“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 →
“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 →
Before launching on his oft-quoted mission about knocking a certain Merseyside club off their perch, Alex Ferguson – this was long before royalty bestowed a title on him – led Aberdeen to the forefront of Scottish football. Not only did he take the Pittodrie club to the top of the tree domestically, winning three league titles, four Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup in half-a-dozen years between 1980 and 1986, the later-to-be Overlord of Old Trafford also gave the Dons undreamt of European success in 1983, when they lifted the European Cup Winners Cup, defeating the might of Real Madrid in the final. Continue reading →
If you get the opportunity to see a legend in the flesh, you do it. Back in 1978, I was 21 years old, and since the early years of that decade had been an unashamed adherent to the doctrine of Dutch Totaal Voetbal. I was seduced by the poetry of the Ajax team that dominated European club football, lifting the European Cup three times in succession. The love deepened with the extravagant beauty, and ultimate fragility, of the bright flame of the Netherlands national team as they scorched the pitches of West Germany in the 1974 World Cup, before the fire became too fierce and their wings of wax melted. Football’s Prometheus. Icarus in Oranje. Continue reading →
England had won the World Cup in 1966, and offered up a more than reasonable defence of the trophy four years later, before heat, fatigue and an absent Gordon Banks did for them in Mexico. In 1974, the tournament would be back in Europe, in West Germany. Conditions would be much more akin to the climate in Britain, and England would have a chance to reassert themselves.
There was, of course, the somewhat irritating matter of a qualifying process to negotiate first, but in a group alongside Wales and Poland, to many fans it didn’t look like a problem. As it panned out, thanks to a ‘Curate’s Egg’ of a series of group matches, the final fixture would decide all. Poland were to visit Wembley on 17 October 1973. Should Sir Alf Ramsey’s charges prevail, the tickets to Germany would be booked, if the Poles could win or draw however, it would be sufficient for them to go through and England would fail to qualify for a World Cup Finals for the first time since they entered the fray in 1950. 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 →
Long before the Uruguayan version landed at the Camp Nou following his truncated and less than totally harmonious departure from Liverpool, a different Luis Suárez was wowing the Catalans in the famous Blaugrana colours of Barcelona. Rather than being part of a trident for the club, this Luis Suárez, became an integral part of a quartet, achieved hero status in Catalunya and then nationally, before being recognised as Spain’s first and, so far, only Ballon d’Or winner. He then took Serie A by storm and became a legendary figure for the Nerazzuri in Lombardy. His namesake, currently strutting his stuff alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona front line has a bit of work to do if he is to become recognised as the best Luis Suárez of all time. Continue reading →
A century is a long time when counted against the essentially ephemeral nature of a lifetime. Many sentient beings would both arrive on, and then take their leave of, this earth in the scope of those years. Those same years though, counted against institutionalised memory of tragic events of mind-numbing intensity, the sort of trauma that leaves indelible marks not on an individual person, but on a whole people, may be but a drop of water in the infinite swell of the world’s oceans. At such times a rapprochement between two peoples may seem an insurmountable task. With each passing year, attitudes harden and viewpoints become ever more deeply entrenched. But even the most firmly bolted door can be unlocked when the correct key is found. And at such times, that key may lie in the most unexpected of places. 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 →
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 →