“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to Sky Sports interviewer. It won 20th October 1996. His Newcastle United team, under the charismatic guidance of Kevin Keegan, had just delivered the sort of spanking to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United the like of which the irascible Scot’s team were far more used to handing out rather than enduring. Geordie joy was fulsome, and they feasted on it. Sad to say though, for that passionate band of fans, it wasn’t the herald of a new dawn, it was the last flaring from the embers of a dying dream. Continue reading →
Buckets of cold water, wet pitches and floodlights – How Wolverhampton Wanderers rescued English football and forged the European Cup in the Black Country.
On a chastening November day at Wembley in 1953, any outdated and misguided ideas about English preeminence in the football world were cruelly banished by the cherry-shirted Magical Magyars of Hungary.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 →
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 →
“Unthinkable surely for the skipper to miss.” It’s funny how things work out sometimes. The next words were, “But he has!” Jock Brown, commentating on the 1994 Scottish League Cup Final at Ibrox, uttered that particular harbinger of doom for Celtic’s captain Paul McStay in the penalty shootout that decided the game. McStay saw his shot saved by Raith’s goalkeeper Scott Thompson and the Kirkcaldy club, managed by Jimmy Nicholl had secured the unlikeliest of cup triumphs.
The unlikeliest? Well, of course it’s always a major coup for any club outside of Glasgow’s top two to land a trophy and for a second tier club to do so, only added to the lustre. But there was more to it than that. A series of coincidences, links and cross-cutting threads about the game and various subsequent events, marked the game out as a watershed moment for both clubs. Continue reading →
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 →
So said, Luiz Felipe Scolari, as he contemplated how a defeat, so unexpected, so demoralising, so contrary to the established order of things, would surely blight his career and reputation for evermore.
Pitted against the Hondurans in the quarter-final of the Copa America of 2001, Brazil would already have been planning their semi-final strategy ahead of the game. After all, Brazil were, in most people’s eyes, the stand-out squad at the tournament. In contrast, Honduras had only been invited to join the other teams in Colombia at the last minute – in fact the last seconds of the last minute – following Argentina’s late withdrawal. Consequently, they had precious little preparation time and their squad was shorn of a number of key players still engaged in domestic matters. Last minute guests to the party, they were under-prepared, under-manned and – as it turned out to Brazil’s cost – underestimated. Just how late the Hondurans’ invite to the party popped through their letterbox can be illustrated by a brief resume of the events prior to the tournament. Continue reading →
In his book ‘A matter of Life and Death: A History of Football in 100 Quotations’ The Telegraph’s columnist Jim White quotes former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod as saying, “You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world.” As was later to be harshly proven, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The tale of Scotland’s venture to South America for the World Cup Finals has gone down in infamy, and if the epithet of ‘pantomime’ that many have sought to label the Tartan Army’s travails in Argentina with is appropriate, many would also be keen to cast MacLeod in the role of the piece’s villain.
Is that too harsh a judgement though? Yes, there was massive hype, and yes, there was even bigger disappointment as the whole edifice came crumbling down, but is it right that the blame for the whole sorry episode should be laid at MacLeod’s door? Was he some buffoon-like character, full of bluster and blunder, or merely an innocent abroad, a patriot wrapped up in the hopes of a nation when Scottish football was at a high-water mark, promoted ahead of his ability, for who the fates turned their faces against at the moment of truth? Continue reading →
Whenever you start writing an article about a fairly timeless issue, there’s always a chance of a little added piquancy if something brings what would otherwise be a bit of a retrospective, into the current arena. The Jimmy Seed Stand at Charlton’s The Valley ground had always struck me as a bit of a strange name. Who was – or is – Jimmy Seed? Despite having a passion about football for over fifty years now, I have to confess that I knew nothing of the eponymous Mr Seed. To be honest, that alone was enough to tweak my interest, so I set to work on a bit of research.
It was whilst combing through the internet and a number of reference books that I found out that the Jimmy Seed Stand was currently making the news around the SE7 area just south of the Thames in London. When researching clubs, fan blogs are often a useful source of information and, when looking at the popular and passionate ‘Voice of The Valley’ site, I noticed an article dated 24th January saying that the stand in question was under threat from a proposed redevelopment. Continue reading →
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 →
This is a story that’s been flitting in and out of my consciousness for some time now, apparently just waiting for me to write it; in fact it’s been prodding me along for knocking on half a century or so. Not that I would even have contemplated such a thing as a callow youth, all those years ago. Sometimes, though fate prods you enough times and you get the message. Continue reading →