Chris Nicholl – Own goals, a great goal and the heavy price to pay.
There’s an indisputable glamour about being a professional footballer in the top ranks of the game. There’s fame, fortune and the adoration of fans to bask in, offering a glowing warmth to soothe away any aches, pains and bruises earned on the exercise of the occupation. Of late, such riches and rewards have galloped away into the stratosphere, a place hardly seen, let alone comprehended by us lesser mortals, standing and watching. Roll the clock back 40 years or so though, and whilst there’s still adulation and at least an element of wealth and celebrity, for so many players of a certain genre from that era – and perhaps others to come – the price now being demanded of them is truly catastrophic. There are many slips and stumbles, often painted as disasters in a career, but it’s only when real tragedy strikes that such things attain their true perspective. Continue reading →
Clive Thomas and “the most controversial decision that any referee has ever made.”
Back in 1981, Tottenham and Wolverhampton Wanderers played an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. It was a game that I happened to be present at – my wife’s family all being dedicated Wolves fans. Late on in the game, Spurs looked to be on the way to Wembley, having been given the lead for a second time with a goal from Glenn Hoddle. Wolves had huffed and puffed, but this time, the house didn’t look like it was going to be blown down. Then, with time ticking away, Kenny Hibbitt ran into the Spurs penalty to be challenged by Hoddle. The midfielder fell to the floor and the referee, to the astonishment of Spurs players and fans, and the surprised delight of those clad in old gold and black, pointed to the spot. You know that phrase? “Never in a million years…” Yeah, it was one of them. Willie Carr stepped up to score and the game went to a reply, which Spurs won 3-0. Continue reading →
Thomas Gravesen – A very differesnt brand of Danish Dynamite!
Featuring the likes of Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjær, the Danish team at the 1986 World Cup with jet-heeled strikers and elegant midfielders played such a dynamic and explosive game that they were lauded as the Danish Dynamite. Some years later, Thomas Gravesen would earn a similar appellation, but for an entirely different reason. Continue reading →
John Neal – The unsung and often forgotten manager who saved Chelsea Football Club.
In the years well before the whizz-bang super-duper transfer days that followed the arrival of Roman Abramovich to Stamford Bridge, the West London club was one of fairly modest ambition – staying in English football’s top flight was probably the main one. It was also one that was sometimes missed and an occasional cup run was the closest thing to glory. Such times did not require the services of celebrated foreign coaches who could weld an oft unruly bunch of superstars and supposed-stars into a team capable of bringing silverware to the club. In the 1980s, with the club languishing in Division Two again, the requirement was for a manager who knew the domestic game, could spot talent available at a reasonable price and knew how to develop and deliver a successful team. Continue reading →
Jock Stein at Dunfermline and the launch of a legend.
The name of Jock Stein is lauded – and rightly so – throughout British football as one of the greatest managers of all time. Whilst manager of Celtic, he would accumulate ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. He would also lead the club to unheralded glory when they lifted the European Cup in 1967, becoming the first British club to ascend to such honour.
Many years before that momentous Lisbon evening however, Jock Stein, coach to Celtic’s reserves after injury ended his playing career, would be told that he would never be promoted to the manager’s chair due to his Protestant beliefs. It was this barrier that caused him to leave the club in 1960, in pursuit of a managerial CV that would compel the cub to rethink. Five years later, he achieved that goal and returned to Celtic Park as manger to lead the club to glory. In between those times though, he would cut his teeth as manager and begin the legend of Jock Stein the manager that wold lead to European glory, at lowly Dunfermline Athletic. Continue reading →
Bobby Collins – The wee man who made the big difference.
I’d be eleven at time, although only just and, as was our wont, every other Saturday, I was at Fellows Park with my dad, watching Walsall play. It was 11th November 1967, and the Saddlers were entertaining a Bury side that had been relegated from Division Two the previous season and on their way to rebound straight back at the first time of asking.
As a callow youth at the time, I knew little of the players from Gigg Lane, but my Dad did, well, one of them in particular, anyway. He was a short, stocky midfielder, who Dad said had been a really good player a few years previously. I didn’t take much notice at the time, as the name meant little to me. As the game went on though, it quickly became clear that the player Dad had pointed out was very much running the game. Well, perhaps running is the wrong word, as he often broke into a trot, but rarely a run, with legs that had seen many a battering over the years. He held the game in the palm of his hand though. Continue reading →
Alex Young – The People’s Player.
The monochrome format betrays the age of the film. A five year old girl is featured, centre screen. She looks at the camera.
A voice asks, “What does your daddy do?”
“Plays football,” she whispers, almost apologetically in reply.
“Who for?” she’s asked.
“Everton,” is the quiet reply
“Is he good?” The questioner goes on.
Yes,” she replies.
“What’s his name?” The gentle voice enquires.
The young girl smiles shyly. “Alex Young,” she says.
The sequence is the opening part of Ken Loach’s film entitled ‘The Golden Vision’. Released in 1968, it a tells of a group of Everton fans, their lifestyle and devotion to the club, spliced with film of Everton players, and a particular insight into Alex Young, the man whose nickname gave the film its title.
For many football fans, there’s a player who epitomises their club. There’ll be a consensus, unspoken but no less fervent for that, about him. He’s the player that you refer to in respectful tones. Not because he was the best player. It’s often the case that he may not have been; nor necessarily the top scorer or the inspirational skipper, but the player that did things as they should be done. He played the way you want all your players to play, and his attitude was the same. If you were a footballer, it’s how you’d be. For many Everton fans of a particular vintage, that player would be Alex Young. Continue reading →
Bringing young players through? It’s about time, not emotion.
There’s been time for a period of reflection after Greg Dyke’s introspective narrative on the trials and tribulations of the English game, and what needs to change in order to get the national team back in the higher rankings of the world game from our currently lowly status of seventeenth, tucked in behind Chile and the USA.
I’ve heard and read many ideas of how to change the scenario to give young English players a better chance of playing first team football and developing the potential that they have. Some, such as Everton manager Roberto Martinez have declared that there isn’t so much wrong with the ability of players at the early stages of their careers, but unlike in Spain, there isn’t the chance for them to play in many competitive matches, to case-harden their techniques with real game time experience. Continue reading →
Giving up the ghost!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, or so they say. For some however, it doesn’t quite work out like that. In a story particularly popular at this time of year, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by a number of ghosts. Each has a cautionary tale to tell about how things need to change if a particularly unpleasant outcome is to be avoided. Well, seeing as it’s panto season as well, I’ve decided to take the plunge and offer my football-inspired version of A Christmas Carol.
To be sure, Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman of Manchester United is no miser. Well, not as far as I’m aware anyway, and his largesse in the transfer market probably bears that out. For the purpose of my particular interpretation of Dickens’ famous tale however, I am compelled to cast Ed in the role as Ebenezer Scrooge. Apologies requested in advance. Continue reading →
Moyes seeking redemption amongst the Basques.
Sir Alex Ferguson was always fond of saying that whenever anyone leaves Manchester United, inevitably it was a step down, regardless of whichever club they went to. Real Madrid, among a couple of others may dispute such an assertion, especially of late, but for David Moyes, taking a step back to reignite his managerial career after his traumatic time in the Old Trafford hot seat was probably inevitable. That he has landed at the Estadio Anoeta to take charge of Real Sociedad, a club often compared in stature to Moyes’ previous employer at Goodison Park, at least shows that the Scot retains a hunger to prove himself in the managerial game.
Just over a year ago, Moyes, together with his then Manchester United charges returned from San Sebastien following a fairly satisfying 0-0 draw against his new employers in a Champions League encounter and could hardly have envisaged the turmoil and dismissal that was to follow. With an 18 month contract now is place with the Basque club however, he faces the task of rebuilding both a career and a reputation seriously damaged by the doomed attempt to take over the driving seat at Old Trafford from Sir Alex Ferguson. Continue reading →