On 5 June 2017, in the Italian city of Florence, Giuliano Sarti, one of the most decorated goalkeepers in the history of Italian football passed away following a brief illness, aged 85. Sarti had been a prominent member in two of the country’s greatest club sides. In the fifties, he played under Fulvio Bernardini at Fiorentina as I Viola topped Italian football securing the Scudetto in 1955-56, and losing controversially to Real Madrid in the second European Cup tournament. The Coppa Italia and European Cup Winners Cup were later added with legendary Hungarian Nándor Hidegkuti in charge. After almost a decade in Florence, he would join Inter Milan in 1963, becoming a key element in the success of Helenio Herrera’s ‘Grande Inter’ team, winning a further two Scudetti, successive European Cups and Intercontinental Cups. On the way, he would also become the only Italian goalkeeper to appear in four European Cup Finals. Continue reading →
In the Madrid suburb of San Cristóbal de los Ángeles, a proud father had watched his young son score any number of goals in the very same way, controlling a pass, feinting to deceive defenders, once, twice, and then coolly slotting the ball past a despairing goalkeeper. They were goals of skill, ability, and an inbuilt calmness with ice-cold conviction They also led to the parents of his team-mates to christen the player ‘Aguanis.’ To his doting father however, he was Raúl González Blanco. Continue reading →
All the best stories follow a similar line. Firstly, there’s this little guy, unknown, quiet, but dedicated, never upsetting anyone, simply getting on with his ever-so-simple understated life. Deep down though, locked away in the secret secluded corner of his mind, where amazing hopes can survive untouched by the harsh cruelty of reality, he has his dream. He dreams about the day when everyone will know his name, recognise him, respect him and smile; when they’ll celebrate his achievements, and nod approvingly at him; when he becomes a big guy. It’s never going to happen of course, he’s sure of that, but he has his dream to keep him warm on the cold and lonely nights, and he keeps wishing.
Then, there’s this big guy. He’s OK. Quite often not a bad sort of chap really, but he’s hogged all the glory for himself, and when the little guy tangles with the big guy, the outcome is only going one way, isn’t it? Both the little guy and the big guy want to be on the big stage where all the brightest lights shine. Even if he gets there, the little guy knows he may not get a starring role. He may only appear briefly, but if he can just beat the big guy, he would have his ticket to the ball, get to mix with the big players, his wish would come true. It would be something no-one could ever take away from. For a while at least, he’ll have become a big guy as well.
Sadly, of course, dreams are mere whims of fancy. They’re never meant to played out in real life. Never tested in real life. Never seen in real life. That little guy can wish all he likes, but to quote Lev Grossman, “If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.” Dreams are for stories, as novelist Grossman would confirm, and that’s where they stay. Well, perhaps. Sometimes, just sometimes, wishing can make it so, dreams get into stories, and stories get into real life, and the little guy does become the big guy. Sometimes, just like the stories that so often begin with, “Once upon a time…” the little guy gets to go to the ball. Don’t believe me? Well read on. Continue reading →
In the history of Europe’s premier club competition, be it as the European Cup or, more latterly, the Champions League, only one club who have never lifted the trophy – in either guise – can claim to have eliminated reigning champions on three occasions. That club is CSKA Sofia or, to give it the full Anglicised title, the Central Sports Club of the Army, as located in Sofia. Both Juventus and Real Madrid have eliminated more champions, but CSKA’s achievement remains unique. So too are the stories and strings of apparent coincidences surrounding the story of the oft disregarded Bulgarian club that became European football’s Slayers of Champions. Continue reading →
Delighted to announce that my third book, and first novel, is now available to pre-order from Amazon.
In ‘As You Like It’ Shakespeare wrote that, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
This book illustrates the Bard’s point. It’s a story of friendship, love, success and failure all set against the back drop of a small Spanish football club. There are ups and downs, shocks and surprises. The big problem is that although everyone is playing some sort of game, sometimes you don’t realise that you’re being played yourself.
If asked to suggest the greatest players to emerge from South America this century, very few, if any, would raise a hand to make a case for Joffre Guerrón. Perhaps however such lack of recognition would be inappropriate. Despite often being regarded as merely one of the better, rather than greats, of his era, he was twice lauded as the MVP of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club tournament. Such rare accolades that fall to very few once, let alone twice. Continue reading →
Sacking managers and head coaches may feel like a particularly modern phenomenon, but as the old adage goes ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ and that’s especially the case in football. Way back in January 1953 the football club representing the capital of Tuscany was having a bad time of it. After finishing in fourth place the previous season under manager Renzo Magli, newly arrived from neighbouring Empoli, Fiorentina and especially club president Enrico Befani were expecting an improvement in fortunes with, perhaps, even a run at winning the Scudetto. By the turn of the year however, things were looking anything but positive.
The season was halfway through and the previous ten games had brought five defeats and five draws. Any hopes of glory had disappeared, and the club was heading in a downward spiral towards the foot of the league table. It was time for action. Befani removed Magli from office and did what anyone would do when caring for an ailing body. He called for the doctor. Continue reading →
As the bright Oranje flame of Dutch Totaal Voetbal burnt so brightly before consuming itself in the 1974 World Cup Final and falling to cruel defeat, back in Kerkrade, a Dutch town virtually lying up against the German border, an amateur footballer watched on television. Little did he know that, four years later, donned in the famous colours of his country, he would score the goal that gave the Netherlands renewed hope that they could lay to rest the ghost of the numbing defeat to his German neighbours. In the space of those four years, Dick Nanninga would go from a part-time footballer and full-time worker on construction sites to being the robust and muscular embodiment of an artisan iconoclast among a squad of Dutch artists, the man who gave hope of redemption to his country – and a florist. Continue reading →
On 16 November 2005, in Sydney’s Telstra Stadium, John Aloisi, late of Coventry City and Portsmouth, among many other clubs, but at the time plying his trade with Alavés in Spain’s Basque country, held the fate of his nation’s footballing aspirations in his hands. Donned in the gold shirt of Australia’s Socceroos, he stood a little more than twelve yards from the goal line policed by Uruguay’s ‘keeper, Fabián Carini. The next few seconds would decide if the upstart Aussies would go to the 2006 World Cup Finals. If Aloisi could convert his spot kick, there was nothing that La Celeste, twice crowned as champions of the world, could do about it. Australia would be in Germany, and the South Americans would miss out. Continue reading →
Although any it’s true to say that the only sweeping generalisation that is ever true, is that all sweeping generalisations are oversimplifications at best, there’s often at least the grain of a valid point buried in them. With that caveat, it’s probably relatively safe to say that British players venturing abroad have tended to fall into one of two broad categories. Continue reading →