#3: Masters Football And The Ultimate Irish Six-A-Side Team

Whatever happened to Master Football? It used to feature regularly on Sky Sports up until 2011, but no Masters events have taken place in the UK since then. We talk about our memories of the tournaments and the random names that peppered them, and then take on the onerous task of picking an Ireland team to compete in a hypothetical Masters World Cup.

Listen here: 

Theme by The Shaker Hymn.

Subscribe on iTunes!

 

#2: Robin Friday, The Greatest Player You Never Saw

Considered one of the great football mavericks, Robin Friday was infamous for his debauchery and crazy antics. But he also happened to possess an innate talent that wowed crowds when he walked onto the football pitch.

Despite only playing the lower divisions in a career that just about spanned four seasons, Friday became a cult hero at Reading and Cardiff City. He was considered the first rock star of football, but would sadly pass away after suffering a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 38.

Ste, Colm and Conor talk about his career, life story and try to separate fact from fiction.

Listen:

Intro theme is Dead Trees by The Shaker Hymn.

Subscribe on iTunes.

#1: That Night In Barcelona

When Manchester United achieved what was thought to be the un-achievable in claiming the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League all in one season, it was not only ground-breaking, but utterly earth shattering for the history of English football. We’re hoping to break ground of similar proportions with the release of our first ever podcast.

Listen:

In our bumper inaugural episode, Ste, Conor and Colm talk about that famous night in Barcelona and what makes that particular team such an important one in the context of British football.  There’s also a hearty discussion about our love for Denis Irwin, debate over which squad member would fare better in the modern game, and why the Bayern Munich jersey worn that day is an abomination.

Make sure to give us your feedback about the show on Twitter and Facebook!

Intro theme by The Shaker Hymns.

Sporting Kansas City: The Glory of Mid-Western Hell

Sporting KC bring their own hellish brand of football fandom to Major League Soccer, writes Maurice Brosnan of Balls.ie.

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century divine comedy, the Italian poet details the journey through his own creative version of hell. From the moment he approaches the gates which read “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, or in English “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” Dante constructs a view of hell that is instantly terrifying.

He chronicles how the air is filled with the wails and blaspheming of those forced to commit to a life in hell while Charon, the first character Dante encounters who also steers the ferry to hell, is portrayed as a truly terrifying figure. He looms over Dante, noticeably missing limbs, and possesses a frightening ability to summon demons at his will.

There is a strangely similar arena in 21st century mid-western America. Upon entering this dome a flag hangs dominantly at the North End, “Welcome to the blue hell.”

The air is filled with the wails of an unrelenting, large faithful gathered below this generous banner. Drums and trumpets are the backing track to the persistent chants of the cauldron.

At the front of the mob a striking character looms. He is familiar to any regular visitor to the boisterous cauldron. Dressed in a multi-coloured vintage jersey while wearing a Native American headdress, he stands on the billboard passionately bellowing to the crowd in a collective mantra of unyielding support.

Welcome to Children’s Mercy Park, the home of Sporting KC. Upon entering for the first time, you start to wonder would a ticket in the family section would have been a wiser choice.

Then, the picturesque chieftain is handed a mega-phone, to further volumize his rallying call. His pending contribution must surely be the cherry on top of the elaborately decorated, beating stadium now full with swirling smoke from recently desisted firework machines.

He winds back his decorated head, as if preparing to unless an ear-splitting exclamation and declares to the anticipating faithful “you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back for coming out here in such numbers on a Sunday, I know ye all got work and school tomorrow.”

A perfect blend of brash passion with stereotypical mid-western hospitality.

MLS poster by Luke Barclay

How is it possible in a country that actively rejected soccer in all its forms for so many years, which for so long produced numerous false dawns only for them to falter, has produced a throbbing, defiant soccer community in its heartland?

The most vocal section of the stadium is consistently the Cauldron, a capacity of 2’000 fans in a designated members section to the North. But support extends beyond that segment. Sporting’s recent home victory over Orlando City was the sides 76th consecutive sell-out.

In 1995 when the MLS began and the Kansas City Wizards began to compete in the league, a small group of just over 30 college students decided to support the team. Rather than instruments and megaphones their simple cheers mixed with the clearly audible shouting of the players involved in the game.

Yet as many elsewhere can testify to, it takes more than fan-driven support to create a community. From their origins of playing in a near-empty Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, a mutually beneficial relationship between the fans and the club evolved.

While the fans began watching European football stadiums and replicating the chants, the club strove to integrate itself in the city. In 2006 Robb Heineman was appointed CEO and instantly began working with fans.

He canvassed local municipalities and worked to get a specific soccer stadium. The result is Children’s Mercy Park, a 21’000-seat ground situated in Kansas City alongside the Kansas speedway.

Heineman, who last year was linked with a takeover of Everton, is active on social media interacting with fans and invites them to email him with any concerns, questions or issues. He hosts Reddit and Twitter Q & A’s. Under his reign Sporting KC has developed a wide-ranging scouting network in Europe including links to Barcelona’s B team. But Heineman is more concerned with sustainability, as he told NBC.

“We are not signing Pirlo, we are not signing Gerrard, that is never going to be our deal in the current cap structure of MLS where we are going to be signing 5-million-annual-salary-guys. This is just not our formula.”

Soon the south stand also formed a group to complement the boisterous cauldron. The fans tailgate, gathering hours before games and welcoming any new visitor with open arms. Chant sheets are circulated and designated cheerleaders patrol the stadium with megaphones in order to orchestrate maximum support.

Sporting Park (Wikipedia)

The development of a heavily manufactured support base would wrongly imply it is not authentic. Yet there is a humble appetite that differs from the typical English support base.

At White Hart Lane, they play an expertly produced montage just before kick-off. ‘We are Spurs’ offers motivational theme music mixed with flashing images of Paul Gascoigne, Ledley King and Jürgen Klinsmann. The type of rousing production that over-involved football fans develop and publish on YouTube.

Last season in the thick of their ultimately futile title challenge, Tottenham played Watford at home. The montage rolled and was greeted by profuse apathy. The residents in Bill Nicholsan Way released a collective sigh, rolled their eyes and took to chanting the Benny Hill theme at Heurelho Gomes.

A very similar film plays at games before Children’s Mercy Park. A dong rings out as it would before the Undertaker enters another action-filled WWE contest, the fireworks begin and up on the screen pops Dom Dwyer. “Nobody likes us, and we don’t care.”

The footage rolls, and clips from their 2013 MLS Cup win and US Open Cup wins in 2012 and 2015 pop up on screen.

Without fail, this procession is greeted with wholesome delight. Chants of “Sporting” ring around the stadium.

The volume and variety of the chants are also impressive, as is the fans conduct. As part of the Sporting Kansas City’s Victory Project the club honour children who are suffering from, or have overcome, cancer before home games.

Their name is called out, the crowd applauses and then the cauldron reacts, stridently chanting the child’s name and signing “we love you, we love you, we love you. And everywhere we’ll follow…’

They are not the only well-supported MLS team. The Seattle Sounders frequently come close to filling an NFL stadium, while there are repeated comparisons between Borussia Dortmund fans and those at the Portland Timbers.

Sporting KC boast some truly distinctive features including a simultaneously ardent yet refined atmosphere, a contemporary stadium and capable leadership. Beyond that the MLS, despite all the pretentious ridicule it receives from fan bases abroad, extends some superior aspects.

It is a league full of enthusiasm and acceptance. There is no ludicrous belief that they are of a better standard than they actually are, no prehistoric perceptions of what their national style represents, and one can only hope the small number of recent clashes between fans isn’t some senseless, low-rent Green Street move towards European fan rivalries. The lack of segregation between home and away fans is a truly encouraging feature that needs to be protected.

In reality, when one enters Sporting KC and inspects the domestic league it is more likely to encourage, not erase, hope. Sporting’s home is a welcome insight into what this league could become. With progress towards more fan groups and cultures such as this one, the league has the possibility to become something truly great. In actual fact, it has the possibility to prove Dante was right with another statement: “the path to paradise begins in hell.”

@m_brosnan

EURO 80: The Tournament That Time Forgot

Did you know that Belgium have reached the final of a major tournament? Don’t worry if you didn’t, because no one ever seems to remember EURO 80, writes Ste McGovern.

General consensus insists that this generation of Belgian players are the best bunch that the small country has ever produced, and that may be proven to be true in due course. But you would be forgiven for forgetting, or just outright not knowing, that Belgium have in fact reached the final of a major tournament before.

That success must be put in its proper context, however.

EURO 1980 is a long forgotten competition, and perhaps with good reason. The football was mediocre, the format was odd, and, well, the Germans won, so as you were. It happened to be sandwiched in between two famous European Championships: Antonin Panenka’s winning penalty for Czechoslovakia in 1976, and Michel Platini’s France in 1984.

Aside from the games involving Italy, the matches were poorly attended as well. Only 4,726 people would witness Czechoslovakia’s 3-1 win over Greece, whereas 46,816 were in attendance to see the Italians play Spain two days beforehand. Looking back at the images now, it is painfully obvious how empty the grounds are for some of the games.

For the first time ever, eight countries would compete in the finals in Italy. They were split into two groups of four. But instead of four teams progressing to the semi-finals, the winners of each group would go straight to the final, while the two second-placed teams would face off for third place. It’s a far cry from this year’s edition, where 24 teams will compete for 16 places in the knockout round.

While it was a relatively boring edition of Europe’s premier international tournament, it did have its moments. Ray Wilkins scored one of the best goals ever by an England player against Belgium. He gently lobbed the ball over the defenders and, upon retrieving it, casually struck it on the half-volley into the top corner. He beautifully assisted his own beautiful goal.

The lead only lasted three minutes though, as Jan Ceulemans grabbed an equaliser from a corner in the 29th minute. Afterwards fighting broke out behind the England goal and the police fired tear gas into the crowd. It was a sign of things to come in English football for the decade ahead.

For England the draw was a terrible result and they would end up finishing third in the group, losing 1-0 to Italy and beating Spain 2-1 in a dead rubber. Belgium, on the other hand, were invigorated by the result.

“England had a better side so we were surprised to hold them to a draw,” Ceulemans later said. “It was then that we started to believe in our chances.”

Crucially the Red Devils would follow it up with a win over Spain, Eric Gerets and Julien Cools scoring either side of a Quini goal to win 2-1. All they needed to do in their final game with the hosts was not lose. The emphasis was therefore on Italy to go and win, but having only managed one goal thus far — Marco Tardelli’s winner against the English — it was a step too far. A heroic performance from goalkeeper Theo Custers helped them secure a 0-0 draw. The Belgians went through on goals scored, while Italy would finish runners-up in Group B and go into the third place play-off.

Meanwhile in Group A, West Germany were making hay in what was a difficult group. Aside from whipping boys Greece, they would have to contend with holding European champions Czechoslovakia and Netherlands, who had reached the last two World Cup finals.

The Dutch, perhaps more than anyone else at the time, deserved some silverware to match the elegant and excellent football they displayed over the previous decade. They made a good start, with a 1-0 victory over Greece. The real test would come on matchday two, however.

Knowing that, realistically, only victory over West Germany would give them any chance of making the final, it could not have gone worse for the Oranje. Klaus Allofs opened the scoring after 20 minutes in a dominant first half, although the game was still there for the Dutch. That was obliterated in the second half, when in the space of five minutes Allofs would score two more goals to get his hat-trick.

Netherlands would get two goals back late on, but it wasn’t enough. All they could hope for was the playoff, but a 1-1 draw with the Czechs in the last group game closed that door. It was the end of an era. They would fail to qualify for another major international tournament until 1988, where they would finally win the European Championships in Germany.

The third place playoff, which was scrapped after this tournament, ended in a 1-1 draw between Italy and Czechoslovakia. It went to penalties, where of course Panenka would score the fifth. That didn’t decide it this time, though. 17 penalties would be taken and scored, until AC Milan’s Fulvio Collovati stepped up and missed. It was a fairly disappointing tournament for the host nation, although they would go on to win the World Cup just two years later.

Having won the competition in 1972 — with a World Cup win in 1974, don’t forget — West Germany reached their third consecutive Euros final in 1980. It was a nation used to success, but this was also a young squad, the average age of which was just 24.5. Lothar Matthaus, aged 19 at the time, was their youngest outfield player and had yet to win a cap before the tournament.

“We had a new and very young team,” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge later said of the West Germans. “We weren’t favourites to win at all. Everyone thought that if we could make it to third or fourth place in the tournament, then that would be success.”

Belgium had finished third in their home Euros in 1972, but that was out of four teams. On that occasion they lost to West Germany, who they would face in the final this time around. They had been solid, if not spectacular, up to that point, and would need to up their game if they were to spring a surprise.

It didn’t look likely early on, as Horst Hrubesch scored after just ten minutes. The Hamburg striker, who only made it into the squad as a late replacement for the injured Klaus Fischer, latched onto a chipped ball from Bernd Schuster and hit it on the run. That lead would last for over an hour.

René Vandereycken would equalise from the penalty spot and extra time looked likely from there. That was, until Hrubesch popped up again. Back home he was known as the Kopfball-Ungeheuer, or Heading Monster. A charming nickname, but one with good reason. So confident was Rummenigge that Hrubesch would score the winner from his corner, he apparently told a cameraman next to the corner flag to aim his lens at his teammate.

And so it was. With 88 minutes on the clock, Hrubesch headed home the decisive goal to clinch the country’s second European Championship. The 29 year old had only acquired 7 caps before the tournament, but who knows how this game might have gone had he not been called up?

@TheNoveltyAct