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Portugal 0-0 France (1-0 aet)

Euro 2016, Final, Stade de France, 10/7/16.

So. It wasn’t to be Germanic hegemony after all.

Neither was it to be French triumph.

Like a lot of the knockout matches this was a spectacularly dull game but it suggested one thing to me. Portugal are a better team without Cristiano Ronaldo in it than with him. I felt much the same about Liverpool in the latter stages of Steven Gerrard’s time with them. It seemed to me the rest of the Liverpool players were looking too much to Gerrard, giving way to him or allowing him to have the ball when they were in better positions to do something with it. So too with Ronaldo and Portugal. Throughout the tournament (though perhaps not the 3-3 draw with Hungary which I missed as I was watching the Iceland-Austria game) there was something about the way they played with him on the pitch that rendered them less effective as an attacking force. His hogging of all the free kicks with no fruitful result whatsoever was almost laughable. Okay, he did score that header against Wales and scuffed the assist for Nani’s toe-poke in that game but otherwise there was little end product and he seemed to get in the way at times. With him not available others stepped up to the plate – particularly Eder who I doubt would have made it onto the pitch if Ronaldo hadn’t been injured.

Football. It’s a funny old game.

Exit. (England 1-2 Iceland)

Euro 2016, Round of 16, Stade de Nice, 27/6/16.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some sort of karma about this result. After England voting to leave the EU (loosely referred to as Europe) its football team has just departed Europe unwillingly.

The commentator on ITV called it a humiliation and also used the word embarrassment. The unspoken assumption (though it was all but articulated) was that England should always be beating Iceland.

Well; to anyone who had watched Iceland’s group games this was no surprise. Iceland are supremely well organised, the players know what they’re supposed to be doing and play for the team and each other. They drew with Portugal and group winners Hungary and then beat Austria, well fancied before the tournament began. If that wasn’t sufficient warning as to what to expect what would be? Using words such as embarrassment and humiliation is extremely disrespectful to a group of players who work their socks off and have no little ability. I expect France will also find it hard to break them down in the next round.

Iceland know their limitations and strengths, and play to them; as a team. The same was true of Italy earlier in what was a magnificent team performance against Spain.

In this respect it is also hard to resist the temptation to remark that English football commentators have an inflated idea of the worth of their country’s footballers based on club performances. Just reflect, not one of those players is good enough to play for an overseas team. They appear effective at club level only because they are surrounded by foreign players who make them look good. And the clubs of the league they play in have not made too much of a splash in the so-called Champions League of late. (OK, Liverpool made the final of the Europa League this season but that was mostly due to foreigners, manager included.)

England’s most penetrative player tonight was an 18 year old who was only brought on to the pitch when it was far too late and has in any case not yet had the enthusiasm and any latent talent knocked out of him by unwarranted expectation.

The Things You Miss When You’re Away

As I’ve been away I only caught up with the news of the demotion of East Stirlingshire from the SPFL late yesterday.

61 years in the SFL/SPFL gone in a flash. It’s sad for them but they’ve been living on fumes for seasons on end now. It was always most likely that it would be the Shire that would be the first to fall victim to the play-off system.

Congratulations, though, to Edinburgh City. The role of third (or fourth) largest football side in Edinburgh has been taken in the past by St Bernard’s (defunct since World War 2) and Leith Athletic (demised 1955, reconstituted 1996 and as a senior team in 2008.) As those statistics suggest, surviving in the shadow of Hearts and Hibs is not easy.

Then there is the case of Meadowbank Thistle (Ferranti Thistle as was) admitted to the Scottish Football League in 1974 but weren’t satisfied with the sizes of crowds they were attracting in the capital and decamped to Livingston in 1995.

Speaking of Hibs, I see they managed to muck things up again. Hibsing it indeed. Then again they’ll probably win the Cup Final now and so put to an end the longest running “will this be the year” saga in Scottish football.

Leicester City’s fairy tale first top level title made the news in The Netherlands – as elsewhere I suspect. There was a newspaper article there about the length of time previous winners of their country’s football championship had been waiting to win it again. Schalke 04 topped the list at well over 20,000 days with Tottenham Hotspur second (also over 20,000 days.) Liverpool were about eighth on the list. I can just about make out some Dutch but a list is no problem.

I also divined from a radio report on the way back up that Roberto Martinez had lost the Everton job, paying the price for not getting enough out of a talented group of players. (An alternative possibility is that those players aren’t quite as good as their reputations would have them.)

And then there was the Scottish Parliament election, where the SNP paid the price of winning too many constituency seats and Labour actually did come second in the percentage vote in that element but not in the regional lists. We had voted by post before we left.

Sólo otro club

In one of the least unpredictable transfers of this summer Liverpool’s troubled (and troubling – the guy clearly needs help) star striker Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona, no doubt to the benefit of his bank balance. The only question was over his destination. As he made no secret he wished to play in Spain the other option would have been Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s motto, emblazoned on the seats in their stadium, the Camp Nou, is “més que un club” (more than a club.) Such a claim to moral high ground is somewhat undermined by their acquisition of a serial perpetrator of assaults; assaults which if carried out in any other walk of life might have seen their author up before a magistrate.

Suarez’s gifts as a footballer clearly outweigh any consideration of propriety (or indeed of the player’s inner well-being: he is not going to change his behaviour when it is rewarded like this.)

It seems Barcelona is sólo otro club (just another club) after all.

Dens Park, Dundee (i)

Dens Park is the home of Dundee Football Club.

This is the ground as seen from Caird Avenue, floodlights poking above the flats on Dens Road.

From Provost Road:-

The next one was taken from Sandeman Street. In the background you can also see Tannadice Park, home of Dundee United Football Club. The two grounds have the closest proximity in British senior football:-

Here are Dens Park and Tannadice Park from Dundee Law. I took this photo nearly three years ago. The high flats in the foreground have now been demolished.

Dens Park showing Tannadice Street. Again Tannadice Park can be seen, as can the bend in Dens Park’s Main Stand:-

Main and Bob Shankly Stands from Tannadice Street. Bob Shankly was the brother of the more widely known Liverpool manager, Bill:-

A Book and a Heron

From Menstrie we moved on to an antiques centre just outside Doune in Stirlingshire where both the good lady and myself bought books.

The one I stumbled upon was Recent English Architecture 1920-1940. Published by Country Life, the content was “selected by the English Architecture Club.” Its cover is shown below.

Recent English Architecture 1920-1940

Lots of great Art Deco buildings are pictured inside. The cover illustration is of Woodside Ventilation Station, Mersey Tunnel, Liverpool. It’s one of those brooding, monolithic, Stalinistic edifices.

From Doune we retreated to Bridge of Allan where we dined out (which is to say we dined inside, of course.)

Afterwards we took a stroll through the town and over its eponymous bridge where I spotted this heron in the Allan Water.

Heron in Allan Water

This bird is a bit scruffy looking but they’re fascinating creatures. I don’t remember it moving at all while we were watching it.

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper by Jonathan Wilson

Orion, 2012, 351 p

If football is symbolic, if the ball is a substitute sun requiring to be buried (in the goal) to ensure fertility, what then are we to make of the one player in the team whose primary object is to prevent that desirable consummation? Such is the question with which Wilson starts his history of the goalkeeper, who in this context can be seen as the outsider, an anti-footballer.

While not denying the goalkeeper’s essential difference I immediately started thinking, what about the stopper centre half, the holding midfielder, the midfield destroyer? Aren’t their roles equally anti-football in that sense? Of course these players may advance into the opponents’ half, even score the odd goal or two, but the goalkeeper generally isn’t expected/permitted even to do that. Except what, then, to make of the Paraguayan great, Jose Luis Chilavert, who took penalties and free-kicks and scored 62 goals, 8 of them for Paraguay and all while playing as a goalkeeper? (Brazil’s Rogério Ceni has since overtaken Chilavert as the highest scoring keeper.) The South American attitude to goalkeepers has tended to be less restrictive, though. In Europe keepers generally only charge upfield in desperate circumstances.

In any case Wilson’s title partly goes against the thrust of the history. When football was first codified it started with all players able to handle the ball in certain circumstances. That dispensation quickly became restricted to the designated one, who was detached from the team – and made to stand out by virtue of wearing a different coloured jersey/shirt. A gradual process of goalkeepers playing beyond the penalty area – the change of rules in 1912 which forbade handling outside the box (up till then they had been allowed to anywhere in their own half) delayed this process – by intervening with their feet or initiating attacks has reduced this difference. Arguably the keeper’s reintegration into the team was finally more or less institutionalised by the back pass rule. (Even before that, though, the custodian was not totally estranged, was a vital component of retaining possession. I remember reading elsewhere that Liverpool’s long domination of the European Cup was predicated on passing the ball back to Bruce Grobbelaar as much as possible during away legs. The sweeper-keeper had evolved even prior to this, though.) In Jose Luis Chilavert’s case the reintegration of keeper with team was surely at its most complete.

Wilson mentions that the first ‘Prince of Goalkeepers’ was Dumbarton’s James McAulay. Another Sons keeper to be mentioned in the text is Joshua Wilkinson, whose father was convinced his death from peritonitis in 1921 was due to a blow he’d received in a game against Rangers the previous Saturday.

In the very early days it had been almost open season on goalkeepers. The famous William ‘Fatty’ Foulke – reputedly 28st (179 kilograms) when he played for Chelsea – often took his revenge on physical forwards, turning them upside down and depositing them on their heads. Despite the obvious dangers – Celtic’s John Thomson (to whom a section of Kirkcaldy’s newly refurbished museum is dedicated – he came from nearby Cardenden – there was also a tribute to him there before the modernisation) received an accidental but fatal knee to the head in 1931 also against Rangers; Sunderland’s Jim Thorpe died in 1936 after several blows in a physical game in 1936 prompted a reccurence of a diabetic condition – it was not until after Bert Trautman’s broken neck and several other injuries to keepers in FA Cup finals in the 1950s, though, that British goalkeepers began to receive extended protection from referees.

Goalkeeping is not, in the end, a simple business. He/she is not necessarily only a shot stopper; there is a difference between the reactive keeper and the proactive. The former expects to make saves (spectacular or mundane) the latter’s best game is the one in which she/he has no saves to make at all, because the way he/she has organised the defence ensures, in an ideal world, that no danger occurs.

There are even national differences in approach. Both Brazilian and Italian defences tend to play deeply and so breed reactive keepers. In other countries a higher line is adopted, a goalkeeper’s play has to be more attuned to that. In Russia, Soviet Russia in particular, goalkeepers have been the subject of a reverence that borders on love.

Africa is represented here by the Cameroonians Tommy Nkono (who inspired Gianluigi Buffon) and Joseph-Antoine Bell, the Spanish, German, Italian, English, Brazilian, Scottish and US traditions are covered in detail. From Asia only Ali Al-Habsi gets a mention and that in passing. Oceanian custodians escape Wilson’s purview completely. Maybe no notable keepers have as yet been bred there.

So many great goalkeepers seem to have had unfortunate debuts, on the end of drubbings of various sorts. What distinguishes them all is that they are liable to be remembered, their careers defined, not for their great performances but for one, or – in the case of David Seaman – two mistakes. (My abiding memory of Ray Clemence is of him allowing a soft one from Kenny Dalglish to evade him in a Scotland-England game at Hampden. Proof if any were needed that there is no national tendency to persistently outstanding goalkeeping.) Poor Moacyr Barbosa of Brazil was forever blighted by conceding the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final. In 1970 a woman in a shop said to her young son, “Look! There’s the man who made all Brazil cry.” Barbosa himself later complained that in Brazil, “the maximum sentence is 30 years. My imprisonment has been for 50.” That loss to Uruguay was perhaps, though, the single most traumatic moment in Brazil’s history as a nation. It was only founded in 1889 and has never fought a war.* Brazilians apparently are not really football fans. It is winning they like.

Wilson makes the point that the existence of a highly proficient one or two goalkeepers from one country at one time is not evidence of strength in depth, nor any guarantee of continued excellence. The apparent decline of English goalkeeping is a case in point.

The author certainly knows his football history – there is even a digression into the treatments of the sport in literature and film, most of which lean heavily on the goalkeeper; a further nice touch is that the book’s back cover is decorated with a “1” – and he thinks deeply about the game. Having read the book I’ll observe goalkeeping in a different light.

One final note. Even if a book is about football it might be thought a touch insensitive to describe the Spanish Civil War as “perhaps the clásico to end them all” – even more insensitive when Wilson observes that Real Madrid didn’t become Franco’s team till the 1940s.

*Edited to add. I have since found out that this is only true of the Brazilian Republic and not of the Empire which preceded it.


I hear former Cabinet Minister Jack Straw in response to yesterday’s report on the Hillsborough disaster has referred to the culture of impunity in the police under the Thatcher government, a culture encouraged as they wanted the police to be a partisan force. Norman Tebbit – that government’s “semi-house-trained polecat” (in Michael Foot‘s phrase) – has responded to Straw’s remarks by calling them very, very silly.

Straw seems to have touched a nerve there don’t you think? Tebbit’s is hardly a measured comment. It’s also a deliberate attempt to minimise the effect of Straw’s charge – which has a great deal of substance.

To anyone who, like me, lived in a mining area in the 1980s it was obvious that the police force was partisan. Not only did stories of police officers brandishing banknotes at striking miners through the windows of police vans abound, I was several times prevented from going about my lawful business by a policeman peremptorily directing me back the way I had come. And this was nowhere near an actual coal mine, merely on roads that coal carrying lorries might be intending to use.

It was equally obvious that the then government wanted the police on side. One of their first acts was to ensure that the police got a large pay rise (while the rest of the public services were to endure cuts or freezes.)

And Thatcher herself not only saw the miners as an enemy, she saw football supporters in that light too, or if not an enemy, certainly as undesirables.

Is it any wonder the Yorkshire Police thought that they could get away with distorting the truth of Hillsborough? Football fans, especially in England, more especially from Liverpool, were at the time treated with contempt.

Far from Straw’s remarks being very, very silly, it is Tebbit’s which deserve that label.

Country Tracks?

I was watching Country Tracks on BBC 1 this morning – well it was on and I was in the same room.

They were doing what might as well have been an episode of Coast; from Liverpool to Morecambe – with a diversion up the Manchester Ship Canal – taking in along the way Antony Gormley‘s statues on Crosby Beach, and Blackpool.

A lot of the programme consisted of clips shown on previous BBC shows. The introduction to Morecambe was an extract from a 2006 edition of Coast which I remember well as it alerted me to the refurbishment of the Midland Hotel which I looked at last year and Big Rab has photographed recently.

The show is on the BBC iPlayer. For how long I don’t know. (The content wasn’t working when I tried though. The relevant bit will be towards the end.) For a programme called Country Tracks it spent a lot of time in cities and towns this week.

The presenter got to stay the night in the hotel and we saw several shots of the inside and the Eric Gill artworks.

By a curious coincidence yesterday’s Guardian Review (I only get round to reading that bit on a Sunday) had an article about another English sea-side Art Deco extravagance, Marine Court, St Leonards, whose structure is modelled on the liner RMS Queen Mary. Marine Court opened just in time to be made a bit of a white elephant by the Second World War. It’s quite stunning.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool

Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid. 22/4/10.

For my sins, I suffered this game on TV. It was like watching paint dry.

It did provide, though, the spectacle of Atletico’s Tomáš UjfaluÅ¡i being a much more attack minded player than he seemed to be with Fiorentina.

Somehow I managed to miss the comedy goal.

Strangely, it was only Atletico’s second win in thirteen European games. They got to the semi-final via three draws in their Champions League group; and after that mainly on away goals.

Liverpool were poor, so doubtless will win handsomely at home.

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