In the history of Europe’s premier club competition, be it as the European Cup or, more latterly, the Champions League, only one club who have never lifted the trophy – in either guise – can claim to have eliminated reigning champions on three occasions. That club is CSKA Sofia or, to give it the full Anglicised title, the Central Sports Club of the Army, as located in Sofia. Both Juventus and Real Madrid have eliminated more champions, but CSKA’s achievement remains unique. So too are the stories and strings of apparent coincidences surrounding the story of the oft disregarded Bulgarian club that became European football’s Slayers of Champions. Continue reading →
On 1 June 2018, the man who, less than a week later, would be appointed as manager of Segunda División B club Real Sociedad B, quietly settled into his seat at Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. He was there to watch former club, at which he collected a Champions League winner’s medal, and the words inevitably playing through his mind were of a different song, one that asserted no-one who was part of that footballing family – one he felt strongly that he belonged to – should ever feel alone. Xabi Alonso, was there to watch Liverpool win their sixth title as Champions of Europe. Continue reading →
Any footballer’s career can have many peaks and troughs, almost regardless of the level at which they play. Games won or lost. Goals scored or conceded. Moments of exaltation mixing freely with others spent in sad reflection of errors made or chances missed can be a toxic and highly volatile cocktail. It’s rarely the case however that the absolute zenith and nadir of a career can occur at almost one and the same time. For Agostino Di Bartolomei, captain of AS Roma at the time, some would argue that is precisely what happened on the penultimate day of May 1984, when his club faced Liverpool in the European Cup Final staged at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Continue reading →
When confronted with a survey question enquiring what he would be if he wasn’t a footballer, Peter Crouch delivered the quippiest of ‘one-liner’ answers. “A virgin,” the lanky striker replied. It was a typical piece of self-deprecating humour from the man mocked by opposing fans for his gangly deportment, less than elegant appearance and style of play. The self-appointed nickname of ‘Crouchinho’ is another example. Continue reading →
Back in the latter years of the 1990s, Leicester City fans had often chimed up with a chant of “Bruno, Bruno,” whenever Emile Heskey featured significantly in a game. I used to think this was a complimentary reference to the muscular build of the pugilistic heavyweight warrior of the time. A Leicester supporting later friend corrected that assumption for me however, insisting that, rather than his physique, it was the young striker’s propensity to spend much of his time on the floor after any physical contact, no matter how slight, that provoked the comparison. Whether that was just a personal view or an accurate reflection of a number if Leicester fans’ attitude wasn’t clear. It serves however as an example of how a player who spent the best part of two decades in top level English football and accumulated 62 full England caps, found it far easier to inspire ridicule than respect. Continue reading →
In 1981, at the age of 33, Ray Clemence decided to leave Liverpool. He had been with the club since 24 June 1967, when Bill Shankly paid a reported £18,000 to Scunthorpe United to take the goalkeeper to Anfield. Across the next 14 years or so, Clemence would accumulate enough silverware to fill the most ostentatious of trophy cabinets. Five League Championships, FA Cup and League Cup triumphs and five Charity Shields added up to a sizeable domestic haul, but there was also substantial success in Europe. No less than three European Cups came his way, along with two UEFA Cups and a UEFA Super Cup. With that lot bringing towards 20 medals, it’s a good job that Clemence had pretty safe hands if he was ever required to hold them all at the same time. Continue reading →
When Luis Figo infamously left Barcelona to join bitter rivals Real Madrid, he was forever cast into the pit of hatred by all Cules. Returning to the Camp Nou, wearing the Los Blancos shirt, he even had a pig’s head thrown at him that had somehow been smuggled into the stadium. A banner at the ground said, “We hate you so much, because we loved you so much!” There were never reports of any such parts of a pig’s anatomy being thrown at Harry Kewell when he left Leeds United, but for so many of the Elland Road faithful, after he left the club, the feelings they had for the Aussie they had once idolised were very similar to those expressed on that Catalan banner. Continue reading →
For a man born in Cardiff, who served the Bluebirds with such distinction across a five-year career in which he netted 74 league goals in just 162 games before moving to Liverpool, joining bitter rivals Swansea City as Player/Manager must have been looked on by fans from the Welsh capital as some kind of treachery. To deliver unheralded success with the club could hardly have helped salve the open wounds, and surely must have left those Cardiff supporters thinking about what might have been. Continue reading →
Although hardly a formality, it seemed that the home team held all of the trump cards. Chelsea had travelled to Anfield two weeks earlier and returned with a 1-3 triumph. Despite falling to an early goal from Fernando Torres, Guus Hiddink’s team had played their way back into the game with cool assurance amongst the raucous Merseyside atmosphere and with a brace of headed goals from Branislav Ivanovic plus a strike from Dider Drogba, had ended the game as worthy winners. It gave the Blues an excellent chance to reach the last four of the Champions League for the second time in consecutive seasons.
Twelve months previously, they had met Liverpool in the semi-finals of the competition when, after a 1-1 draw at Anfield, Chelsea had triumphed 3-2 after extra-time in as closely contested home leg to take their place in the final, where they would ultimately lose out to Manchester United on penalties. This time however, with three away goals safely pocketed from the win on Merseyside, Chelsea would have been expecting progress along a much less rocky road. In a game that throbbed and pulsated with tension and a repeated switchback of advantage and emotions though, that would hardly be the case.
In the previous five years, Liverpool and Chelsea had faced each other two dozen times, with seldom much to choose between them, especially in the days when Continue reading →
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.” Arsenal’s testing four days in May 1980.
Using that particular quote from Kipling is a well-trodden path and, to illustrate its relevance, I’ll lean a little on another master of words, Oscar Wilde, whilst at the same time apologising for mangling his famous couplet, ‘to lose one cup final may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ Across four testing days in May 1980 however, that’s precisely what happened to Arsenal. Continue reading →