British football’s first European success and the ‘Glory, Glory’ nights of Tottenham’s 1963 Cup Winners Cup triumph.

After securing the domestic ‘Double’ in 1961, Tottenham Hotspur went into the following season’s European Cup competition with an ambition born of conviction. They would, however, come up short against Benfica in the semi-final. Furthermore, the exertions in Europe may also have compromised their domestic league campaign, and Bill Nicholson’s team ended up in third place. They did however retain the FA Cup, with a 3-1 victory over Burnley. The title went to Ipswich Town, under the guidance of Alf Ramsey. The Suffolk team would fall against AC Milan in the First Round of the European Cup, after romping through the preliminaries against a Maltese side. For Spurs however, it was the Cup Winners Cup, and although the poor relation of European club competitions, lifting the trophy would still give the North London club the not inconsiderable distinction of being the first British club to triumph in such company. Continue reading →

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John Neal – The unsung and often forgotten manager who saved Chelsea Football Club.

In the years well before the whizz-bang super-duper transfer days that followed the arrival of Roman Abramovich to Stamford Bridge, the West London club was one of fairly modest ambition – staying in English football’s top flight was probably the main one. It was also one that was sometimes missed and an occasional cup run was the closest thing to glory.  Such times did not require the services of celebrated foreign coaches who could weld an oft unruly bunch of superstars and supposed-stars into a team capable of bringing silverware to the club. In the 1980s, with the club languishing in Division Two again, the requirement was for a manager who knew the domestic game, could spot talent available at a reasonable price and knew how to develop and deliver a successful team. Continue reading →

How a Scot and a dog with a Welsh name saved a Devon club from relegation.

Many pub landlords have stories to tell. They’ve heard thousands and retold them all in any number of different ways. Some are barely believable, some are unbelievable, others should not in any circumstances whatsoever be believed. But, back in 2009, the landlord of ‘The Exeter Inn’ in West Street, Ashburton in rural Devon recalled a tale that may fit in either of those three categories. It was about the day that an unfortunate coming together between himself and a dog with a Welsh name, saved a club from relegation. Continue reading →

Jock Stein at Dunfermline and the launch of a legend.

The name of Jock Stein is lauded – and rightly so – throughout British football as one of the greatest managers of all time. Whilst manager of Celtic, he would accumulate ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. He would also lead the club to unheralded glory when they lifted the European Cup in 1967, becoming the first British club to ascend to such honour.

Many years before that momentous Lisbon evening however, Jock Stein, coach to Celtic’s reserves after injury ended his playing career, would be told that he would never be promoted to the manager’s chair due to his Protestant beliefs. It was this barrier that caused him to leave the club in 1960, in pursuit of a managerial CV that would compel the cub to rethink. Five years later, he achieved that goal and returned to Celtic Park as manger to lead the club to glory. In between those times though, he would cut his teeth as manager and begin the legend of Jock Stein the manager that wold lead to European glory, at lowly Dunfermline Athletic.  Continue reading →

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 →

“I looked back over my left shoulder and saw it exactly: it was not a goal.”

Unarguably, it was the most controversial goal in the biggest game in the football calendar. The ball crashed against the crossbar, bounced down and spun back into play. But did it cross the line? Two officials bereft of a common tongue consulted as players of both teams watched on, hoping not necessarily for justice but, more importantly, to be favoured by the fickle caprices of fate. Nods, gesticulations, more nods and then a blown whistle and two synchronised pointing of fingers towards the centre circle. The goal was given, England led the 1966 World Cup Final 3-2 and would notch another with time almost up, not that the late strike would detract from the controversy of the 101st minute of the Wembley showpiece, even though it carried some of its own. 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 →