Last time out I highlighted a few bugbears of mine that have been languishing deep within my footballing soul and consciousness and gave them an airing. Very therapeutic it was too.
Therefore, I have put together a few more rambling thoughts based on the thoughts of others.
Paul Gascoigne and Stan Bowles were players of unbounded talent who gave joy to hordes of supporters over the years. They were blessed with the ability of angels, and through hard work and dedication made it to the very levels that mere mortals can only dream of.
These players, and others of their ilk, are often referred to as ‘mavericks’ or ‘entertainers’. They were, so popular opinion demands, players for whom the usual rules of convention didn’t apply, leading to ‘the establishment being afraid of them’ and hence the lack of official recognition or appreciation in the way of caps and tangible trophies.
There is another, admittedly less popular, school of thought, however: one that contends the blame for them failing to reach the very peaks their talents deserved lies directly at their own feet and nowhere else.
Read any one of the intermittent interviews that Bowles, for example, does these days and you’ll be forgiven for coming away with the impression that he harbours no regrets for the events of yesteryear and of how he chose to play out his career. He’ll delight in regaling the reader with stories of how he stood up to this manager, had a barney with that one, walked away from a third, thumbed his nose at a fourth. All great tales, no doubt.
All nonsense, too.
These ‘entertainers’ had it all and yet could have done so much more.
Had they just behaved in a manner ever so slightly resembling that of elite professional athletes, they would now have the memories, trophies, honours and perhaps most importantly, the financial security that contemporaries with less ability but more professionalism have to keep them company as they approach the onset of old age.
Sure, the tale of how Bowles would be in a Shepherd’s Bush betting shop at quarter to three is a great yarn, as is the one of how while at Nottingham Forest he told Brian Clough to fuck off and walked out of the European Cup Final squad.
The tale of the fight he picked with Joe Mercer when he was England’s caretaker manager that led to him walking out of the squad raises a chuckle or two…..but then you think: Really? Forty years on and these anecdotes are what you want to be remembered for?
As I say, it’s not just Stan Bowles who falls into the category of ‘tortured genius’. Another, more recent, example is Paul Gascoigne. A wonderful talent who shone so brightly at the very peak of his career and promised so much, that ultimate passage into the pantheon of all-time greats at the very top level was not just mooted but an absolute expectation.
As has been well-documented, reality panned out somewhat differently.
And yet, in certain quarters Gazza gets what pretty much equates to a free pass for the unfulfillment of talent and the worst of his excesses.
‘Tortured genius’, ‘Misunderstood’, ‘Heart of Gold who just wanted to be loved’ are all epitaphs spouted by his supporters, when the reality is the shortcomings in achievements were due to him and him alone.
It was he who decided to act like a madman in the 1991 FA Cup Final with the two ridiculous challenges that ultimately caused his injury and reduced his effectiveness as a player by 60%.
It was he who decided to fly into the challenge with West Germany’s Thomas Berthold which resulted in the – totally deserved – yellow card that would have put him out of the final had England got there.
It was he who, at the age of 31, was unable to act as a professional in the run-up to the 1998 World Cup and left manager Glenn Hoddle with no choice but to leave him out of the squad.
While I have every sympathy for his, and anybody else’s, struggles with mental illness and addiction problems, the ultimate responsibility for the way his career and life panned out, lay with the man himself.
A train of thought often put forward is that Bowles, Gazza and others were and are loved by the public today due to their ‘ordinariness’. Fans can relate to them as one of them; as simple ordinary guys living the dream.
Again, I beg to differ.
The ‘ordinary fan’ cannot relate to Bowles, Gazza, George Best, Frank Worthington and any number of similarly talented ‘mavericks’, for the simple reason that had we been blessed with 1% of their talents we would have moved heaven and earth to make the very most of them.
No way would we have squandered the opportunities we had been given.
May 29th 1985, was a day of wickedness and the 39 souls who perished at Heysel will never be forgotten.
Although there were many contributing factors, the 39 were killed by Liverpool supporters who charged across an expanse of terracing towards a group of Italian supporters. The Juventus fans retreated as far as they could go and were crushed against a wall. Dozens were killed, and when the wall finally gave way and collapsed, more fatalities occurred.
It was a day when evil reigned and shame permeated over Liverpool Football Club.
LFC as a club and by extension large swathes of its supporters still refuse to accept responsibility for the events of 35 years ago. It is a stand that does the club no credit whatsoever and all these years on is an utter disgrace.
Irrespective of poor policing, woeful facilities, non-existent segregation, and provocation from Juventus fans, the responsibility for the disaster lay squarely at the feet of the thugs who charged across the terraces.
Why is that so hard to fathom?
Why do so many connected with Liverpool FC seek to downplay responsibility in the matter and preface every discussion or debate on the topic with the words, “Yes, but….”?
This club winds me up. Some of their supporters’ self-righteousness and constant snipping and sniping about 2002 and ‘Franchise FC’ is, in my opinion, both tiresome and hypocritical.
As is commonly known, the ‘old’ Wimbledon rose through the non-league ranks and gained entry into the Football League in 1977. Nine years later promotion to the top flight was achieved, and then came the club’s greatest day when Liverpool were defeated at Wembley and the FA Cup was secured.
All magnificent achievements.
Throughout this period, Wimbledon’s average attendances remained low with the vast majority of home games being played to crowds well below five figures.
The awful Hillsborough Disaster and the resulting Taylor Report led to all clubs in the top two divisions having to convert to all-seater stadiums, but unfortunately for Wimbledon, there was no room to do so at their old Plough Land ground. This was essentially a non-league ground hosting top-flight football, so the club had no option but to seek alternative accommodation were it to continue to exist.
A tenancy at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park was agreed, and in 1991 Wimbledon started to play their home games there.
In 2001, a move to Milton Keynes was first mooted to much opposition from the Wimbledon fan base. Fans opposing the move then set up a new club, AFC Wimbledon, and started at the bottom of the non-league football pyramid.
Therefore, as is not widely known or remembered now, there were two ‘Wimbledons’ in existence at the same time. The new club played its home games at Kingstonian’s stadium in Kingsmeadow, while the old club continued to play under the Wimbledon name at Selhurst Park.
It must have been an awful time for supporters of Wimbledon during this period, seeing the club they supported torn apart like this. The majority of fans got on board with the new club and attendances at Selhurst Park dwindled immediately.
Although the fans’ feelings were totally understandable in many respects, it should be remembered that they made the difficult choice to abandon the ‘old’ club.
Things were happening which they felt they couldn’t possibly get behind and lend their support to, so decisions had to be taken. These decisions were widely understood and agreed with by the footballing fraternity at large, but, again, it should be stressed these were the decisions the fans made themselves.
I repeat; they, for whatever reason, decided to abandon their own club.
Now, fast forward almost two decades and the ‘old’ Wimbledon no longer exists. It morphed into Milton Keynes Dons and bounces along flitting between the bottom two divisions of the Football League. The ‘new’ Wimbledon achieved promotion to the Football League in 2011 and now are also in League One.
All well and good, you’d think.
Except…..some AFC fans still persist with the ‘woe-is-us’ attitude and mindset to this day. Yes, what happened to their club was shocking and awful, but the lack of support was killing the club. Had certain decisions not been taken, the club would have gone out of existence and would have had to start again as a phoenix club anyway.
Finally, although the ‘old’ Wimbledon no longer exists, so should it also be noted that Kingstonian FC, the side whose ground AFC Wimbledon shared in its early years, are now themselves homeless.
AFC Wimbledon bought out the lease from Kingstonian, keeping the non-league side on as sub-tenants, before subsequently deciding to sell the ground to Chelsea. Upon purchasing the ground, Chelsea informed Kingstonian they would no longer be able to play there.
Hence, Kingstonian are now footballing nomads with an ever-dwindling fan base. Sound familiar?
I bet they’re glad they agreed to help AFC Wimbledon out all those years ago now.
The Old Wembley
‘Should never have done away with the Old Wembley’. ‘Wembley was special. It’s criminal that it was knocked down’.
These two statements are amongst the most oft-repeated ones on many a forum or page dedicated to footballing days gone by, and while one can see where fans are coming from in voicing them, they do grate after a while.
Let’s be clear: for all its romance and history, the Old Wembley was more than a bit of a tip: it was a disgrace. It had to go.
Built with the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 to 1925 in mind, the stadium was opened in time for the 1923 FA Cup Final. It then enjoyed a grand old history for slightly more than three-quarters of a century before closing in 2000 and, finally, being demolished, rebuilt and reopened in 2007.
The original stadium was host to many legendary football matches and events; including the Olympics in 1948, the World Cup Final in 1966, the European Championships of 1996, five European Cup Finals, the annual FA Cup and Rugby League Finals, and rock concerts such as Live Aid.
Its sporting capacity was fixed at 100,000 for most of its existence with a reduction of 8,000 or so for night matches. In 1990, the stadium was converted into that of all-seater status and the attendance reduced accordingly.
Other than these seats being put in, and a roof being added to the stadium in 1963, Wembley remained practically untouched with no signs of upgrading or improvement throughout its existence.
By the 1970s, at the very latest, it was looking tired, outdated, basic and in very poor condition considering it was supposed to be the flagship of not just English football, but of the nation’s sport in general.
The pitch was encircled by a greyhound track meaning that the seating and terraces were set back from the action, and yet the ground’s atmosphere is said to have been legendary.
It really was nothing of the sort. The ‘hard-core’ support on the terraces behind each goal was much too far away to produce any real buzz, and the comfort and vantage points of those seated in the lower tiers running the width of the pitch left much to be desired.
There was then the safety aspects to consider. Access to the ground was gained through having to climb and queue up the stairs outside. A hazard in the best of times and the friendliest of weather, whenever it rained and the steps outside became wet, it turned into a potential skating rink.
Well before it actually occurred, it was obvious to most, if not all, that demolition was the only way forward. There was no option to develop the stadium piece-by-piece such as, say, Old Trafford, St. James’ Park or Anfield were, and so the decision was taken to knock it down and start again.
Eventually, the ‘New Wembley’ was completed and opened to what has since been luke-warm- at best, reviews.
‘Soulless’. ‘Lacks character’, ‘No atmosphere’ and ‘not a patch on the original’ are just some of the more polite comments still being made on it to this day.
Why is that? The facilities are better. It is safer. It is more comfortable. The spectators are closer to the action, relatively speaking than at its predecessor. Yet people still moan.
I can’t see why myself.
Finally, we come to Neville Southall.
Big Nev. The greatest goalkeeper in Everton’s history and a member of the absolute top bracket of ‘keepers in the 1980s and ‘90s.
So, what has he done to provoke my ire? Nothing actually.
Let me explain.
In the mid-1980s Southall was a mainstay in the most successful Everton side of all time. Between 1984 and 1987, Everton won two titles, the FA Cup, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup and came close to winning several others, too.
In March 1986, Southall suffered a season-ending injury while on international duty with Wales, which was unfortunate for him personally but also for Everton.
At the time, Everton were locked in a battle for the League Championship and FA Cup but were to ultimately end the season empty-handed, with Merseyside rivals Liverpool pipping them to both trophies.
‘The injury to Neville Southall cost us The Double’ contend a large contingent of Everton supporters more than 30 years later.
That’s a myth. It’s not true. And this is what annoys me.
Bobby Mimms replaced Southall in the Everton goal and with him between the sticks, Everton conceded just 3 league goals in (about) 12 games.
Now, two of these were in matches Everton won after the destiny of the title had already been decided (3-1 v West Ham and 6-1 v Southampton) and so are completely irrelevant.
The only other league goal Mimms conceded was in the 1-0 defeat at Oxford.
Seeing as Everton lost the title by 2 points to Liverpool, even if the Oxford game had ended 0-0, Liverpool would have still won the league.
Therefore, having Mimms in goal didn’t cost Everton the league.
Rant over. Hopefully, the onset of footballing returning in the foreseeable future means spirits will lift and we’ll all be back on an even keel soon enough.