The Conquerors charts the rise, fall and resurgence of AC Milan across one of the club’s most legendary eras.

Fresh from a coaching baptism of fire at either end of the top Italian divisions, former club favourite Carlo Ancelotti returned to a then-disjointed Rossoneri dressing room as first-team manager in 2001.

Out of sorts, out of form and out of touch with the standards set by the side in Ancelotti’s day, AC Milan found a much-needed stabilising influence in the new coach, who helped them through a phase of transition. Though his impact wasn’t immediate, nor without its share of dissenters, Ancelotti would ultimately return the team to its former glory.

The Conquerors is a homage to one of the greatest club sides in football history. It’s a story of incredible talent, iconic moments and the kind of improbable redemption usually reserved for Hollywood movie scripts.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2023. Hardcover: 352 pages)


Buy the book here: The Conquerers


Jimmy Greaves remains the greatest goalscorer in English football history, with a record of 357 top-flight goals that may never be surpassed.

Teenage sensation at Chelsea and England debutant at 19, he became – after an unhappy spell at AC Milan – a legend at Tottenham Hotspur. But despite 44 international goals in 57 games, his England career was defined by the heartbreak of missing the 1966 World Cup Final. A shock move to West Ham brought an acrimonious end to his Spurs days and, a year later, he retired from the game, aged only 31.

What followed was a desperate descent into alcoholism, followed by a remarkable battle to win back his family and self-esteem. Reinventing himself as a popular TV personality, his instincts in front of camera proved as natural as those in front of goal. Having taken his final drink in 1978, Greaves has remained sober from that day.

Drawing on interviews with family, friends, colleagues and opponents, Natural: The Jimmy Greaves Story is the definitive biography of one of England’s most loved footballers.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2019. Hardcover: 384 pages)


Buy the book here: Jimmy Greaves

Book Review – Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup by Graeme Strachan

Scottish teams have a tough time in European competition. It is not just the games in which they may struggle which are challenging but also the humour plumbed when Christmas comes and the best present a fan could have, would be a European tie in January.

It is doubled when you might not be a supporter of either Celtic or Rangers. Celtic may have the proud boast of being the very first British team to win the European Cup and Rangers five years later managed to add the second Scottish European triumph, but the 80s brought Aberdeen and Dundee United to that Eurovision of their achievements, though only the Dons would win a cup.

Ironically, Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams by Graeme Strachan, which could be the subtitle for any Scottish League campaign, tells the story not of Dundee United but their near neighbours. A team which shares the same city and the same road as United, Dundee, were once, the team most people believed would win the European Cup and be the very first Scottish team to so do. It is a compelling tale.

This is the story of 1962/63 when the champions of Scotland, Dundee, took on the might of Europe. It was, of course, a simper time, when it was only the champions of each country who competed. It made it much smaller as a competition too. It was also, according to Strachan when, “young boys played football in the streets and parks of Dundee.” Those of us of a certain age can all remember then. What is less well remembered is that before there was Bill, there was Bob and Bob managed a European run before his well-considered older sibling. Bob Shankly, was the manager at Dundee who gave us, according to Bob Crampsey, “the best pure footballing team produced in Scotland since the war.” This is their story.

Strachan recaps for us the story of the run in to the title in 1962 and it does well to remember a time when Rangers or Celtic had their dominance regularly challenged. It includes a cameo appearance by a young St. Johnstone striker by the name of Ferguson, Alex, and such cameos are regular features in Strachan’s tale. So too is the humility of Shankly – having won the title, he was next seen mowing his lawn!

Strachan then outlines an interesting pre-season in the USA. Long held as a soccer/footballing desert but here the champions of Scotland get trans-Atlantic travel under their belts early. Dundee was a team, not just bound by their own, soon to be whispered, mythology but included one name from the Famous Five at Hibernian, another great Scottish side long forgotten and much missed, Gordon Smith. Despite the pedigree Dundee had, not all were convinced that Dundee would manage much abroad, and the Weekly News scathingly opined at the beginning of the season and their campaign, “European Cup? Well, all the best anyway!”

It gives Strachan a fantastic backdrop as he starts with the first round, epic encounter with Cologne. Dundee managed such a margin of victory in the first leg, that the second leg became a formality, and there was suddenly a frenzy of interest in all things European and Dundonian. Strachan draws in what was happening in the world of the time but also the city of Dundee – it is an additionally welcome backdrop. From descriptions of the city being redrawn, the civic vandalism which has been condemned not only by those with the benefit of hindsight, but of natives like Brian Cox, the actor, we hear of the heart being ripped from a city. Whilst aerodromes and bridges were being built, JFK was declaring a man would be put on the moon and Arbroath miniature railway enthusiast, Mathew Kerr was running his mini link. It was a heady time and Strachan mixes both with respect. He never seeks to diminish one nor over complicate the other.

The sixties were an obvious time of change and Dundee’s exploits were part of that hope for the future. The more pressing future was the defence of their title in Scotland and that was not going to plan – all eyes could concentrate on Europe for glory.

Following their defeat of the German champions, they then got paired with the Portuguese champions, the swashbuckling Sporting Lisbon. Having dethroned Benfica domestically, Sporting Lisbon was a formidable opponent. But there was trouble at mill with some players unhappy at the level of involvement they were having in the team and Shankly was called upon to show deft management skills. They had to be pretty acute as this was a time when there were no substitutes and squad size beyond the 11 on the pitch included another 11 in reserve who were literally playing, in the reserves. Keeping all happy was a nightmare. It was also a time when internationals happened, there was no pause for anyone to work, rest then play again. You could lose good players and still have to fulfil your usual league fixtures.

But where Strachan is at his best is describing the effect of dedication to your team from within their support. – the likes of Peter Cabrelli, son of an Italian exile and proud Dundonian fish and chip owner who played for both United and Dundee – as well as Dundee Juventus – but had Dens Park firmly in his heart and on a mural behind the frying pans. These stories make an appearance as part of the narrative and not as an academic exercise meaning we are still careering towards the next game but now have the emotions of the Dundee support in our minds.

Alan Gilzean (Credit: Collect)

Once the Sorting Lisbon tie was out the way, including Alan Gilzean getting his second hat-trick in the competition, things began to get serious. They were in the last eight alongside AC Milan, Dukla Prague, defending champions Benfica, Feyenoord, Stade de Reims, Galatasaray and Anderlecht. Strachan may be describing times before the dominance of Real Madrid, but we are in heady times.

Dundee was not alone in Europe as recognised by Strachan as Jock Stein’s Dunfermline Athletic and Glasgow Rangers were also deeply involved in their campaigns. But as Lawrence of Arabia was in the cinemas and the Bay of Pigs receded as a threat to global security and Dundee schoolkids got to grips with European geography, Dundee was ready to face a Quarter Final of the European Cup against Anderlecht.

It was also one of the coldest winters in living memory. People were able to walk across the frozen Tay – Alec O’Brien and Ian Smith became the very first people to walk across a frozen River Tay since 1898 – and players could have been forgiven for thinking they too could have walked on water. The build up to the two legs are described in detail including some United supporters, and players, who in a show of solidarity turned up to wish their rivals well in the next phase of their adventure. The city of Jute, Jam and Journalism was in thrall.

Anderlecht were despatched.

And then they were in a Semi-Final. Strachan’s ability to draw the detail of the games is good and as well as the crosses, the free kicks and the goals we get how at each and every stage, players were praised – especially Ian Ure – described by the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme as “the greatest centre-half in the world today.” Belief was turning into expectation.

The Semi-Final was against AC Milan. A successful result would lead to Wembley where the Final was going to be held. There was a frenzy of support and confidence and people believed that the future Liverpool’s legendary manager’s older brother, Bob Shankly was the man who would get their men to a historic Final. Strachan manages to bring such enthusiasm to the page as you know, there has never been a focus on these European marauders rather than the Lisbon Lions, so you know how it ends, but you are compelled to stay long enough in the story to see if it is quite how you imagined it.

We get the build up to the games against Milan with a wide variety of views and witnesses quoted who believed that THIS Semi-Final was going to provide the eventual winners – Dundee was 50% of that contest! In a prescient tale of mudslinging football, the derby game beforehand as played in a Scottish quagmire, on a pitch that ended up more on the player’s jerseys than remained on their ground. As a platform for the greatest game of their careers in the best competition for clubs, this was not premium preparation. There were also injuries after a long season which included to Bobby Cox, Hugh Robertson and future Scotland manager, Craig Brown.

The first leg was where the tie was won – in Milan. The towering enthusiasm and the unbelievable run was not to continue much further. Dundee could have given much more had they not had a 12th man on the pitch determined to penalise them constantly whilst giving the Italians opportunity to behave as they wished. Milan had 15 free kicks granted in the first 15 minutes! The statistics continue as Tommy Gallacher in The Courier reported, “some of the referee’s decisions were ridiculous.” Condemnation came from all sides – former referees, the players themselves and supporters who had a list of grievances after the game but in the end, the first leg left a mountain for the Dundee team to climb if they wanted to make their, and by now, our dreams come true.

It was a notable return leg for Dens Park, as Milan’s players with film star looks, according to The Bard of Dundee, Michael Marra – an 11 year old schoolkid at the time – as they watched Milan Catenaccio into the Final. The 10 Dundee men who finished the second leg were far more sporting than many of their European opponents. As they trudged off it left an indelible mark on the city. It had been a season that Tottenham won the European Cup Winners Cup, Giovanni Trapattoni graced the Dens Park pitch and in Dundee, for a while, there was the hope. Such hope had been killed by a referee, perhaps, who was later banned for accepting gifts from Milan prior to the Semi-Final. It was a time of change as tactically aware coaches, like Jock Stein and Willie Waddell, then of the Pars and Killie were beginning to change the game and Dundee finished a weak defence of the league in the glow of their European brilliance. Strachan draws out the effect on a city, the supporters and the future of Scottish football. It is a compelling read and one well worth making a visit to remind yourself at some point that, times were different, and it was the hope that sustained you more than killed you.

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2022. Hardcover: 352 pages)


Buy the book here:Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams

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Book Review – Always Believe: The Autobiography of Olivier Giroud

‘I want to play there. I want to be a Gunner,’ writes Olivier Giroud on his decision to join Arsenal from Montpellier in 2012 in his autobiography, Always Believe – words that epitomise not only why the Frenchman became a firm favourite in North London but also his determination and commitment to the shirt – in this case Arsenal, but before that Grenoble, Istres, Tours, Montpellier and later Chelsea, AC Milan and, of course, France. Yet, Giroud is perhaps one of the most undervalued, underrated and underplayed of modern footballers. I say that admittedly as an Arsenal fan for whom Giroud is amongst my favourite ever players, but it is also based on the fact that he sits in the top 10 of Premier League goalscorers for Arsenal, for headed Premier League goals and goal-scoring subs. He is a player who can be relied up on, who has delivered when it matters and always does a job for his team. Having not really followed his story off the pitch away from England, I was not too familiar with his background or journey so was hugely excited to read this autobiography.

The autobiography is fairly unique in style. It starts with traditional football book fare, diving straight into the 2018 World Cup, but from there it diverts away from football somewhat, with chapters on Giroud’s childhood, religion, adolescence and love. It is fascinating to hear him open up on his faith and marriage, amongst other lesser-explored themes, which, indeed, tend to be minor or even absent in other football autobiographies, but which clearly pay a huge role in his life and footballing journey. The second half of the book sees the focus switch more inevitably to footballing matters and Giroud’s trajectory from Grenoble to Milan.

One of the challenges of autobiographies, especially for someone as successful as Giroud, who has won Ligue 1, four FA Cups, three Community Shields, the Europa League, the Champions League, the World Cup and been awarded France’s highest order of merit, the Legion d’honneur, is how to squeeze everything in, and it certainly is a challenge here. Rather than deep-diving into the details, what the reader gets instead is more of a broad overview of his entire career, with a couple of key moments, most notably that World Cup win, getting slightly more airtime. Details on managers, players, cultures, specific games are largely sparse, with a few exceptions, and those coming to the book looking for controversy or vitriol won’t find it. Giroud remains professional and respectful to the last.

What you do get from the book is a sense of Giroud’s journey, professional, personal and spiritual, a sense of his values and his resolve. His love for playing for his national team, his ability to face challenges and to overcome obstacles all shine through in the book, as they have done in his career. Fighting for his place and position in teams is also a common theme and one that underlines his perseverance and his unfailing quality. Many may have long given up or accepted playing second fiddle, but time after time Giroud has remained patient, earnt his place and reminded everybody of his class. His scorpion goal against Crystal Palace which scooped him the 2017 FIFA Puskas Award epitomises that but also leaves some, like me, scratching their heads at why Giroud has not always been given the opportunity or plaudits he deserves.

At 34, Giroud is inevitably moving towards the end of his career, although, at the time of writing, with three goals in four league games so far for Milan this season, the Frenchman is once more defying challenges. It remains to be seen whether Giroud will build on his 110 caps and 46 goals (just four behind leading goalscorer Thierry Henry) for his nation and be recalled for next year’s World Cup, but if there is one thing Giroud has demonstrated it’s that you can’t keep a good striker down. To my mind, he is someone who deserves greater recognition, and this book serves to give his story visibility. Whatever happens next for Giroud, and I for one hope it is further success at domestic and international level, this book is a reminder of a player who has proved his doubters wrong over and over again, proved his worth over and over again and proved his class over and over again.

Jade Craddock


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2021. Hardcover: 288 pages)


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Book Review – Basta: My Life, My Truth by Marco van Basten

Whether or not you followed Marco van Basten’s career, his is a name that is universal in football. Three-time Ballon d’Or winner, FIFA World Player of the Year, European Championship winner and scorer of arguably the best Euros goal ever, van Basten is synonymous with the beautiful game. Whilst my own footballing baptism just misses out on van Basten’s playing days, it’s impossible not to have heard of him and have seen at least one of his goals. My knowledge of him beyond this very basic level, though, is unquestionably lacking, so I was intrigued to read his recent autobiography – Basta: My Life, My Truth.

What becomes abundantly clear in the opening chapters is that despite van Basten’s successes, a serious ankle injury as early as 1986 significantly hampered not only his football but his life. A seemingly innocuous challenge in December 1986 was initially pooh-poohed following an X-ray, with a prognosis of ‘it’s nothing serious, just give it time’. Van Basten continued to play through the pain barrier, but fast-forward ten years, multiple failed surgeries, and van Basten’s only option was ankle fusion, which meant the end of his footballing career at the age of 31. Yet in the decade in which he played with an increasingly damaged ankle, he won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, three Serie A titles, two Italian Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Supercups and two Intercontinental Cups, as well as a string of individual awards that culminated in his being honoured as the world’s best player. Remarkably, his goal in the Euro 1988 Final that would become the image of the Euros for decades to follow came just months after the first operation on his beleaguered ankle. And van Basten actually credits that injury when remarking on the goal: ‘Since…that operation in November ’87, I had reduced mobility there and could no longer take on such a ball at full power. With a good ankle I would very probably never have scored.’ Of the shot itself, he is similarly philosophical: ‘As the cross came down, I thought, okay, for heaven’s sake just smash it at the goal. I haven’t got the energy to do anything else with it.’ It’s an eye-opening insight into one of the best goals of all time and satisfying to know that amateur players the world over who’ve found themselves in the same situation, thinking just smash it, aren’t entirely removed from one of the best players and one of the best goals in the world – albeit such shots up and down the country often end in Row Z – that’s where the difference emerges.

Van Basten’s autobiography takes readers through his early days, from Ajax to Milan, and on to coaching, management and his role at FIFA, but that early acknowledgement in the book of his ankle injury casts a shadow over everything. And the man himself ponders the question of what if? Van Basten’s successes nonetheless pit him as one of the game’s greats, but with the injury holding him back, it is fair to wonder if his career may have even gone to another level had circumstances been different. And there’s both a certain wistfulness and agony to van Basten’s questioning.

In general, he comes across in the book as fiercely determined and focused but also somewhat aloof and unyielding, not one to skirt difficulties or challenges or curb his opinion, which makes for an interesting read. As too do van Basten’s reflections on subjects such as the art of taking a penalty, the striker’s mindset in a one v one and young v experienced players. Similarly, his thoughts on Johan Cruyff, his teammates and clubs are all really compelling. And there is a certain style to the autobiography, in the way the narrative is structured and the short chapters, that makes it a really enjoyable reading experience.

One thing that particularly grabbed my attention was the mention van Basten makes of the years’ worth of records he kept right from his earliest playing days, and whilst there are a few brief snippers, I couldn’t help thinking how intriguing these would be in and of themselves. For now, however, van Basten’s autobiography will suffice, and it does so satisfyingly, giving a very clear depiction of the character of a man who reached the top of the game while carrying a debilitating injury. Whether you call it stubbornness, mettle or fortitude, or a combination of all three, van Basten secured much of his legacy with only one fully functioning foot. Just imagine his legacy if he’d had two!

Jade Craddock


(Cassell. November 2020. Hardcover: 352 pages)


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1972/73 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

Matchday programme cover

Wednesday 16 May 1973

Leeds United v AC Milan

In a humongous footballing travesty, Leeds United were cheated out of the trophy by a referee who was later banned for life due to match fixing. So, first, the bare facts and then all the gory details. As for the Leeds fans who had to follow it at all at home, we were not amused.

The facts:

Venue – Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki

Referee – Christos Michas (Greece)

Official score – 1-0 to AC Milan, goal-scorer Luciano Chiarugi. 5 minutes.

AC Milan: Villiam Vecchi, Giuseppe Sabadini, Giulio Zignoli, Angelo Anquilletti, Maurizio Turone, Roberto Rosato (Dario Dolci 59’), Riccardo Sogliano, Romeo Benetti, Alberto Bigon, Gianni Rivera (c), Luciano Chiarugi

Leeds United: David Harvey, Paul Reaney (c), Trevor Cherry, Mick Bates, Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan, Mick Jones, Frank Gray (Gordon McQueen 54’), Terry Yorath

Coming after Leeds had lost the FA Cup Final to Sunderland on 05 May and finished third in the League, it was yet another season which ended in bitter disappointment.

According to my team of researchers, ‘In spite of an English club making it to the final, highlights could not be shown on the night of the match because ITV were showing highlights of Scotland v Northern Ireland. BBC1 showed highlights of the ECWC final the following night (Thursday 17 May) at 10.40 – 11.30pm in black and white (Greek TV were responsible for the pictures). ‘

Floodlit robbery!

Pre-match parade

It was just as well it wasn’t shown live, it was bad enough listening to it on the radio. There had been so many disappointments for Leeds United, falling at the final hurdle, that I already feared the worst before kick-off. And the worst happened.  But the context needs setting about why Leeds fans had come to expect things to go wrong at the end of a season;

Previous Disappointment 1 – Wembley allowed the Horse of the Year Show to precede, by just a week, the 1970 FA Cup Final between Leeds and Chelsea. You might say that the horrendously pitted and sanded surface ‘levelled the playing field’ as an inferior Chelsea somehow sneaked a replay. Chelsea won that replay after Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris had taken Eddie Gray out of the game early on, giving him a thigh injury so serious that he never fully recovered from it. Even more sadly, it stopped Gray from ever becoming truly world class, as his talent had suggested. One thing you must check out about that match was how Eddie McCreadie kung-fu kicked Billy Bremner in the head when challenging for the ball in the penalty area. It was a little bit frightening. Penalty and sending off? No, just play on!!

Previous Disappointment 2 – There was the ‘Ray Tinkler’ affair when, ignoring a clear offside, referee Tinkler waved play to continue in a Leeds match against West Brom in 1971. The resultant West Brom goal arguably cost Leeds not just one but two championship titles since a pitch invasion by angry fans led to the club having to play the first 4 matches of the following season away from Elland Road.

Previous Disappointment 3 – Leeds won the FA Cup in 1972 (I went there to make sure they did, it never seemed to work on telly.) Great but then they were made to play a mere 2 days later away at Wolves, needing just a draw to do the prestigious double. Expectant Leeds fans provided two thirds of the crowd of 50,000 plus. As with the Bayern match (see below) 2 penalties – later admitted to – were denied and Leeds lost 2-1.

Future Disappointment – All of this sob story is necessary to understand the mentality of Leeds fans as the horror unfolded in Thessaloniki in 1973 and goes some way to explaining what happened at the Parc des Princes in 1975 after Leeds were cheated out of the European Cup by Bayern Munich. You question ‘cheated’? Two clear penalties were denied by the ref (admitted to later by Bayern) and a Lorimer goal disallowed, not by the referee or linesman but by Franz Beckenbauer!

Current Disappointment – So, after Leeds had underperformed a fortnight earlier against Sunderland in the FA Cup Final – dispiriting but no complaints at least about officialdom – we all had to make do with radio commentary. Jack Charlton and John Giles were out injured, Billy Bremner and Allan Clarke were suspended. Even so, the team that did play deserved so much better than what befell them.

And so the scene of the crime…

The referee at the centre of the scandal – Christos Michas

As I listened, I grew increasingly appalled as it all unfolded before my ears. But the diligent reader can become a watcher, too, and check out for themselves how the match went with highlights of around 48 minutes on YouTube.

You will see; a sequence of early free kicks given against Leeds, especially for fouls committed by Paul Madeley. He never needed to foul as he was virtually immaculate in his tackling technique; he was booked only twice in a 724-match club career. But here he was, seen by referee ‘Bendy’ Michas as the hatchet man. (He’d yet to see Hunter or Yorath showing how it was really done.)

The referee’s persecution of Madeley allowed an early Milan free kick on the edge of the box which they scored from. After that, it was a 12-man job to hold on.

There was a clear penalty for a series of fouls on Mick Jones (actually about 4 penalties in a bunch, take your pick). As it was turned down, loud booing can clearly be heard from the spectators. It is worth remembering there were only a few hundred Leeds fans in a crowd of over 40,000 and the response of the Greeks became more and more significant. They could tell something about the referee’s performance was very dodgy. A crude 2-footed tackle by Terry Yorath, let Michas know Terry was not best pleased.

Early in the second half Joe Jordan (pronounced in Leeds as George Auden) was booked for the serious ‘offence’ of jumping to head the ball at a corner.

A second claim for a penalty for handball by a Milan defender was waved away. The ball definitely struck his hand, which was in a raised position. By this time, the penny had dropped for the AC Milan team as everyone began to realise what was going on. They knew Michas had developed a pathological hatred for pointing to the spot.

A third penalty claim was turned down after Jones was flattened again.

Another handball just outside the box was not given.

As the game drew towards its inevitable conclusion, appeals for a fourth penalty were ignored. This time Jones was held back and pulled to the ground. But Milan’s sleights of hand here were subtle. Jones was a very fair player who never dived and he did not in this instance.

Norman Hunter tries to escape an AC Milan ‘tackle’

Hunter was sent off near the end. He didn’t appreciate the way he’d been fouled and simply wanted to murder the perpetrator. As Michas knew he was never going to visit Horsforth, he felt safe in sending Hunter off but made sure he also sent off the Milan player, too.

Not quite done, there was a fifth penalty at the very end. Yes, Lorimer’s fall was a bit theatrical but it was still a penalty. Peter probably felt the ref needed a bit of a hint by this time.

Other than that, the ref had a decent game, according to the ‘highlights’. The mind boggles, though, at what he got up to in the ‘lowlights’ that we never saw.

An incensed crowd at the end reacted to his bias in favour of Milan by booing the winners as they went to collect the trophy and by throwing missiles at them during the victors’ attempted lap of ‘honour’. Milan soon packed that in. The biggest boos were reserved for their fellow Greek, Christos Michas, as he went up to collect his medal. Leeds were treated like conquering heroes and the team were given a rapturous reception as they did their lap of honour. Justice had not been done but the crowd had made their own judgement.

Despite all the protests, the result was not overturned and even though UEFA later gave Michas his life ban due to match fixing, his role in this one was not investigated. Leeds petitioned to have a replay, a request denied by UEFA. The governing body presumably didn’t want to open a can of worms and the game not being shown live and in full probably suited them well. By the time it was seen the next evening, even though Leeds fans were enraged and plenty of neutrals were disgusted, too, it was already ‘a past event’.

But, there is always a counter-view. Four months ago, some pundit on YouTube called Felice Marco (who?) said, “So happy, Leeds was merely unable to score after a sterile domination…go home, whites, all blating and no upshot.” The critics who suggest that Felice must be the love child of referee Michas are very unfair.


Graeme Garvey

European Cup Winners’ Cup Memories

For those young ‘uns brought up on the misleading title ‘Champions’ League’, it might come as a surprise to learn that the European Cup Winners’ Cup actually was a cup competition between European teams who had won their own domestic cup finals, not just another chance for the top clubs to keep on playing each other and guarantee income streams.

All matches except the final were played on a two-legged basis and if you lost, that was it, lads, no safety net like there is nowadays of group stages with the additional safety net of yet another competition (the Europa League) to gently fall into if you do, somehow, manage to get knocked out.

As we shall see in due course with what happened to Leeds in 1973, the global-scale corruption of the Blatter era was unimaginable then. But favourable results could be bought relatively cheaply. The soft target was the referee. Being in the days before euros, you just needed a wad of lira, francs… or drachmas.

Britain enjoyed much more success in the early years of the Cup Winners Cup than in the European Cup itself. The former competition started in 1960/61 and featured English teams or Glasgow Rangers in 9 of the first 13 finals. Although most of those finals were closely-fought affairs, the tournament lacked the glamour of the European Cup and so tended to not live long in the memory for neutral spectators. A few do still stand out, though, mainly for how they connected to England’s World Cup Win in 1966.

The most memorable of the early finals was Tottenham’s 5-1 thumping in 1963 of Atletico Madrid, winners the previous year. Two of the goals for Spurs were scored by the peerless Jimmy Greaves whose injury in the World Cup group stages probably cost him his place in the Final. No substitutes in those days, so a suited Greaves had to watch England’s historic win from the bench as a supporter. Spurs were the first British winners in Europe, and it was a fitting reward, and swansong, for a team who had done the domestic ‘double’ in 1961 – the first time by any club in 64 years.

A curious note about the match highlights you can watch via ESPN Classic. They seem to have been coronavirusised! The commentary has a contemporary voice; too young, the soundtrack too clear to be the original and the crowd noise is fake, lacking the ebbs and flows of a real crowd who are, quite often, almost totally silent as they watch. Crowd noise is an anticipation or a reaction, not the insane, continuous hubbub we are given. There is one, truly ‘classic’ moment when the commentator, even with the supposed benefit of hindsight, describes when a Spurs player on the line paws away a goal bound shot, the ‘keeper Bill Brown beaten, “It’s a decent-looking save but unfortunately it’s handball.”

And an even more curious note is that Wikipedia’s page on Bill Brown has him born in Arbroath and it has him playing one World Cup match for Scotland in 1958 but lists two of his best sellers; The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI and Reagan, the Political Chameleon. I didn’t know that!

West Ham’s win in 1965 stands out for involving players who would go on to achieve great fame; Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. With the game being played at Wembley, it meant that Moore had the unique experience, as captain, of lifting three different trophies there in successive years; the FA Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the World Cup. And even if he didn’t lift the Cup again in 1970, at least he was arrested on suspicion of ‘lifting’ a diamond and emerald bracelet in Bogota.

And Bobby liked a drink. Greavsie like a drink. They liked celebrating. They particularly liked celebrating in Blackpool. They had a lot of reasons to celebrate in those days.

The last match with strong links to the World Cup Final was, understandably enough, the Final in May 1966 where Liverpool lost 2-1 after extra time to Borussia Dortmund, a kind of England v West Germany rehearsal. Kind of. Roger Hunt would go on two months later to turn the tables on the three Dortmund players selected for their nation in the Final; Tilkowski, Emmerich and Held. Hunt is famous for doing absolutely nothing in the World Cup Final except turn away to celebrate Hurst’s ‘was it over the line’ goal.

That was it for Brits as the Sixties swung to a close, except for Rangers losing their second final of the decade. The early ‘70s proved much more fruitful with Manchester City winning in 1970 (in front of fewer than 8,000 spectators), Chelsea in 1971, then Rangers in 1972 before the hugely controversial 1973 Final between Leeds United and AC Milan…


Graeme Garvey

Book Review: I am Football by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of most iconic names in football – something the man himself, famed for his limitless self-assurance, would surely not only corroborate but probably even propose. After all, this is the man who has referred to himself as a god and whose new book is titled I Am Football. There is no denying the fact that, in part because of this brazen chutzpah, Ibrahimovic has always been something of a divisive figure, both on and off the pitch, not only for spectators and media, but also amongst his own teammates and coaches, but the one thing that is unquestionable is his record.

Amongst other teams, Ibrahimovic has played for seven of the biggest clubs in football history – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Manchester United. He has scored goals at for every team he has played for, in impressive quantities and important moments, racking up over 500 in total, and continues to do so at the age of 37 for LA Galaxy. He has won over thirty trophies with the teams he has played in, including league championships in four of the biggest competitions in the world (Eredivisie, Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1) as well as countless other individual awards. His records include being the only player to have played in the Champions League with seven teams (although the one black mark in his tally is the failure to win the competition), the only player to have scored in derbies in six countries and the only player to score in his first five league matches for Barcelona – records that neither the generation’s two leading players, Messi and Ronaldo, cannot match. And this book charts each of these milestones in Ibrahimovic’s journey from Malmo to Manchester United.

The chapters focus sequentially on each of the eight clubs he played for from 1999 to 2018, opening with a snapshot of his match, minutes, goals and assists stats, a picture and a Zlatan quote before an introduction to the context of each moment in Ibrahimovic’s career, which is followed up with images and quotes from the man himself, as well as contributions from teammates and coaches before a concluding assessment on his time at each club. It’s a really appealing and easy-to-read approach. But what really sells this book and makes it stand out from the crowd is the incredible design and finish of it – it’s clearly been lovingly and artistically put together, and rather than your average hardback sports autobiography, this has the appearance and gravitas, dare I say it, of something more akin to a bible. It is a book that visually grabs you and makes it clear its subject matter is intended to be viewed as something special, extraordinary. It’s a format that very much fits with a man who wants to make his mark, to turn heads, but it’s more than just a gimmick, it is genuinely a really stylish, well-packaged and put together creation, that, to my mind, suggests a refreshing, contemporary direction that sports books could take in the future to really develop the genre. Huge praise therefore must go to the creative and design team behind it, which includes Graphic Designer Sebastian Wadsted and Project Manager Martin Ransgart. There is nothing especially overly fussy or fancy inside the pages, just simple but hugely effective use of colours, spreads and imagery to create a beautiful, minimalist, sleek look. Even the way, the statistics – or rather Zlatistics (their word, not mine) – are displayed in a comprehensive chapter at the end of the book is engaging and visually appealing.

In terms of the content itself, the range of voices, from the book’s editor to Ibrahimovic’s teammates and coaches to the man himself, make for a more complete read. And whilst I am not sure this book will completely change perceptions about Ibrahimovic, it certainly gives a more rounded view of the man – no person, after all, is completely one thing, but Ibrahimovic, for whatever reason, has often been cast as the villain. The contributions from his teammates, and to some extent his coaches, are perhaps the most telling in their breakdown of this judgement. These are the people who spent the most time with him, day in, day out, who knew him off the pitch and on it, and their assessments – from greats such as Thierry Henry and Andrea Pirlo – are all markedly similar: Ibrahimovic, they all effectively concur, is indeed a strong personality, but above all a special footballing talent and a team player on the pitch, and off it, he is a funny and likeable character – very different to the troublemaker he has often been portrayed as. There is no denying his ego, many of the quotes from the man himself ooze it, but while some call it arrogance, the contributors tend to see it as self-confidence – a requisite for success. And success is exactly what Ibrahimovic has achieved throughout his two decades at the very top of the game. So maybe, as the title of the book suggests, he is, after all, football. There are definitely few who could argue with the Zlatistics.

Jade Craddock

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Book Review: David Beckham – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Steve Tongue

Another offering from Amberley books in their expanding football series, Fifty Defining Fixtures. This edition by Steve Tongue focuses on David Beckham.

Beckham has come to transcend the game of football where he initially made his name, but in the Introduction, Tongue is clear on the direction of this book; “the focus here is on Beckham the footballer and the most memorable of his 800-plus matches”, adding, “selecting fifty games is not easy and cannot be definitive.”

Where Tongue has succeeded with his selection of the games is that it does reflect Beckham’s England career and marks the incredible achievement of winning league titles in four different countries – England, Spain, USA and France.

So there are details of the games you expect to see – the iconic lob over Neil Sullivan against Wimbledon in 1996, the sending-off against Argentina in the World Cup in 1998, the 2001 performance against Greece and THAT free-kick at Old Trafford and redemption against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup – but also others less familiar, including a couple of games from Beckham’s youth career, a loan-spell at Preston and his time with LA Galaxy in the MLS.

Tongue does an excellent job in ensuring that both the highs and lows of Beckham’s career are captured and the author is not afraid to detail the opinions of journalists who believe the former England captain was a player of limited ability, and in so doing enables the book to present a balanced perspective.

In addition the author successfully ensures that despite the timespan covered in just fifty games, there is a flow and connection so that the reader can easily follow Beckham’s career. What helps is that Tongue puts each game in context, so that there is a wider appreciation of the significance of the fixtures detailed.

This is a useful addition to books on Beckham in the on-going debate as to the players place in football history.


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