Thursday, 10 December 2020

Golden goals: Paolo Rossi (1982)

As the 1970s progressed, it seemed that the star of Italian forward Paolo Rossi would continue to shine brightly. Top scorer in Serie B for Vicenza in the 1976/77 season, Rossi became the first man to repeat the feat in Serie A the following season. And then came the 1978 World Cup.

Scoring three goals as Italy finished fourth, Rossi claimed the Silver Ball award for the second-best player in the tournament. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

1981/82: Arsenal's poor start to the season

Arsenal's recent loss to Wolves condemned them to their worst start in the league since the opening ten matches of the 1981/82 season. Before the current campaign, the news of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang renewing his contract was met with relief by Arsenal supporters. Back in 1981, the actions of their star centre forward was not as positive.

The summer of 1981 was tough for Arsenal fans. Losing Frank Stapleton to Manchester United for £900,000, manager Terry Neill had been linked with a number of centre forwards to replace the departing Irish international. Trevor Francis, Tony Woodcock and Justin Fashanu were amongst the names mentioned; none of these would arrive, although Woodcock did come a year later.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Diego Maradona

Part of me wondered whether this was worth it. So many words have been written in tribute to Diego Armando Maradona since the announcement of his death, and these pieces have been created by writers with a lot more talent than me. But I simply had to pen something about the greatest footballer I have ever seen.

Naturally my mind immediately rewinds back to 1986. When a man at the peak of his powers completely shapes a World Cup finals tournament in his image then it is hard not to start at this point. Undoubtedly the greatest player in the world at the time, Maradona decided to confirm this status at Mexico '86.

Monday, 23 November 2020

1987: Arsenal win four times at White Hart Lane

This is an edited version of my original article that appeared in issue 283 of The Gooner.

Arsenal played their first match at the new White Hart Lane during Project Restart, losing 2-1 to a late Toby Alderweireld header, continuing a poor run of league form at the home of their rivals. Without a league win in N17 since 2014 – Tomas Rosicky’s screamer separating the teams – at least Arsenal fans have the consolation of winning three trophies in that period.

You can’t beat the feeling of winning at the home of your rivals. Therefore, you can understand just how high Arsenal fans must have felt in 1987. In the space of ten months during this memorable year, Arsenal left White Hart Lane with four 2-1 wins, each demonstrating the newfound spirit sweeping through the club.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

1980 US Masters: Tom Weiskopf's 13

It is reassuring to occasionally catch a glimpse of the human side of sporting superstars. When Tiger Woods carded a septuple-bogey 10 on the par 3 12th hole at Augusta in the final round of the rescheduled 2020 US Masters, thousands of golfers throughout the world could immediately relate to the 15-time major winner.

"This sport is awfully lonely sometimes," Woods revealed after his abberation. "You have to fight through it. That’s what makes this game so unique and so difficult mentally. We’ve all been there, unfortunately. Unfortunately I’ve been there and you just have to turn around and figure out the next shot and I was able to do that coming home."

Sunday, 15 November 2020

1980/81: Leicester end Liverpool's run

Liverpool's recent 2-1 win over West Ham extended their unbeaten league run at Anfield to 63 matches, consisting of 52 wins and 11 draws. Jurgen Klopp's men have a long way to go to surpass Chelsea's top flight record of 86 league matches undefeated at home between March 2004-October 2008. But avoid defeat against Leicester on November 22, and the German will have broken a 40-year old club record in the league.

Between January 1978 and January 1981, Bob Paisley's Liverpool went 85 matches in all competitions without tasting defeat at Anfield. 63 league matches (W50 D13), six FA Cup, nine League Cup, six European Cup fixtures and a solitary European Super Cup match had seen teams from England, Scotland, Portugal, West Germany, Belgium and the USSR attempt and fail to win at Fortress Anfield.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Golden goals: Gary Mackay (1987)

As the tributes flooded in for Jack Charlton after the recent news of his death, his achievements as Republic of Ireland manager were rightly lauded. Prior to his appointment, Ireland's national team had never qualified for a major tournament. Under Charlton, that situation was about to change.

Charlton's reign of almost ten years saw him lead Ireland to the finals of Euro 88 and two World Cups, and narrowly miss out on qualification for two European Championships tournaments. Creating memories for supporters, boosting the national economy, and becoming a national hero in the process, Charlton squeezed in a lot during his tenure.

Monday, 2 November 2020

1984/85: Everton v Manchester United

October 1984 were exciting times for Everton fans. Having beaten Liverpool at Anfield for the first time in 14 years, the momentum behind Howard Kendall's team rolled on as they went to Czechoslovakia and defeated Inter Bratislava 1-0 in the first leg of the European Cup Winners' Cup second round. 

Many felt that the win across Stanley Park was confirmation that Everton were bona fide title contenders. But another examination of their credentials was just around the corner. Manchester United had only conceded nine goals in their eleven league matches before arriving at Goodison Park, and with Liverpool struggling, Ron Atkinson's outfit were seen as title favourites.

Monday, 26 October 2020

1985/86: Manchester United v Arsenal

This article first appeared in issue 284 of The Gooner

Understandably many clubs have struggled when visiting Old Trafford in the Premier League era. But it’s a slight irritation to Arsenal fans that their record at this ground has been so poor. FA Cup wins in 2003 and 2015 were delicious, as were the league victories during the double winning campaigns of 97/98 and 01/02. But it’s a full 14 years since Arsenal last left Old Trafford with three points. 

Despite the claims of Sky, football did actually exist before 1992, and digging a little deeper into the record books reveals that Arsenal’s league record at Old Trafford leaves a lot to be desired. The famous 1990 Battle of Old Trafford win aside – another gained during a title winning season – a league visit to M16 has often been coupled with disappointment.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Football and the Super League

As news of Project Big Picture broke recently, EFL chairman Rick Parry tried to calm down the understandable fears that the so-called Big Six - don't get me started on that - are basically trying to increase their power in the game. "They care about the pyramid. This will come out, the truth will come out, their passion for the pyramid will come out." Stop laughing at the back.

Timing is everything. At a time when a lot of EFL clubs are desperately trying to make ends meet, the promise of money from this proposal will undoubtedly be backed by many. It's almost as if those behind the scheme are taking advantage of a global pandemic to try and place their greedy hands on the steering wheel of the sport.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Golden goals: Graeme Sharp (1984)

Every sports team needs that belief-affirming victory, the win that makes them feel like they belong. For England's rugby union squad, the backs to the wall win in New Zealand in June 2003 was a vital step along the path to World Cup glory. In 2005, that nail-biting win at Edgbaston saved a summer and made Ashes heroes out of those involved.

Football has produced a few examples of this. Manchester United edging past Sheffield Wednesday during Fergie Time in 1993; Arsenal winning at the same ground in 1998; Chelsea finally defeating Arsenal in the 2004 Champions League quarter final.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

1988/89 League Cup: Liverpool v Arsenal

When the draw was made for the third round of the 1988/89 Littlewoods Cup, it was not difficult to spot the standout tie. Champions Liverpool, winners of the League Cup four times in the 1980s, were paired with a resurgent Arsenal, in a repeat of the 1987 final that George Graham's team had famously won

Thursday, 24 September 2020

1984: The curious case of John Abrahams

As England clinched an unlikely win in the second one day international of their recent series against Australia, an interesting opinion was expressed by a number of experts: Should Eoin Morgan have been handed the man of the match award due to his superb captaincy skills displayed at the back end of the Australian innings?

Sometimes a captain leads by example - Gerrard at Istanbul, Beckham against Greece in 2001, Atherton at Johannesburg in 1995 - yet in the case of Morgan at Old Trafford, it was his ability as a tactician that attracted praise. The idea of a captain earning the player of the match due to their leadership display is an interesting concept.

Inevitably perhaps, the name of John Abrahams cropped up as soon as this subject arose. In fairness to Morgan, he had top scored in England's innings. But this certainly did not apply in the curious case involving Lancashire skipper Abrahams in the 1984 Benson and Hedges Cup final. Even now, it is a decision that leaves you scratching your head.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

1986/87: Manchester United v Chelsea

Throughout the elongated 2019/20 Premier League season there seemed to be four words that were never far away from live reports, match commentary and social media updates: penalty to Manchester United. Awarded a record 14 penalties for a Premier League campaign - I've put feelers out to try and see if this is an all-time top-flight record - people will no doubt be scrambling to get Bruno Fernandes into their Fantasy Football teams.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Golden goals: Mark Hughes (1985)

The rising star of Mark Hughes showed no signs of fading as the 1984/85 season progressed. Establishing himself as a Manchester United regular, the Welsh forward scored 24 goals in all competitions, as he helped the club win the FA Cup. Awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year, Hughes had gained recognition for his aggressive and committed style.

Monday, 24 August 2020

1982: Iceland v England

England are about to take on Iceland in the UEFA Nations League. The first time the two countries met was under unusual circumstances.

As the World Cup finals neared in May 1982, England manager Ron Greenwood named a squad of 30 players from which he was expected to choose his final 22 for the tournament in Spain. A further ten players were placed on a standby list, yet realistically none of these players were expected to feature in the preparation matches prior to England's first World Cup finals appearance since 1970.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

1984: Charlton Athletic avoid extinction

Recent news relating to the financial state of Charlton Athletic has left the future of the club up in the air, the #SaveCAFC hashtag trending on Twitter providing a chilling warning about the prospect of the Addicks ceasing to exist as a member of the Football League.

It is not the first time the south east London club have found themselves in this position. In 1984, the Division Two outfit, managed by Lennie Lawrence, may have been challenging for promotion, but off the field the story was completely different. Charlton Athletic were fighting for their very existence.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

1984/85 European Cup Winners Cup: Wrexham v Porto

The term David versus Goliath is often used in a sporting context. But when it came to the 1984/85 European Cup Winners' Cup first round tie between Wrexham and Porto, it was hard not to return to the often quoted tale from the bible. If it had been a boxing bout, the tale of the tape would have left you wondering if this was one of the biggest mismatches of all time.

In the blue corner was a heavyweight of European football, a club that had pushed Juventus close in the previous Cup Winners' Cup final, had won the Portuguese Cup final in 1984, and had provided Portugal with nine players of their squad that reached the 1984 European Championship semi-finals.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

1980: Altrincham suffer voting pain

With leagues across England and Scotland being curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many clubs who will feel aggrieved at the outcome of the points per game system. The likes of Peterborough, Tranmere and Hearts have justifiable reasons to count themselves unfortunate, yet in these unprecedented times there were always going to be losers in which ever way the season had to be concluded.

The footballing authorities can be excused slightly for the position they have been put in due to the new normal that we are all becoming accustomed to. But in the dim and distant past there were no such get out clauses for surely one of the most barmy methods of footballing administration ever: the re-election system.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

1989/90: Arsenal v Norwich City

As November 1989 progressed, it seemed as if every day there was a new story of football in crisis, as the behaviour of players and managers came under scrutiny. Freedom, joy and love may have been emotions filling the air as the Berlin Wall began to fall; there wasn't much of this in evidence on football pitches in the Football League during the same period.

A brawl involving the players of Wimbledon and West Ham in a Littlewoods Cup match; a similar incident during a League fixture between Crystal Palace and Tottenham; Paul McGrath fined £8,500 for writing a newspaper article criticising his former manager Alex Ferguson; York manager John Bird arrested after a confrontation with Scarborough boss Ray McHale.

Monday, 22 June 2020

1988: Alan Shearer's dream debut

Arsenal must have been sick of the sight of Southampton during the 1987/88 season. After a slow start to their Division One campaign, ten straight wins catapulted George Graham's team to the top of the table. But a 1-0 defeat to Southampton at Highbury triggered the start of a disastrous run of just one win in eleven matches, as any hopes of a title tilt faded.

The ship was steadied between February and April, with an undefeated eight-match run at least giving the club a chance of a second-placed finish behind runaway leaders Liverpool. That was until Southampton appeared again to throw a spanner in the works, and a 17-year-old striker introduced himself to the footballing world in dramatic fashion.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

1985 Mercantile Credit Classic: Willie Thorne

Willie Thorne had a lot of doubters to prove wrong as the 1984/85 snooker season commenced. In truth, he probably had to crush his own demons too. After turning professional in 1975, the lack of a ranking tournament trophy during his career was an unwanted monkey on his back, especially for such a talented player.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

1982/83 European Cup: Aston Villa v Besiktas

With Project Restart in the Premier League fast approaching, armchair fans will soon be in for a feast of football. When Aston Villa take on Sheffield United on Wednesday June 17, it will be the first of 92 matches over a period of 39 days that will eventually bring the 2019/20 top flight season to a conclusion.

Football without fans simply feels wrong, and witnessing matches on television with no supporters present in the stadiums will be a peculiar experience. With or without crowd noise piped in, it will be interesting to see the first Premier League match played behind closed doors at Villa Park.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

The BBC and live top flight football

As news broke that Premier League football would be returning from June 17, one bit of the announcement stood out to me. Live top flight football would be returning to BBC television after an absence of 32 years.

In fact, the relatonship between the BBC and live Division One football was a relatively brief affair. Between December 1983 and March 1988, 26 live league matches were shown - plus a Division Two match between Manchester City and Chelsea - as a revolution swept the game.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Euro 80: England v Belgium

The 1970s had not been kind to the English national team. That 1970 World Cup quarter final defeat; failure to qualify for Euro 1972 and the 1974 World Cup, as Alf Ramsey vacated the managerial hotseat; the debacle of the Don Revie years, as again England missed out on qualification for the next two major championships.

Clearing up the mess of what had gone before would eventually fall on the shoulders of Ron Greenwood, despite many justifiably pointing to the fact that Brian Clough should have been the man to replace Revie, hopefully with better results than he experienced at Leeds United in 1974.

Monday, 25 May 2020

1980 European Cup final: Nottingham Forest v Hamburg

“You win something once and people say it is all down to luck,” Brian Clough said after Nottingham Forest had successfully defended the European Cup on May 28, 1980. “You win it twice and it shuts the buggers up.”

Winning the 1979 European Cup was hardly a fluke. Defeating Liverpool and Cologne on their way to the final in Munich, Nottingham Forest could not be accused of having things easy. Admittedly, Malmo were not the most testing of opponents in the final. But a year on, Forest’s opponents in the final at the Bernabeu could not be dismissed so lightly.

Monday, 18 May 2020

1980 European Cup semi-final: Nottingham Forest v Ajax

With the comeback win over Dynamo Berlin complete, Nottingham Forest joined Real Madrid, Hamburg and Ajax in the draw for the European Cup semi-finals. When Brian Clough’s team were drawn to face the Dutch champions, assistant manager Peter Taylor did little to hide his delight.

“Frankly, we could not have had a better draw,” Taylor admitted. “It suits us fine, especially as we know more about Ajax than the other two clubs. I’ve been over to Holland watching players recently and consequently already know a good deal about them.”

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

1980 European Cup Winners' Cup final: Arsenal v Valencia

As Arsenal’s players trudged from the Wembley pitch after losing the FA Cup final to Second Division West Ham, an inescapable fact hung in the air like a bad smell; despite all their efforts during their gruelling 67-match season, there was now a strong possibility that Arsenal would end the season potless.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

1980 European Cup quarter final: Nottingham Forest v Dynamo Berlin

Brian Clough memorably led Nottingham Forest to European Cup glory in 1979. During a turbulent March 1980, it looked as if their defence of the trophy was over.

The first half of March 1980 was a testing time for Nottingham Forest. Defeat to a Bolton team that had previously won just one league match was Forest’s 11th loss in Division One, but it would be two defeats in cup competitions that the club had won during the previous campaign that caused the press vultures to circle.

Monday, 27 April 2020

1985: Steve Davis and the black ball final

So much has been written about that 1985 World Snooker Championship that it is tricky to find a different angle (pardon the pun). Dennis Taylor, the popular player from Northern Ireland winning the title for the first time, on the final black in the final frame, 18.5 million people watching on BBC2 as the clock ticked over to 12.23am. An iconic moment in the sport.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

World Snooker Championships musical montages

It seems a bit of a cliché to say that we were blessed with characters in snooker during the 1980s, but this is an inescapable fact. The heyday of the sport certainly provided ample material for a few memorable musical montages when it came to the World Championships.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Marathon seasons: Ipswich Town 1980/81

Marathon football seasons often end in sweat and tears. Arsenal (1980) and Dundee United (1987) are just two examples of campaigns that promised so much but ultimately delivered nothing in terms of trophies. But sometimes the long drawn out story does have a happy ending.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

1981: The underarm incident

As the third one day match of the World Series finals drew to a conclusion, the crowd of 52,990 inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground may have been excused for wondering what was going off out there. One thing was clear. The two teams involved were evenly matched; tied at 1-1 in the best of five series, the latest Australia and New Zealand contest was going down to the wire.

With three overs remaining, Australia looked well set. New Zealand, requiring 32 to surpass Australia’s 235/4 total, had potential match winners in Richard Hadlee and Ian Smith, yet with Dennis Lillee bowling the penultimate over, the wise money was on the hosts.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Golden goals: Raddy Antic (1983)

News broke earlier in the week about the sad death of Raddy Antic. The mere mention of the name brings a smile to the faces of Luton fans, and causes Manchester City supporters to break out in a cold sweat.

Winning the Yugoslav title with Partizan in 1976, Radomir “Raddy” Antic would play for both Fenerbahce and Real Zaragoza before arriving in Bedfordshire in 1980 to ply his trade in the English Second Division with Luton Town. One moment in particular would see Antic leave an indelible mark on the English game.

Monday, 6 April 2020

1989: Arsenal - Zenith Data Systems Challenge

This article first appeared in issue 280 of The Gooner. The campaign to Save the Gooner continues.

Until George Graham arrived at the club, Arsenal had spent a large part of the 1980s avoiding trophies. But like London buses, one brought many. Some, like the 1987 Littlewoods Cup and the unforgettable League title in 1989, will forever be etched into the history books of the club. Others less so.

Previously I have written about Arsenal claiming the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy, a tournament involving the top eight Division One clubs from the 1987/88 Division One season that saw Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-1 in the final at Villa Park. After the miracle at Anfield in 1989 further trophy opportunities awaited.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

1982: The Ashton Gate Eight

As the coronavirus continues to have an impact on the world economy, the relationship between sport and money has come under the spotlight recently. On the one hand, there was the news of Juventus players agreeing to take a pay cut during the crisis; conversely, it was also reported that nine players at Swiss club Sion were sacked for refusing to do follow suit.

Some may argue that the Juventus players were in a financially sound position when push came to shove, and that the players of Sion were not quite so comfortable. Yet when it comes to making career and financial sacrifices, surely nothing can match the story of the Ashton Gate Eight in 1982.

Friday, 27 March 2020

1987 FA Cup final: As it happened


Good afternoon. What are we in for today? Will Coventry end their 104-year trophy drought and put their name on the FA Cup for the first time. Or will Chas and Dave be proved right? Seven times Tottenham have won the cup, and is number eight coming up? The bookies certainly think so, with Tottenham at 4/9 and Coventry 7/4.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Marathon seasons: Arsenal 1979/80

Looking back at Arsenal's marathon 1979/80 season; 70 matches, triumph and despair, fixture congestion, fatigue, and desolation.

May 12, 1979: as Graham Rix prepares to strike the ball, Arsenal’s season hangs in the balance. Playing their 59th match in nine months, the team are in danger of falling at the last, with nothing to show for all their efforts. Rix pulls his left foot back.

Fast forward 368 days. May 14, 1980: as Graham Rix prepares to strike the ball, he finds himself in an even more precarious situation. Playing their 68th match in nine months, the team are in danger of heaping more pain upon despair, a heavy sprinkling of salt into their gaping wound. Rix pulls his left foot back.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Football songs of the 1980s: Part 1

We all remember the classic football songs of the 1980s, those that made the top ten in the UK charts and are constantly mentioned when discussing the best and worst in this genre. But what about the lesser known tunes that may be lurking under the surface?

Thursday, 23 January 2020

1984: Chelsea's Robert Isaac is stabbed

Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie recently made headlines when he was caught making obscene gestures during Swansea's visit to South Wales rivals Cardiff City. The former Swansea player was reminded of his responsibilities by both the FA and club manager Chris Wilder, and although his attendance did raise a few eyebrows, it was quite refreshing to see a football player with an obvious connection to one of the clubs he represented in the past.

Heavy security surrounding the South Wales derby meant that McBurnie and his fellow Swansea supporters would have been shipped in and out of the Welsh capital, reducing the chances of trouble between the rival sets of fans. The experience for McBurnie would have been a whole lot different in the distant past.

Monday, 13 January 2020

1980 FA Cup final: Willie Young

We’ve all seen that tackle. As Atletico Madrid’s Alvaro Morata raced through on goal with five minutes of extra-time remaining in the Spanish Super Cup final, Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde knew what he had to do. Football constantly changes. But there is always room for classic shithousery.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Whatever happened to the FA Cup third round?

No one likes an old codger drivelling on about the good old days. But you don’t always get what you want in life. Wallowing in nostalgia was a big motivator behind me starting this blog in 2012, so strap yourself in for full-on rant from a grumpy old man.

I’m the same every January. Less than thrilled at the prospect of another year at the grindstone, I always struggle getting myself up and running in the new year. But my mood is hardly helped when FA Cup third round weekend arrives.