Europe

The 1974 World Cup fixture between East and West Germany was a unique encounter during the Cold War era – but meetings were more frequent than the official history suggests. Paul Joyce looks back to the little-known Olympic qualifying competitions and reveals the political manoeuvring behind the remarkable Geisterspiele (ghost matches) of 1959

Most history books refer to East Germany’s 1-0 victory over West Germany at the 1974 World Cup as the only game between the two countries. Strictly speaking, however, it was already their sixth encounter. Before this, the Federal Republic and the GDR contested a series of pre-Olympic qualifiers with a Cold War intensity that made disputes about the composition of the 2012 British Olympic football team look like a vicarage tea-party.

Latvia's unstable economy has affected football too, as Daunis Auers explains

The 2009 Latvian Virsliga season kicked off in mid-March under cold and dark skies. So cold and dark, in fact, that pitches across the country remained frozen, forcing games to be played at the Riga Olympic Centre, a modest indoor facility with a tight, vertigo-inducing balcony along one side of the pitch. Two rows of free-standing chairs give it a capacity of about 300.

Phil Town analyses the plight of Boavista in the last decade

The turn of the century was very kind to Boavista FC. They had finished second two years earlier but still surprised everyone in Portuguese football by winning the title in 2001 – only the second team outside the Três Grandes (FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting) to do so, the other being Belenenses in 1946. Around this time, they were also putting in very respectable performances in Europe, the highlight a UEFA Cup semi-final in 2003 which Celtic just shaded. Paradoxically, however, it was this purple period that was a key contributing factor to Boavista’s current plight.

There is a section of Italy that it using football as a way of campaigning for independence. Matthew Barker tells all

Last month’s European and local elections saw the Lega Nord increase its support base beyond the traditional heartland of the Veneto and Lombardy in the north-east of Italy, reaching as far down as Emilia Romagna and the northern edges of Tuscany. The Lega, seeking to break away from the national government in Rome and the Mezzogiorno south, forms a strong coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling People of Freedom party, and has been steadily winning over disgruntled voters with far-right policies based exclusively around twin obsessions of immigration and security.

To be president of Real Madrid brings vast power and influence, but that is where the problems begin, writes Tim Stannard

It’s Friday night in Colmenar Viejo, a town half-an-hour to the north of Madrid, and Eugenio Martínez Bravo has a tough gig. The 39-year-old economist is fighting a losing battle to convince a group of 20 arms-folded Real Madrid members to make him the next president of their troubled club. The 230 empty seats in the spacious hotel conference room suggest that there were hopes for a slightly better turnout.

Jonathan Wilson reports on the region of Serbia that may have produced a golden generation

Serbian football ought to be downtrodden. There is no new money there to purchase a fleet of promising Brazilians, corruption and crowd violence are rife, and attendances are falling. And yet, despite it all, there is genuine hope, and it lies in an extraordinary generation of youth players.

Having slid to the fifth tier Fortuna Cologne are looking to a web-based model to revive the club, explains Paul Joyce

Under their dictatorial president Jean Löring, Fortuna Cologne were possibly ­Germany’s least democratically run club. Löring once fired manager Toni Schumacher at half time during a match in 1999 with the words: “I, being the club, had to react.”

The reign of Greek federation chairman Vassilis Gagatsis is over. Paul Pomonis looks back at the volatile period he oversaw

It is said there is a thin line between glory and catastrophe. Never has this been clearer than in the recent fall of Vassilis Gagatsis, the once mighty chairman of EPO, the ­Hellenic Football Federation.

Derek Brookman reports on how the latest attempt to create a "superclub" in the Dutch region of Limburg hit the buffers

The notion of creating a football powerhouse in Limburg, the sliver of the Netherlands wedged between Belgium and Germany, is not new, and resurfaced this season with a plan to merge Fortuna Sittard and Roda JC. The idea of a Limburg superclub was mooted as far back as 1996, and extensive negotiations also took place in 2002 involving a third Limburg club, MVV Maastricht, as well. Tensions ran so high then that two members of the Roda board wore bullet-proof vests before addressing their own fans on the subject. In the end, just like six years earlier, there were too many differences of opinion to proceed.

The arrest of Steaua Bucharest’s zealous owner has sparked hope that his power might finally be waning, writes Jonathan Wilson

For the Steaua Bucharest owner Gigi ­Becali to berate underperforming players is nothing unusual; what is less common is for the player to answer back, particularly with the wit (at least, you assume he was joking) shown by Dayro Moreno. The Colombian forward’s form has been poor since the winter break, and Becali, using his coach Marius Lacatus as a translator, was pointing out his deficiencies with characteristic robustness. “Dayro,” he said finally. “What’s wrong with you?” “Boss,” Moreno, “my form has dipped because I was so worried about you when you were arrested.” Becali, as he tends to be when his ego is flattered, however mockingly, was charmed. “He may act like a child,” he said, “but he’s the only real footballer we have.”

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