Archive for May, 2009

May 31 – Fergie Fired

ALEX Ferguson “has no managerial ability.”

Not our words, but those of Willie Todd, the St Mirren chairman who sacked Alex Ferguson today in 1978.

Todd is the only man to have ever fired Ferguson and unless the Scot makes a habit of having his team not turn up like they did in Rome last week, he’ll remain so.

Fergie was made St Mirren boss in 1974 and built up an attacking, young side that won promotion to the top flight in 1977. With the crowds flocking to Love Street, the future looked bright.

Todd had other ideas though, and sacked the Glaswegian, claiming various breaches of contracts, such as unauthorised payments to players. Fergie didn’t take it lying down and took the club to a tribunal.

Ferguson came out of the tribunal looking pretty bad – his behaviour whilst at the club was described as “particularly petty” and “immature” after he intimidated his office secretary because he wanted his players to get tax-free expenses.

The tribunal heard how after six weeks of blanking her and confiscating her keys, he would only communicate through a 17-year-old secretarial assistant. Fergie lost the case and was given no leave to appeal.

Todd later admitted that the reason he sacked Ferguson was that his manager had agreed to join Aberdeen in a breach of contract. “I had no option but to sack him in the end,” he said.

Fergie then indeed went on to join Aberdeen where he would win three SPL titles, four Scottish Cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup in his eight year spell. This caught the attention of the Old Trafford hierarchy and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sadly, we can’t show you the look on Fergie’s face when Todd gave him the boot, but we’d like to imagine it resembled this clip below. Click here to see which Premier League flop came to these shores today and as the slow descent into a football-less summer continues, come back tomorrow for your daily football fix.

May 30 – Late Manchester Fightback (Not United)

EVERYONE remembers Manchester United’s great comeback victory against Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup final. It was a great, dramatic win and to do it from being 1-0 down in the last minutes of the game is pretty good, but, United fans, it was not even the best fightback victory of the week.

That honour surely belongs to United’s rivals Manchester City who, today in 1999, just days after That Magical Night in Barcelona (TM Clive Tyldesley), staged their own improbable comeback win against Gillingham in the Division Two play-off final at Wembley.

The match was goalless until the 81st minute when Carl Asaba scored for Gillingham, and then Robert Taylor added another five minutes later.

All of a sudden, City were 2-0 down and surely out. But then, in the 89th minute Kevin Horlock popped up to pull one back, but surely it was too late? Paul Dickov didn’t think so, the diminutive striker scored in the dying seconds of injury time to force the game into extra time.

There were no more dramatic goals and so to penalties. Gillingham missed their first two efforts, while Dickov also failed to hit the target. Nicky Weaver then saved from Paul Smith and Guy Butters to win it for City. Gillingham, having looked a cert at 2-0 up with one minute left, had somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Not that City fans cared. As someone once said: “Football, bloody hell!”

City boss Joe Royle said: “We never gave up,” adding, with brilliant understatement: “It looked unlikely.”

This unlikely win also happened on this football day, so check that out, and come back tomorrow for more from the football time machine.

May 29 – The Heysel Disaster

HERE at OTFD we normally like to bring you a quirky, hopefully fairly interesting story each day from the world of football, but it would be wholly remiss of us not to mark the events of this day in 1985 when 39 football fans died in the Heysel disaster.

Italian giants Juventus met Liverpool in the final of the European Cup. At the time Liverpool were kings of Europe, holders of the cup and four-time winners in a seven year period.

Juve had never won it, but had been losing finalists twice before.

That the disaster is named after the stadium it occurred in is tragically apt; for the stadium itself was in large part to blame for the events that unfolded that night. Dilapidated and crumbling, Belgium’s national ground was nowhere near adequate to host such a big game, but Uefa had selected it anyway.

They blundered again when they ordered that a section of the ground be give designated for neutral fans, which simply meant Italian and English supporters ended up mixing in the supposedly neutral zone.

About an hour before kick-off trouble began to flare between the two sets of supporters as missiles were thrown, and a charge from the Liverpool fans forced their Juve counterparts to retreat. As they did so many fans were crushed against a retaining wall which soon collapsed. It was at this point that thirty-nine Italian supporters were killed, and a further 600 injured.

Then many more Juve fans began rioting in retaliation. The Belgian police were hopelessly inexperienced at dealing with such trouble and a fierce and long-running battle ensued between them and the Juve fans.

Amidst all this, the players were in the dressing rooms, waiting to play out what was supposed to be the most important match in the club football season.

Captains of both teams, Gaetano Scirea and Phil Neal appeared to ask the fans to calm down so the game could begin. Despite the reservations of many, the authorities then ordered that the game be played, fearful there would be more violent recriminations if it were not.

Accounts differ as to how much the players knew when they stepped over the white line, but it is likely none of them knew the enormity of what had happened. Jim Beglin told the Independent in 2005: “We started to hear that there was serious violence as we were putting the finishing touches to our preparations in the changing-room. I was eventually told there might be three deaths, but not until just before we finally went out. I knew something bad was going on but had no idea of the scale. We were being told to stay focused. It’s possible the management and my more experienced colleagues shielded me from things.

“On a recent TV documentary we’ve all said we thought the final shouldn’t have gone ahead, but I can understand why Uefa and the police said we should play. Worse trouble could have ensued.”

The game itself, not that it mattered, saw Michel Platini score a debatable penalty to win it 1-0. Never has a result mattered so little. Beglin said: “The enormity of Heysel hit me like a train after the game. Dejection over losing the European Cup final to Juventus quickly gave way to disbelief when I learned that 39 people had died. I walked with my Liverpool team-mates to where the wall had crumbled and the Italian fans were crushed. The remnants of people’s lives – handbags and shoes, scarves and spectacles – were strewn among the rubble.

“Win, lose or draw, we usually had a party after a big game. But the atmosphere at our base in Brussels was very sombre. We swapped stories and several of the wives and girlfriends were distressed because they had actually seen the bodies being piled up under the stand. Paul Walsh’s partner, Melissa Berry, had been manhandled by an agitated Italian. The players all felt numb. We just wanted to get home.”

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the fingers of blame were pointed squarely at the Liverpool fans. Within days English clubs had been banned from European competition – all clubs for five years, Liverpool for six. “We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said.

Yet the veteran football journalist Brian Glanville felt blaming the English club was all too easy, and disagreed with the ban. He wrote in 2005: “This never seemed fair to me. Not fair to English football, not even fair to Liverpool as a tarnished city. A week earlier, in Rotterdam, on the occasion of the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, I saw Everton’s supporters behave themselves almost impeccably. The one misdemeanour I noticed was when an Everton fan walked out of a cafe without paying the bill.”

Glanville contends Uefa had just as much culpability in the disaster as the rioting fans: “That Heysel was ever chosen for the game was a shocking commentary on the folly of Uefa and the idleness of its team that was meant to inspect the stadium. The word was that the day they came, it was very cold, and that they scarcely bothered to emerge from the warmth to see what should have been obvious to them — that this stadium was not fit to stage a game of such magnitude.”

Manchester United: Big Game Bottlers?

Around Christmas time last year the plaudits started coming thick and fast for the current Manchester United side. ‘Best squad ever’, ‘better than the 1999 side’ we were all told.

But if United proved anything at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday night it was that they don’t have the bottle for the big occasion.

Can you remember seeing ever such a lacklustre performance for an Alex Ferguson side in a major game?

And it’s not the first time this season that United have gone missing when the pressure has been on.

A loss in the Uefa Super Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg back in August didn’t get the alarm bells ringing but two months later they had only picked one point in three games against their Big Four rivals.

A series of narrow wins – 16 of their 28 Premiership victories were by a single goal – ensured that the defending Champions had made their way to summit by the end of January, but warning signs over their big-game temperament were there.

Four draws in the group stage of the Champions League was followed up by a non-appearance against a Spurs side, still trying to find their feet after their calamitous start to the season, in the Carling Cup final, where only Ben Foster’s iPod prevented Harry Redknapp’s unbalanced side of underachievers from winning at Wembley.

With everyone begin to talk quintuple United continued to stutter on the big stage, stuttering past Porto in Europe before losing to an injury-hit Everton side in the FA Cup.

Back in the Premier League Liverpool inflicted United’s worst home loss since 1992, winning 4-1 as they did the double over their bitter rivals and then needed a late goal from Italian teenager Federico Macheda to squeeze past an out-of-form Villa side.

Judging on Fergie’s recent signings it’s obvious he has an eye on the future, but big-money players such as Anderson, Carrick and Nani have all failed to deliver when the going has got tough this season, with only a single win this term against the Premiership’s Champions League sides.

With the likelihood of Ronaldo and Tevez both leaving the club this summer increasing by the day and the old heads of Giggs, Scholes, Van der Saar and Neville getting ready to call time on their careers is it squeaky bum time for the fans?

Throw in the Glazer’s mountain of debt and interest payments that are sucking away United’s profits each season and even one bad season could prove to be disastrous for the club, with their free-spending city neighbours and the likes of Aston Villa and Everton ready to grab any Champions League spot that comes up for grabs in the future.

Luckily for them Fergie appears to be more driven than the Terminator in his quest to overhaul Liverpool’s title record both domestically and in Europe, so you can count on him hanging around for a while yet.

Still, here at OTFD we’re looking forward to seeing how the Scot goes about United’s next few big games after the summer break, as a rejuvenated Chelsea, a Liverpool side with a new-found confidence and a more experienced Arsenal team will all believe they can prevent the title going to Old Trafford for a fourth consecutive time.

Nights such as the one witnessed in Rome this week may become all the more common for English football’s most spoilt set of fans.

May 28 – Forest Make it Two in a Row

FOR Nottingham Forest to follow up their first-ever title win by hoisting up the European Cup in 1979 it was pretty remarkable. But when they made it two in a row today in 1980, everyone was taken by surprise – except maybe their humble manager.

Twelve months earlier the £1m man Trevor Francis had headed Forest to a famous win against Malmo in Munich, stunning Europe and proving that manager Brian Clough’s boasts that we was the best in the game shouldn’t be falling on deaf ears.

The defence of their title began in Sweden, taking the side that pipped Malmo to the Swedish title, Osters Vaxjo who were dispatched 3-1 over the two legs. Next up was another unknown quantity, Romanian champions Arges Pitesti who were brushed aside 4-1 on aggregate.

Now in the quarter-finals, Forest came up against some of Europe’s bigger names. Despite a first leg loss, Dynamo Berlin were dispatched 3-2 on aggregate, leaving the mighty Ajax in the way of Forest and the final at the Bernabeu in Madrid.

A tight 2-1 win over the two legs saw the English side progress and set up a date with a Hamburg side that featured Kevin Keegan. Forest were again the underdogs, especially when it was confirmed that Trevor Francis would missing due to injury.

Clough switched around his side, leaving only Garry Birtles on his own up front and the Germans went at Forest from the start, attacking Peter Shilton’s goal at will.

In the 20th minute a rare Forest foray up the pitch saw John Robertson plunder a goal after linking up with Birtles and firing past Hamburg ‘keeper Rudi Kargus.

It didn’t take long for Hamburg to get back on the attack, with Keegan going deeper and deeper to try and break the Forest defence, but it would be one of those days for the future England manager, as Cloughy’s men held on for an historic win.

As captain John McGovern lifted up the trophy in front of 50,000 fans in Madrid, Forest had become the only side to have won the European Cup more times than their domestic title.

There was another English side playing in the European Cup final today – but we doubt that Cloughy was sheading any tears for them, so click here for that and join us tomorrow for more end of season madness.

May 27 – Alan Ball Upsets the Natives

UNTIL 1989 had England and Scotland faced off against each other in every non-war year since the pair played the first ever international game in 1872, notching up a total of 110 matches.

The recent lack of games (the last being in 1999), means it is therefore easy to forget how intense this rivalry use to be, especially in the years following England’s World Cup win in 1966 as the bitter Scots developed a rather large chip on their shoulder.

When the two sides met a Hampden Park today in 1972, 100 years after their first clash, England’s pint-sized midfielder Alan Ball had a nation baying for his blood after one of the more undiplomatic episodes of his career.

Stepping up to take a corner the then-Arsenal player wiped his nose on the Hampden corner flag which bore the St Andrew’s Cross. Needless to say, the 119,325-strong crowd did not take strongly to this, and Ball did well to leave the ground in one piece.

In fact, Ball would have the last laugh, as he scored the only goal in the 28th minute, meaning that England joined the Scots on top of the group table and ensuring the Home Championship title was shared between the two old rivals.

Ball’s manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, did little to diffuse the situation, greeting Ball in the dressing room by saying: “Alan, Alan, you really a very naughty boy.”

The television footage of the incident obviously didn’t make it out alive of Hampden that day, so you’ll have to make do with another classic between the two sides – the 1967 version, when Scotland got delusions of grandeur and thought that they should be allowed take the Jules Rimet trophy off England. For another landmark England story from today click here, otherwise join us tomorrow for more footballing history.

May 26 – Back to the Football

GREAT Scott! This day in history is littered with key events and significant happenings in the world of football. As Doc Brown surmised in Back to the Future Part II: “It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance, almost as if it were the temporal junction point of the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.” Heavy.

Jules Rimet announced on this day in 1928 that the first World Cup would take place in 1930. In 1989 the most dramatic ending to a First Division title race took place at Anfield when Arsenal snatched the championship from under the noses of Liverpool in their own back yard.

Today in 1982, Aston Villa defeated the might of German giants Bayern Munich in the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam in the European Cup final.

It was a harsh lesson for Ron Saunders in the importance of timing – he had been the Villa boss for half of that season but resigned before the quarter-final stage because of a contract dispute with the board. His assistant Tony Barton took over and led his team to the final.

Then disaster struck just ten minutes into the game when first choice goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer went off injured. In his place came untried youngster Nigel Spink, making only his second appearance of the season. “I didn’t have time to get nervous and that was the big factor on the night,” he said later. He played a blinder and kept a clean sheet that was key to Villa’s victory. “We defended resolutely and I probably had half a dozen saves to make,” he explained. “In a game, which was supposed to be so one-sided it wasn’t a great deal.”

At the other end, Tony Morley’s excellent work down the left teed up Peter Withe to score the only goal of the game, although he did not get a clean hit on the ball. “It just hit a bobble and sat up a bit. I half hit it with my foot and half hit it with my shin,” he explained later.

Brian Moore’s commentary of the goal is displayed on a giant banner across the North Stand of Villa Park: “Shaw, Williams, prepared to adventure down the left. There’s a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be! It is! Peter Withe!”

Bayern Munich were again the opponents when Villa’s fellow English team Manchester United made it to the European Cup final in 1999.

United had already wrapped up the Premier League title and the FA Cup and entered the final hopeful of completing a historic treble, and winning the Cup for the first time since the days of Matt Busby.

Bayern went a goal up after just six minutes through a deflected Mario Basler free kick. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes United’s dream looked to be in tatters. Thereafter began perhaps the greatest comeback in modern football history.

First Teddy Sheringham scored from a corner to get United back in it. And while Bayern were contemplating just how they had come within a couple of minutes of winning the trophy only to be pegged back at the last, United went and did it again, super-sub Ole Gunnar Solskjær grabbing the most dramatic goal in European Cup history to win the trophy for Sir Alex’s team. “Football, bloody hell!” was all Fergie could say as the celebrations got underway. Bloody hell indeed Fergie.

Well folks, if we can reach 88 miles per hour and get our flux capacitor working, we will be back tomorrow bringing you more tales from football’s past. Until then dear readers.

May 25 – The Lisbon Lions

IMAGINE if Celtic beat the might of all Europe’s top clubs and won the European Cup – the greatest prize in club football. Now imagine that they did it with an entire team made up of Scottish players. But not just players from Scotland, but all who were born within 30 miles of Glasgow. That is exactly what they did today in 1967 when the Hoops became the first British team in history to win the European Cup.

The heavy pre-match favourites for the game at the Portuguese National Stadium in Lisbon were Internazionale who had been champions of Europe three times in the past four years.

But manager Jock Stein simply told his players to “go out and enjoy themselves” at the start of the match but within minutes of kick-off defender Jim Craig felled Renato Cappellini and Alessandro Mazolla netted the resulting penalty.

Stein didn’t panic and neither did his players. Shortly after half time Celtic full-back Tommy Gemmel scored the equaliser and they were back in the game. They continued to attack the Italian goal until Gemmel again stormed up the left wing, passed back to Bobby Murdoch whose shot towards the goal was deflected into the net by Stevie Chalmers. Celtic had done it and on the final whistle the impeccably behaved Celtic fans poured onto the pitch as the celebrations began.

With the pitch full of thousands of ecstatic and exuberant Scotsmen the team were unable to be presented with the trophy so captain Billy McNeill had to go outside the stadium and be escorted around to the other side of the ground to receive it.

Jock Stein said: “There is not a prouder man on God’s Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction.

“We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads.”

As always we’ll be back tomorrow with more, but until then, have a read about an England captain getting into a bit of a scrape in Colombia…

May 24 – El Tel Arrives

IN RECENT years Terry Venables has done a good job of destroying all the good work he did during the early days of his managerial career. Since leaving the England job after Euro 96 he’s had unsuccessful spells at Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and Leeds United and his last job saw him sitting next Steve McClaren on the England bench, looking resplendent in his snazzy waistcoat, but embarrassed to be a part of the worst ever England managerial set-up.

It’s easily to forget then, that Venables was once in charge of one of the world’s biggest clubs. Today in 1984 he got a new job and a snappy new nickname to go with it, as El Tel took charge of Barcelona.

Venables was as popular as shoulder pads and synthesisers in the ’80s, having won two promotions in his debut gig at Crystal Palace and then taken QPR to the Uefa Cup, god rest it’s soul, in the 1983/84 season.

Loftus Road to Camp Nou is not an obvious move, but Venables was recommended to the Barca by Bobby Robson who was friends with the club president and would later take the reigns himself.

Barca were witnessing somewhat of a trophy drought, having not won La Liga since 1974. El Tel immediately introduced a resolutely English 4-4-2 formation and thanks to the likes of Bernd Schuster, Gerardo and Julio Alberto he was an instant success, picking up the league title in his first season.

Following Barca’s title win El Tel guided them to the next season’s European Cup final, where they dominated Steaua Bucharest, but after a 0-0 draw, lost out on penalties when all their spot-kicks were saved. Penalty heartache, eh? You can take the manager out of England…

El Tel’s response to this was to go shopping back home, bringing Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes to the Camp Nou. Fresh from winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, the Beeb’s main man loved it in Spain during his three-year spell, bagging 21 goals in his first season, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid. Hughes meanwhile would only last a season before being loaned out to Bayern Munich.

By the start of the 1987/88 season Venables’ position was looking more than a bit precarious. Having failed to add to his debut title win and suffering a humiliating defeat to Dundee United in the Uefa Cup quarter-finals the season before he was on thin ice, and a poor start to the season saw him given the old heave-ho.

He soon found himself back in football though, as Alan Sugar would point his finger at him an exclaim “you’re hired!” and give him the top job at White Hart Lane.

See Linker strutting his stuff for the Catalan’s below and find out which Premier League legend was blowing his top today here.

May 23 – Rous Cup Glory for England

BELIEVE it or not, but England were on their way to trophy success today in 1989, when they played Chile in the now-defunct Rous Cup.

Named after former FA secretary and Fifa president Stanley Rous, the competition was a short-lived contest that rose from the ashes of the British Home Championship which had been abandoned in 1984.

Originally the Rous Cup was a one-off game between England and Scotland, but by 1987 the powers that be looked to spice things up by inviting a team from South America to join the party each year.

Brazil came, saw and conquered in 1987, but England wrestled the trophy back to these shores by pipping Columbia the following season. In 1989 Chile were the guests and opened the tournament against England at Wembley.

Not that there was anyone there to see it. Due mainly to a Tube strike, only 15,628 were in attendance that night, making it England’s lowest ever crowd at Wembley Stadium.

Those that were there probably wished they hadn’t bothered, as the two sides played out a 0-0 bore draw. They were, however, treated to John Fashanu and Nigel Clough’s England debuts, as Bobby Robson experimented with his strike force.

Fash the Bash didn’t fare too well, making only one other performance in an England shirt as he was dropped quicker than you can say ‘awooga’.

Clough’s appearance in the Three Lions shirt meant that he joined a select band of father and sons that have player for England – only the Easthams and the Lampards can boast of the same achievement. Like his dad Old Big ‘Ead, though, Nigel failed to find the net during his England career, playing 14 games without scoring, making even Emile Heskey look prolific.

Four days after playing Chile, England took on the Scots in a winner-takes-all match to pick up what would be the final ever Rous Cup. An early Chris Waddle goal and a second from another debutant striker, Wolves’ Steve Bull, saw England cruise to a 2-0 win to secure silverware and, probably more importantly, bragging rights against the old enemy.

With it looking like even the cameramen got held up in the Tube strike, we’ll have to show you footage of the England-Scotland clash, so enjoy the mullets, tight shorts and grumpy Scots below. To balance the books, take a look at another England game from today here that didn’t go quite so well here. We’ll be back for more tomorrow, do don’t go changing…