Category Archives: World Football

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 →

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The golden years of Sampdoria – Calcio’s ‘Hipster’ club.

 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 →

Geoff Hurst – The stand-in who took Centre Stage

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 →

Marta’s stellar World Cup performance and the goal that even Pelé couldn’t score.

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 →

David Beckham – Redemption and glory for Goldenballs.

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 →

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao – Chinese football’s rising dragon.

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 →

Big gloves and bigger trophies – Sepp Maier, Bayern Munich and Die Mannschaft.

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 →

Gareth and the Amazing Non-Technicolour Waistcoat – Any Dream Will Do!

 On 30 July 1966, England beat West Germany to win the Jules Rimet Trophy and be crowned Champions of the World. Alf Ramsey had delivered on the pledge he made when appointed to the position of manager of the national team three years before that tumultuous day. The names of the red-shirted heroes who graced the Wembley turf on that day are etched into the memories of all England football fans. All are lauded. All are loved and, as the intervening years and an increasing number of them succumbed to the inevitable battle against mortality, so many have been mourned. In 1966, fans of the game across the country were in love with the team that represented them, and bestowed such joy upon their followers. It was a deep love, and such things last for ever. Don’t they? Continue reading →

The little big man and the big little man –  Preben Elkjær and Michael Laudrup.

The ‘big man, little man’ combination is a common thread among successful striking partnerships. There’s the ‘big man,’ full of muscular hustle and bustle, aggression and a determination to dominate defenders. Then there’s the ‘little man’. He’s the smooth as silk, extravagantly skilled and elegant technician, whose ability bewitches opponents and fans alike. It’s a fairly apt description of Preben Elkjær and Michael Laudrup, Denmark’s iconic striking partnership of the mid to late 1980s when Danish Dynamite exploded into international football. Like so much about the pairing though, there’s even an iconoclastic element to the ‘big man, little man’ description. In this case, Elkjær, the ‘big man’ stood at 5’ 11”, whilst his ‘little man’ partner was 6’ 1” tall, although he hardly ever headed the ball. It’s not the only non-traditional aspect of a partnership that had so many contrasts – both on and off the field – but, particularly in the World Cup of 1986, for a brief time, took on the mantle as the most dynamic pair of strikers in world football. Continue reading →

“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.” (Thucydides) – The philosophy of the Libero.

Ever since the early days of the game, wherever people have kicked a ball around, someone would come up with an idea that would help their team, their players, to be more successful and to be better achieve their aims; in short to win more often by making the most of the assets at their disposal.  These sorts of ideas weren’t tactics; they surpass that. They provide the framework, the structure that tactics are hanged upon. They are ways of playing – much as there are ways of living – a set of ideas and principles that guide in decision making, a light that illuminates the path. Continue reading →