“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 →
“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to a Sky Sports interviewer. It was 20th October 1996, and 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 →
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 →