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)

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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. 

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 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.

MY UNUSUAL LOVE AFFAIR WITH WORLD CUP USA’94.

By Jonathan Foley

Originally penned in January 2021

And a one and a two and a “Glooooray Land. In Glooorrraaay Laaand! It’s in your Heaaart! It’s innnn your Haaands! Gloooray Land! Innn Gllooorrry Land! You’re Here (You’re Here!!!) in Glooooraay Laaaannnd!”

It’s over a quarter of a century now but, Gosh darn it, there’s still just something about World Cup USA 94 that I just love rewatching all these years later.

Maybe it’s because it was played in the United States and all those montages with intercuts of eye-catching skyscrapers, ones roller-blading down sunny boulevards and packed out rodeo shows captured the imagination of my then 9 (and a half) year old self.

Perhaps it was because this was the first time I really started to learn about different cultures and customs of nations from all around the world. Something I see as an early catalyst for inspiring me to go traveling later on in my life.

Even if it was only through the magic of television, I’m not sure I’d ever seen real-life South Koreans, Africans or Latino Americans share the same emotions over football, just like I did. It made the world feel somehow smaller to me. 

One of the perks about reading up on the wee World Cup sticker album I had was that it had a little bio on each participating nation. 

That meant that for the next few years in school, I was a dab hand in Geography tests when the teacher would ask us to identify the flags or name the capital cities of such exotic locations.

As alluded to earlier, montages are something that I’ve always loved watching, particularly during a major tournament.

For me, USA 94 was arguably the first competition where the tv companies – because of the advancements in technology and wider array of camera angles filming the action on the pitch – they became much more visually attractive.

Looking back now, they were fast cut, they were colourful and many of them were mixed with a cool nineties dance music vibe that still holds up really well when you see them on YouTube today.

Even if football isn’t your thing, they’re still worth a look for the feel good nostalgia factor that often goes with popular music of that era.

“Welcome to the start of an All American Show!” was how Barry Davies put in his commentary for the BBC on the evening of Friday, 17th June.

As you could somewhat expect from the Americans being the host nation, the opening ceremony at Soldier Field in Chicago was awash with razmataz and spectacle. 

Red, white and blue balloons to raise the sense of patriotism with Diana Ross fluffing a ‘penalty shot’ that would oddly foreshadow how the actual Final would be decided four weeks later. 

The initial match between Germany and Bolivia was a pretty dour one. A single Jurgen Klinsmann goal was enough to decide it, but I’ve read since that very few US-based viewers saw that goal live.

Millions had switched channels on their TV sets. Not entirely because they were bored of the ‘soccer’ and its low scoring attribute.

Nope! It was because a police helicopter was following a chase down the highway of one OJ Simpson. It was all go in America that night!

Well not really! Local interest in the tournament wasn’t all that high. And truth be told, because the MLS didn’t exist at the time, I foolishly thought the US players were all just College boys who happened to play the game and they just threw a team together. Whoops!

Being an Irishman, it’s only right that I pay homage to some of our exploits in that tournament. It was a short stay but something of a roller coaster experience.

Now it must be remembered that the Irish have always felt some sort of ownership of some parts of the United States. Arguably with New York at the top of that bill.

Then again, so have the Italians. In a way, it was somewhat fitting that the two would be drawn to face another in a game played at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. 

In a game where our fans had a near monopoly of the tickets, Ray Houghton’s 12-minute ‘swinger’ with the left boot was enough to seal a famous victory for our boys. 

This was back in the days when the neighborhood kids would assemble for a match on the green between all our houses and his roly-poly became a firm favourite to imitate for the rest of that summer.

As the tournament progressed, there were other talking points that cropped up. Conversations that were taking place for the first time amongst an intrigued and curious youngster like myself watching the World Cup.

Mind you, there was room for some misguided and ill-judged premonitions too. 

-‘Did ya see that Mexican goalie who designs his own jerseys? Mad!!!’

– ‘Them Nigerian lads are cool dudes the way they dance when they score, aren’t they? But how do they all have English first names and African second names?’

– ‘Greece are pure dung! They’ll hardly win a match, let alone a tournament, in the next ten years!’ 

– ‘Oleg Salenko scored five goals in one game. He’ll be a quality signing for whoever gets him!’

– ‘Fair play to him but what age d’ya think yer man, Roger Milla, really is? They say 42, but he looks at least sixty!’

With the greatest of respect to Italia 90 four years earlier, it wasn’t really a tournament for the purists.

Half-empty stadiums, a lot of matches in damp conditions and something of a goal drought meant much of the games that summer became largely forgettable. USA 94 was different. 

Every match seemed to reach close to full attendance and the warm and sunny conditions made you want to run outside and kick a ball about yourself between almost every game. Goals came in a flurry and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

There were diving headers, solo-runs and neat finishes, volleys, daisy-cutters, direct free kicks all busting the nets from all angles.

Granted, the dropping standard of goalkeeping did become a major talking point amongst Matthew Lorenzo and the ITV pundits one night. 

Back in the days when the late night ad breaks either read ‘Back Soon’ with some elevator music or sometimes they were for 0891-Chat Lines which, I’m guessing, cost a fortune.

They had good cause to discuss this poor goalkeeping to be fair but, as an almost 10 year old boy, goals and more goals were what you wanted to see.

Gheorgi Hagi’s rasper in the group stage for Romania against Colombia was another I regularly tried to replicate out in the back garden after. Rather unfortunately, the off-target shots meant the garage door got its fair share of muddied splotches.

The tournament produced its fairytale stories too of course. 

Nigeria caused a stir with progression to the knockout stage as group winners and could’ve gone further had the Italians not snatched an 89th-minute leveler – who went on to win in extra time –  in the second round. 

Both Bulgaria and Sweden upset the odds to reach the semifinals. 

The former pulled off a shock victory against holders Germany, when Jordan Letchkov’s flying header sailed into the German net. 

Hristo Stoichkov became a household name after the tournament. A feeling not lost on most people who later renamed his hometown after him, in his honour. Not a bad wee tribute to have bestowed.

Whereas the Swedes had a wonderful array of attacking talent with the likes of Martin Dahlin, Kenned Anderson and the youthful talents of young dreadlocked lad by the name of Henrik Larsson.

The legacy of the Dutch team’s travel arrangements would leave a permanent mark on the mind of Denis Bergkamp. After an unusually rough landing, the then Ajax forward swore he’d never fly again. A promise he stuck to. 

It might be insensitive to man’s phobia, but it was used to raise the question of whether or not Arsene Wenger should employ the tactic the A-Team used to similarly deploy with BA Barachas.

Bang his head off the door and throw him on the plane once he’s passed out. Just a thought.

At that time, I’d never heard of Saudi Arabia before, but there’s one name I’ll always remember and that is Saaed Al-Owiran. And yes, I’m pretty sure I can pronounce it right too.

A minute skinny lad who ran the full length of the field to rattle one in past Belgium. 

And no World Cup would be complete without its soap-opera like moments and by God, they came by the bucket load. 

The Republic of Ireland’s own John Aldridge losing the rag on the sideline with a FIFA official caused a very boisterous Scouse-twanged “Ya f*****g d******d!” to be heard over the airwaves. 

Not forgetting how the heat of Florida affected the Irish team so much that the team management, and Jack Charlton in particular, was cautioned for throwing on too many water bags. Then poor Steve Staunton looked as though he was going to melt faster than the witch from the Wizard of Oz.

Germany – who incidentally arrived at the tournament on the back of an official song they recorded with none other The Village People – cut their ties with midfielder Stefan Effenberg. 

After he was substituted in a group match, he gave ‘sign language’ to the crowd. His appalled manager, Berti Vogts, declared he’d “not play again until the year 2006!” Now how’s that for efficient German organization and planning? 

And to top it all off, the irrepressible Diego Armando Maradonna. Argentina’s finest. 

Celebrates a goal by running at the camera looking like he was at a rave and, maybe unsurprisingly, gets ushered off the pitch in the next game to undergo a (failed) drug test.

I mean ya just couldn’t write it, could ya?

Sadly, it wasn’t all fun. 

The Irish team’s exit came on probably the day of the one cloudy and grey-skied afternoon in the whole tournament. While the Netherlands were much the better side and well worthy of their 2-0 win. It was heartbreaking to see my fellow Donegal man in the Ireland goal, Packie Bonner, make such a costly and avoidable error from Wim Jonk’s strike.

Then, of course, there was a moment that made the trials and tribulations of football seem somewhat irrelevant. 

When the news broke that Andrés Escobar was tragically gunned down on the command of Colombian drug lords for his own goal against the USA, it was shocking news for everyone. Revelations have since unearthed about how much threat and pressure that Colombia team lived under, during the reign of Pablo Escobar; it was another lesson in the harsh reality of life.

On a lighter note, the best thing about the 1994 World Cup was the Brazil team. 

Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Taffarel, Branco et all. Names that just rolled off the tongue and they played football like guys who were having fun to the beat of Samba music. 

The partnership of Romario and Bebeto was a dream to watch. And they too had fun in the team camp when the latter scored against the Netherlands during the quarterfinal meeting in Dallas.

Bebeto ran off pretending to cradle a baby. He even had some unknowing teammates join in.

It was only after the game that he informed his teammates that his wife had given birth to their baby boy just a few days earlier. They’d later progress to the Final after beating Sweden.

One team who had a much rockier path through the competition were Italy.

There could be a movie with an unhappy ending written about their conquests that year. There had been a media backlash after their opening game defeat to Ireland and when goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off against Norway, their manager, Arirgo Saachi, took a monumental gamble when he withdrew their starman, Roberto Baggio. 

That gamble just about paid off as Italy still managed to progress. They needed and they got all the luck going when they scraped past Nigeria – with Gianfranco Zola also being sent off in that one – and just about got past Spain in the quarters. A bad-tempered and tempestuous affair where Luis Enrique sported a bloodied nose for his troubles.

That incident came about when the officials failed to spot Mauro Tassotti swinging an elbow into his opponent’s face. As the blood ran down the face and into the now heavily-stained white Spanish jersey, the millions watching knew the Azzurri were riding their luck.

Nevertheless though, thanks to a dramatic 2-1 win where Roberto Baggio again provided a last-gasp goal, they were through.

The ‘Ponytailed Assassin’ was digging his side out of holes when it mattered most and as they made their way to the Final, it seemed as if they were doing so in a kicking-and-screaming fashion. Two goals again for Baggio in the semifinal ended Bulgaria’s noble crusade but it came at a cost, as the talismanic striker’s injury and fatigue were starting to show more and more.   

The Final itself in Pasadena was a bit of an anti-climatic way to conclude what had been a tournament full of fast-paced and high-octane matches. A 0-0 stalemate where the game resembled more of a chess game than a football match and, thus, a penalty shootout ensued with Roberto Baggio skying the decisive spot-kick miles over the bar for Brazil to win. 

Like a figure who was utterly lost to the world in disbelief at that moment, the man who had done so much to get his team to the Final was unable to save them in the end. Brazil were rightful winners in the end, but seeing Baggio standing alone on the penalty-spot while the green and gold celebrations erupted around him; it was a life-lesson for us all, in itself.

Brazil manager, Carlos Alberto Panieri, had ended Brazil’s drought of 24 years without a World Cup success. While his side would never really get the acclaim that their predecessors from 1970 had with Pelé and the likes, this Brazil side would set a new trend in motion and would go on to reach the next two World Cup Finals; winning the competition again in 2002.

All in all, while so many of the matches that summer started (because of the time-difference) after my bedtime, there’s still something so very special and memorable about what was the fifteenth installment of the World Cup finals tournament.

Using football to inadvertently study up on so many different countries and cultures from across the world was an early factor in what I feel inspired my enjoyment of travel ever since. American TV shows and movies of the mid-1990s had always captivated my imagination and now I had football to throw into that mix. 

And sure who doesn’t love a good montage, eh?

See: https://youtu.be/6s5zI2onIgU

CAMEROON at ITALIA ‘90: A LIFE LESSON.

It’s now over 30 years since the opening World Cup match of Italia 90 (Christ that me made feel old) when out of nowhere, an unknown Cameroon side shocked everyone by beating then world champions, Argentina. Maradonna and the lads, like. A fluke? Not really.

By Jonathan Foley

No African team had ever done much on the big stage and nobody knew much about them at all, but boom, these boys came along and not only were they physically strong (as Claudio Cannigia found out after being on the receiving end of a trio of bruising tackles) but nevertheless they could certainly play ball as well.

It was no one-off either. They went on to qualify from the group and reach the quarter-final stages. Largely thanks to a scoring run from the irrepressible Roger Milla and who could forget his cool corner flag celebration?

Maradonna v Cameroon.

It’s crazy to think that as good as he was, nobody could say for sure what age he was. Some said 38, some said 40plus, but nobody was ever sure because most of these Cameroon players never even had birth certificates.

One story that always cracks me up is when they were about to walk out onto the pitch for the quarters match against England in Naples. 

In the tunnel, the English team look visibly relaxed and not daunted by their opposition at all. Footage still shows their players laughing, smiling, joking and just ready to go. 

Their players have recalled that the mood dramatically changed when they heard chants of “Nous allons gagner” (“We are going to Win!”) grow louder and louder in the corridor behind them. 

The Cameroon team had started a war-chant. Their boots clattering off the ground, the noise of their song and their sheer presence began to startle the English players a bit. 

Unperturbed, then England manager, the late Sir Bobby Robson, was a kindly old figure (who’d later work for the Ireland team) but maybe he was a tad old-fashioned and set in his ways too. 

The chants continued. “Nous allons gagner! NOUS ALLONS GANGER!” Steely-faced, Robson turns to his players. “Ya see lads. They’re scared of us! Terrified, they are!” 

All of a sudden, they stopped. Silence. 

One Cameroon player gently taps Robson on the shoulder and in perfectly polite and eloquent English says “Excuse me. I beg your pardon, Mister Robson. We always sing before the games and we’re not scared of England.”

Robson was stunned into a bemused silence.

I always make a point of showing that clip to pupils when teaching them about topics related to colonisation. Nothing against Sir Bobby of course because even he gives an embarrassed chuckle in that interview.

Cameroon did bow out rather unluckily from that game after a couple of dodgy referee decisions, but they definitely left their mark on the world stage and paved the way for other African teams and players to thrive in the years that followed. 

Nigeria at USA 94, South Africa at France 98, Senegal in 2002, Ghana at the first African-staged World Cup in 2010 and not forgetting the flurry of talent that’s hit club football across Europe since.

Roger Milla.

It’s also worth noting that this was around the same time period as Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the beginning of the end for the apartheid regime in South Africa. 

Within a few short years, even Disney were releasing movies like ‘The Lion King’ which popularised African music, culture and landscapes – and even similar underdog stories like ‘Cool Runnings’ with its Caribbean context cropped up – but I personally reckon these Cameroon lads got this trend going first. 

It’s kinda sad to see how some of the world’s attitude has changed about race since then, but this is not a political post, just a celebration of a great sporting anniversary.

Having visited the Continent itself back in 2018, I remember speaking to a local at a bar in Botswana. That was also a World Cup summer, of course. Even if not one for the Ireland team, mind you. 

A long trek from Cameroon, Botswana may have been but once I mentioned that ‘header from Francois Oman-Biyik against Argentina,’ he was like “Yeaaasss Man! He was a hero to every man, woman and child in Africa!”

And we raised a bottle of beer, clinked and saluted both Cameroon and Ireland’s adventures at Italia’90. Football can teach us something about life now and again.