The last day of any season can be a bit of a nail-biter, especially when there’s everything still to play for. Back at the end of the 2002-03 Scottish Premier League season, with a single game to play, Celtic and Rangers were tied on 94 points. The clubs also had a tied goal difference of plus 68. It became a last day shoot-out as to who could win their last game by the largest margin and take the title. Celtic travelled to Kilmarnock and won 4-0. At the same time however, Rangers entertained Dunfermline and secured a 6-1 victory. It was a result that also brought the title back to Ibrox by the slimmest of margins. In the end, it had come down to an injury-time penalty, coolly slotted home by Mikel Arteta to give Rangers the round half-dozen, and stymy Celtic’s effort by a single goal.
Although the two Glasgow giants rattled in a total of ten goals between them, whilst conceding a single strike, there was precious little talk of any underhand skulduggery or anything less than scrupulously contested games. After all, despite the two defeated cubs finishing the league in fourth and fifth positions respectively, Kilmarnock trailed the top two by no less forty points, and the gap to Dunfermline was over fifty points. The results therefore were not that much out of kilter, especially with the Glasgow clubs having so much to play for, and the other two teams comparatively little. A few years later, another last day battle took place between two clubs tied on points and battling for big wins to sway goal difference advantage and gain promotion to the top echelon of their domestic league structure. If the ‘Old Firm’ battle offered no hint of controversy though, this one differed on that particular count. Continue reading →
Back in 1989, a woman was in residence at number ten – the house in Downing Street that is, not the slightly withdrawn striker position – and Channel Four introduced us to the idea of female managing a professional football club. In some ways, the programme was a sign of the times, in other ways, very much less so. 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 →
“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to a Sky Sports interviewer. It was 20th October 1996, and 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 →