AN ODE TO WIM JANSEN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022

In the build-up to Celtic’s final match of the Scottish Premier Division against European hopefuls St Johnstone – Saturday 9th May, 1998 – there was a duality within the emotions to the usual roars of the Celtic Park crowd as the two teams took to the field.

On the surface, the stadium looked more spectacular than usual that afternoon. As glorious sunshine bathed the playing surface, it seemed as though every single man, woman and child, lucky enough to get a ticket that day, was wearing more green and white than usual. 

Caught up in a gentle breeze, a scattering of party balloons floated around the stands. Some had trickled on to the pitch while the ritual pre-kick off ritual rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed with more haunting purpose than it ever had done before. It was essentially a prayer in all but name.

Underneath the fanfare and wash of club-coloured pariphanilia and decoration lay a deep sense of nervous tension however. Celtic’s players and fans were unison in the knowledge that a win in this fixture would see them officially crowned champions of Scotland for the first time in a decade; a proverbial eternity for a club such as Celtic. 

Anything other than a win would mean that crosstown-rivals Rangers would likely snatch the title for themselves was worrying enough. 

Moreover, a Celtic failure – of which there had been plenty in the preceding ten years – would not only mean the loss of a league title. It would also see Rangers win the elusive ‘10-a-Row’ and ultimately banish Celtic’s cherished accolade of nine successive titles (1966-74) from the history books altogether.   

Having the record equalled at the end of the previous campaign was tough enough to take for the Celtic faithful. Such is the intensity of the rivalry between these two Clydeside clubs, it’s not as though Rangers were going to be content with drawing level with the record. They were out to overtake Celtic and put themselves in the historical reckoning. 

In the final weeks of the season, it appeared to be Celtic who were taking the initiative in the title race. A splattering of nervous-by-the-occasion draws however kept Rangers in the hunt and on the final day of a most important season, it would all come down to this.

In Walter Smith’s sixth season as Rangers’ manager, he had never not won a league championship. With an expensive array of talent that he’d signed in earlier in the season from Serie A , he had his sights on another. On the other hand, after much boardroom and financial trouble in the not too distant past before this, Celtic had put their latest trust in Wim Jansen. 

ONE YEAR EARLIER

Merely twelve months earlier, Celtic had the look and feel of a scourged harvest. 

Battling performances against Rangers in the 1996-97 campaign were to be marginally admired, but ultimately, all four of the league meetings had ended in victories for the city’s blue half. Even Celtic’s hopes of a consolation Scottish Cup success ended with an embarrassing loss to lower-division Falkirk in the semi-final. 

This unfortunately spelled the end of long term club servant, Tommy Burns, who was relieved from his position as manager. Spoiler alert, but the silver cloud of Burns’s tenure was that would not only be invited back as a coach years later, but that his name remains ever fondly remembered. 

Back in the summer of 1997 though, things didn’t get much better after his departure when the attacking trio of Jorge Cadete, Paolo DiCanio and Pierre vanHooijdonk all packed their bags and abandoned the club. A soap opera of walkouts at the same time as when Rangers fans were dancing in the streets chanting ‘9-in-a-Row.’ while quickly escalating those into calls for Ten! 

There was a sense of ‘Wim who?’ when the board of directors, under the chairmanship of Fergus McCann, unveiled him as the new Head Coach. As Rob MacLean reported for BBC Scotland, “the Dutchman has previously coached in the J-League with Hiroshima where one reporter there unflatteringly claimed ‘Jansen was the second worst disaster to ever hit this city.’”

The overall setup was rather curious too. Officially, Jock Brown – a football commentator with BBC and Sky Sports just a few months earlier – was to be the General Manager with Jansen as Head Coach. 

Wim Jansen: Key moments during Dutchman's 12-month spell as Celtic manager  remembered | GlasgowWorld

While it became fairly self-evident early on that Brown and Jansen were far from bosom buddies, things would need to be shaken up on the playing field as quickly as possible. It might be hard to fathom for some nowadays, but Celtic were hugely active during the summer transfer market and by the time the season opener came around, seven new players had signed. 

Arguably the most notable signings were those of Marc Reiper (West Ham, £1.8m), Craig Burley (Chelsea, £2.5m) and a certain Swede who Jansen knew well from his time in the Netherlands, Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, £650,000). 

The quality of players would take a bit of time to settle and gel together, but it was clear that Jansen was adapting a new approach for Celtic as a whole.

A SOLID UNIT 

Traditionally, Celtic had often received praise for their cavalier and alamoesque methods that they had incorporated into their attacking game. As entertaining as that often was to watch, it was so often their undoing at that back where defenders and goalkeepers were essentially left helplessly abandoned.

Jansen was adamant that the new testament of contemporary football should be played with a strong defensive unit, the utilization of wingers, a compact midfield – later added to by the signing of Paul Lambert in November (Borussia Dortmund, £2m) – and a forward line where one played behind the other. 

Physical strength was going to be key as well as pace down the flanks. ‘Total Football!” Not just attacking alone!

Despite a horrendous start to the league campaign where they lost their opening two games to Hibernian and Dunfermline, the team did, slowly but surely, begin to mold into Jansen’s image.

A great run of wins followed from late August into November and during that run, they graciously bowed out of the UEFA Cup only on away goals to Liverpool – after an immensely spirited performance at Anfield – while also booking their place in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup.

In an age of Britpop music and Girl Power, Celtic fans started to steadily add to their knowledge as to just who their new gaffer really was.

The fact that search engines hadn’t become a thing yet didn’t stop fans from learning that Jansen had actually played against Celtic before; that game being the 1970 European Cup Final no less! Not only that, but he’d also played in the 1974 World Cup Final for Holland against West Germany. A former teammate of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskins to boot! 

Celtic did hit something of a rocky patch in early November. Losing the first Old Firm meeting of the season at Ibrox as a painful, but albeit important lesson to learn. They also lost at home to Motherwell a week later, but there was a point salvaged in the rearranged home game with Rangers when a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs made it 1-1 and hope was restored. 

As much as the League Cup is looked down upon, Celtic realized that if they could win that trophy by overcoming Dundee United in the final, it would likely whet their appetite for more silverware come the rest of the season. And rest assured, the Celts stormed to a comfortable 3-0 win in that final and, with that, the Dutchman had his hands on his first trophy as Celtic boss.

Rumblings off the park couldnt be ignored though. The disunity between Jansen and Brown’s working relationship was showing cracks and their dislike of one another became worthy of media attention. It seemed as though Jansen had a maverick tendency to go against club policy at times which angered those on the board. Talk of a break clause in his contract also got headlines.

TITLE RUN-IN

The priority focus hadn’t shifted far from anyone’s thoughts that the league title must take precedence. Going into December, Jansen further added to the squad by bringing in Harald Brattbakk from FC Rosenborg. A late Burley goal against Hearts proved crucial in keeping Celtic in the title race, but 1997 would end in a frustrating loss away to St Johnstone. 

On the morning of the New Year Derby, Celtic trailed Rangers by four points and they knew all too well that a loss in this fixture could be the most telling factor in the title race. 

This was a Hogmanay fixture that Celtic hadn’t won in ten years. Frank McAvennie’s double on a mucky pitch in 1988 seemed a lifetime ago to those who stood in The Jungle that day, but alas the Bhoys rose to the occasion this time and thanks to two wonderful goals, one from Burley and a screamer from Lambert, Celtic were right back in the hunt.

Despite the occasional draw here and there, Celtic went into April unbeaten in 1998 and went into the final Old Firm league meeting of the season holding a three-point lead over their rivals. As expected, Rangers were not going to lay down and, on Easter Sunday, a hailstone shower didn’t drown out the noise of the Rangers support as their side powered to a 2-0 win. 

Four games to go. All square. 

THE FINAL FURLONG

In mid-to-late April, Celtic seized back the initiative with a 4-1 victory over Motherwell and hope sprang eternal when Rangers suffered a shock defeat away at Aberdeen the following day. One Saturday later though, Celtic blew the chance to push ahead after an infuriating 0-0 draw at home to Hibernian while, on the same day, Rangers cut back the gap by thrashing Hearts 3-0. 

As the May Bank Holiday weekend approached, Rangers were up first and after two tough away games, they were expected to breeze past Kilmarnock in a home game. This would also put them ahead of Celtic and no doubt grant them the psychological edge in the race. Low-and-behold though, a last-gasp Ally Mitchell Killie winner kills the Ibrox party atmosphere. 

All Celtic need to do is win away at Dunfermline, which they’d already done twice this season already in both the league and the cup, and the title race would be officially and mathematically over. A first-half Simon Donnelly strike hit the net and the corkscrews were being turned. Typically, it went back on ice when the Pars snatched a draw seven minutes from time. 

Going into that final six days before the league decider must’ve been full of immense pressure for the Celtic players, but although the support continued to go their way, sympathy wasn’t always forthcoming. Club writers like Matt McGlone documented his feelings clearly that the “league should be well and truly in the bag by now” with some fans echoing his sentiment. 

Issues over Jansen’s contract had become an issue for the club when, back in February, he openly admitted to the press that he had a breakout clause in his deal with Celtic. Essentially, this meant that he could leave the club after a year of his initial three-year-agreement and with the Rangers’ charge for number ten still on the go, where a record created by the Lisbon Lions had to be protected, it must’ve felt chaotic in-house, to say the least. 

LAST CHANCE SALOON

All in all, it all came down to a simple plan for Jansen’s men. Beat St Johnstone on Saturday and the league will be won in front of their own fans. Fans who deserve it, more than most, for their loyalty that had never waned nor wilted during the storm of the last decade or so. 

Jansen may have had no love for the likes of Jock Brown, or indeed most of the boardroom it later emerged, but there was no denying his devotion to his players and supporters. 

In the second minute of this very crucial game, Henrik Larsson cut inside and unleashed a fearsome curling effort that bellowed into the net and the cheers that rang out from the stands must’ve echoed throughout all of the East End.

There was still a job to do of course. Celtic couldn’t quite find a second goal for a long time and having been stung late on in the game against Dunfermline only six days earlier, the tension amongst the support was understandably unbearable at times. Radio sets held to the ears giving news that Rangers were two up at Tannadice didn’t do much to help the nerves either. 

Going into the final twenty minutes or so, Harald Brattbakk made his way on as a substitute. He’d become a fairly maligned character after an inconsistent run of performances, but Jansen and the fans stayed loyal to him and, somewhat typically, it was the trainee pilot / accountant who wrote his name in Celtic’s folklore.

Determined not to give up possession of the ball, club captain Tommy Boyd held strong under attention from an opponent to send a long one forward. It found Jackie McNamara whose burst of pace saw him fly down the wing and it was his low cross that found Brattbakk to slot home. 

Bedlam! Absolute bedlam, maybe with a wee touch of emotional tearge, from the crowd. 

Eighteen minutes later, the final whistle finally confirmed Celtic as the champions of Scotland for the first time in far too long. Boyd wept tears of joy before making his way up to kiss and collect the trophy. 

Chants of ‘Championaaays! Championaaays!’ rang loud and proud and iconic image of a bare chested Enrico Annoni hoisting Wim Jansen off his feet to share in a jubilant embrace probably confirms the theory that, despite all the politics that had gone on behind-the scenes, Wim Jansen’s loyalty to his players and the supporters always came first … just like the team did!   

Although when the dust settled and the hangovers subsided, Wim Jansen departed the club just two days later. While it did prompt a response from fans that was targeted at McCann and Brown, their support of the Dutchman showed. 

Nevertheless, Jansen rode off into the sunset leaving Celtic fans safe in the knowledge that they could now add the chant of ‘Cheeriooooo to Ten in a Row!’ to their evergrowing playlist of anthems. 

“Wim who” had become “Wim the Tim!”

On a personal level, just for a sec, I’d like to give thanks in my own way to what Wim Jansen did for Celtic Football Club. He took the reigns on when I was just 12 years old. I was an extremely shy kid at the time. I was finding the transition into secondary school very difficult and my parents – for a time anyway – split up.

As you can imagine, it was a fairly confusing time during my youthful adolescence. Football though, and Celtic in particular, became my health and well-being. They gave me heroes to look up to; not to mention some dreams and songs to sing.

Thank you Wim.

Wim Jansen, Hail Hail. 

(1946-2022)

Follow the @ArmchairFanatic on Twitter for more.

RIGHT ON CUE FOR CELTIC

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in December 2021.

Friday January 2, 1998: Celtic 2-0 Rangers.

Just as the Hogmanay celebrations subsided, the Celtic faithful were ‘Bhoying’ themselves up again pretty quickly for the imminent arrival of Rangers to Glasgow’s East on January 2nd.

Back in 1998, Celtic were in the early stages of a restructure under new manager Wim Jansen. Despite a rocky start to the season, the Hoops and their plethora of new signings went on a fantastic run throughout much of September and October. 

They hit a bit of a sticky pitch in November when they went three games without a win, but crucially in the run, they’d secured a vital 1-1 draw with their crosstown rivals thanks to a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs. Come January, Celtic were looking to go one better. 

Rangers were in hot pursuit of their tenth successive league title that year. Marco Negri had already noticed a staggering 33 goals by the turn of the year, but despite the fact they held a four point lead going into this game, there was a feeling that they were still there for the taking.

One of Celtic’s major undoings in previous Old Firm meetings was a leaky defense. Although they could often attack in a dazzling manner in these intense fixtures, their Achilles heal, time after time, was getting caught on the break by Rangers’ talismanic figures like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to name but a few. 

There was a different feeling around Parkhead this time however. It seemed as though Jansen was righting the wrongs of the past by installing a solid and watertight defensive unit through Marc Rieper, Enrico Annoni and the aforementioned Stubbs. 

On the day itself, the game was covered by the Sky Sports commentary duo of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray on the gantry. It’s hard to imagine now but yes, this pair often covered Scottish football meetings back in those days. 

Celtic Park was well underway with its completion but the section we now know as the Jock Stein Stand was still eight months away. A rickety terrace behind the goal, known simply as the ‘temporary stand’ would have to suffice. 

Lesser numbers certainly didn’t reduce the atmosphere as the teams took to the field. And credit where credit is due, the Rangers fans in the far corner added brilliantly to the spectacle with an array of colour and cheering of their own.

The game itself started as a fairly edgey affair. Tough tackles were going in – adding much to the noise levels from the crowd – and Rangers felt aggrieved for not being awarded an early penalty when Stubbs put a strong barge into the body of Laudrup.

Gradually, the game opened up. Celtic’s new signing Harald Brattbakk was generating huge hopes but he was denied on at least three occasions, in the first half alone, by Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram. 

Typically, Goram always seemed to save his best for games against Celtic. 

Following the interval, Celtic burst into life and began to start turning the screw with more severity. Their passing and running was frantic but measured and they came close when Henrik Larsson struck the post from a side footed volley. 

Inevitably, there was the traditional sprinkling of questionable refereeing decisions thrown in. A curious offside against Brattbakk and a bewildering decision to stop Paul Lambert’s charge on the grounds that the ball was out of play maybe had Celtic fans thinking the worst. 

Thankfully, the deadlock would be broken in the 65th minute. A lovely mazy run by Jackie McNamara saw him play a delightfully delicate reverse pass into the path of Craig Burley who struck low and hard, first time, into the Rangers net.

“Well its a magnificent, magnificent goal … it’s been on the cards. It’s arrived right on cue for Celtic” proclaimed Andy Gray.

Despite the jubilation, there was still a storm to be weathered as Walter Smith unleashed ‘Gazza’ from the bench. His flute-playing gestures during his warm-up wasn’t endearing him to the Celtic supporters.

And yet the Geordie was finding it difficult to adapt to the pace of the game and was lucky not to be dismissed after a tussle with Lambert.

Going into the closing stages, Celtic were on the brink but they knew that nothing can be taken for granted in a fixture like this. Goram wasn’t giving up the fight anyway as he brilliantly saved a venomous strike from Darren Jackson. 

In the same passage of play though, Larsson’s cross to the back post was headed outwards by Alec Cleland. Rangers however still hadn’t cleared their lines properly as the ball dropped invitingly to Paul Lambert. 

Still at least twenty five yards out and with only one thought on his mind, he went for it. To be fair, I think the commentary team said it best with this one: 

“That’s Laaambeert!!! … Ohhhhhh, what a way to settle it!! No chance for Goram!! No chance now for Rangers … and it is bedlam at Celtic Park!! (Martin Tyler)” 

“It’s unstoppable! It’s unsavable! It’s an absolutely magnificent way for Celtic to finish their afternoon! Take that! You just do not save those! Take a bow, son! That’s a great goal! (Andy Gray)”

An absolute screamer that crashed in off the post beyond a hapless Goram. 

Songs rang out around the famous stadium for the remaining moments and when the final whistle did go, the victory was confirmed; their first in a New Year game since 1988 and also their first over Rangers for almost three years. 

For the moment, Rangers’ lead at the top was cut to one and the title race was well and truly back on. More drama was to follow in that season of course but this was a major turning point, at New Year, for Celtic.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

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 of the Bhoys who lord the wing.

@johnnyfoley1984 @ArmchairFanatic

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