After taking the job as manager of the national team in 1963, using calm, measured terms, and with an understated confidence bereft of any braggart posturing, Alf Ramsey publicly declared that England would win the World Cup in 1966. Not that they might, or that they could, or even that they should; but very definitely that they would. Those practised, clipped tones were simply stating facts. England will win the World Cup in 1966. And they did! Of course, with hindsight it doesn’t sound so much ‘out there’ but back in 1963, to use the modern vernacular it took some bottle. Ramsey had one key factor on his side though, he knew that by adding his ideas and a few new faces to the players bequeathed him by Walter Winterbottom he could turn England into the best team in the world and one of the greatest in World Cup history. Continue reading →
There’s a poignant inevitability about the fate of the Dutch national team in the World Cups played out in 1974 and 1978. Scornful of victory, embracing the creation and innovation rather than the denouement. Movement, flow and fluidity marked their way. Two losing finals; contrasting in so many ways, and yet so very similar in that both ultimately ended in shattering defeats by the tournament hosts. On the road, but not arriving. Bridesmaids donned in orange.
Widely touted as potential winners in 1974, but falling at the final hurdle despite having taken the lead when, perhaps an inherent arrogance surpassed their intoxicatingly tantalising skills. West Germany took advantage of the hubris and lifted the trophy. The Dutch shuffled away, not licking their wounds, but contemplating what might have been; off-shade tangerine dreamers. 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 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 →
It’s probably the most famous club game in the history of football. The 1960 European Cup Final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. You know the one. It was the game when the might of Real Madrid secured their fifth successive title as Champions of Europe under new manager Miguel Munoz. The former Bernabeu midfielder had joined the club on 13th April 1960, just over a month ahead of the final. He would be at the helm of Los Blancos for almost 14 years, winning nine La Liga titles, twice triumphing in the Copa del Rey and landing two European Cups, as well as one Intercontinental Cup. It was the game when legendary striker Alfredo Di Stefano struck a hat-trick, but was outgunned by the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas who netted four times. It was the game when legends were born. It was the game when a crowd of some 127,621 officially attended the game, but for years afterwards, many more would have claimed to have done so. Everyone wanted to say that they were there at the game where Real Madrid received their coronation as the best club side on the planet.
Football folklore is replete with tales of unfancied teams fighting back in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity, recovering from an apparently inevitable defeat to down one of the giants of the game, when a last minute goal gets a team through a difficult match that seemed to be pointing to elimination, when the opposition fails to convert any of the first three penalties in a shoot-out or when a team comes back after losing an opening game to unexpectedly qualify from a group stage of the biggest tournament in the world. Other tales may speak of seemingly hopeless situations when unforeseen results conspire to offer a chance that had surely been extinguished, when last minute goals work wonders and unexpectedly transform successive matches, when winning goals are created and scored by players who really shoudn’t have been on the pitch or when a giant stumbles and lets the little guy through; when the most unexpected of events happen again, and again, and again. Some tales have such a feature, some have a two or three, but very few have all of them. The story of Bulgaria’s ‘American Dream’ at the 1994 World Cup and the strange combination of results and events off the park that conspired to get them there however, is one of them. Continue reading →
Sometimes football is bigger than a single match. ‘The Game’ is bigger than the game. No matter that a particular match may carry great significance in its own right, sometimes what it represents, what it portrays, what it speaks of to the watching world is much more important. Even if the match is a World Cup semi-final, a mere single step down from the most important match in world football. Even if there’s historical antagonism of armed conflicts between the protagonists. Even then. The significance of it to football as a whole and how it should be perceived can even be bigger than that.
It’s eighth July 1982. The venue is the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, in Seville, Spain. It’s the semi-final of the World Cup between West Germany and France. A game that Michel Platini, captain of France and the leader of a French team full of flowering romanticism, suggesting an apparent ennui at the fatalism of life expressed by football, later described as something that, “No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.” His summary neatly fits with the image of the French team as poets eschewing concern of any future consequences, merely lost in the moment. Extravagant and grand gestures dominating the imagery, and ignoring tomorrow. It was however not fabulous in the way it spoke to the world as to how the game should be played. How it should be loved and cherished. Simply put, the result was wrong. Continue reading →
Linesmen, Referees’ Assistants or simply ‘Linos’, the guys running up and down the sidelines of half of the playing area are often considered the least significant characters in the passion play that is a football match. These are the ‘extras’ that make up the lower listings in the dramatis personae.’ They’re the ‘non-speaking’ participants, who have to wave a flag – or perhaps press a buzzer as well these days – to remind the rest of us that they’re there.
When you’ve been following the ‘beautiful game’ as long as I have, you’ve seen a few World Cup tournaments. I think I remember elements of Chile 1962, but can definitely do so with the one that followed four later as England were crowned as champions of the world. The downside of this of course means that I’ve also seen some skulduggery of the lowest order in the four yearly event that should present the highest standards of the game.
The genius of Maradona was sullied when when he punched Argentina past England and then was banished as a drug cheat in the 1994 tournament. Harold Schumacher assaulted French full back Patrick Battiston with a malice that may have earned a prison sentence had it occurred anywhere but on a football pitch. And then Luis Suarez reprised his dental belligerence by biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in last year’s tournament.
For conspiracy and mass inclusion however, there’s one instance that stands out, and it involved neither violence or cheating per se. No-one was banned. Indeed both of the ‘guilty’ parties progressed in the tournament, and the only injuries and damage were to broken hearts and shattered dreams. It occurred in the 1982 tournament in Spain – the very same event where Schumacher displayed an aggression well beyond the pale, but on this occasion the problem was a lack of aggression, rather than a surfeit of it. Continue reading →
You didn’t need to be a lip-reader to understand the mouthed words. It was a typically overenthusiastic tackle, not malicious but, in fairness, it probably warranted a yellow card. Thomas Berthold certainly didn’t help matters, and why would he? Rolling around on the ground was very much de rigueur during Italia ’90 when a foul had been committed. The Brazilian referee with the English surname, Jose Roberto Wright, brandished the card and, knowing he wouldn’t play in the World Cup Final if England got there, Paul Gascoigne began to cry. Skipper Gary Lineker looked to the side-line at manager Sir Bobby Robson, or plain Bobby as he was then, and nodding at his tearful teammate asked his manager to, “have a word.”
Wind the clock forward two dozen years, and that same Paul Gascoigne is probably past tears now, having probably shed a million or so in the intervening years. His life, once so full of promise, has turned into the sort of tragic story that seems destined to end in the most tragic way. I’ve seen various opinions of Gascoigne as a player in his pomp. Some have said he was ordinary and over-rated, and of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. For me however, he had that ability to run at pace with the ball at his feet and beat a player on either side, creating problems for opponents at the heart of their defence. Enough of any debate about his talents however, that isn’t really the issue now. Were he a more ordinary type of player the story would not be any less sad. The fact that he appeared so mercurial, and with what the late Sir Bobby described as a, “daft as a brush” mentality means however that Gascoigne’s dilemma is being played out in the full glare of publicity.