#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:

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Flaring Up: AC Milan vs Inter, 2003

Ste McGovern writes about one of the most memorable and photogenic scenes in sporting history.

Internazionale were vying for a place in the Champions League semi-finals with AC Milan. The winner would face either PSV Eindhoven or Lyon in the last four, as soft a draw as you could expect at that stage of the competition. Milan were winning 3-0 on aggregate, however and it was looking very bleak for their city rivals.

Listen to episode 4 of the Nostaglia Ultras podcast: The Milan Derby.

Then in the 71st minute Esteban Cambiasso gets the Nerazzurri a life line. Or so it seems. The referee has disallowed it for an infringement by Pedro Cruz on Dida. “There was no infringement,” wrote Barry Glendenning in the Guardian’s minute-by-minute report of the game. “That’s three times now the referee has riffed all over Inter’s pain. His performance has been shocking tonight.”

Within minutes the goal in which Dida stood was being pelted with water bottles and flares. While trying to clear some of the debris, the Brazilian is struck on the shoulder by one of the flares and is lucky to avoid major burning. Smoke billows from the goalmouth as the match is temporarily stopped

The referee Markus Merk took the players off the pitch and returned 25 minutes later to restart the game. However, with the police evidently not willing to get involved, the trouble makers remained in the stands ready to start again and that’s exactly what they did, launching more flares onto the pitch. The German official had no option but to abandon the Derby della Madonnina.

Milan captain Paolo Maldini said the referee was vindicated in his decision. “I’m surprised that he tried to restart the game but it was good because so many supporters had paid to watch.”

ac milan inter 2003
Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa look on as flares fill the field of play. Credit: Barry Masterson.

The Rossoneri were awarded the game, as their fans had been deemed blameless for what had occurred. Police chief Paolo Scarpi afterwards pointed the finger at “the usual hotheads” amongst the Inter support, claiming “two or three hundred hooligans” were involved.

While the result was beyond doubt whether or not the game was abandoned, and the goal would likely have been just a consolation anyway, there was clearly frustration boiling over from the Inter fans. Frustration from being the perennial runners-up to their city rivals, the team that had also stopped them at the semi-final stage just two years previously, and frustration from being denied the chance to even compete fairly because of poor refereeing. Yet to many that is not an excuse for what they did.

“What happened will not just discredit Inter but all of the city,” said the Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Indeed, it left a black stain on the club, although nothing like the stain left on those involved in the Calciopoli match fixing scandal a year later, which did not include Inter. There is an assumption, at least in Britain and Ireland, that hooliganism and violence are a common feature in Italian football grounds. Although it is nowhere near the levels seen in football grounds in England between the 1960’s and 1980’s, there are incidents from time to time, but maybe not as often as one would think.

The Milan Derby flares up... (Via Getty Images)

report on football violence found that such incidents happen at around 10% of matches in Italy, but very similar figures are found in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. While these numbers do suggest these countries are the worst for hooliganism, it also shows that there isn’t the gulf in violence between fans of Serie A and other major leagues that one might assume.

It’s possible that the occasion, a Milan derby in the biggest club competition in the world screened live on television for millions to see, opened people’s eyes to a certain element of hostility among supporters in Italy. Coupled with the infamous Ultras scene in the country, where notorious fan groups have been known to cause violence, this perhaps has reinforced certain preconceptions of Italian fan culture over the years.

Thankfully on this particular occasion in 2005, no one was hurt and we can enjoy some of the amazing photography that came out of it.

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Gigi Buffon: When Greatness Ends

In the aftermath of Gianluigi Buffon’s  likely final ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League, no superlative is too excessive to describe the Juventus legend, the greatest goalkeeper of all time, writes Ste McGovern.

In football lexicon, the word ‘genius’ might just be the most overused phrase of all. We often hear “that was a piece of genius skill” or “that goal was genius”, when such a term should be used as little as possible, reserved for only the finest moments from the finest players.

End Of An Era is another term that gets overplayed. Someone retires, “we’ll never see his like again, it’s an end of era.” A team loses a knockout tie, and it’s “that’s it, thanks for everything, bye forever”, even though it’s not always so clear cut. Eulogies were delivered on behalf of the Spain team after both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, and yet they look like one of the top contenders at Russia next summer. Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and others from that glorious team are still present. So is the old era dead or is it still ongoing?

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

For one man though it is less overstatement and more absolute. Buffon has been a staple of the sport, making it almost impossible to separate the position from the man. Strike up a conversation about goalkeeping with a mate and see how long it takes for the Italian shot-stopper’s name to come up. Not since Lev Yashin has someone come to define the position so comprehensively; he is the goalkeeper.

That much was evident last November when Italy drew 0-0 with Sweden at the San Siro in a playoff for the World Cup. Out of the 359 clean sheets he has amassed thus far, this must have been the worst one he has ever kept. There was the 0-0 versus AC Milan in the 2003 Champions League final that Juventus lost on penalties, but this loss cut deeper than perhaps any. The realisation that there would not only be no World Cup, but no more appearances for the Azzurri must have dawned on him at that moment.

Afterwards there was a lot of talk about how bad this team had been over two legs and the poor decision making of their manager, Giampiero Ventura. But most of the conversation centred around Gigi and the tragic end to a glorious international career that included the greatest prize of all in 2006. He won’t get one last shot at winning it again, for which everyone mourned at full-time.

It was typical of the man that in such a painful moment Buffon’s first action after the match ended was to console his teammates, many of whom will get more opportunities at major tournaments, before congratulating the Swedes one by one. He embraced Martin Olsen, his opposite number, as he fought a losing battle to hold back the tears. It’s easy to be happy for the opposition when it’s, say, Ireland who has beaten you and it has no effect on your progression to the next round of the competition, but he’s shown grace and humility in the face of bad times too.

His reaction to the penalty awarded to Real Madrid in injury time, with the score delicately poised at 3-3 on aggregate, might say otherwise. The physical nature of his confrontation with Michael Oliver was over the top, but let’s not forget his clapping of the Swedish national anthem as Italian fans unceremoniously booed it. He exuded immense character on the night, an aspect of his personality that isn’t mentioned nearly enough.

Gianluigi Buffon (via Sportsfile)

Buffon commands respect from everyone on the pitch without demanding it. That much was evident in the Sweden game when even the referee gave him a hug. That level of respect has been well earned too; it’s hard to think of anyone who has matched their longevity with such incredibly consistency. The World Cup in Brazil appeared to be a nadir for the Italian legend, a poor overall performance that indicated a career finally on the slide. But the slide never arrived, and he seemed to be better than ever at times these past few seasons as he and his beloved Juve chased European glory.

Heading into the final stretch of the season, and thus the twilight of the great man’s club career, the spotlight refocused on Gigi’s mission to finally get his hands on the famous mouse ears. It would have been a fitting end, but instead it all finished in even more ignominious circumstances at the Bernabeu Stadium tonight. Possibly the greatest player to never lift the trophy, failing to win it should not define him as a player. If there was one footballer whose career was far greater than the contents of his trophy cabinet, then it’s Gianluigi Buffon.

In many ways, the past 12 or so months has been edging closer to the end of a very special era. Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli have retired from international duty. Giorgio Chiellini might not be far behind. Last May Francesco Totti played his last match. Andrea Pirlo did so too later that year. After giving us a lifetime of memories these incredible talents will be gone in a flash.

The era is ending, but there’s still just enough time to appreciate it.

@TheNoveltyAct

This is an updated version of an article written in 2017.

#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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#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.

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