On 6 September 1992, Channel Four launched its ‘Football Italia’ series relaying live Serie A games to a UK audience broadly unaware of the delights of the domestic Italian game. Experience of Italian football had been largely limited to teams competing against British clubs in European competition, but from that date, the gates to a broader appreciation of Calcio were thrown open. Any thoughts that viewers may have had that the experiment would wilt as defensively dominated football would be a turn-off were dispelled by the opening game as Sampdoria and Lazio featured in a hugely entertaining 3-3 draw.
Whoever chose that particular match-up to introduce Serie A to a potentially sceptical public had selected wisely. Lazio had just secured the services of Paul Gascoigne, although injury prevented him taking part in this game and ‘Samp’, as they were widely known, were one of the top clubs in the country. In fact, the previous season market the zenith of their powers and the end of a glorious four-year period for the Genoese club who had risen to prominence with a roster of legendary players, a coach who delivered outstanding performances from his players, and a shirt that became the byword for football hipster wear at the time. Continue reading →
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 →
“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 →
“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible!” – Ilario Castagner and the Perugia of Miracles.
The neat phrase coined by Einstein was surely never intended to refer to football. With apologies to the eminent physicist however, let us borrow it for a trice, as it chimes tunefully with the achievements of the small – ‘relatively’ speaking, that is – Umbrian club and their manager during the 1978-79 Serie A season.
The Grifoni, displaying the prowess of that legendary beast produced a feat never before achieved in the highest echelon of Italian football, and completed the season undefeated. With the head of a lion – king of the beasts – and the body of an eagle – king of the birds – there’s a majesty about a Gryphon and in this particular season, Perugia surely lived up to the reputation of their nickname. That they failed to secure the Scudetto, despite their invulnerability should not detract from the achievement; rather it should define it even sharper relief, shouting of it not only being laudable, but also magnificent in the truest sense of the word. Continue reading →
Almost by definition, the story of any fan-owned club is going to be one of faded memories best viewed through sepia lenses, with an added touch of financial misdemeanours thrown in, often by past itinerant owners who rejoiced more in the money they could make from the club, more concerned with 20 pieces of silver than silverware or relative success on the pitch. There’s hardly ever a ‘good’ reason for fans to feel committed to taking over a club. It’s an action driven by necessity and the undimmed devotion to an institution that has seared its way into the souls of the people who gather to watch its trials and tribulations out there on the green sward. The story of Czech football club Bohemians is no different, except perhaps that on top of mismanagement there’s an unhealthy dollop of confusion and a less than clear legal position just to add a little extra spice to the plot. Continue reading →
There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of ‘the only way to make a small fortune owning a football club is to begin with a large fortune.’ A club may be pottering along, very much as it has done for most of its existence, then someone takes control and starts investing money, the club grows in inverse relationship to the amount of money that the owner has – then comes the crunch.
The owner decides he’s spent enough and divests himself of the costs. The club plummets and ends up in a far worse state than before the money came along. For some clubs, it even leads to destruction as the bright, attractive, but ultimately destructive flare of its owner’s ambition burns out, leaving behind merely ashes, memories and regrets. Stories such as this, tinged with pathos, are common across the game, and fitting right into the model is the period covering the late eighties and early nineties for Belgian club KV Mechelen and IT business magnate John Cordier. The club lived the dream – the electric dream of its owner’s ambition – and then awoke with a hangover. Continue reading →
The last day of any season can be a bit of a nail-biter, especially when there’s everything still to play for. Back at the end of the 2002-03 Scottish Premier League season, with a single game to play, Celtic and Rangers were tied on 94 points. The clubs also had a tied goal difference of plus 68. It became a last day shoot-out as to who could win their last game by the largest margin and take the title. Celtic travelled to Kilmarnock and won 4-0. At the same time however, Rangers entertained Dunfermline and secured a 6-1 victory. It was a result that also brought the title back to Ibrox by the slimmest of margins. In the end, it had come down to an injury-time penalty, coolly slotted home by Mikel Arteta to give Rangers the round half-dozen, and stymy Celtic’s effort by a single goal.
Although the two Glasgow giants rattled in a total of ten goals between them, whilst conceding a single strike, there was precious little talk of any underhand skulduggery or anything less than scrupulously contested games. After all, despite the two defeated cubs finishing the league in fourth and fifth positions respectively, Kilmarnock trailed the top two by no less forty points, and the gap to Dunfermline was over fifty points. The results therefore were not that much out of kilter, especially with the Glasgow clubs having so much to play for, and the other two teams comparatively little. A few years later, another last day battle took place between two clubs tied on points and battling for big wins to sway goal difference advantage and gain promotion to the top echelon of their domestic league structure. If the ‘Old Firm’ battle offered no hint of controversy though, this one differed on that particular count. Continue reading →
Back in 1989, a woman was in residence at number ten – the house in Downing Street that is, not the slightly withdrawn striker position – and Channel Four introduced us to the idea of female managing a professional football club. In some ways, the programme was a sign of the times, in other ways, very much less so. Continue reading →
Now here’s a question for all you football trivia buffs out there. Which club holds the world record for the most consecutive games won? Chelsea achieved 13 last year in winning the Premier League title, but still fell one short of Arsenal’s Premier League record of 14, but neither were anywhere near the world record total. What about Real Madrid? No. Barca? No again. Not even Bayern Munch? No afraid not. As verified by the Guinness Book of Records, the record run of wins, totalling 24, dates from February to May in 2011, and belongs to a club that you may never have even heard of.
The answer to the conundrum is the Brazilian club Coritiba Foot Ball Club. To be fair however, even to fans of the Coxa – literally translated as ‘Thigh’ – that success probably pales in significance when compared to the 1985 season, when the club won their first and, so far only, Brazilian national title. They then carried the club’s colours in the Copa Libertadores da America the following year, becoming the first club from the state of Paraná to achieve such acclaim. As the oldest club in the state, founded in 1909, that statistic is probably appropriate, but it was a long journey for the club both from its founding to 1985 and then in the run to the title as well. 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 →