29 February ~ A documentary about Dennis Viollet, one of Manchester United’s Busby Babes who survived the Munich air crash, will premiere at the Manchester Film Festival this week. A United Man tells the story of Viollet, who was born and bred in Fallowfield, Manchester, and signed for the club at the age of 15.
After recovering from serious injuries suffered in Munich, he went on to set United’s goal-scoring record for a single season and became captain. He was also instrumental in the campaign to abolish football’s maximum wage, before going on to have a coaching career in the US that was crucial to the development of the North American Soccer League.
The Manchester Film Festival runs from March 3-6, and more information is available here.
28 February ~ With Manchester United having a frustrating season under Louis van Gaal, they might do well to remember that being fifth in the top division isn’t particularly bad. On August 25, 1973 they travelled to Highbury for the first game in a season that ultimately saw them relegated for the first time since 1937.
Over 51,000 watched Ray Kennedy put Arsenal ahead after just two minutes and John Radford doubled their lead in the second half, hooking a cross past keeper Alex Stepney. United had their chances, with Lou Macari at one point resorting to throwing the ball into the net, but Alan Ball sealed Arsenal’s win in the final few minutes when he latched on to a Kennedy through ball and finished easily.
United won their next two matches but went on to have a miserable season, eventually ending up second bottom. Arsenal themselves, runners-up the previous season, weren’t great as they came tenth.
27 February ~ Spurs have exceeded all expectations this season. The attacking football, sound defence and the consistent application and belief of the youngest team in the Premier League have been a total delight and taken us into the rarefied atmosphere of second in the table. Now they face the biggest challenge – maintaining that momentum under intense pressure. With London derbies to come away to West Ham and home to Arsenal, Tottenham must beat Swansea tomorrow.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s ability to organise and motivate has transformed Tottenham Hotspur from a bunch of underachievers and promising youngsters into a dynamic, purposeful combination where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. His diffident media persona contrasts with his manner in the dressing room where he is close to his players and ruthlessly determined. The intensity of the players' commitment is almost scary.
The talk is of rotation to offset tiredness caused by the pressing style but Pochettino keeps a settled spine, where Toby Alderweireld has been outstanding at centre-half with Hugo Lloris in goal and Eric Dier sweeping up in front of the back four not far behind. Kevin Wimmer’s seamless integration into the league’s best defence deserves more attention.
Harry Kane’s movement and ability to create space has led to opportunities for Christian Eriksen and the precocious Dele Alli as well as his goals. Mousa Dembele is the only notable absentee and he will be missed. In terms of the extent to which he lifts the team’s performance, he is as influential as any midfielder in the league.
Swansea are well advised to disrupt the flow as Crystal Palace did last Sunday. Wide players are key in preventing our full-backs from advancing and breaking quickly on the counter. Pin down the centre-backs too to cut out attacks at source.
Forgive me if you detect an element of surprise rather than assurance in all this, but I’ve been going since 1967 and this is not the Tottenham I know and love. The best defence in the league, consistency, playing as a team, all unknown territory.
Pochettino’s Spurs have pulled off the most unlikely trick of all in bringing the supporters and the team much closer together. These players give everything. Being a Spurs player means something to them. It is a heart-warming experience that lifts the spirits and restores the faith of supporters jaded by the club’s dismissive attitudes towards fans plus high prices and an absence of team development. There’s also a sense that we in at the beginning of something special. However the season turns out, watching Pochettino’s Spurs has been an absolute pleasure. Alan Fisher
26 February ~ BBC Radio 2 are making a programme celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup final that tells the story of the game minute by minute. There will also be a book to accompany the programme. At the heart of the programme will be the stories of the fans – those who were at Wembley, those watching or listening to the game in the UK and in East and West Germany.
Perhaps you were at the match, or were watching on holiday, watching at home, at the pub – or maybe you missed it but still have a story to tell?
The best will feature in the script and in the book – with your permission.
"Alas, Olaf had only been feigning death in order to get his opponent sent off."
By Dave Robinson from WSC 349
25 February ~ “I think I’m tired of football,” writes Glen Wilson, a WSC contributor, in his latest editorial for Popular Stand, a fanzine for the likes of Doncaster Rovers. “Maybe, and hopefully, not the actual game, but I’m tired of so many aspects of it.” It’s a feeling that many football supporters can probably relate to – increasingly it isn’t the football itself that gets too much, it’s everything around it.
“I’m tired of football’s increasing omnipresence,” Glen goes on. “Why do Manchester United need an official tyre partner in Indonesia? Why do Liverpool need an official skincare partner, when surely a decent centre half would be of more use to them? I’m tired of leagues spending so much time rebranding themselves; as if it was the name of the competition stopping the people of Essex turning up in their hordes for Braintree Town against Gateshead.”
Genquip Stadium, Welsh Cup fourth round
Port Talbot Town (in blue) against Caerau Ely in a Welsh Cup fourth round tie at the Genquip Stadium, formerly known as Victoria Road. Formed by exiled Scots in 1901 as Port Talbot Athletic, they competed in local and regional football before being promoted to the League of Wales in 2000 and changing their name to the current version a year later. Town won this tie 3-0 against their opponents from the Welsh League, one level below the Welsh Premier League where Port Talbot compete, watched by a crowd of 113.
24 February ~ The latest Champions League meeting between Arsenal and Barcelona, as seen through the simmering emotions of Arsène Wenger.
Video by Tim Bradford
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24 February ~ Dynamo Kiev have reached the semi-finals of both the Champions League and the old European Cup. Their billionaire opponents in tonight’s last 16 first leg, Manchester City, could eventually get there this season or next. After the famous exploits of United, this would make Manchester the second city in England, after London (Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea) to have more than one club ever reach the last four of the continent’s premier competition.
Everton, Birmingham City and Notts County can still dream of making theirs England’s third such conurbation. However, even the most powerful Ukrainian clubs such as Dynamo, Dnipro and Shakhtar Donetsk may soon find it impossible. With the big five domestic leagues threatening to block everyone else’s entry into the Champions League, it’s time the other 49 UEFA associations brushed up on their trivia.
Entering its seventh decade, the European Cup has been won by 22 clubs. Few cities have had more than one ever reach the semi-finals. And, by way of a convoluted quiz question, ask your friends the only country to have two such locations. England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France are educated guesses. Earlier this month Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge suggested, in his role as chairman of the European Clubs Association (ECA), that the Champions League should perhaps consist solely of clubs from these five countries.
This confirmed the old G14 cartel, dissolved in 2008, is alive and well within the ECA. And it warned UEFA that the richest clubs think domestic league placings and qualifying rounds too unreliable a route into Europe’s elite competition. Manchester United and Milan have in recent seasons – like Chelsea right now – finished outside their national top four. Rummenigge and his ilk can’t have this. After all, these are past European champions – the historic greats television apparently love most.
The answer to that long-winded trivia question is Scotland. Dundee and Glasgow: Dundee FC lost to Milan in the 1962-63 European Cup semis, Dundee United to Roma in 1983-84; Celtic, of course, won the European Cup in 1967, were runners-up in 1970 and lost in the semis of 1971-72 and 1973-74 while Rangers, who suffered a record 12-4 aggregate semi-final defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in 1959-60 were also a goal away from the final in 1992-93, the first Champions League.
Yes, it’s a nationalistic footballing boast. Add Hibernian’s defeat by Stade de Reims in the inaugural competition of 1955-56 and Scotland – tiny Scotland – has provided five different semi-finalists in the European Cup. But it’s also a historical coefficient. And, as such, an argument anyone outside Europe’s top five domestic leagues can use against the exclusion of nations with smaller TV audiences.
Of those 22 historic champions of Europe, three are Dutch, two Portuguese and there’s one each from Scotland, Serbia and Romania. Over a third of the names on the trophy have come from outside the “big five” countries. France has only provided one European champion – and Marseille weren’t allowed to defend their 1993 title because of domestic match fixing.
Norway and Denmark have provided no European finalists, ever. Yet this season Molde, from the former, topped a Europa League group featuring Champions League regulars Fenerbahce, Ajax and Celtic; Danes FC Midtjylland defeated Manchester United in last week’s Europa League last 32 first leg. Rather than glitches to be ironed out, victorious minnows and the vagaries of history constitute competition itself.
Rummenigge should note every European competition from 1955 to 1960 was won by Real Madrid or Barcelona, the pair who’ve shared five of the last ten Champions Leagues including the two most recent. Get rid of everyone smaller and Bayern Munich could soon be the unwanted surplus. To Spain’s big two, the entire planet is mere filler. Alex Anderson
"A pair of Klopp breakable spectacles please, I need to get more actively involved."
By Dave Robinson from WSC 349