About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 14 August 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1995-96

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 2: 1995-96
Ahead of the first league match of the season I took the short walk from Courtlands to Bell Street season ticket in hand and full of confidence that I was about to witness the first steps of John Watt’s team marching to promotion in what was bound to be a glorious 125th anniversary season for Maidenhead United.
Following the promise of the previous season, Watt had been given the resources to sign experienced players from the division above in defender Mark Harrison, midfielder Tony Dell and strikers Paul McKinnon and Colin Tate. An exciting pre season friendly defeat to the Reading team just denied promotion to the Premier League only raised expectations. Ninety minutes later Barking had won 2-0, one of just four three point hauls all season as they finished bottom.
Never mind there was a much anticipated midweek derby to come at falling fast from grace local rivals Marlow. Hopes soared again as scores of Magpie fans flocked to the patch of grass outside the Plough for a pre match pint and a sing song. Final score 3-0 to the home team.
Never mind the following Saturday saw a chance to kick start the season in an FA Cup tie at Thame United. Final score 4-0 and the road to Wembley had reached a dead end in August.
So began the long final act of John Watt’s managerial career, albeit one that almost had a decent climax thanks to one thoroughbred player who was not ready to be put out to pasture. However Garry Attrell did not arrive at York Road until the new year.
In the meantime Mark Smith provided the opportunity to wallow in the club’s rich history with the publication of his first book looking at the seasons since United came into being in 1919. His research also meant a fine looking striped programme boasted a different Maidenhead line up from the past on its cover for every issue.
The FA Trophy provided a flicker of hope when Colin Tate scored his one and only goal for the club in a 4-2 win at Fareham Town. This prompted such delirium in the travelling faithful that the occupants of supporters car two (of two) persuaded pilot Logic, ably guided by navigator Keith Jackson, to make a seventy five mile detour for a celebratory curry in Southampton.
The next round brought a chance for revenge against Thame. After a 5-0 defeat at York Road, Watt was given a rather farcical points ultimatum for the next three league games to save his job. Losing the first 3-0 at home to Wokingham, another local club on the slide, fate left Watt’s job hanging on another trip to Thame, this time the first ever league meeting between the two clubs.
When the hosts took an early lead at Windmill Road, a sacking looked inevitable but the Magpies turned the scoreline around and although Thame equalised, Maidenhead restored their lead within a minute to lead 3-2 at half time. Within ten minutes of the restart the win was sealed with two more goals, the final 30 yard strike from Kevin Brown after his penetrating run from the heart of defence, remains one of the best I have ever seen by a Magpie.
The 5-2 win secured Watt’s job in the short term but a week later normal service was resumed with a 4-0 defeat at the ubiquitously strange location of Barton Rovers. Light relief was then provided by a game in the snow at Aldershot in the Full Members Cup, the result irrelevant as we marvelled at the sight of an orange ball and cheered on the home fans when the referee threatened to abandon the game unless they stopped throwing snowballs.
A red card for Dell at Chesham ended his undistinguished spell in Stripes and he was soon followed out of the door by Tate. McKinnon and Harrison M were retained as their superior quality was clearly evident, as was the presence of the former’s most enthusiastic supporter, father Jock.
New recruits were signed in the form of my former schoolmate Steve Croxford and the legendary Attrell.
This was Garry’s second spell at the club and he soon found a place in the hearts of all supporters with his dazzling wing play. The rumour that he spent his rumoured £35 a week wage over the bar in Stripes after the game only added to his boys own status. His first home game back saw him inspire the team to a 4-1 win over Marlow as the club began to pick up the points required for another season of mid table mediocrity. Safety was assured with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Croxford header in front of an 1800 crowd at Aldershot.
Watt almost went out on a high though with a rare run in the County Cup. Wins at home to Bracknell and away at Windsor set up a semi-final tie at York Road with the mighty Aylesbury United. The previous season they had hit the national headlines with their Duck walk to a third round tie against QPR. Playing a division higher in the Isthmian Premier they had firm Conference ambitions with talent to match but could not handle a rampant Magpie team in the first half.
On the stroke of the interval Mark Harrison gave his team a deserved lead with a spectacular free kick from the half way line which perfectly embarrassed Gary Phillips in the Aylesbury goal grasping fresh air as the ball looped over his head into the back of the net.
Unfortunately as the players walked off for half time, Garry Attrell was assaulted by an opposition player. Clearly still dazed at the restart, Attrell was subbed, depriving Maidenhead of their talisman. The match officials did not see the incident but Aylesbury’s Gary Smith was replaced at half time. Unjustly remaining at full strength the Ducks equalised, Harrison then scored a second from the penalty spot but another Aylesbury goal took the game to extra time.
A measure of revenge was won when Trevor Roffey saved a penalty to take the tie to a replay but the final whistle left a nasty taste in the mouth. This was the cliched one chance to cause a cup shock. The team had proved themselves up to the task and Aylesbury could only resort to foul means to avoid defeat. Writing this article twenty one years later I can still feel the righteous anger coursing through my veins. The replay was lost 4-0 and to this day the very mention of the word Aylesbury will guarantee to raise ire in Magpies of this vintage.
Red mist descended again at York Road before the season ended, this time in rather more light hearted circumstances. The occasion was an Easter Monday derby against Abingdon. Three late goals from McKinnon and Mick Creighton secured a 4-0 win but when scoring his second Creighton picked up an inflatable sheep from a home fan for a rather candid goal celebration. This crossed a line for Colin Fleet in the Abingdon goal and he had to be restrained by his team mates from confronting Creighton. Any hard feelings soon dissipated though and a few weeks later at the return game, Fleet came out of the tunnel holding another inflatable sheep.
The Watt era ended in the calm waters of fourteenth position in Isthmian League Division One. The time was right for a change and appeared to be the cause of some relief for Watt who despite doing his best with limited resources was much maligned by a section of the Magpie support who would make the weekly request: “Resign Watt and take that clown Sweetman with you”. This was his last post but his assistant Derek went onto be a successful local manager lower down the non league pyramid.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1994-95

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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When deciding upon a new series of articles for this season the number 23 was forefront in my mind. My Mathematician wife’s favourite number, it represents the increased number of home league matches and therefore programmes  required this season. It also neatly matches the total number of seasons I have been watching the Magpies home and away, week in week out. With last season’s title the crowning glory of my time at York Road, I began to form a narrative laced with hindsight, of a club bound for glory. Of course like any good story there are a few setbacks along the way, but I have chosen “An altogether more splendid kind of life” as the title not only to reflect my enjoyment of this era but also as a nod to what we all worked towards and have now achieved.
The phrase comes from my favourite piece of prose, the introductory chapter to JB Priestley’s novel The Good Companions which perfectly captures the joy of watching football as an escape from the more mundane aspects of work or school. In my humble opinion it also sums up the benefit of watching the Magpies!
I had been an occasional visitor to York Road since my father took me to a match in April 1979 but although much of what existed here would be familiar to today’s young spectator, non league football was a very different world, almost a secret society.
WIth no internet to explain everything and keep you updated there was little context available to the curious youngster beyond the window opened up by the FA Cup, one which remained firmly shut to the Magpies til relatively late in my lifetime.
However my interest in life beneath the Football League grew thanks to Tony Wiliams’ non league annual and publications such as Team Talk, the Maidenhead Advertiser of course providing a weekly update on the local football scene.
Sadly much of the news reported about the Magpies in the eighties was that of a club in decline, culminating of course with the fire which burned down the lovely old stand. The club was something of an island with little attempt made to engage with the local community. No equivalent for example of the Junior Magpies.
The headlines made by the winning start to the 1990/91 promotion season proved irresistible though as crowds were drawn to York Road. I can remember watching close up the mercurial talent of Paul Canoville beating Cove virtually on one leg. There was also one of the best goals I have ever seen scored when a mazy run and wall pass by Harefield United’s Raoul Sam ended in a goal despite the fact that he lost the boot of his favoured foot along the way.
The boost from promotion faded fast though. By now at university I saw United win two home games in a row. Unfortunately they were separated by the autumn term.
Graduating in 1994 I saw the future of professional football and didn’t like what it had in store so somewhat presciently became amf twenty years ahead of its hashtag. Happily this coincided with what has turned out to be the permanent return of the black and white striped home shirt.
Encouraged to attend regularly by my friend Phil Adkins I found a welcoming community to which I knew I could contribute. In particular the late Trevor Kingham held out the hand of football friendship and an early season visit of newly promoted Aldershot Town drawing a four figure crowd showed the scale of what the club could become. This inspired me to write my first article for the match programme and fired by the indignity of the Maidenhead Advertiser relegating the Magpies to second place in its coverage behind Marlow, I started a fanzine which lasted for thirteen issues over three seasons, the production of which was made possible when I joined the programme team.
This involved going down to the club on a Sunday or Thursday evening to literally manufacture the programme using an unreliable photocopier and a long armed stapler. Trevor, Logic, Murdo and myself would copy, fold and staple every page. Fine when the usual circulation was little more than a hundred but a long night when Aldershot made their annual visit!
Thursday also offered the opportunity to chat to the players when they finished training and I was quickly drawn to become part of an institution which was so inviting.
This was helped on the pitch by a season of promise. John Watt’s team threatened to mount a promotion challenge in the late autumn, supported by Bob Hussey’s off the pitch team securing a hard earned Isthmian League A grade for the ground and its facilities.
New Year’s Day 1995 saw a bumper crowd of 247 witness a 2-0 win over Tooting & Mitcham United. League form faded from this point on but the team had character aplenty. This was reflected by the number of draws starting with the Aldershot match which ended 2-2 after the Magpies let slip a 2-0 lead.
The squad featured celebrity in the form of Sutton Cup heroes Trevor Roffey in goal and Vernon Pratt in centre defence. There was dressing room clown Franny Araguez, and hard as nails Scotsman Peter McNamee who would shout “chase it” as he launched another long ball forward.
Despite the season ending in mid table mediocrity it was replete with memories which are still vivid now. They include a home win over Bognor inspired by a  then midfield general in captain Tim Cook. A late fightback at the Camrose which ended with an injury time equaliser from Macca against Basingstoke. Four goals in the first twenty minutes at Wembley by young starlet James Pritchard. A County Cup giant killing over then mighty Wokingham Town, which brought a very strong Reading team to York Road in the next round. A victory by the odd goal in seven courtesy of a late flying header from distance by local policeman Kevin “Sarge” Brown, marred by a sickening leg break for striker Paul Dadson. An 8-2 thrashing at York Road by that season’s money team Chertsey Town featuring a QPR bound Lee Charles on a pitch virtually waterlogged which the Curfews were ironically reluctant to play on. A late season hat trick for fringe player Nick Ribeiro against Uxbridge.
All of these were capped though by the visit to the Recreation Ground when the Magpies stunned a crowd of 1877 to beat Aldershot 3-1. The key goal in this victory stemmed from the bizarre and unlamented experiment of replacing throw ins with kick ins. This had the unintended consequence of slowing the game down as any time the defending team put the ball out of play in their own half it became a set piece. Cook would thump the ball into the danger zone and on this occasion it caused such confusion in the Aldershot penalty area that the defence simply helped the ball into the net. Ultimately kick ins meant games commonly didn’t finish until about 5 pm as the game halted for the centre backs to jog up front. This led, partially in the absence of the injured Dadson, to defender Pratt ending the season as top scorer.
All in all a season to get me well and truly hooked on life at York Road. There was the hope that this was a club going forward on and off the pitch but more importantly the familial atmosphere that made me feel part of a common cause, the lasting effect of the latter emotion shown by the regular presence on the terraces nowadays of players from that season such as Mick Creighton, Andy Smith and Dave Harrison.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Home and Away with the Magpies last season


“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;”
As You Like It, Shakespeare

Although asked to pick out one memorable match from last season, I have gone for two that reflected the contrasting demands of winning a league title, both of which required and delivered three points.
Having hit the top of the league in August, the Magpies swept all before them in September leading to growing anticipation for the trip to Hampton in October. The Beavers had carried over their form that had taken them to the Isthmian League Championship the previous season, and the fixture took on the mantle of the first serious test of the Magpies own title credentials. Add in the fact that Alan Devonshire had previously managed Hampton, and the lingering sting of defeat in a promotion clash at the Beveree some nineteen seasons previously, and you had all the ingredients of a tumultuous afternoon.
What followed did not disappoint as both sides went toe to toe from the first whistle. The Magpies scored first through Harry Pritchard only for the Beavers to respond with an equaliser, but before anyone could take stock of the opening goals, Dean Inman had restored United’s lead, all within a breathless first twenty minutes in front of a packed crowd.
For the first time in my time supporting the club, Maidenhead were backed in a league match by an away following measured in hundreds, and they looked like they had got their reward in the second half when Ryan Upward increased the lead to two goals. Hampton hit back again though and really made the Magpies work for their victory, the impact of the win judged by Devonshire’s clenched fist gesture at the final whistle.
A chilly February evening at York Road produced a rather different challenge for Maidenhead. The doubters were out in force that month for the one stage of the season when form could be described as patchy. United had slipped to second behind Ebbsfleet, and as the match moved into the second half visitors Eastbourne Borough’s tactic of slowing down play to stifle the Magpies seemed to be working, particularly when they took the lead from the penalty spot. However, Eastbourne’s time wasting tactics soon started to rile the crowd who in turn used their frustration to fire up the United players.
A triple substitution by Devonshire proved to be the catalyst that sparked the comeback with all three players playing a role in the win. Firstly, Jordan Cox’s equaliser was followed up by Christian Smith’s determination to retrieve the ball from the net to restart the game. This drew the ire of his opponents, the subsequent conflagration fuelling the vocal fire of the Magpies stood behind the goal. Again, they had turned up in numbers unprecedented for a midweek league match, and their roars urged the team forward as the game drew to a close.
With two minutes remaining Kyran Wiltshire’s pass found Cox who applied a delightful finish worthy of his exuberant celebration that saw the striker whip his shirt off and twirl it around his head. The final whistle brought with it the news that Ebbsfleet had dropped two points at Hemel, to restore United to the top of the table.
Winning away at a rival in their pomp. Winning at home when the naysayers were ready to pounce. Maidenhead truly faced adversity at its ugliest and came away with the precious jewels of three points.

Magpies prepare for their English journey

This article was written in July 2017 for the Maidenhead Voice, a free magazine distributed to 12,000 households in the Maidenhead area.

"Nearly everything possible has been done to spoil this game: the heavy financial interests;... the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the Press; ... but the fact remains that it is not yet spoilt, and it has gone out and conquered the world."

Writing about football in his 1934 book an English Journey, JB Priestley's words hold as true as ever today, with the tumultuous anticipation felt by all at Maidenhead United at the publication of their 2017/18 fixture list, testament to the innate joy that game provides despite its many ills.
Like Priestley all those years ago, the Magpies will be setting out on their own English journey this season, a first ever nationwide tour following promotion to the National League after winning the Southern division. This will start at Maidstone on August 5th and end at Dagenham in April. In between there will be stops to visit the English Riviera in Torquay, northern industrial heartlands such as Gateshead and Barrow, the nouveau riche of Eastleigh and Fylde, clubs familiar from many a screwed up football pools coupon in the form of Tranmere, Leyton Orient and Hartlepool, the Silkmen of Macclesfield and the Bankers of Halifax, as well as the more familiar home counties suburbs of Woking, Boreham Wood, Sutton and Bromley. There's even a trip over the Welsh border to Wrexham via Chester.
Of course United will be reciprocating the hospitality that awaits them across the land, by welcoming these clubs to York Road, many of them coming to the world's oldest continuously used football ground by the same club, for the first time. This starts with Wrexham, Hartlepool and Orient in August, the latter being the first former top flight club to visit Maidenhead for a league match, whilst the BT Sport cameras will be back to broadcast the Hartlepool game live.
Season tickets to watch all twenty three league matches at York Road are available at bargain prices, £150 for adults, £110 for Senior Citizens, £80 for Under 20s whilst Under 16s can still go free by becoming a Junior Magpie. The ground itself is being improved ready for the bigger crowds which the more august opposition will attract, with the installation of more facilities for hospitality, catering and toilets.
Naturally Alan Devonshire is keen to give his title winning heroes a chance to prove themselves in the higher division but made some judicious moves in the transfer market to augment his squad for the big challenge ahead. Free scoring forward Chinedu McKenzie has arrived from lowly Romford, and midfielder Harold Odametey has been signed from last season’s promotion rivals Hampton, whilst Football League experience has been acquired in the form of central defender Jake Goodman, and striker Jake Hyde.

Silverware is on offer at the start of the season with the 2017 Berks and Bucks Cup Final against Hungerford finally scheduled for July 25th at Slough Town before the historic first National League campaign starts on August 5th at Maidstone.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Maidenhead United 2016/17 - Fairytale, Romance and Magic

The day after the defeat to Ebbsfleet I wrote this article for the Maidenhead Voice, a free magazine distributed to 12,000 households in the Maidenhead area.


Fairytale, romance and magic. Three words often used about football, and all applicable to Maidenhead United's wonderful 2016/17 season. Paradoxical of course as everything that has happened at York Road is very real and often beyond the realm of fiction.
Yesterday's defeat against Vanarama National League South title rivals Ebbsfleet United has added a twist to the tale of an historic season, to ensure there is still everything to play for in the final match at Margate next week.
This season the Magpies story has captured the hearts of local football supporters in numbers unprecedented since the 1960s as a number of elements have combined to make Saturday afternoon at York Road unmissable.
Firstly the ground itself, a fine example of continuity in an ever changing world. The club moved here in 1871 a few months after forming, and have remained ever since making York Road the world's oldest senior football ground continuously used by the same team. It shows its age in parts but its charm was enhanced  in 2014 by the construction of a sleek 550 seater stand under the shadow of Brunel's Great Western Railway. The stand had an immediate impact on crowds as it provided a comfortable place to watch the match with excellent sightlines. Over to its left is the Bell Street End, a covered terrace favoured by a youthful clientele who serenade the players with their catalogue of anthems. Food and drink is available in either corner. You're trusted to have a beer here whilst you watch the match, maybe a local real ale.
The team of course has taken centre stage this term. United in purpose as well as name. A squad carefully selected by wily manager Alan Devonshire, with each player clearly signed to fit a role. They have lost only one home league game in each of the two seasons since Devonshire returned to the club in 2015, meaning fans can come along in expectation rather than hope of seeing the Magpies win.
Their favourites include Carl Pentney in goal, a quiet unassuming keeper who more often that not keeps a clean sheet. In front of him are centre backs Dean Inman and Alan Massey. Inman, an all action defender is something of a cult hero on the Bell Street End, whilst captain Massey alongside him exudes that quiet authoritative aura typical of the English centre back. The man pulling the strings in the centre of midfield is James Comley, a cultured ball player instrumental in many a Maidenhead goal. To his left the tireless Harry Pritchard, the left sided schemer who scores many a spectacular goal whilst never neglecting his defensive duties. Up front is unsung Sean Marks, the king of the assists for his little mate the goal machine Dave Tarpey who has 45 under his belt with power still to add.
A great setting for a great team and yet there is also a certain je ne sais quoi which places the club at the hearts of everyone connected to it. This is provided by the unashamed amateurs who run affairs off the pitch and club servants like kitman John Urry all of whom strive to make visitors want to comeback regardless of whether they may be opposition players or even the referee.
All of which creates an escape from the trials and tribulations of work and school, letting off steam by cheering on the Magpies, or simply wandering around the ground bumping into friends, old schoolfriends and teammates. All are welcome at a club that gives you a taste of the best of what football has lost, a club that is not backward looking but going forward with the support of history, Maidenhead United Football Club.

Post Script: Six days later Maidenhead United were champions

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #20 - Valeriy Lobanovskyi


The collection and application of data is now a ubiquitous power felt throughout every aspect of our daily lives. This is seen in football through measures such as the Opta index and methods such as moneyball, which seek to take emotion out of decision making and instead use rational scientific method to make the optimum choice for success. This philosophy is commonly attached to the words cold and calculating, and yet I chiefly remember the man who pioneered this approach, Valeriy Lobanovskyi as creating the breathtaking Soviet Union team that briefly flowered in the mid 80s.
In hindsight it is not surprising that this team came out of a society which preached the virtues of science, with the legacy of the impact of its manager’s methods in the wider world of football being in stark contrast to the shrinking influence of the former eastern bloc on the game.
Lobanovskyi was born in modern day Ukraine, then one of a number of countries which made up the USSR. Growing up in the capital Kyiv, he graduated from the football school and went on to play for Dynamo. A mercurial left winger, he won the Soviet Union League and Cup during seven seasons at Dynamo as well as two USSR caps. Heavily influenced by Kyiv’s Russian Coach Victor Maslov, who pioneered the scientific approach to football, Loba, as he became known, sought to innovate technically, creating the curving banana shot which would lead to him becoming renowned for his ability to score straight from corner kicks. After falling out with Maslov, he left his home city for short spells with Chornomorets Odessa and Shakhtar Donetsk before retiring aged 29.
A keen student, he returned to Kyiv to study heating engineering at university. By chance the city was home to the Soviet Union’s fledgling computer industry, and drawing on his childhood flair for maths as well as the influence of Maslov, began to consider how data processing power could be applied to football.
This idea was boosted following the start of his managerial career at Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, when he met Anatoly Zelentsov from the Institute of Physical Sciences, the pair working together to develop a system of measuring technical ability in order to find the best players. On the pitch he led Dnipro to promotion to the Soviet Union top division and then moved back to Dynamo Kyiv in 1973, where he would remain in charge until 1990.
Bringing Zelentsov with him, he was keenly aware that the job of manager was too big for one man and surrounded himself with experts to support him in implementing his radical science based approach. He broke the game down into its component parts to develop a system of two sets of eleven elements on the pitch. Each sub system was better than the sum of its parts, with the superior one bound to win. Thus he deduced that it was not the individual players who were important but the interactions and connections between them.
Lobanovskyi wanted perfect players who could execute game plans and in particular set pieces automatically. Moreover he saw football as dialectic with each team trying to work out the other and having to come up with better ideas to win. This required stringent diet and a fastidious training programme informed by the analysis of masses of data applied to give players specific tasks to help them improve their technique, and also develop routines for the game itself.
The implementation of Lobanovskyi’s philosophy led to Dynamo Kyiv breaking the Russian dominance of football in the Soviet Union, winning eight league titles and six cups. More importantly they became the first Soviet club to win a European trophy, winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1975, a feat they repeated in 1986.

It was these two wins which symbolised Lobanovskyi’s club team at their peak. The first was spearheaded by midfielder Viktor Kolotov and striker Oleg Blokhin beating Ferencvaros in 1975 final. Blokhin went onto win the Ballon d’Or, as his team went onto win the Super Cup by beating European Cup Winners Bayern Munich.

History then repeated itself in 1986 with luminaries Baltacha, Kuznetsov, Belanov, Rats and Mikhailichenko combining with the veteran Blokhin to sweep aside Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the final, Igor Belanov taking the Ballon d’Or this time.
During this time at Kyiv he also had three spells in charge of the USSR national team. Typically most of the Kyiv team were imported wholesale into the side which won bronze at the 1976 Olympics. 

They regularly qualified for the final stages of the World Cups and made waves at the 1986 tournament in Mexico with the likes of Rats and Belanov stunning the watching world with some powerful strikes before exiting at the first knockout stage in an unforgettable seven goal thriller against Belgium. 

Two years later the USSR finished runners up to the Netherlands at Euro 88 in Germany, having beaten the Dutch in the opening game of the finals.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Lobanovskyi sought his fortune in the Middle East before returning to the now independent Ukraine to again manage Kyiv in 1997 until his death in 2002. Creating his third great team at the club he won five consecutive Ukrainian titles (including three doubles), and took them to the 1999 Champions League semi-final. He also led the Ukrainian national team to a World Cup qualifying play off in 2002.

This success was forged with the fledgling Ukrainian talents such as Sergei Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko. However the free market now hindered Kyiv’s progress as the best players signed for wealthy western clubs.
Free exchange of information had also led to Lobanovskyi’s scientific method being adopted across Europe, with its most successful exponent being Jose Mourinho.

Posthumously awarded the title Hero of Ukraine, Kyiv’s stadium now bears Lobanovskyi’s name, a mark of the esteem in which he was held by his players being best illustrated when Andriy Shevchenko returned to Kyiv after he won the Champions League with Milan in 2003, to lay his medal on Lobanovskyi’s grave,

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #21 - Bob Houghton


The aim of this series was to shine a light on some unknown or forgotten characters from the history of football that have had a significant impact on its development as a sport. Originally I planned twenty five articles but the early start to the season and a lack of home cup ties mean I have only got to twenty one. Those who didn’t make the final cut were: Vincente Feola who along with Mario Zagallo created the magical Brazilian World Cup winning teams from 1958-70, English innovator Jesse Carver who enjoyed success at Juventus and many other top Italian clubs in the 1950s, and finally two Yugoslavs Miljan Miljanic and Tomislav Ivic. Miljanic is best known for restoring the fortunes of Real Madrid in the mid-70s having had great success in his home city of Belgrade with Crvena Zvezda, whilst Ivic grew his reputation in the 70s at Hajduk Split before going onto manage a whole raft of top European clubs, winning titles in six different countries.
For my last subject I have chosen to return to the enduring theme of my series, that of the coach who leaves his homeland to transform fortunes elsewhere, and in doing so I will end up in the summer of 2016 when I started writing about the first one.
I suspect many of you could name one Englishman who took his club to the European Cup Final in the 1970s (Clough - Nottingham Forest), probably a second (Paisley - Liverpool), maybe even a third (Armfield - Leeds), but how about a fourth? Then for a supplementary question connect him to the last Englishman to take his club to a European Final of any description, who also shares his initials.
Working in ten different countries over a forty year career Bob Houghton sparked a football revolution in Sweden which set up the careers of two future England managers.
Following an undistinguished professional playing career with Fulham and Brighton, Houghton studied with FA Technical Director Allen Wade alongside Roy Hodgson who had been his contemporary at John Ruskin Grammar School in Croydon. He became the youngest ever coach to gain an FA Full Badge ('A' Licence) and became player manager at Hastings United aged 23. He was reunited with Hodgson at Maidstone United with both trying to further their careers through junior coaching positions at professional clubs. However they were to get their break as a consequence of the longstanding European tradition of looking for an English “Mister” to disseminate his knowledge overseas.
In 1973 Sweden’s biggest club Malmo wanted a coach to revive their fortunes having lost their best players to richer clubs in central Europe. The country’s greatest footballing moment had come when they had reached the 1958 World Cup Final under the guidance of Englishman (and another great quiz question) GeorgeRaynor. So the Malmo chairman contacted Allen Wade for a recommendation. Wade suggested his star pupil Houghton whose application was supported by references from top English division managers Gordon Jago and Bobby Robson.
Still only 26, Houghton assuaged fears about his young age with a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Malmo squad and what he could achieve with them, thus securing his appointment for the start of the 1974 season (Swedish seasons running from March to November).
Learning the language in two months he chose a squad of local players, with ten of the side coming from Malmo itself. He set about introducing them to the 4-4-2 formation, zonal marking, rigorous use of the offside trap, a high pressing game, and swift direct counter attacks. This contrasted with a Swedish preference for deep lying sweepers and a more amateur style individual ethos.
With a team that was steady rather than spectacular, but quickly taken to the hearts of the supporters due to their local connection, Houghton led Malmo to back to back league and cup doubles.
This led the chairman of struggling Halmstads to ask Houghton if he could recommend another Englishman to coach his team. Inevitably Houghton suggested Hodgson who promptly led his new team to the next league title (Allsvenskan) in 1976.

Houghton reclaimed the title the following season, a win which led to qualification into the 1978/79 European Cup. Houghton took Malmo further than any Swedish club has been before or since, meeting Nottingham Forest in the final. Brian Clough’s Forest won with a solitary goal from Trevor Francis, Houghton responding to the defeat by saying that “Clough was lucky in one respect – that the difference between the teams which played in the quarter-final and final was six players”, with Houghton’s injury hit squad all coming from a sixty kilometre radius of Malmo.

Hodgson won one more Allsvenskan in 1979 before the pair was recruited to revive the fortunes of Bristol City. By now known as English Bobby and English Roy their impact on Swedish football had been incendiary, having a formative influence on coaches such as Sven Goran-Ericsson and Lars Lagerback.
Ericsson, who went onto win Sweden’s first European honour with Gothenburg in the 1982 UEFA Cup, and of course became the first foreign national to manage England, summed up their impact thus: “They introduced a whole new way of playing football. Before that, Swedish teams had been very influenced by German teams and were playing man-to-man marking. But they came with zonal marking and a new way of starting attacks. It was something unique. And I think Bob was 27 years old when he came here and that is fascinating. A young guy coming over to tell us how to play football."
However Houghton and Hodgson’s time at Ashton Gate was doomed by catastrophic financial decisions made before their arrival which had seen several players signed up on ten year contracts, and they presided over the clubs tailspin from the top to the bottom of the Football League which ended up in liquidation.
The experience left Houghton preferring to work abroad because: “There the coach is the most important man at the club. When I worked at Bristol, I would've been better off being a bank manager; such was the time I had to spend on financial issues.”
He became a globe trotter taking jobs with clubs in Greece, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, and coaching the national teams of China, Uzbekistan and India.
Hodgson returned to Malmo in the 80s to win five Allsvenskans in a row as he continued a distinguished managerial career with other notable spells in charge of Switzerland, Inter Milan and Fulham. I personally witnessed his dramatic run to the 2010 Europa League final with the Cottagers, which led to him finally being regarded in the top rank of managers in his native country and the opportunity to manage England.
This makes Hodgson something of a unique character in this series, at least in terms of the Englishman under review, in that his talent was eventually recognised by those which developed it, despite his ultimate failure to fully capitalise on the opportunity to manage his country. More pertinently the lack of a native successor to his final post is rather a damning indictment on the short term future of English coaching.
I hope this series has been as much a pleasure to read as it has been to write. My inspiration for it and indeed initial source for most of the subjects was the Blizzard quarterly, which I wholeheartedly recommend if you want to find out about more of the men who made modern football.

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #19 - Rinus Michels

At the risk of hagiography this week I will continue to look at the development of the Dutch game and its wider impact. However following pieces on Reynolds, Buckingham and Happel, I will this time focus on a Dutch native. Rinus Michels was the man who not only exploited some of the greatest footballing talents the Netherlands has ever produced but also led them to their greatest triumphs.
Michels had a long playing career with Ajax in the post war years, playing 15 years as a striker noted for his strength rather than his flair.  During a period which saw the Dutch game make the transition to professional status he won the title and five caps.
His coaching career began in the amateur ranks before returning to Ajax as Vic Buckingham's (TMWMMF #17) replacement in 1965. In six years he transformed a struggling team into one that would win four titles, three cups (including two doubles) and finally a European Cup, a period which saw the word Ajax become a byword for intelligence and modernity.
The success and critical acclaim was due to his system of Totaalvoetbal (Total Football). This was a culmination of the pioneering ideas of the Austro-Hungarian school and the influence of Jack Reynolds and Vic Buckingham to create a 'carousel' style of play summed by defender Wim Rijsbergen as "The defenders went forward, the forwards came back. We played football. He even used the goalkeeper as a libero, playing outside the area."
However although Michels was anti-catenaccio he was very much an architect who painstakingly planned then trained his players relentlessly, borrowing from Herrera the idea of the 'retiro' training camp to embed his ideas. His players had to be able to switch to any role in the team at any time depending on the situation of the game, and thus had to be technically and physically supreme. This led to his nickname of the 'General' a label reinforced by his comment: "Professional football is something like war. Whoever behaves too properly, is lost."
This was reflected by winger Sjaak Swart who said: "We did everything with the ball. At the beginning of the season we had one week of very hard training: five training sessions a day. It was like a military camp."
Central to his philsophy was the creation and utility of space. Applying the Dutch concept of maakbaarheid, of shaping and controlling your environment, he prioritised tactics such as overlapping full backs and strikers dropping deep to retrieve the ball, to live up to his maxim that “space is important in football, but Dutch space is different.
His relationship with his best player Johann Cruyff was intrinsic to his success. Cruyff was just 18 when Michels took over at Ajax and their careers progressed hand in hand for the next decade.  Notionally a centre forward, Cruyff would roam wherever he saw the best opportunity to exploit his opponents’ weakness. This required his team mates to mould their game around him, taking up the position he was leaving. Cruyff was Michel's voice on the pitch defender Barry Hulshoff explained that he: "always talked about where people should run and where they should stand, and when they should not move. It was about making space, coming into space, and organizing space-like architecture on the football pitch".

The system was not perfected overnight. It required evolution through collaboration. Thrashing Bill Shankly's Liverpool 5-1 in the second round first leg of the 1966/67 European Cup revealed its attacking potential but a 4-1 defeat in the 1969 final to AC Milan showed its defensive shortcomings. 

This led to the signing of box to box midfielder Johan Neeskens in 1970 and a year later Michels had led Ajax to their first European Cup victory. 

He then elected to again follow in Vic Buckingham’s footsteps by taking over at Barcelona leaving Romanian coach Stefan Kovacs to build on his foundations in Amsterdam and lead de godenzonen to become the second club to win three consecutive European Cups.

Cruyff arrived at Camp Nou in 1973 and now reunited with his star player, Michels led Barcelona to their first Spanish title first since 1960. He then spent the summer with the Dutch national team at the World Cup in West Germany. 

With Cruyff in the ascendant, Holland stunned the world with their revolutionary style of play, defeating Argentina and holders Brazil to reach the final with five wins and one draw, conceding just the one goal.

It appeared that Michels’ team had reached perfection when they took the lead against the hosts after just eighty seconds of the final without a single German player touching the ball. However Cruyff's influence was progressively stifled by the man marking of Berti Vogts, allowing a midfield led by Franz Beckenbauer to gradually  dominate, overturning the early Dutch lead to win 2-1.

Michels spent the rest of the 70s with second spells in charge at Ajax and Barcelona and a brief stay in the US with Cruyff at LA Aztecs. In the early 80s he moved to West Germany to manage FC Koln before returning to the helm of the Dutch national team in time for the 1988 European Championships.

Again leading his nation to a finals hosted by the Germans, his squad featured the prodigious talent of Ruud Gullitt, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. In the semi-final Michels took his revenge for 1974 by beating West Germany, a win laden with wider national symbolism. They then went on to win the Netherlands only trophy to date by beating the USSR 2-0 in the final with unforgettable goals from Gullitt and Van Basten.

Michels finished his club career at Bayer Leverkusen in 1989 then had one last stint with the Dutch national team at Euro 92 which ended in semi-final defeat to eventual winners Denmark.
Named FIFA's coach of the 20th century he was the master of total football which would go on to be moulded by his protégé Cruyff into the tiki-taka style that would win Barcelona and Spain garlands galore.