“Alf Ramsey was great – he even paid my fine!” – Alan Mullery the first England player to be sent off.
The 1968 European Championships looked very different to its modern-day equivalent. Back then, rather than the bloated jamboree involving more than 20 countries, it was very much a mini-tournament. After a protracted qualifying competition, running across a couple of years with groups and then pay-offs, a mere four teams were invited to contest two semi-finals and a final in the host country.
This particular version of the event involved Italy, who despite being hosts, still had needed to earn their place via the qualification process, England, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. As reigning world champions, England were favoured to do well, but at the conclusion of the event, would merely end up taking the consolation prize of third place. In relation to England however, the tournament would be remembered for a different reason, containing as it did, the first game wherein a player representing the country was sent off. That particularly unwanted distinction fell to Spurs midfielder Alan Mullery. Continue reading →
Millions upon millions of words have been spoken and written about the career of Paul Gascoigne; the glory and the gormless, the poetry and the prose, the joys and the tears. If one aspect of the career of Duston’s finest ever sportsman epitomises his footballing life however, it is surely the time he spent wearing his country’s national shirt. It was that most rare of occasions, when a young English footballer burst onto the world stage offering up the promise of a talent so extraordinary that it created a dream of glory, but then crashed and burnt in flames that consumed hopes and talent without mercy. There’s a phrase that’s often referred to when talk of Gascoigne and his time with England arises, so I’m going to borrow it from Gary Lineker. Let’s “have a word” about Paul Gascoigne’s time playing for England. Continue reading →
No mother likes to see their son move away, and those that choose to stay at home, looking after their nearest and dearest are very much the favoured offspring; the ones most cherished. For Roberto Bettega therefore, child of Piedmont, born in Turin just after Christmas in 1950, there will always be a special place in the heart of Turin’s La Vecchia Signora.
The young Bettega was not yet a teenager when he first fell into the Old Lady’s embrace, joining the Juventus Primavera squad in 1961. Despite brief journeys away, he would remain faithful to the club, always giving of his best across a half century of years of dutiful service as player and then administrator. If any player of the recent era had white and black blood in his veins, it was Roberto Bettega. Continue reading →
On the first day of September 2017, as the autumnal chills were beginning to wrap their cold fingers around football fans watching their teams progress – or otherwise – through the qualifying programme, chasing a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Michael O’Neill took his Northern Ireland team to the Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle in San Marino. They returned with a comfortable 0-3 victory. On the face of it, the result was probably one of the easiest to predict of the evening’s international fixtures across the globe.
San Marino are, after all, one of the weakest of the Fifa family members, being placed at 204 in the August 2017 rankings with only the British Virgin Islands, of the teams with any ranking at all, beneath them. Until Gibraltar were admitted into Uefa in 2013, they were also European football’s smallest competing country, as defined by population numbers. All that said though, there’s just the slightest of chances that perhaps the result may have been different had the home team been able to call on the services of their most capped player and top scorer. Unfortunately, the man in question was injured and unavailable. When you’re the only player in the history of your country’s footballing exploits to ever have scored a winning goal whilst wearing the national colours, you’re going to carry a little prestige with you, even if you are at the ripe old age of 41. Continue reading →
Jose Mourinho appears to have won his battle of wills with Spain’s national team manager Vicente del Bosque over the fitness of Chelsea striker Diego Costa. The Rojas squad, announced last week for the European qualifier against Belarus and the prestigious friendly against World Champions Germany, noticeably excluded Brazilian-born Costa, and doubtless brought a smile to the Blues’ manager’s face. A long term hamstring problem, dating back to the tail end of last term’s La Liga season was hardly helped on the way to recovery by Spain’s albeit truncated participation in the World Cup. Add that to the physical rigours of the Premier League and Mourinho’s argument that a fortnight’s rest for the player, rather than playing a further two games, will be more beneficial for both club and country in bringing Costa to peak fitness, seems to gain a little credence. “I’m pleased about Diego [Costa], but I did nothing to make this happen,” Mourinho said at a press conference before the weekend. The decision however did not extend to Mourinho resting the striker against Liverpool, and when he netted the winner, it seemed that the Chelsea boss had won from every angle. Continue reading →
In the history of international football, there have been more than a few infamous games that have degenerated into some kind of warfare. The ‘Battle of Santiago when English referee Ken Aston vainly strived to officiate a running street brawl between Chile and Italy in the 1962 World Cup comes to mind. Others may cite the ‘Battle of Bern‘ in 1954. This game saw Brazilians and Hungarians carry their feud into the tunnel and reportedly even the dressing rooms. Then of course there was the World Cup qualifying games between Honduras and El Salvador that proved to be the trigger that fired up the simmering tensions between the two countries into the ‘100 hours war’ of 1969. It’s unlikely that Gibraltar’s entry into the world of competitive international football, as they face Poland, will lead to armed conflict, but the colony’s relation with Spain have hardly been improved.
Continue reading… http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/blog/football-blog-gibraltar-rocks-up-to-international-football/
A few years ago, I produced regular articles on La Liga for a website concentrating on Spanish football. I wrote this piece during a short break in Barcelona.
It just so happened that I was in Barcelona during the international break, so I thought it would be an opportunity to see how the Catalans, especially in this time of heightened talk of independence, viewed the Spanish national team. After all, sitting in a bar watching football, can’t be all bad, can it? That’s why the original title for this piece was “An Englishman in Catalunya watching Spain.” That was the theory, anyway.
Zinedine Zidane had the bottle for one in the World Cup final, and Adrea Pirlo invited England ‘keeper Joe Hart to sample the delights of another during the 2012 European Championships; although, by all accounts it left a pretty bad taste in the mouth of Manchester City stopper. Peter Crouch even passed his over the top of the bar. A Panenka isn’t about strength, more correctly it’s about finesse, but you’re certainly brave if you fancy one! No, it’s not another obscure brew of Pilsner lager from eastern Europe. It was created in what is now the Czech Republic and does have a bit of a ‘kick’ to it, however. Oh yes, and its creation does owe something to a glass of beer. Continue reading →