Archive for March, 2008

March 31 – RIP Rocky

LIFE, as we’re often told as youngsters, just isn’t fair. Never is this more evident than in the case of former Arsenal and England midfielder David Rocastle, who died today in 2001. Affectionately known as Rocky to the Clock End faithful, his wizardry and commitment on the pitch was matched only by his qualities of loyalty and modesty off it.

ROCASTLE was spotted at an early age whilst at Roger Manwood Secondary in Brockley Rise, where inter-school matches would feature a host of top scouts clambering for a view of the talented youngster. It was, of course, Arsenal who secured his signature, and Rocky would first pull on the Gunners shirt as a 16-year old in the Haarlem under-20s tournament, where he dazzled against opponents three years older than him.

He broke into the Arsenal first team in September 1985 under manager Don Howe, who tried to play down the inevitable hype that followed, claiming that: “David passed when he should have shot and shot when he should have passed, but he’s going to be a great player.”

And quite right Mr. Howe was. Over the next eight years Rocastle would become an Arsenal legend, making 277 appearances and scoring 34 goals. His weaving runs, ball-control and inspiration played a key part in the Gunners side that picked up a League Cup in 1987 and two League titles in 1989 and 1991. Author, Arsenal fan and list enthusiast Nick Hornby ranked Rocky’s winner against Spurs in the ’87 League Cup semi as one of his all-time top 5 football moments, which is no mean feat.

By his 23rd birthday he looked to have the world at his feet, as he had already represented England 14 times and with the 1990 World Cup on the horizon life was good for Lewisham-born midfielder.

However, lady luck had other ideas. A mixture of injury and lack of form struck and as Arsenal struggled to defend their 1989 title Rocastle missed out on the England squad for Italia ’90. A mini-revival did follow, as Rocky returned from injury in the run-in to Arsenal’s 1991 title win, but he was unable to match the incredibly high standard that he had set for himself in the late 1980′s.

In 1992 Rocastle moved the Leeds United, fresh from their league title win, but injuries deprived the Elland Road faithful of any sustained action from the midfielder. Subsequent spells at Manchester City and Chelsea followed, before he was shipped put on loan to Norwich and finally Hull City, where his career would come to an ignominious close in 1998.

In February 2001 Rocky announced that he was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and after an unsuccessful course of chemotherapy he died today in 2001, at the tragically young age of 33. See a tribute to the great man below, as we raise a glass to one of England’s lost talents.

March 30 – Glenda Gets His Spurs

WE’VE all been there. If you’ll excuse us for going a little Ian Holloway on you, but today’s story is like when you’ve got a new girlfriend whose ex comes on back on the scene, leaving you high and dry. In this case the girl is Glenda Hoddle, the ex is Tottenham Hotspur, and poor old Southampton are the ones crying into their pillow, as today in 2001 the former England boss ditched the Saints for his first love.

Now we don’t know what Southampton had done in a previous life to deserve such treatment, but after they had welcomed Hoddle back into football management following that infamous interview with The Times they were dropped quicker than a Newcastle number 10 when Spurs were on the prowl for a new manager following George Graham’s departure two weeks earlier.

Despite winning Spurs’ first trophy in nine years Graham was given the boot for failing to improve on their mid-table league position that stalked Spurs for whole of the 90′s (and most of the 2000′s to boot). Down on the south coast Hoddle was resurrecting his managerial career as he beat the drop with Southampton in the 2000/01 season, meaning it didn’t take long for the rumour mill to start up when the position at his former stomping ground came up.

The Saints didn’t want to let their man go easily and an acrimonious split and lengthy compensation battle ensued. Eventually chairman Rupert Lowe emerged with a million quid in his back pocket in exchange for Hoddle and his number 2 John Gorman, leaving Hoddle time to come up with a fan-pleasing statement for the White Hart Lane faithful: “Chairmen come and go but as a supporter you will always have a club in your heart. I know what the fans like and dislike. I want to take it back to the days when I was playing here and trophies were coming in,” he fawned. “I want class football; Spurs always had that style in formation and individuals. But you’ve got to have that balance with success.”

It didn’t start too badly for Glenda, as he brought in the likes of Gus Poyet, Christian Ziege and Teddy Sheringham, and even managed to get the best out of sick-notes such as Darren Anderton and Ledley King. Within a year Hoddle had got Spurs into the final of the Worthington Cup, where they would go down 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers. Obviously, this got Spurs fans thinking that their former playmaker was about to transfer their fortunes like Arsene Wenger had across the way at Arsenal, but like a Britney Spears comeback single, they just couldn’t make a lasting impression on the top ten.

A ninth-place finish in his first season, tenth in his second and a poor start to the ’03/04 campaign was enough to convince the Spurs top brass of David Buchler and Daniel Levy that, despite their earlier claims, Glenda was not the man to take Spurs to the next level. Tottenham were lying in the drop zone in September 2003, with a return of just four points from their first five games when a 3-1 loss at home sealed his fate. Who was this against you ask? Yes, you guessed it, Southampton, now under the tutorage of Wee Gordon Strachan, proving that maybe Hoddle’s theories on karma had some truth to them after all.

We’ll leave you with Glenda make a wally out of himself on Top of the Pops and we’ll be back with more tales from north London for you tomorrow.

March 29 – Cup Final Hat-trick Hero

EVER heard of William ‘Billy’ Townley? You probably have if you are a Blackburn fan who knows their history but otherwise we’re guessing it is not a name that rings any bells.

Allow us to enlighten you then because on this day way back in 1890 young Billy became the first man to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup Final when his Blackburn Rovers side destroyed Sheffield Wednesday by a whopping 6-1 score line.

In those pre-Wembley days the final was played at the Kennington Oval cricket ground in London and the other Blackburn goals came from Nat Walton, Jack Southworth and Joe Lofthouse with Sheffield Wednesday’s consolation goal scored by Albert Mumford.

Rovers would go on to retain the cup the following season when they beat Notts County 3-1, again at the Oval, with Townley grabbing one of the goals.

In these days of cagey 1-0 finals it is hard to believe but fans only had to wait four years for another hat-trick in the show piece game when James Logan of Notts County netted three times in his side’s 4-1 win over Bolton at Goodison Park.

It would be nearly 60 years until the feat was repeated, this time in the famous Stanley Matthews final of 1953. Although the game is remembered for the heroics of Matthews who dragged his Blackpool side back from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 against Bolton, it was Stan Mortensen who scored three times. The first and only time there has been a hat-trick in the final at Wembley. The nearest we have come since is Ian Rush bagging a brace in the 1986 and 1989 finals.

As for Townley, he was capped by England in 1889 and 1890, scoring two goals against Ireland, and then moved on to play for Darwen and then Manchester City.

When his playing days were numbered Billy became one of the early men to move into professional coaching. As most clubs were still making the transition from being amateur outfits Townley moved abroad to pursue his career.

After starting out with Deutscher FC Prag, he really made his mark with consonant-tastic Bavarian side SpVgg Fürth where he started to pick up so much silverware that Bayern Munich came-a-calling and poached him.

He then managed at various clubs around the continent and even had a spell as national boss of Holland whom he led to fourth place in the 1924 Olympic Games.

He eventually folded away his tactics blackboard for the last time in the 1930s and returned home. He died in Blackpool in 1950 aged 84.

He was not only a pioneer on the pitch with his goalscoring exploits, but was also a trailblazer off it at a time when many clubs had not cottoned on to the idea of having a full-time professional manager – an idea any club thinking about employing Bryan Robson might want to consider starting up again.

More tomorrow from us folks so keep it OTFD.

March 28 – Good Touch for a Big Man

HE is like a walking enigma, wrapped in a riddle, disguised as a giraffe.

Just how is it that 6ft 7in Peter Crouch has the same number of goals in an England shirt as Wayne Rooney, despite coming to the international scene two years later than the young scouser?

He looks ridiculous, his legs look like they may snap at any minute and he is the very definition of gangly, yet somehow Couchinho has a happy knack of sticking the ball in the back of the old onion bag.

It was on this day in 2002 that Crouchie got his first break into the big time when Graham Taylor gave Portsmouth £5m to take him to Aston Villa.

Although he started his career as an apprentice at Spurs it was after a move across London to QPR where Crouch started to make waves when he scored ten goals in his first season at Loftus Road. Sadly even with this contribution Rangers were relegated and Crouch was on the move again.

His new home was Fratton Park and he continued the form he had shown at QPR for Portsmouth, netting 18 times in 37 starts for the south coast club.

The big boys were now starting to sniff around young Crouchie and Graham Taylor, back for a second spell at Aston Villa, was sniffing with the most intensity (no need to picture that), and he him snapped up to spear head the attack at Villa park.

Despite scoring on his debut for the Villains Crouchie never really hit it off with the Villa fans and his cause wasn’t helped when Taylor walked out on the club and David O’Leary came in as manager.

The Irishman clearly didn’t rate him and loaned him out to Norwich before eventually flogging him to Southampton where he made a valiant, but ultimately doomed attempt to keep the club in the Premiership.

Although the Saints went down, things worked out rather better for Crouch who netted an England call up at the end of the 2004/05 season, and a move to Liverpool. Aston Villa reserve to Liverpool and England player in just one season: meet Peter Crouch the renaissance man.

When he moved to Liverpool his former manager and biggest fan Graham Taylor was quick to praise his former charge.

He said: “Everyone simply talks about his height, because he’s 6ft 7in, as if that’s all there is to him.

“But I can assure everyone he is very good technically and his touch will be as good as the other Liverpool players, there is no doubt about that.

“Look at his touch, look at his passing, look at his control, how he lays people in, how he holds off defenders, that’s the sort of player we are talking about.

“Psychologically, he would say his height hasn’t affected him but I think it used to. Now he’s learned to handle the criticism and he knows he’s a good player.”

Here is a little look at some of Crouchie’s exploits, including his famous robot dance from a few years back. Enjoy that and point your browser this way tomorrow for more from us.

March 27 – Clem Retires

GIVEN the unmistakable sound of barrel scraping that can be heard every time Fabio Capello tries to dig up three goalkeepers for each England squad you wouldn’t blame him for casting an envious glance back to former England managers who had the likes of Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence to choose from when picking their number one.

For long periods throughout the 1970s and 1980s Don Revie, Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson had two of the outstanding goalkeepers of their time fighting it out to stand between the sticks for the Three Lions in Shilts and Clem.

On this day in 1988 Ray Clemence announced he was calling time on his long and illustrious career and would be hanging up his gloves at the end of the season.

Clemence was born in Skegness and was first signed up as a pro with Scunthorpe United before Bill Shankly snapped him up for Liverpool for £18,000 in 1967.

His stay at Anfield coincided with the club’s domination of English and European football and in 665 appearances for the Reds he helped them win enough trophies to sink a battle ship.

Five league titles, three European Cups, one FA Cup, one League Cup and two Uefa Cups were all gracing the Anfield trophy room while Clem kept goal for them under the management of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.

In 1981 the game was up for Clemence at Liverpool when the wobbly-legged Bruce Grobbelaar began to challenge him for his place. Rather than play second fiddle to the South African, Ray upped sticks and headed for North London when Tottenham Hotspur paid £300,000 to take him to White Hart Lane.

In his first season at Spurs the club reached the League Cup final where they met Liverpool. Clemence’s departure seemed to have no immediate effect on the winning machine that was Liverpool FC in those days and Spurs and Clemence were brushed aside 3-1.

Comfort came in the FA Cup which Spurs lifted the same season as Clemence added another medal to his vast collection, although it this would be his last of his career.

Despite sharing the England goalkeeping duties with Peter Shilton he still managed to amass 61 caps for his country, but his association with the national side would not end there.

After retiring as a player Clemence moved straight into coaching, first at Spurs, then Barnet, and then with England when his former Spurs teammate Glenn Hoddle brought him into the national set up as goalkeeping coach – a position he would retain until Capello came in with his Italian revolution.

Clem is one of a select band of footballers to have been honoured by the Queen with an MBE and also topped the magazine Total Football’s poll of the best ever goalkeeper, beating the likes of Shilton, Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks and Pat Jennings. Not too shabby at all, but given the recent performances of Paul Robinson and Scott Carson in the England goalkeeping jersey perhaps Clem was better at playing than he was coaching.

Come back tomorrow folks when we’ll be looking at a player who has admitted, with a degree of insight rare in a player these days, that he would probably be a virgin if he wasn’t as Premiership footballer.

March 26 – Paulo and the Wonder Goal

WHEN he wasn’t pushing over referees, picking up fair play awards or making fascist salutes Paulo di Canio was actually a pretty nifty little player capable of getting the fans up on their feet with one piece of skill.

It was on this day in 2000 when he showed he really did have the skills to pay the bills when he scored a beaut of a volley for West Ham – a strike that would be voted Goal of the Season by BBC Match of the Day viewers. It was also nominated as one of the goals of the decade in 2002 when ten years of the Premier League was celebrated.

The Italian signed for the Irons in 1999 after he felt his former club Sheffield Wednesday failed to back him when he was punished for pushing over referee Paul Alcock.

The fans immediately took to him and he was voted Hammer of the Year in his first season at the Boleyn Ground for some scintilating forward play under Harry Redknapp’s management.

Wimbledon were West Ham’s opponents at Upton Park on this day that year and it took just nine minutes for di Canio to score his spectacular goal.

Trevor Sinclair sent in a pinpoint cross to the far left of the area to find Di Canio who struck his volley with the outside of his right foot from 12 yards out, leaving Dons keeper Neil Sullivan the job of picking the ball out of the net.

We can’t really do it justice by describing it so watch the goal below from every conceivable angle and at every conceivable speed. Which ever way you look at it the goal is a bit special and helped the Hammers to a 2-1 win over the Dons that day.

March 25 – Fans Save The Minstermen

LET’S face it, there’s not many popular chairmen out there. Although the fans are usually out for their board’s blood, it’s very rare that a chairman actually wants his club to fail. But, there’s always an exception to the rule, so today OTFD takes a look at the events that went on at York City, today in 2003, when the club was saved from the evil clutches of the worst chairman since Mao, Douglas Craig.

Aside from a few cup upsets, such as Arsenal in 1985 and Manchester United in 1995, York City have never really troubled the attention of English football. However, the story of their 2003 takeover is an under-reported tale where the good guys won and where the fans stuck it to the moneymen good and proper.

Douglas Craig took over as chairman for the Minstermen in 1990, after former top-dog Michael Sinclair was involved in a car crash while away at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Sinclair took this chance to reassess his life, becoming a priest and passing his 123,000 shares to Craig for a nominal fee. On the field York were doing well under Craig, as they progressed into the second division, although the club were hit with controversy when the former Tory councillor Craig was the only chairman in the league to refuse to sign up to the “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign. He also referred to himself in his Rothmans Football Year Book entry as ‘Douglas Craig, OBE, JP, BSC, FICE, FI, MUN E, FCI, ARB, M CONS E’, so you know he’s an idiot.

Things then got sticky on the pitch, as the Yorkies were relegated to Division Three and as players and managers came and went, the wage bill increased astronomically, reaching 151% of turnover in 2001, which is always bad news. Craig didn’t like the way this was going and sensationally announced in January 2001 that if no-one came forward to buy the club for £4.5million he would withdraw them from the Football League, selling the prime real estate the stadium was on and pocketing all the money for himself.

This ranks as one of the most shameful acts in recent football history, as Craig was willing to deprive the local community of their football club, pulling down a stadium where fans contributions following the death of striker David Longhurst had paid to complete a stand in 1990, all for personal gain. Showing that they really aren’t good for much in these days of power-hungry clubs, the FA didn’t do anything, merely saying they had ‘concerns’ over the flouting of the rules designed to protect clubs.

Eventually the club was bought by another of the shady characters that the beautiful game seems so good at attracting: John Batchelor, a former racing driver who had previously changed his name via Deed Poll to ‘John Top Gear’ and ‘John B&Q’ to attract sponsorship, bought the club for £50, minus all fixed assists. He changed the clubs name to York City Soccer Club and changed their logo to incorporate his racing brand in it, angering supporters and doing nothing to reverse the club’s failing finances, breaking promises all over the shop.

York went into administration and it was then that the fans decided they had to get involved. With the help of Supporters Direct they formed a trust in February 2003 and set about raising enough money to fund a CVA and complete a takeover of the club. Eventually, today in 2003, through the hard work of die-hard fans who refused to see their club die, an agreement was reached with the club’s administrators and creditors. Fan-power had saved The Minstermen from extinction. The York Evening Press hailed the fans “a remarkable body of men and women. From the Trust’s astonishingly successful launch to its takeover of the club, they have played a blinder.”

Hopefully someday soon episodes like this won’t need to be recreated, but we won’t be holding our breath while the moneymen lord over the footballing landscape.

Here’s some retro action for all you Yorkies out there, and like a certain LA Galaxy midfielder, we’ll be back on your screens tomorrow.

March 24 – Honest Rob

CALL Robbie Fowler what you like – world-class finisher, sicknote and land-baron are three things that come into your head to start with – but you can’t call him unsporting. Today in 1997 Growler proved to the word that he was a good egg (egg – Easter Monday – geddit?), when he pleaded with the referee not to award a penalty when he went down in the Highbury box against Arsenal.

Nicknamed the Toxteth Scally, Fowler has had to carry a bit of reputation around with him during his fifteen-year career, but here at OTFD we’re going to stick up for the lad. Although his goal celebrations may not have been to everyone’s taste, we believe that Fowler’s heart has always been in the right place.

When Liverpool visited Highbury to take on rivals Arsenal it was a predictably tight game, where all chances had to be taken. When Fowler went down after appearing to collide with David Seaman, referee Gerald Ashby wasted no time in pointing to the spot. Fowler immediately got up and pleaded with Ashby not to award the penalty, claiming that Seaman had not fouled him. Like most referees, Ashby wasn’t going to admit he was wrong and wouldn’t change his mind.

Usually deadly from the spot, Fowler stepped up and took a very tame spot-kick that Seaman saved. The rebound, however, fell to his scouse buddy Jason McAteer who blasted it home, as Liverpool won 2-1, denting the Gunners’ title chances. Fowler claimed that he didn’t miss on purpose: “As a goalscorer it’s part of my job to take it and I wanted to score it. I tried to score. I never missed on purpose. It just happened, it was a bad penalty.” Hmm, the jury’s out on that one Growler.

Fowler’s exploits didn’t escape the gaze of UEFA, who awarded him a Fair Play award for his honesty. This incidentally came in the same week that UEFA saw fit to fine Fowler £900 for showing a T-shirt supporting the 500 sacked Liverpool dockers after his goal against SL Brann in the Cup Winners Cup, as it convened their regulations over players displaying political logos at matches. Killjoys.

Check out the cheeky scouser having one of his traditional good days against the Gooners below and like some bloke for 2,000 we’ll be resurrecting ourselves tomorrow, so come back over for more of the same.

March 23 – Honeyball Gets The Girls Going

NETTIE Honeyball may sound like name of the squeeze in the next James Bond film, but instead we have Ms Honeyball to thank for putting women’s football on the map. Today in 1895 saw the first official game of woman’s football, as a team of upper-class northern schoolgirls beat their southern counterparts 7-1.

Although women had been playing football since the birth of the game during the Han Dynasty in China (that’s 206 BC to 220 AD for all you history buffs), it wasn’t until football’s governing bodies created a standardised set of rules that prohibited violence in 1863 that the fairer sex got truly involved.

Honeyball placed an advert in the press in 1894 and when thirty women replied she created the British Ladies Football Club with the aim of “proving to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured,” she said at the time, pre-empting Mike Newell’s rant by 112 years. Nettie was able to convince Tottenham player J.W. Julian to coach them and they would train twice a week in a park next to the Alexandra Park racecourse at Hornsey.

The initial match between the north and south was watched by a crowd of 10,000 at Crouch End, with the Manchester Guardian remarking that “Their costumes came in for a good deal of attention…. one or two added short skirts over their knicker-bockers…. When the novelty has worn off, I do not think women’s football will attract the crowds.” The Daily Sketch was even less appreciative: “The first few minutes were sufficient to show that football by women, if the British Ladies be taken as a criterion, is totally out of the question. A footballer requires speed, judgement, skill, and pluck. Not one of these four qualities was apparent on Saturday. For the most part, the ladies wandered aimlessly over the field at an ungraceful jog-trot.”

The girls efforts did find some support though, as The Sportsman said that: “True, young men would run harder and kick more strongly, but, beyond this, I cannot believe that they would show any greater knowledge of the game or skill in its execution. I don’t think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men out of sympathy both with football as a game and the aspirations of the young new women. If the lady footballer dies, she will die hard.” Eat your heart out Bruce Willis.

The woman’s game grew in popularity for the next twenty years, with some matches featuring the legendary Dick Kerr Ladies attracting attendances of over 50,000. Dick Kerr Ladies were a roving team from Preston that played to raise money for various charities, touring France in 1920 and playing over 60 times a year.

Despite the popularity of the women’s game with the general public, the FA frowned upon it, worrying that it would pose a threat to the masculinity of the game. In 1921 the powers that be banned the game from FA pitches, which was a huge blow to the development of the game.

It would stay banned for 50 years, when UEFA recommended that football associations across Europe should encourage the game. A first European Championship came about in 1984, with Sweden defeating England in the final. The Woman’s World Cup was established in 1991, with the USA picking up the inaugural title in China.

Following from last summer’s World Cup, the woman’s game is going from strength to strength, thanks to the efforts of Nettie and her pals all those years ago. Check out the top 5 goals from China 07 below and head over here tomorrow if you’re not too full of Easter eggs.

March 22 – The Father of the League

IT was on this day in 1888 that the English Football League was born – and it was all down to a Scotsman.

Up until the 1880s when the game was merely an amateur pursuit to give factory workers and miners something to do on the weekend there was no problem. It was only when some shady (yet visionary) club chairman started paying their players in an effort to attract the best ones that things had to change.

In July 1885 the Football Association finally legalised professionalism which would have far wider consequences than simply allowing footballers to get paid for playing. It forced the clubs to become more and more serious about their finances – not only had professionalism among players arrived, but club management also started to treat their teams with a bit more business savvy.

With more and more teams opting to dive into the brave new world of the professional game for fear of being left behind, they suddenly had to find the money to pay their playing staff which in turn meant a radical shake up of the way matches were organised.

At the time clubs competed in the FA Cup, friendly matches, and any number of local or inter-county competitions on a pretty much ad-hoc basis. Now that money had to be found regularly clubs began to hanker for a more structured and financially secure world in which to operate.

Step forward William McGregor. Scot, draper, Aston Villa director, and founding father of the football league. McGregor sent a letter proposing his new league scheme to a number of leading clubs of the day.

He wrote: “Every year it is becoming more and more difficult for football clubs of any standing to meet their friendly engagements and even arrange friendly matches. The consequence is that at the last moment, through cup-tie interference, clubs are compelled to take on teams who will not attract the public.

“I beg to tender the following suggestion as a means of getting over the difficulty: that ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season, the said fixtures to be arranged at a friendly conference about the same time as the International Conference.”

The clubs were agreeable and representatives of Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers all met in Anderson’s Hotel on Fleet Street in London on March 22, 1888 to discuss the idea, and yea, the Football League was born.

Further meetings followed in April when the name was decided on and the first matches of the new exciting league were played in September 1888. The idea caught on so much that in 1892 a second division.

So bravo McGregor, a tip of the hat to you sir and no mistake. As ever, more from us tomorrow so until then, keep on keeping on.