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. 

‘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. 

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 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