Thursday, 28 May 2009

European Champions but silly names!

Barcelona were imperious and a class apart, as they swept aside Manchester United to become Champions of Europe for a third time.

Just as in 2006, Barca are acclaimed as the best side in Europe - on merit. With over 150 goals in a treble-winning season, neither United or indeed Chelsea, who the Catalans beat in the semi-final can have any argument with their status as the continent's best team.

But they sure do have funny names. Chubby? Messy? Peaky? Biscuits and Poohole?

They only need to bring Lopez Ufarte out of retirement - and the club shop could become a comedy theatre.

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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Dynamo Kiev's Death Match


Football doesn't tend to translate well onto the big screen. There have been several ineffective attempts to do so ranging from The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) to the laughable Mean Machine (2001), starring Vinnie Jones.

A widely anticipated exception to this rule is The Damned United from 2009. This stars the consumate actor, Michael Sheen who played David Frost in Frost/Nixon and Tony Blair in The Queen (2006). It relates the tale of Brian Clough's 44 day reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974 and is based on David Peace's seminal novel of the same name.
Perhaps the most remarkable football film ever made was Escape to Victory (1981). This featured a highly unlikely cast including Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pele, Bobby Moore and Ossie "Tottingham" Ardiles. The plot of the film seemed equally implausible.

It went as follows: In World War II, a group of Nazi officers devise a propaganda event in which an all star Nazi team play a team composed of Allied Prisoners of War in a football game. The Prisoners agree, beat the Nazis against all the odds and then use the game as a means of escape from the camp.
Pure nonsense, right?
Wrong. The story was actually based on one of the most extraordinary football matches of all time and was comprehensively detailed in Andy Dougan's compelling book (Amazon): Dynamo: Triumph and Tragedy in Nazi-Occupied Kiev

To learn about what actually happened, we need to travel back to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s.
In this era and location, football started to become very popular, especially in Ukraine. The region's strongest team of this time was Dynamo Kyiv, part of the Dynamo sports society that was funded by the trade unions, the police and the Red Army. In Soviet Russia, football was a state-sponsored activity.

In 1938, Dynamo Kyiv came fourth in the national league, scoring seventy-six goals, but then performed poorly in 1939 and 1940.

The 1941 season was never completed, as Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Several Dynamo Kyiv players joined the military and went off to fight. As the Germans approached Kiev, the others who had stayed behind helped out with civil defence in the city. The initial success of the German Army allowed it to capture Kiev, one of the Soviet Union's major cities, from the Red Army. Several of the Dynamo Kyiv players who had survived the onslaught then found themselves prisoners of war in concentration camps.
In 1942, Dynamo's keeper, Mykola Trusevych, returned to the city and began searching all over Kiev for his former team mates. Over several traumatic weeks, he was able to form a new club, F C Start, which comprised of eight players from Dynamo and three players from Lokomotiv Kiev. During 1942, FC Start played several matches with teams of soldiers of occupying garrisons, and won them all.
However, this was not entirely positive. The German administration grew aware that FC Start victories might inspire Ukrainian inhabitants and decrease the morale of Axis troops.
Consequently, the German Luftwaffe team, Flakelf, set up a match with F C Start on 9 August, 1942 at Zenit stadium. An SS officer was appointed as referee, and FC Start were aware that he would be biased against them. Although anonymous sources warned FC Start of severe punishment if they did not lose the game to the Germans, the team still decided to play as always. They also refused to give a Nazi salute to their opponents before the match.
Just as the the FC Start players expected, the Nazi referee ignored Flakelf fouls. The German team quickly targeted the goalkeeper, Trusevych who, after a sustained campaign of physical challenges, was kicked in the head by a Flakelf forward and left groggy. While Trusevych was recovering, Flakelf went one goal up.
The referee continued to ignore FC Start appeals against their opponents' violence. The Flakelf team went on with their war of intimidation using every dirty tactic in the book. Despite this, FC Start scored with a long shot from a free kick by the former Dynamo striker, Ivan Kuzmenko. Then, the former Dynamo winger, Makar Honcharenko, against the run of play, dribbled the ball around almost the entire Flakelf defence and tapped it into in the German net to make the score 2-1.

By half-time, FC Start had scored another goal. Each side then scored twice in the second half. Towards the end of the match, with FC Start in an almost unbeatable position at 5-3, Oleksiy Klimenko, a defender, got the ball, beat the entire German rearguard and walked around the German goalkeeper. Then, instead of letting it cross the goal line, he turned around and kicked the ball back towards the centre circle. At this point, the SS referee blew the final whistle before the 90 minutes were up.
The consequences were dire for the F C Start side. Shortly after the match, all the players were arrested and accused of being Soviet spies. They were tortured and either executed immediately or sent to harsh labour camps. Only three of the eleven survived the war and were responsible for the popularisation of the story in Soviet culture.
The match itself was later branded "The Death Match" and inspired both Soviet and Hungarian cinematic tributes, as well Ossie, Sly and Sir Michael's 1981 effort. Now not alot of people know that!
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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Rafa shows guile and toughness to secure a better future for Liverpool

Chief executive Rick Parry's departure from Liverpool at the end of the season has secured a more stable future for Rafa Benitez and the club.
Despite disharmony between Messrs. Gillett and Hicks and the spats between Benitez and Parry, Liverpool's first team have continued to produce their most realistic title bid since they last won it in 1991.
Rafa's Reds are year-by-year getting closer to challenging Manchester United for the Premier League - a timely reminder to any big club that if the team keep winning, control comes from the manager's office. Parry had to go.
Benitez has taken a major step towards gaining more control over which players should be bought and sold. He's shown what a tough guy and a clever operator he is after the row which simmered and boiled over after they failed to sign Aston Villa's Gareth Barry.
Now all Gillett and Hicks need to do is secure Rafa on a new long-term contract. He's the best boss they've had since Kenny Dalglish.
Finally the Reds are emerging from the shadow of the Boot Room, which so dominates and drives expectation and lore at Anfield.
The club needs to find a replacement who won't stand in the way of Rafa, who's growing powerbase at Anfield will be rather formidable for anyone they appoint.
In Brian Barwick, they have a ready-made replacement to usher in a new era of peace. A Liverpool fan with a tough exterior but an expedient way of working.
Parry's departure was as important to Liverpool as keeping Steven Gerrard or signing Fernando Torres.
Liverpool fans should rejoice!
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McClaren goes native in Holland - if that's Dutch, he's an Englishman!

"Ooh, thish ish shushpect!" shaysh Jonny! Confirming what all England fans knew already, Steve McClaren speaks Double Dutch! Here's the original interview when Twente Enschede's new coach revealed he's acquired a mystery Dutch accent. However many times you see this, it'll always raise a laugh. Lekker!

Also on the Soccermongery: Cock-up Charlton had Hodgson in their sights the day Curbs waved goodbye
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Monday, 11 May 2009

United may have pipped Liverpool for the title but is it time for Sir Alex to quit?

I've seen the future - and it's Red.

I'm utterly convinced that events of the last month have laid the foundations for Liverpool to wrest English domination from Manchester United in the years to come.

Swaggering wins over Real Madrid and United speak of a new freedom behind the scenes.

Rick Parry's Long Wave Goodbye and Rafa's New Deal engaging him till 2014. The two headlines are linked. War Is Over.

At 67, does Sir Alex have the appetite or time to build another Manchester United side?

When Sir Alex does quit, one thing's for sure: he'll leave quickly. Learning the lesson of the last time he resigned in 2001, the year-long lap of honour resulted in United unfolding. In February 2002, he agreed to stay on but the short-term damage was done.

What followed was three third-place finishes in four seasons, as Chelsea and Arsenal kept trumping them. The Carling Cup win in 2005? United's first trophy in nearly three years.

Then came Rooney and Ronaldo.

Their progression from prodigious teenage talents to twentysomething world dominators is complete. United are ripe. This quadruple-chasing team is the best ever.

But Rafa's plan is longer-term. He's about twenty years younger than Sir Alex, secure under contract and having won his internal battles for control at Anfield.

While Liverpool plan a £30m warchest for New Rafa, United wonder what Ronnie might say this week about playing for Real Madrid. United are £650m in debt.

What's David Gill doing about succession? How do you follow Fergie? No such problems down the M62.

Liverpool had Paisley after Shankly: with all due respect to Michael Phelan, he's no Fergie.

The Mauve One's departure is the biggest-kept secret in football, but I'm venturing it's crossing his mind to quit at the top: never has this been more applicable even going back to June 1999, it could be sooner rather than later.

United are without peer - or they were into Liverpool exposed some unexpected jitters.

Fergie's about to be crowned a Living Legend, an all-time great - and the countdown to his coronation, the goodbye lap of honour - is twelve months from now - or less.

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