“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 →
The Magnificent Magyars of Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis et al, who bedazzled and bewildered the pride of England’s Three Lions back in 1953, may well have been the greatest team in the world for the best part of a decade. Had they won the World Cup on a rain-sodden Berne pitch in 1954, there would even be less room for debate. When they were odds on favourites to adorn their glory with the Jules Rimet Trophy though, they squandered a two-goal lead to a West Germany team wearing boots fitted with revolutionary screw-in studs that allowed them to better adapt to the conditions, and the ultimate prize slipped through Hungarian fingers. By the time the next World Cup came around, South America’s Brazil and Pelé, the starlet who would become one of the greatest players ever to grace a football field had claimed the mantle. Hungary’s time in the sun had passed, the bright flare of their football dampened down by the aging of their Golden Generation, and a rain soaked Swiss pith. Now their accomplishments sat in the shadow cast by the, ironically, sun-yellow-shirted Brazilians and their exile initiated by Soviet tanks in 1956 precluded any return to their greatness.
As fires burn out though, just before their energy is spent, there’s often a late, last flaming of life, perhaps not as powerful as when in its hot and burning intensity, but still warm enough to give off a pleasing glow. For the Hungarian national football team, that late glow, arising as the embers of glory from the magical team created by Gusztáv Sebes were dying away, came from a new cherry-shirted hero; one that may even not have looked out of place amongst the luminaries of the mid-fifties. Continue reading →
I’ve heard it said that non-football fans are – to paraphrase Bart Simpson – the MTV Generation, knowing neither highs nor lows. Anyone not hooked up with a femme fatale of a football club – someone upon which you pour your affections, only to be scorned and disheartened at so many turns – is incapable of understanding the all-too-brief but euphoric highs of success for the object of your adoration. Sometimes though, albeit so very rarely, those highs linger and join together to offer an enticing view of a world full of joy and bereft of despair and disappointment, a sunlit upland that will be yours for ever and ever; your club becomes dominant – the paragon, a beauty inarnate, the iconoclast that kicks down the rules of normal roller-coaster emotions. Into the mid-nineties, the Barcelona team of Johann Cruyff was such a team. 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 →
According to the Lonely Planet website, Istanbul is the place is “where continents collide.” Given that the Bosporus that divides the city forms the border between the continents of Europe and Asia, some may see the description as somewhat less than illuminating. Delve a little deeper into the intricacies of this polyglot city though, and particularly its football culture as will be seen later, and there’s more than a hint to suggest that the key word in the quote may well be “collide” rather than “continents.” Istanbul is a city of contrasts, some that combine in glorious splendour and others that compete with the reckless abandon of a passion unabated.
Founded some 3,000 years ago the colony of Byzantium grew to become the eastern capital of the Roman empire, named as Constantinople, for the emperor who took it as his own. Later it was conquered by the Ottomans who cemented its prominence as the heart of their own empire. The land on which the city stands has been fought over for many centuries, and in so many ways, that remains the case today. Continue reading →
When at the top of his game in the fifties, to many, Jimmy Scoular was the type of hard-bitten Scottish footballer hewed from the toughest of rock north of the border that provided the bedrock of any successful team. He was the sort of player that would consider the likes of more modern-day ‘hard men’ of the north such as Billy Bremner, Graeme Souness or, bringing it up to date perhaps, Scott Brown, as possibly less than fully deserving of the description.
Born in Livingston, ten days after Hogmanay in 1925, he went on to become an engineer working on submarines during the Second World war, before signing as a professional football at the end of hostilities. His work in constructing things that would go into battles in distant places would serve him well when he turned his hand to club management. Continue reading →
Why volcanic roots? Well, there are three reasons. The first is pretty obvious. We were on holiday in Lanzarote, and the island was born through volcanic action, so that’s one reason. Usually, the wife and I take our holidays in early June. Unless there’s a World Cup or European Championships, there’s no football to miss. This year was different however and we jetted out in September for two weeks of summer sun.
As I mentioned, usually when we’re away, there’s no football on, so nothing to miss. Of course, there’s always Sky TV’s big satellite footprint, so we weren’t bereft of news. Fortunately, there was also the prospect of taking in a local game and we discovered that Union Deportiva Lanzarote play in the fourth tier of La Liga. While we were there, they played at home against Union Viera from Gran Canaria. It’s a ‘Canaria derby.’ For a football blogger, it was just too good a chance to miss. Continue reading →
The mid-seventies were a particularly good period for German football. Not only did Die Mannschaft, take full toll of home advantage by lifting the 1974 World Cup, their clubs sides were also dominant. In 1974, Bayern Munich were Champions of Europe, and would retain the European Cup in the following two seasons. Borussia Mönchengladbach secured successive Uefa Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1976 and Hamburg took the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976.
German footballing success was not confined to the western half of the divided country though. Despite Franz Beckenbauer lifting the Fifa World Cup Trophy, on a politically tense June evening, their eastern brethren triumphed over the eventual champions in the final group game in Hamburg to top the group thanks to a late goal from Jürgen Sparwasser.
Although politically, the victory over West Germany was a high watermark for the east, in footballing terms, it was Sparwasser’s club, 1. FC Magdeburg, that flew the flag highest for the DDR in those few years of German footballing hegemony. A mere few weeks prior to that less-than-fraternal international triumph, they became the only East German club ever to lift a European trophy. The story of FC Magdeburg and their European triumph is a akin to that of the Trabant, totally built in East Germany and defying much logic and the expectation of many cynics to reach its destination. 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 →