The latter half of the 1980s was a time of great turmoil for Middlesbrough Football Club. As the 1985-86 season was drawing to a conclusion, financial matters had become so stretched that a loan of £30,000 from the Professional Footballers’ Association was the only way that the club could cover the wages for April. Unsurprisingly, the denouement of that season saw relegation, and Middlesbrough were sent down to the third tier of English football. But worse was to follow.
During the summer, with no games, and reduced revenue, the club was forced to call in the liquidators. Shortly afterwards, with padlocks adorning the rusting gates of the tired and dilapidated Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough Football Club was officially wound up. The Thatcher years had seen a decimation of industry in the region, with traditional jobs sacrificed on the altar of monetarist dogma and intransigence. Many regions suffered. The north-east suffered more than most, and the fate of the Middlesbrough’s football club seemed to be a microcosm for the travails of the 174,000 or so habitants living on south bank of the Tees. Continue reading →
The mid-seventies were a particularly good period for German football. Not only did Die Mannschaft, take full toll of home advantage by lifting the 1974 World Cup, their clubs sides were also dominant. In 1974, Bayern Munich were Champions of Europe, and would retain the European Cup in the following two seasons. Borussia Mönchengladbach secured successive Uefa Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1976 and Hamburg took the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976.
German footballing success was not confined to the western half of the divided country though. Despite Franz Beckenbauer lifting the Fifa World Cup Trophy, on a politically tense June evening, their eastern brethren triumphed over the eventual champions in the final group game in Hamburg to top the group thanks to a late goal from Jürgen Sparwasser.
Although politically, the victory over West Germany was a high watermark for the east, in footballing terms, it was Sparwasser’s club, 1. FC Magdeburg, that flew the flag highest for the DDR in those few years of German footballing hegemony. A mere few weeks prior to that less-than-fraternal international triumph, they became the only East German club ever to lift a European trophy. The story of FC Magdeburg and their European triumph is a akin to that of the Trabant, totally built in East Germany and defying much logic and the expectation of many cynics to reach its destination. Continue reading →
There’s a thing about football clubs and communities. Whilst, especially in contemporary days, ownership may rest in the hands of some mega-rich businessman or faceless corporate enterprise, football clubs in reality belong to the community. That is simply the case, because without that community, the fan-base, it’s very difficult to sustain a club at all. You can’t just have a stadium standing around and decide to launch a football club to up its commercial value. Well, actually, you can sometimes. It’s pretty much what happened at Stamford Bridge in 1905 when Chelsea Football Club was launched. For every one that succeeds, many more fail. One such enterprise was Thames AFC. Continue reading →
“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to Sky Sports interviewer. It won 20th October 1996. His Newcastle United team, under the charismatic guidance of Kevin Keegan, had just delivered the sort of spanking to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United the like of which the irascible Scot’s team were far more used to handing out rather than enduring. Geordie joy was fulsome, and they feasted on it. Sad to say though, for that passionate band of fans, it wasn’t the herald of a new dawn, it was the last flaring from the embers of a dying dream. Continue reading →
Buckets of cold water, wet pitches and floodlights – How Wolverhampton Wanderers rescued English football and forged the European Cup in the Black Country.
On a chastening November day at Wembley in 1953, any outdated and misguided ideas about English preeminence in the football world were cruelly banished by the cherry-shirted Magical Magyars of Hungary. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hideguti and their compatriots comprising a team that would go almost a decade with just a single defeat recorded against them – albeit in the World Cup Final of 1954 – delivered the sort of sobering wake up call akin to being doused with bucketful of cold water after a long and particularly intoxicating night on the tiles. Continue reading →
For the French public, the Tour de France is a matter of national pride, and to deliver the home nation success in the three-week event is almost a guarantee of acclaim, regardless of other misdemeanours. In 1983, Bernard Tapie provided the finance and teamed up with disgruntled French hero Bernard Hinault to form the La Vie Claire cycling team named after Tapie’s chain of health stores. ‘The Badger’ had suffered an acrimonious split from Renault-Elf-Gitane team and in in him Tapie saw a man smarting for revenge who could deliver the prestige he so desired. This would be no ‘easy ride’ however, Tapie demonstrated the character to not only contain Hinalut’s fury, but also added the maverick American rider Greg LeMond. In 1985 the team won the Tour with Hinault, and reprised the result the year after with LeMond. Tapie’s finance had created the team, but his dynamism, will to win and ability to hone disparate parts into a cohesive unit had made it triumphant. To his nation, Tapie was a hero. Continue reading →
“Unthinkable surely for the skipper to miss.” It’s funny how things work out sometimes. The next words were, “But he has!” Jock Brown, commentating on the 1994 Scottish League Cup Final at Ibrox, uttered that particular harbinger of doom for Celtic’s captain Paul McStay in the penalty shootout that decided the game. McStay saw his shot saved by Raith’s goalkeeper Scott Thompson and the Kirkcaldy club, managed by Jimmy Nicholl had secured the unlikeliest of cup triumphs.
The unlikeliest? Well, of course it’s always a major coup for any club outside of Glasgow’s top two to land a trophy and for a second tier club to do so, only added to the lustre. But there was more to it than that. A series of coincidences, links and cross-cutting threads about the game and various subsequent events, marked the game out as a watershed moment for both clubs. Continue reading →
The monochrome format betrays the age of the film. A five year old girl is featured, centre screen. She looks at the camera.
A voice asks, “What does your daddy do?”
“Plays football,” she whispers, almost apologetically in reply.
“Who for?” she’s asked.
“Everton,” is the quiet reply
“Is he good?” The questioner goes on.
Yes,” she replies.
“What’s his name?” The gentle voice enquires.
The young girl smiles shyly. “Alex Young,” she says.
The sequence is the opening part of Ken Loach’s film entitled ‘The Golden Vision’. Released in 1968, it a tells of a group of Everton fans, their lifestyle and devotion to the club, spliced with film of Everton players, and a particular insight into Alex Young, the man whose nickname gave the film its title.
For many football fans, there’s a player who epitomises their club. There’ll be a consensus, unspoken but no less fervent for that, about him. He’s the player that you refer to in respectful tones. Not because he was the best player. It’s often the case that he may not have been; nor necessarily the top scorer or the inspirational skipper, but the player that did things as they should be done. He played the way you want all your players to play, and his attitude was the same. If you were a footballer, it’s how you’d be. For many Everton fans of a particular vintage, that player would be Alex Young. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →