When Scotland were Champions of the World!

It used to be easy. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was the man who beat the man, who beat the man, who beat the man, etc, etc.. Simple. Of late though, with multifarious governing bodies each nominating their own champion, it all became a lot more complicated. If we take things back to more sedate times though, 1967 to be precise, and lean on that old boxing maxim a little, there’s a way to rationalise how Scotland could have laid claim to the world crown. Continue reading →

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Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4 – All thud and blunder in a very British Champions League encounter.

Although hardly a formality, it seemed that the home team held all of the trump cards. Chelsea had travelled to Anfield two weeks earlier and returned with a 1-3 triumph. Despite falling to an early goal from Fernando Torres, Guus Hiddink’s team had played their way back into the game with cool assurance amongst the raucous Merseyside atmosphere and with a brace of headed goals from Branislav Ivanovic plus a strike from Dider Drogba, had ended the game as worthy winners. It gave the Blues an excellent chance to reach the last four of the Champions League for the second time in consecutive seasons.

Twelve months previously, they had met Liverpool in the semi-finals of the competition when, after a 1-1 draw at Anfield, Chelsea had triumphed 3-2 after extra-time in as closely contested home leg to take their place in the final, where they would ultimately lose out to Manchester United on penalties. This time however, with three away goals safely pocketed from the win on Merseyside, Chelsea would have been expecting progress along a much less rocky road. In a game that throbbed and pulsated with tension and a repeated switchback of advantage and emotions though, that would hardly be the case.

In the previous five years, Liverpool and Chelsea had faced each other two dozen times, with seldom much to choose between them, especially in the days when Continue reading →

The sad tale of Marco Branca, Boro’s all-too-brief striking hero and the legal battles that followed.

In 1998-9 season, Middlesbrough were a second-tier club. Relegation had cost them the services of such international luminaries as Ravenelli and Juninho, but the efforts of manager Bryan Robson, aided and abetted by the financial backing of Steve Gibson, would mean their absence from the Premier League was only brief. The season saw the arrival of the likes of Paul Gascoigne from Rangers, and Paul Merson moved to the North-East from North London. Also, among the arrivals, was an Italian striker whose early games with the club promised so much, before the relationship fell into discord and recrimination. Continue reading →

When an ex-Blackpool goalkeeper got the better of Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Rodney Marsh – Vancouver Whitecaps and the 1979 NASL.

In the nascent years of football trying to force its way into the North American sporting consciousness with the North American Soccer League, there was a perceived need to bring in ‘big’ names from Europe or South America to give the game a fighting chance of gaining a foothold in an environment dominated by Basketball, Baseball and Grid Iron. Whether the plan worked or not is probably open to debate. The NASL folded in 1984, but perhaps the lid on the ketchup bottle had been loosened sufficiently for the later iteration, the MLS, to secure a more solid platform.

The NASL ran its race from 1968 to 1984 and star players, particularly those reaching the salad days of their careers were drawn into the league by the money being offered by a clutch of nouveau riche clubs, some backed by global organisations. Warner Brothers, for example, bankrolled the New York Cosmos, attracting the likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Georgio Chanaglia amongst many others. Whilst the Cosmos were the richest club and built to dominate, others secured star names as well. Los Angeles Aztecs, part owned at the time by Elton John, secured the services of Johann Cruyff and George Best. The Washington Diplomats club was backed by the Madison Square Garden Corporation and as well as signing Johann Cruyff from the Aztecs, they brought in Wim Jansen, Cruyff’s team-mate from the 1974 World Cup Final.

Sometimes though, as Leicester City proved so wonderfully in 2016, big bucks and big names don’t always get the job done and in 1979, the eccentrically named ‘Soccer Bowl’ was won by a club some 20 miles north of the border between the USA and Canada, as a team managed by a former Blackpool goalkeeper and featuring no less than nine aged players from Britain, with varying degrees of celebrity, became the NASL top dogs. It was the year that the NASL doffed its cap to Vancouver. Continue reading →

Ivor Broadis – Football’s youngest ever Player/Manager who sold himself to save his club.

Ivan Broadis was born in London in December 1922. It meant that, by the time the Second World War broke out, he would be enlisted in the armed forces, joining the RAF. During wartime, he flew in Wellingtons and Lancasters, and as a talented young footballer, guested for Tottenham Hotspur in the Friendlies that we played at the time. It was during this period that someone mispelt his name, and although born as Ivan, he became widely known as Ivor Broadis, and it was in this guise that, after the war, he became a professional footballer. Continue reading →

The greatest goalscorer in the history of football.

In the pantheon of the greatest Portuguese goal scorers to have graced football over the years, one man stands head and shoulders above all others. Whilst some would say this must surely be Cristiano Ronaldo, others, with longer memories, may advocate the case for accolade going to Eusebio, Mário Coluna, José Augusto Torres or reaching further back, perhaps to José Águas. But, no. None of these celebrated luminaries have records that can come remotely close to the man who is not only the greatest scorer in the history of Portuguese football, but also has a reputable claim to be most prolific striker in world football across national championships in the history of the game, with 309 goals scored in 189 games.

Take a look at that stat again. No, that’s not the wrong way around. That’s right. No less than 309 goals in less than 200 games. This averages out at a scarcely believable, but entirely verifiable, rate of 1.63 goals per game. In comparison, Eusebio’s strike rate is marginally above a goal per game, whilst Ronaldo averages a comparatively insipid 0.75 per game. Portugal’s – and indeed, statistically, the world’s – greatest goal scorer of all time is, surely unarguably, Fernando Peyroteo. Continue reading →

British football’s first European success and the ‘Glory, Glory’ nights of Tottenham’s 1963 Cup Winners Cup triumph.

After securing the domestic ‘Double’ in 1961, Tottenham Hotspur went into the following season’s European Cup competition with an ambition born of conviction. They would, however, come up short against Benfica in the semi-final. Furthermore, the exertions in Europe may also have compromised their domestic league campaign, and Bill Nicholson’s team ended up in third place. They did however retain the FA Cup, with a 3-1 victory over Burnley. The title went to Ipswich Town, under the guidance of Alf Ramsey. The Suffolk team would fall against AC Milan in the First Round of the European Cup, after romping through the preliminaries against a Maltese side. For Spurs however, it was the Cup Winners Cup, and although the poor relation of European club competitions, lifting the trophy would still give the North London club the not inconsiderable distinction of being the first British club to triumph in such company. Continue reading →

John Neal – The unsung and often forgotten manager who saved Chelsea Football Club.

In the years well before the whizz-bang super-duper transfer days that followed the arrival of Roman Abramovich to Stamford Bridge, the West London club was one of fairly modest ambition – staying in English football’s top flight was probably the main one. It was also one that was sometimes missed and an occasional cup run was the closest thing to glory.  Such times did not require the services of celebrated foreign coaches who could weld an oft unruly bunch of superstars and supposed-stars into a team capable of bringing silverware to the club. In the 1980s, with the club languishing in Division Two again, the requirement was for a manager who knew the domestic game, could spot talent available at a reasonable price and knew how to develop and deliver a successful team. Continue reading →

How a Scot and a dog with a Welsh name saved a Devon club from relegation.

Many pub landlords have stories to tell. They’ve heard thousands and retold them all in any number of different ways. Some are barely believable, some are unbelievable, others should not in any circumstances whatsoever be believed. But, back in 2009, the landlord of ‘The Exeter Inn’ in West Street, Ashburton in rural Devon recalled a tale that may fit in either of those three categories. It was about the day that an unfortunate coming together between himself and a dog with a Welsh name, saved a club from relegation. Continue reading →

Jock Stein at Dunfermline and the launch of a legend.

The name of Jock Stein is lauded – and rightly so – throughout British football as one of the greatest managers of all time. Whilst manager of Celtic, he would accumulate ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. He would also lead the club to unheralded glory when they lifted the European Cup in 1967, becoming the first British club to ascend to such honour.

Many years before that momentous Lisbon evening however, Jock Stein, coach to Celtic’s reserves after injury ended his playing career, would be told that he would never be promoted to the manager’s chair due to his Protestant beliefs. It was this barrier that caused him to leave the club in 1960, in pursuit of a managerial CV that would compel the cub to rethink. Five years later, he achieved that goal and returned to Celtic Park as manger to lead the club to glory. In between those times though, he would cut his teeth as manager and begin the legend of Jock Stein the manager that wold lead to European glory, at lowly Dunfermline Athletic.  Continue reading →