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 →
The Brazil team that lifted the 1970 World Cup has been regarded by many aficionados as perhaps the greatest collection of footballing talent assembled under national colours at a major tournament. Not only was there an abundance of star players, each capable of turning a match in favour of the Seleção with a moment of magic, but they also combined to produce outstanding team performances, sometimes subsuming individual glory for the greater good of the whole; not in any collectivist manner, but with a joy and exuberance that reasserted an affection for jogo benito. It was the sort of team that allowed all who hold a passionate affection for the ‘beautiful game’ to believe again.
Of course, there were stars. Péle is the name that always come to the fore as the first among equals when considering that particular heady vintage of Brazil’s footballing talent. Then there was Rivelinho; he of the cannonball shooting. Tostão led the line with elegance, but an almost brutal grace. This tournament also saw the arrival of Jairzinho’s burgeoning talent, and then there was the imperious captain of the ship, Carlos Alberto, who netted the signature fourth goal in the final against Italy, to usher his crew over the line to glory and eternal fame. Continue reading →
On 20th August 2006, in a match against Cruzeiro, São Paulo goalkeeper Rogério Ceni saved a penalty. A feat worthy of mention in the context of most games of course, but perhaps not much beyond that. A few minutes later however, Ceni was called forward from his sentinel position between the sticks to take on a free-kick at the other end of the park. He scored. Now it all begins to sound a little unusual. Add on top of it that, later in the game, Ceni also took and concerted a penalty to draw his team level with their opponents and it all gets a bit special. Now, consider that the penalty was Ceni’s 64th goal for his club, surpassing by two, the exploits of legendary Paraguayan goalkeeper, José Luis Chilavert and you realise there’s more than a bit of a story relating to the career and exploits of Rogério Ceni – goalkeeper and goal-scorer. 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 latter half of the 1980s was a time of great turmoil for Middlesbrough Football Club. As the 1985-86 season was drawing to a conclusion, financial matters had become so stretched that a loan of £30,000 from the Professional Footballers’ Association was the only way that the club could cover the wages for April. Unsurprisingly, the denouement of that season saw relegation, and Middlesbrough were sent down to the third tier of English football. But worse was to follow.
During the summer, with no games, and reduced revenue, the club was forced to call in the liquidators. Shortly afterwards, with padlocks adorning the rusting gates of the tired and dilapidated Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough Football Club was officially wound up. The Thatcher years had seen a decimation of industry in the region, with traditional jobs sacrificed on the altar of monetarist dogma and intransigence. Many regions suffered. The north-east suffered more than most, and the fate of the Middlesbrough’s football club seemed to be a microcosm for the travails of the 174,000 or so habitants living on south bank of the Tees. 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 →
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 →
The private lives of footballers are often the stuff of Sunday scandal sheets. On-field saints become off-field sinners, indulging in nefarious liaisons and the sorts of spending habits that reflect the old maxim of youth having more money than sense. Such are the impressions so often presented to the public by the behaviour of many Premier League players. There are, of course, some that defy such stereotyping, have a normal family life and somehow enjoy their wealth and good fortune without courting the notoriety apparently so thoughtlessly sought by many others.
It is unusual to hear of such things though, as ‘man goes home and does good things’ is hardly going to fill the voracious appetites of the less salubrious pack of news hounds – and perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, living life below the tabloid radar, and avoiding the harsh, negative glare of the public spotlight should hardly be a cause for celebration. After all, it’s what most of the population do all of the time, but just with a lot less resources. Sometimes however, there’s a story that should be told for the right reasons. Sometimes a footballer becomes more of a person; more of a human being. He becomes a player in a conflict far more important than any played out on a football field. Sometimes he can use his fame for enormous good. Sometimes you simply have to give credit where credit’s due. Continue reading →
“In football, unlike bullfighting, there is no death. In football no one dies; no one gets killed.” The tragic story of Andres Escobar.
Nacional Medellin defender and Colombia international Andres Escobar Saldariaga was once asked by Gonzalo Medina, a compatriot and journalist why he liked football. In an answer that proved to be chillingly inaccurate, the articulate Escobar replied that, “This sport illustrates the close relationship between life and the game. In football, unlike bullfighting, there is no death. In football no one dies; no one gets killed. It’s more about the fun of it, about enjoying.”
On 23rd June 1994, during the World Cup tournament in the USA, Escobar was playing for the highly-fancied Colombians against the hosts in their second group game. Following a qualifying tournament of 26 matches wherein they had been beaten on only a single occasion, culminating in a glorious 5-0 victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires, Francisco Maturana’s squad had even been tipped by the great Pele as genuine contenders to win the tournament. After losing their initial encounter to a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania, the South Americans were strongly fancied to win and get their campaign back on track. Continue reading →
A while ago, I was invited to submit a guest article to the ‘grumpyoldfan’ website looking at a Hero of Youth. Here’s what I came up with:
I know this may make me sound like some curmudgeonly old moaner, locked into the past but casting my mind back around five decades or so, there was of course no computer games and kids’ TV lasted for a mere hour before the six o’clock news. Plus, if you had no interest in ‘sticky-back plastic’ or empty washing-up liquid bottles, such things could be of limited interest anyway. There was therefore little else to do other than go outside and play with a ball. Cricket in the summer – well sometimes, but overwhelmingly, football. Continue reading →