UEFA 2020 Euro Championship – Day 1

Italy and Turkey get the delayed Euro 2020 tournament underway at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome tonight. The Italians topped their Group in qualifying with a 100% record having beaten Finland, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia and Liechtenstein both home and away. The Azzuri scored 37 goals and conceded just 4 as they romped home twelve points clear of second-placed Finland. Turkey came through as runners-up in their qualifying campaign, finishing just two points behind France, in a Group that also contained Iceland, Albania, Andorra and Moldova. The Crescent Stars beat France in the Group stages but lost out on top-stop after only picking up a point in their two meetings with Iceland.

Coming into this game, Italy swept past the Czech Republic 4-0 in their final warm-up game in Bologna which saw an eighth consecutive win without conceding a goal. Immobile and Barella gave Italy a 2-0 halftime lead, with Insigne and Berardi completing the scoring. Turkey also ended their preparations with a victory, beating Moldova 2-0 in a game played at the Benteler Arena in Paderborn, Germany, with both goals coming in the second-half through Burak Yilmaz and Cengiz Under.

These sides have met in European Finals, when back in 2000, they were drawn together in Group B. At the GelreDome, home to Vitesse Arnhem, the game came to life in the second-half when Antonio Conte put the Italians ahead seven minutes after the break. Okan Buruk levelled for Turkey on sixty-minutes, only to see a Filippo Inzaghi penalty eight minutes later restore the lead for Italy as the game finished 2-1 to The Azzuri.

For what it’s worth, I’ll go for an Italian win tonight, possibly 1-0 or 2-0. Given the Italians have won the World Cup on four occasions, it is perhaps a surprise that the have only won one European title, that being back in 1968. If Italy display the kind of fluency in front of goal and meanness at the back as in the qualifiers, they could be a real threat.

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

1986/87 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

Final programme cover

Wednesday 13 May 1987

Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece.

Attendance: 35,017

Ajax (1) 1 – 0 (0) 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig

[Ajax scorer: Van Basten 21’]

Ajax: Stanley Menzo, Sonny Silooy, Frank Verlaat Frank Rijkaard, Peter Boeve, Aron Winter, John van ‘t Schip, Jan Wouters, Marco van Basten (c), Arnold Muhren (Arnold Scholten 83’), Rob Witschge (Dennis Bergkamp 65’)                           

Unused Substitutes: Netherlands Erik de Haan (GK), Ronald Spelbos, Petri Tiainen

Manager: Johan Cruyff

I. FC Lokomotive Leipzig: René Müller, Ronald Kreer, Frank Baum (c), Matthias Lindner, Uwe Zötzsche, Uwe Bredow, Heiko Scholz, Matthias Liebers (Dieter Kühn 76′), Frank Edmond (Hans-Jörg Leitzke 55’), Hans Richter, Olaf Marschall

Unused Substitutes: Torsten Kracht, Wolfgang Altmann, Maik Kischko (GK).

Manager: Hans-Ulrich Thomale

Referee: Luigi Agnolin (Italy)


This was the 27th Final of the Cup Winners Cup and the third final (and last) to be played in Greece. The Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus hosted the 1970/71 contest and replay between Real Madrid and winners Chelsea, with the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki the venue for the controversial game between AC Milan, who lifted the trophy, and Leeds United in 1972/73.

The game was settled by a single first-half goal from Marco Van Basten after twenty-one minutes. It came from a move which started in their own half, with Frank Rijkaard carrying the ball forward. It was then whipped down the line after some short inter-play, with a cross that Van Basten met just on the edge to the six yard box to head across the despairing dive of Müller in the Leipzig goal. Overall, the game was not considered to be a classic.

The programme from the last Final in 1999 summarised the game under the following headline:

Ajax revive their traditions

The final is remembered because Marco van Basten took centre stage for the first time by scoring the winning goal. It was his sixth of the campaign and fellow striker Johnny Bosman, who missed the final contributed eight. Along with Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters, Aron Winter, Arnold Muhren, Johnny van’t Schip and Rob Witschge, they formed a team which coached by Johann Cruyff who was making his debut on the bench, lived up to the finest AFC Ajax traditions. A certain Dennis Bergkamp came on as a sixty-fifth minute substitute in the Athens final.

Their opponents were 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig, a solid if unimaginative team from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with an excellent goalkeeper in René Müller. They made unspectacular but solid progress, beating Glentoran FC of Northern Ireland 3-1 and, in the Second Round, raised a few eyebrows by eliminating SK Rapid Wien after extra-time. The draw gave them FC Sion in the quarter-finals, and they beat the Swiss 2-0. A curious semi-final against Girondins de Bordeaux produced two 1-0 away wins and victory for Lokomotiv in a penalty shoot-out.

The final in Athens was disappointing. Marco van Basten’s twenty-first minute header led the 35,000 fans to believe that the match would burst into life. But the East Germans spent the rest of the match confirming that they were durable and obstinate opposition capable of barring Ajax’s path to their goal but lacking the technical resources required for a come-back.

Two players from Ajax that night will be familiar to fans in England in Arnold Muhren and Dennis Bergkamp with both at very different stages of their career path. Muhren in this final was very much the senior-pro of the side. He had started his career at Dutch side FC Volendam in 1970/71, before signing on for Ajax where he won domestic honours as well as a European Cup in 1972/73. He stayed at the Amsterdam club until 1974, before transferring to FC Twente. After four years at the club, he moved to England to sign for Ipswich Town and became part of the side that won the UEFA Cup in 1980/81 beating ironically the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate. In 1982 he moved on again, this time to Manchester United and enjoyed success in picking up a FA Cup winners medal in the 1982/83 replay as United beat Brighton 4-0 in the replay. At the beginning of the 1985/86 season Muhren returned to Ajax and was instrumental in the club winning the KNVB (Dutch) Cup that season and the next and retiring from the game in 1989. On the international front he was part of the Netherlands side that won the 1988 European Championship In West Germany.

Whilst Muhren was in the back-end of his career, Dennis Bergkamp was only just starting. The 1986/97 campaign saw him made his senior debut for the club, culminating in a substitutes appearance in the Cup Winners Cup Final in Athens. Bergkamp became a legend at the club picking up domestic and European honours along the way and at by the time he left in 1993 for Inter Milan he had scored 122 goals in 239 matches for his hometown club. He had two season in Italy, securing a UEFA Cup winners medal in 1993/94 in a 2-0 aggregate win over Austria Salzburg. Bergkamp then became a Gunner in 1995 signing for Bruce Rioch’s Arsenal in a then record £2.5 million deal. The Dutchman was to stay at the club until he retired at the end of the 2005/06 season. During his time in London he won three Premier League titles, and three FA Cup triumphs (including a league and cup ‘double’ in 2001/02). As at Ajax he became a legend at Highbury and when the club moved to the Emirates Stadium, the first match played there was a testimonial for the Dutchman on 22 July 2006 between Arsenal and Ajax. Bergkamp played 79 times for the Netherland scoring 39 goals in an international career that spanned 1990 through to 2000.

Book Review: A Tournament Frozen in Time – The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup by Steven Scragg

The European Cup Winners’ Cup (ECWC) competition came into being in the 1960/61 season, and as its title suggests qualification was attained by being the winners of a countries domestic cup. Despite its creation after the first European Cup competition in 1955/56 and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which also began in 1955 (before it morphed into the UEFA Cup in 1971/72) and therefore being the youngest of the three competitions, it was though seen as the next most prominent after the European Cup. It continued until the 1998/99 season with the final playing of the tournament between SS Lazio and RCD Mallorca at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa, the last of the 39 Finals.

If Willy Wonka did football tournaments, then it would undoubtedly be the ECWC, a competition that was a fabulous mix of the eccentric, the magical, the unexpected and the sometimes bizarre, which is brilliantly captured in Steven Scragg’s book, A Tournament Frozen in Time – The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Rather than take the chronological route within the book, Scragg creates chapters which look at the history of the competition in terms of the countries or regions that took part in the ECWC, so for instance, Italian clubs participation is captured within the chapter titled, Forza Italia, whilst Robbie and the Purple and Whites, Plus Other Adventures Through the Low Countries, looks at how the sides from Belgium and the Netherlands fared during the thirty-nine seasons of the tournament. The exception are those which look at the 1980/81 campaign, Everton’s triumph in 1984/85 and Sir Alex Ferguson’s two cup wins with Aberdeen (1982/83) and Manchester United (1990/91). What this allows is that the story of the ECWC is able to be told in its own right, but also intertwined to the wider footballing context, so that its relationship with both the European Cup (and later the Champions League) as well as the UEFA Cup is presented.

What the reader is also given are stories that justify part of the author’s subtitle for the book, The Wonderful Randomness. Even from its inaugural season, there was something ‘different’ about the ECWC, in that for that 1960/61 the Final between Fiorentina and Rangers, was played over two-legs and was never to be repeated with all subsequent Finals a one-off at a neutral venue. Additionally, the trophy presented to the first winners, Fiorentina, was replaced by a different design for the remainder of the tournaments existence. Unlike the other two European competitions, there was never a period during which a team came back and was able to successfully defend the trophy and indeed never had a Final in which both sides were from the same country. It was a tournament littered with teams from all corners of Europe, some unlikely due to the current UEFA formats, ever to get near a European tournament again.

But readers may ask, if this was such a wonderful competition, why was it ended? Scragg addresses this by detailing how the change in status of the European Cup to the Champions League, was part of the process, as was the breakup of the former Communist bloc, necessitating the introduction of a Preliminary Round to the competition, as well the fact that attendances for the Finals were invariably poor. This included just 3,208 witnessing the 1963/64 Final in Brussels, 4,641 for the 1973/74 Final in Rotterdam and in 1992/93, just 37,393 strewn around the ‘old’ Wembley in its 100,000 capacity days, as Parma beat Royal Antwerp.

As a football fan, my view is that the demise can be traced back to when the so called ‘big-clubs’ in Europe, unhappy with the European Cup knock-out format, wanted a change so that they would be not only be part of an expanded tournament but of one bringing increased TV revenues. For me, there is nothing special, season-on-season, of another Champions League tie featuring Barcelona v Real Madrid (or indeed any combination of the repeat qualifiers) and as for the farce of the 2018/19 Final in which neither of the finalists (Liverpool and Spurs) had won the League – well just don’t get me started. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the greed and money that has infested our game both at home and abroad and at the cost of the romance that the ECWC gave us, such as Italian giants Napoli up against the Welsh minnows Bangor City in 1962, in a tie which required a replay in a time before the away-goals rule was introduced. That game is though just one of the many wonderful stories to be found within the pages of Scragg’s homage to the tournament.

What more can be said? Well, to paraphrase the words of Willy Wonka, “If you want to view paradise, simply look at this book and view it.” It is without doubt a wonderfully researched and written book and is a rightful nominee in The Telegraph Sports Books Awards 2020 (within the football category), and is a must read for anybody wanting to discover about a lost treasure in the football world or for those of us of a certain age, a most magical trip down memory lane.

(Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2019. Hardback 288pp)


Book Review: Europe United – 1 football fan. 1 crazy season. 55 UEFA nations by Matt Walker

Like many people, I consider myself something of a football fan. An ardent one at that. And then I came across Matt Walker’s book Europe United, and I realised I’m very much an armchair fan at best.

Walker, a keen traveller and football fan, decided to embark on something of a football expedition in the 2017/18 season that would see him watch a top-division match in all fifty-five UEFA nations (it certainly puts my twelve live matches last season to shame). I’m not sure I could even name the fifty-five UEFA nations! Not only was this a journey of epic proportions around the continent from Iceland and Scandinavia in the north, to Cyprus in the south, east to Azerbaijan and Armenia and west to Portugal and Ireland, but to undertake it in a single season was both a logistical and personal challenge. While football in Spain and Germany may be on most football fans’ bucket lists, I’m not sure the Faroe Islands Premier League or the Macedonian First Football League have quite the same appeal. Yet Matt Walker accomplished his European odyssey, starting out with the Erovnuli Liga – Georgia’s top flight – where else? – and traversing the continent over eleven football-filled months before ticking off his fifty-fifth and final leg with the Montenegrin First League, taking 54 flights and 6 ferry journeys, and spending over 200 nights in more than 100 hotels along the way.

This book charts each step of the journey and the highlights (and lowlights) of the travel arrangements, the countries, the football and the fans. Unsurprisingly, the book is fairly long for a sports book, at over 400 pages, but in some ways it feels as if this perhaps doesn’t even begin to do the experience justice, given just how much the journey would have entailed and the vagaries of the various matches. It’s impossible of course to cover every team, stadium, match and country in minute detail, without it turning into a contender for the world’s longest book, but what Walker gives is a glimpse into each of these experiences and an overall narrative.

As a keen photographer, Walker naturally charted his journey in photographic form too and there is a selection of these included in a centrepiece, in the usual sports book style. However, it does seem a shame that we only have a handful of each. It would have been nice to have at least one for each country as the bare minimum. A coffee-table collection of photographs is mooted in the book, and although the written narrative is crucial, I think, to do this journey justice, I would have been more than happy to see an accompanying photographic book too, although admittedly this would be a rather unusual approach for the publishers to take. Walker’s photographs are available to view on the website that tracks his adventure (www.55footballnations.com), and they are definitely worth a look. Similarly, for those fans who enjoy the stats side of the game, again I feel as if the publishers missed a trick by not including Walker’s comprehensive stats, even if only in an appendix at the end (again these can be found on Walker’s website).

However, none of this is to take away from what is a unique and truly awe-inspiring feat. The book itself is an informative and eye-opening read for football fans and offers an insight into the wider world of European football and an opportunity to reconsider the English game, and the sport more generally. Without question, all football lovers will learn a thing or two about the European game – if only a bit of geography – from this wide-ranging book. It’s also an inspirational and motivational book for fans looking to undertake and enjoy new football experiences. It’s a reminder that there is more to football than the English Premier League, but at the same time it’s also a testament to the quality and visibility of football at home. Though, if you’re ever getting tired of watching football in Manchester, Liverpool, London or the like, there’s always a game to catch in Gibraltar or San Marino, and who knows, it may just be more entertaining – off the pitch if not always on it.

Jade Craddock

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FA Cup 6th Round 2010/11: Cup half empty or half full?

The weekend saw this seasons FA Cup Sixth Round fixtures come and go and has left the nation with the prospect next month of a Manchester derby and a battle between the Trotters and the Potters. The 2010/11 FA Cup campaign has taken place against a backdrop of yet more murmurings in the media about the death of the competition and outline plans of tinkering by the FA to keep the appeal of the oldest Cup tournament in the World.

For me the reasons for the change in perspective of the FA Cup lay across the football community. The FA itself is complicit in damaging the competition in a number of ways. Firstly, there was the decision to allow Manchester United to opt out of the 1999/2000 FA Cup to take part in the revamped World Club Competition. This decision was part of the political gamble by the FA at the time, as they tried to sway FIFA in awarding England the hosting of the 2006 World Cup. And we all know how that worked out. Secondly, there was the ruling to have ties settled after a single replay (excluding the Semi-Final and Final itself). Personally, a major part of the glamour and thrill of the Cup was the odd occasions when a particular tie within a round went to a number of replays. As a Fulham fan I remember vividly the 1974/75 Cup run when we played Hull City three times to get through the Third Round and Nottingham Forest an incredible four times to make it through the Fourth Round. However, those Fulham fixtures were nothing compared to the record breaking fixture in 1971/72. Alvechurch played Oxford City in the 4th Qualifying Round. It required six games before Alvechurch emerged 1-0 winners. Sadly epic battles like that are a thing of the past. Thirdly, because of the burden of rebuilding Wembley Stadium, Semi-Finals now take place at the famous ground. This in my opinion also works to devalue the competition as the act of making it to Wembley and the Final are cheapened. Reaching a Final should be special. Certainly for me in 1975 seeing Fulham in the Final (despite defeat) was and is a treasured memory.

UEFA too has played its part in destabilising the FA Cup. How you may ask have this done this? Well quite simply by the reorganising of their own competitions. Once the 1999 winners Lazio had left Villa Park after defeating Mallorca with the trophy, the European Cup Winners Cup (ECWC) disappeared from view and with it the European prize for the FA Cup winners. Now we have the winners going into the poor relation of the bloated greedy cousin that is the Champions League – the Europa League. For me, if we had a return to the European Cup, the ECWC and UEFA Cup things would be a lot better. Quite simply, the European Cup should be for clubs who have won their domestic League. The Cup Winners Cup for domestic Cup Winners and UEFA Cup either domestic League Runners-Up or in England’s case the winners of the League Cup. This way there are only three European places up for grabs in each country. It would mean that there isn’t the importance placed on the Premier League and the scramble to finish in the “top four” and that both the FA and League Cup would be must win competitions if clubs had intentions of playing in Europe.

However, it doesn’t do away the fact that teams could still place more importance on League survival than the domestic Cup competitions. This is where Sky, the Premier League and implicitly clubs must take some of the blame, since the money involved in being part of that elite group means Chairman and their Boards want Premier League survival delivered as the first priority. So far you could be reading this article thinking what an “old fart”, what a “stick-in-the-mud traditionalist”. Well just to show that I can be a little radical, what about this idea? For the teams reaching the Finals of the League and FA Cup, award the finalists 6 bonus points which are added to their respective League totals? Surely that would be an incentive for clubs to put out full strength teams in the Cup competitions?

Finally are fans excused from being to blame for the troubles with the FA Cup? Well, I believe that fans have been taken in by certain sections of the written media telling us that the competition is on its last legs. Fans also react in terms of attendance according to how seriously their clubs treat the Cup competitions. TV has brought more football into our homes, but does stop people going to the ground as does the shifting of kick off times to all hours and days of the week. Perhaps only the FA Cup Final should be shown “live” and all other Rounds only as highlights? The trouble is that the whole relationship between television, broadcasting rights, clubs and money has taken us down a path which only goes in one direction.

What’s wrong with tradition and history? To me nothing, but the reality is that my views would be seen as nostalgic, unrealistic and naïve by the “powers-that-be”. I fear for the FA Cup and truly hope that it is not watered down even further by those in charge. As fans all we can do in the future is get out and support the FA Cup. It isn’t as special as it was, because the things that made it special are slowly being taken away.

World Cup 2018 – 11 days to decision

Another day and more pressure on the England Bid. With FIFA President Sepp Blatter having had his say on  the impact of the Sunday Times investigation, UEFA President and FIFA Vice President Michel Platini has also offered his views.

Like his President, Platini maintains that the England 2018 World Cup Bid will not be affected by the Sunday Times incident or indeed the impending BBC Panorama programme into FIFA. However, Platini insisted that the risk came from the English media’s criticism of FIFA over a number of years.

In an interview with The Independent, Platini said, “…I don’t think it’s a problem. These investigations are just people doing their job…If they (the England bid) do not have a good feeling about FIFA, that’s nothing to do with these investigations, but that comes from what the English press have been writing about FIFA for very many years. That could be a problem for the bid…”

The trouble for the England Bid team is, when they should be in a position with the decision so close to be able to bring the campaign to a climax in a positive manner, they are instead having to deal with the Sunday Times fallout and prepare for trying to close the wound the Panorama programme will undoubtedly cause, just three days before the decision.

Whilst FIFA appear to be making the right noises, they always seem to come with a little sting in the tail. The England Bid team must feel like a suspect in a trial, watching helplessly as the prosecuting barrister says something inappropriate which the judge has to ask the jury to strike from their memories. Once a cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get it back in.