Is it time to ditch the away goal rule?

Back in the early days of European competition when it was virtually stepping into the unknown, UEFA introduced the concept of the away goal from 1965-66.  The rationale behind this was to try to introduce a fairer means of deciding which team could progress if both teams drew both legs.  Previously matches had been decided at a neutral venue or even by the toss of a coin.

Liverpool in 1965 had famously progressed at the expense of Cologne to the semi-final of the European cup after two draws and a 2-2 draw at Feyenoord’s ground still couldn’t decide the tie.  Even then it took a second toss of the coin as it landed on its side in a divot on the pitch.


Due to the obvious unfairness of deciding a tie on the toss of a coin, plus the difficulties of arranging a replay match at a neutral venue, the idea of the away goal was introduced.

Another reason was that the consensus amongst most teams was to be more defensive away from home with the logic that the home tie would be the best position to win the tie.  Consequently the away goal was seen as a method to encourage the away team to be more attacking.

It was first used in a cup winners cup tie in the 1965-66 season when Budapest Honvéd beat Dukla Prague on away goals in the second round.  The following season it was introduced in the Fairs cup and after being applied in the early rounds in 1967-68 and 1968-69 was introduced for all rounds from 1970-71 in the European cup as well as the Cup winners cup and UEFA cup.

Back in those days, European football was like stepping into the unknown.  Travelling was arduous and there wasn’t much information in terms of the opposition.  Crowds could be volatile with all sorts of intimidation tactics being used such as camping outside the hotel and making as much noise as possible.

Added to which the pitches were not always immaculate, getting a result away from home was pretty decent as the home leg was always the one (especially if it was the second leg) were it was felt that you had an advantage.  The consensus back then was to weather the storm and finish the job at home or to hold out if you were away for the second leg.

One of the big European giants Benfica became the first team to benefit from the away goal rule in the European cup and saved their blushes in the prospect.  After drawing 0-0 against Northern Ireland champions Glentoran at home in the second leg it was Eusebio’s equaliser in Belfast that saw the Portuguese side go through on the away goal.  Incidentally Glentoran were four minutes away from a famous victory until Eusebio scored.  As it was Benfica reached the final only to be beaten Matt Busby’s Manchester United 4-1 in extra time to claim the European cup for the first time in their history.

It was a system that seemed to work quite well and was deemed to try to encourage the away side to score.  There were a few instances were winning by the away goal was highly celebrated.  After drawing 0-0 at Anfield, Liverpool put on a professional job drawing 1-1 away at Bayern Munich in the 1981 European cup semi-final.  Ray Kennedy’s goal enough to win see them through were another Kennedy (Alan) scored the winner against Real Madrid in the final.

As recent as 2009 a fantastic strike and equaliser by Iniesta at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea was enough to Barcelona to go through on the away goal.  The Catalan club would then go on to beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome to complete a treble.

The question now is whether the away goal rule is still pertinent.  In some respects it could even be argued that playing the second leg away now means you have an advantage even if you draw the home leg 0-0.  For example if the away team scores then the home team has to score twice in whatever is left of the ninety minutes.  As Jonathan Wilson author the football pyramid states should a goal carry more worth than another?

Like everything else football has evolved.  There are no new frontiers with no significant secrets about teams or how they play.  Preparation is a lot more better and comfortable than it previously was where teams just wanted to get in and out.  Even a one or two nil loss wouldn’t be seen as too bad away in the first leg.  A lot of teams were confident that it could be overturned in the home leg.

Tactics have also changed were certain teams and coaches are reactive even if they are at home.  Consequently with better pitches compared to some of the mud baths that teams had to endure it can be more about overcoming a teams tactics over two legs.

It could also be said that if a reactive team gets a 1-1 draw away in the first leg then rather than trying to be more open will be as defensive as possible, knowing that even a 0-0 draw would see you through.  There is also the fact that even if the game goes into extra time then the away team has the advantage of knowing that the away goal rule will still count.  Something that the home team did not have the luxury of in the first leg.

The question being now is whether the away goal still has a relevance and is a fair away to decide a tie.  In some respects it could be argued that the rule does need to be reviewed.  No goal should be worth more especially as tactics and the game as a result have changed.

Of course the problem is what to replace the away goal with in European competition.  There are some options that spring to mind.  You could still keep the away goal but like the English league cup only counts after extra time. Others have suggested that if the away goals should only count if the away side has scored two or more. Alternatively the rule could be completely scrapped with extra time and penalties to decide the tie.  The latter would probably be the only way to go if the away goal is deemed to be unfair.

Times have changed and perhaps it may be worth UEFA reviewing the away goal.  Of course it is a fairer way than the toss of a coin and arranging a replay is not feasible.  Nevertheless should a goal be worth more than another and that is the nub of the matter.












Gotham – A missed opportunity

‘This city is even sicker than I thought,’ Detective Jim Gordon declares during the trailer advertising the first season of Gotham.  It certainly looked intriguing as it showed a power battle between Gotham’s criminal families of Falcone and Maroni.  In between this is Jim Gordon a new cop trying his best to save Gotham from the corruption and lawlessness that  has engulfed the city like a virus.

Although Gotham opens with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s Parents I had hoped that this would just be a back story.  We would see more of Gotham and how it is infested with criminality and why it needs someone like Batman to clean the city up.

It was also a new angle to explore.  Ever since Tim Burton made Batman dark again in the late 80s with Michael Keaton in the starring role, there had been various adaption’s.  Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale have all donned the famous Batman costume.  Not forgetting of course Batman the animated series which has to be the best adaption so far.

Consequently in order to avoid comparisons to the recent films it made sense to do a story about Gotham and the inhabitants.

There is no question that it has been well casted from Ben Mackenzie who plays Jim Gordon to Sean Pertwee who plays Alfred.  The actors seem to enjoy it and the show is well crafted.  Yet there is a feeling of a missed opportunity and whether the producers have played safe.

Of course some of the well-known villains can be introduced but really should be minimal.  For example Poison Ivy doesn’t fit in with her character biography.  She is after all meant to be a Doctor in Botany raised by wealthy Parents and not a scruffy street kid.


Also the relationship between Bullock and Gordon is somewhat different to what is portrayed in the comics and other adaption’s.  Bullock has been previously been portrayed as a lazy, incompetent cop who is constantly at odds with Gordon.  In Gotham the pair are the best of buddies with Bullock proving more than a competent detective.

The other problem is the amount of known Batman villains that are in the show.  We have the Penguin, Riddler, Selina Kyle (later to become Catwoman), Clayface, Firefly, the Mad Hatter, even Ra’s Al Ghul to name but a few before we come to the Joker or Jerome as he is known in the show.  By the time Batman becomes a known presence in the mean streets of Gotham most of these villains will not only be well-known but a little past it.

Initially it seemed that Gotham was veering towards a gang feud between Falcone and Maroni.   Through Jim Gordon we were going to lift up the carpet and see how he was not only fighting the villains but the political corruption that allowed the likes of Falcone free rein.  However despite the conniving going on between the warring factions it started to veer towards villain of the week.

Maybe the problem was keeping Bruce Wayne as a major character.  That’s not to say that the actor who plays the future Batman doesn’t play the part well.  Indeed the relationship between his Guardian Alfred also played superbly by Sean Pertwee is one of the best performances.  We have Alfred playing the surrogate Father and trying to protect Bruce as we watch how he will become Batman.  However having a young Bruce Wayne distracts from what the show is supposed to be about.  After all Gotham was advertised as ‘Gotham before Batman.’  Only we still have him hovering in the background.

Barbara Kean is also a bit of a weak link and it will be interesting to see if and how she ends being married to Jim Gordon.  After all in they are meant to have a young daughter together.

The mayoral elections became a bit silly especially when Galavan tried to run the city into the ground and ended up getting killed not once but twice.  When Penguin or Oswald Cobblepot stood it became a take of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign with its ‘make Gotham great again.’

Watching Jim Gordon bending the rules time and time again to such an extent that it could be argued he is as bad as the villains he is meant to chasing.  For example he uses the Penguin to gain further information from a corrupt cop.

Gordon is meant to be the small ray of light who tries to do good, by legal means.  Indeed the question has to be would Gordon be the sort of cop that Batman in the future would  be after?

Due to Netflix’s being the only avenue to watch Gotham in the UK it is a only up to series three.  This incidentally ended with the Mad Hatter releasing the ‘Tetch,’ virus which caused mayhem in Gotham.  Jim Gordon incidentally just about saving himself and Leslie Tompkins after they had injected the said virus.

Again part of this was all a little bit daft with the spurned relationship between Penguin and the Riddler leading to the pair temporally teaming up to escape after previously trying to kill each other.

Despite the initial promise of seeing how Gotham gets up to the point that it needs a vigilante dressed as a Bat to save the city we get a show that might as well be titled Batman.  After all a young Joker has already caused mayhem and Jim Gordon just seems to be seen as a prototype Batman (albeit crossing a few lines).

Maybe the producers panicked or it just panned out that they were giving what they thought most viewers wanted.

What is disappointing is that Gotham could have been so much more.  The viewer could have seen what and how the city becomes the way it is.  Rather than seeing Bruce Wayne, Selina, the Penguin, Riddler etc. we see the real inhabitants of Gotham.

It doesn’t even have to be about Jim Gordon trying to clean Gotham but random stories about different individuals.  The tales could be how they cope with Gotham and how the culture makes it unique.  After all there has to be some good points to living in Gotham otherwise nobody would live there.  Furthermore it could show that sometimes not everything is as black and white.

For example one week it could consist of how someone gets entangled with crime, the next episode a clean politician doing their best to cut through the corruption, another of a new inhabitant arriving.  Then of course there is the feud between Falcone and Maroni.  Indeed the episodes don’t necessarily have to be about crime but could be a daft romantic tale or a story of someone incarcerated in Arkham.

The only mention of Bruce Wayne could simply be an old newspaper rolling through the gutter about his Parents being murdered.  Then we roll onto the story that Gotham can give.

Although the cast is great it still feels as though it is a missed opportunity of what it could have been.  Once the series eventually ends I don’t think it will be held in the same fondness and quality of Batman adaption’s such as the animated series.






The conundrum of Klopp’s Liverpool

Over the years various managers from Roy Evans, Rafa Benitez, and even Brendan Rodgers have got close to winning Liverpool’s nineteenth league title but just couldn’t make it past the post.  Ironically the latter two  finished with more points than the 1989-90 team that last won the league.  Even Gerard Houllier in 2001-02 finished on 80 pts as the reds finished runners-up.

Jurgen Klopp is now the latest coach who has to deal with the history of expectation whilst having to handle Liverpool’s current standing in the current climate.

Liverpool under his tutelage are one of the most entertaining teams around but equally they also have supporters pulling their hair out in frustration.  Brilliant one week and the next looking woeful.  Equally there have been instances where Liverpool can be three up, but end up hanging on near the end, like a punch drunk boxer after conceding soft goals to let the opposition back into the game.

Klopp has certainly got the best out of the current crop of players and undoubtedly is still one of the best coaches around.  Under him Liverpool press the opposition using pace and aggression.  This system brought Klopp two back to back Bundesliga titles and the German cup.  It was a remarkable achievement considering the financial mess Dortmund were in when Klopp took charge.

As a result Klopp implemented an aggressive pressing system with Liverpool encouraged to press and work the opposition hard.  It is a system were even the forwards are expected to put in a shift by constantly hassling the back line and equally being the first form of defence when losing the ball.

It certainly brought Liverpool big wins on the pitch especially against teams who like to play a bit more expansive.  In Klopp’s first full season in charge they literally blew teams away who didn’t know how to cope with the speedy aggressive play that was unleashed.

Reaction to Liverpool’s pressing tactics

With teams being smashed like a door by a battering ram due to Liverpool’s aggressive and skilful forward play, some have changed their tactics in order to obtain a positive result.  Knowing that if they attempt to try to outplay Liverpool they will get overrun they play deep instead.

Although Liverpool may have the quality players and certainly in Salah, Mane, and Firmino they have a trio that would test the best of defences it is hard to get behind an organised defence.

Depending on your football philosophy you don’t necessarily have to possess the ball in order to control the game.  If you have your players restricting space and knowing where to move in order to restrict Liverpool’s movement and opportunities to split the defence.


This has seen many teams adopting this tactic especially as it has frustrated Liverpool and won points.  Recently Swansea used it to good effect and even took their opportunities to win the game despite Liverpool obtaining possession for the majority of the match.

As stated by some critics it is what you do with the possession and how you unlock the defences in front of you.  Midfield is an area that is quite crucial in that respect and where Liverpool can let themselves down.  Sometimes the midfielders have been too slow or lack the guile and imagination to get between the lines.

For example against Everton in the 1-1 draw, Henderson received the ball with a gap in the Toffee’s midfield.  Mane was free but the pass needed to be hit straight away for him to make that run.  Instead Henderson took that extra touch and although it was only a few seconds the Everton players were quickly able to get back into position to pick up the ball.

It’s not just Henderson who at times slows the midfield but Wijnaldum, Milner and Can.  When teams are defending deep it is a case of trying to stretch the opposition and to try to use a bit of vision to open up gaps.  That’s why Lallana has been a major miss this season as he has the ability to thread the ball through tight channels for teammates to exploit.

Defence has been an issue for Liverpool for the last few years.  Klopp has been trying to rectify this enigma with set-pieces also causing problems for Liverpool.  The idea of pressing when losing the ball is to defend from the front to retain the ball by restricting space and closing down avenues in order to obtain the ball and hit quickly on the break.

Liverpool for some reason appear to wilt under the slightest pressure.  The two goals Rodriguez scored for West Brom that helped knock Liverpool saw the middle of Liverpool’s defence break away too easily.

Composure is what is required when defending and although easier said than done due to the amount of energy required to press, it is vital to restrict space and look to regain the ball as quickly as possible.  In Honigstein’s book ‘Klopp bring the noise,’ coaching assistant and chief scout Peter Krawietz states that winning the ball back from the opposition is when they are at the most vulnerable.  The idea being that they may be slightly out of position ready to attack and therefore you can exploit that bit of space if everybody presses forward to gain the advantage.

The frustration can be seen on Klopp’s face as the team no doubt are put through their paces in training to eradicate these mistakes.  Yet under the pressure of a proper match Liverpool struggle to do what is required.

It doesn’t help that the goalkeeper is still a major issue for Liverpool.  Neither Karius or Mignolet appear to be the answer.  Positioning, decision-making, and distribution are something lacking.  The defence do not appear to trust the keeper which in turn has a domino affect as it causes nervousness amongst the back four.

Expectation and the history of the club weighs heavily on each manager to deliver what is now the holy grail of Liverpool becoming league champions for the nineteenth time.  Trophies have been won in that period although the last time Liverpool lifted any silverware was the league cup in 2012.

Klopp is the latest manager to deal with the pressure of the past and at the same time compete in the current climate against sides who have bigger resources.  Matters are not helped by some fans who expect instant success.

Liverpool are still competing for a top four finish and are in the last sixteen of the champions league.  The latter of course could still see Liverpool produce high drama such as the Europa cup run in 2016.  For Klopp it is all about the adventure and enjoying the roller-coaster ride.

Yet progress still has to be seen in making that step towards challenging for the league.  Van Dijk has been signed for a record fee of £75 million with Keita set to join in July from Leipzig.  There will probably be more signings especially if players such as Can and Sturridge leave.

The question then will be whether they have the ability required to make Liverpool more organised when defending as well as having the intelligence to break teams down.  All of this is easier said than done and there have been too many times of trying to get the right  jigsaw piece only for it not to fit.

Jürgen Klopp despite the debates and opinions is the one who has the final say and only time will tell if he can successfully bridge that gap so many others have faltered.

Luis Garcia and the ghost goal

chelsea_garcia_1024Anticipation for one of Liverpool’s biggest games in years kindled furiously like a hive of electricity.  The red’s were due to play Chelsea in the second leg of the champions league semi-final after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Stamford bridge.  It was a chance for a new generation to be at the forefront of Liverpool making history in the way that Rome 77′ and the other big European finals was for their Parents.

The smart money was on Chelsea who were on their way to clinch their second league championship to reach the final.  Under Mourinho they had looked formidable that there were no real challengers for the Premier league that season.

Liverpool in contrast were struggling to finish in the top four under new Spanish manager Rafael Benitez.  Admittedly it was seen as a transitional season after the team regressed under previous manager Gerard Houllier.

It didn’t help that Michael Owen whose goals had been instrumental in ensuring a Champions league qualifier place had joined Real Madrid.  They had incidentally just managed to make the group stages as they lost 1-0 to GAK at Anfield but had won the first leg 2-0.  Hardly the stuff of European champions.

Sometimes though you have to suffer the misery of attending awful matches to appreciate the good times and big games.  Dour matches that are played in the freezing cold and sometimes heavy, driving rain.  A game that you wished you never went to and openly wonder it’s worth all this pain and misery.

That season Liverpool had certainly brought those thoughts into the equation.  An embarrassing and damn right bizarre own goal by Traore saw Liverpool crash out in the third round away to Burnley.  ‘Don’t blame it on the Henchoz, don’t blame it on the Biscan, don’t blame it on the Carragher, blame it on Traore, he just can’t, he just can’t, he just control his feet,’ certainly summed up his performance.

Although Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia had been bought in the early part of the season there was still inconsistencies within the team.  Part of it was of players getting used to the tactics that Benitez wanted to use and partly down to the fact that some of them were certainly not good enough.

The group stages certainly didn’t suggest that Liverpool would be favourites or even a potential dark horse.  So far they were making hard work of it after losses away to Olympiacos, Monaco and a draw at home against Deportivo.  It meant that Liverpool had to beat Olympiacos by two clear goals to qualify as runners-up.

Confidence was high that Liverpool could do it.  After all they were at home but when Rivaldo scored from a free kick into the Kop goal in the first half a resigned resignation shook the stadium.  Liverpool it seemed had that ability to shoot itself in the foot and as a result would be dropping down into the UEFA cup as a booby prize for finishing third

As usual the pitch looked extra green as the floodlights shone brightly against the black December night.  Nothing seemed extra ordinary although Liverpool had shown their fight back skills with a last gasp Neil Mellor winner a week back at home to Arsenal in the league.

Pongolle had equalised for Liverpool but it was the last ten minutes of the game that it turned on its head.  Mellor who had shown a David Fairclough knack of scoring important goals made it 2-1 but Liverpool still needed that extra goal.

Time was running down as the crowd roared on Liverpool and it was Gerrard who at times physically dragged Liverpool kicking and screaming to rescue the team did so with a beauty of a shot.

All I remember was bedlam and the sheer relief and joy when the goal went in.  Once the final whistle went it was a chance to saviour a Indiana Jones moment of scrambling through the closing door and grabbing our hat as a final measure.  It was nice to walk out of Anfield knowing that we still had something to look forward to for the second half of the season.

After that match Liverpool suddenly seemed to have grown in Europe.  They looked so much assured after they beat Bayern Leverkusen home and away who had been European cup finalists in 2002.  Even the much derided Igor Biscan looked like the accomplished midfielder that he had been touted to be.  In Europe at least, the team looked organised and efficient.

Liverpool produced another professional performance as they beat Juventus 2-1 at Anfield and drew 0-0 in Turin to lead to that semi-final tie against Chelsea

Right from Sandhills train station the anticipation was building.  Something was brewing in terms of wanting to make the final so much.  Nerves, butterflies were fluttering inside stomachs.  It didn’t help when the soccer bus to the ground made a spluttering sound before stalling and breaking down.  Nervously I hoped it wasn’t going to be a sign of how things would go on later at the match

Stepping onto the Kop it seemed similar to the halcyon days of the old Spion Kop.  The noise was simmering nicely that it was like a volcano rumbling.  Everybody wanted to be inside as early as possible to generate the atmosphere and support.  Even bringing your chippy dinner into the ground was permissible.

Chelsea had been warned about the noise that Anfield could generate and they no doubt expected a bit of a rough ride with what was at stake.  They certainly didn’t expect it to be as vociferous and noisy.  As soon as they ran onto the pitch for their warm up you could see they were taken aback by the jet powered noise of the crowd.  Something that both John Terry and Frank Lampard later admitted to.

It was something out of the norm as the crowd just yearned to recapture old glories by reaching the European cup final.  The noise just crackled loudly like wildfire and you could feel and taste that excitement and yearning of wanting Liverpool to win this tie.

‘Rings of fire,’ by Johnny Cash which became the unofficial anthem for that European campaign  blasted out and it was a noise to match the old ghosts of games in years gone by.

We were only four minutes into the game when Baros beat Cech to the ball with the keeper taking him out as the loose ball fell to Garcia who scored to put Liverpool ahead.  I admit to a slight pause as I scarcely believed that we had taken the lead but joined in with the loud eruption that roared around Anfield as the referee gave the goal.  An early lead was what we had all hoped for and Garcia, a player that could frustrate one minute and in the blink of an eye produce something outstanding.   Garcia also had that knack of scoring important goals in big games.

The Kop was bouncing even the main stand and the Centenary was too as scarfs were waved high triumphantly.  It was like time had stood still slightly thinking back to that moment as Garcia wheeled away in celebration.

Part of the atmosphere must have played a part.  It had taken the Chelsea team aback and with that level of support seemed to inspire the eleven red men on the pitch.  The crowd wanted it badly and it showed with the songs, chants, and urging on of Liverpool to do the job.

Liverpool were thoroughly organised with Chelsea being limited.  Like a good drama there is always that moment when the hero is in danger of losing everything.

Deep into stoppage time with the crowd willing the referee to blow up I remember Gudjohnsen racing down the right hand side and my heart just stopping as he hit the ball just wide of the post.  There was that look of all footballers who have just missed a good and last chance of the game as he grimaced in disbelief.

It was more than a cheer, a roar or any loud noise as the final whistle went.  Everything just seemed to shake as people yelled in excitement at what they had just witnessed.  ‘You’ll never walk alone,’ blasted out on the tannoy as people stood on top of the seats to join in and saviour every bit of this victory.

This wasn’t in an era were Liverpool swept everybody before them like a Roman army in their prime.  It was no longer the time of expecting Liverpool to reach a major European cup final.  The current Liverpool then were not considered at the start of the season of being good enough to rub shoulders with the European elite.

Liverpool though would be another ninety-minutes away from being crowned the Champions of Europe.  This was against all the odds and why Anfield erupted.  A chance to write a new chapter in the history books and another adventure to tell future generations whilst we grow old.  With the final in Istanbul it hinted at adventure with it being ‘far away from home,’ as the lyrics in Scouser Tommy mention.

The ‘ghost goal,’ was dubbed that by Mourinho who sourly stated that the ball did not cross the line. He had conveniently forgot to mention that if the referee had not given it then he would have had to given a penalty and sent off Petr Cech for fouling Milan Baros.  Added to which there was still time on the clock for Chelsea to get a goal which would have changed things as they would have had the away goal in their favour.

All of that though didn’t matter as everybody was on a high as we all floated down the Walton Breck road.   It was a moment to bask in the victory and to worry about getting tickets for the final tomorrow.  A celebratory glass of a single malt whiskey topped a momentous occasion like this.

Critics had given Liverpool a ghost of a chance of getting to the final and perhaps it was quite apt that Garcia’s winner was dubbed the ghost goal.  There was however still a major turning point as flights were booked to Istanbul and the clock slowly ticked down to the 25th May.   Istanbul was to be a finale worthy of a blockbuster movie.


‘You are the hero!’ Fighting fantasy


‘You are an adventurer in a world of monsters and magic, living by quickness of wit and skill of sword.’

Reading those words for the first time as a young child sent a tingle of excitement that you were entering a world where you decided what happened.  It seemed something new and unique, that you didn’t follow the narrative but decided what action the hero took.  Also who didn’t want to be in a world of cut throats, goblins, wizards, and monsters?

All that was needed were two dice (easy to get from your board games) a pencil, and a bit of paper to mark your skills, stamina, luck, and all the other notes that you needed.  Sometimes you were given the opportunity of choosing say a potion or a particular skill.

It sounds a relatively simple game and after all it was meant to be an introduction to the fun of dungeon and dragons but the stories were gripping and enthralling.  They were also a challenge that showed no sentiment or allowed the reader an easy ride to a happy ending.  There were choices and sometimes picking the wrong path or item could result in a grisly end.

Like many others I did intend to play properly but after a few frustrated deaths that dice roll of one again for skill would mean that was a ‘test roll,’ mainly until it was a five or preferably a six.  Then there was the opening of a door and ‘a wizard robs you of two skill points and all your money.’  A little cough would follow and ‘I wasn’t going to go into that room anyway,’ with you choosing the other option.  That was part of the charm but even then  a dice roll or wrong choice could see your adventure coming to an abrupt end.

The covers and the illustrations were pretty cool as well but it was that excitement that you decided the fate of the hero.  It helped that the books were well written and painted a colourful picture.  Instantly you were sent down a helter skelter of a slide to another world where the characters and even the smells seemed real.

More than anything it was the words and the language that was used.  It was ‘you see an old tavern with the words The old Toad.’  It’s quite subtle in some respects but rather than saying ‘John goes to…’ it’s you…  Already you are involved as every action is described as though it is you walking through the town or even paying an innkeeper.

Once you took on the mission and turned that page over you were instantly plunged into a dilemma as though it was real-time.   Was it safe to go down that dodgy lane or play safe by going the long way across the field?  Should you help that man lying on the floor or open the door with loud noises inside the room?

It wasn’t as straight forward as you think and that was the beauty of the books.  Once you made that decision there was no going back, (unless you cheated of course but there was still that buzz of debating what you should do next).  Even doing the perceived right thing of helping someone could see you get into a fight or have a skill, stamina, or a luck point deducted.

Incidentally testing your luck was literally a dicey thing.  After being prompted I felt quite smug in the knowledge that I had ten points and felt that the odds were more than in my favour.  Casually I threw the dices and to my horror threw a double six.  There was an even sickening feeling as I turned to the relevant page as my character met a grisly death.

The books were also a puzzle were you had to follow a particular route to win.  It could also be harsh in books such as ‘Warlock of Firetop mountain.’   After completing dangerous tasks and fearsome foes such as the final and hardest villain you are asked ‘did you take that key?’  a few chapters back.  Feeling slightly puzzled as I didn’t take the key I turned as instructed to the no page only to find out that I had failed in my mission as I couldn’t open the chest.  Instead I spent the rest of my days apparently sobbing over the elusive treasure.

‘Creature of havoc,’ was one of the toughest books that was virtually impossible to complete.  With many others and after much perseverance you could complete the book.  ‘Havoc,’ though relied on you not only following a particular path but as you were a creature you relied on instinct or smell your fate also relied on a particular dice roll.

In one instance I ran into a bunch of arrow wielding Elves which ended with me dying a painful death with me crying out in pathetically in pain.  Re-starting through much gritted teeth I came to the same quandary of either going forward or taking another route.  As I knew the outcome of the former I took as you would the latter only to find out that one of the Elves took me clean out.

It seemed that particular route meant that you were as good as dead.  The only choice you had, was whether it was a clean or painful death.

Like with anything that was good there had to be a challenge and that feeling of satisfaction that you had accomplished something when you were successful.  The fighting fantasy books were able to provide that and with the writing portraying a colourful world it seemed real.  Your imagination was able to run wild and that tense feeling of having to make a decision that could backfire or be instrumental in completing your mission.

There were numerous books that you could buy and as with anything successful there were also rivals such as lone wolf.  However like Adidas or puma football boots you either preferred one or the other.  For me it was fighting fantasy and the labyrinth of different stories that could see you being a wood elf or off hunting vampires.  Plus the stories were more varied and interesting.

As the genre was quite successful some television series such as Robin of Sherwood produced a couple of books were you played the ‘hooded man.’  These though were inferior in the sense that it was more harder to fail than it was to complete the adventure.  It was akin to playing a team two levels below you as a kid.  Once the second goal went in you knew there was only one outcome and no real joy could be taken from a routine victory.

For some unknown reason I do remember playing a football version of fighting fantasy. That was a pale imitation, a bit like drinking diet Irn Bru.  Sometimes only the real McCoy will do and although you had choices it wasn’t a patch on Livingston and Jackson’s books.  I can’t for the life of me remember what the plot although I think it was about a dodgy Chairman who wanted to turn the club’s ground into a supermarket.

Still on football, I suppose that you are the ref was probably a small snippet that was similar.  The only difference was that if you got the decision wrong you didn’t get an outraged orc’s axe into the back of your head.

Like anything there were those that mocked fighting fantasy as a pale imitation of dungeons and dragons.  Aside from the fact that they were meant to be an introduction there was if you were a big fan of books something exciting about deciding the fate of the hero.

Nostalgia can sometimes play funny tricks on the memory.  Old classic computer games or old TV series such as the X files do not have that same allure that they did in their heyday.  So it was with great trepidation that I bought second hand copies  of the City of thieves, creature of havoc, and phantom of fear.

Turning that page still brought the familiar feeling of excitement as it did many years before.  In many ways it was like feeling the weight of a football against your foot after a bad injury.  There is that surge of joy coursing through your veins as you throw the dice as well as weighing up the options of your choices.  It was still fun to play and the stories were well crafted to make me feel as though I was in a dodgy city attempting to take on Zanbar Bone.

The books were still as tough as ever with creature of chaos still impossible to complete.  Luckily City of Thieves wasn’t as difficult although it took a few goes there was still that feeling of achievement when it was cracked.

Sometimes your imagination can provide the best entertainment and the fighting fantasy books did precisely that.  All you needed was a pencil, a bit of paper, and dices to be plunged into another reality.  Fighting fantasy brought all that with their charm and making you personally involved.  We all need a bit of escapism which even now Livingston and Jackson’s books still bring.







2017 – The Omnishambles year

After the crazy year that was 2016 that saw Eric Cartman with a dodgy wig or Donald Trump as he is commonly known, Britain deciding to leave the European Union, and Leicester City winning the Premier league, it was a question of whether 2017 would continue to be mad or common sense would return.

That quickly went out of the window after North Korea fired a ballistic missile across the sea of Japan.  Considering that Kim Jong-Un is unstable and lacking in diplomacy what could wrong when Donald Trump waded in like a bar room loud mouth?   Naturally Trump had to raise the tensions another notch with his speech of ‘unleashing fire and fury,’ and referring to Jong-Un as the ‘rocket man.’

At times it seemed that Trump just seemed to wake up and decide to cause mayhem by getting on twitter.   Officially recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was one of many instances where he didn’t put his brain into gear first.  People accusing me of being a fascist?  I know I’ll re-tweet a Britain first comment without checking who they are and whether what they say is true or not.  After all truth can be an inconvenience can’t it?

Then of course there is the scandal of the suspicion that Trump colluded with Russians during the Presidential election.  It’s something that isn’t going away too soon with Steve Bannon to be questioned about it.

So far the Trump administration has been dysfunctional with people getting sacked such as Bannon, aides being caught lying, and sackings.  Then there are the problems in getting stuff through the senate.  The repeal of Obama care fell through when it was apparent that there was nothing put in place to replace it.

Even when Trump finally managed to get some success such as the tax reform bill that was achieved through utter chaos.  Last minute amendments were added in margins that it seemed as though Trump was hastily finishing that essay in the final minutes before it was due.

Back to the UK, there was equally as much chaos thanks to David Cameron losing everything on the roulette with his Brexit gamble.  After casually walking away to write his memoirs in his posh caravan, ‘the thick of its Nicola Murray,’ or Theresa May as she is commonly known took over as Prime Minister.

Article 50 was finally triggered after much debating as to when someone would press the button or hand over the envelope with a letter which was the case.  Of course to keep up the trail of incompetency only the most incompetent was picked to negotiate with the EU.  That task fell to David Davis who with his gurning smile looked like the match day mascot thrilled to be on the pitch with his footballing heroes.  He was as effective as a mascot as Davis was given some crayons and paper whilst the grown ups talked about the serious stuff.

Lying to your employer that you had done that important work only to admit that you hadn’t, would normally get you the sack.  Not if your David Davis who finally admitted to the House of Commons committee that he hadn’t nor was there any Brexit impact assessment work  done.  Rather than being held in contempt there was a little chortle from the panel.  The cheeky little scamp Davis hey?  Mind we’re still waiting for him to resign after declaring he would if Damian Green was forced to step down.  Green being the one who was found to have porn on his office computer.

Still Brexit means that we can change the colour of British passports to blue.  Something that we could have done all along whilst in the EU.  If that was the case maybe we can go back in time, change the colour to blue and we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are currently in.

General election

If 2017 was a football match then it certainly was a game of two halves for Jeremy Corbyn.  Seen as a liability by some (well mainly the right of the Labour party) there were pleas from the likes of the Guardian’s Nick Cohen to step down.  Incidentally the pleas were more from a stroppy five-year old who obviously knew better than the majority of the Labour membership who voted for Corbyn.

As the doomsayers were ready to say the last rites over the Labour party with murmurings of yet another leadership challenge, Theresa May decided to go for a walk.  During this stroll Theresa thought it would be a good idea to call a general election.  The Labour party was in disarray and this was an opportunity to increase the Tory majority and May’s stranglehold on the party.  Citing a Brexit mandate for the election  what could possibly go wrong?

It was though to be a decision of Nicola Murray proportions and equivalent of Corrie’s Alan Bradley chasing Rita Fairclough across a tram line in Blackpool.

Running a Presidential style campaign means having some kind of a personality and engaging with the crowd.  This was to be the first of many mistakes as Theresa May ran a omnishambles campaign that had to be the worst in living memory of any major political party leader.

Whereas Jeremy Corbyn looked at ease mingling with ordinary people and addressing huge crowds, Theresa May had the look of someone having to visit the dentist for a bit of root canal work.  It wasn’t as if the crowds that she had to endure where huge as it made a five a side team plus subs look packed.

Nevertheless Theresa ‘Nicola Murray,’ May continued with her robotic approach convinced that if she kept repeating ‘strong and stable,’ every two minutes it would be enough to convince voters.  Even then May still managed to mess that up by doing a huge U-turn over a proposed dementia tax that could see people potentially dipping into savings to ensure loved ones had the appropriate care.

As election day loomed May was now being seen as a liability by her own party.  Questions had to be seen first with a local Devon journalist shown the door for daring to ask something not seen.  It may also have been the reason why May didn’t take part in the leadership debate as Amber Rudd was sent in to bat for her.

It was like watching someone openly drown as May looked more and more uncomfortable.  At one point it all got a bit Withnail and I’s Uncle Monty with her Corbyn ‘standing in the corner naked,’ speech.

Despite the omnishambles of the campaign most still predicted a Conservative majority only they lost their majority to govern.  It ended up with May having to get the support of the ten DUP MPs to govern.  Somehow the ‘magic money,’ tree that she mocked Corbyn for was suddenly found to find the money for a £1 billion package for the region of Northern Ireland.

The unexpected increase of Labour seats and successful campaign stunned a lot of people including those within Corbyn’s own party.  Stephen Kinnock who had allowed a fly on the wall camera crew to follow him looked gutted as he saw the election results.  Now it was himself who had to look in the mirror as he had previously stated that Corbyn would have to do the same if Labour lost heavily.

For Theresa May it seemed that she wouldn’t be leader for long with a grinning George Osborne declaring her to be ‘a dead woman walking.’  The only saving grace was that there was no credible candidates and secondly it was better to let a damaged May take the flak for Brexit before getting another leader in time for the next election.

Even so there was still more humiliation for Theresa May who attempted to re-start her damaged image during the Conservative party conference.  A coughing fit, letters falling from the slogan that stated ‘building a country that works for everyone,’ and a comedian handing May her P45.  In all Theresa May looked like a middle-manager being promoted out of her depth.

It was another year of terrorist atrocities that at one point you dreaded any news alert in case another atrocity had taken place.  One of the horrific terrorist attacks took place at a Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.  Seeing the news reports it was hard to comprehend why somebody would want to hurt and kill people.

In memory of the victims and the survivors a memorial concert led by Ariana Grande was staged weeks later in Manchester.   Oasis’s ‘Don’t look back in anger,’ became an anthem to show support and a statement that people would not be cowed by terrorists.

The Grenfall tower block fire disaster was another awful image.  What made this even worse was that profit and the concerns of residents had casually been brushed aside prior to the fire.  It was recommended that a more expensive cladding on the tower block was used but instead used a cheaper alternative that meant that the fire accelerated quicker and led to more deaths.

As Kensington and Chelsea borough council is one of the richest and indeed gave a tax rebate to its richest residents and had £274 million in reserve made this made it all the more unforgivable.

The majority of Grenfall residents are still waiting to be re-homed and there are fears that the inquiry into the Grenfall fire disaster will be an attempt to brush it under the carpet.  For those in authority and that goes right up into previous Governments will not be held to account where profit was put before people.

It has unfortunately all the hall marks of Hillsborough were the victims families had to fight over twenty-five years to get anywhere near justice and accountability for what happened in Sheffield.  The fight too also goes on at what happened during the 1984 miners strike at Orgreaves.

Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey

More unsavoury allegations came out over Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein who sexually harassed and bullied actresses.  This incidentally was an open secret but nobody was prepared to hold him to account.

Kevin Spacey was another actor who was accused of acting inappropriately in 1986 and during his tenure at the Old Vic.  So much so that House of cards was postponed and it was announced he wouldn’t feature in the new series and was also axed from a film that he was due to star in.


There was to be no repeat of Leicester’s exploits as Chelsea won the Premier league quite comfortably.  Tottenham finished runner’s up whilst the ‘Wenger out,’ brigade was out in full force.  It shows how much money now talks in football that in years gone by winning the FA cup and finishing fifth would be deemed (as it should be) a successful season.  Instead some supporters are duped into thinking like accountants and thinking that Premier league placings are the be all and end all.  Instead of enjoying a bit of an adventure and glory, some Arsenal fans still wanted Wenger to be sacked.

It has to be said there are some Arsenal fans still showing faith Wenger as planes with banners flew over.  With signs of in and out it was as though the Arsenal faithful wanted Wenger to do the Hokey Cokey.

The demise of Barcelona was slightly premature as they made one of the greatest come backs of all time.  PSG led the Catalans 4-0 from the first leg as Barca scored three.  It was a relief for the Parisian’s as Cavani scored the vital away goal that seemed to knock the wind out of Barcelona’s sails.  Eighty-eight minutes was on the clock and it seemed nigh on impossible that Barcelona would get the three goals needed to get through to the quarters.

Neymar scored from a free kick, then won a penalty which he scored to make it 5-5 on aggregate.  Five minutes into injury time and mayhem broke out as Sergi scored with virtually the last kick of the tie.  It was an unbelievable game as the Camp Nou went loco.

Despite the victory Barcelona were to go out of the competition against Juventus whose 3-0 first leg win was enough to see them through to the semi-finals.  Barcelona could only draw 0-0 in the return.  Juventus would go on to lose 4-1 against Real Madrid in the Champions league final.  Incidentally the Madrid club would also go on to win La Liga.

For Luis Enrique who had ensured that the trophies still came in for Barcelona stood down after three years in charge.

Back to the Premier league and Liverpool it was to be a season that started off fast but fell apart half way through.  The red’s new signing Mane was in scintillating form as defence’s were unable to cope.  However the defending and a limited squad was Liverpool’s Achilles heel.  They were knocked out by Wolves in the fourth round of the FA cup but did manage to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions league after beating Hoffenheim in a qualifier.

As it stands Liverpool’s attack is second to none being a match for any team in Europe.  The rest of the team remains much to be desired.  In midfield it can be static and not quick enough to break the opposition when gaps appear.  They also need a defensive midfielder to help break up play as they wilt under the slightest pressure.  Defence is a concern although the signing of Van Dijk  will help a new goalkeeper surely has to be a priority this summer for the reds.

Nevertheless Liverpool are still in the Champions league with another possible adventure and dreams of repeating Istanbul by winning the European cup against all odds.  Football after all is still about dreaming.  Of course the FA cup appears to be the more realistic chance of silverware but there is a matter of a third round Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield.

In the meantime Manchester City are walking away with the league being unbeaten so far with the only points dropped being a draw against Everton.

Castleford was the unexpected success of the sporting world as they won the rugby league leaders shield, winning the league by ten points.  Sadly they couldn’t overcome the final hurdle of becoming Super league Champions as they were beaten 24-6 at Old Trafford.  Still it was a magnificent achievement for a club that had never won the league and previously been battling at the wrong end of the table.


With the world appearing to be in turmoil, nostalgia appears to be the comfort blanket.  Stranger Things harks back to a simpler time of the 1980’s with numerous throw backs to 80’s films and cult references such as the goonies, ET, and in second series ghostbuster’s.  Nevertheless it was another good bit of drama.

Still with Netflix’s Better call Saul gets better and better and very much stands alone from Breaking Bad.  The relationship between Jimmy and Chuck is beautifully written and played whilst we see how Mike gets dragged in with Gus.  We even see the unscrupulous side of Jimmy as we realise that his charm is down to him being a hustler.

House of cards (prior to the Kevin Spacey scandal) seems to be on the turn.  Without giving away too much the main storyline was too unfeasible and hard to swallow that the Democratic party and the public would accept half the shenanigans.  That’s not to mention Claire Underwood not being tarnished by Frank’s dealings.

Game of Thrones is moving towards the end and appears very much movie like.  It seems weird that it is ahead of the Martin’s books but doesn’t appear to be the worst for it.

On this side of the pond there were still great dramas most notably Black Mirror and it’s San Junipero episode standing out as one of its best.  Channel four’s replacement of the series Philip K Dick ‘Electric Dreams,’ was also another good bit of drama.

Elsewhere Doctor Who got a female Doctor with Jodie Whittaker generating as the next Time Lord.  For some reason this got the Daily Mail into a tizz that a fictional alien character would be played by a woman.

What 2018 will bring nobody knows but as the last two years have been turbulent it will probably follow suit.


When Bangor met Napoli and other great Welsh European nights

Nothing beats a European night game.  The floodlights burn brightly with the lush  green pitch looking bright that it is like watching a game from another world.  Equally there is a sense of adventure as you get ready to pit your wits against the best of Europe.

Welsh football clubs may not be mentioned in the same breadth as Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan or Liverpool but they certainly have had their moments of glory.  The now defunct European cup winners cup was the opportunity for the Welsh cup winners to test their mettle against the best of Europe.

True they may not have lifted a European trophy but the likes of Newport, Bangor City, and even Merthyr Tydfil had their moments of glory.   Sometimes football is not necessarily about winning the trophies but enjoying the moment especially when the nose of a bigger club has been bloodied.

For Newport County they were a crossbar away from making the 1980-81 semi-finals of the Cup winners Cup and earning a place to play Benfica.  It was a remarkable achievement for the third division side as five years earlier Newport were in danger of going bankrupt.  Matters were not great on the pitch as the team finished 22nd in the 24 fourth division and had to seek re-election.

The following year a 1-0 win against Workington saved Newport having to go through the ordeal of re-election again.  Les Ashurst a former Liverpool youth team player took over from Colin Addison in 1978 as he went to West Bromwich Albion.  It was to be one of the more successful periods for Newport with the 1979-80 season seeing the club finish third and earn promotion to the third division.

Newport also added a bit of silverware to their trophy cabinet after beating Shrewsbury Town 5-1 over two legs.  A 2-1 win at Somerton Park followed by an empathic 3-0 win away at Gay Meadow saw Newport lift the Welsh cup.  As a result it also gave them the opportunity to test themselves in the European cup winners cup.

Newport’s European adventure was to start against Northern Ireland’s Crusader’s who consisted of the usual part-timers of shipyard, building site and office workers.  Indeed the Crusaders Manager Ian Russell had to take four days unpaid leave from his teaching job.

The first leg at Somerton Park was a 4-0 win with a certain John Aldridge scoring in the victory.  Although the return leg finished 0-0 and in the words of Ashurst was ‘just about the worst game that I’ve seen.’  No matter, Newport were in the next round were they drew Norwegian cup winners Haugar who had beaten Swiss side Basle 3-1 over the two legs.

It seemed that the game might have to be moved ten miles away to Kopervik due to torrential heavy rain.  However to what sounds similar to a classic FA cup third round non-league pitch, the Norwegian’s dropped tonnes of sawdust on the surface for the match to take place.  Not surprisingly it was difficult to play on but Newport managed to get a 0-0 draw confident that they could win the game at Somerton Park.  Ashurst’s confidence was well founded as Newport beat Haugar out of sight with a 6-0 victory.

The quarter-finals now beckoned and although Newport avoided the heavyweight’s of Benfica and Feyernoord by drawing East Germany’s Carl Zeiss Jena, it was a game that many felt would be a game too far for Newport.  After all Jena had beaten Roma and the Cup winners cup holder’s Valencia in the earlier rounds.

Despite talks of it being a formality for Jena it was to be a game that would live long in the memory for Newport fans.  A tie that would still bring hushed, excited tones of how Newport outplayed the East Germans and almost booked a place in the semi-final.  They were also without their star players John Aldridge and Alan Waddle the former through injury whilst the latter was ineligible.

Arriving during Fasching a pre-lent festival there was a carnival atmosphere with Jena fans confident that they could put the game to bed in the first leg with an emphatic victory.  Newport though had different ideas as they took the game to Jena who managed absorb the pressure before exerting their own influence in the game and taking the lead in the 22nd minute.

Rather than it turning into a rout for Jena the Welsh side managed to hold their own as they then suddenly grabbed an important away goal in the 39th minute with Tynan equalising for Newport.

The second half continued in the same vein although when Jena scored five minutes from time from a corner it seemed that the East Germans would take an important win for the second leg.  Newport though were undeterred as Gwyther raced down the right and passed the ball into the box.  This was then returned to Gwyther who passed to Tynan who then promptly knocked the ball past Jena’s goalkeeper.  Grapenthin should have done better as he allowed it slip through his hands but that didn’t diminish the performance and result for Newport.  Indeed Jana’s coach Mayer admitted that ‘Newport are holding all the trumps.’

Back home the press declared it a fantastic performance with the Times headlines declaring ‘Newport, the minnows who played like giants.’

As the date of the second leg approached, cup fever engulfed Newport with tickets becoming like gold dust.  It was certainly a game to be remembered as Newport swamped Jena with Oakes seeing two efforts cleared off the line.  Newport was convinced that they had scored from a corner when they thought Gwyther’s header had crossed the line.

The pressure from Newport did not stop with more shots but it was to be Jena that took advantage by scoring through a gap in the wall after a well struck free kick.  Nevertheless Newport cheered on loudly by the Somerton Park faithful knew that another goal would take them through on away goals providing they didn’t concede any further.

Once again the Jena goal was under siege with Lowndes seeing a shot being deflected over, Grapenthin keeping out a close range header, another goal line clearance and Tynan hitting the crossbar that ensured Jena still had the advantage.

It was to be a game were nothing would go in and in stoppage time Grapenthin pulled off a dramatic save to keep Moore’s header out that would have booked Newport a semi-final place.  Once the final whistle blew nobody could fathom how Newport did not score.

The players and supporters although proud of their performance were stunned with the loss feeling raw.  After all they were a crossbar, goal line, and a fine save away from getting that goal that would have seen Newport earn that semi-final place and seeing if they could do do the unthinkable and book a place in the final.  As it was Jena scraped through more relieved than they would have thought prior to when the draw was made.

When Bangor took  on Napoli

A slow black and white shot carefully scans over the town of Bangor before it takes in a small football ground.  There is nothing spectacular about it in the same sense of the Camp Nou or the Bernabeu but this was to be the background for when Bangor took on Serie A club Napoli.

Despite this being both clubs first foray into Europe (Bangor had beaten North Wales rivals Wrexham 5-0 on aggregate, whilst Napoli had beaten SPAL 2-1) the gulf between the two was of Grand Canyon proportions.  True Napoli had just been promoted to the top flight but Bangor were playing in the not so giddy heights of the Cheshire league.

Consequently and despite Napoli being short of match fitness due to their season starting two weeks later it was still a tie that was meant to be a formality for the Italian cup holders.  After all their two Argentinian forwards Rosa and Tacchi had cost more than Bangor’s entire income since the war.

Nobody though gave Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky a chance against Apollo Creed but like Stallone’s plucky underdog it was Bangor who was to put Napoli on the canvas.  Right from the off they had put the Italian’s under pressure and consequently it was no surprise when Matthew’s scored from a cross from Hunter.  Delirium broke out as fans invaded the pitch before the Police cleared the pitch as the referee gave the crowd a stern warning about any further pitch invasions.

The Italians had a couple of break away chances hitting the bar and the Bangor keeper saving with his legs.  However Bangor were the dominant team and had chances to extend their lead as McAllister, Matthews, and Hunter stretched Napoli.  Indeed Ellis hit the bar when it seemed easier to score whilst Pontel pulled off a number of top saves to keep Napoli in it.

It was no surprise when Birch made it 2-0 from the spot after Corelli was adjudged to have fouled Brown.  Matthews could have made it three but put his header from close range into the keeper’s hands.

If Napoli thought that this was just to be a minor set back it wasn’t as Bangor continued to give as good as they got during the ninety minutes of the second leg in Naples.  Napoli had pulled one back sixteen minutes before half time with Tacchi levelling matters on aggregate.  Bangor though were not be deterred as McAllister stunned the San Paolo into silence as he pulled one back and now made it 3-2 to Bangor on aggregate.

Six minutes before time Fanello saved Napoli’s blushes as he scored and made it 3-3 on aggregate.  Luckily for Napoli the away goals rule had not yet been introduced with a playoff match arranged at Arsenal’s Highbury.

Yet again Bangor were to give another good account of themselves.  Rosa had given Napoli the lead before half time but it was to be McAllister who equalised for Bangor.  With the clock ticking down, Napoli managed to get the winner five minutes from time but like Rocky the plaudits were for Bangor considering the different levels and resources that both teams operated on.

Such was the embarrassment for Napoli that the club disguised Bangor’s lowly status only for an Italian journalist to spill the beans with mayhem ensuing.  It was said that it cost Napoli’s club President Achille Lauro his position in the Mayor elections.  What cannot be denied was that it was another game that would live long in the memory for Bangor and Welsh football.

Merthyr Tydfil v Atalanta 

Back when Italian football  attracted the world’s best players, nobody gave Beazer Homes League (Southern league) Merthyr Tydfil a chance when they were drawn to play Atlanta in the Cup winners Cup in 1987.  True Atalanta had been relegated the season before to Serie B but there was still an alleged chasm between the two sides.

Merthyr Tydfil had earned their European spot after beating Newport in the Welsh Cup whereas Atalanta were there as runner’s up after Napoli had won the double.  Even so Atalanta still had some big names to call on such as the Swedish captain Glenn Stromberg.

A sense of anticipation had engulfed the town as Merthyr Tydfil prepared themselves for their biggest night in football.  The official attendance was 8,000 but reports suggested that it was at least 14,000 fans who managed to cram into Penydarren Park.

The electric atmosphere crackled with the noise that it seemed to charge the Merthyr Tydfil players who started fast from the blocks.  With the fans cheering every touch as Merthyr Tydfil put Atalanta under pressure the roof was blown off after Kevin Rodgers gave Tydfil the lead.

Atalanta managed to temporally silent the crowd as they equalised before half time but they were unable to take control of the match for the second half.  It was Merthyr Tydfil who at times outplayed Atalanta who pressed to score another.  The goal came from Ceri Williams who worked in the tarmac trade whose contract was £10 and two pints of lager per game.  Bedlam ensued after the final whistle with the players enjoying a lap of honour as they earned immortality in the club’s history books.  The result was also enough for them to earn a spot on the legendary Saint and Greavsie football show.

Unfortunately Merthyr Tydfil were unable to match their first leg performance.  Atalanta had taken no chances with the Atalanta fans turning up in huge numbers setting off flares and banners.  Despite the intimidating atmosphere it was still an experience that none of Merthyr Tydfil players and those fans that travelled over would experience again.

This time Atalanta dominated the game and despite the fighting spirit of Merthyr Tydfil’s player’s it was to be the Italian side who won the game 2-0 to ensure that Atalanta won 3-2 on aggregate.

Despite being knocked out it was Merthyr Tydfil who earned the plaudits’ and legendary status.  They were to cap a fine season as they secured promotion to the Conference league.  Atalanta reached the semi-finals and secured a place back into Serie A.

Sometimes football isn’t just about winning trophies but making memories especially when the odds are stacked against you.  The Welsh cup provided many clubs and fans memorable nights that will live long on amongst those who still have a footballing soul and sense of adventure.

Brian Benjamin