When Olympique de Marseille defeated AC Milan in 1993 – regardless of how tainted that victory may, or may not, have been – it ended decades of enforced patience for French football. It had taken almost 40 years for a French club to win the European Cup. Had fortunes taken a slightly different course in 1956 however, the history of European football’s premier club competition could have been so very different. Instead of Los Blancos of Real Madrid becoming the dominant force of continental football, their place in history may well have been taken by Les Rouge et Blanc of Stade de Reims. A club finishing in a mid-table position in Ligue 1 at the end of the 2018-19 season, newly returned to the top tier of French domestic football after a period of relative inconsequence, drifting around the lower leagues, could have been the swaggering aristocrats of the nascent European competition, rather than one of the sans-culottes lamenting over what might have been. Continue reading →
For any footballer at a mid-ranking club, bereft of the sort of the perceived talent and reputation that attract admiring clubs like moths to a light, and a defunct contract, there’s an obvious fork in the road. To the right lies the safe path. Your club wants to offer you a new deal. It’s safe. It’s guaranteed. It means you can still provide for your family. The other road – the one leading to all sorts of left field possibilities – is solely reserved for the brave, or the foolhardy. It leads to, well that’s the whole point. You simply don’t know where it leads, and if your briefly itinerant excursion into the exploration of the unknown is a dead end, there’s no guarantee that you can retrace your steps and opt for the other road afterwards.
Such a choice faced Motherwell’s Scottish midfielder Paul Lambert, at the end of the 1995-96 season. Lambert chose left path, having “…always wanted to try to play abroad.” As he later remarked, “I had nothing to lose at the time and never knew how things were going to pan out.” Sometimes the right path is the wrong path. Lambert chose left and twelve months later with a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket after a Man of the Match performance negating the talents of Zinedine Zidane, no-one was questioning his sense of direction. Continue reading →
It was the opening game of the 1990 World Cup, with holders Argentina, including the mercurial Diego Maradona who had just almost single-handedly taken his Napoli team to the Scudetto, pitched against an African team representing Cameroon populated by players that hardly anyone had heard of drawn largely from the ranks of the lower tiers of French club football and similar less celebrated leagues. It was a chance for a rousing South American performance to set the wheels of the tournament spinning as they hit the ground. What happened however was of far greater significance. Continue reading →
When an ex-Blackpool goalkeeper got the better of Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Rodney Marsh – Vancouver Whitecaps and the 1979 NASL.
In the nascent years of football trying to force its way into the North American sporting consciousness with the North American Soccer League, there was a perceived need to bring in ‘big’ names from Europe or South America to give the game a fighting chance of gaining a foothold in an environment dominated by Basketball, Baseball and Grid Iron. Whether the plan worked or not is probably open to debate. The NASL folded in 1984, but perhaps the lid on the ketchup bottle had been loosened sufficiently for the later iteration, the MLS, to secure a more solid platform.
The NASL ran its race from 1968 to 1984 and star players, particularly those reaching the salad days of their careers were drawn into the league by the money being offered by a clutch of nouveau riche clubs, some backed by global organisations. Warner Brothers, for example, bankrolled the New York Cosmos, attracting the likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Georgio Chanaglia amongst many others. Whilst the Cosmos were the richest club and built to dominate, others secured star names as well. Los Angeles Aztecs, part owned at the time by Elton John, secured the services of Johann Cruyff and George Best. The Washington Diplomats club was backed by the Madison Square Garden Corporation and as well as signing Johann Cruyff from the Aztecs, they brought in Wim Jansen, Cruyff’s team-mate from the 1974 World Cup Final.
Sometimes though, as Leicester City proved so wonderfully in 2016, big bucks and big names don’t always get the job done and in 1979, the eccentrically named ‘Soccer Bowl’ was won by a club some 20 miles north of the border between the USA and Canada, as a team managed by a former Blackpool goalkeeper and featuring no less than nine aged players from Britain, with varying degrees of celebrity, became the NASL top dogs. It was the year that the NASL doffed its cap to Vancouver. Continue reading →
On 6 September 1992, Channel Four launched its ‘Football Italia’ series relaying live Serie A games to a UK audience broadly unaware of the delights of the domestic Italian game. Experience of Italian football had been largely limited to teams competing against British clubs in European competition, but from that date, the gates to a broader appreciation of Calcio were thrown open. Any thoughts that viewers may have had that the experiment would wilt as defensively dominated football would be a turn-off were dispelled by the opening game as Sampdoria and Lazio featured in a hugely entertaining 3-3 draw.
Whoever chose that particular match-up to introduce Serie A to a potentially sceptical public had selected wisely. Lazio had just secured the services of Paul Gascoigne, although injury prevented him taking part in this game and ‘Samp’, as they were widely known, were one of the top clubs in the country. In fact, the previous season market the zenith of their powers and the end of a glorious four-year period for the Genoese club who had risen to prominence with a roster of legendary players, a coach who delivered outstanding performances from his players, and a shirt that became the byword for football hipster wear at the time. Continue reading →
Some players go into major tournaments believing they are fated to play well, others settle for just expecting to play at all. For some however, there are tournaments where you’re selected as a squad player. The players in front of you seem well set in your position and there’s an inevitable dawning rationale that in all likelihood, you’re just there to make up the numbers. Most of the time, that’s just how it plays out. No-one remembers the players who never got on the pitch, and that seems to be your fate. Just occasionally though, the fates take a hand and the stand-in steps onto the stage to steal the show. In the 1966 World Cup, Geoff Hurst enjoyed such an experience. Continue reading →
After the game against Czechoslovakia in the group stages of the group stages of the 1970 World Cup, when he audaciously tried to chip opposing goalkeeper Viktor from the halfway line, Pelé was asked why he had attempted such an outrageous piece of skill. The most celebrated of World Cup heroes replied that he wanted a ‘signature’ goal; something that would forever be remembered as ‘the Pelé Goal’. It wasn’t hubris or extravagance, it was a search for a defining moment of his career. Continue reading →
History likes snapshots, images frozen in time that serve as an aide memoire for a much more significant event, a more comprehensive story. The 93rd minute of the 2002 World Cup qualifying game between England and Greece played at Old Trafford on 6 October 2001 with a white-shirted England player receiving the adulation of the crowd is such a snapshot.
Seconds earlier, the ball had ripped into the Greece net, stamping England’s passport to the Finals. David Beckham, once so widely denigrated for a petulant red card against Argentina became a national hero. Redemption, as ‘Goldenballs’ is born. The player himself acknowledged the significance. “The kick was about drawing a line under four years of abuse. Four years of bitterness. Four years of England fans — not all of them, but enough to make it hurt — shouting the most horrible things at me while I was playing for my country.” That snapshot though, for all its portrayal as seminal moment has almost come to hide the immense contribution throughout the game that Beckham committed to his country’s cause, almost camouflaging the definitive captain’s performance. Continue reading →
There has always been a tendency for world stars, when in the salad days of their careers, to decamp from the vigorous requirements of top-level football in Europe or South America, and migrate to less stressful leagues where financial recompense more than makes up for any apparent loss of status. Journeys to play for clubs in the Middle East or even the USA weren’t unusual. As mentioned though, the players enticed by such riches tended to be those with a mere few years left of their playing days, and willing to trade them in for a few petro-dollars, or just straightforward dollars. Continue reading →
During the late sixties and early seventies West German football was the dominant force in the game. As well as Die Mannschaft lifting the World Cup in their homeland in 1970, Bayern Munich took three successive European Cups back to Bavaria between 1972 and 1974. A number of players featured for both Bayern and the national side, and whilst some may be more celebrated, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller spring to mind for example, few would have been more instantly recognisable than Josef-Dieter Maier, better known universally as Sepp Maier; owner of big gloves, long shorts and a goalkeeper’s cap full to the brim with medals. Continue reading →