Archive for January, 2008

January 31 – Walter Leads The Way

ON the day when Don Fabio announces his first England squad we though it was about time that we went back to the beginning as we look at the first ever man to take on the mantle of England manager, Sir Walter Winterbottom, who was born today in 1913.

Pre-World War II international football didn’t really resemble that of the one Capello will be making his first steps into next week. England didn’t feel the need to put anyone in charge of the national side until 1947, when they promoted Winterbottom from his role of national director of coaching that he had assumed a year earlier. Although he didn’t have the playing background that is almost a pre-requisite these days, Winterbottom was a respected figure within the game.

Having curtailed his playing career after only twenty-seven games with Manchester United due to a spinal problem, the former teacher joined the RAF as a physical trainer as football took a back seat to the war effort. When the beautiful game was back and running Winterbottom was given the top job and wasted no time in inaugurating a series of coaching courses, much to the resistance of his old-school masters in the English game. Who knows, if Winterbottom had been given more support in this part of his job we may not have been lumped with the tactical ineptitude of a certain brolly-wielding predecessor of his.

Winterbottoom kicked of his regime with a 7-2 win over Northern Ireland and his sixteen-year spell in office means that Sir Walt is still England’s longest serving manager, and this will surely never be beaten. His tenure saw the Three Lions visit four World Cup finals before he passed the baton to Sir Alf Ramsey after the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

Although a selection panel meant that Winterbottom never had the luxury of picking his own squads he still had an impressive group of players, but never took them to the heights they were capable of. Some of England’s most embarrassing defeats occurred in this period such as Hungary’s 6-3 demolition of his shell-shocked troops at Wembley in 1953 and the 1-0 reversal at the hands of then-minnows the USA in 1950, which is still regarded as one of the biggest shocks ever in international football.

Still though, the man was a trailblazer whose vision and class meant that he received tributes from across the footballing world when he passed away in 2002. Here’s some grainy footage of that fateful game against the USA in 1950 and make sure you head back here tomorrow to find out who’s the favourite ex-England player among Italy’s subcultural activists.

January 30 – A Hero is Born

THERE was a time, long long ago, when the top four clubs in the land did not win every single trophy in sight, and not every season began with a depressing air of inevitability hanging over it.

Yes it is time for a bit of old-fashioned ‘it’s not like the old days’ chat here at OTFD as we remember a team from outside the top-flight who won the FA Cup, and a footballer who scored the winner in the final yet ended up working in a cafe until he died.

Bobby Stokes was born in this day in 1951 in (whisper it very quietly) Portsmouth. He slipped through the net at Pompey and was signed up by Saints as an apprentice in 1966.

Always a talented player, Stokes’ goalscoring form was actually fairly mediocre during his time at the Dell but when he did score he certainly picked his moment.

In 1976 under Lawrie McMenemy second division Saints reached the FA Cup final where they would play highly-fancied first division opposition in the shape of Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United.

Saints were holding their own against their famous opponents and would stun them in the 83rd minute when Stokes latched on to a Jim McCalliog pass from midfield and fired past Alex Stepney in the United goal to win the cup for the Saints and become a hero in Southampton forever.

Stokes won a car for being the scorer of the first goal in the final and legend has it that he had started taking driving lessons prior to the match fully expecting that he would score first.

Stokes’ goal secured Southampton’s one and only cup triumph and it remains the only major trophy the club has ever won.

Little Bobby would only play one more season for the Saints after that, before making the move to their hated rivals and his home town club of Portsmouth. The Pompey fans never accepted Stokes after his heroics for their arch enemies and he left after just one season going to America to play for the Washington Diplomats before he retired.

Unlike the millionaires of today, Stokes had to work for a living long after he retired from the game and spent his final working days in a cafe in Portsmouth. He died in 1995 after contracting pneumonia during a round of golf aged just 44.

Here is Bobby scoring that famous goal in 1976 wearing Saints’ second strip of yellow and blue. As ever, we will be back tomorrow so make sure you are.

January 29 – Dixon of Highbury

WHAT could £350,000 buy you today? A pretty decent house in the south of England? A pretty decent street in the north?

In the late 1980s it could buy you a Lee Dixon, for that is how much George Graham paid Stoke City to bring the right back to Highbury on this day in 1988.

While Dixon is now seen as something of a one club man, his early career was actually a bit hither and thither as he started out at Burnley where he combined his football apprenticeship with sweeping the floor in his dad’s meat factory for £25 a week.

He then moved on to Chester City where he was part of the team that finished bottom of the whole football league in the 1983/84 season – we can’t think of another player who has finished both top and bottom of the league structure in their playing career but if you know of one then leave a comment below.

After Chester Dixon played for Bury and then Stoke before getting his big break and joining the Gunners.

1988 was a good time to be a defender at Arsenal under George Graham who must have some Italian ancestry somewhere, so obsessed was he with the art of defending and winning matches 1-0.

Boring boring Arsenal they may have been but Graham’s famous defence that included Dixon, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and later Martin Keown with David Seamen behind them was formidable and was the basis for the Gunners success over the next ten years.

Dixon didn’t have to wait long for his first medal, when Arsenal won the league title after a thrilling match at Anfield when the Gunners had to win by two goals to deprive Liverpool of the championship.

Dixon himself was involved in the league-winning goal in injury time when his long pass picked out Alan Smith who fed Michael Thomas who duly scored to take the title to Highbury.

Dixon would play on at Highbury until 2002 when he and Tony Adams both hung up their boots after clinching another league and cup double.

Lee now spends his days playing golf and cosying up to Adrian Chiles on the Match of the Day 2 sofa offering slightly better insight into the game than his former Arsenal colleague Martin “Simeon” Keown.

Despite being part of the most well-drilled defensive unit in the land, here is Lee proving that everyone is human by lobbing his old mate David Seamen with a peach of a shot. Enjoy that and then come back tomorrow to remember a player who will forever be a hero on the south coast.

January 28 – El Macca

FOR whatever reason not many British footballers try their luck abroad, instead choosing to play out their whole careers in the hustle and bustle of the Premiership. Ian Rush once remarked that “moving from Wales to Italy is like moving to a different country.” One player who did the see the logic in moving to country with better food and better weather was Steve McManaman, who today in 1999 agreed a deal to join Spanish giants Real Madrid in the summer.

The shaggy-haired Scouser and boyhood Evertonian signed with Liverpool as a fresh-faced 17-year old in 1990 and it didn’t take long for him to establish his place in the side. His forays down the Anfield wing during the 1990′s were one of the highlights of Liverpool’s under-achieving ‘Spice Boys’ era. They were certainly a darn sight better than those Armani suits – but the less said about those, the better.

It was thanks to McManaman’s work in the assist column that the likes of Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen could boast such good scoring records, but Macca could still be relied on to score some of the decade’s best goals in a Liverpool shirt. It didn’t take too long for a series of admirers from across the continent to start fluttering their eyes his way, and following a dalliance with Barcelona in 1997, Macca made the transition to sunny Spain as he left on a Bosman to join Real Madrid.

Liverpool’s fans weren’t too impressed with the move and chucked around the usual ‘Judas’ jibes and accused him of selling-out, as his new weekly wage would be around £60,000, making him one of the highest paid players in the world. The Spanish press though got very excited by the move, with newspaper Marca screaming out “Macca Yes!” He didn’t take long to make an impact at the Bernabeu, scoring three goals and bagging several assists in his first couple of months and had a fairytale ending to his first season as the club picked up their eighth European Cup thanks to a man-of-the-match performance and spectacular goal from the player now dubbed ‘El Macca.’

However it wasn’t all fun and games during McManaman’s four-year spell with Los Merengues. Florentino Perez’s Galactico project came into play in the summer of 2000 with the arrival of Luis Figo. When Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham all followed over the next three summers Macca was finding himself increasingly marginalised and his playing time suffered. Not one to kick up a fuss Macca kept quiet and refused to criticise the board while he was still at the club. In his excellent autobiography released in 2004 he would call this process the “Disneyfication of Real Madrid.”

Still, the boy done good. No other English players of his era can boast of two Champions League medals and two La Liga titles, so fair play. Below is as good a collection of goals as you’ll ever see, so enjoy that and come back tomorrow for more of the same.

January 27 – The Birth of the Pools Panel

TODAY we’re looking at the birth of an institution that’s quintessentially English. If you’re making a top five list of English traits then football, the weather and gambling aren’t going to be too far away, so it’s no wonder that the Pools Panel were formed today in 1963.

Last week we brought you a couple of tales from the infamous 1962/63 season (http://www.onthisfootballday.com/2008_01_22/january-22-twisted-firestarters.php), where the weather was causing all sorts of havoc with the fixture list. One FA Cup third round tie was even postponed 22 times, leaving the nations pools players in limbo. This was long before the National Lottery gave England’s gambling fans their weekly fix, so the main football pools companies, Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters decided to do something about it.

The first ever panel met at the Connaught Rooms in central London and consisted of Chairman Gerald Nabarro (MP), George Young, Ted Drake, Tommy Lawton, Tom Finney and former referee Arthur Ellis. They were locked in a room until they could agree who would’ve won all that weekends postponed games and make or break coupons across the land. The BBC then televised the panel’s findings live to the nation. Unlike the aforementioned National Lottery though, the programme didn’t involve a rubbish quiz show hosted by Dale Winton thankfully.

These days the panel consists of England legends Gordon Banks and Roger Hunt and also the former Newcastle and Scottish midfielder Tony Green, who now meet in the rather ordinary setting of a solicitors office in Liverpool. Every Saturday they turn up at 2pm and are sealed off for two hours while they make their decisions on the weekends weather victims, armed only with their footballing brains and a mountain full of stats.

In recent years they have expanded their portfolio to Australia, where they enjoy some all expenses paid trips down under during the English summer. To be honest, we can’t think of many better jobs out there than being paid to make up football results, so we’re getting our application forms in right now. On the off-chance we can’t blag ourselves the job we’ll be back here tomorrow to let you know which England international gave up on the gritty weather and hot-footed it to Spain.

January 26 – Das Supertalent

WHEN you look though the annuls of football history there’s one thing that resonates as loud and bitter as the Kop on an anti-American day and that’s talent that’s gone astray. Hands up all those who have a mate who could’ve made it. Today we’re looking at Germany’s lost boy, midfielder Sebastian Deisler, who fought all manner of personal demons and was released from a psychological hospital today in 2004 before he attempted to rebuild his rocky career.

When he made his debut as a fresh-faced 18-year old for Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1998 most of Germany was in raptures, dubbing this young man “Das Supertalent.” This was surely the man who was going to follow in the footsteps of Beckenbauer, Müller and Matthaus and become the newest hero for Die Nationalelf. Das Kaiser himself said that he was “technically the best in Germany” and 1990 spit-victim Rudi Völler claimed he would be “influential for Germany for another ten years.”

As is the norm, Europe’s top clubs such as Manchester United came a-knocking. No pressure though Seb. He would stay at Munchen-flapjack until they were relegated in 1999 before a move to Hertha Berlin saw him strut his stuff in the Champions League. By 2002 German giants Bayern Munich decided that they fancied a bit of Deisler and snapped him up, but this was where it all started to go wrong.

On the pitch Deisler could be relied on to give a good game, with his combination of speed, dribbling and crossing giving the Bayern faithful every reason to get excited. More than a few football journalists would dub him the ‘German Beckham’ but perhaps this was not the way the young German wanted to be described.

Seb missed the 2002 World Cup due to a pesky knee injury and this wasn’t the last time he had to hit the treatment room. The said dodgy knee put place to most of the 2003-04 season, but the physiological side was only the half of it. Deisler was beginning to show a mental fragility that was taking it’s toll. In November 2003 he was committed to hospital suffering from depression. Whether it was self-expectation, media hype or fan anticipation, Deisler obviously couldn’t take the pressure and would remain in a psychiatric unit for three months. Initially the club would blame “muscular problems” and a cold, but it soon became obvious that this was not the case. “I can’t go on, I’m finished” Deisler told boss Uli Hoeness.

After three months Deisler was out of hospital and attempting to rebuild his career. Unfortunately more knee injuries were all that followed and in January 2007 he retired, citing a lack of confidence in his often-injured knee. Germany had lost one of their greatest natural talents and his case issued a warning-shot to the international hype-machine that cranks the pressure on young talent everywhere.

Have a look at how gifted ‘Das Supertalent’ was below (turn your computer’s volume down though, or the Europop beats will put you on a par with Deisler’s 2004-era mental health) and come back tomorrow for more footballing history. Tomorrow’s all about English eccentricity, so it won’t be as downbeat as poor Seb’s story. But remember, without the sour, you can’t taste the sweet.

January 25 – Kung-Fu Cantona

Everybody was kung-fu fighting, Those cats were fast as lightning, In fact it was a little bit frightening, But they fought with expert timing. Perhaps Eric Cantona had heard the Carl Douglas hit on the radio as he ate his porridge that morning. Or perhaps it had been playing on the team bus on the way down the motorway.

Perhaps he had never heard it. Either way, it was on this day in 1995 that the French-collar-turner-upper assaulted a Crystal Palace fan with a kung fu kick during Man United’s tie with the London club.

Cantona had just been sent off and was making his way from the field of play when he launched himself into the crowd, kicking Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who Cantona claimed had been racially abusing him.

After kicking and punching Mr Simmons, police, stewards and other fans pulled him off, while Cantona’s fellow United teammate Paul Ince also got in on the action.
Cantona was banned from playing for nine months, and fined £20,000 for the attack. He was also stripped of the captaincy of the French national side, and was initially sentenced to two weeks in prison, which was then reduced to 120 hours community service.

At a press conference called for Cantona to explain his actions, he refused to answer any questions and simply said: “when the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” Bonkers.

The press conference and Cantona’s cryptic statement caused almost as much media stir as the kung fu kick itself. Speculation raged as to the meaning of the quote, with some believing it was a reference to a little known French philosopher, others thinking Cantona himself might be a deep thinker. Turned out he was just being deliberately obtuse.

Have a look at his mysterious outpourings below and come back for tomorrow for more from football’s past.

January 24 – Rivaldo’s Simply the Best

JUST how do they do it down there in Brazil? They just keep churning out player after player of world class quality seemingly effortlessly.

Not for the Brazilians a nationwide cohesive coaching structure or a national academy in Brasilia. Whereas the French had to build Clairefontaine and England clearly need to build their equivalent at Burton, Brazil seem to be able to produce world-cup winning players with a nochalance that surely infuriates the rest of the world.

It was on this day in 2000 that yet another product of the conveyor belt of talent that flows out of South America was honoured when Rivaldo Vítor Borba Ferreira was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year title.

Rivaldo really was on top of the world at the time having already picked up international, club and personal honours in 1999. That year he had helped Brazil win the Copa America and Barcelona to the Spanish league title, and had still found time to pick up the European Player of the Year award in December 1999.

The only black spot on Rivaldo’s CV was that rather ignominious loss in the final to France in the 1998 World Cup when teammate Ronaldo played the team-sheet version of the hockey cokey before kick off. In out, in out, shake it all about, then you play crap and you get knocked out! Ah that’s what it’s all about.

Anyway, Rivaldo and Ronaldo would put all that right at the following tournament in Japan and South Korea in 2002 where they would knock England out on their way to the trophy.

Sadly for Rivaldo his contribution in winning the competition will forever be overshadowed by his shameful play-acting during his country’s match with Turkey.

With the clock ticking down and Brazil 2-1 up Rivaldo was standing waiting to take a corner kick when Turkey’s Hakan Ãœnsal kicked the ball towards him. Despite the ball clearly hitting his legs, Rivaldo waiting a moment and then flung himself to the ground clutching his face as if someone had thrown a bucket of acid in his boat race. Lawrence Olivier it was not, but the ref was fooled who red-carded Ãœnsal.

Thankfully for fans of truth and justice FIFA checked out the video after the match and did at least fine him, although he probably didn’t have to raid his piggy bank to pay the £5,180.

Have a look at Rivaldo’s glorious attempt at winning an Oscar below and come back tomorrow when a gifted Frenchman decided street justice was his kinda thing. See you then sports fans.

January 23 – Forlan Figure

MANAGERS often live or die by their transfer dealings and Arsene Wenger has consistently proved his adeptness at picking up bargains for a pittance who he then turns into world-beaters.

Sir Alex Ferguson prefers the ‘throw money at the problem’ approach and it was on this day that he shelled out £7.5m for the Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.

Diego had been doing pretty well for his Argentine club Independiente so buying the 22-year-old player looked like a gamble worth taking, but Ferguson was right in the middle of something of a bad patch when it came to new recruits.

This was part of a spree that would see Ferguson purchase Juan Sebastian Veron, Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba as the Manchester United team went through a period of what the old-boys club that is football punditry would term ‘transition.’

Forlan was thrown straight into the United team but had to wait a full eight months for his first goal, and even that was a penalty against the mighty Maccabi Haifa.

Eight months, 27 games and just one goal is a record that would make even Emile Heskey start to feel a little uncomfortable but Forlan kept going and did eventually start to get a few goals.

Hitting the back of the net was so rare for Diego that in one match against Southampton he took off his shirt in excitement after scoring the winner but then, seemingly unfamiliar with the goal celebration, he got his proverbial knickers in a twist and couldn’t get his shirt back on. For some minutes he raced up and down the pitch contesting the ball while holding his shirt in his hands until the ref put him out of his misery by blowing up to stop play.

After two seasons at Old Trafford which netted only 10 goals in 63 league games Sir Alex finally admitted his mistake and offloaded his ‘striker’ to Villarreal in 2004.

Perhaps the Spanish sun suited Forlan more than Manc drizzle as he somehow transformed from the biggest joke in the Premier League since Ali Dia into Europe’s deadliest marksman.

In his first season in Spain he was top scorer in La Liga with 25 goals which also saw him win the European Golden Boot jointly with Thierry Henry.

These days Diego can be found running up and down the pitch at the Vicente Calderon Stadium with his Atletico Madrid shirt in his hand.

Here he is showing off his ripped bod while he was still a Red Devil and be sure to come back tomorrow for a villain making his escape.

January 22 – Twisted Firestarters

AS England grinds to a halt following more bad weather we thought it was a good time to bring you the story of English football’s most outlandish attempt to defeat the elements. Today in 1963 Norwich City decided that the best way to fight ice was with it’s natural enemy: fire.

The winter of 1962/63 was particularly harsh. Carrow Road was hit especially hard and when Norwich’s third-round FA Cup match against Blackpool was postponed for the eleventh time the Canneries decided that drastic action was needed. So what was the Norwich masterplan? Covers on the pitch? Boring. Under-soil heating? Not in 1963. Get the youth team to shovel all the snow off the pitch? Nope, for some reason a pyromaniac groundsman had his way and flamethrowers were dispatched to melt the frozen tundra.

A Norwich spokesman dubbed the move ‘a desperate effort,’ but despite the best macho posings of the groundstaff, the move ‘served no purpose whatsoever’ for ‘as fast of the ice melted it froze again’. The next plan was to use a more low-key icebreaker, but again this was to no avail.

Blackpool, however, were more than used to this sort of disruption. Their pitch at Bloomfield Road was also frozen and was out of action that season from December 15 to March 2. Players such as Jimmy Armfield and Tony Waiters were often to be seen ice-skating on the frozen field, as the postponements built up and fixture congestion ensued. Lord knows what the managers of today would have to say about it.

We’d love to bring you footage of Norfolk groundsmen strutting around and looking like Arnie from Predator, but sadly no one was there to film the flamethrowers in action, so instead here’s the second most amusing thing to grace the Carrow Road turf. Enjoy it, and like the rain we’ll be back tomorrow for the tale of football’s best ever Sally Gunnell look-a-like.