LORDS OF THE WING!

“..AND IF YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY!”

LORDS OF THE WING

With Celtic fans lording over the recent signing of Kyogo Furuhashi, and with good reason too, there is perhaps scope to question just how much the Hoops’ followers seem to embrace one position on the field above all others; that of the Wingers. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Last month’s defeat to Rangers at Ibrox saw manager Ange Postecoglu confess that he should’ve played the Japanese forward in a more central role. It still oesn’t deny the fact that, in an overall sense, the recent summer signing from Vissel Kobe is a dab hand at showing his talents while charging down the flanks. This is not entirely new at Celtic.

Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone will always live in the hearts of Celtic fans. His dazzling dribbling ability and sultry skills in the wider areas of the field earned him the reputation as perhaps being the club’s greatest ever player. In a time of damp and mud-soaked pitches, the wee man from North Lanarkshire won 19 major honours with Celtic, including the European Cup in 1967. 

With 135 goals to his credit during his time at Paradise, Jimmy Johnstone’s name will forever resonate with the Celtic faithful. His precocious and mercurial talents were noticed on a global scale while his small stature, gapped teeth, fuzzy red hair and quick-witted humour made him as normal and approachable as the everyday man on the street. 

While he had many famous goals and performances, there are some parts of his life that remain the stuff of legend. His late goal at Ibrox to win the league title at the home of their fiercest rivals or twisting and turning the Inter Milan defence while giving them guff about how their Ambre Solaire gel was going to set their hair on fire, so they should maybe “phone yer maw, big man!”

In slightly more recent times, one might also recall a certain dreadlocked Swede who also wore the number seven jersey. Henrik Larsson went on to become Celtic’s third place all-time leading goalscorer, but it’s worth noting that when he signed from Feyenoord in 1997, the original plan for him was to play off the main two strikers up front; Andreas Thom and Darren Jackson. 

While ‘the Bhoy who would become King’ was molded more into more of a frontman, there were many times during his Celtic career where he showed his capabilities to drift towards the wide areas. Here, he could send in crosses, make runs towards goal himself and still service the latter partnership of John Hartson and Chris Sutton in attack. Winger or striker? It matters not! 

It’s reasonable to suggest that in Larsson’s second season (1998-99), the arrival of Slovakian-born winger, Lubomir Moravcik, possibly allowed him the freedom to go and take up the striker role. With Lubo now taking over the responsibility of supplier from the left-flank, Larsson had more freedom to focus on scoring goals. 

For his part, Lubo ‘God’ Moravcik, was simply a joy to watch. Scoring two goals against Rangers on his full home-debut was just the start. Already well into his mid-thirties, he was the ultimate two-footed player, who was an absolute master of the dead ball, when it came to free kicks. 

He could entertain too. 

Who would have thought controlling a ball, dipping from the sky with your rear-end was possible? By the time he was 36, he was still starting in victorious Celtic teams in the Champions League; famously nutmegging Pavel Nevded of Juventus in 2001, and letting his Czech counterpart know all about it by sticking his tongue out at him, in a schoolyard-like manner. 

Of course there were other wide players whose names were sung from the stands of Celtic Park down the years: Alan Thompson, Didier Agathe, Jackie McNamara, Aiden McGeady, Emilio Izzaguere, Scott Sinclair, Kieran Tierney et al. 

There’s one man who still stands out in the memory, after all these years, and that’s another Japanese star who pulled on the famous green and white hoops; Shunsuke Nakamura. 

‘Naka’ signed in 2005. Little was known of him at the time, but the fans were in for a treat. After a slow start initially, he adapted to life in Scotland and his sublime skill and incredible work-rate endeared him to the Celtic faithful. In his four seasons with the club, he lifted the SPL trophy three times, as well as the Scottish Cup in 2007, but that’s just part of the story. 

With celebrity status back in Japan, Nakamura made regular television appearances there where his party-piece was kicking footballs from a Yokohama alleyway which would find their way through the one open window of a moving bus. Banzai! Celtic would certainly reap the rewards of his technical ability and there were certainly some iconic moments thrown in along the way. 

During a tense Champions League clash with Manchester United in 2006, Naka sent Celtic Park into delirium when his 35-yard free-kick sailed over the United wall and found the top corner of Edwin van der Saar’s net. Six months later, he did likewise with the dead-ball, when his stoppage-time free-kick curled around Kilmarnock’s wall, hit the net, and the title was sealed. 

And that’s not forgetting his other long-range special. This time in a win-or-bust clash against Rangers, in 2008. To this day, people still can’t fully explain how he struck an escaping bouncing ball with such veracity that somehow managed to change direction midway through the air and, basically, burst the net. If it was anyone else, you wouldn’t have believed it, but this was Naka.

Sure, we love goalkeepers, centre-halves, holding midfield players, but at Celtic, there seems to be something magical about some Qof the Bhoys who lord the wing.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

‘The Gorbals Irishman’ – Charlie Gallagher.

Last month, Celtic FC bade farewell to one of their heroes from the past. Charlie Gallagher’s cortège made its way past the front door of Celtic Park itself so that supporters could pay their last respects. But what did we know of the man? 

By Jonathan Foley

Charlie Gallagher enjoyed a 12-year stint at the famous Glasgow club between the years 1958 and 1970; making 171 appearances and scoring 32 goals in the process. 

More than that, he acquired a clean sweep of Scottish domestic honours and, although he wasn’t on the field that day in Lisbon, he was an instrumental figure in Celtic’s 1967 famous European Cup success story. Although to say his successes came overnight couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Born of Donegal parents, Dan and Annie (Gaoth Dobhair), Charlie also became the first Scottish-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland. In a 2017 interview with TheCelticView, Gallagher discussed how he had grown to love west Donegal, having spent many of his summer holidays there when he was a child. 

He was well regarded for his ability to pickout pinpoint crosses from wide areas and set-pieces. One of his most famous assists is probably the delivery he sent in for Billy McNeill to rise up over Alex Ferguson to head in Celtic’s opener in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final rout of Rangers. As we will see, that was just one of many famous set-ups for his captain. 

He was also the cousin of another former Celtic player, Pat Crerand, who was well-known for his precocious talents and aggression on the field for such other teams he played for, including Manchester United and Scotland. And if the local rumblings speak true, some will tell you that Crerand also played in a number of summer cup games for the Gweedore sides under a pseudonym, but hush, no more. 

When Charlie Gallagher joined Celtic, the club was deep in transition. Rangers were utterly dominant and success was proving to be very elusive for the Hoops. Legendary figure and all-time leading club goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory, wasn’t enjoying the same successes as a manager, but such was his reputation, very few fans were calling for his head during this period of drought. 

Frustrations were more so aimed at the board, then chaired by Robert Kelly. 

In 1961, Gallagher made his debut in a League Cup victory over Raith Rovers and come the end of the season, aged just 21, many would’ve been expecting him to collect a Scottish Cup winners medal. Celtic went into this showpiece event as huge favourites against Dunfermline, but the Pars, managed by a certain Jock Stein,  threw the script out and rejoiced in a surprise 2-0 win following a replay.

For success, Charlie Gallagher would have to wait. 

Celtic were trophyless in the early 1960s and Gallagher was regularly rotated in and out of the starting eleven. His finest performances came in 1964 when he put in a dazzling display in a Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over MTK Budapest. 

The Hunagrains would overturn the tie in the second leg, however, and Gallagher openly claimed that this night as the most disappointing of his career. He would put in another stirring performance five months later though when Celtic pulled off an unexpected 3-1 win over Rangers in the league. 

One year later, 1965, Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager and Gallagher became something of a regular in his early sides. Despite a lowly eighth place finish in the league that year, Celtic did reach the final of the Scottish Cup again where they would meet Dunfermline for the second time in four years. 

Many fans still regard this game as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history. 

Having twice trailed in the match, Celtic levelled each time and eventually won the encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. Charlie Gallagher’s superb ball in from a corner set up McNeill’s winning goal and, alas, the Hoops ended an eight-year barren run of no trophies. Following that, Celtic FC were about to embark on something truly special in the following years. 

They became the dominant force, not only in Scotland, but across the European continent as well. 

Having played much of his time in the midfield area alongside Bobby Murdoch, Stein’s remoulding of Bertie Auld’s role – often regarded as one of his managerial masterstrokes – meant that again, Gallagher’s appearances became a bit more sporadic. Celtic were roaring, both domestically and in Europe, so getting into that team would’ve been a task for anyone. 

With Auld and Murdoch holding the midfield and Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox taking up the wide areas, this was the most famous midfield which Celtic ever had. When he was called upon though, Gallagher was also more than capable of lending more than just a little help for the cause. 

In the New Year meeting with Rangers in 1966, Gallagher thundered in a wonder-strike as the Bhoys routed their old rivals 5-1. A season later, in the quarter-final of the 1967 European Cup run against Vojvodina Novi Sad, his stoppage time cross found McNeill’s head (again) and his majestic finish sent the famous Parkhead stadium into raptures of delight. 

In a time when only one substitute was named on a team-sheet and where he could only be deployed in the event of an injury, Charlie Gallagher did remarkably well to stay in the plans of Jock Stein as Celtic embarked on, what is still, the most successful and revered period in their entire history. 

He was there that day at the Estádio Nacional when Celtic famously beat Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first team from the northern half of Europe to lift the famous trophy. Although he didn’t get a run out on the field, his role within the camp was regarded as important as anyone else’s. 

He was known to have been very proud of the fact that he got to represent Ireland on the international stage. The country of his ancestry thanks to his Donegal heritage. He may have only got two caps during his career, but it must be remembered that he was competing with none other than the talents John Giles (Leeds United) for that position in the team.

Following his departure from Celtic in 1970, Gallagher finished out his career with Dumbarton before hanging up the boots in 1973. He would return to the East End of Glasgow to work as a scout between 1976 to 1978 and was often spotted still attending games and club functions right up until very recent times. A Celtic man, through and through. 

Charlie Gallagher, ‘the Gorbals Irishman’ 1940-2021. 

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT ROY.

Originally penned in June 2021

Love him or loathe him (and believe me, as an Ireland fan who still harbours the thoughts of ‘what could’ve been’ after he departed Sapian, I have feelings of both), there’s still no denying that this country has an unusual obsession with a now fifty-year old, Roy Maurice Keane. 

By Jonathan Foley

As a player, the Corkman had a reputation of holding a fiery temper. A man whose leadership qualities inspired a ‘do or die’ attitude amongst his teammates and management alike. Adored by his fans and feared by his opponents.

In his younger days as a midfielder with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, his energy allowed him to have more of an attacking role.This often saw him being actively involved in the goalscoring process. In his latter years, some wear and tear had set in, but he remained as ferocious as ever in his new role as a more defensive midfielder. 

In a technical sense, Keane wasn’t the most gracious of players. 

He wasn’t one for mazy dribbles or thirty-yard screamers. His lack of height meant winning aerial battles or scoring headers was also something of a rarity, but one cannot deny his natural ability to break up opposition attacks as well as how talented he was at urging his own team forward against the best of English and European opposition.

He played a key role in United’s rejuvenation in the 1990s; a captain and a leader. And his winner-takes-all mindset and sentiment was shared by his then manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, making them a manager-captain combination which could steer the team to success at an almost unstoppable rate. 

All good things come to an end, however. Keane and Ferguson had a very public fallout in 2005, thus ending the Irishman’s tenure with the Red Devils, and the two couldn’t resist adding extra pot-shots at each other in their autobiographies and media interviews for a long time afterwards. 

Nowadays, after a few fairly calamitous stints as a manager himself, Keane has since become something which he famously wrote we’d all be allowed to shoot him for if he ever became one – a television pundit. And it seems that no matter what he says in the Sky Sports studio, he becomes instant clickbait. Mainly from Irish people.

Keane’s fallout with Mick McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup training camp caused an unprecedented media sensation in this country. 

In newsrooms, it was even held with the same regard of  ‘newsworthiness’ that was on a par with the death of Princess Diana or the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only this time, people were taking sides in the argument and this caused an unusual civil war like tension in the country. 

Even though there was only a primitive form of social media in those days, Conor O’Callaghan’s book ‘Red Mist: Roy Keane and the World Cup Blues’ (later revamped as a talking heads documentary) perfectly charts how the man from Mayfield, in County Cork, became a talking point in almost every aspect of Irish society from then on. 

Nowadays, almost two decades on, that ripple effect still seems to resonate and it seems that no matter what Keane says, he’ll be trending on social media just minutes later. 

This past few year alone, his claims that “DeGea shouldn’t be allowed on the United bus after that.” “Villa celebrating avoiding relegation? It’s not like they won something”, “Liverpool have been Bad Champions” and “Spurs are a tough watch” have gathered an unimaginably high number of likes, views and shares across the social platforms.

Some fans feel that such statements encapsulate that winning spirit which he showed in his days at United. Others feel that it’s all part of a caricature which Keane has invented for himself since starting his television work. Both sides of the fence in this argument hold water, to be fair. 

It shouldn’t be overlooked though that Roy Keane, who often gets depicted as this monstrous, hard-tackling and obsessive machine, is only a half-truth. 

Since he hung up the boots in 2006, not only does he do great work for guide-dogs charities, he’s shown himself to be witty and light-hearted in the television studio, he’s started his own show with ‘football’s Mister Nice Guy”, Micah Richards, and he’s recently become an instagrammer himself. Monster? Do me a favour!

On the whole, nobody can ever deny his talent as a player and it does feel that he is box-office entertainment when working as a pundit. Don’t forget though, that a lot of these so-called ‘rants’ of his are often blown out of proportion as clickbait during a time when Sky Sports no longer rule the roost in football broadcasting.

WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.

A TV SHOW ‘WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.’  

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in July 2021.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of decent television out there nowadays. There’s a steady flow of positively engaging fiction series and well-researched documentaries out there for us all to enjoy in the modern era. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go back and find a simpler show. One of the now old-school comedies I recently re-discovered through this was the sitcom ‘Cheers.’ 

Now this was certainly not my first discovery of the show. As a youngster, I often recall seeing it appear on Channel 4 most evenings at around dinnertime. On a visit to Boston ten years ago, I visited the street where the exterior shots of the bar were filmed and I was always very aware of the catchy lyrics of the show’s iconic theme tune. 

Being the geek that I am though, I couldn’t help but get my English Literature cap on while enjoying a few episodes last month. In essence, the show’s biggest charm is its simplicity. It’s set almost entirely on one set and carries with it all the energy and realism of watching a stage performance in any theatre. 

Well, I suppose, they did tell us at the start of every single episode that “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” after all. Lots of shows are filmed this way but very few of them (if indeed any) were edited without using ‘canned laughter.’ In other words, the audience laughter you hear on Cheers is actually real. 

Aside from the pleasing aesthetic of watching an American-based sitcom operate like a relaxing theatrical production, another quirk of the show is the likability of the characters and their chemistry with each other. There’s no catch-phrases, no repetitive slogans, no pointless slapstick and no fully-fledged ‘stupid for the sake of being stupid’ character. 

Everyone on the main cast has their strengths and their weaknesses – as any fictional character should have – and they put their personalities across in endearing ways on a consistent basis. 

Sam has his ego about womanising and his playing days as a professional baseball pitcher. Woody is the innocent country boy adopting to life in the big city. Norm is the washed-up accountant who props up the bar alongside Cliff, the know-it-all mailman, who seems to have an opinion on everything, no matter what the topic along the counter may be.  

In the earlier series, Diane represented the upper-middle class of American society before being replaced by Rebecca; a typical 1980s go-getter trying to make it big in the corporate world. A regular theme which appeared in movies of that era (‘Trading Places’, ‘Working Girl’ for etc). Then there’s Carla who (waitress) personifies the gruff-talking single mother who works almost constantly to feed her eight rowdy children at home. 

Then you have Dr Fraiser Crane – yes, he had his own spin-off show later – and his wife Lillith, who offer psychological and scientific explanations to everything that goes on in the bar, even if they aren’t asked for it and even though they often, ironically, fall foul of their own advice themselves.

What I’m getting at is that no character is perfect. Nor should they be. They all have flaws and that’s what makes the show engaging. It’s as if you can’t help but root for each of them in their respective endeavours no matter what hijinx they get up to and the simplicity of the setting, a bar counter in a run-of-the-mill tavern in Massachusetts, gives it all a very local yet global feel. 

Perhaps what I admire most about Cheers is not its character development or its charming theatricality. It’s the fact that the people of Boston themselves adored the show. I always imagine that when you put on a show, with a specific setting, the writers, producers and actors must surely feel they are walking a tightrope with how they portray the real-life locals.  

During its eleven year run between 1982 and 1993, Cheers seemed to strike a chord with the residents of ‘America’s Walking City.’ The viewers saw themselves in the characters. Characters who faced the same dilemmas that they did and who, especially Cliff, weren’t afraid of ridicule anytime they spoke in their typically vowel-elongated ‘Baaawstan’ twang.  

The show brought in references to history, science and culture in a non-condescending fashion. Sexual relations regularly crop up in the dialgue but certainly not in any offensive manner and, perhaps most pleasing to the locals, there was the occasional nod to the sports teams such as the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Bruins sprinkled throughout the series. 

It’s the global appeal of the show has to be praised too, of course. In a way, it’s refreshing to still see a show where people openly discuss their feelings. 

The thought of staring into a mobile phone all evening wasn’t on the horizon yet and, despite their ups and downs, the characters of Cheers remind us that making your way in the world today takes everything you got but taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Be sure to pop in if you’re looking for some nostalgia viewing. 

Celtic’s ‘Millennium Bug’ Reappears.

Originally penned in May, 2021

In a season that promised so much – hopes of continued domestic domination and with the champagne cooling on ice for the unprecedented ‘10 in a Row’ parties – very little was harvested.

Across the city, Rangers have undoubtedly improved, but there was still a potent feeling that the majority of Celtic’s demise was brought on, not by others, but primarily by themselves.

History, as we all know, often has a bemusing ability to repeat itself. Up until now, many supporters for the green-and-white looked back and shuddered at the ill-fated 1999-2000 campaign. Upon reflection, this past campaign drew some uncanny resemblances to that particular season. 

By Jonathan Foley

In the summer of 1999, the biggest pop acts going were the likes of Travis, Stereophonics and Britney Spears. Robbie Williams had rocked Slane Castle at the tail end of the summer and his lyrical flow about stars directing our fate was a fairly constant feature on the radio airwaves back then. 

Bill Clinton was still, albeit controversially, dwindling to the US Presidency. People in Donegal were still using punts as their currency and, even in a world devoid of social media, the biggest fear was that on New Years’ Eve, global computer systems would all fail and planes would fall from the sky. Honest! 

In Glasgow, Rangers were fresh off the back of a domestic treble from the season before and Celtic pinned their hopes on a (‘Return of the King’) Kenny Dalglish who was coming back as General Manager. Alongside him, his mentee and fellow-Liverpool legend John Barnes, taking on the reins as Head Coach.

It was a bold move, given Barnes’s inexperience as a coach, to say the least. 

From the off, it seemed as though Celtic meant business. Splashing out big money on drafting in Olivier Tebily, Eyal Berkovic, Stephane Bonnes, Rafael Thied Scheidt, Bobby Petta, Dmitri Kharine and – the one saving grace he brought in – Stilyan Petrov.

On the field, at least at first, things looked promising. 

Celtic’s dynamic duo up front in Henrik Larsson and Mark Viduka were firing on all cylinders. Going into the autumn, they won 11 of their opening 12 games, had made early headway in the League Cup and disposed of Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the Uefa Cup’s opening round. 

Saturday 16 October, 1999, was a day where the fans were treated to a masterclass performance. 

A 7-0 showpiece victory over Aberdeen at home – with both strikers netting a hat-trick apiece – provided genuine optimism for the season ahead.

The fact that Barnes was something of a novice at this level seemed immaterial. For the time being at least. 

The fans who left Celtic Park on that mild and somewhat sunny afternoon were not to know that it was all about to emphatically unravel.

A few days later, Celtic would lose their talismanic dreadlocked striker for the rest of the season following Larsson’s catastrophic leg break away to Lyon.

In his absence, Barnes resorted to his contacts book and rushed in and an aging Ian Wright on a loan spell from West Ham. Initially, he seemed a fairly suitable stop-gap but that too would prove to be a false dawn.

Into November and Lyon compounded Celtic’s misery with a comfortable victory in Glasgow. The absence of Larsson was starting to show and one team were never likely to show them any mercy for their predicament lay in waiting. 

On a gray and overcast Sunday afternoon at Ibrox where they briefly snuck into a 2-1 lead, Celtic capitulated in first-half stoppage time. Rangers winning a dubious penalty was bad enough, but when captain Paul Lambert didn’t get up after his tackle on Jorg Albertz, it soon emerged that he’d been severely concussed, lost some teeth and was in need of urgent medical attention.

Albertz knee had collided with Lambert’s mouth as he went to ground. While the German was able to dust himself from the challenge and score the equalising penalty on the brink of the interval, his opponent was still being ushered away by a team of paramedics. Rangers went on to acquire a comfortable and fairly telling 2-4 victory. 

With the new millennium having passed without a hitch and no planes falling from the sky, Celtic’s season, in its own way, nose-dived and crash-landed in early February. A 2-0 lead at home to Hearts looked like plain-sailing until a monumental cave-in ensued and the Jambos silenced Parkhead by turning the game on its head and running out 2-3 winners. 

Worse was to follow. 

The following Tuesday night was the final straw. The Scottish Cup had offered a lifeline for Celtic to salvage something from this fire-wreck of a season, but when lower-division Inverness Caledonian-Thistle dumped them out of the cup in a humiliating 1-3 defeat in front of a sparsely-attended crowd, enough was enough. 

Circulating rumours rang out that Mark Viduka had refused to go out for the second-half amid a tumultuous and angry dressing room proved to be true. Mass protests gathered outside the ground and chants of ‘Barnes Must Go!’ rang out long into the night. The Board responded with a prompt termination of his contract but it didn’t end there. 

Kenny Dalglish, perhaps feeling responsible for all that had gone on, took over as interim manager. 

A March Old Firm clash, under the lights, with Rangers was the last chance to restore some pride at least.

In a typically frantic and bad-tempered game, Rangers won it with an 89th minute bundled but effective effort by Rod Wallace. A goal iconically remembered for the ball boy, behind the goal, kicking out at the ball in frustration. He was allegedly reprimanded, but who could blame the fella?

A League Cup final win at Hampden provided mere consolation but, from a PR perspective, Dalglish’s renowned distrust of the press took a new road. He, rather oddly, ordered that a press conference be held at Bairds Bar – a regular Gallowgate watering-hole for Hoops’ fans – and while all this circus was all going on, there was hope that Larsson (and Lambert) would soon return to the fray and settle things.

Mark Viduka would officially pack his bags and depart, under a bit of a cloud, and joining Leeds United for £7 million. Quipping to the media that he only had to play to 70% of his ability to get into the Celtic starting team to the media as a nasty parting shot. Ian Wright would later remark that he detested living in Glasgow, although that was not intended as direct jibe at the club.

In comparison with this past season, one can perhaps notice the similarities that rose up. False promises, fallouts between players and management, injuries in key positions, fan protests, embarrassing cup defeats to lower-league opposition at home, a mid-season sacking leading to an interim role and a disastrous relationship with the media. It all seems oddly familiar, doesn’t it? 

The one guiding light that stayed flickering for Celtic in May 2000 was that Larsson did reappear as a late substitute on the final day of the season. He even made it to the Sweden squad for the Euros that summer. 

Back at base, Celtic looked to make amends by announcing Martin O’Neill as manager. 

And we all know how that turned out. So maybe, just maybe, hope does spring eternal.

@JohnnyFoley1984

@ArmchairFanatic

Another Day in Paradise.

🔙OTD, 7/4/2001. The St Mirren Adventure!! 🍀

A Celtic win and they become league champions. Rare in those day and myself and Ultan are told we have a golden ticket each but …

A 4am ticket mixup at the bus. A huge row with the organizer. Told “a mistake was made. I’ve no ticket for you. Go on home.” Heartbroken and, yes, tears got shed as the bus heads off.

4:30am, crying a little on the porch and Ultan certainly not slagging, a taxi flies up the driveway. Orders the two of us to get in as “another bus” will take us but we have to catch up with it!!

Whizzing out the dual carriage way, get on the bus but told “I’ll help yous but keep this quiet now, d’ya hear me?” 🤫 Get to the ferry port, hiding under the seats during security inspection.

Bus breaks down. Typical. Sneak on another and hide again. 😩 Get to Glasgow, but still no ticket. Ultan says “we’ve done well to get this far. Anything else now is a bonus.”

Ten minutes to kickoff. Stadium in sight. Given two unused ticket stubs found in the glove compartment from a game played three months earlier and told “try your luck with them. I can do no more for yous now!”

Noise of the stadium gets louder. Race through the wasteland, puddles and rubble as a shortcut. Nowadays it’s where the Emirates Arena stands but it looked a lot different 20 years ago.

Getting a footie over the high, gang graffitied wall from a group of fairly rowdy – but sound – local lads. Buckfast and all. 😜 🍷

“Y’iv nae ticket, man? Dinny worry. Stick wi us and we’ll git yiz in, Ken?”

Get to the turnstile. Distract the collector as much as possible and hand in the fake ticket stub upside down. Ultan does the same and … we’re in Paradise!! Quick high fives of thanks to the gang lads who helped us at the wall. 😂

Tommy Johnson’s bundled effort goes in and, despite a scrappy game, Celtic do win the title at the final whistle. A real rarity back then and the celebrations got underway and, by hook or by crook, we got there. Even if we’d to stand at the back as we’d no seats. 😀

After all the excitement was done, I did meet the ticket organizer in a Glasgow hotel later that day. Yes, we did exchange a few words, he was livid that I’d snuck on the boat but, I must say, we did bury the hatchet a few weeks later, to be fair. 👍🏻

I’ve been to much better games at Celtic Park since that one but St Mirren, 2001, will always be the one with most (fairly avoidable) drama 😂 Ultan moved away and I’ve not seen him in years but I think we’ll always have that day to give us something to chat about. 🍀👍🏻

Getting back home on the ferry that night didn’t have a quarter of the drama. Thank God! 😂👍🏻

INT’L FOOTBALL Part 5: Hungary Peek Through the Iron Curtain.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley, March 2021.

The early 1950s are remembered for two transcending moments in the course of football history.

Firstly, England – who had abandoned their self-inflicted policy of isolationism – had agreed to participate in the World Cup for the very first time in 1950.

Despite the high hopes and belief that were the still the best team in the world, the competition was an unmitigated disaster for them.

Having suffered an unexpected 0-1 defeat to the hands of the United States, many around the world saw this a symbolic victory.

To the English, however, it was nothing short of an aberration and they were on their way home after just a single match. It seemed the game they had given to the world was going against them, but with two-time World Cup winners, Italy, also in disarray at the time, the stage was set for a new football force to reawaken.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Europe was effectively divided in two.

Democratic states on the west with Communist ones to the east; separated by what became known as ‘the Eastern Blockade’ or ‘the Iron Curtain.’ And from that, returning to the fray and looking better than ever, came Hungary.

“The ball should be moved early, preferably on first contact. To run with it is often only to waste valuable attacking time.”

In the 1920s, the city of Budapest had embraced football and had reached the World Cup Final in 1938. With the majority of their homeland in rubble and ashes after World War II, few would have expected them to set the football world alight soon after such mass conflict.

Forged from the military side Honvéd, this created the backbone of the national team. ‘The Aranycsapat’ (‘The Golden Team’) was formed. Inevitably, the sides from Western Europe looked on at them with great suspicion. Not only were they a Communist country, but they were soldiers to boot.

They first began to make their mark on the global stage at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. The amateaur ethos of the games meant that teams from the west could not send their professional players. Nevertheless, Hungary’s run to the gold medal – culminating in a victory over Yugoslavia in the Final – had impressed many. Particularly for the refreshing and innovative brand of football they were playing.

It was one of sixteen gold medals the Hungarians won at the Olympics that summer; third only in the final table to the United States and the Soviet Union. An impressive feat for a country of just nine million. As they returned home as heroes, politicians were quick to pounce on their success.

By 1953, the Nep Stadium (‘The Peoples’ Stadium’) was officially opened to great fanfare and spectacle. A government-back initiative which was portrayed as an achievement of the people. Largely because many of the athletes from the previous year’s Olympic games helped with the construction of this new stadium.

National pride was at an all-time and there were notable strides being made on the club front too as Ferenc Puskas’s Hovénd side were making huge inroads on the domestic and European scene.

In November 1953, the British public took an profound interest when Hungary came to play at Wembley. England, who hadn’t lost a home international on the ground to a ‘foreign nation’ in 81 years looked as though their record was under severe threat.

As early as the first minute, England fell behind when Nándor Hideguti found the net. It got the ball rolling for a 6-3 win for the Hungarians. It was just the goals that drew talking points. It was the creativity and innovative manner in which Gusztáv Sebbes’ side had used the ball and controlled the game.

Many still believe that the way they played changed the way in which the game was to be played forever more. In 1967, Celtic would become the first ever non-Latin side to win the European Cup.

A side who also played with flourish and flair and in his now archived interviews, their manager, Jock Stein, regularly cited the Hungarian teams as inspiration for how his own teams played.

The Magyars.

It could be argued that Hungary had created the Genesis of what was to become known as ‘total football’ and in 1954, six months after their exhibition at Wembley, they were off to the World Cup in Switzerland.

It had been sixteen long years since the tournament had been played in Europe. They had reached the Final of that one, but now they were looking to go one better.

Sepp Herbeger was in charge of the new West Germany side. The country was in tatters after the war in so many ways: physically, economically and emotionally. Football hadn’t even returned to action in the country until 1948; three years after peace and victory had been declared by the Allied Forces.

Despite some strong progress being made on the club scene by VFB Stuttgart, many felt that this new-look and reduced German national team had little hope of success when they set off for the World Cup in ’54.

Regardless of such speculation, West Germany and Hungary would meet at the Final in the city of Bern.

Although the Hungarians had gathered huge respect and admiration for their style of play, rumblings still went around that a team from behind the Iron Curtain, so to speak, may not be allowed to win. After all, as we’ve seen in the previous articles in this series, politics often held sway over the tournament.

On a rain-soaked and damaged pitch, Hungary’s ability to use their passing game was under threat.

That didn’t deter the players too much as they raced into a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes. West Germany would claw a goal back quickly through Max Morlock but the debate has rang out ever since that there was a foul on the Hungarian goalkeeper as the cross came in from the flanks.

By the 18th minute, it was 2-2 and despite dominating the rest of the game after this setback, Hungary would lose out to late winner, scored just six minutes from the end. They would become widely-regarded as ‘the greatest team to never win the World Cup’ for many years to come.

Some of their most faithful followers still hold a belief that they were, as alluded to earlier, simply not allowed to win it.

The Legacy of the ‘Arancyspacat.

For the West Germans, there was a sense of national euphoria that had not been seen the decade that led to the start of the war. It seemed as though they, as a new democratic state, were being welcomed back into the cultural mainstream and this success laid the foundations for great successes to come in the future.

Hungary, on the other hand, took their defeat with gracious sportsmanship and returned back to their country, once again, as heroes.

Domestically, problems lay in wait for them. In 1963, in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising, the country came under severe and brutal repercussions from the Soviet forces. This forced a number of their best and most intelligent players to seek homage with clubs in the west. Mostly in Europe, but some also in the Americas.

The transfer of Puskas to Real Madrid is arguably the most well-known move during this period of exodus.

Alongside the irrepressible talents of Alfredo DiStefano, he would help guide the famous club from the Spanish capital to five European Cups in succession between 1956 and 1960. Their eye-catching playing style was closely observed and then emulated overtime.

Emulated in many places the world over.

Conclusion.

As we come to the end of this particular series of articles based around the theme of the international game and its undertones of political influence, yes, it’s fair to suggest that to some people, football became much more than ‘just a game.’

We’ve seen, through a variety of source material, that the ‘Beautiful Game’ can be manipulated and tailored to suit ideologies and agendas. Important aspects of footballing history to know, but there’s something else that we should always bear in mind too.

The game of football is, above anything else, popular for the simple reason that it’s fun.

It bridges class divides and brings endless to joy millions across the globe. It allows people to display their talents and their on the field and their emotions and identity on the terraces. It creates aspiring role models and heroes – with a few villains thrown in too for good measure – and be you a fan of the game itself or not, there’s no denying the allure it has to so many people in this world of ours.

@JohnnyFoley1984

INT’L FOOTBALL Part 4: Franco, the Soviets and the Rise of the ‘El Classico.’

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley, March 2021. 

One country who had been a notable absentee from the 1938 World Cup were Spain.

As the country was preoccupied by the Civil War – fought between Republicans and Royalists – the nation was crumbling, but in the aftermath of the Second World War, their Fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, also realised the manipulative power of football.

What had made his tyrannical victory on the domestic front successful was the fact that he was aided by Benito Mussolini’s troops and the German Luftwaffe.

This was decisive intervention against the rebel cause in 1939, but with Spain opting for neutrality during the war and with the fall of both Hitler and Mussolini, Franco had become somewhat isolated.

“Spain has no foolish dreams!”

In the post-war era, Spain had become secluded territory and the animosity of the Catalan people – predominantly based in Barcelona – was preparing itself to resurface. 

Like his (now-deceased) fellow Fascist leaders, Franco had no particular interest in football. Knowing how much it could gather support for his regime however, he adapted the Real Madrid club as a symbol for his autonomous and oppressive rule.

The people of Barcelona still lived under mass persecution. They were banned from using their own language, from waving Catalan flags and with the sights of bullet-holes still adorning the walls of their churches and cathedrals, reminders of Facist massacres were still all too visible for them.

In 1936, Barca’s club president – Josep Sunyol – had been dragged from his car and murdered by Franco’s troops and, perhaps naturally, the citizens of Catalonia gravitated to the Camp Nou stadium in support of their team.

Thus, their ‘Mes Que En Club’ (‘More Than A Club’) mentality was given its rise.

Despite the fierce opposition to his power, Franco still believed that football could be utilised as a means of useful diversion and distraction.

He began to arrange club fixtures that he could broadcast through the advent of television and anytime a degree of social unrest was afoot, a match would come on the screens to tempt peoples’ focus away.

Even though Franco kept a firm hold on the goings-on at Real Madrid, it’s fair to suggest that this didn’t bring any form of immediate success to the club. 

Between 1939 and 1954, they didn’t win a single league championship and perhaps more disparagingly, they had to watch Barcelona lift five titles during that time.

It was time to redress the balance and the opportunity came along when both Real Madrid and Barcelona joined in a race to sign Argentinian star, Alfredo DiStefano. 

“The Blonde Arrow”, as he was known, had a superb goal-scoring record with his club in Colombia at the time; scoring 267 in 292 games. 

Initially, it was Barca who approached him and it looked as though a deal was about to be brokered. The move was, some might say, commandeered by Real Madrid who swooped in and stole his signature away at the eleventh hour. 

It was to be revealed years later that Franco’s troops had abducted the new Barcelona president, Marti Carreto, from a hotel and threatened his textile industry – where he had amassed his fortune – with very heavy tax inspections.

If he left DiStefano to move to Madrid, then he was in the clear.

It’s also believed that Real Madrid, possibly in a bid to quell any further unrest, offered Barcelona an olive branch. They stated that DiStefano could play alternate seasons for each side, but as an act of defiance against the regime, Barcelona refused the offer; irregardless of how talented the player actually was. 

Alfredo DiStefano joined Real Madrid and in his first game against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, he scored four goals against the club he came so close to signing for.

To his credit, DiStefano spoke about the bureaucracy that went on behind his signing in a 2003 interview with the BBC. Speaking then as Honorary President of Real Madrid and having only recently signed David Beckham, he told:

“I never played for Franco. I never played for a political system. I only played for the people. I thought I was joining Barcelona and then I wasn’t.”

Real Madrid’s recruitment of his profound talents was to transform the club. Between 1956 and 1960, they won no less than five European Cups in a row. Their success, on the field, had promoted a glamorous and endearing image of Spain to the world. Something which Franco would have been most pleased with. 

“Masonry and Communism … the two evils which must be dispelled from this land.”

Despite being accepted into NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), Spain was still very much a secluded nation in western Europe. It was holding firm to the ideologies of fascism, long after the Allies had ended the reigns of Mussolini and Hitler. 

Franco though, was very aware of how football could shape perspective.

He set about making Real Madrid an international brand. By bringing in players such as Ferenc Puskas, it gave the club a reputation for giving a new lease of life to players who had previously suffered under Communist rule in the east.  

This courted him a degree of favour with the United States and for as much as Franco disliked Catalonians, he despised the communist leanings of the Soviet Union even more. This would come to a head – not once but twice – on the international stage during the 1960s.

The Soviets had sympathised with and supported the Catalan rebellion during the Civil War years and when the two nations met at the 1960 European Championships – perhaps anxious about the possibility of a defeat to an enemy nation – Franco withdrew Spain from the match. 

Four years later, Spain and the Soviets would cross paths again. This time in the Euro ‘64 Final. With Spain being the host nation, Franco was advised that withdrawing the team again would cause national embarrassment; particularly as this was the Final.

Spain won the game 2-1 and, as it later emerged, the players had been told in no uncertain circumstances that it wasn’t just a team they were playing against. They were told that they were fighting as soldiers against the evils of communism.

“Tot el camp. És un clam.’ 

In 1975, following 36 years of power, Franco died. His body is buried in the outskirts of Madrid – the Cementerio Municipal El Pardo (‘The Valley of the Fallen’). 

A man-made reserve built by the very people he oppressed and killed. It’s believed that his final words were “I am accountable now only to God and to History.” 

Those who congregated at the Camp Nou just four weeks later had other ideas. 

On 28th December, Barcelona took on Real Madrid in a stadium that was still reverberating amid the celebrations of Franco’s death.

Barcelona, equipped with Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff, enjoyed the raptors of a 2-1 win over their great rivals and it is estimated that, in defiance of Spanish law, somewhere in the region of 700 Catalan flags were smuggled into the ground and waved proudly that night.

An emotion which still resonates heavily with the supporters to this day. Although, it must be said, that it’s certainly not the case that Real Madrid fans should ever be tagged or generalised as fascist sympathisers.

For even Barcelona club historian, Joan Barau wrote, when discussing Real’s record 11-1 win over Barca in 1943:

“The memory of the Civil War was still fresh in everyone’s memory. It was not their fault that they fell under a military dictatorship, so it’s never a result that they tend to boast about.”

After all, the Real Madrid club had been thriving for almost four decades before Franco suddenly took an convenient interest in them.

The era of fascism controlling football may have been over, but that’s not to say that politics in general had ever stopped in its bid to manipulate the game. 

For, as we will see in our next article, the role of communism and its difficulties with democracy would forge an important reality for a highly-skilled and evolutionary Hungarian side during the Cold War.

A side, who many still believe to this day, helped change the face of how club football was to be played in Britain forever more.

INT’L FOOTBALL Part 3: Nazism versus ‘The Paper Man.’

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in March, 2021. 

Italy’s success at the 1934 World Cup had not gone unnoticed by the Nazis.

Benito Mussolini had shown how a spectacle such as this could be used for great political advantage and with the 1936 Olympics set to be held in Berlin, it should come as no surprise that Adolf Hitler sought to portray German superiority on such a grand stage.

There was just one problem when it came to football. The German national team, in the 1930s, weren’t particularly good.

In 1931, they had played their neighbours Austria twice and been on the receiving end of a 6-0 and a 5-0 hammering. Unlike the Germans, the Austrian ‘Wonder-Team’, as they were known, were highly admired and revered for their style of play. Something which surely goaded ‘Der Fuhrer’, even if he was an Austrian native himself.

On the political front, 1933 saw Germany withdraw from the League of Nations. In essence, Hitler was showing his resistance to democracy, but rather than be seen as an aggressor, he used the power of football to convey a sporting and friendly side of the national character. 

In December 1935, despite some anti-fascist demonstrations outside the ground at White Hart Lane, England beat Germany 3-0 in a challenge match, but the game itself was merely a charade for what was lurking underneath the surface. 

Reports from the match – including some wrinkly old film footage – consistently refer to the German players being somewhat overly-sporting in their behaviour. Regularly shaking hands with their opposition, never being drawn into a foul and smiles all round in what the press hailed as “a most sporting match.”

All done, under Nazi orders and instruction to shed the country in a positive light, as it  was discovered later. 

“The Triumph of the Will.” 

The Berlin Games in 1936 provided an ample opportunity for an exhibition of Nazism. The opening ceremony was made to look as a beautiful spectacle while the ‘Triumph of the Will’ film by Leni Riefenstahl raised the hearts and hopes of the nation. Over the course of the next few weeks, no country won more medals than the host nation.

These games will inevitably be remembered for the enchanting success story of American athlete, Jesse Owens, throwing out the script to win the medals he did, but in keeping with football, Hitler was to observe another moment which undoubtedly dismayed him greatly. 

Generally speaking, most historians tend to agree that when Hitler was invited along to attend Germany’s match with Norway, he was assured of a victory. Something that would no doubt please him after Owens’ successes.

Norway, however, didn’t tow the line. Despite being perceived as a ‘lesser nation’, they ran out comfortable winners over their German counterparts. Perhaps what perplexed the Nazis even more is that Austria – a fellow German-speaking nation – were going from strength to strength and they had one player who caught their eye in particular.

“The Paper-Man.”

Matthias Sindelar, known to his adoring fans as “the Paper-man”, was seen by many as the greatest centre-forward in the world at that time. His talents on the field inspired works of poetry and, long before footballers became celebrities, he starred in a feature film. In 2001, he was proclaimed as ‘Austria’s Greatest Sportsman of the 20th Century.’

As we saw in the previous article in this series, he was mainly denied a place in the 1934 World Cup Final due to coercive refereeing that favoured the Italians. Nevertheless, his reputation grew stronger, but when he caught the attention of the Nazis, his mercurial talents would be blighted and exploited beyond belief.

In March of 1938, the Anschluss was complete. The Nazis had effectively annexed the Austrain state, forcibly usurped any political autonomy it once held and brought it into the realm of the new, and ever-growing, German sphere of influence.

As a proud Austrian nationalist – even if Czech by birth – Sindelar despised Nazism. Part of which had stemmed from ‘Aryan Only Policy’ when invading troops forced Jewish employees and officials at his club, Austria Vienna, out of their jobs during the period of occupation.

The Austrian national team would soon become no more than a memory as it had to amalgamate with Germany, but while some reluctantly accepted the fate of their nation, Sindelar remained headstrong and used football as an act of defiance. 

During the same year, Austria were scheduled to face Germany in what was essentially a ‘farewell game’ before the amalgamation of the two teams officially took place. 

It’s widely believed that the plan was for the Germans to win the game. A way of showing their superiority in a symbolic manner and historical references do cite that at half-time, with the score at 0-0, the Austrian players were told to follow suit with this plan. 

Refusing to collaborate, Sindelar scored early in the second-half to give the Austrians the lead. He then assisted a second goal and during the celebrations, he visibly taunted the Nazi hierarchy in the VIP section of the crowd. They were not amused. Within a year, Sindelar would pay dearly for his act of defiance. 

In a BBC interview, his friend and former clubmate, Egon Ulrich recalled the night of 23rd January, 1939. 

“We were playing cards and gambling in the coffee shop. There was plenty of drink taken. Some Nazi soldiers came in and invited themselves to join in the game. They were teasing Sindi all through the evening and, when he finally called it a night, that was the last I ever saw of him.”

Sindelar was found dead the following morning. It’s perceived that the apartment he was sleeping in that night with his girlfriend, was leaking gas fumes and the inhalation suffocated him. His biographer, Wolfgang Marderthaner, believes it may have been a suicide brought on by the shattering of his spirit in the aftermath of the Anschluss. 

Either way, be them directly or indirectly responsible, the Nazis shouldered the blame.

An inquest into his death was carried out, but the reports of which were later ‘mislaid.’ 

As a symbol for Austrian patriotism, dispute and speculation still ring out about the actual cause of his death. Perhaps to keep order, the Nazi administration did allow for a state funeral to take place where some 15,000 Austrians bravely bade farewell to their fallen hero.

“Peace In Our Time?” 

The famous words echoed by British Prime Minister, Nevile Chamberlain, when he held aloft the letter proclaiming that he and Adolf Hitler had signed a peace agreement. 

At the time, Chamberlain was held up as a hero. A man who would spare a return to conflict just a generation after the Great War. It was to be a false-dawn.

As part of the policy of appeasement towards Germany, England sent a team to Berlin to take them on in a game billed as another friendly between two peaceful nations. Many felt that the English should’ve refused to play the game, but in keeping with the goodwill measures set out by the government, they simply had to play it.

The game itself is remembered for the iconic and somewhat startling image of the England team lining up and giving the Nazi salute. What’s more surprising is that Hitler wasn’t even present. Against their wishes, the players did raise the right arm. Something which many of them deeply regretted for a very long time.

On the political front, the two countries signed the Munich Treaty. Effectively, this meant that the British would not interfere with the ideals it of German expansion.

In the quest for ‘lebensraum’ (living space) and having already acquired the Austrian state, Hitler was now free to invade the state of Czechoslovakia and thus, add to his growing territory.

Shortly after, attention soon turned to the 1938 World Cup in France. An opportunity for the Nazi regime to banish the memories of previous defeats on the football field.

When Hitler rallied support for the new and improved German side – with its acquisition of Austrian and Czech talents – and declared that “Sixty million Germans will play in Paris!”, it became a chilling precursor to the Nazi invasion of France just two years later.

In the tournament itself, however, underlying cracks within the team began to show. In a first round replay against Switzerland, all looked rosy as Germany – now with its five Austrians – led 2-0 at the break. 

As the game wore on into the second half, it became evidently more clear that there were deep internal divisions within the camp. Austrians would not pass to Germans and Germans would not pass to Austrians. Switzerland duly pounced on this lack of cohesion and turned the game on its head. They won 4-2 in the end.

Another embarrassing failure for Adolf Hitler on the footballing front.

Even with Germany’s disappointment, Mussolini’s fascist movement was still gaining support through footballing success. They had won – albeit in a contrived manner – the previous World Cup and this time around, they were showing real promise again.

Symbolically, in Italy’s second round meeting with host nation France, Mussolini ordered that – in the face of a hostile home crowd – the Italy team would abandon their traditional colours of blue and white. Instead, just as the foot-soldiers of the Fascist takeover had done, the footballers adorned the Blackshirts.

They would defeat the French 2-1 on their own soil and would then later go on to beat Hungary in the final. It seemed as though Fascism was still the powerhouse but there was one country which was noticeably quiet during this era, but they were soon to be awoken as a political and footballing force.

That country being Spain, who we will look at in more detail in our next article in the series.

INT’L FOOTBALL Part 2: Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley, March 2021. 

As of October 8th, 1922, Italy had as good as fallen under the rule of a fascist dictatorship.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the Italian people had lost faith in their monarchy as well as democracy and power was seized by the opportunistic thinking of Benito ‘Il Duce’ Mussolini.

Under his reign, authority was to go unquestioned, any political opposition was crushed and promises were made to screaming crowds that, under him, the Italian state would soon revive the glory days of the Roman Empire.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7278.jpg

While Mussolini considered which foreign lands to plunder and conquer, he first sought to ensure that loyalty and obedience to his rule remained strong back at home.

And there was no better way to harness the support of the people other than by giving them something to celebrate. Football.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7268.jpg

A game he wasn’t all that particularly fond of himself, despite adapting his Youth Movement to the ranks at SS Lazio, but that was irrelevant. As a former journalist and editor with the Avanti, he knew how significant a role propaganda could play in shaping public opinion.

“We become strong. I feel, when we have no friends upon whom to lean, or to look to for moral guidance.”

‘Opportunity’ is undoubtedly a key word when one looks back at Mussolini’s tenure.

He had seized upon the unrest and frustrations of the people when he marched them in their thousands towards Rome in 1922; even if he himself allegedly arrived by other more comfortable means.

Initially, while holding the title of Prime Minister, he had grasped the chance to convert the system of governance to suit his own ends by introducing the Acrebo Law.

The political act that, essentially, granted him supreme rule.

Intimidation and brutality on opposing factions was a useful method here and when Italy got to host the 1934 World Cup, this was a means by which he could consolidate his popularity among the masses.

Benito Mussolini’s vision of Italian prowess – physically strong, muscular and attractive – was mitigated by his own propaganda. Akin to that of the physique on the statues of Olympians and heroic Roman figures throughout the country.

After all, he himself was not adverse to the notion of taking his shirt off whenever the cameras showed up.

Whether it be pretending to be helping the workers laying the railway tracks (to help the trains run on time) or trotting about on horseback, Mussolini missed no opportunities to bare the torso and give the onlooking public something to talk about.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7274.jpg

In addition to that, the 1934 tournament was a perfect chance to showcase Italy to the world. Its developments, under fascist rule of course, of infrastructure, commerce and general economic recovery. To show that it could not only host and organise a world cup, but that it could also organise the victory of one too.

Looking back through the archives, it seems that even FIFA had backed down from having any real involvement in the running of this particular tournament.

In his biographical notes, then chairman Jules Remit makes no reference to so many important changes made to the competition that year; not even the imposition of the ‘Coppa Del Duce.’ An accolade that would also be hoisted by the eventual champions.

Mussolini had allowed himself to create his own special trophy of that bore the aforementioned title.

It was a bizarre and overtly-large cup (symbolically about seven times bigger than the actual World Cup) and going by the inscription on it, it’s clear which country he felt should go on and win it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7272.jpg

“Silence is the only answer you should give to the fools…”

Having home advantage wasn’t enough. Favourable refereeing now had to be courted by whatever means necessary. With Vittorio Pozzo as manager, Italy adapted a hard-hitting and niggling approach to their game-plan.

It’s widely believed that Pozzo – who had spent time learning the game while living in England – had no qualms about physicality. Being under the pressure that he was from above however, he might well have had to turn a blind eye to some of the nastier aspects of the way his team went about their business on the field.

Overlooking the Italians opening game against the United States where they enjoyed a come 7-1 win, it was the games against Spain that truly began to rouse suspicion. After the initial drawn game, the replay was overshadowed by a series of contentious decisions – all of which favoured Italy – and the host nation progressed to the next round thanks to a debacle of a 2-1 win.

It became common knowledge that Mussolini had taken up the authority to select the referees and officials he wanted for each match and the plan was working. The Italian supporters were in too much elation to be bothered about questionable fair play and sportsmanlike conduct. After all, they had a World Cup semi-final to look forward to.

The night before Italy’s semi-final meeting with Austria, allegations still persist to this day that Benito Mussolini sat down to dinner with Swedish referee Ivan Ecklind. No doubt the plan was to discuss ‘tactics’ for the upcoming match. Whether the referee was bribed or bullied, we might never know for sure. Either way, it seems as though the man who was supposed to be the one in charge of the game, agreed to something.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7279.jpg

Despite what the native Italian press had said, the Austrians would have been staunch favourites to win this particular game. Their footballing style was renowned for its class and prestige. They were the second country after Britain to go full-on professional and they had Mattias Sindelar – arguably the world’s best centre-forward – leading the line in attack. 

In a 1998 interview with the BBC, Austrian player Josef Bican, openly discussed his tarnished memories of that game. He claimed he and his teammates all knew something was awry with some of the decisions that were going on. Perhaps most vividly, he recalled how he was trying to find a team-mate with a pass only for the referee to intervene and head the ball back to the Italians.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7270.jpg

Torrential rain over Milan had caused the pitch to water-log and quagmires appeared on the surface. No one seemed interested in tending the puddles. Any hopes Austria had of applying their passing game to good effect was under threat and with the referee seemingly doing all in his power to stop them, they bowed out in a single goal defeat. A goal which many still believe was both offside and a blatant foul on their goalkeeper. 

As Italy prepared for the final in Rome a few days later, it’s possible that Mussolini and the world were starting to see how the realms of fascism could be put into active practice. Unlike religion and historical events of old, there could be no dispute about their impending success.

In essence, there could be no interpretation or lie about Italy’s win because the world would see it for themselves. That’s what Mussolini capitalised upon. Portraying an inarguable ‘truth’ to the world that his national side were the greatest. Even if it was a distorted and artificially crafted truth.

“Fascism … believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace.”

Retrospectively speaking, there seems to be an allure of fascination with packed stadiums when it comes to fascist dictators. We’ll see more of that in our next article when we hone in on Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco. They too seemed to be rapt withal to the image of addressing mass crowds and, after all, what fills a stadium better than anything else?

Football, of course. 

On the day of the final, as Italy prepared for their date with destiny against Czechoslovakia, an interesting meeting took place shortly before the kick-off. A meeting which shattered the Czechs’ dreams of causing an upset on the day; before a ball had even been kicked.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7269.jpg

Ivan Ecklind, the controversial Swedish referee from the semi-final, was not only selected again to adjudicate this showpiece game, but when he and he alone, was called to the VIP box to meet with Mussolini, the Czechoslovakian players had their suspicions of underhanded coercion confirmed. As author of ‘The Chronicle of Czech Football’. Miloslov Jensik, told: 

“If anyone was going to be invited, it would usually be the two captains, possibly [along with] the referee … but when our players learned that it was only the referee, it was the confirmation of their darkest fears because they knew what had happened in the semi-final with Austria.” 

The Czechs knew they’d have to face an aggressive team, a hostile home crowd and now a referee who would do all in their combined power to ensure an Italian victory. Throughout the game, the exuberance and recklessness of Italy’s tackling went unpunished and they would eventually win the game 2-1.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7271.jpg

As throngs of supporters of the Azure flooded the pitch in celebration, the significance of an Italian victory in (of all places) Rome was not lost on anybody. It wasn’t just the fans, who had already been whipped up in a fever of turbulent nationalism for over a decade, who rejoiced. Inwardly, a feeling of quaint satisfaction also fell on the dim and devilish smile of one man in particular. Benito Mussolini.

Waving at the crowd in his white military attire, Mussolini knew only too well that fascism had become the religion of the lay people and, with Italy being crowned world champions just twelve years after the seizure of power, a true liturgy was born through sport. Even if the means to that success were fiendish and built on ulterior motives.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7276.jpg

A sporting event twisted and moulded to suit the political ends of people who would use their power for great and terrible evil.

And just like what happened amid the unstable political climate of 1930’s Europe, the incorporation of fascism to football would not remain purely Italian. Soon after, the ideologies would again unravel. Maybe even on a more lasting and wider-scale than before. This when such ideas, as we’ll see in Part Three, crept into the mindsets of those holding power in Germany and Spain.

To Be Continued …