Renoir with a Razor Blade

With this being my 100th blog I thought I would write a piece on my favourite player of all time, Graeme Souness. Some people may be dumbfounded with my choice as Mr Souness has gained in my opinion a rather unjust reputation of being a bit of an acquired taste. At his peak the moustachioed Souness would strut around grounds such as Anfield and Hampden Park like he owned the place, controlling each game with a steely determination whist spraying a sparkling array of passes around the park. He was demanding, arrogant, aloof and ruthless, possessing an inner strength which all great players demand of themselves, such was his influence during his time at Liverpool that when he left in the summer of 1984 to join the Italian club Sampdoria, the Liverpool forward Michael Robinson felt that half the changing room had gone. Others were not quite as complimentary with fellow Scottish international Archie Gemmill saying that if Souness “was made of chocolate he would eat himself”. Despite his unwavering self-belief in his own ability Souness was never able to establish himself in the first team at Tottenham Hotspur, dismayed by the lack of opportunities at Spurs, Souness would leave the bright lights of London behind him for the grit and grim of Middlesbrough a city hardly paved with gold, but a place that would shape his destiny for glory. At this point it is probably fair to say that Souness could have ended up on the scrapheap, fortunately for Souness his career was probably saved by two men, Jack Charlton and Bobby Murdoch. Charlton was an old school hard man that pounded the need for discipline into the young Souness whereas the highly underrated former Celtic midfield general Murdoch showed him how to perform to the highest standards on the pitch, they turned Souness into the consummate professional and you cannot underestimate how influential these two individuals would be for Souness. He left Middlesbrough for Liverpool in 1978 for a then record fee between English clubs, at Liverpool he would now mix with players that had the same hunger and desire that burned like acid in his belly, it took him a while to settle into his new surroundings but once he adapted, he would quickly establish himself as the best midfield player in Britain. Now in his pomp he cut a ferocious figure with his slide rule passing aligned to his merciless tacking, no one was going to stand in his way and if they were he would wreak terror and destruction to anyone that would try and knock him off his pedestal. With Souness at the helm Liverpool tore across Europe defeating anyone that stood in their way, if you wanted to play them they would play you, if wanted to kick them they would kick you back, at this time they were so superior to anything else around it was frightening. When he left Liverpool in 1984 for the riches of Italy I was devastated and things would never be the same. The Italian lifestyle was made for Souness and although he enjoyed a successful period at Sampdoria, the lure of becoming player/manager at Rangers would prove irresistible and would see him return to these shores for the start of the 86-87 season. To say his time at Rangers was explosive would be an understatement to say the least. He set about creating the Ibrox revolution changing the face of Scottish football forever, with his ambition now at its zenith like his time at Liverpool he neither asked nor wanted any quarter to be given by anyone, he constantly clashed with the Scottish authorities who did not like the way he wanted to transform the Scottish game. It didn’t make any difference he was now a mission from god and woe betide anyone that got in his way. He retired from playing in 1989 at the age of 38 to concentrate on management something that he embraced with a varying degree of success, but never reaching the heights of his playing career. These days Souness works as pundit for sky sports and given the right occasion he can still be as abrasive and confrontational as he was as an awe-inspiring player. Souness played for Scotland in three world cups, won a host of European and domestic honours with all of the clubs that he played for and for me he is the greatest Liverpool player I have ever seen, he may not have been the most popular player to wear that famous red shirt, but them again that was never going bother him, he was all about winning and was prepared to go to any lengths to succeed in his quest for fame and glory, the sight of him leading out that great Liverpool on a European night still makes the hairs on the back neck stand up, so there you have it blog number 100 the very great Graeme Souness or should I say Renoir with a razor blade.





Colin veitch
The Incomparable Colin Veitch

The thing that I love about blogging is that it normally requires a certain amount of research and with the introduction of the internet, information on all sorts of things is more readily available than ever before. But in some cases, precious little data can be found which makes the subject in question a lot more interesting, as in the case of the immortal Colin Veitch. Now unless you are bit of football aficionado the chances are that you will have never heard of the highly gifted and very fascinating Mr Veitch. Born in the Heaton area of Newcastle, this talented Heatonian first came to notice when attending the city’s Rutherford College where his interests were not just confined to football, where Veitch flourished as a scholar excelling in a variety of subjects. The first captain of Newcastle Schools, Veitch signed for Newcastle United in the summer of 1899 and became part of Newcastle United’s greatest ever side, a team, which would dominate football during the Edwardian era winning the league championship on three occasions and appearing in six FA cup finals but winning it only once in 1910 when they beat Barnsley after a replay. A man with strong socialist sympathies, Veitch scandalously won only six caps for England, a disappointment that one cannot help but think that this rather limited international career, may have been severely hampered by his involvement in the players union which, in 1909 took industrial action against the FA. Veitch should have gained a lot more than a paltry six caps but typically of the FA at that time or any other time for that matter, the FA allowed their air of superiority to impair their judgement and they looked the other way when it came to selecting a genuine genius of a player again, a player so good that he could play with equal brilliance in any position on the park with the exception of goalkeeper. Retiring in 1914 at the onset of the First World War Veitch served in France reaching the level of 2nd Lieutenant before returning home to re-join Newcastle United working in various capacities, he stayed at the club till 1926 where he was unceremoniously sacked. After spending a brief spell as manager at Bradford City he returned to his beloved Newcastle to work as a journalist on the Evening Chronicle, his outspoken views on his former club would see him being banned from the press box at his former club. Not that would bother Veitch too much, unlike your average footballer at that particular time that could often be seen to fall on hard times; the academic Veitch had wide range of diverse interests immersing himself in the arts and politics. The labour party begged him to stand for parliament an offer which he politely declined, choosing to spend his time moving in literary circles, befriending amongst others, George Bernard Shaw,Veitch was also a founding member of the Peoples Theatre in Heaton where often performed on the stage alongside his actress wife Minnie. Veitch is one of the most fascinating player I have ever come across but, in all honesty the amount of information available about charismatic Veitch is fairly small and limited, which is tragedy became if ever a footballer deserved legendary status this is the man. Everything that I read about has led me to conclude that despite his outstanding sporting accomplishments I really think that he should have stood to become a member of parliament as a Labour MP and who knows what he could have achieved championing the working man. Unfortunately there is no monument or statue outside of St James Park to recognise his achievements only a small plaque at 1 Stratford Villas in Heaton where he lived while playing for Newcastle United which is rather sad because for man of his stature, there should be monument like Nelson’s column, modern day players bigger house and a lot more money than the accomplished Mr Veitch but they are nowhere near as talented.


veitchs real
Veitch’s real calling




Veitch, a Man for All Seasons


Veitch 2nd from the right with GBS


bill mccraken
Bill McCraken, Colin Veitch, and Jimmy Howie in their International shirts




The Glory Game by Hunter Davies

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.


Jack Wilshere A career in crisis?

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.

Matthias Sindelar “The Man of Paper”

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)

Austria’s “Wunderteam”



The Greatest Team of all Time!!

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

McManaman – El Heroe Ingles

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.