Author Archive: Gary Thacker

David Beckham – Redemption and glory for Goldenballs.

History likes snapshots, images frozen in time that serve as an aide memoire for a much more significant event, a more comprehensive story. The 93rd minute of the 2002 World Cup qualifying game between England and Greece played at Old Trafford on 6 October 2001 with a white-shirted England player receiving the adulation of the crowd is such a snapshot.

Seconds earlier, the ball had ripped into the Greece net, stamping England’s passport to the Finals. David Beckham, once so widely denigrated for a petulant red card against Argentina became a national hero. Redemption, as ‘Goldenballs’ is born. The player himself acknowledged the significance. “The kick was about drawing a line under four years of abuse. Four years of bitterness. Four years of England fans — not all of them, but enough to make it hurt — shouting the most horrible things at me while I was playing for my country.” That snapshot though, for all its portrayal as seminal moment has almost come to hide the immense contribution throughout the game that Beckham committed to his country’s cause, almost camouflaging the definitive captain’s performance.  Continue reading →

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“I looked back over my left shoulder and saw it exactly: it was not a goal.”

Unarguably, it was the most controversial goal in the biggest game in the football calendar. The ball crashed against the crossbar, bounced down and spun back into play. But did it cross the line? Two officials bereft of a common tongue consulted as players of both teams watched on, hoping not necessarily for justice but, more importantly, to be favoured by the fickle caprices of fate. Nods, gesticulations, more nods and then a blown whistle and two synchronised pointing of fingers towards the centre circle. The goal was given, England led the 1966 World Cup Final 3-2 and would notch another with time almost up, not that the late strike would detract from the controversy of the 101st minute of the Wembley showpiece, even though it carried some of its own. Continue reading →

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao – Chinese football’s rising dragon.

There has always been a tendency for world stars, when in the salad days of their careers, to decamp from the vigorous requirements of top-level football in Europe or South America, and migrate to less stressful leagues where financial recompense more than makes up for any apparent loss of status. Journeys to play for clubs in the Middle East or even the USA weren’t unusual. As mentioned though, the players enticed by such riches tended to be those with a mere few years left of their playing days, and willing to trade them in for a few petro-dollars, or just straightforward dollars. Continue reading →

“You don’t want to walk in another man’s footsteps, you want to create your own.” Henrik Larsson – Celtic legend.

 In July 1977, the then Celtic manager, Wim Jansen pounced when Feyenoord fell into a contract dispute with their star striker. In four years with the Rotterdam-based club, he had notched 26 league goals in 101 games, but a move now seemed inevitable. Jansen convinced his board to part with £650,000 to complete the transfer, and the Hoops welcomed Henrik Larsson to Glasgow. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading →

Big gloves and bigger trophies – Sepp Maier, Bayern Munich and Die Mannschaft.

During the late sixties and early seventies West German football was the dominant force in the game. As well as Die Mannschaft lifting the World Cup in their homeland in 1970, Bayern Munich took three successive European Cups back to Bavaria between 1972 and 1974. A number of players featured for both Bayern and the national side, and whilst some may be more celebrated, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller spring to mind for example, few would have been more instantly recognisable than Josef-Dieter Maier, better known universally as Sepp Maier; owner of big gloves, long shorts and a goalkeeper’s cap full to the brim with medals. Continue reading →

Gareth and the Amazing Non-Technicolour Waistcoat – Any Dream Will Do!

 On 30 July 1966, England beat West Germany to win the Jules Rimet Trophy and be crowned Champions of the World. Alf Ramsey had delivered on the pledge he made when appointed to the position of manager of the national team three years before that tumultuous day. The names of the red-shirted heroes who graced the Wembley turf on that day are etched into the memories of all England football fans. All are lauded. All are loved and, as the intervening years and an increasing number of them succumbed to the inevitable battle against mortality, so many have been mourned. In 1966, fans of the game across the country were in love with the team that represented them, and bestowed such joy upon their followers. It was a deep love, and such things last for ever. Don’t they? Continue reading →

No Country for Old Men? – Colchester United 3 Leeds United 2.

There were mitigating circumstances to be sure. Leeds were missing their inspirational skipper Billy Bremner and the dancing feet of Eddie Gray; both injured, and Allan Clarke turned out despite medical advice to the contrary, carrying a feverish temperature. Leeds wanted the FA Cup though. The defeat to Chelsea in a physically bruising battle the previous May had been hard to take, and the fourth-round draw against lowly Colchester seemed like a ‘gimme’ passage. It wasn’t to be though and the team of veterans, wannabes and never-going-to-bes defied the odds and brought 16,000 fans crammed into Layer road to their feet in a tumultuous tie. Continue reading →

The money-fuelled rise of PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.

It’s probably an incontrovertible truism that, in modern football, money talks. Some may argue that rather than talk, money actually screams out in uncontrolled profanity, but whatever your viewpoint on that, there’s little doubt that within the modern game, success and money tend to go hand in hand.

In England, Roman Abramovich became the first mega-money arrival to shake up the Ancien Régime when, as David Dein put it, he “parked his Russian tanks on our lawn…firing £50 notes at us.” This was then advanced another notch or three when Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took control of Manchester City. In France the largesse of Qatar Sports Investments has endowed PSG with the money to dominate the domestic game merely as a prelude to chasing that elusive Champions League trophy. In Spain, the income of Real Madrid and Barcelona dwarfs all other clubs in the country and in Italy, via the EXOR organisation, the Agnelli family‎ fund Juventus, whilst Berlusconi fed the Rossoneri and after Massimo Moratti passed on the baton, Zhang Jindong’s Suning Commerce Group took over control of the Nerazzurri from Eric Tohir.

There are surely many more examples. It is not however only in Western Europe that money has bulldozed its way into the ‘beautiful game.’ Across the old Soviet-controlled east, big money is making its presence felt, and the Bulgarian club, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad, more popularly known as ‘Ludogorets’ is a good example. Razgrad is a town situated in the northeast Bulgaria, in the region known as Ludogrie, which refers to the wild forests around the area and is the home where Ludogrets were formed in 2001. Continue reading →

“Ein Kampf zwischen Brüdern” – When East met West at the 1974 World Cup.

Roughly translated from German, the phrase means ‘a struggle between brothers’ and has been used to describe the game that took place as part of the initial group stages of the World Cup, when West Germany played East Germany for the only time at international level during the 41-year period when the country was divided between the capitalist west and the communist east. Continue reading →

“And where we can’t reach with our legs, we’ll reach with our hearts.” The inspiring story of Alessandro Lucarelli.

Football produces many stories. Some are sad, some are uplifting, and just a few are writ through with an impossible tale of devotion and romance that would test the credibility of any Hollywood script writer bent on wringing a few tears from his audience. The difference of course is that in football there are no tall tales, no preordained scripts, with lines rehearsed and honed to perfection, emotions delivered with cold sterility. In football there is reality. Spontaneity and reality. Drama and reality. Romance and reality. Above all, though there is reality. It’s a reality that can at times be both cruel and mundane but, at others, truly inspiring and uplifting. Some stories, football realities, you simply could not make up. This may well be one of them. Continue reading →