The finals of Euro 2016 has brought back into the limelight countries that have been in the doldrums for an extended period of time, it is great to see teams such as Hungary and Austria to name but two, back on the higher stage where they rightfully belong. Watching these countries play conjures up images of a bygone era when these sides were at the forefront of international football. When I think of Hungary I think of the great Ferenc Puskas, but when I think of Austria I think of Matthias Sindelar. My fascination with Sindelar tends to stem from the fact that he is always regarded as Austria’s greatest ever player, yet there can very few people alive today that actually seen him play, added to this fact there is very little footage of his games, which if I honest enhances the mystery of the man even more, so why is this player still so revered. During the twenties and thirties Austria were a powerhouse of international football and were coached by the legendary Hugo Miesel, who like Herbert Chapman, Vittorio Pozzi and Jimmy Hogan were football visionaries, seeing the game from a different angle and were changing the way it was being played by being highly innovative. But like any great team you have to have players that can turn your ideas into reality on the pitch, Chapman had the brilliant Scot Alex James to convey his thoughts on the park and Miesel had the dazzling Sindelar. Things did go well between the pair at first with the strong disciplinarian Miesel being initially wary of the wafer thin but technically gifted and astute Sindelar, Miesel would take some convincing and would only use “The Man of Paper” spasmodically for his country from his debut in 1926 up to 1931. Bowing to pressure from the many football journalists that frequented the coffee houses in Vienna, Miesel reinstated Sindelar, giving him a expansive role which allowed him the freedom to express his stunning talent and as the saying goes, the rest as they say is history. This period in the early 1930,s represented a golden age in Austrian football history, with the team now led by Sindelar being regarded as Austria’s greatest ever team, a side that would be forever known as the “Wunderteam”. From May in 1931 until the semi-final of the World Cup against Italy in June of 1934 Sindelar played in 25 internationals losing only three. In the semi-final played at San Siro in Milan they lost 1-0 to the host nation Italy, receiving little protection from the referee the slight Sindelar was brutally marked by the notorious Luisito Monti, who kicked him from pillar to post. Injury prevented Sindelar playing in 3rd place play off against Germany which they lost 3-2. It didn’t really matter, now widely regarded as being probably the best player in the world “Der Papierene” now had mythical status in his own country and was idol of the Viennese who dubbed him “The Mozart of Football” he played on for four more years before retiring, his tragic death in 1939 has been well documented and in reality just adds more to myth of this gifted and imaginative player. Matthius Sindelar had a great career at club level but it is at international level where is star shone so brightly, too still be regarded as your country’s best ever player some seventy-seven years after your death is quite remarkable, what he would be worth today I have no idea,so the next time you watch Austria think of Matthias Sindelar “The Man of Paper” who spirit lives on. (Sindelar is five from the left at the back)
No 3: We Were Young and Carefree – By Laurent Fignon
They say that your life can change within a split second, in the case of Laurent Fignon his life changed in a matter of eight seconds. With the Tour de France on the horizon I thought I would discuss Laurent Fignon’s autobiography “We were Young and Carefree”, Fignon died in 2010 from cancer and despite winning over 80 titles throughout a sparkling career he is often best remembered as the cyclist that lost the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds to the American Greg Lemond. That defeat robbed Fignon the chance of joining an elite band of cyclists who have won the Tour de France three times, the book reveals the anguish and torment felt by Fignon in the aftermath of his defeat, a defeat which was in all probability something that he would never get over till his unfortunate early death. Born at Montmartre in 1960 Fignon was born into a family that was firmly working class, whose foundations were built on discipline and a strong work ethic. The family moved to the Paris suburb of Tournan-en-Brie when the bespectacled Fignon was three and it was here at the age of fifteen that he would develop his love of cycling. From the start Fignon found that a career in cycling was not going to be as straightforward as he had hoped, a fact that was highlighted by the lack of support given to him by his family during the early part his career but Fignon was a driven young man and once he joined the Renault cycling team, which was led by legendary Breton, Bernard Hinault, he got to see first-hand what was required if he was to make to the top. Laurent learned quickly and when Hinault was forced to miss the 1983 Tour de France due to injury, Fignon in only his second year as a professional, stepped into the breech and won his first Tour de France at the tender age of twenty-two. The following year would see Fignon at the peak of his powers, he repeated the feat of winning the Tour de France, but this time he would defeat a now fully fit Hinault in a comprehensive manner to retain his title, demonstrating that he was now at another level or so we thought. Fignon bragged that he might retire after winning five or six tours, but oh how those words would come back to haunt him over the next decade. Throughout the next two years his career would be virtually ruined through injury and it is testament to the man that he never gave up, despite being the end of some horrific injuries, back to back wins in Milan –San Remo in 88 and 89 gave him hope that he might be able once again to scale the previous heights he had achieved. The 1989 season was a great year for him, full of optimism he was nearly back to the form of 84, victory in the Giro de Italia gave him the confidence to really believe that he could win again in France and accomplish the much coveted double of being Giro and Tour champion. However we all know the way it turned out. Fignon was an arrogant, egotistical cyclist who lost the most epic Tour de France in modern times, you should feel sorry for him but I certainly don’t Fignon never made life easy for anyone, he fell out with sponsors, team mangers and team mates alike, he was also partial to the ladies, liked a drink and on occasion recreational drugs, for me Fignon was for me just a little bit too conceited for his own good, so you could say in many ways he got what he deserved, you may like me, not particularly warm to the guy but nonetheless you will find the book totally absorbing
Having left my office (the chateau d’if) in the capable hands of Abbe Faria (the mad priest), I find myself lying on the beach at Giardini Naxos which, is just outside Taormina on the beautiful of island of Sicily, alongside me is my wife the Contessa Di La Proctero, the temperature is a very pleasant 79c and the sound of George Michael is swaying around the both of us. Am I in paradise, your damn right I am, lately Sicily has become the chosen destination for the frozen northerner and his beautiful wife to holiday. For our second holiday of the year we have returned to the island and are showing signs of tiring of the place, built into the rock face, Taormina overlooks the gulf of Naxos towards the Ionian sea and beyond, this stunning town and the surrounding coastline around it is now very much at the top of the frozen northerner’s list of places to go on holiday. Much as I love mainland Italy, Sicily and in particular Taormina has captivated me like no other place I have ever been, with breath-taking views of Mount Etna and the delightful Isolo Bella it has everything for me. Taormina itself is now becoming more and more popular and it is easy to see why with its amazing Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre} and its humbling churches. Wandering its cobbled streets the town is full of quaint little shops selling all sorts of merchandise, some of which no doubt will be purchased by the Contessa. Eventually you will reach Piazza IX Aprile, this exquisite main square has an endless amount of café’s bars and restaurants and for me personally there is nothing better than sitting at a bar sipping a Campari spritz (Prosecco for the lady) watching the Sicilians take their evening stroll. The Sicilians will ramble endlessly up and down Corso Umberto (the main thoroughfare) Sicilians like most Italians love to strut their stuff and this very classy street is perfect for them, this stylish area is filled with a wide range of high end well-known Italian shops and boutiques selling brands such as Gucci, Pal Zileri, Zegna and Canali. I could talk endlessly about the food and wine, but that’s for you to find out when you visit the place, I am sure there a better places in the world to visit but not for the frozen northerner.
With an unrivalled snooty arrogance, Niles Crane has always regarded a tee shirt as a undergarment, he noted that they should never displayed in public and should only be worn under a shirt. Try telling that to Jimmy Dean, Brando or the likes of Newman and McQueen who always looked effortlessly cool in a tee shirt. As it should be an indispensable part of your holiday wardrobe you will need to spend a bit of time researching so that you get it right and don’t look like a total prat. Tee shirts should be age appropriate, you do not have be young to pull off wearing a tee shirt, hell, Pablo Picasso spent the best of his later life in stylish tee shirts and wowed a bevy of beautiful women in the process. As the frozen northerner is fast approaching his 61st birthday common sense dictates that I will not be wearing any tees bearing the name of my local hostelry, telling all and sundry that this is my local pub’s European tour 2016. Tee shirts are only going to be used by the frozen northerner for lounging around, either by the pool or on the beach, so paying in excess of £300 for something by Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Valentino or Balmain is simply not realistic, although having said that I could be well seduced by a very nice Missoni number that can be found at www.MrPorter.com.I have spent an endless amount of time exploring all sorts of shops and websites in an attempt so secure the perfect tee shirt for a man of my age and generally I have narrowed it down to 3 good makes, they are all made in France, by Saint James, Armor Lux and Arpentuer, these brands in my opinion make the best tees on the market at the minute, and offer great value for money although, the Arpentuer models are slightly more expensive than the first two. All three companies have a wide selection to choose from but their best products are based on the Breton sailor/fisherman style of tee shirt and are made from lightweight and heavyweight cotton. This style of tee shirts has endured for well over a century and it is easy to see why, they look amazingly classy and when it comes wearing them age does not matter, yours truly has been badly smitten by these fabulous tee shirts and has recently purchased half a dozen in an array of colours and styles, these tee shirts will worn through the summer during my various trips to Italy in my attempt to compete with the Italians holidaying the length and breadth of their land. Do I have chance of pulling off it off in the most style conscious country on the planet, , no, but that’s never going to stop me trying.
Saint James long sleeved tee, looks better on you than Pablo Picasso