Category Archives: European Football

Buckets of cold water, wet pitches and floodlights – How Wolverhampton Wanderers rescued English football and forged the European Cup in the Black Country.

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On a chastening November day at Wembley in 1953, any outdated and misguided ideas about English preeminence in the football world were cruelly banished by the cherry-shirted Magical Magyars of Hungary. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hideguti and their compatriots comprising a team that would go almost a decade with just a single defeat recorded against them – albeit in the World Cup Final of 1954 – delivered the sort of sobering wake up call akin to being doused with bucketful of cold water after a long and particularly intoxicating night on the tiles.    Continue reading →

The trials of Bernard Tapie.

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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 →

The intertwined tale of Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri.

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Chelsea Football Club was formed in 1905 and fifty years later, they became Champions of England for the first time. The following year I was born, hence missing out by twelve months on the best year of the club’s existence up to that point. The next time they topped the domestic tree would be in 2005. Chelsea titles were just like London buses, regular as clockwork – one arrived every fifty years. Two years before the second title however, something happened at the club that would redefine perceptions of ‘success’ lifting the club to heights the like of which case-hardened fans such as me could hardly comprehend. Continue reading →

The club that led Britain into the European Cup.

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Although the European Cup is the the preeminent competition for club football, and participation in it is regarded akin to  a ‘coming out party’ as a top club for any who secures it, British clubs’ relationship with European competition was not always anything like fully committed. Continue reading →

“Pertido deal Siglo” – Blue thunder and white lightning under a hot Mexican sun.

Italy v West Germany 1970

There’s a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and the experience; of seeing many things; by observing quietly and absorbing; by understanding. Sitting in the suburb of Santa Úrsula in Mexico City, the Estadio Azteca is not only an imposing architectural edifice, it can also boast a rich history of hosting some of the most celebrated matches in the history of international football. Being the first venue to host two World Cup Finals, it’s fair to say that the old stadium has witnessed a fair bit of the ‘beautiful game’ with some of the rarest of talents ever to grace the international arena treading its turf. When the Azteca speaks of greatness therefore, it’s done with the authority of age and experience. It’s beholding on us all to listen. Continue reading →

How the Fallen were Mighty.

Newport County Carl Zeiss Jena

The fortunes of football clubs inevitably wax and wane over the years; some erratically, others less so. Promotions, relegations glory and despair are the spices that combine to produce the fare enjoyed, or endured, usually in fairly unequal proportions by staff, players and fans across the world. With such unpredictable trajectories, it’s perhaps inevitable that when some collide and their paths cross, a bond is formed that outlasts the initial contact. Some kind of familial link is established that as their roads depart and disappear over distant horizons, stays firm, drawing them back together again. Continue reading →

Watching football in the house of Cholo.

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Following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho from the hot seat at Chelsea, one of the names mentioned as a the long-term replacement is Diego Simeone, currently managing Atletico Madrid in La Liga. There’s a relationship already in place between the two clubs with players moving between them. Could El Cholo be the next one to move from the Vicente Calderon to Stamford Bridge? If the Bookies are right it could well be the case. There is however, something special in the fit between the Simeone and Atleti. It’s something that just works; something that may not be transferable. It’s something I experienced earlier this year. Continue reading →

Of Galician dreams and a man with a suitcase.

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In England there was the time when Michael Thomas made sure ‘it was for grabs’ as Arsenal snaffled the title away from Liverpool with a late smash and grab raid at Anfield. Then, back in 2012, we had Martin Tyler’s famous ‘Agueroooooo’ moment. Needing a victory to secure their first league title in over forty years, Manchester City entered injury time trailing 2-1 at home to QPR. For the first, and so far only, time in Premier League history however, a team performed the oracle of turning a deficit into victory during the brief time added on by the referee, and City lifted the trophy. For the sky blue-decked City fans, the word ‘tense’ didn’t even come close, but at least they had that glorious release of victory at the final denouement. In the Estadio Riazor in 1994, fans of Galician club Deportivo de La Coruña had waited much longer and were not so fortunate. Had a key man played his part in the outcome of the game a week or so before though? Continue reading →

The man who made Benfica Champions of Europe – and then cursed them for 100 years.

The manager who won two European Cups for Benfica, and later 'cursed' them not to win another for 100 years.

The manager who won two European Cups for Benfica, and later ‘cursed’ them not to win another for 100 years.

In sport, especially within the often wildly unpredictable world of football, there is rarely anything like a guaranteed winning bet. The Europa League Final on 14th May 2014 was however, probably as close to being a ‘dead cert’ as almost anything ever is when the ‘beautiful game’ is involved. Bet on Sevilla to beat Benfica and lift the trophy, was the call. It’s as close to being brass in the bank as any bet can ever be. Honestly! Would I lie to you? On paper it appeared to be a close contest. Both clubs had enjoyed a reasonably successful season, and had deservedly reached the showpiece final in Turin. That was as may be, but it didn’t mean backing Sevilla wasn’t a good money shot. Continue reading →

Franco Baresi – “That’s exactly it. He was special.”

Franco Baresi - Hero of the Milam tifosi and perhaps the best defender ever to grace the beautiful game.

Franco Baresi – Hero of the Milam tifosi and perhaps the best defender ever to grace the beautiful game.

Describing the defender that he had played alongside for so many glorious years in the Rossoneri, backline, Paolo Maldini, in an interview with Jamie Carragher said: “That’s exactly it. He was special.” In that simple phrase, he encapsulated the aura and majesty of a player who graced the famous red and black as a ‘one club’ player. A hero of the tifosi on the Curva Sud at the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza San Siro in the Lombardian city of Milan and the man for whom AC Milan retired the number six shirt; the incomparable Franco Baresi. Continue reading →