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 Cardiff 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

 

 

 

 

 

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The great and not so classic football shirts. Part one

The sight of certain football shirts can bring back fond memories.  They can define a team or even an era.  It doesn’t have to be the giants like Real Madrid or Ajax whose teams played made an indelible mark on football history, but any team across the leagues.  A strip can not only be admired for being stylish but represent a certain season or be that awful that it now gains cult status.

It is why the retro shirt market is in such big demand.  Sometimes people want a reminder of a glorious past or a shirt stands the test of time that it still looks good even if it was over forty years ago when the actual team last wore it.

Here are a list of classic kits from across the years

Liverpool

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Liverpool have had some stylish kits over the years but the early 1970’s which saw the club win league titles, UEFA cup, and the 1974 FA cup win over Newcastle United is probably the best.  A smart round white-collar with a simple white Liver bird that demonstrated the hard work and humility that was installed in Bill Shankly’s team.

thumb_42772_misc_general_500The late 1970’s saw Liverpool move to a white v neck and to acknowledge Liverpool’s dominance in England and Europe the Liver bird was now gold.  It is a shirt that acknowledges Liverpool’s dominance and made famous by Kenny Dalglish, Souness, McDermott, and Jimmy Case.  The shirt also invokes memories of David Fairclough scoring that last gasp winner at St. Etienne and that 78-79 team that is regarded as the best Liverpool team.

maxresdefaultStill in the 1970’s Liverpool’s best away strip is probably the white shirt with red v neck and black shorts.  A simple but very stylish kit that has to be ranked as one of the best kits produced.

In the 1980’s shirt sponsorship became part of the norm.  Mention the crown paint or Candy kit and people will have an idea of what period you are talking about.  It was also the era when kit marketing became more serious with box sets that are now worth a few bob if you happen to still have one intact.

liverpools_kenny_dalglish_celebrates_after_scoring_the_winning_g_271851The iconic kit certainly has to be the Adidas 1985-87 strip that Liverpool wore when they won the double in 1986.  There is the  famous three white stripes on the shoulder, and the faint Liver birds embossed in the shirt.  A simple but short v neck with the Liver bird returning to all white.

This particular shirt invokes memories of Dalglish scoring the winner to clinch the league at Stamford bridge and Rush being Everton’s Freddie Krueger as the reds came from a goal down to win 3-1 with the  Rush scoring two and Craig Johnston scoring in-between.

2ae08bca6ba4c5594c46c5b5ef58b66b--john-barnes-international-footballA cult kit which was certainly not liked at the time was the white speckled or more precisely a red shirt with white paint flicked at it.  It was the last shirt that Liverpool wore when they last won the league.  Certainly the late 80’s shirts invokes memories of John Barnes and Liverpool did bring back that grey shirt for the 08/09 season that brings back memories of Torres and Alonso in their prime.

It is of course worth noting the red and white pin striped kit that Liverpool won their famous treble which was capped but that famous penalty shoot out win in Rome as Liverpool overcame Roma to win the European cup for the fourth time.  Not a favourite but certainly invokes memories whilst the yellow and red pin striped one is actually a smart away shirt.  LFC80TPC

Arsenal

george-graham-arsenal-1971The North Londoner’s might have been known as ‘boring Arsenal,’ before Arsene Wenger took charge way back in 1996 but they always looked rather dapper in their shirts.  Again the 1970’s home shirt simple design is probably the best shirt.  It is a simple design with the white round collar, red shirt, and white sleeves with the Gunner badge speaking of tradition.  Simplicity is probably the best design for football shirt and like the Liverpool shirt of that era oozes class.

468134992Of course it would be remiss not to mention the yellow and blue-collar shirt that speaks of Charlie George winning Arsenal the 1971 cup final against Liverpool.  It is probably one of the best away shirts and whilst home kits signify a team for me the yellow shirts and blue shorts are what I feel are a natural fit for Arsenal when they play away.

article-2175863-141FB344000005DC-78_306x423The acid house kit (putting it politely) of the early 90’s is now seen as a cult kit.  Yet at the time was highly mocked and derided as one of the worst kits of the period.  Maybe it’s because it’s so bad or simply a nostalgic kick that people conveniently forgot the naffness of it that Arsenal fans are quite happy to buy retro copies or even originals of the shirt.

Denmark – The Danish dynamite kit

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There are some teams that capture the imagination of a world cup, especially if the football is stylish.  Denmark in the mid 1980’s were seen as the decades equivalent to the 70’s Netherlands.  With the likes of Michael Laudrup , Soren Lerby, and Frank Arnesen to name but a few.  With a laid back and carefree attitude to boot the Danes were easily one of the most popular sides of the 80’s.

A mention of Mexico 86 instantly brings back memories of Denmark and the fabulous football that they played.  The highlight being a 6-1 win over Uruguay and a 2-0 win against West Germany who would later reach the final and be beaten by Argentina.

Everybody talked about Denmark being a potential winner of the tournament.  They had the football, and the cool futuristic kit with a red and white striped pin halves.  In short they lived up to their nickname of Danish dynamite.  Sadly they blew themselves up after an awful back pass by Jesper Olsen let Spain back in and thrashed the Danes 4-1.  To this day any bad mistake in Denmark is referred to as a ‘Jesper Olsen,’ and it was certainly one of the shocks of the 86 World cup.

Despite Denmark going home early they will always be remembered for their football and the kit they wore in 1986.  A highly sought after kit at the time and even now.  It is a stylish kit that is both original and smart.

Everton

SOCCERProbably one of the most famous teams that play in blue who have played in a few stylish kits.  The most notable kit is the late 1970’s Bob Latchford kit.  It is very much of its time with the stylish late 70’s collar but with the added touch of the umbro logo down the sleeves of the shirt.

peter-reid-300-740480125However the favourite appears to be the 83-85 kit that invokes memories of Howard Kendall’s formidable team that won the league, FA cup, and European cup winners cup within that period.  Again it’s the simplicity of the kit that stands with the deep white v neck and club crest.  What also adds a charm to this kit is that shirt sponsor Hafnia was a corn beef manufacturer.

gary_lineker_everton_310491The cult kit though has to be the 1985-86 shirt.  At the time the white bib design was controversial with many Evertonian’s not happy with the encroachment of white on the shirt. Consequently it only lasted one season as Everton wore a more familiar all blue shirt.  However despite the initial hostility at the time it is probably one of the most sought after shirts with many fans quite happy to purchase the retro shirt.

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It wouldn’t be a classic shirt article without an Ajax shirt.  The Dutch club has one of the most iconic shirts mainly due to Cruyff and the total football that the team became known for.  There is the white-collar and the familiar red of the middle of the shirt with the rest all white.  It is quite simply stylish in its simplistic design.  Some of the shirts during this period are enhanced with the club badge of the Greek God Ajax.  The shirt is also a reflection of its era and not just Ajax’s dominance in European football but the talent of the team.

Real Madrid

Again it’s the simple kit from the 1950’s and Di Stefano that despite all the success that followed still stands the test of time.  Maybe it’s because the all white shirts shone brightly on the black and white screens as well as the football that Madrid played at the time.  However there is another Madrid shirt that is quite iconic that represents ‘the ‘Vulture squad,’ or ‘La Quinta del Buitre.’

1988-1989-real-madrid-match-issued-3-tendillo-home-football-shirt-adults-large-camiseta-[2]-4405-pThis was a team that brings back memories of Butragueño and the other four players of Sanchis, Martín Vázquez, Michel, and Pardeza who graduated from the Madrid youth team.  It was a side that captured the imagination of the supporters due to its talents and local connection.  Despite its success of winning league titles and UEFA cups it was a team that fell short of winning another elusive European cup.   Maybe it’s why the shirt is remembered as it gains cult status as to what that team should have achieved.  Nevertheless the Hummel shirt is set off nicely with the purple chevron on its sleeves that makes one instantly think of Butragueño and the vulture squad.

Norwich City

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The thing with Norwich City is they scarcely need to wear their second strip as not many teams play in Canary yellow.  In some respects they do have some iconic albeit very bright kits.

Again it’s the 1980’s that seems to bring about the most stylish shirts.  There is the Hummel chevron designed sleeve shirt with the 86-87 shirt being replaced with green sleeves.  However the cult kit and even now it’s hard to see how it ever got past the designer’s bin is the green speckled acid house shirt.  Coventry City also had something similar but in a sky blue design.  However the vulgar bright yellow and green mixed together like a Pollack painting means that this Norwich shirt still has a certain appeal amongst some supporters.norwich

Celtic

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Some shirts stick out simply because of the unique design.  Again it also speaks of a period with Celtic’s Jock Stein’s Lisbon lions still sticking in the memory.

Stripes are more familiar in football designs with Newcastle, Sunderland, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid to name but a few being famous for their strips.  Celtic are one of the few that wear hoops.

Maybe it is the green and white that stands out but the simplicity of the shirt again stands out.  No fancy stripes or messing around with the colours.  It speaks of Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Johnston, Billy McNeill, Paul McStay, and Henrik Larsson.

With the Celtic shirt you simply know what you are getting and it one that is unique and stylish even the current team are nowhere near the level of the Lisbon lions.

Part two next week.  Featuring Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester United, Sampdoria and others.

 

Socrates and the Corinthian democracy

With his beard, unkempt hair and stern look, there is an aura of a revolutionary about Sócrates. In some ways he was the footballing equivalent of Che Guevara, with his political opinions backed by his activism.
To add weight to his mystique, Sócrates was one of the most elegant and gifted players to wear the yellow shirt of Brazil. He was also part of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup squads that played some of the most beautiful football ever seen at a major finals. With the likes of Falcão and Zico, it was a talented team that tore apart the opposition and scored spectacular goals like Sócrates’ equaliser against the Soviet Union. All that seemed to matter to that Brazil teams of 1982 and ‘86 was the joy that they brought to people. They were Garrincha, just a few years later.
Many Brazilians have fond memories of ‘The Doctor’, as he was nicknamed due to qualifying in medicine. Rumour had it that Socrates studied at University College Dublin but sadly was confirmed as an urban myth. He was seen as a leader of the people, who was kind and brought happiness with his football. Politics was also a passion of Sócrates, who had his eyes turned to the social injustices in his country.
Brazil during the 1960s and ’70s was a country ruled by a military junta following the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, and culminated in the overthrow of the democratic João Goulart government. The previous regime was deemed to be a “socialist threat” by the military and the right-wing, who opposed policies such as the basic reform plan which was aimed at socialising the profits of large companies towards ensuring a better quality of life for Brazilians.
With the support of the US government, Goulart was usurped with Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco sworn in as the president. Initially the aim of the junta was to keep hold of power until 1967, when Goulart’s term would expire, but ultimately felt that they had to keep control to contain the “dissenters” within the country.
Protests against the junta were brutally put down with dissenters killed, tortured or having to flee the country. Repression and elimination of any political opposition of the state became the policy of the government. The current Brazil president Dilma Rousseff was one of those who was imprisoned and tortured on the instructions of this totalitarian regime.
The organisation and structure of football clubs were very much regimented, too – with little or no freedom to manoeuvre – which was in tune with the junta government. Players were expected to obey orders and were closely supervised; whether it was being told when they could eat or drink, or to having to be holed up in training camps days before matches.
Initially, Sócrates along with his team-mates went along with this structure. However, he felt suffocated – famously a man of peace and freedom – and with the dictatorship strangling the life out of democracy in Brazil, believed that it was a time for change.
Naturally, it was not something that Sócrates or his team-mates could openly discuss. Instead it had to be done subversively, behind the scenes and through the power of words. Many high-profile athletes in Brazil at the time were politically aware and felt that it was their duty to try to use sport to re-democratise Brazil and end the regime.
An agreement was reached with the new club president Waldemar Pires in the early-1980s which allowed Sócrates and his team-mates to have full control of the team and to establish a democratic running of the club. During a meeting in which everyone got an opportunity to speak freely, it was agreed that every decision would be decided by the collective. This would be when the squad would train, eat or, as Waldemar expressed in a documentary about the Corinthians team, “when they would stop on the coach for a toilet break”.
What made the Corinthians democracy even more unique was that voting wasn’t restricted to the playing and coaching staff; it was a model that involved everyone within the club. Whether it was the players, masseurs, coaches or cleaners, everybody had a say. In short it was ‘one person, one vote’ with everyone backing the majority verdict.
After agreeing the new structure it was first put to the test when Corinthians went on tour in Japan. Walter Gasagrande, who was 19 at the time, was heavily in love and wanted to fly back home to his girlfriend. A vote was called for with people speaking for and against Gasagrande being able to return to Brazil. It was decided that he would have to stay – and Gasagrande respected the decision.
Nothing was off-limits at discussions with it being agreed that a psychiatrist was to be hired in order to help the team. Sócrates and his colleagues had an open mind and invited people who interested them outside of football. Prominent artists, singers, and filmmakers were invited to speak on various topics.
Corinthians slowly embodied the dream of the ordinary Brazilian in removing the dictatorship, to be replaced with universal suffrage. This was markedly expressed on the back of the club shirt which had ‘Corinthians Democracy’ printed with splashes of mock red blood similar to the Coca-Cola logo.
It was a move that upset the prominent right-wing, many of whom had branded the Corinthians’ Democracy movement as “anarchists” and “bearded communists”. However, with football coming to represent the very essence of Brazil even the junta government knew that they had to tread carefully. Nonetheless, the government still warned them about interfering in politics.
Indeed, they had used the success of the 1970 World Cup for their own devices, so much so that Sócrates stated: “Our players of the 1960s and 1970s were romantic with the ball at their feet, but away from the field absolutely silent. Imagine if at the time of the political coup in Brazil a single player like Pele had spoken out against all the excesses.”
Sócrates and his team-mates were prepared to bring in a silent revolution by using football to speak out against the military junta. The first multiparty elections since 1964 were set for the May provincial elections in 1982. Despite this, the majority of Brazilians were scared of voting. Some didn’t even know whether the army would allow them to vote, while others thought it safer not to vote at all.
With the May provincial elections set for the 15, the Corinthians team decided to up the ante and to chip away at the dictatorship. They agreed that they would have ‘on the 15th, vote’ on the back of their shirts to encourage people to head to the polls.
It was a quiet voice of dissent but as a smiling Sócrates advises in an interview years later, the military junta could hardly object as the team was not backing any particular party, merely encouraging people to vote.
Corinthians’ mood was quickly picked up by Brazilians, with the military government taking a battering in the provincial elections. It now appeared that the regime was losing its grip on power. Sócrates later said: “[It was the] greatest team I ever played in because it was more than sport. My political victories are more important than my victories as a professional player. A match finishes in 90 minutes, but life goes on.”
With the thirst for democracy at its peak, Corinthians now pushed for presidential elections. The team now took to the field with ‘win or lose, always with democracy’ emblazoned on their jersey this time. It was a mood that was quickly engulfing the ordinary Brazilian, who sensed that they could push for democracy.
During this period the Timão won the 1982 and 1983 São Paulo Championship. Unsurprisingly, considering his talent, Sócrates was highly sought after by top European clubs. In 1984, he proclaimed at a large rally that if congress passed through the amendment for free presidential elections then he would stay in Brazil. A huge cheer went up but sadly the amendment fell and Sócrates moved to Fiorentina.
Brazilians, in the words of Sócrates, were beginning to realise that political change was possible. It was something that the military government couldn’t stop, and so it was in 1985 that they were defeated in the presidential elections. Finally, Corinthians had achieved their objective of returning democracy back to Brazil.
It was a dream that Sócrates and the club were proud of bringing to the fore. By using football, they had managed to get their message across and helped bring about the change that people wanted. In many ways, it is quite fitting that since football is in the bloodline of Brazil, it was the Sócrates and the Corinthians Democracy that was part of the movement that helped rid the nation of the military government.
A first class player and man, there are few footballers with the same skill and integrity of the great Doctor Sócrates. It is why, after passing away in 2011, that he was revered with a fitting tribute by Corinthians players and supporters who held their fist out in memory of their legendary brother.

Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

Wembley on a bright May day prior to the FA cup final can be a glorious sight.  Much was expected in the Cup final of 1996 as Liverpool took on Manchester United in what many hoped would be a classic final.

That though was marginally fractured when the Liverpool squad strolled out onto the lush green Wembley pitch in  flash Armani white suits.  It had to be said that the suits looked ridiculous with the team looking a bunch of ice cream sellers.  However the image and the nickname of ‘Spice boys,’ stuck and was seen to epitomise what was wrong with Roy Evans Liverpool.  It was a team that was perceived as all image and no substance.  More interested in partying with football coming a poor second.

Time is always a chance to put things in perspective and the criticism aimed at Roy Evans can be seen to be harsh.  Liverpool were consistently in the top four and played some of the best football around of that particular era.

Unfortunately for Roy Evans, Liverpool’s dominance was still recent when he took charge in 1994.  After all their last title was in 1990 and prior to that had plundered so many trophies from the 1960’s to 1990 that it would put a Viking haul to shame.  With detested rivals Manchester United the dominant force, the pressure was instantly on Roy Evans to put Liverpool back on its perch.

After the sacking of Graeme Souness whose two and a half years in charge were turbulent.  Due to poor signings, unrest in the dressing room, and trying to change things too quickly, time was called on Souness’s reign as manager.

The problem Liverpool had, was of who to appoint to make Liverpool the dominant force once more.  Looking at the possible candidates at that time there are none that particularly stick out.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing to say that Liverpool should have looked further afield to foreign shores.  It is easy to say that Liverpool could have beaten Arsenal to the punch by appointing Arsene Wenger two years before he agreed to join the Gunners.  At that time English football was insular with the possibility that someone like Wenger would have had problems getting his ideas across.  Like the Czech Jozef Venglos whose stint at Aston Villa in 1990 was short-lived there could have been a good chance that the players didn’t take to him.  Furthermore Wenger inherited a strong defence at Arsenal which would not have been the case at Liverpool.  Either way it would have been a brave move for Liverpool to have taken a chance looking at that particular period in time.

Closer to home the only names that could be considered was John Toshack.  Success at Real Madrid and Sociedad as well as having played for Liverpool would make him a serious contender.  As it was Toshack had allegedly missed his chance after turning down the job down in 1991.

Although hypothetical there could have been a chance of trying to bring Kenny Dalglish back to Anfield.  This might have been hard considering that he was building a Blackburn Rovers team that would eventually win the title for the 94/95 season.

That left the bootroom and as Roy Evans was literally the last man standing, was seen as the man to steady the ship and ensure that the traditions of Liverpool were kept.  Ronnie Moran another Anfield stalwart would ensure that his experience and knowledge would also be used.

Football at that particular time was at the crossroads between the old world and the new world of the Premier league.  Not just in terms of the money that was being splashed around but in terms of professionalism.  The acceptable wisdom that a few beers was okay was eventually eradicated to a regime more similar to a high-profile athlete.  Evans had to deal with that as well as re-building a football team that had high expectations from its supporters.

Added to which Evans was used to a world of where players like Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, and Case would take personal responsibility.  Being professional and having the desire to win even if that meant ruffling feathers in the changing room if teammates were not pulling their weight.

This new Liverpool did not have those characters who didn’t care whether it was the European cup final or a Sunday league match.  Winning was what it was all about and the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Case, St. John, and Smith epitomises this during their time at playing at Anfield.

Bill Shankly was certainly a tough character who stood no messing and made sure that his players knew of the high standards that he expected.  Despite looking like your favourite Uncle’s in their comfortable cardigan and flat cap, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were as hard as nails who ruled like a Mafia Don when required.  Roy Evans though didn’t have that steel and ability of when to knock a player into line and when to shown him the door.

Ultimately it is about having respect and sadly Evans could not command that from his team.  Part of the job is knowing when to rid the club of bad influences and players who lacked professionalism.  For example Neil Ruddock should have been one of the first to be shown the door.  Aside from the pass the pound game that he was alleged to have instigated (a pound coin would be passed throughout the match and the last person with the coin after the final whistle had to buy the first round) and loud mouthed slogan ‘win, lose, or draw, first to the bar,’ Ruddock hardly looked after himself.

There were also instances of players competing to steal his car park space, not showing up for training, and general ill discipline that led to supporters that the players were not at all that serious about winning.

Some ex-players dispute the lack of discipline and state that Evans could be strict.  After all Don Hutchinson had been bombed out over a drunken indiscretion and Stan Collymore after proving too much of a disruptive influence.  The truth as they say is somewhere in the middle but it has to be said that discipline was not Evans strong point.

Despite having being tasked with re-building a team going backwards there was a nucleus of good youngsters coming through.  McManaman and Fowler through the ranks with Redknapp, Jones, and James the other youth players cited to have the potential to be top players.

Evans was shown to be a coach who wasn’t afraid to change things.  He did introduce three at the back in an attempt to not just stabilise the defence but with the two wing backs added to support the attack.  There was also the nous in the sense of pushing John Barnes into a central role after his losing his pace.  Barnes experience and passing helped keep the midfield ticking over.

Yet there was the sense that Liverpool were falling behind their rivals not just tactically but on how they trained and approached games.  The Liverpool way was always about not showing any sentiment and ensuring that they always stayed one step ahead of the opposition.

Matches and high-profile defeats such as the mist game against Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, and Watford were all instrumental in how Liverpool changed their approach and tactics.  For example the Belgrade game taught the importance of retaining the ball and led to the centre-halves being expected to be comfortable in bringing the ball out.

Liverpool in the mid nineties were still using the old and trusted methods of the past.  John Scales the former centre half talks in Simon Hughes Men in white suits ‘The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis.  There were so many bad habits.’

Ironically Liverpool who had previously always prided themselves in being ahead of the game had allowed themselves to stagnate by continually sticking to old and trusted habits.  Previously the bootroom had been more than aware that the game continually evolved.

There was also complaints that Evans was too simplistic in his views.  That he didn’t have the ability to be able to change things when it wasn’t working or instructing his players what he wanted out of them.  Again times had changed and the mantra of instructing players to ‘play your own game,’ may have worked previously when the team was a well-functioning machine with players signed to play that position but not a team that was being built.

Despite all this the football was highly entertaining with some eye-catching attacking football.  With Robbie Fowler banging in the goals it seemed that if Liverpool could iron out the problems at the back and a view at the time adding a bit more steel in the midfield then Liverpool would end their wait for a nineteenth league title.

As it was Roy Evans signings fell way short of backing up the potential that was already at the club.  Players such as Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Kennedy, Scales, Leonhardsen, Friedel, and Kvarme to name but a few failed to deliver.  Paul Ince may have been seen as being the steel Liverpool needed but he was not the player that previously excelled in the Manchester United field.

Stan Collymore was Evans high-profile signing from Nottingham Forest for £8.5 million.  Despite his talents he was still a risk after being a disruptive influence at Forest and his previous clubs Southend.

In Collymore’s first season he was productive with him and Fowler terrorising defenders and scoring goals in abundance.  Yet the problems that had dogged his career re-surfaced at Liverpool.  Collymore failed to turn up to training regularly and lacked the professionalism required.  It is only now that we know of Collymore’s battle with mental illness.  Evans unfortunately didn’t have the capacity to recognise this or the ability to deal with the issues as a result.

Success and certainly at a club like Liverpool is what a manager is judged on and Evans fell short.  There was of course optimism when Liverpool beat Bolton to win the league cup in 1995 but that was to be the only bit of silverware that Evans won in his tenure as manager.

Roy Evans despite finishing no lower than fourth in the league failed in delivering the league title.  The nearest that he came to it was in the 1996/97 season when Liverpool finished fourth in a two horse race.  During the run in when the pressure is high it is about delivering results and keeping that nerve.  Liverpool could not take advantage and despite getting themselves in a good position after beating Arsenal at Highbury they messed up by losing at home against Coventry.  As it was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday saw Liverpool finish fourth rather than nabbing even a champions league spot.

The harsh reality as cited by Fowler and other ex-reds of that period is that the team simply were not good enough.  None of Evans signings made a lasting impression and it would be fair to say that Patrik Berger and Danny Murphy were probably his only real success.

Fowler in his autobiography believes that Liverpool were not that far behind and not in as bad a state as Gerard Houllier made out.  That is a fair point but at that stage the pressure was taking its toll on Roy Evans.  In his interviews during Evans final full season in charge looked tired and unwell as he seemed to be buckling under the pressure.  The summer of 1998 the Liverpool board should have either continued to back Evans or cut ties.  As it was David Moores fudged the issue and went with a joint manager venture of Evans and Houllier which didn’t work.  After defeat to Tottenham in the league cup in November 1998, Evans called time with Houllier now solely in charge.

The legacy of Roy Evans Liverpool is one of a team that played swashbuckling, cavalier football.  Nobody will forget the two 4-3’s against Newcastle that seemed to sum up both teams attitude at the time.

There is also the negative image of the partying, up for a laugh, not really caring, and lack of professionalism that hogged the headlines of some of the Liverpool players.  Indeed it could be argued that whilst Manchester United had Roy Keane, Liverpool had Neil Ruddock and that crucially is the difference in terms of attitudes installed in the team.

Even now some of Evans ex-players do cite a lack of discipline and leniency.  Jason McAteer says of his former manager ‘I think he found it hard to drop or discipline players.  We were all his boys.  We had some big characters there, and he found it difficult to deal with the Collymores and Ruddocks.’  Maybe Evans expected his players to be more adult and take responsibility but a manager has to quickly stamp out any indiscipline and make an instant mark.  Evans failed to do so.

Of course if some of the signings had been real quality and if they had got players like Thuram or Desailly then things might have been different.  As it was Liverpool were great in attack but brittle at the back.

Thrown into the mix was that Liverpool’s methods were still stuck too much in the past.  What had worked previously didn’t mean it still did.  In terms of tactics, training, and diet it all needed a fresh approach.  Something that ironically Liverpool had never been afraid to do in the past.

It could be argued that Evans was unlucky with injuries with Rob Jones finishing his career early and a serious injury to Redknapp whilst playing for England meant he never got the best out of some that young potential.

Evans Liverpool despite its frustrations still provides some fond memories.  The football was fun and at the beginning with the likes of Fowler and McManaman the future did seem bright.  Yet the team fell short and unfortunately it was to be the white suits and not trophies for what Evans Liverpool will be remembered for.

 

 

Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take. 

Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the player-manager was in vogue

The 1980’s invokes images of big hair, shoulder pads, crap but catchy pop tunes, blockbuster movies that were original and a time when there was only four TV channels to choose from.  It was also the period that the player manager became fashionable after Liverpool led the trend by appointing Kenny Dalglish as player manager who promptly led the reds to the double in his first season in charge.

Prior to 1985 the view was pretty much the same as now.  A manager needed to be experienced to manage at the top-level.  Furthermore a manager needed to take a detached view to assess the play and make changes when required.  Being on the pitch would limit that opportunity whilst also making the relationship with players slightly difficult.  The role of manager also means responsibilities off the pitch such as contracts, scouting, discussions with the coaching staff, and media work.  Something which can distract from concentrating on your game.

The only time that a player became a coach was either in a moment of instability such as the manager being dismissed.  In other circumstances it would be due to a lack of numbers such as when Don Revie had to name himself as a player when he first took charge of Leeds.  A player manager was never intended to be a long-term prospect.  That of course belonged to the comic pages of Roy of the Rovers.

One of the greatest players in the club’s illustrious history Kenny Dalglish could quite easily have hung up his boots and still have been a Liverpool legend.  As it was Kenny Dalglish was to become an icon for his achievements and statesman like support for the city.

There are no specific reasons as to why the Liverpool board decided to appoint Dalglish as manager.  With Fagan being the last of the original boot room staff perhaps they felt it was time for a new generation to lead Liverpool forward.  They may also have felt with the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans as part of the backroom staff it would make the transition easier whilst Dalglish learned the ropes.  For extra support Bob Paisley was to provide assistance and advice when required.

With the aftermath of Heysel which led to English clubs being banned from Europe after Liverpool fans were responsible for the death of thirty-nine mainly Juventus supporters it was in some respects a season of uncertainty for the 1985-86 season.

Everton were very much in the ascendency whilst Manchester United’s ten straight wins to the season saw them viewed as genuine title contenders.  It seemed that this was to be a season of transition as Dalglish got to grips with management.  Alan Hansen would later complain to his friend and manager that it was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in.

That was something else that Kenny Dalglish had to get to grips with and that was the relationship between being a player and now being their boss.  It meant distancing himself away from his teammates and not allowing himself to be involved with the jokes of the changing room.  Now it was his responsibility not just to install discipline but ensure that there was no favouritism.  Players would have to be dropped even sold whilst Dalglish picked what he thought would be his best eleven. That incidentally also meant dropping himself if appropiate.

Despite all these problems Liverpool still managed to keep themselves within distance as Manchester United faltered.  However a 2-0 defeat at home against Merseyside rivals Everton in February saw many believing that the title would be staying at Goodison.

This though was when it started to resemble a story from Roy of the Rovers as Liverpool went on a twelve game unbeaten run gaining thirty-four points.  The turning point had been when Everton had unexpectedly lost 1-0 away to Oxford whilst Liverpool beat Leicester at Filbert street.  It meant that the title was no longer in Everton’s hands with Liverpool needing to beat Chelsea to clinch their sixteenth championship.

It was to be a spectacular goal from the player manager Kenny Dalglish as he carefully chested the ball with his upper body before rifling the ball into the Chelsea net.  No manager had single-handedly won the title but that goal by Dalglish did.

 

A week later Liverpool had the chance of becoming only the fifth club to win the ‘Double.’  Standing in Liverpool’s way was Everton who had narrowly missed out on winning the title.

Once again the story of the match resembled something out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.  Everton started off well and took the lead courtesy of a Gary Lineker goal as they led at half-time.

The second half was to be Liverpool although a bust up between Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Beglin after a mix seemed to galvanise the team.  It was to be the finger tip save over the bar from Grobbelaar from a Graham Sharp header that was to be turning point.

By now Jan Molby was running the midfield and played the ball through for Everton’s kryptonite Ian Rush to equalise.  It was Molby again who set up Craig Johnston before Rush secured the cup and broke the camera as it hit the back of the net.

Image result for kenny dalglish 1986 cup final;

Wearing a large red hat and a beaming smile Kenny Dalglish had led Liverpool to an unexpected double.  Both on and off the pitch he had been influential in adding a new chapter of continued success for Liverpool.

The next season was to see Liverpool end the season empty-handed finishing runner-up to Everton in the league and being beaten by Arsenal 2-1 in the Littlewoods league cup final.

Although Dalglish had tried to restrict his presence on the pitch Liverpool still missed his influence.  Conscious that the team couldn’t rely on his presence on the pitch forever he aimed at bringing in players to remedy this concern.  Spending some of the money as Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus it was to lead to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams as Dalglish signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and Ray Houghton.

For the 1987-88 season Dalglish’s influence was now from the dug out as the reds ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten.  A FA cup win the following season followed although that season would be remembered for the ninety-six lives lost at the semi-final at Hillsborough through the gross negligence of the Police and authorities responsible for hosting the venue.  Kenny Dalglish was to be a statesman and support for the club and the city of Liverpool during this traumatic time.

The club retained the title in 1990 with Kenny Dalglish to make his final bow as a player coming on as a substitute against Derby County on the 5th May when Liverpool had clinched their eighteenth league title.  A year later Kenny Dalglish had left Liverpool after the 4-4 all draw against Everton in the FA cup final.  The pressure and Hillsborough had caused a massive strain on Dalglish who for the sake of his health stepped down.

Due to the success of Kenny Dalglish there was a spate of player-managers.  Glasgow Rangers had decided to follow Liverpool’s lead and appointed Dalglish’s former team-mate Graeme Souness in 1986.  Prior to taking charge, Rangers had last won the league in 1978 with the only recent success coming in the Scottish league cup.  Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson prior to taking charge of Manchester United had knocked Rangers into the shade to become the dominant force in Scottish football.  With Celtic winning the title in 1986 Rangers felt that swift action was required to ensure that they did not stagnate further.

rangers_souness_0

As a player Souness was a proven winner as he won numerous league championships and European cups with Liverpool.  Sampdoria had also brought success with a Coppa Italia and he was still very much a formidable player at thirty-three.  With money to spend Souness signed the top stars of the English game.  The likes of Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, and Graham Roberts were signed.  Other English stars to follow were  Mark Walters, Gary Stevens, Trevor Stevens Ray Wilkins, and Trevor Francis.

It was to have an instant impact even though Graeme Souness was to mark his tenure on his debut by being sent off in the 34th minute for two straight yellows against Hibernian.  The second yellow could quite easily have been a red for what was a nasty challenge on George McCluskey.  Despite this Rangers won the Scottish Premier league and league cup beating Celtic in the final of Souness’s first season in charge.

During his time in Scotland Souness was constantly at loggerheads with the SFA with Souness admitting years later that he ‘was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.’  One touch-line ban saw Souness provocatively get round it by naming himself as a substitute.

Some viewed Souness’s time as manager of Rangers as a revolution and he certainly built the foundations for the Gers dominance and nine in a row Premier league titles.  Souness also has to be given credit for ending the club’s sectarian view on not signing Catholic players.  Of course there was controversy when Souness signed Mo Johnston in the summer of 1989.  To add fuel to the fire Johnston had reneged on agreeing to re-join his former club Celtic meaning he received from both sides.

Souness was unperturbed and simply stated that he signed players purely on their footballing ability and not the religion of the footballer.

Following Dalglish’s shock resignation from Liverpool it was Souness who promptly accepted the offer to join his former club in April 1991.  That though was not to be successful.  Apart from an FA cup, Souness was unable to bring the success that Liverpool had become accustomed to.

Other clubs seeing the success that Dalglish and Souness had brought to Liverpool and Rangers felt it was the way forward.  One of the reasons was that a big name could attract the best players.  Seeing a renowned player manager gave the impression that the club had ambition.  Furthermore it also meant having an experienced head on the field and with the likes of Glenn Hoddle who was in the autumn of his career could still be influential on the pitch for Swindon Town and Chelsea respectively.

Hoddle became the second-player manager to lead Chelsea to the FA cup final against Manchester United.  Naming himself as a substitute and coming on in the sixty-eighth minute for Craig Burley there was no inspired come back as Chelsea were soundly thrashed by Manchester United to claim their first double.

The former Everton star midfielder Peter Reid became Player-Manager of Manchester City after Howard Kendall returned to his former love and club Everton in November 1990.  It didn’t bring Manchester City any silverware but brought stability and whilst Reid was in charge a hope that they were building towards something long-term.

After Lennie Lawrence had failed to get Middlesbrough promoted straight back to the Premier League the club’s chairman Steve Gibson turned to Manchester United’s Bryan Robson who became player manager in the summer of 1994.  It was seen as a mutual arrangement for both parties.  For Bryan Robson it was a chance to cut his teeth in management away from the harsh glare of Old Trafford as well as a chance to keep on playing.  Of course Robson saw it is a learning curve with the ambition at the time to replace Alex Ferguson when he decided to retire or to take the England job.  With Middlesbrough promising the financial backing it was a job that Robson felt was hard to refuse.

For the Teessiders it was a signal of intent and that the club were ambitious in not just getting back into the Premier league but to be a footballing force.  With a shiny new stadium far removed from the dilapidated and tired Ayresome park it meant that with Bryan Robson in charge that they could show how serious the club was in trying to attract the best talent.

It certainly worked with Robson leading Boro to promotion to the Premier league as Champions.  This was to be an exciting period for Middlesbrough with the club living up to its ambitions.  Juninho was in many respects a shock signing as Robson signed the Brazilian from São Paulo for £4.75 million in October 1995.  Seen as one of the best young Brazilian prospects not many expected Juninho to sign for a newly promoted club that had been in many respects been a yo-yo club between the divisions.

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The signings didn’t stop there with Ravanelli and Emerson also purchased in the summer of 1996.  It was a season in some respects to rival Sky’s football soap Dream Team that also began in that year.  Middlesbrough suffered a three-point deduction for not fulfilling a league game against Blackburn Rovers.  Robson cited a bug that had hit the squad but the FA felt that it was too late notice and that Boro could have fielded a team hence the points deduction.  Ironically the three points was the difference between staying in the Premier league and were relegated as a result.

However the drama didn’t stop there as Middlesbrough reached two cup finals for the first time in their history.  Both were to end unhappily as Boro lost to Leicester in a league cup final replay 1-0 after drawing the first game at Wembley 1-1.  The FA cup final was to end in defeat as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.  Ironically Chelsea’s manager Ruud Gullit was also a player as was Gianluca Vialli when Chelsea again beat Boro 2-0 in the 1998 league cup final.  Neither Robson who had played his last game as a footballer in January 1997 against Arsenal or Gullit would play in the respective final.

That though was to be the height of Robson’s managerial career.  Although they won promotion back to the flight at the first attempt that was about as good as it got.  Middlesbrough still signed the top stars such Boksic, Ince, and Karembeu but Robson was unable to win the club silverware.  He resigned as manager in 2001 with his replacement Steve McClaren winning Boro’s first trophy the league cup after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

Chelsea seemed to think that the player-manager was still in vogue with Ruud Gullit being appointed player-manager.  Although sacked nine months later after winning the FA cup he would later describe his time at Chelsea as the ‘happiest time in his career.’

Gianluca Vialli was Gullit’s replacement and again he was also player-manager in 1998.  This though was to be the last time time that a player-manager would be appointed full time with a top flight club.

Success also came Vialli’s way as he led and played in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 courtesy of a Zola goal.  Vialli also played the full ninety minutes of the final although did not start or name himself for the League cup final when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.

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That though was to be the Indian summer for the player-manager as the big clubs gravitated back to the experienced coaches.  Now the criteria was a manager’s past success and whether he was tactically astute.  A footballing legend as player-manager is no longer a pull of ambition to attract the top stars.

Of course there are other reasons why the player-manager has fallen by the wayside.  As previously stated the role has become much bigger in terms of dealing with off the pitch activities expected of a manager.  This can vary from dealing with contracts, agents, scout players and the opposition as well as having to constantly deal with media demands.  Managing full time can be a tough and lonely job without the added worry of your current form as a player to contend with.

A Premier league manager is now expected to hold a UEFA pro licence which again means a player finding the time to complete and pass prior to a football club offering a manager’s job.

There still has been player-managers in recent years but these have been more of an emergency due to the manager being sacked.  Garry Monk for example was interim manager after Brian Laudrup was sacked in 2014, whilst Ryan Giggs was an interim manager for Manchester United in 2014 after David Moyes was dismissed.

With expectations and the pressure to succeed so high football clubs are now reluctant to take a chance with a young player manager.  There is also less job security as a football manager with clubs getting itchy as soon as the team hits a bad patch of form.  Consequently most clubs would rather now go for experience believing it to have a higher chance of success rather than pitching into the unknown.

Nevertheless there is a certain bit of magic and drama of having a player-manager in charge of your football club especially if he scores the winner that clinches the league title.    After all isn’t that part of the charm of football that it brings unreal magic and stories that would make the editor of Roy of the Rovers think twice as a story line?