When I started blogging just over a year ago I thought it would be a good idea to write an appraisal of ten of the best books I have read on sport, well, here we are at what I consider to be the best book on the subject, it’s a book that I have read time and time again and the name of the book is The Glory Game, by Hunter Davies. Many sports enthusiasts may raise an eyebrow or two at my choice but I hope that when you read it you will understand why it is so close to my heart. Loaned to me by that avid reader of sports literature the legendary Richard Percy whose passion for sport know no bounds, the book was and is a compelling insight into the working of that famous London football club Tottenham Hotspur. When Davies wrote this book, Tottenham Hotspur, more commonly known as Spurs were at that particular time vying with Manchester United for the title of being the most popular football team in the country. For over a decade Spurs had played an effortless style of football that saw them become the first English team to win a European competition when they won European Cup Winners Cup in 1963. Managed brilliantly by the great Bill Nicolson, the team won a host trophies throughout the sixties and early seventies, throughout this golden period they had an abundance of great players such Blanchflower, White, Mackay, Greaves, Jones, Brown, Jennings, Peters, Mullery and Chivers, the list was practically endless but by 1972 times were changing and non-more so than in the world of professional football. To this day I am totally stunned by the amount access that the Spurs board allowed Hunter Davies to have. Davies virtually became member of the first time squad, with the only difference being that instead of playing Davies was writing down everything that being said and some of it was not pretty. Witness the arrival of Ralph Coates from the Lancashire club Burnley, already uneasy about his big transfer Coates is greeted warmly by his new teammates, but behind his back the very trendy Spurs players latch on to the fact that the up north in Burnley it appeared that flares, cheesecloth shirts and tulip lapel jackets have not reached the far flung reaches of the north-west. It is a world far removed from the one that manager Bill Nicolson and his trusted No 2 Eddie Bailey were brought up in, they had suffered the horrors of World war 2 and the years of austerity that followed, Nicolson lived just around the corner from the ground and if you cut him in two he would bleed Spurs, so it is easy to see why he would get annoyed when his flash long haired young stars were arriving to training sessions from places like Cheam, driving their Ford Capri’s and talking endlessly about the birds they are pulling. Nicolson and Bailey take long hair as personal insult and sees the standards that they have set slowly evaporating. Overall Spurs had a good 1971-72 season as well as finishing 6th in the league, they reached the quarter-final of the FA cup, the semi-final of the league cup and won the UEFA cup so, you would have to say they had great season, forget the success, where the book succeeds brilliantly is revealing the players insecurities, witness the despair of Alan Mullery when after getting injured he finds himself farmed out to Fulham then in the old second division, his Spurs career looks over till his young replacement John Pratt breaks his nose, forcing Nicolson to bring back Mullery for the UEFA cup semi-final against the Italians of AC Milan. I won’t spoil what happens, but it goes a long way to show the fickle nature of the game and just how much luck has to do with staying in the first team. Davies leaves no stone unturned and the book dissects everyone from the chairman all the way down to the fans on the terrace, all the chapters are extremely revealing about the everyday workings of the club but, Chapter 18 is my favourite and introduces us to something that is commonplace in todays game “the hanger-on” and in particular one Morris Keston. Nowadays these type of people are everywhere but back then they weren’t so obvious, Keston is widely disliked by the directors, but loved by the players mainly because he is willing to lavish his money on the players in one form or another, he never misses a game home or away and would love to become a member of the board which, is never going to happen as he is seen by the members of the board as a rather undesirable type, the type of person that Tottenham Hotspur do not want be associated with. I have talked endlessly about this book and I could talk a lot more, the book is an absolute timeless classic, it should be read by anyone who has a passing interest in sport and should a must for everyone involved in football regardless of age, I am not sure Hunter Davies was prepared for the reaction that the book would bring all I can say is that I am pleased that he wrote it.
What has happened to Jack Wilshere over the summer months has gone a long way to restoring my faith in Arsene Wenger, for far too long the Arsenal manager has offered up excuse after excuse in a vain attempt to protect his wayward young star. The arrogance that Wilshire now displays makes my blood run cold and is destroying a player that has the potential to become top class, Jack was of the opinion that he was going to spend this season strutting up and the via Veneto playing for Roma whilst enjoying the pleasures of the eternal city, however, Wenger had different plans and with his patience finally running out he has shipped Wilshere out the sunny climes of Bournemouth, to see if rising young manager Eddie Howe can reinvent a player who was once regarded as England’ great hope for the next ten years. Wilshere‘s fall from grace has been coming for a while and I am little bit surprised that it has taken Wenger so long to send him out on loan. Great praise must now be bestowed on Wenger who is now showing a much grittier side to his management, which has further been revealed by his treatment of Callum Chambers, one bad game against Liverpool and he is dispatched to Middlesbrough without a backward glance indicating that Wenger has finally had enough of his underachieving young players. Whether or not the likes of Theo Walcott will finally wake up and realise that they not indispensable is yet to be seen because players like Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain really needs to give themselves a good hard slap, because these two are following a pattern not too dissimilar to jumping Jack’s and it could be argued that the careers of all three are at a crossroads and are in serious danger of going down the toilet. Fledgling young players in this country are getting a small fortune throw at them once they get in the first team, giving them a lifestyle that they could only dream about, it is killing their drive and ambition and instead of getting their heads down and sweating for the shirt, they are getting some seriously bad advice from their agents who are basically filling their head with a load of garbage. These young kids don’t care because as long as they have got their agents and hangers on telling how wonderful they are they will continue to underachieve, it is not real life and soon their world will come crashing down around them bursting their bubble and leaving their careers in tatters, they will have the money but no one will admire them. Will Wilshere be able to turn his career around, no one can really tell but players like him who waste their talent are now two a penny, with all due respect, I sincerely hope that playing for Bournemouth is the siren that Wilshere needs to hear to come back into the fold, or it might be easier just giving Jody Morris a call, it is up to you Jack.
#Forgotten Heroes – Matthias Sindelar.
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)
Barcelona have now won their sixth La Liga title in eight years and once again the pundits are asking the question, is this the greatest team of all time. The frozen northerner has avoided answering this question ever since Pep Guardiola won everything in sight during his first season at the club in 2008-2009. Trophies have flowed into the club like manna from heaven, elevating the team to near mythical status, so the time has come for me to critically evaluate this Barcelona team. I can only appraise them against teams that I have seen in my lifetime, so that lets out teams such the Barcelona team of early 50’s, Di Stefano’s Real Madrid, or Manchester United’s Busby Babes. To be fair, teams that could give a run for their money are few and far between but here in no particular order are the teams that I think would give them a game, Stein’s Celtic, Cruyff’s Ajax, Beckenbauer’s Bayern and Fagin’s Liverpool, all brilliant sides with some exceptional players in their ranks. Whether or not they would beat Barcelona is highly debateable, but there is no doubt in my mind that I genuinely believe that Sacchi’s AC Milan would beat them every day of the week. I can understand your pessimism, but have faith in what I say because Milan were and still are in my eyes the closest thing you will get to perfection on a football pitch. You can talk about Messi all you like, there is no doubt he is a great player (for me personally Maradona and Pelé was better) but we are talking about teams here, not individuals, Milan could boast at least five genuine world class players in Guiltt, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Baresi and Maldini, and were ably supported by good solid back up players such as Tassotti, Ancelotti and Donadoni. At best Barcelona have only ever had three really world class players, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, some people will scream that Neymar and Suarez are top draw but let’s be honest with all that rolling around and feigning injury Neymar is cheat of epic proportions and is overrated beyond belief while, on the hand you have Suarez football’s Hannibal Lecter, who despite his goal scoring feats, appears to enjoy biting players, which is nasty little habit that he has used throughout his career and should have seen him been banned for life. Barca’s back up players are not bad but certainly great, with probably Puyol pick of the remainder, Barcelona are and always have been good going forward but defensively they are sometimes a shambles (watch the 2013 champions league semi-final demolition by Bayern Munich to see what I am talking about), whereas Milan never a gave a goal away easily. Milan’s defence, marshalled by the great Franco Baresi could cope comfortably with anything that Messi and co would have to offer. Defensively Barcelona’s defensive limitations would be severely exposed, with there being absolutely no chance of the likes of Gerard Pique or Mascherano being able handle Marco Van Basten and Guillt. Both sides were managed by two of the greatest mangers of all time so tactically it boils down to Sacchi’s pressing game against Guardiola’s passing and possession, the choice is tough, but for me I have never seen a team that worked as hard as that Milan side and that includes Barcelona who always worked hard for Pep.The Milan were not as dominant in Serie A, as Barcelona have been in La Liga,a fact I am prepared to concede, but if they were to go face to face when both sides were at their peak I am fairly certain that Milan would win, so the next time you watch Barcelona sit back and enjoy, but remember no matter how much the pundits and analysts waffle on about how great Barcelona are, watch Guillt’s face because he knows who the greatest side is and that is AC Milan.
El Macca: Four Years at Real Madrid – By Steve McManaman and Sarah Edworthy
To be honest, I could never really get away with Steve McManaman, the sight of him posing around in that white suit before the 1996 F A cup final only reaffirmed what I already thought, here was a player who had the potential to be up there with the best, but was more interested in living the fast life with the spice boys, which best describes what Liverpool Football Club had become at that particular time. Under the leadership of Roy Evans Liverpool quickly became bit of a joke, with me seeing McManaman as one of the ring leaders in their sad decline, seeing that Liverpool were going nowhere quick, he took advantage of the Bosman ruling leaving Liverpool in a £15 million deal that saw him sign for Real Madrid, where he was to spend four years, before returning home to play out his career rather disappointingly at Manchester City under Kevin Keegan. After reading this book about his time at Real Madrid I have had to revaluate my opinion on him, at Real Madrid there would be no theatrics, he was going to have to get his finger out and try. McManaman arrived in the Spanish capital eager to play but it was obvious from the start that it was not going to be easy holding down regular a first team place. The team struggled badly through the first half of the season, which resulted in the sacking of the manager John Toshack, he was replaced by Vicente Del Bosque, under whom McManaman’s form gradually improved. The turning point of McManaman first season would come with their victory over Manchester United in the quarter final of the Champions League which would see McManaman become a permanent fixture in the team. This unexpected turnaround in events would now see McManaman go on to help Madrid win the competition where they would beat the favourites Valencia 3-0 in the final in Paris, with McManaman scoring the second goal. Now feeling in safe environment McManaman looked forward to his second season with optimism, thinking that his place was assured and everything was on track, big mistake. Madrid being the gold fish bowl that is, unbelievably changing Presidents bringing in Florentino Perez to replace Lorenzo Sanz and thus ushered in the age of the galactico. McManamam’s vivid account of his second season where he descends to a bit part player is probably the best part of the book as he tries to keep his sanity as the club try to offload him to anyone that will have him. It is therefore a testament to his strength of character that he refuses to budge and stays put, hoping that he will somehow get back the side, it takes him best part of the season to get a start, but backed by his teammates he eventually re-establishes himself as a key part of the squad that goes on to win La Liga. I have to say that by the time McManaman discusses his third season I am not so interested in what he is doing, as much as I am interested what antics the lunatic Perez is going to do next. Despite winning further titles over the next two year, the chance build a dynasty disappears with the sacking of Del Bosque and the release of the Madrid captain Hierro. McManaman recounts this disgraceful treatment of both Del Bosque and Hierro and regards it as a mistake that Real Madrid have never really recovered from. Perez doesn’t really care about the team anymore he just wants to become a global brand, which sees the highly overrated Beckham arrive at Madrid, turning the club into the full blown circus that it is today. McManaman had four years at Real Madrid which involved a lot of highs and lows, he achieved trophies and honours beyond his wildest dreams, and he was loved by fans and players alike and was far more influential player at the club than brand Beckham ever was. I hugely enjoyed reading this book although I still see McManaman as an underachiever, but to have those four years at Madrid at that particular time must have the ride of a lifetime.
When football was Great! (part 2)
Modern day football strips tend to leave me cold, there is not a team in the land that hasn’t succumbed to the rampant commercialism that runs and ruins our national sport. It started with the sponsor’s name being emblazed across the front of the shirt, now, some also have them on the back of their shirts and just to stop any youngster using their socks for two football teams, each team now has the obligatory club badge on the socks. I yearn for the 60’s and 70’s, it was a much simpler time back then and so were the strips. This was a time when strips were seen at their best, it didn’t matter whether your team belonged to the old football league’s four divisions, the Scottish leagues or one of those gems that came from across Europe or South America. The Real Madrid 60’s home kit is without equal and it is no wonder that it was copied by Leeds, who wore it with aplomb till they decided to put those stupid number tags on the socks (a huge error in judgement). For some unfathomable reason it seems that if you wore a great strip it allowed you the honour of winning trophies, throughout the 60’s the European Cup demanded that you wore good kit, Madrid, Benfica, the two Milan sides, Man Utd plus the fabulous Celtic ‘67 team all wore strips that ensured you were going to win something big, hell, even West Ham looked wonderful when lifting the cup winners cup at Wembley in 65.The list is of these classic home kits is endless and it is nearly impossible to try and compile a list. But when it comes to away kits it is even harder, traditionally most away strips were pretty mundane, but in 1965 Inter Milan changed the rules when they produced an away kit that bordered on the sublime, sometimes worn with a hoop or diagonal stripe it changed away kits forever, Leeds had a brilliant blue and yellow number in late 60s, Man City had that superb red and black stripes outfit and Liverpool had that terrific white top with red trimmings and black shorts ensemble. But this was also an area where the Europeans excelled, with some of the Italian away kits awe inspiring. For me the greatest away kit belonged to Barcelona circa 75, just seeing Cruyff or Neeskens in that fantastic yellow top makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. So, below are few of my favourites, no sponsors in sight and very few logos, Enjoy this stellar kit being worn by some stellar players.
Champions’ league is once again upon us and it is fascinating to watch the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It has always been said that FC Barcelona’s hatred of Real Madrid stems from the Spanish civil war or Di Stefano being hoodwinked into signing for Madrid instead of the Catalans, the list is endless for the men from the Nou Camp. Deep down I suspect their real loathing of all thing Madrid comes from one thing and one thing only and that is the European cup.
In the early 1950’s Real Madrid did not pose any sort of challenge to Barcelona, indeed, at the time the main rival to Barcelona was probably Atletico Madrid. Real were floundering in mid-table whist Barcelona were winning nearly everything in sight and were led a player who at the time was arguably the best player in the world, Ladislav Kubala. They did not see the European Cup as any threat to their status within Spai,n but when Madrid became the first club to win the European Cup the animosity really kicked in. With only the league champions from each country plus the previous year’s winners allowed into the competition, Barcelona’s fate was sealed and by the time Real Madrid had won the cup for the third time the Catalans were in a state of paranoia. Only by winning the league could Barcelona halt the flow of European success and so with Madrid having 3 European cups in the bag by 1958 they gambled everything and appointed Helenio Herrera. HH produced the magic and Barcelona carried all before them domestically and in Europe in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (now the Europa League). It did not matter because Real Madrid now had complete stranglehold over the competition that really mattered, the European cup and won it again in 1959. Now in the competition they thought they should have been at start, the 59-60 season gave Barcelona the chance to finally nail their rival, having won La Liga for the second year, it didn’t matter. The semi-final against their bitterest enemy was all that mattered and like any great piece of theatre it ended tragically for Barcelona losing 6-2 on aggregate. Madrid went on to greater glory and won the cup for the fifth time in Glasgow defeating Eintract Frankfurt 7-3 producing football that is often regarded as the greatest ever seem. Barcelona responded by sacking Herrera, a decision that they lived to regret badly. True, Barcelona did beat Madrid along the way to the following year’s final where they lost to Benfica, but the sacking of Herrera tore the club apart and over the 25 years they would only win the league twice, before the arrival of Cruyff in 88 who as manager transformed the club. Madrid meanwhile added a sixth trophy in 1966 and pretty much dominated Spanish football throughout the 60’s and 70’s. So when Barcelona talk about how much they really hate Real Madrid think about those 5 consecutive trophies which Barcelona believed stopped their team being recognised as being as good as Real Madrid, they were great they just don’t have those cups to prove it.