FROM GORTLEE TO BERLIN

BERLIN: YOU HAD ME AT ‘HALLO.’

Originally penned in November 2021

Last month, I took advantage of the mid term break by taking a wee scoot over to the German capital of Berlin. As modern and trendy as this famous city is, it still is something of a geek heaven Graceland for a History teacher like me. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Berlin puts on the face of a modern-day hipster vibe. A place that shows itself to be highly tolerant and progressive. This draws back to the city’s immersion with creative arts and entrepreneurial spirit after the Second World War. 

Make no mistake though. It’s not a place to see your ‘typical Germany.’ The idea of seeing stout men in lederhosen swigging an enormous frothy beer or blonde girls with braided pigtails singing ‘Edelweiss’ won’t be found in the capital.

It’s modern, fast paced and high-tech. Having said that, there are some wonderful old buildings and churches found throughout the city. Each one with their own unique story to tell. 

Upon one of my many strolls, I passed by the Berlin Cathedral. At first glance, one could assume it is centuries old. Something that might be similar in age to the Basilica in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris, but don’t be fooled. 

This gem was built as recently as 1905. Legend has it that Kaiser Wilhelm had grown a tad envious of similar structures he’d seen when traveling Europe and, just maybe, he just huffed and pouted until he got one too. 

As a sports fan, there was no way I could miss out on the Olympiastadion. To the untrained eye, it’s where Hertha Berlin play their home games and where Zinidine Zidane was infamously sent off in the 2006 World Cup Final. 

More than that, however. It’s also the venue where the 1936 Olympics were centered. The games that will forever be linked to how Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime used sport as a means of showcasing their supposed superiority to the world. Until Jesse Owens came along. 

The wall, which had divided the city until November 1989, or at least what remains of it, can be found in smatterings across the city. I first spotted it at Beckaneurstrase which was where the first blocks of the wall were erected, overnight, by the occupying Soviet forces in 1961. 

At this site, you can stand where a ‘no man’s land’ will show how scaling the wall was only part of the job for escapees. Numerous other obstacles including tripwires, land mines and lookout towers were just some of the other barriers that had to be faced. 

There’s always time to enjoy some of the artwork around Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column will give you a taste of the days and successes of the old Prussian Empire while Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag will give you a feel for the more modern. 

What I found interesting about the Reichstag is that it now has a glass dome on the roof. Apparently, this is to symbolize the parliament becoming more transparent and visible to the people compared to the past. And they never did quite find out who burned it down in 1932. Hmm? 

Foodwise, I must confess I’m not a huge fan of German grub. Currywurst – if you can call that German – is probably the signature dish of the city. A pretty basic sausage and chips drowned in curry but it goes down great with a large, cold beer. 

For a pint, chances are you’ll only be spending about €4 a go which, compared to Dublin, is a bit of a steal. A lot of locals do fear though that if prices keep going up, the city will fall victim to inflation and gentrification which will lead to everyone being charged ‘tourist prices.’ 

German people themselves are very courteous. They may not be as openly warm and affectionate the way the Italians or the Spanish are but they are very respectable, often highly intelligent and, despite the stereotype, they can be a right good laugh too. 

One girl I met, Marina, explained that Germans are well aware of their tropes, but she admitted she embraces her devotion to punctuality and being organized. She put it best when she said: 

“In other countries, friends will say ‘I’ll give you a call someday or let’s meet up soon.’ Here in Germany, I admit we are more specific and will say things like ‘let’s meet, tomorrow, at six, at this place’ and we won’t be late either!” she joked.

During my pre-trip research – aside from Googling ‘what pubs are good?’ – I did come across some articles stating that although the Wall has come down, there still lies a stark difference between easterners and westerners who share the city. 

Perhaps due to their years under communism, the easterners tend to see themselves as ‘true Germans.’ Ones who avoided being lured by the ideals of capitalism and foreign influence. 

On the flip side, while there is no real animosity between the two, the westerners seem to perceive their neighbours to be radical to the point of xenophobia and racist.

While I’m led to believe that places like Munich and Cologne are more quintessentially German, Berlin still has a lot to offer. Especially if you’re into learning about its, still relatively recent, history. 

There’s a lot of cool museums and galleries where you can learn about the inventiveness of the people who tried to scale the Berlin Wall. There are also some reminders and memorials to those who suffered the Holocaust. 

And if you find yourself scratching your head and pondering why tourists all flock to a simple car park in an apartment building, fear not. This is the site which once was Hitler’s underground bunker. 

Don’t underestimate how big the city is though. It’s essentially the old East and West joining to make one big city. Thankfully though, public transport is cheap and it all runs on a very regular basis. 

ALL YOU NEED IS LIVERPOOL

Originally penned September 2021

Now that travel is slowly but surely returning with some degree of normality, it was hard to resist the opportunity to not hop on a plane and explore a city. Granted, Liverpool is merely a hop and a skip away compared to some of the more far flung and remote parts of the world I’ve visited in the last five years, but even with that, it’s a city that’s good for the soul. 

By Jonathan Foley

Although I’m better known for being a Celtic fan in many circles, I’ve never denied the fact that when it comes to English football, I’ve always been a Red deep down. With the restrictions easing on attendances at matches across the channel, the Liverpool vs Chelsea fixture at Anfield had to be taken in once the sights and the sounds of Merseyside had been done.

While it was my late father who passed on his enthusiasm for LFC to me, it was my mum who did likewise with her love of The Beatles. And although I’d been to the city numerous times before, mainly for trips to other matches, this was really the first time I ever took an extra day to wander the city streets and famous dock areas that make the place what it is. 

As an Irish History graduate, there’s no denying that when it comes to our country’s history of migration, predominantly from the mid-nineteenth century, the port of Liverpool is just as much a part of our heritage as anywhere else. While on a stroll around the district of Everton, I couldn’t help but notice that I passed a local Catholic church with a road sign for Roscommon Street. 

Having nipped for a pint the night before – well, maybe a few more than that – I’d also got chatting to two local and fairly-elderly Scousers who went by the surnames of Mahon and McDermott. A pair of easy going and light-hearted lads who informed me that they both had grannies who came from Dublin. This gave rise to the famous old gag: 

“What’s the true definition of a Scouser? He’s a Dubliner who could swim well!”

Perhaps one of the best features about the city is that everywhere is fairly walkable. Matthew Street was noticeably busy on Friday evening as the pubs and clubs filled up with stag parties, hens and ones looking to start the weekend off in style. This being the same street that’s home to the Cavern Club and the statue of a young John Lennon created an ideal photo opportunity. 

The aforementioned docks, now known more commercially as Pier Head, is within walking distance. While it’s become much more touristy with its fancy cafés and souvenir shops since the city’s rejuvenation as ‘City of Culture’ in 2008, there still remains here a chance to take in the sea air and see for yourself the dockside that once made the city flourish in the old days. 

As good as the sights are, it’s the sounds and the energy which drives the city. Liverpudlians certainly have their own distinct high-frequency accent which is unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Like the people, it’s welcoming, endearing and humorous while a love of live music and conversations about football are prioritised over anything else. 

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Liverpool’s ground at Anfield produces a special atmosphere. Having been away from stadiums for so long, and with all the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, the pre-match rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was notably spine-tingling and even a tad emotional. 

On a personal level, Covid-19 has carried a real and ongoing threat to my own career plans these past 19 months, but places and songs like these possess an uncanny ability to put things in perspective. They make you realise that you’re far from being the worst off person in the world, you become thankful for what you have and sure, as they say, money can’t buy me love. 

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.

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

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 1: Football in the Age of Empires.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in March, 2021. 

“Sport and Politics should never be mixed” and while that’s a statement with great noble intentions and morality within its sentiment, there’s no denying that the two invariably have.

Within the last century alone, we’ve seen how the political ideals held by those who hold power over the people have utilised ‘The People’s Game’ to suit their agenda.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the early stages of international football and it took a prominent role, not just in Britain, but also across the European continent between the years of 1872 right up to the end of the inter-war period. Looking at how and why the game many of us know and love so well took the course that it did. 

A time which would witness the game moving from the pastime of factory workers and small villages across the United Kingdom to when it caught the attention of facist dictators who were plotting continental and global domination for what they perceived to be the ‘Master Race.’

‘Auch, did ye aye?’ 

Historians generally agree that the first officially recognised match between two international sides took place in Glasgow on St Andrew’s Day (30 November) 1872 between Scotland and England. 

One could be forgiven for assuming the two neighbouring teams, ruled by the same Empire, adapted a similar approach in the way they played. In fact, the complete opposite is true.

Players from England used a methodology that was focused almost entirely on a dribbling-based game. Imagine, if you will, the way you rugby is played, but with the ball on the ground.

One man running towards the goal and if he should be dispossessed, he’d be hopeful that a comrade might retrieve the ball and take up where he left off.

The Scottish approach was very different. Always an inventive nation, they were the initiators of a passing-game. Something which many would have assumed had always been part and parcel of the game – but no. Scots’ players looking to share possession by moving the ball around was most baffling to their English counterparts.

The game ended at the Partick Cricket Grounds with a 0-0 scoreline but with regard to separate nations playing the same game – but with very different ideas and motives – this particular match was perhaps an omen for some things to come.

‘We’re English and the English are the best at everything!’ 

It is true that the English were responsible for bringing the game to so many parts of the globe, but for the purposes of this article, the focus will stay on Europe for now.

The Corinthians, largely based in London, were the Harlem Globetrotters of their day. Going on tours and entertaining crowds and showing off this new game which their country had invented.

Adorning their white kits – a legacy carried on by Real Madrid in their honour – they brought joy and spectacle to the steadily growing towns and cities they visited and there were three cities in particular where they caught the imagination of the people tremendously well.

Prague, Budapest and Vienna. 

Three cities which were once under the common rule of the Hapsburg Empire – but were now establishing their own respective identities and cultures under the Austro-Hungarian rule – they all ran along (or close to) the River Danube which made boat travel for the travelling Crusaders much easier.

Following the end to hostilities after The Great War, Europe would have a very different complexion from 1919 onwards as new national borders were drawn up and new countries were born.

One of which was Czechoslovakia and, as some wrinkly old footage shows, they gathered huge attendances at their club games right from the off.

In Budapest, it seemed that political groups were already using the game to support their own ideologies. Much of the support for MTK Budapest came from the Jewish community. On the other hand, Ferencvaros, were the team who held sway with the migrant German population who had lived there.

Similarly in Vienna, the Social Democrats urged their predominantly working-class followers to get behind FK Wien. Their claim was that this was the club of the common man. Differentiating themselves from Rapid Vienna, who were tagged as being the side for the bourgeois members of the high-class society. 

The post-World War I attitude in Britain, particularly in England, was that of ‘Splendid Isolation.’ They felt they’d no need to involve themselves in matters concerning Europe anymore; be it as allies or enemies.

As for football, reports suggest that many Britons felt that it was always going to be ‘their game.’ 

After all, it had been codified in the public schools such as Eton and Harrow and, after some early bannings by previous monarchies led by Charles I and James (I of England and VI of Scotland), the game of football had become not only legal, but also a healthy and a respectable leisurely pastime for people to play or watch. 

Even the clergy hailed it as ‘Muscular Christianity’ and a way of keeping men away from the temptations that too many ales in the public houses might have brought on.

It’s unclear exactly when they started to realise that the game was becoming more than just a passing phase or a fad to those who played it on the European mainland.

Some suggestions do indicate, however, that when Austria became the next country to adopt full-on professionalism and then walloped Scotland 5-0 in 1929, alarm bells began truly ringing.

‘Mambo Italiano.’

Despite some internal divisions at club level, European national sides began to forge and also in the 1920s, there would be a re-assemblement of the Mitropa Cup between the clubs of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Italy.

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this, in a way, gave us an early glimpse of a European club competition long before 1955. Essentially, it was an earlier forerunner for the European Cup / Champions League.

This is where one man in particular had an importance that can not be understanded; that being Vittorio Pozzo.

Born in Turin in 1886, a keen football supporter who had come to know about the game from his days as a student in Manchester and when he attended the 1913 FA Cup Final between Aston Villa and Sunderland where over 121,000 attended. 

Pozzo is believed to have been hugely interested in the tactical side of the game and during his time in England, where physicality between competing sides was a key component, he’d become impressed all the more. More about that later! 

His expertise, knowledge and love of football were innocent traits but they could be exploited by a young, rising and domineering figure within Italian society. 

One who would lead the overthrowing of a King, who’d stand on balconies alongside Adolf Hitler, who made promises to frantic crowds that he would restore national pride, crush all opposition and revive the spirit of the ‘Glory Days of the Roman Empire.’

Benito ‘Il Duce’ Mussolini had banished deomcratic procedures in Italy under his supreme and unquestionable rule. The Blackshirts brought intimidation and violence to anyone who spoke ill of his authority and, being a former journalist himself, Mussolini was well aware about how public favour could be won over.

Propaganda articles in the Avanti newspaper proclaiming that the trains now run on time is one thing, but it seems that Mussolini sought more. Something that could really capture the spirit, imagination and fervour of the people. In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better, especially with this new tournament starting up in 1930 – the World Cup.

To Be Continued ….

‘The Prince of Goalkeepers’; John Thomson.

Originally published in September 2020; Redrafted in March, 2021 by Jonathan Foley.

Still regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in Britain during the two decades which separated the world wars, relatively little is known about Celtic and Scotland’s John Thomson.

The date of September 5th marks the anniversary of the tragic passing of this young man during a Rangers vs Celtic game in 1931. One who so many once hailed as ‘The Prince of Goalkeepers.’

By the time Thomson reached the tender age of 21, he was already a fully-fledged starter in goals for both the Celtic and Scotland teams. Sadly, he’d not live to go any further. 

During that aforementioned Old Firm match at Ibrox, he gallantly rushed out of his goal to thwart a move that put Sam English in on goal for the home side. 

As Thomson dived at the attacker’s feet, English’s knee innocently collided with the goalkeeper’s head and the blow was severe enough to put him into an immediate state of unconsciousness. 

His head nestled in the ground, his arm raised aloft and static above him. A most harrowing image, even today, when seeing the flickering archive footage which has survived all this time.

The urgency of the matter was not lost on English who, despite limping from the clash, forewent concern from himself and immediately rushed to Thomson’s aid. 

David Mickeljohn – the Rangers captain – called for calm amongst the many thousands on the terraces who were initially booing and jeering.

Realising the seriousness of the situation themselves, the crowd quit their taunts and immediately fell into a hushed and most respectful silence. 

Thomson was stretchered from the field and was rushed to the Western Infirmary. 

Rangers manager William Struth feared the worst and arranged for the club to send a car to Cardenden – some 55 miles away – to collect the boy’s parents from Fife.

He passed away at 9:25pm and the mass congregation of some 100,000 people who attended his funeral – many of whom arrived on foot from Glasgow – was testament to the stature to which he carried himself. 

And yet, while many recall how he passed, not as many know how he lived. 

Background and Upbringing:

Born in 1909, Thomson spent the bulk of his early life carrying out work in the dank and claustrophobic surroundings of the coalmines. 

Despite his relatively slender physique and small-sized hands, his job of locking trailers together as they moved along the rails, is said to have given him a natural sense of agility, timing and positioning. Ideal goalkeeper attributes. 

His appearances in youth football on the Scottish east coast caught the attention of then Celtic manager, Willie Maley, who approached and signed the boy for a fee of just ten pounds. 

Even with his Evangelical Protestant upbringing, Thomson was delighted to sign for Celtic. Miner strikes were common and professional football offered a more steady and stable income. 

The only true opponent to his decision to swap the pits for football was his mother, who feared that football was too dangerous. In retrospect, her words could be deemed as a haunting prophecy. 

During his career, Rangers were dominant in the league title honours, yet Thomson helped Celtic to two Scottish Cups and three Glasgow Cups. 

At international level, he initially played for a Scotland League XI side. Despite a resounding victory for an England XI at White Hart Lane, Thomson was applauded off the field by both sets of fans.

At Scotland senior level, he earned four caps. He put in a series of wonderful displays and became known for his ability to clutch crosses from the air and for his bravery when rushing out of his goal. 

Behaviour that certainly wasn’t all that common at the time and in his four proper appearances for his country, he conceded just a single goal in those matches.

Perhaps an element of foreshadowing knocked on his door when he picked up a series of injuries in one game.

During a challenge, he lost two teeth, broke his jaw and several ribs. His mother’s pleas rang louder than ever before but he was unperturbed.

He recovered to be back in goal quickly and set his sights on marriage after becoming engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Margaret Findlay. A wedding that nobody would ever see.

Sam English, only 23 himself, openly wept at his funeral and his genuineness was seen by everyone. Thomson’s family openly forgave him and successfully pushed for an exoneration; clearing him of any wrongdoing. 

English, a native of County Antrim originally, left Scotland soon after. Even a prolific goal scoring record at Liverpool couldn’t redeem his spirit and humour anymore. 

He retired young with the feeling that football had become what he called “a joyless sport.” He passed away himself in 1967, aged 58. He remains well thought of by all. 

John Thomson joined the game as a boy, but sadly, left it as one too. He will always be remembered amongst the Celtic support and, hopefully, by the wider football community as a whole.

@johnnyfoley1984

IS FOOTBALL (REALLY) FINISHED?

Originally penned in March 2021.

Football has undergone a plethora of changes in recent times. So much so that the game sometimes feels unrecognizable from what it was 25 years ago.

Some changes have been forced upon the game by the powers that be – some for better, some not so – and some have been brought to bear on ‘The Beautiful Game’ by the players, managers, pundits and even the supporters themselves.

“The Game’s Gone” has become a popular catchphrase amongst all such parties mentioned. While much of that sentiment derives from the frustrations over VAR and harsher penalization of supposed foul play, let’s take a look at some other factors that might be just as responsible.

Back in 1992, when Sky Sports may as well have claimed that they’d invented the wheel with their “whole new ball game” bragging, the main rule change of that period was the introduction of the back pass rule.

#1: ‘Can’t Pick It Up!’

Taking a look back at the first weeks of the inaugural Premier League season is interesting. It will provide enough evidence to show that goalkeepers were certainly finding it hard to break the habits of a lifetime.

A series of bundled goals and comical errors ensued and it led to a public decry that the game was being ruined. Utterly ruined! One notable protester was a certain Andy Gray.

His frustrations rang out most memorably during his co-commentary from the gantry of the Charity Shield at Wembley.

Leeds United ‘keeper John Lukic was given a tame enough pass, when all of a sudden, the fear of being charged down by an opposing forward became all too real!

It seemed the only option for him to take was to just hoof it out of play which he duly did: “Is that [rule] making the game any better? … I don’t think so!” bemoaned the Scotsman.

#2: ‘He’s Getting How Much?’

Moving slightly onwards into the mid-nineties, it could be argued that society at large started to become more aware, and often disgruntled, by the amount of money that was being thrown around on club transfers and player wages. 

Between the summers of 1995 and 1996, moves like those of Denis Bergkamp to Arsenal (£7.5m), Stan Collymore to Liverpool (£8.5m) and Alan Shearer to Newcastle (£15m) alone made both front and back-page news headlines (Shearer’s especially).

When reports of how much they’d be earning a week were eked out by the press, the wider-public would surely have been throwing their eyes to the heavens in exasperation.

“What?? That amount of money every week to kick a pig’s bladder around! Well, I’ve never!” was one I can definitely recall.

#3: ‘The ‘FAmous’ Cup?’

For generations, the FA Cup was something of an institution and a staple in the football calendar.

Regardless of who you supported, watching the cup final at Wembley every May was as routine and as annual as Christmas. The teams leaving the hotels that morning, being filmed on the buses to the ground; it was all part an exciting build up.

Sadly though, it’s lost its charm in modern times.

Most higher-end teams tend to put less emphasis on the importance of cup success in preference of a more financially-rewarding league finish.

Part of which is understandable but it begs the question. As kids, whoever dreamt of finishing fourth in the table instead of scoring the winning goal in a cup final?

Some have claimed that this was brought on the FA by themselves however.

In the 1999-2000 season, it’s said that they encouraged Manchester United to withdraw from it to go and compete in the experimental 8-team FIFA World Club Champions tournament.

Allegedly this was all a part of a plan to help England’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

#4: ‘Put Your Clothes Back On!’ 

A little further on into the new millennium and, in the eyes of the law-makers, there was a new enemy in town. The curse of ‘over-celebrating!’ and it had to be promptly stomped out.

Initially by booking players who removed their shirts during a celebration and later by doing likewise for players who left the field of play; even if they were merely scaling the advertising hoardings.

Now, after seeing how frightful hairy Ryan Giggs’s torso was after he scored against Arsenal at Villa Park in 1999, this may not have been the worst rule that ever came in. Still though, it basically eclipsed the possibility of anyone ever reigniting the Fabrizio Ravenelli celebration, forever more.

Although some players will rebel against the system and do it anyway, one couldn’t help but feel slightly aggrieved for Chelsea’s Arjen Robben in 2006.

A late winner in a pulsating fixture at Sunderland saw him dismissed for ‘over celebrating’ with his own fans, even though no item of clothing was removed in the process.

The rule which stated “players must avoid such excessive displays of joy” had been violated and breached.

#5: ‘Goals: The Original Soundtrack.’ 

Personally speaking, I can’t say I’m overly-opposed to music being pumped through the ground’s sound-system. It’s certainly wasn’t the worst idea that ever was.

Mainly because I hold fond memories of joining in with the chants at Celtic Park when the DJ pressed play on ‘The Magnificent Seven’ every time Henrik Larsson scored. The same goes for the rehash of the Stone Roses classic for ‘I Wanna Be Edouard.’

And I’ve no doubt that the likes of Middlesbrough fans feel something similar. Especially when the samba-like saxophone beats of ‘Reach Out’ blare out in the stadium when the Teesiders finally get around to hitting the net.

Mind you, Tottenham may be taking theirs a tad too far. Even this year, during a time when stadiums are empty, someone decided it was a good idea to play a 20-year old dance track (‘Sandstorm’ by Darude) before a VAR check on the goal is even complete.

So one has to wonder what the thinking was behind that one.

#6: ‘Hold Me Close, Don’t Let Me Go.’ 

Seeing the teams line up in the tunnel is always part of the anticipation just before kick-off.

It adds a sense of realism to the affair, but over the last maybe seven / eight years or so, one can’t help but feel that the excessive hugging and friendliness between supposed rival players is a bit of a momentum killer.

It’s a sentiment that’s certainly shared by Roy Keane in his punditry, but as a player, his spat with Patrik Viera in the tunnel at Highbury in 2005, makes him true to his word on this occasion.

Now I have to say here, that I quietly enjoy seeing international colleagues or former teammates share a pat on the back. Goalies too who seem to have their own unspoken bond.

Although an instance like third was comically ridiculed by Jamie Vardy when Kasper Schmiechel and Pierre-Emile Hoijberg had their lovely moment spoiled with a teasing “Oooh Danish friends!” just before a Leicester took to the field alongside Southampton back in 2017.

#7: ‘Make Mine a Half and Half.’ 

The growing trend of half and half scarves at domestic league matches has got worrying to say the least.

A quick online search suggests that the two biggest names Ed who are most guilty of this heinous act are the Manchester clubs. Others may disagree, but sure hey, if it’s on the internet, then it’s gotta be true, right? (Ahem!)

Half and half scarves of teams competing in a European match seem to be somewhat exempt from this rule, but seeing them in the stalls outside the grounds of teams who are facing even their crosstown rivals just feels like a quick cash grab.

In fairness though, the clubs themselves can’t really be blamed for this one. After all, these items are almost always unofficial merchandise and we all know how it’s not that cheap to attend these games anymore. Maybe it’s just a new fad of consumer culture to purchase a memento of that particular game.

Fair enough, maybe.

#8: ‘Ask Not What Your Country Can Do…’ 

Perhaps because our multi-channeled and high-resolution television sets have us all so spoiled nowadays; ones that enable us to watch top-flight football from clubs all across Europe and the world at the touch of a button. Yet one can’t help feel a touch sad when we see how so many fans now see international breaks as a hindrance.

A youngster lining out for his country hasn’t really remained as a landmark moment down through the years.

In the contemporary era, a player togging out for his country creates more a sense of apprehension or dread amid the fans who basically offer prayers so that he won’t get injured.

And yet, when the big summer tournaments come round (be it for the Euros, the World Cup or the Copa Americainternational football suddenly becomes cool again.

Call me Old Fashioned, but I’d still take watching the best eleven Brazilian players take on the best eleven German players any day of the week over West Brom vs Brighton. 

#9: ‘Computer Says No!’ 

There’s not a chance we could come this far and not discuss the way the game has spiralled since the introduction to VAR in 2019.

I think it’s fair to say how we, as fans, all feel a tad bewildered by how cruel it is in ruling players offside and how, even with all the fancy electric geometry Stockley Park can perform, what exactly constitutes a handball is more confusing thanever.

Some might argue that it’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’

For years, there were cries and moans that technology should become a prominent feature of the game (“look at how rugby does it!” one would say) and now that it’s here, the golden wish has become a nightmare.

The hierarchy claimed it would quell any arguments over decisions, but many fans still hold firm to the belief that debating theories over a decision was just part of the enjoyment.

Olivier Giroud and Harry Kane have both scored superb goals this month but the joy of either moment could never be fully embraced due to prolonged monitor viewings and re-viewings that followed.

#10: ‘Breaking News: Player Eats Sandwich – More to Follow.’ 

Clickbait media is a huge pep-eevee of mine.

The digital version of tabloid gossip and quotes being taken out of context drives me up the wall. What’s worse is that even Sky Sports have got in the act with misleading captions on their YouTube. Hoping to draw in views because a pundit supposedly said something controversial.

In these cases, the word ‘slams’ gets a ridiculous amount of use. With the exception of the occasional actual outburst by a manager during a press conference, very few of these ‘slams’ are ever anything to take note of.

And with this being an era of likes, shares and retweets, it’s little wonder fans often end up talking more about what pundits say or didn’t say during the broadcast of a live match instead of the game itself.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a luxury having the ability to sprawl out on the sofa and channel-hop between matches but I just don’t buy in the “explosive punditry” narrative.

In conclusion, while the game of football has indeed changed an incredible amount over the last quarter of a century, some are uncertain for the future. Will it ever be enjoyed the same way as it once was?

Attending games, even post-Covid, could become even more expensive and we’ll rely more and more on mass media to pass their opinions onto us.

Is “the game gone” though? I mean, really?

If life teaches us one thing, surely it’s that this is a common feeling that has been uttered by generations many times in the past.

History books like ‘Sport and the British’ (Richard Holt) teach us that the very notion of players being paid to play the game at all spelled certain doom during the late 19th Century.

It’s unimaginable to think now but there was even a time when a group of Scots factory workers adapted a revolutionary new tactic called ‘passing the ball.’ A ghastly idea that their English gentlemen counterparts thought to be most appalling (cite: ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ by Jonathan Wilson).

Even in my own years as a fan, I still recall my elders bemoaning the death of the game when players had the audacity to wear coloured boots and gloves while on the field. The Horror!

@JohnnyFoley1984