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.












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.


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






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 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


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


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.


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.


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


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



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.