Nothing has ever come close in terms of football kit to the shirt worn by the legendary Bobby Moore, so when England were knocked out the World Cup by Poland, it was time for a change. In 1974, the FA in their wisdom decided to dump Umbro for the new kids on the block, Admiral Sportswear. By discarding the greatest England strip of all time, the FA unwittingly set off a chain of events which would change the landscape of football kit forever. Once Admiral had released their monstrosity of a strip, there was no going back. I firmly believe that this was one of the main reasons why England failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup; it wasn’t that we had a bad team, we just had a bad strip. Finishing second to Italy in the qualifying group was bad enough, but more pain was inflicted upon us by the Italians looking so classy and stylish in their Azzuri blue strip. You would have thought after losing to the North Koreans in 1966 that the Italians would have been in a hurry to change their kit. However someone within the Italian FA had the intelligence to see where this gross commercialism was heading and resisted the temptation to change. From this time on we would see the arrival of some seriously dodgy strips at club and international level with all of the big suppliers getting sucked into this vortex of greed. Some stayed true to their faith, such as Scotland, who played in both 70’s World Cups and had an excellent strip, Wales on the other hand went the Admiral route, with a strip so bad the very thought of it makes me want to vomit. Holland and Poland started wearing shirts that had the Adidas 3 stripe logo on the arms in the 74 World Cup and they were followed by Brazil in78.Fortunately, Brazil saw the error of their ways and quickly discarded it to return to their classic strip in 82 made by Topper. Why am I bleating on about strips? Who really cares? Well me for one. For me a good football kit is essential, it adds to the spectacle, and makes the occasion so much better. It is no fluke that the greatest game of all time (Brazil v Italy 82) wasn’t just great because of the players; it was great because both sets of strips looked so bloody good. After all it is not called the beautiful game for nothing so make sure your strip is the same.
Half Man Half Bike: The Story of Eddy Merckx by William Fotheringham
Still languishing in the Chateau D, I have now been joined in the office by another member of staff who I have dubbed Abbe Faria ( “The Mad Priest”). Having him for company is a pleasant diversion from the everyday boredom of the workplace. So on to number 9 in my list of books that you should read.
A brilliant account of the greatest cyclist of all time, nicknamed The Cannibal, Eddy Merckx had not only a ferocious appetite for cycling he also had an unquenchable thirst for winning. A winner of more than 500 races which included 5 Tour de France’s, 4 Giro de Italia’s 3 World road championships and 1 Vuelta a Espana. Merckx also had numerous successes in the one day classics. Unlike Armstrong who would need to be on drugs just to get anywhere near him, Merckx did not hand pick his races, he rode not only in all the major races but he also competed in minor races, such was desire for winning. He would participate in any race at any time anywhere. Fotheringham’s story deals with his early struggle as a French speaking Belgian among the Flemish dominated Solo-Superia team led by the king of the Belgian cyclists Rik Van Looy. With the Flemish riders reluctant to stand aside for the young fledgling, Merchx was clearly unhappy with his treatment, it was obvious that something had to give and led to his the early departure in 1966 to sign for the French team Peugeot BP.
Immediate success quickly followed in the Milan-San Remo one day classic, which further enhanced his already growing reputation. After winning the spring classic again in 1967 Merckx moved to the Italian based team Faema in 1968 and ushered in a period of unheralded success that has not been seen before or since. For the next eight years Merckx more often than not destroyed his opponents as he laid waste to all before him. Yet for all his success here was a man fraught with insecurities and inner demons, even his wife Claudine observed that she only knew he was happy when he was moody. Fotheringham has produced a great book that gives you a insight into this brilliant athlete. In this age of instant stardom it is hard to believe just how great this man was, think Maradona and Pele rolled into one and you should get some idea, read the book, marvel at his ability and just admire the most complete cyclist there ever has been and ever will be.
We are barely into the new football season and Mourinho is already using his well-known psychological warfare to try and undermine anyone that gets in the way of his quest for more honours. Whether it is berating his hapless physiotherapists or realising that John Terry is past it, but not wanting to admit it. He will heap the blame on anyone but himself because after all he is the self-proclaimed special one. He is very good, but he pales in comparison to the original master of attrition, Helenio Herrera.
HH was using psychology throughout the 1950’s and 60,s when Mourinho was just a twinkle in his mother’s eye. However the comparison between the two is there for all to see, both men were by their own admission average players. Herrera was arrogant as is Mourinho, both had a hunger and desire to get themselves to the top and were smart enough to use their intelligence and attention to detail to catapult them to the top of the management profession. Each man plied their trade with great success in Portugal, Spain and Italy, and have a host of La Liga and Serie A titles between them. They are the only managers able to deliver the European Cup with Inter Milan. Mourinho is very much a man in the mold of HH and is not afraid of challenges. However, where they differ is that HH was prepared to push the boundaries much further than Mourinho. Sid Lowe in his great book Fear and Loathing in La Liga (2013) noted that during his time at Barcelona he was accused of everything from doping his players to breaking the cast off the leg of player he though was faking injury. If you think this is unacceptable behaviour, he managed to top this in Italy, where on one occasion he allowed a player to play without informing him that his father had passed away before the game. But more tragically, he may have been responsible for the death of the Roma player, Giulano Taccola who suffered from a heart murmur. After being informed by the doctor Herrera declined to tell the player, who 2 weeks later died after a training session. In spite of all of this, HH was revered by his players, with some even regarding him as a genius and when you look at his track record it is hard to dispute that he was a great manger, so the next time you question the antics of Mourinho remember it has all been done before by someone with much more style the original power crazy self-important manager Helenio Herrera
In 1971 I purchased a Ben Sherman shirt for the first time, combining it with a Levi cord jacket, Levi jeans and Adidas Sambas. It was a marriage made in heaven and was worn by nearly everyone in the 14 to 16 year old in north eastern villages. It made you think you were cool, which was highly debatable, considering the fact that you were living a pit village. Over the years I tried all sorts of dubious styles of shirts but none have ever really come close to the button down shirt. It is impossible for me to tell you why this shirt is so great they just look and feel so much better than anything else. This iconic shirt can be found at most good clothing retailers with all the big brands selling their version of this classic. You could also dabble on the internet to try and find some rare gems, but personally I prefer going to various shops to check out their current stocking. But remember we are not sheep, so if you want a button down that is a bit different; you may have to look long and hard and put in a bit of research. You should listen to the advice of Graham Marsh who argues that you should only wear button downs that have been made in America and not in some third world sweat shop. Ideally, you should have a Brooks Brothers Oxford cloth at the top of your list but sadly, like most of their products, they are now made outside the U.S which is rather disappointing. However, don’t be deterred there are still some great made in America brands such as Gitman, Mercer and Sons, O’Connell’s, Mettlers, Todd Shelton etc. For me however, the best button down shirt is made by John Simons Apparel Company and can be found at his shop in Marylebone, London. This peach of a shirt features no logo and has a flapped pocket over the left breast which makes it look a little bit different from the rest of the button downs out there. While you can buy this shirt online, a trip to his shop is an absolute essential; God if this shop was in Newcastle I could not imagine has much money Mr. Simons would have made. It is highly doubtful that you are ever going to see anyone wearing this sublime shirt in Newcastle, but I live in hope. So the next time you’re out and looking don’t focus on the price or the logo, spend a bit of time exploring what is out there and you never know you may just discover a shirt that has permanent style.