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.

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.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #18 - Ernst Happel

Over the last twenty years an elite group of European managers such as Ancelotti, Heynckes, Mourinho and Van Gaal have moved seamlessly from post to post collecting trophies wherever they go. Tending to be on the grizzled side with a wry turn of phrase, they appear weary but have a tireless appetite for success following the template created over a thirty career from the sixties to the nineties by Ernst Happel.
He was the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs, and the only one to do so in the pre champions league era. He won the domestic league and cup in four different countries, squeezing in a World Cup Final to boot. He unsurprisingly summed up his career thus "everything paid off and I have no regrets".
Rarely for a successful manager he had an equally glorious playing career. A defender, one season at Racing Club Paris aside, he spent it all in his native country Austria at Rapid Vienna, winning six league titles including one double. He was capped 51 times and was part of the Austrian team which finished third in the 1954 World Cup.
From his defensive role he could see in his own words that it was "from midfield, [that] the game unfolds.". A deeply reflective manager, he was best described as taciturn in his speech, ensuring he commanded attention when he spoke.
Happel moved to the Netherlands to begin his managerial career at Den Haag, a lowly team, where he had the freedom to develop his tough but fluid 4-3-3 formation. Saying he would rather win 5-4 than 1-0, he expected his teams to shape themselves in his image: strong but with guile. The strength was represented by an aggressive pressing game, whilst the guile translated into players who could adapt ot the situation of the game.
By 1968 he had turned Den Haag into a top four team, beating Ajax to win the Dutch Cup. This was noted by Feyenoord who won the double in 1969 but decided they wanted a man of Happel's calibre to lead them into European competition.
A bon viveur who enjoyed a cognac along with his ubiquitous cigarette, he soon settled into a routine whereby he would chew the fat with regulars in a bar near Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium, pondering tactics and selection.

One of his first actions was to complete the "holy trinity" of a midfield adding Austrian Franz Hasil to the more defensive minded Wim Jansen and "De Kromme" Wim Van Hanegem. Recalling the 36 year old goalkeeper Eddy Pieters Graafland for the 1970 European Cup final against Celtic after he had initially dropped earlier in the season, defeated manager Jock Stein was moved to say afterwards: “Celtic has not lost to Feyenoord. I have lost to Happel,”.

Feyenoord went onto win the Intercontinental Cup (World Club Championship) against Estudiantes and the 1971 Dutch league title before being eclipsed by Ajax. This led to Happel electing to leave the Netherlands, staying briefly at Sevilla before spending the rest of the seventies in Belgium, firstly with Brugge where he won the league three seasons in a row from 1976 (with a double in 77). He also took them to the 1976 UEFA Cup final and 1978 European Cup final, losing on both occasions to Liverpool.

Before moving to Standard Liege he took the Dutch national team to 1978 World Cup Final where substitute Dick Nanninga equalised with 8 minutes to go against the hosts Argentina. Robbie Rensenbrink almost won the game in ninety minutes only for his shot to hit the post but Argentina ran out 3-1 winners in extra time.
After winning the Belgian Cup in 1981 with Standard Liege, Happel moved to West Germany to manage Hamburger SV. Praised by the veteran Gunter Netzer for his man management he won the Bundesliga in his first season alongside another defeat in the UEFA Cup Final.

Twelve months later he retained the league title and won his second European Cup, beating a Juventus team which featured Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and several of the Italian side which had won the 1982 World Cup. After a German Cup win with Hamburg in 1987, Happel returned to his native Austria, leading FC Tirol to back to back league titles, the first of which was in 1989. Fittingly his career ended in 1992 managing the Austrian national team. He died in post, with the Praterstadion in Vienna soon renamed Ernst-Happel-Stadion.
A philosopher manager who summed up his approach as "It is not important why you win. You have to know why you have lost", Happel, married the Austrian tradition of his childhood with the nascent Dutch style he helped to create, successfully transferring the finished product from club to club across western Europe.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #17 - Vic Buckingham

The previous instalment in this series looked at the way Helenio Herrera ended the era of free flowing passing football derived from the Austro-Hungarian school of the inter war years, with his catenaccio tactic. Although remaining a dominant influence on the Italian game for a generation or more, it was quickly challenged by the Dutch system of total football, a revolution that was sparked by an Englishman.
Vic Buckingham was a former Tottenham Hotspur team mate of Arthur Rowe (TMWMMF #15) in a playing career cut short by World War Two. Buckingham admired Rowe's appreciation of the art of passing, and with Rowe's encouragement went into management in Post War England. A deep thinker and articulate speaker a spell coaching at Oxford University led to a prestigious appointment to manage Pegasus before re-entering the professional game at Bradford Park Avenue. He then took over at West Bromwich Albion, almost winning the first modern double with the Baggies in 1954 when an FA Cup win was matched with runners up spot in the League.

With a side containing future managers Don Howe and Ronnie Allen, it was one of their team mates Graham Williams who came up with a delicious metaphor to describe West Brom's style of play:
‘He wasn’t interested in defending. He wanted to see tricks and goals and push and run. He said he didn’t want us to go ‘da di da di da’, passing for the sake of passing. He always said he wanted us to play like ice cream and chocolate. That was his phrase. Just flow, like ice cream and chocolate.’
This was push and run in the style of Rowe's Tottenham, but like his mentor his team only shone briefly, overshadowed in a more physical footballing era dominated by local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In 1959 he moved to the Netherlands to manage Ajax, where the professional game was in its infancy. He found a club redolent with the influence of Jack Reynolds (TMWMMF #8), Buckingham explaining: “Their skills were different. Their intellect was different and they played proper football. They didn’t get this from me, it was there waiting to be stirred up. I influenced them but they went on and did things above that which delighted me."
Taking the opportunity to develop ideas discussed years previously with Rowe, who had spent time in Hungary, he sowed the seeds of the system which would make Ajax champions of Europe a decade later and establish Dutch football as a major force in the game. This was nothing short of a philosophy which would envelop the whole club in terms of technical development and positional play. Buckingham won the Eredivise title and the Dutch Cup, in his first two year spell in Amsterdam, when he also spotted a talented 12-year-old in the junior section called Cruyff.
By 1961 Buckingham was back in England with Sheffield Wednesday but with his reputation tarnished by a match fixing scandal which engulfed the Owls he returned briefly to Amsterdam in 1964 in time to give a debut to a teenage Johann Cruyff around whom the great Ajax team would be built.
Following a controversial spell at Fulham he returned to the continent when Barcelona, remembering an Inter Cities Fairs Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday in the early 60s, harked back to the time of Jack Pentland (TMWMMF #9) by turning to Buckingham to rejuvenate a team that had fallen to the lower reaches of La Liga.
In a wonderful final flourish as manager Buckingham's style was the perfect match for the Catalan club, and within two seasons repeated his feat from the Hawthorns by almost winning the double.
His team were pipped to the title by Valencia, as despite having the same points and a better goal difference, the Spanish championship was decided by the head to head record between the two clubs. However he achieved a modicum of revenge and wrote his name into the club annals of history by going onto win the 1971 Copa del Rey, then known as the Copa del Generalísimo, 4-3 after extra time against Valencia, a triumph played out in front of deadly rivals Real Madrid's biggest fan, the dictator General Franco, who presented the trophy at the Bernabéu.

Back surgery forced Buckingham to step down but before he did so he worked with Barcelona to lift the Spanish FA's ban on foreign players. He was then replaced by Ajax manager Rinus Michels who brought with him his star player Johann Cruyff.
Buckingham's career then wound down at the likes of Sevilla and Olympiakos, his key role in the development of the game being a connector of football's knowledge network. A man who came into contact with others who had more illustrious careers, soaking up their ideas, first adapting and then passing them onto future greats. A man of sophistication with the ability to boil his philosophy down simply thus:
“Long-ball football is too risky. Most of the time what pays off is educated skills. If you’ve got the ball, keep it. The other side can’t score.”

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #16 - Helenio Herrera

Flick through the back pages of 2017, and you will find the latest trials and tribulations of the likes of Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho, Ranieri and Wenger, superstar managers one and all. Despite previous characters in this series leading their teams to similar feats, all were, in their time, firmly in the shade of their team, until one man broke the mould and created the template for the cult of the manager.
Commonly known by his initials HH, Helenio Herrera was born in Argentina in 1910 to Spanish parents, and at the age of 10 moved to Casablanca, then part of the French empire. Becoming a French citizen he started his playing career in what is now Morocco then at the age of 22 moved to Paris to play for a variety of clubs around the capital. An unremarkable defender, his career was hampered by injury, retiring aged 35, Herrera openly confessing his mediocre playing career was to give him an edge when he moved into management, initially in France.

He soon moved to Spain where he won back to back La Liga titles with Atletico Madrid in 1950 and 51. After two years in Portugal he returned to Spain with Barcelona, on a mission to end the dominance of the all-conquering Real Madrid. He did this domestically, doing the double in 1959, and successfully defending La Liga in 1960. In Europe he led Barca to win the first two Inter Cities Fairs Cups (now the Europa League) but he couldn’t stop Real winning their fifth consecutive European Cup losing comfortably to them at the semi-final stage.
At this point Herrera was a manager who prized psychology, popularising phrases such as "he who doesn't give it all, gives nothing" and "with 10 our team plays better than with 11". He would post slogans like: "Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships" on signs around the ground and get players to chant them during training. He insisted on strict discipline supervising players’ diets and insisting on no smoking and abstinence from alcohol. At Camp Nou this bought him into conflict with the maverick lifestyle of star player László Kubala and led to his departure to Italy in 1960.
Angelo Moratti, the multimillionaire owner of Internazionale had spotted the opportunity to bring Herrera to Milan, and it was at the San Siro that he became known as Il Mago (the wizard) by building the Grande Inter team that would win three Serie A titles as well as back to back European Cups.
He elevated himself to greatness by adding tactical innovation to his man management, becoming the leading proponent of Catenaccio. Although this was a phrase which became synonymous with defensive play, Herrera insisted that the formation also known as Verrou (the door bolt) was a catalyst for exciting vertical play featuring rapid counter attacks.
Its origins date back to Austrian Karl Rapan’s deployment of the tactic in 1930s Switzerland. Based on a 5-3-2 formation, it created a free (libero) role known as the sweeper with a third centre back used to tidy up between the middle two defenders. Herrera used this to suck the opposing team forward, then utilised Inter’s deep lying Spanish playmaker Luis Suarez to launch accurate long balls to speedy attacking full backs Giacinti Facchetti and Brazilian Jair Da Costa. Responding to criticism of his team as defensive, Herrera would point to Facchetti’s record of scoring as many goals as a forward
In addition Herrera pioneered the use of the Ritiro to prepare his team by taking them away to a hotel for a few days to prepare for matches and using the phrase “12th player” to cite the importance of supporters which inadvertently boosted the fledgling Ultras movements in the late 60s

Herrera finally vanquished Real Madrid in the 1964 European Cup Final, defending the Trophy twelve months later by beating the other Iberian powerhouse Benfica in 65. He was denied a third win in 1967 by Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions, as his team started to wane.

He became the highest paid manager in the world in 1968 when he moved to Roma for an annual salary £150,000 pa, but despite winning the Coppa Italia in 1969 he was sacked in 1970. His career wound down in the next decade, partly due to ill health, making brief comebacks with Inter and Rimini, before ending his career at Barcelona at the start of the 80s, just as star of the greatest Briton to follow in his footsteps, Alex Ferguson, was starting to rise.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #15 - Arthur Rowe

“Keep it simple, keep it quick, keep it accurate” is a phrase most associated with double winning Tottenham Hotspur manager Bill Nicholson, but it was originally uttered by Arthur Rowe the man who had created the environment for Nicholson’s triumph, ten years previously at White Hart Lane. In doing so he not only laid a template for Spurs forever ephemeral footballing aesthetic but also planted the seed for England’s world cup triumph.
A Tottenham man by birth, Rowe grew up with the club spending time with their nursery clubs Cheshunt and Northfleet United in the 1920s. The Spurs coach at the time was Peter McWilliam, a Scot who brought with him the passing tradition of making the ball do the work, for which his native country had been renowned since Victorian times. 
In Rowe he had a willing student, although McWilliam’s departure meant by the time Rowe’s cultured centre half act was on show in the first team in the 1930s he was suffocated by the dominant English philosophy of kick and rush which he translated in these terms:  “I never scored a goal for the first team. They didn't like the centre-half to go too far over the halfway line in those days.”
England recognition followed in 1933 but a cartilage injury restricted his progress and he retired in 1939. Fate then intervened to create a serendipitous invitation to advise the Hungarian FA on developing their national game. The outward looking Rowe accepted and went onto consult with the likes of Gustav Sebes and Ferenc Puskas in a meeting of minds which promised much only to be cut short by World War two. However in being able to discuss and develop his progressive tactics, Rowe was given the confidence to implement his radical philosophy when peace returned.  
This began at Chelmsford City whom he led to the Southern League title in 1946, the Clarets almost following this up with election to the Football League. His success was noted by his alma mater and he was appointed manager at second division Spurs in 1949. What followed was in the words of his Spurs captain Ronnie Burgess, nothing short of a “revolution”.
Rowe saw his ideas as the embodiment of the notion that football was a simple game. Peppering his team talks with aphorisms such as “a good player runs to the ball, a bad player runs after it”, Rowe emphasised the importance of the short pass accompanied by swift movement off the ball as the key to success. The style, to Rowe’s distaste, became known as push and run, featuring a high frequency of wall passes, a term Rowe did approve of given how as a child he had honed his technique by kicking a ball against an actual wall.
By its nature this required players to free themselves of the strictures of their notional position, either to fall back from the forward line to collect the ball, or attack from defence to pursue it.
For what would now be an overlapping full back, Rowe signed Alf Ramsey, with the seeds of the latter’s World Cup winning wingless wonders being planted as Spurs raced to the Division Two title in 1950, leading throughout the season to win by a margin of nine points as the leading scorers and best defence.
Twelve months later, Spurs were champions of all England, winning plaudits for their breath taking football which reached its apogee in a seven goal demolition of Newcastle United. They almost defended their title, finishing runners up in 1952 but from this point on, faded quickly, a demise which led to Rowe suffering greatly from anxiety and depression, resigning his post in 1955 in the wake of an FA Cup defeat to York.
His success in developing instantly, with the addition of Ramsey, an existing Spurs squad into an irresistible force for three seasons created sky high expectations which he couldn’t maintain. However having imbued his philosophy in his players Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily he had created the management team that would take the club to new heights in the early sixties, winning not only the double and back to back FA Cups, but also England’s first European title. In 1954 he had also signed Nicholson’s captain Danny Blanchflower.
The fifties also saw the flowering of the managerial talent Vic Buckingham (MWMMF 17) at West Bromwich Albion. He had been a team mate of Rowe’s at Tottenham in the 1930s and considered him his mentor.
Rowe returned to football as assistant manager at fourth division Crystal Palace in the late fifties, becoming manager in 1960 and taking the Eagles to promotion in 1961. He again resigned due to the pressure of the job in 1962 but soon reverted back to his assistant role, helping the club to another promotion in 1964 as Palace continued a decade long climb to a first ever season in the top flight.
Granted a Selhurst Park testimonial, an honour not received at White Hart Lane, Rowe drifted around the game into the seventies with spells at Orient, Brentford, West Brom and Millwall. He had become something of a forgotten man, remembered only by those privileged to see his team play in a pre-television era. This proved to be a fleeting glimpse of what English football might have become, as with the exception of the tantalising triumphs of Nicholson’s Spurs and Ramsey’s England, clubs reverted to type.
Rowe summed up this devotion to character rather than intellect saying:  “All you need to remember is that 50 per cent of the people in the game are bluffers. So a decent manager's halfway there when he starts out.”