>> Pete Davies - All Played Out (The Story of Italia '90)
>> Pete Davies - 22 Foreigners in Funny Shorts (A Guide to Soccer and USA '94)
>> Simon Kuper (ed.) - Perfect Pitch
>> Joe McGinnis - The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro
>> Lee Sharpe - My Idea of Fun (The Autobiography)
ALL PLAYED OUT
To 4-4-2 or not to 4-4-2...
Great city, Glasgow. The accent sounds like you're throwing up in a cement mixer.
At Ibrox the next day
there were 42,000, three stands of blue against one of green - and the
outpost of green was awash with the Irish tricolour. An awesome noise of
defiance rose up from among them - and when the players came out the sound
in the whole place was volcanic, totally deafening. Who says all-seaters
damp down the passion? Not here - you felt the glory and the animal both
stirring in your gut. The noise seemed never to stop; and the game kicked
off at 200 miles an hour.
- describing an 'Old Firm' derby game, Rangers v Celtic
A Polish priest and
a Polish bus driver die, and they meet at the ticket booth by the pearly
gates. St. Peter says the driver can come in, but the priest, forget it.
'Hey,' says the priest, 'what is this? All my life I have been saving souls for you people - and this guy, all he did was drive a bus.'
'When people listened to your sermons,' says Peter, 'they went to sleep. But when this guy drove his bus, boy, did those passengers *pray*.'
- from 'Frayed Nerves in Silesia', Poland v England
"To appease the people
writing about me, I'd have to play 23 players against Yugoslavia next month.
And I don't think the regulations allow that."
- interviewing Bobby Robson, England manager
I have, in my life, woken up to mortar fire in Central America, and have been charged by an enraged black rhino in East Africa. Is waiting three hours for a ticket to a football game really so bad?
I was reading a magnificient novel about Africa called 'Interior' by Justin Cartwright. There's a marvellous moment when, after a coup, the new foreign minister announces that the new government must go out and negotiate immediately with three vital world bodies. They are: the World Bank, the United Nations - and FIFA.
In the last few minutes,
Caniggia set off like Carl Lewis. One man had a go at breaking his legs,
but thought better of it at the last minute. A second man then tried, and
didn't bother pulling out; but somehow Caniggia hurdled the assault, kept
his footing, and kept on going. Then Massing, his third assailant, showed
the other two how to do it. He executed a kind of full-pelt, wasit-high,
horizontal flying bodycheck. The general intention seemed not to be so
much to break Caniggia's legs, as actually separate them from the rest
of his body. It was a dreadful foul.
- describing the second sending off in the Argentina-Cameroon opening game
"The big thing is,
everybody says it's being in the right place at the right time. But it's
more than that, it's being in the right place all the time. Because if
I make 20 runs to the near post and each time I lose my defender, and 19
times the ball goes over my head or behind me - then one time I'm three
yards out, the ball comes to the right place and I tap it in - then people
say, right place, right time. And I was there *all* the time."
- Gary Lineker, on the art of being a striker
This boy was not so
much all played out, as never played in.
- describing a likely English hooligan
England fans went and poked about at the mysterious remains of an antique culture. Yes, England football fans went to see 'Aida' - one of them complaining when he got back that the intervals were too long. And would he ever in his life seen an opera if he hadn't been an England fan, mucking in and making friends in Sardinia? ...People behaved, people paid, and they were welcome to come back. But this, of course, is one headline you'll never read: ENGLAND FANS BEHAVE.
For large parts of the world, the very existence of a USA football team is an abiding comic folly, and an object of enormous and consoling satisfaction. Whatever else the Yanqui may do, he can't play football.
What, then, to make of these Colombians? They were daft, basically - Higuita made two 'saves' nearer the half-way line than his goal, using his feet and his head; while the outfield players (or, one should say, the other outfield players) were a volatile mix of lovely skill, crazy rough-house, and melodramatic mock-injury of truly Argentine proportions... if anyone was 'African' it was these wacko Colombians, whose tactical formation, theoretically 4-4-2, could in despairing reality be best described only as 11. From Higuita onward, they popped up all over the park with a feckless, disconcerting, and anarchic abandon.
Two nights before the
Egypt game, Chris Woods and Terry Butcher went to dinner with all their
Umbro gear on inside out. They had their coffee first, then desert, and
so on backwards, right through the menu.
- on the England squad's attempts to overcome boredom
I felt like I could hear the grief of Glasgow from 2,000 miles away. Brazil 1, Scotland 0. And you might think it the fiercest injustice, that this small country should so consistently be singled out for such raised hopes, such shattered expectations - but since when was football about justice? Football's about not getting beat by the likes of Costa Rica.
"The Goalposts Were
- Belgian headline after their agonising last-minute defeat by England
Football is Pele's
beautiful game, and with the Germans we'd played it beautifully, with strength
and speed, with courage and skill, with honesty and honour... out story
was all played out, but how bravely, in the end. How very bravely.
- writing after England's semifinal defeat to Germany
In Rome on 8 July, Argentina were responsible for turning the game's great occasion into the worst and lowest-scoring World Cup Final ever seen.
So if Argentina have been the villains of this book, let no one for a minute imagine that there's any nasty jingo nationalism involved. On the contrary, for all I care they're welcome to the Falklands - they can sail their awful football team out there, scupper the boat, and leave them nothing to foul and dive over but sheep. They've been the villains of this book because, pure and simple, their football was a disgrace. But why? Why do teams sometimes turn up with such a desperate, paranoid rage to win?
We want out football to be as just as possible, OK, but it's not about justice, it's about drama, and the drama requires villains. And boy, those Argentines, did we get us some bad and resilient villains there?
"In the Name of Allah,
- headline directed at Bobby Robson, after Saudi Arabia 1-1 England
Bobby Robson finished eight years in the hardest job in English football having achieved more than any man in that job before him bar Alf Ramsey, and Ramsey, of course, did it at home. Along the way, he took us once to the last eight in the world, and then to the last four; and he did so often under torrents of wholly unjustifiable venom and villification. So maybe he wasn't the greatest manager in the world, but when it counted he mostly made the right decisions, and he got the right results, and what more could be asked?
22 FOREIGNERS IN FUNNY SHORTS
"There is no greater
drama in sport than a soccer team trying to validate its national character
in the World Cup."
- Jeff Rusnak, of the "Fort Lauderdale Sentinel"
"Your mission is part
of the confrontation between Iraq and the Forces of Evil embodied by the
US and its allies."
- Al Qadissiya newspaper of Baghdad on Iraq's World Cup qualification campaign
"Up to five goals is
journalism. After that, it becomes statistics."
- French reporter gives up after Sweden thrash Cuba 8-0 at 1938 Cup
"The best teams of
Hungary have never beaten us like this. They were fantastic; they should
pick the whole team for England."
- Anderlecht's captain after the Busby Babes of Manchester United, with an average age of 21, beat them 10-0 in 1956.
"God help them. Often
I didn't know where the ball was going, so how could they."
- 'Der Bomber' Gerd Muller offers words of synpathy to goalkeepers
"We are the best in
the world! We have beaten England! Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston
Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana,
we have beaten them all! Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher,
your boys took a hell of a beating.!"
- Norwegian commentator after his country's first ever defeat of England, 1981.
In soccer, more than in any other sport, the way you play is the way you are.
To understand different soccer styles, it remains the case that the Renaissance happened in Italy, and the Industrial Revolution in England - and when either country plays soccer, that's the way it tends to look.
Knowing these differences, I have little doubt that the true soccer afficionada could watch a game between two sides wearing neutral colours and still have a good guess, before the game was much advanced, where the two sides had come from. Soccer, in short, is an expressive sport, and the way you play speaks volumes about the way you are.
Soccer began life centuries ago as a riot with a pig's bladder in the middle of it.
Soccer is not about justice. It's a drama - and criminally wrong decisions against you are part and parcel of that.
The 4-3-3 deployed by England to destroy San Marino is an assault formation.
Soccer gives us an alternative history, an alternative geography. In place of laws and wars and inaugurations, there are record books and fixture lists. In place of kings and politicians are players and managers. In place of capitals and countries are stadia and clubs, the San Siro, the Bernabeu, the Nou Camp. We look to England-Hungary 1953, Real Madrid-Eintracht Frankfurt 1960, Wembley 1966, Turin 1990...
In the qualifiers for USA '94, in Wales' group, Czechoslovakia draw in Cyprus - and Czechoslovakia may have ceased to exist, but for the moment their soccer team plays on. There's alternative geography for you.
Home advantange is a double-edged sword; the crowd can either roar you on, or you can crumble beneath their too-great desire, the weight of it on your shoulders. But England didn't crumble in 1966, and 103 years after the FA was founded in the Freemason's Tavern in Lincoln's Inn Fields, the 8th World Cup was played on the grounds of the world's first soccer clubs, and won and brought home by the peoiple who made them.
By the 1974 World Cup Uruguay were reaching a nadir; they weren't even any good at kicking people any more.
Politically and economically, attempts toward European unity seen sometimes to have all the harmony of a pack of cats in a sack - but in soccer we've been getting there for decades.
During Beirut hostage John McCarthy's captivity, Gary Lineker scored six goals for England at Mexico '86; McCarthy reports that this led him for a while to think 'lineker' was Arabic for 'goal'... It says worlds about the game that McCarthy's friends figured if there was any way to reach him, if there was anything he might be permitted to watch with his captors in TV. it would be soccer.
For the English, going to a sweeper from 4-4-2 at Italia '90 was the soccer equivalent of abolishing the monarchy.
"The great fallacy
is that this game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the
kind. The game is about glory; it is about doing things with style."
- Danny Blanchflower, captain of Northern Ireland and Tottenham.
After the joy of hammering
a burst ball against a wall, the only surprises life had left for him were
sex and Elvis.
- Roddy Doyle, watching his son Rory grow up, in "Perfect Pitch 4"
Football is made up
of mistakes, because a perfect match is 0-0.
- Michel Platini, interviewed by Marguerite Duras for "Liberation", 1987, "Perfect Pitch 4"
What kind of a game
is this - demonic and divine?
- Marguerite Duras, questioning Michel Platini for "Liberation", 1987, "Perfect Pitch 4"
Like a deluded medieval
heretic, he thought the earth was a football, the centre of the universe,
with all people and matter compelled to revolve around it.
- Patrick Raggett, recalling his Jesuit form master, "Perfect Pitch 4"
Because there are no
longer any social phenomena capable of defending the pride of belonging,
football's influence increased; its a little island where, through bizarre
processes of identification, Uruguayans, Brazillians and Argentinians can
feel we are somebody.
- Jorge Valdano, "At The Beginning Is The Ball" in "Perfect Pitch 4"
One ball is enough
for all, and if there's space, all you need is enthusiasm. The ages can
mix together. Ten-year-old kids play with twelve-year-old veterans, who,
in turn, have acquired some wisdom playing next to blokes who have made
it to the unreachable age of fourteen. That's how football, one of the
more authentic cultural expressions, transmits its message from generation
to generation. When you play, you learn to be a certain way, a set of national
vices amd virtues... a voice of our own which is not better than anyone's
but sounds different to every other one.
- Jorge Valdano, "At The Beginning Is The Ball" in "Perfect Pitch 4"
Turning the clock back
on 'Fever Pitch' is not the easiest of exercises. Without the publication
of that book, after all, the book you are reading would not exist, and
I very much doubt I would be writing about football, because no one would
have dreamed to ask me.
- Lynne Truss, "Rereading Fever Pitch" for "Perfect Pitch 4"
THE MIRACLE OF CASTEL DI SANGRO
Well, somebody had to do something to this man (the referee) and do it fast. I mean, *hurt* him. Hurt him physically. How I wished I had some heavy metal object in my pocket. I'd have run down from the 'tribuna d'onore' to the edge of the field and would have let fly. I would have aimed for the head and prayed for a direct hit. And nothing that happened to me after that would have been of the slightest consequence whatso-ever because at least I would have made that bastard pay.
Election Day in America. I'd totally forgotten. Here was I, the American, exulting over an Italian defeat in Bosnia because it would work to the long-term advantage of the Italian soccer player I most admired, while an Italian soccer player standing right in front of me was relieved and delighted that the American right wing has suffered such a substantial setback in the polls.
And you know, when that's really what you feel, deep down inside, way down there where only the notebook knows - that the chance of your team scoring in a match in which seventy minutes remain is no more likely than the discovery of life on Mars - it is, and I mean this sincerely, very, very painful and discouraging.
Serie B : never a dull moment except during the ninety miniutes of the match.
# LEE SHARPE: MY IDEA OF FUN
Lee Sharpe, eh? What does my name conjure up in your mind? Football memories, of me dancing around corner flags, doing daft little slinky dances when I scored, playing football with a smile on my face? The original Boy Wonder, hat-trick at Higbhury when Man U beat Arsenal 6-2, in the England team at 19, sweet left foot, lot of pace, you didn't want your team playing against me when I was flying. The first popstar footballer of the Premiership age, every teenage girl's pin-up when Alex Ferguson was dragging United out of the years of underachievement, and football was becoming sexy — they wouldn't be Blu-Tacking pictures of Steve Bruce on their bedroom walls, would they? So what happened to me? Aged just 33, with my old mate Roy keane still powering the furnace of United's midfield, how come I was finished with football, fetching up on "Celebrity Love Island", thrilling a watching nation with my skill at lolling round a swimming pool? Where did it all go wrong?
You can look at it the other way — how did it all go so right? When did anybody get signed from a Fourth Division club at 17, get thrown in with no coaching, and do so well for eight years?
Birmingham in the 1970s might not evoke a picture of heaven for everybody, but it was for me growing up, a happy, wonderful childhood. I had a warm, loving family... our estate was a playground, full of laughs and endless, flowing games of football. I think I was born with a smile on my face.
Ranting seems to be the only way football management works.
Cyril Knowles told me that I had to get out of the Fourth Division because full-backs had already marked me out as a tricky little danger man and were looking to kick lumps out of me. It was raw professional football in the bottom division with small, hardcore crowds who wanted to see their teams give everything, and there were assassins lurking about, people who would go over the top, two-footed, studs up, really trying to hurt players and one day they'd hack the talent out of me... he played me only in the home games after that. He was protecting me from away crowds; at Torquay there were never many away fans. He didn't want me kicked out of sight before I could get up to United — Torquay wanted their money.
Everybody was scared of Alex Ferguson and now I realised why: it wasn't just respect for his qualities as a manager, or the natural fact that he was our boss; it was genuine fear, of these awful bollockings, of being ripped to shreds in front of the other players. I think everybody at the club was in fear of him, from the apprentices to the senior players. I think even Bryan Robson had a hint of fear in him. For all his undoubted qualities as a football manager, that was the way Alex Ferguson ultimately, underneath it all, ruled the roost: by fear. It is this added element that often makes the difference for many successful managers and one aspect they feel they have to have.
In an ideal world, Alex Ferguson would have preferred if his players didn't drink at all, spent their days off playing golf and were always tucked up in bed at 9.45 having watched a few training videos. Which does, come to think of, pretty much describe the Neville brothers' lifestyle... his problem was not with the drink itself so much as what he believed to be a slack attitude. He might have tolerated all Norman Whiteside and Paul mcGrath's benders if he didn't think that they were underachieving, wasting their mangificient football talents. The reason you can see that this was his attitude is because one of the biggest drinkers at that time, an awesome drinker not under any circumstances to be kept pace with, was the manager's greatest warrior and standard bearer: Bryan Robson.
When Mark Hughes got out onto a football pitch he was a like a Marvel comic hero, suddenly all rippling muscles and elemntal aggression, wrestling 6' 4" centre-halves, perhaps two at a time, holding them off, controlling any pass whenever it arrived. His legs were probably three times as thick as mine. I saw Terry Fenwick break his own leg booting Sparky on the shin; it was just scary.
Ferguson was given big money to spend to create his own side: Garry Pallister, just 24, arrived from Middlesbrough for a £2.3 million fee which made him a nervous wreck for months.
Mark Bosnich was just discovering his uniqie ability to get himself in loads of bother.
Football's a team game but any player will tell you, you're only happy when you're playing, and playing well.
Roy Keane was coming to take Robbo's mantle and that, for quite a while, extended to the drinking. Except with Roy, the drinking showed.
Roy Keane didn't like Phil Babb, a fellow member of the Irish squad... Babb was just trying to get away, trying to remember what you do when backed into a corner by a rabid dog: arms at your side, look down, no eye contact, go mumbly and humble.
Alex Ferguson's attitude was that he wished Roy didn't drink like that, but he was able to understand it, I think, more than the way I went out to have fun. He didn't get me, he didn't understand me being out in the nightclubs doing a young man's thing. With Roy, though, it was a genuine, old-fashioned, working-class drink problem, and he could relate to that. He could understand Roy up in a back street in an Irish pub all day. If I was out dancing, being a bit flamboyant, the manager was convinced my head wasn't on the football.
I'm much closer in age to the Nevilles, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, the great young players who were coming through, but I was really not their generation, not at United. I'd been schooled in the ways of team spirit according to Bryan Robson. They'd been coached disciplined, nurtured, harnessed, kept on the straight and narrow under the excellent tutelage of Eric Harrison... when we used to go out on one of Bryan Robson's session, the round, starting at the Bull's Head in Hale used to be: 12 Budweisers, 6 Becks, a couple of shorts, a bottle of champagne for Eric Cantona, and two Cokes for Gary and Phil Neville.
Out of my generation, the apprentice lads holed up in the boarding houses round Salford in my time, the fledglings, the Sean McAuleys, Shaun Goaters, Wayne Bullimores, crowds of them, hordes of them, I was the only ine who made it. The rest were shipped down to the lower divisions without even a footnote in the official histories. And then look at the ones who did make it later: they were all local boys; they all lived at home with their parents. Except one. Becks. Giggsy, the Nevilles, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, they did their training then were home to their mums and dads and got to be themselves. They weren't with a group of ten apprentices, larking about but really in permamanent competition, driven hald mad with boredom, struggling to grow up.
There are a few parallels between my progress at United and how David Beckham got on.
"All this drinking,
team bonding, nights out, that's pure 1980s stuff, that doesn't happen
any more. You're on too much money. You're on executive salaries, you're
expected to be acting like executives."
- George Graham, Lee's manager at Leeds
Perhaps beer had soaked its way too far into English football but that's a clever line, about footballers getting executive salaries, and many fans and pundits would support it. But at no club are we treated like executives. Executives are asked to make use of their knowledge and experience, but we were just footballers, there was never any thought we might be consulted or that we might have some expertise to offer ourselves. We were the players and he was the boss.
George Graham's tactics were that every player had to man-mark a specific opponent until we got the ball back, which often meant players didn't work as a team, didn't help each other because they thought if they left their man, to attack or defend, they'd get dropped.
Every story has its extremes, its beginning and end. The Premier League, too, can perhaps only really be understood by knowing its best and its worst. I know English football through and through, because I did my time at the greatest club of the era, Manchester United, and I finished at the club anybody would pick as the prime one not to have been at between 1999 and 2002: Geoffrey Richmond's Bradford City.
On 16 March 2002, we played Rotherham away. This was a local derby for Bradford. The pitch was dry, bobbly, it was windy, the ball was being booted from one end of the horrible ground to the other, hoof, leather, foul, launch, barge, batter, elbow. It was a massacre of the game of football as we knew it.
At every level of this game, people think you can only play properly if you show no sign you're enjoying yourself. Even at Gasforth Town, doing a few stretches on a Tuesday evening, we're not allowed to smile.
"He could have been
the best left-back in the world."
- Alex Ferguson, comments after Lee retires
I was at Old Trafford for eight years, and I don't remember him telling me then I could be the best left-back in the world. I remember arguments about me playing defensively, but I don't remember him ever presenting it in that sort of positive way. Now, I can see it making sense... if the manager had sold it to me, said I could have a long career, play regularly, be a Roberto Carlos, I might have gone for it.
ITV phoned again. What did I think about "Celebrity Love Island"? Celebrity what? Six weeks away, being filmed 24 hours a day with a bunch of celebs with agendas of their own? Not quite my scene, I thought... but it was an incredible experience for me.
On one of those trips, sitting back in the boat with the sun on my face, I thought of my time in football. Briefly, Alex Ferguson flashed into my mind. I wondered what he'd think if he saw me. Probably despair: what the hell is that Lee Sharpe doing now?
I felt for the first time that I could close the chapter that was football, its glory and grief, the beauty and trauma, the good and bad of it. Finished. Over.
>> Quotes from "Footballing Against The Enemy" by Simon Kuper
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