#8: Celebrating England’s Glorious History Of Failure

There’s just something about cheering on whoever the English is playing against at a major tournament that adds to the enjoyment of it all. Everyone loves an underdog, but everyone loves to hate the villain even more. For many countries, but especially Ireland (and to a similar extent Scotland and Wales), that villain is England.

LISTEN To Podcast #8 — Celebrating England’s Glorious Failures At Major Tournaments:

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It’s pretty much a national pastime at this stage, especially when Ireland aren’t at the World Cup themselves. So what is it about the Old Enemy that we get so much joy out of their oft-repeated demise?

england world cup
via Wayne Mulligan/Ireland Simpsons Memes

Well, for one, they are known as the Old Enemy for a reason. Centuries of colonialism and imperialism have not won them too many fans, not least in this country. The legacy of bastardry doesn’t really dissipate much over time.

In fact, it still influences how the English view their football team today. As a former conqueror of the world, many of their fans feel they should be on top of the pile more often than not.

This leads to the usual hype and hysteria that we see from England supporters every other year. Ireland are no strangers to over-estimating ourselves before performing meekly on a big stage (see: our blasted optimism heading into Euro 2012, or the recent drubbing at the hands of Denmark), but there’s something unbearably grating about the English attitude when it comes to international football.

england world cup

Yet there are many football fans in England who don’t actually support the national team. If you are a fan of one of the major clubs, your passion is likely sated by the drama and glory experienced on a yearly basis in the Premier League and Champions League. But there’s also the fact that so many of them just don’t identify with this team and never have, partly down to the record of violence and hooliganism displayed by certain sections of their travelling contingent.

That, and the never-ending cycle of failure.

For our latest podcast we decided to chronicle this unwanted record of their’s: England have only won two knockout games of football, against Denmark and Ecuador, in the last twenty years.

Why twenty years? Euro 96 was the last time that the English national team warranted any sense of true optimism. Not only was the side pretty decent, they were hosting the tournament during an era of unprecedented positivity for the island as a whole. It was the era of Britpop and New Labour, replacing post-punk and Margaret Thatcher as the signposts for a new generation. And best of all, a football song that didn’t make you want to burst your own eardrums.


One line at the start of that famous song that has always resonated with me: “Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before.” Which is exactly how I’ve felt watching England fail to clear every hurdle put in their way over the past two decades. It’s the same thing happening over and over again.

Excluding 1966, England’s greatest moments have come in the near-misses of Italia 90 and Euro 96, where they reached the semi-finals on both occasions. The buoyancy gained from the latter tournament didn’t last much longer after France 98, however.

There was no shame in losing to a side like Argentina, and they were in fact quite impressive in taking them to penalties after drawing 2-2 while playing most of the match with 10 men. But it was the manner of David Beckham’s sending that sent fans and press alike into a frenzy.

Beckham became an easy target following their exit from the World Cup, assuming the role of national hate figure. One tabloid ran the subtle headline: “BECKHAM’S RUINED IT FOR US.” West Ham fans hung an effigy of the Man United star before the second game of the season. Curiously, the man himself calls it one of his top career moments, telling GQ this year that it “made me mature very quickly”.

In this writer’s opinion that tournament and the overblown reaction to it by the English broke something inside the psyche of the team. The football culture changed again, for the worse. Ever since then you can tell the players are playing under enormous pressure, fearing the worst instead of hoping for the best. After all, they know full well that one mistake could see them become the next pariah.

Frank Lampard said as much in a recent interview:

France 98 set in motion the series of events that has lead to England players repeatedly playing within themselves, often making fools of themselves while they’re at it.

Ronaldinho’s shot going over the head of David Seaman in 2002. Going out on penalties to Portugal (twice). Wayne Rooney’s stamp on Ricardo Carvalho. The Golden Generation not qualifying for Euro 2008. That would be enough for most nations to have nightmares for years, but it doesn’t stop there.

Looking back, South Africa 2010 feels like the cherry on top of a mediocre pie. Rob Green’s howler versus a United States team who should have been put to the sword. Drawing 0-0 with Algeria and Rooney saying straight to the camera, “it’s nice when your own fans boo you.” But the pièce de résistance was still to come.

Germany scored an embarrassingly simple goal to kick things off in the round of 16, before Lukas Podolski hit a cracking finish. Matthew Upson got one back, but it was to get worse for the English. Lampard had a shot come down off the bar and go over the line, which should have made it 2-2 but it bounced straight back out. The referee didn’t give it, in a reversal of fortunes from the 1966 meeting between the two countries.

Thomas Muller would go on to score two goals on the counter-attack, inflicting England’s biggest defeat at a major tournament. A particularly pleasing sight was that of Mesut Ozil absolutely roasting Gareth Barry for pace on the fourth and final goal. At that moment I understood the true meaning of Schadenfreude.

Andrea Pirlo panenka’d England out of Euro 2012, while they scarpered out of Brazil 2014 with a solitary point to their name. But nothing could ever hold a candle to 2010, surely.

england world cup

Then came Iceland. A small island nation with a population of 300,000 who had never qualified for anything before Euro 2016. And they beat the English, 2-1.

The delight in Iceland’s victory just about greater than the glee in seeing England lose to a so-called minnow of international football. As everyone’s second favourite team in France, was there anyone could be happier for the land of ice and fire to defeat more than the English? And to cap it all off, there was Steve McClaren.

It’s cruel to point and laugh, but we can’t help it. Here’s to another summer of watching Ingerland making a show of themselves.

Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn.

#7: The Beloved UEFA Cup Winning Parma Side Of 1999

There are many Serie A teams who gained cult status during the golden era of Italian club football in the nineties: Fiorentina and the free-scoring Batigol, Sampdoria with the marvelous Roberto Mancini, and Lazio during Gazzamania to name but a few. The most special and fondly remembered of them all however, is the Parma AC side that defied all expectations in the nineties and challenged for major honours in one of the most competitive eras in the league.

Listen To Our Podcast On The Iconic Parma Team Of 1999:

Between 1992 and 2002, Parma won eight trophies thanks to the financial backing of Calisto Tanzi, but the crowning glory of that period was the UEFA Cup win in 1999. It was a special season that also ended with a Coppa Italia triumph, but it didn’t necessarily look promising from the outset.

After finishing a disappointing fifth in the league table the season beforehand, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked. Alberto Malesani was brought in, while Carlo went to Juventus. The Old Lady ended the season in seventh position, a total underachievement for a team who had just been in three straight Champions League finals. The two managers would go on diverging paths during the rest of their careers however, as the incredible success of Ancelotti in four different countries illustrates.

Much like his Parma squad though, Malesani peaked in the 1998-99 season while employing a 3-5-2 formation. Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Roberto Sensini marshaled a stern back-line with Diego Fuser and Paolo Vanoli on either flank. They were normally shielded by the fearsome twosome of World Cup winner Alain Boghossian and Dino “The Other” Baggio. So far, so great, but it’s the front-line that really catches the eye. Juan Sebastian Veron was in his pomp as the number ten behind Enrico Chiesa and a young Hernan Crespo. Together they created some beautiful patterns of play that year.

Oh, and they had Faustino Asprilla in reserve too. Not bad, like.

In their run to the final, the Gialloblu defeated Fenerbahce, Wisla Krakow, Rangers and Bordeaux, the last of which featured a 6-0 drubbing of their French opponents. The toughest game of all was the semi-final against Atletico Madrid, who had won La Liga in 1996.  Even so, Parma won the tie by a three goal margin on aggregate. They could outscore just about anybody; indeed they did, scoring an astonishing 15 times in their final five games of the tournament.

This was a team who were always up for the big games, which made them perfect for the cup competitions. They did the double over Juventus that season, and beat eventual champions AC Milan 4-0 at home. It was also their undoing however, as consistency was a problem when playing teams they were entirely capable of beating. This is why they never won the ultimate, a Scudetto.

Nonetheless, Marseille would be no match for the Italians. The opening score came after 25 minutes and it was a gift, as if Parma needed one. Laurent Blanc completely misjudges a header back to the goalkeeper with the predatory Crespo waiting to pounce. There could not have been a worse player to intercept the pass at that moment, and the Argentine took full advantage with a lovely little lob over the goalkeeper.

Marseille were mortally wounded, conceding again soon after. This time it was Vanoli in the 36th minute, but the creme de la creme was to come in the second half. Just ten minutes after the interval, Lillian Thuram works the ball up the pitch with both power and grace at the same time. Beating two players, John Motson of the BBC nonchalantly comments, “Oh, knife through butter.” He lays it off to Veron on the right wing, who, instead of swinging one in like you might expect in the Premier League, chips a delightful ball into the path of Crespo. The striker’s intuitive relationship with his strike partner is such that, rather than have a go himself, he dummies it. Taking two defenders out in one go, Chiesa is in the perfect position to thwack it into the roof of the net. It is the perfect finish to the perfect move, exemplifying the best qualities of this Parma team.

The sheer delight on Crespo’s face at the final whistle encapsulates just what it meant for this small provincial side, who played in a stadium with a capacity of 29,000, to conquer one of Europe’s elite competitions. It’s the reason this underdog team has remained in the hearts of neutrals ever since and why so many football fans were so crestfallen to see the club demoted to Serie D following bankruptcy.

There is a counter-argument to the romanticism of this Parma team, however. The club was enriched by the money of Tanzi and his Parmalat company, who changed the kit colours from their classic white to the blue and yellow of the corporation. That money also happened to be somewhat of a myth, as a huge scandal was uncovered regarding the financial mismanagement of the company. It hit the club hard, although it managed to survive.

Two future Balon d’Or winners.

There are also the accusations of doping. In 2005, a video was shown on Italian TV of Cannavaro getting injected with a performance-enhancing substance the night before the 1999 UEFA Cup final. The sequence was shot in a Moscow hotel room and the substance turned out to be Neoton, a creatine phosphate, that was not on any banned lists in Italy at the time.

Nonetheless, these are black marks that barely register for many a football aficionado. Thankfully Parma, under the new guise of Parma Calcio 1913, have risen from the ashes after many tumultuous years as a phoenix club. They return to their rightful place in Serie A once more, but will it ever be the same again?

#6: The Irishman Who Saved FC Barcelona

Patrick O’Connell is not a household name when it comes to Irish football, but it should be.

A footballer who grew up across the road from Croke Park, the Dubliner was the first Irishman to captain Manchester United, joining the Red Devils for a then record fee of £1000. But that’s not even the most interesting part of O’Connell’s story.

Listen to the full story here on the latest Nostalgia Ultras podcast:

A committed socialist, O’Connell was running guns for the 1916 Easter Rising while he worked in a munitions factory in England. Conflict would be a familiar feature of his time in football, especially when he was manager of FC Barcelona as the Spanish Civil War broke. He is widely credited with saving the famous club from extinction by bringing the team on a tour of Mexico to raise much needed funds.

In between he was a hugely successful manager at a number of different clubs, including Racing Santander, Real Oviedo and Sevilla. But his greatest triumph was capturing the La Liga title with Real Betis in 1935. To this day it is Los Verdiblancos only league win and he is fondly remembered at the club for guiding them to the top that season, earning the moniker ‘Don Patricio’.

Sadly, Patrick O’Connell died destitute in London in 1959. He couldn’t find work upon returning to the English capital, where no one knew of his successes in Spain. It would stay that way for decades.

Now a film has been made to remember his legacy.

Don Patricio Film from Mulberry Media on Vimeo.


We spoke to Fergus Dowd of the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund on the podcast in anticipation of the documentary, Don Patricio. You can listen to it on Android or iTunes.

#5: The Golden Goal Final

Summer tournaments. World conquerors. Underdogs. France and Italy. Zizou. Cynical fouls. Henry’s infinite legs. Maldini on his arse. Bixente Lizarazu. Marco Delvecchioooooooo. Future Bolton legend Djorkaeff. Toldo’s infinite arms. Sylvain bloody Wiltord. Late, late, late goals. Conte’s restored head of hair. Totti’s chip. Super subs. David Trezeguet. Golden goals. Drama. Devastation. Glory.

The Euro 2000 final was the crowning glory on arguably the greatest tournament of all time.

Ste, Conor and Colm discuss the dramatic finale, why Francesco Totti won Man of the Match, which French players became a rally driver and a rap artist, classic chocolate bars and chippers in Cork.

LISTEN: Episode 5 of Nostalgia Ultras – Euro 2000 Final:

Download here – #5: Euro 2000 Final

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#4: The Milan Derby

In 2005, the Champions League quarter-final between rivals AC Milan and Internazionale was abandoned amidst a flurry of flares and bottles raining down on the pitch. On the anniversary of that famous night Ste and Conor talk about the Milan Derby, how it started and why it’s actually one of the friendlier rivalries in football.

Listen to Episode 4 of Nostalgia Ultras: The Milan Derby.

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