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 →
As World Cup Finals go, the one played out between Argentina and West Germany in 1986 would take some beating for drama. The game seemed won, before being cast into huge doubt, and then a late winner decided the issue in favour of the South American passion play. Although he didn’t score in the final, the tournament will, for a variety of reasons, be largely remembered with Diego Maradona as the star. That said, even the great Argentine icon would surely concur that others too warranted great credit and acclaim. Standing alongside giants can often mean that a shadow falls across others, obscuring their brightness, but they too have a tale to tell that can throw light on events. Jorge Luis Burruchaga is one of those oft-perceived-to-be lesser lights, but as the scorer of the late goal that ascended La Albiceleste to the heavens, his is a story crying out to be told. 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 →
Back in January 2015, Lothar Matthäus, hero of the Italia ’90 World Cup victory, was embroiled in a bout of verbal sparring with Arsenal striker and compatriot Lukas Podolski. Speaking on German television, Matthaus remarked that “Lukas has his qualities; now he must prove them by bringing them back to the pitch. In the past we heard how he tweets more than he plays. He needs to concentrate on football.” The comments came during speculation regarding a potential move for Podolski to Inter Milan. It was advice that Podolski did not take too kindly to however. Apparently not content to leave it there however, Matthäus also took a swing at his former club, saying, “Inter is no longer the team of the past. Italy lost charm. Too many scandals, little modern infrastructure. In the 90s Inter and AC Milan have written the history of football, had players like Gullit, Van Basten, Hansi Müller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Today the top players play in Spain, Germany and England, not in Italy.” The Nerazzuri tifosi must have loved that one. ‘A fanabla, Lothar!’ 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 →
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 →