Book Review: Fixing Sixty Six – A tale of political corruption that could just be true by Tim Flower

World Cup football and corruption? It’s never been known!

Well, there was that rumour at the 1978 tournament that Argentina needing to win 4-0 against Peru to progress to the Final, gave their South American neighbours a boatload of cash and grain. Full-time score, Argentina 6-0 Peru…

1982. Austria v West Germany in the Group Stages. A win for the Germans would see them and their opponents Austria through and would eliminate Algeria. Horst Hrubesch puts West Germany ahead after ten minutes and that is effectively the last action of the game, as both sides effectively stop playing. Full-time, Austria 0-1 West Germany…

Then there were the accusations in 2002 that the match officials were ‘got at’ as joint hosts South Korea achieved unbelievable wins over Italy and Spain to reach the Semi-Finals…

And of course, who can forget the debacle of the awarding of the 2018 Finals to Russia and Qatar in 2022 due to corruption within FIFA.

Oh, for the good old days, times like 1966 when England showed the world about fair play and sportsmanship in lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy. Not a whiff of corruption. Or was there?

Tim Flower’s Fixing Sixty Six is a fictional look at the tournament told through the eyes of retired journalist Harry Miller. It tells of an undercover government operation to ensure that England win the World Cup, ensuring at the same time the boosting of the popularity of the Labour government under Harold Wilson at a time of economic struggle in the country. Flower’s cleverly weaves fact and fiction to provide a very credible story as government advisor Ludovic Forsyth manipulates and spins away behind the scenes.

The book also provides a believable sketch of life in the 1960s, where a ‘woman’s place is in the home’, where ‘foreigners’ and ‘homos’ aren’t to be trusted, and the idea of exotic food is a boil in the bag Vesta Curry. Whilst football is the focus of the book, the author also touches on providing a comparison with the political situation in 1966 and that when Harry regales his sensational story in 2016, as Britain once again struggles with its identity and its position not only in a European context, but globally.

A minor criticism is that it could have done with a tighter edit as a number of avoidable typos are present. Overall though, it is ultimately an intriguing and absorbing read. That day back in 30 July 1966 may never be seen in the same light again.

(“Talk About Productions” November 2019. 428pp)


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World Cup diary 2018 – Monday 02 July

Russia (1) – (1) Spain [Russia win 4-3 on penalties]

Well I’m fairly much speechless even a day after the game. Spain with all the possession but created very little, with Russia just content to sit back – it wasn’t a great watch at all. On the one hand Spain got what they deserved because they didn’t have the guile to breakdown the hosts. However, for me, yet again the VAR and referee have come up with a wrong call, when Spain were denied a penalty in the closing minutes of Extra-time. As a free-kick was swung in there was a case for three Spanish players being pulled down, yet the referee deemed none of them to be fouls – a quite startlingly decision. Just where is the consistency in this tournament. And then to cap it all off the BBC pundits in the studio made no mention of the incident. Really?

Croatia (1) – (1) Denmark [Croatia win 3-2 on penalties]

With my frustration at events still lingering from the earlier game, I wasn’t really in the mood for this one and ended up only tuning in for the Extra-time and penalties. It appears that Croatia made heavy weather of things with perhaps the tag of favourites in this tie being a burden for them. However, despite the heroics of Danish ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel, he was outdone by his Croatian counterpart Danijel Subasic who saved three penalties in the shoot-out.

Well I’m hoping my enthusiasm can be reignited with the two clashes today, starting with:

Brazil v Mexico

This will be the fifth encounter in World Cup Finals for these countries. The first came in 1950 when the tournament was played in Brazil and in a Group 1 game, the hosts swept to a 4-0 win. Four years later in Switzerland the result was even more emphatic as Mexico were on the end of a 5-0 beating in the group stages. Their third meeting in the World Cup came in Chile in 1962 with Brazil winning 2-0 including a goal from Pele. Just four years ago in Brazil, the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in Group A, which saw Mexico break the run of defeats, but they have yet to score against the Brazilians in any of the four games. What a time to get a first goal.

It’s been a tournament with a number of the big guns going out – will Brazil really be another casualty? I can’t see it, but who would have said, Argentina, Germany, Portugal and Spain would already be on the plane home.

Belgium v Japan

There has been one meeting in the Finals tournament before, back in 2002 when Japan co-hosted with South Korea. In a Group G game in the Saitama Stadium, a crowd of 55,258 saw the teams play out a 2-2 draw. Belgium went ahead through Marc Wilmots (57’) with Japan level two minutes later through Takayuki Suzuki. Junichi Inamoto then put Japan ahead on sixty-eight minutes, only for Peter Van Der Heyden to level things up with fifteen minutes remaining.

Belgium are a gifted team and you would expect them to progress, but after the way Russia frustrated Spain yesterday, is this the game-plan for the Blue Samuri?

World Cup diary 2018 – Sunday 01 July

France (4) – (3) Argentina

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow…just didn’t see such a dramatic game coming. There was me saying yesterday it would be a cagey affair! France got on top early on with Griezmann hitting the bar from a free-kick and it wasn’t long before they struck first. The teenager Mbappe, who was to outshine Messi on the day, broke from midfield before being hauled down and Griezmann did the rest from the spot to give the French the lead on thirteen minutes. It looked like an advantage Les Bleus would take into the break, only for Di Maria to level with a stunning strike just four minutes before the break. Then within three minutes of the restart, Argentina were ahead with Mercado deflecting in Messi’s attempt on goal. The game though was turned on it head in a ten-minute spell just before the hour mark, as Pavard levelled for France and Mbappe struck twice to leave Argentina stunned and 4-2 behind. It was a mountain too big for the South Americans to climb, despite an Aguero header in stoppage time. France into the Quarter-Finals and maybe the last sight of Messi in a World Cup tournament.

Uruguay (2) – (1) Portugal

Another game where my predictive skills went awry, after I tipped Portugal to win this encounter. As with the game earlier in the day, the big name on display, in this case Ronaldo, had to exit the stadium at the hands of another player claiming a brace. As in the France/Argentina fixture, there was an early goal, with Cavani powering in a header after only seven minutes. Suarez was unlucky with one of his low driven free-kicks and Ronaldo had one attempt of his own which the wall-blocked, but was more noticeable for the way he ludicrously hitched up his shorts before taking. Portugal did level though ten minutes into the break when an unmarked Pepe headed home. Suarez though was at his bullish best for Uruguay and in a competition which has produced some wonderful goals, another came along on sixty-two minutes, when the Barcelona striker played in Cavani for his second as he majestically curled home the winner. Like Messi, was this the final exit from a World Cup for Ronaldo?

And so to today’s offerings:

Russia v Spain

These two have never met in a World Cup Finals action, but have played against each other as recently as November last year in Saint Petersburg, when the game finished 3-3. Of their six encounters, Spain have won four, with the other two fixtures drawn.

Logic says that Spain will prove too strong, but as hosts Russia have home advantage and this may work in their favour if they go ahead and get the vociferous support behind them.  The big question is how the team react after the 3-0 beating in their final group game against Uruguay.

Croatia v Denmark

Whilst not having played each other in the Finals, these sides met in the Qualification Group stages for the 1998 World Cup. The first fixture in Croatia ended 1-1. In the return fixture in Copenhagen, the Danes romped to a 3-1 win. Denmark topped the group on 17 points, automatically qualifying, whilst Croatia were runners-up on 15 points and had to go into the Play-offs, seeing off Ukraine over two-legs to qualify for France ’98.

Denmark have only scored two goals and conceded just one in their Russia 2018 campaign and are a hard-nut to crack, whilst Croatia scored seven and conceded just a single goal. On stats alone you have to fancy Croatia.

World Cup diary 2018 – Tuesday 26 June

With the final round of group games starting yesterday, for those with something to play for, the pressure cranked up another notch.

First up were the two games in Group A, with Russia and Uruguay already confirmed as advancing to the knock-out phase and the result all about top spot. In the end the Uruguayans gave the Russian bear a bloody nose as they romped to a 3-0 victory over the host nation. Saurez opened the scoring on ten minutes with a clever low free-kick, with a Cheryshev own-goal after twenty-three minutes doubling the South American’s advantage. Even worse was to follow for Russia when Smolnikov was dismissed for a second yellow card fourteen minutes before the break. All that was left in the second-half was a tap-in for Cavani on the stroke of the full-time whistle to complete the scoring and secure top spot for Uruguay.

In the other group game, it was the battle to avoid finishing bottom, between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt dominated the opening half and went ahead after twenty-two minutes, with Mo Salah latching onto a ball through and lobbing the Saudi ‘keeper Yasser Al-Mosailem. It was Egypt’s first World Cup goal from open play since 1934. Now whilst it as a good finish, the goalkeeper rushing that far out made the choice for the Liverpool striker in terms of what he needed to do. Salah had another great chance when one-on-one with Al-Mosailem, but his dink over the ‘keeper this time drifted wide of the mark. Once again VAR was in the headlines, when with four minutes remaining in the first-half, Saudi Arabia were awarded a penalty for handball against Ahmed Fathi. Now I’ve watched it back and the player has his head turned away and the ball strikes his trailing arm, where is the intent in that? For me, justice was served when Egyptian ‘keeper El Hadary (who at 45 years and 161 days beat the record of Colombia ‘keeper Faryd Mondragon (43 and three days at Brazil 2014) to become the oldest player to take to the field), made a tremendous save from the spot-kick. However, like buses another penalty soon came long as Saudi Arabia were awarded another deep into first-half stoppage time, with Al Faraj slotting home. After the break, El Hadary was the busier of the two ‘keepers, but he could do nothing as in the fifth minute of stoppage time Salem Al Dawsari secured a 2-1 win for Saudi Arabia, to leave Egypt bottom of the group without a single point.

With Group A sorted it was the turn of Group B to reach its conclusion. Here going into the games, involving Iran against Portugal and Spain up against Morocco, all that was certain was that Morocco were out. And both games proved to have high drama and controversy. Iran knew they had to beat Portugal to make the last 16. The European Champions has the better chances in the first-half and scored on the stroke of the break, when a stunning strike from Ricardo Quaresma put them ahead. All the fun though was yet to start. It all began eight minutes into the second-half when after a VAR review Ronaldo who had been fouled, had his spot-kick saved. It gave the game an edge that was lacking in the opening half, and it ramped up controversially ten minutes from time. Ronaldo swung an arm at Morteza Pouraliganji, catching him in the face. Somehow after a lengthy VAR review, the Real Madrid player was only shown a yellow. I have every sympathy for the Iranian coach who said after the game that there was effectively one rule for players like Ronaldo and Messi and another for the rest. The question is though, is it the fault of VAR or the on-field referee? Then with Portugal seemingly on their way through with a 1-0 win, three minutes into time added-on Iran got a penalty after a VAR review. In my view a crazy decision, the Portuguese defender has merely challenged for a header with the ball catching him at close quarters on the arm. He couldn’t have got out of the way or at such close quarters had any intent to handle it. Again, VAR or poor call by the referee? Iran though had one last chance as Mehdi Taremi fire into the side-netting with his effort from inside the penalty box. If he had scored Iran would have been through.

In the other encounter Morocco took the lead after a cool finish from Boutaib following a mix-up on the halfway line by the Spanish just before the quarter of an hour mark. Spain were level just five minutes later though as Andres Iniesta brilliantly set-up Isco to score. Morocco regained the lead nine minutes from time with a stunning header from En-Nesyri, which looked to have secured a 2-1 win for the North Africans. However, it wasn’t to be as Iago Aspas back-heeled home an equaliser in stoppage time for the Spanish. It went to review and in a very tight decision the goal stood. It was cruel on Morocco, but enough for Spain to head Group B, courtesy of goals scored.

It was a day in which VAR did nothing to leave me thinking that it will improve the game. Currently there is no consistency as to the way it is used and for me has highlighted a weakness in the quality of the match officials as much as anything else. Are these really the best referees out there? After what I’ve seen so far, I’m not really sure.

Following the finish of Groups, A and B, it means the following last 16 games have now been confirmed:

June 30 Uruguay v Portugal and July 01 Spain v Russia

World Cup diary 2018 – Thursday 21 June

Yesterday saw a Group A fixture between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia and in Group B, Portugal v Morocco and Spain v Iran with all seemingly having come under the influence of the Arsenal coaching manual circa 1980s from George Graham, as all three games ended 1-0, with Uruguay, Portugal and Spain the victors.

Uruguay had a goal after twenty-three minutes from Luis Saurez to seal their victory and send La Celeste into the last 16 along with Russia, whilst Saudi Arabia are eliminated. The meeting of the two teams in the final round of fixtures will determine who tops Group A.

Another big name in Cristiano Ronaldo, scored the only goal after four minutes to put Morocco out of the tournament. Credit to the Portuguese star, who was brave in diving amongst the flying boots of the Moroccan defence to head home and with his fourth goal of the competition, lead the race for the Golden Boot. However, credit to the African side who exposed the weakness of the European Champion’s defence, yet couldn’t find a leveller and have just pride to play for in their final group game.

Finally to Spain, where a fortunate ricochet allowed Diego Costa to put Spain ahead early in the second-half. Iran had what they thought was an equaliser but with the aid of VAR the Ezatolahi effort was ruled out. Despite defeat Iran could still qualify for the knockout phase, but they will need to overcome Portugal in the Mordovia Arena next Monday. If the Iranians don’t get through, they will leave us with one of the comedy moments of the tournament. Into the last minute of normal time, Iran had a throw deep in the Portugal half, where defender Milad Mohammadi decided to opt for a spectacular summersault throw-in. However, the sight of him halting it after the initial roll, was bizarre to say the least.

Let’s hope for a few more goals today as Denmark take on Australia, France play Peru and Argentina take on Croatia and of course moments that bring a smile to the faces of the watching world.

Book Review: Working Class Heroes: The Story of Rayo Vallecano, Madrid’s Forgotten Team by Robbie Dunne

Can you name the three professional football clubs in Madrid?

Most people would instantly come up with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid pretty quickly, but how many know the third? Well, presumably very few. And to put you out of your misery, the club making up the trio is Rayo Vallecano, who as recently as the 2015/16 season played in La Liga, but who currently ply their trade in the Segunda Division (La Liga 2).

Freelance journalist Robbie Dunne decided to investigate the story of the Los Vallecanos (The Vallecans) as the team adjusted to life in the second tier of Spanish football in the 2016/17 campaign, whilst he came to grips with life and the language in Spain. What he discovers during his year following the club is a story that goes beyond football.

In a book which stylistically mixes diary entries from games he attended and short essays, the author tells the story of a club which is all about the community, proud that it represents not Madrid but the barrio (the neighbourhood). This is a club of the working-class people of Vallecas, who are proud of their roots and their anti-fascist stance. Therefore, Dunne documents something of the history of Spain, so that readers can see how politics and social history have been influential in the development and philosophy of Vallecas in terms of its people and team.

The club is inextricably linked to those who attend games headed by the Bukaneros and in the twelve-months covered by the book, they battle both on and off the pitch, as the team fights against succumbing to a second straight relegation and fiercely demonstrates its opposition to the Club President, and a revolving door policy in relation to the team manager’s.

It is undoubtedly an interesting read into on one of the lesser lights of Spanish football and does provide a glimpse into a very different environment which does not have a comparable example of in the English professional game.



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FIFA World Cup 2014 – Saturday 28 June 2014

100 years ago today shots in Sarajevo killed Archduke Ferdinand which proved to be the catalyst that led to the carnage that was to become the First World War. 100 years later we still haven’t learned and conflict and killing still exists in certain countries across the globe today.

It says much about the modern world though that the most significant shots for many on the planet today will take place in Brazil as the knock-out phase of the World Cup begins. Sixteen teams have departed and sixteen remain. Gone is the safety of the group games and second chances, this is winner takes all, whether in ninety minutes, extra-time or penalties.

The group stages have for the most part seen very open games, with plenty of goals and drama to match. England’s inability to escape the group stages was hardly a surprise, but the demise of Italy and Spain is something not many predicted. Whilst Spanish domination of World football had to end at some point, the like of Casillas, David Villa ad Xavi couldn’t have foreseen demolition at the hands of Netherlands and Chile being amongst their last memories of World Cup tournaments.

Others to have disappointed include 2018 hosts Russia (but then Capello is in charge of them) and Portugal who showed that without a fit Ronaldo, they badly struggle. Given both Japan and South Korea went well in the 2012 Olympic football tournament, it was a surprise that neither made much impression in Brazil. It’s been a mixed bag for the African teams, with Algeria and Nigeria making it through, but Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast deeply disappointing.

Today’s games are all about Latin America as Brazil take on Chile and Colombia face Uruguay. How would the tournament be affected if Brazil lost to Chile? This game you would hope could be a bit special as Chile have proved to be a more than capable outfit and Brazil will be under immense pressure. In the other game, well we all know what the sub-text to this fixture is whatever the result.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 24 June 2014

The early games yesterday saw Group B played to a conclusion and in all fairness didn’t hold a lot of drama, given that Netherlands and Chile were already through and Spain and Australia were out. Of course there was top place to play for and at the other end avoiding the wooden spoon.

In the end it was the Dutch who took top spot with a 2-0 over Chile. Both goals came in the second-half from substitutes Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay. In between the goals though, Chile might reflect that they were unlucky not to get a penalty. From a corner, Dutch defender de Vrij appeared to hold back Jara and to compound the issue then made contact with the ball using his arm. It wasn’t to be and the Netherlands took the points leaving Chile as runners-up in the group.

Australia ended up with the wooden spoon in what was a pretty comfortable 3-0 win for Spain. The Spanish dominated from the off and it was a surprise that it took until the 36th minute before they scored. Juanfran got behind the Australian defence and his cross was cleverly back-heeled home by David Villa. It was much the same in the second-half as Australia got pulled apart at the back, with Torres and Mata completing the scoring.

The only fun to be had was in Group A. Cameroon were already out and were up against Brazil who were all but through. So it was the Mexico v Croatia game that was the one to watch. The Mexicans knew that a draw would be enough for them, whilst Croatia needed a win to progress.

Given the importance of the game it was no surprise that the game got at times a little physical with players all too willing to square-up to each other at times, handbags et al. Despite Croatia needing to win to progress, it was Mexico who had the better first-half chances, although the game remained 0-0 at the break. This World Cup has seen the officials be very good with the spray cans, but I would have like them to have been better at the ‘real’ elements of their job during the games. Here in the second-half there was another glaring mistake from an official, as Srna blocked a cross using his arms denying Mexico a penalty. However, it wasn’t long before the Mexicans went ahead when Marquez headed home. Within three minutes they went 2-0 up, as Guardola fired home. Croatia were now looking ragged and they were exposed once more on 82 minutes as a cross found substitute Hernandez for an easy finish. The Croatians though had the final word as a well worked goal saw Perisic finish cleanly. However, there was one last incident in what had been a frantic last fifteen minutes when substitute Rebic was sent-off for a nasty challenge on Mexico’s Carlos Pena.

In the other Group A fixture, the game was won 4-1 by Brazil, which sealed top spot, with Neymar Junior getting two goals.

Following those results it means that the fixtures for the next round are as follows:

Brazil                     v              Chile

Netherlands       v              Mexico

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Thursday 19 June 2014

Well what a night that was…

It all kicked-off with a bit of a thriller between Australia and Netherlands. When Jedinak scored from the spot to put Australia 2-1 early in the second-half, the mad world that has been Group B looked to have another unforeseen story to tell. However, van Persie quickly brought the Dutch level and sealed victory with a goal from Memphis Depay. It could have been so different for the Socceros, as minutes before the Dutch winner Mathew Leckie had a glorious chance to put Australia ahead which went begging.

Netherlands through, Australia out.

The drama continued as we watched to see if World Champions Spain could get their tournament back on track. Was the defeat to the Netherlands just a blip? Well by half-time Chile were 2-0 ahead with goals from Vargas and Aranguiz and Spain were looking devoid of ideas and seemed resigned to defeat.

Chile through, Spain out.

To round off the evening it was back to Group A and Croatia against Cameroon. The Africans imploded in this one, going behind early to a goal from Olic and had Song sent off making it an almost impossible task to get back into the game. Croatia strolled to a 4-0 win with second-half goals from Perisic and two from Mandzukic. As if that wasn’t bad enough, two Cameroon players, Moukandjo and Assou-Ekotto, ended up in argument, with the later seemingly head-butting his teammate.

Cameroon out. Croatia still in the mix to qualify to the knock-out phases.

And so to today…

Group C has Columbia take on Ivory Coast and Japan take on Greece. However, squeezed in between those games is the torture and agony that will be England against Uruguay. Up and down the country we’ll gather round our televisions like moths to a candle to see whether we’ll crash and burn in defeat or bathe in the warm glow of victory.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 18 June 2014

Group H

 Belgium (0) 2 – 1 (1) Algeria

Good managers made decisive decisions that change the course of games.

At half-time Belgium were behind to a penalty converted by Feghouli and were frankly struggling. Marc Wilmots made three changes during the second period and two of them, Fellaini and Mertens came up with the goals that won the game.


Group A

Brazil (0) 0 – 0 (0) Mexico

Only the second draw of the Finals so far, but one that Mexico more than deserved.

Ochoa was outstanding in goal for Mexico making three brilliant saves, but the Mexicans were also an attacking threat with several shots on goal in the second-half.

The more I watch Brazil in the tournament the more I dislike them. As in the game against Croatia, it was Marcelo who irked me as he threw himself to the floor to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining in the game.

Note to FIFA: ability to retrospectively book players should be considered.


Group H

Russia (0) 1 – 1 (0) South Korea

The day ended with another game low on quality, but high on goalkeeping errors. Neither Korean custodian Jung Sung-ryong nor his Russian compatriot Akinfeev will look back on this game with any distinction.

Akinfeev had looked vulnerable to long-range efforts in the first-half, but his clanger to give South Korea was horrible to watch, as a shot from Lee Keun-ho squirmed from the keepers grasp and over the line.

Jung Sung-ryong in the Korean goal was also unconvincing during the game and he will have be disappointed in his part in the Russian equaliser, as his attempt to stop a cross-shot was only palmed away, where Kerzakov gratefully swept it home.

Note: I bet Rob Green enjoyed watching this one…


* * * * * * * * *


In previous tournaments things haven’t got interesting until the second round of group fixtures. Brazil 2014 has bucked that trend, as the opening round of games have for the most part been open and full of goals. The reality is that for some teams their World Cup will be over after the second round of games. Today nervously looking at their room reservations are the following:


Group B

Australia v Netherlands

Of course the obvious thing to say is that the Dutch will win this at a canter after putting the World Champions to the sword in their opening game. Australia don’t exactly look like a team in form after their opening 3-1 beating at the hands of Chile. But this tournament has not been easy to call at all – could there really be an upset?

These sides have met three times previously, with two draws and a win for Australia in 2008, when a Harry Kewell penalty and a goal from Joshua Kennedy saw them win 2-1.

Can they? Really?


Spain v Chile

The big question is whether Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque will make significant changes or will he keep faith with the side that collapsed so spectacularly against the Netherlands? Chile have never beaten Spain in their 10 meetings, but will be hoping it is third time lucky in terms of World Cup games against Spain.

The teams played each other in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, when Spain emerged 2-0 winners and in South Africa in 2010, when the Spaniards won 2-1. Both games as with this fixture were at the group stages.

A draw tonight would make the last round of games very interesting…


Group A

Cameroon v Croatia

These two sides have never played each other before and having lost their opening game, this meeting is hugely significant as a loss for either is check-out time. Croatia will feel slightly aggrieved with their loss to the hosts in the opening game, and if they use that injustice in a positive way they could collect a win here.

Tantrums and fouls aplenty as a draw is played out?