I’d be eleven at time, although only just and, as was our wont, every other Saturday, I was at Fellows Park with my dad, watching Walsall play. It was 11th November 1967, and the Saddlers were entertaining a Bury side that had been relegated from Division Two the previous season and on their way to rebound straight back at the first time of asking.
As a callow youth at the time, I knew little of the players from Gigg Lane, but my Dad did, well, one of them in particular, anyway. He was a short, stocky midfielder, who Dad said had been a really good player a few years previously. I didn’t take much notice at the time, as the name meant little to me. As the game went on though, it quickly became clear that the player Dad had pointed out was very much running the game. Well, perhaps running is the wrong word, as he often broke into a trot, but rarely a run, with legs that had seen many a battering over the years. He held the game in the palm of his hand though. 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 →
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 →
Back in March 2012, Stiliyan Petrov made a call to his agents. In these days of commercial opportunities it was the sort of thing professional footballers do all the time. This time however the content was very different. When Base Soccer Agency took the call from their client, it was to receive a plain truth. Petrov simply said: “I have got leukaemia.” It was the very phlegmatic way in which the popular Bulgarian captain of Aston Villa decided he had to deal with the illness.
Following a game against Arsenal a few days before, Petrov had complained of feeling feverish. Fearing a virus was to blame, the club swiftly took blood tests, and then a bone marrow scan, which led to the startling diagnosis. For anyone, in any walk of life, the dread ‘C’ word delivers a harsh realisation. For someone like Petrov, living out the dream of millions with a comfortable lifestyle and financial security, it would have been easy to lash out at the perceived injustice. Petrov was not like that however. This time, cancer had picked on the wrong man. Continue reading →