnley Football club, using this phrase in his book ‘The Football Man’. Sad to say however that in researching this article, I’ve failed to find any reference to Bob Lord removing his shoe and banging it on a table, as Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev once did at the UN, but if I had, it would hardly have been a surprise.

Those of a certain vintage will remember the days when many football clubs were the fiefdoms of the local mercantile made good; when, a collection of butchers, bakers and perhaps even the odd candlestick maker sat in the chairs now occupied by accountants answerable to the interests of American groups, Russian oligarchs or middle-eastern magnates. These autocrats were the movers and shakers in football. Picture Ken Bates during his time at Chelsea, multiply it by a factor of ten or so, and you just get around the fringes of understanding the way it was when such dinosaurs ruled the football world – and the T Rex of such times was surely Burnley’s Bob Lord. Continue reading →

The Elephant who never forgot.

drogba

The private lives of footballers are often the stuff of Sunday scandal sheets. On-field saints become off-field sinners, indulging in nefarious liaisons and the sorts of spending habits that reflect the old maxim of youth having more money than sense. Such are the impressions so often presented to the public by the behaviour of many Premier League players. There are, of course, some that defy such stereotyping, have a normal family life and somehow enjoy their wealth and good fortune without courting the notoriety apparently so thoughtlessly sought by many others.

It is unusual to hear of such things though, as ‘man goes home and does good things’ is hardly going to fill the voracious appetites of the less salubrious pack of news hounds – and perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, living life below the tabloid radar, and avoiding the harsh, negative glare of the public spotlight should hardly be a cause for celebration. After all, it’s what most of the population do all of the time, but just with a lot less resources. Sometimes however, there’s a story that should be told for the right reasons. Sometimes a footballer becomes more of a person; more of a human being. He becomes a player in a conflict far more important than any played out on a football field. Sometimes he can use his fame for enormous good. Sometimes you simply have to give credit where credit’s due. Continue reading →

The intertwined tale of Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri.

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Chelsea Football Club was formed in 1905 and fifty years later, they became Champions of England for the first time. The following year I was born, hence missing out by twelve months on the best year of the club’s existence up to that point. The next time they topped the domestic tree would be in 2005. Chelsea titles were just like London buses, regular as clockwork – one arrived every fifty years. Two years before the second title however, something happened at the club that would redefine perceptions of ‘success’ lifting the club to heights the like of which case-hardened fans such as me could hardly comprehend. Continue reading →

From World Cup glory to tabloid story. Lothar Matthaus: The man who fell to earth.

Lothar Matthaus of Germany

Back in January 2015, Lothar Matthäus, hero of the Italia ’90 World Cup victory, was embroiled in a bout of verbal sparring with Arsenal striker and compatriot Lukas Podolski. Speaking on German television, Matthaus remarked that “Lukas has his qualities; now he must prove them by bringing them back to the pitch. In the past we heard how he tweets more than he plays. He needs to concentrate on football.” The comments came during speculation regarding a potential move for Podolski to Inter Milan. It was advice that Podolski did not take too kindly to however. Apparently not content to leave it there however, Matthäus also took a swing at his former club, saying, “Inter is no longer the team of the past. Italy lost charm. Too many scandals, little modern infrastructure. In the 90s Inter and AC Milan have written the history of football, had players like Gullit, Van Basten, Hansi Müller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Today the top players play in Spain, Germany and England, not in Italy.” The Nerazzuri tifosi must have loved that one. ‘A fanabla, Lothar!’ Continue reading →

The club that led Britain into the European Cup.

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Although the European Cup is the the preeminent competition for club football, and participation in it is regarded akin to  a ‘coming out party’ as a top club for any who secures it, British clubs’ relationship with European competition was not always anything like fully committed. Continue reading →

“I, Big Phil, will go down in history as the Brazil coach who lost to Honduras. It’s horrible.”

Scolari

So said, Luiz Felipe Scolari, as he contemplated how a defeat, so unexpected, so demoralising, so contrary to the established order of things, would surely blight his career and reputation for evermore.

Pitted against the Hondurans in the quarter-final of the Copa America of 2001, Brazil would already have been planning their semi-final strategy ahead of the game. After all, Brazil were, in most people’s eyes, the stand-out squad at the tournament. In contrast, Honduras had only been invited to join the other teams in Colombia at the last minute – in fact the last seconds of the last minute – following Argentina’s late withdrawal. Consequently, they had precious little preparation time and their squad was shorn of a number of key players still engaged in domestic matters. Last minute guests to the party, they were under-prepared, under-manned and – as it turned out to Brazil’s cost – underestimated. Just how late the Hondurans’ invite to the party popped through their letterbox can be illustrated by a brief resume of the events prior to the tournament. Continue reading →

“Pertido deal Siglo” – Blue thunder and white lightning under a hot Mexican sun.

Italy v West Germany 1970

There’s a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and the experience; of seeing many things; by observing quietly and absorbing; by understanding. Sitting in the suburb of Santa Úrsula in Mexico City, the Estadio Azteca is not only an imposing architectural edifice, it can also boast a rich history of hosting some of the most celebrated matches in the history of international football. Being the first venue to host two World Cup Finals, it’s fair to say that the old stadium has witnessed a fair bit of the ‘beautiful game’ with some of the rarest of talents ever to grace the international arena treading its turf. When the Azteca speaks of greatness therefore, it’s done with the authority of age and experience. It’s beholding on us all to listen. Continue reading →

“Once upon a time in Argentina.” The story of Ally MacLeod and his Tartan Army.

Ally MacLeod

In his book ‘A matter of Life and Death: A History of Football in 100 Quotations’ The Telegraph’s columnist Jim White quotes former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod as saying, “You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world.” As was later to be harshly proven, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The tale of Scotland’s venture to South America for the World Cup Finals has gone down in infamy, and if the epithet of ‘pantomime’ that many have sought to label the Tartan Army’s travails in Argentina with is appropriate, many would also be keen to cast MacLeod in the role of the piece’s villain.

Is that too harsh a judgement though? Yes, there was massive hype, and yes, there was even bigger disappointment as the whole edifice came crumbling down, but is it right that the blame for the whole sorry episode should be laid at MacLeod’s door? Was he some buffoon-like character, full of bluster and blunder, or merely an innocent abroad, a patriot wrapped up in the hopes of a nation when Scottish football was at a high-water mark, promoted ahead of his ability, for who the fates turned their faces against at the moment of truth? Continue reading →

Eintracht Frankfurt – The story of the ‘other team’ in the greatest game ever played.

 

Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3

It’s probably the most famous club game in the history of football. The 1960 European Cup Final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. You know the one. It was the game when the might of Real Madrid secured their fifth successive title as Champions of Europe under new manager Miguel Munoz. The former Bernabeu midfielder had joined the club on 13th April 1960, just over a month ahead of the final. He would be at the helm of Los Blancos for almost 14 years, winning nine La Liga titles, twice triumphing in the Copa del Rey and landing two European Cups, as well as one Intercontinental Cup. It was the game when legendary striker Alfredo Di Stefano struck a hat-trick, but was outgunned by the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas who netted four times. It was the game when legends were born. It was the game when a crowd of some 127,621 officially attended the game, but for years afterwards, many more would have claimed to have done so. Everyone wanted to say that they were there at the game where Real Madrid received their coronation as the best club side on the planet.

Continue reading →