Sunday, 15 November 2020

The German State That Once Had Its Own National Team and Even Faced Germany Itself For a Place at the World Cup

The border that separates France and Germany has a somewhat complicated history. Strasbourg, nowadays a firmly French city was once upon a time under German control whilst the German state of Saarland has at times been governed by France. Even today the popular French greeting of 'Salut' is still commonplace in this German speaking area, albeit having been Germanised to become 'Salü'. But although, its very earliest years apart, in footballing terms Strasbourg has always been strictly French the story of soccer in Saarland is far less straightforward. Saarland's tale is one that includes not just its own national team but also an ultimately failed World Cup qualifying campaign that hinged on a final match showdown against none other than their German neighbours to the East.

"I feel German I didn't want to stop them getting to the World Cup," said player Kurt Clemens after Saarland lost to West Germany in their final qualifying match for the 1954 World Cup. Clemens' feelings towards West Germany after the game do nothing but highlight the complicated situation in Saarland at the time. Many Saarland residents felt German and did not want to be a semi-autonomous state that was part of France as they at that time were. Luckily for them, Saarland would soon be reunited with West Germany, at the beginning of 1957 in fact, and to this day remains part of what is now a unified Germany. But Saarland's history prior to 1957, even in just the first half of the twentieth century alone, saw the people of this small state change nationality several times and, of course, even have their own national football team.

Over the centuries Saarland, which currently has a population of just over 990,000, has changed hands several times but after World War I and the treaty of Versailles it was governed by Britain and France. A referendum in 1935, however, saw the residents vote to be ruled by Germany as it had been previously and this lasted until the end of World War II. After the Germans were defeated in another world war the French wanted to get their hands on Saarland again due to its large coal deposits and that is exactly what happened. Saarland would actually have its own flag and even its own constitution but it was, despite some forms of autonomy, essentially under French supervision. This was something that, as mentioned, the people of the Saar never really enjoyed. Possibly because of this dissatisfaction at French interference, in 1954 those in the state were offered the chance of complete independence via a referendum. The public of the Saar voted against independence, however, as they wanted a return to Germany. Because of this a return to German rule was, of course, granted just three years later to see Saarland leave France and rejoin its German neighbours to the east once and for all.

Although officially becoming part of France shortly after the war ended in 1945, maybe because of the degree of autonomy it was given, Saarland soon established its own football association and never joined the French Football Federation (FFF). Having said that, despite the fact that they had formed their own association, local club 1. FC Saarbrücken joined France's Ligue 2 as a guest team for the 1948-49 season. Unfortunately, things did not end well for them. Despite winning the league comfortably, a proposal from president Jules Rimet for them to officially join the FFF was rejected by the majority of French clubs and resulted in Rimet's resignation and Saarbrücken quitting the league.

After leaving French football, Saarbrücken went on to create a short-lived invitational tournament considered a forerunner to the European Cup and when the European Cup was created soon after became Saarland's sole representatives despite having by this time actually rejoined the German league system. Saarbrücken were able to play in the European Cup because the Saarland football association had by then successfully applied to join FIFA, for which they became a member in 1950, and Saarland was therefore recognised as an independent nation for footballing purposes. Saarland remained FIFA members until the state rejoined Germany in 1957 and during this period Saarland at one point, as we know, came close to qualifying for the World Cup at what would have been West Germany's expense.

Saarland's national football team played their first match in 1950 and their last just six years later, a total on 19 matches. Most of the matches Saarland played in were international friendlies but they did partake in a three man European qualifying group for the 1954 World Cup where they faced Germany and Norway both home and away. This would be the second real dose of competitive international sport for the state having taken 36 athletes to the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki, although this did not include a football team. Saarland's football side were coached by a young man named Helmut Schön who would later lead West Germany to European Championship success in 1972 and World Cup glory on home soil two years later but this time around he would be watching them from the opposing dugout. 

Having opened with a 3-2 win away in Norway the home match against the Norwegians was a 0-0 draw with a 3-0 defeat away in West Germany sandwiched inbetween before that final showdown between the pair. A win or a draw for West Germany would see them finish top of the group and qualify for the World Cup whilst a win for hosts Saarland would see them draw level on points with the West Germans. Despite the West Germans having a superior goal difference, finishing level on points with Saarland would mean, as per the rules in those days, a play-off match to decide qualification and if that finished level then a coin toss. 

The 'Biggest football festival on the Saar' as the matchday programme called it took place in Saarbrücken at the end of March 1954 but did anyone in Saarland actually want their team to win? Having claimed after the match he was relieved that the Saar lost, an ageing Clemens speaking to German newspaper Volksfreund in 2018 remembered an uncomfortable incident in a local sports shop a few days beforehand and said: "Suddenly the owner's daughter was standing in front of me and roared: 'Insolence that you dare to play against Germany - I hope they'll beat you ten.'"

A full house of more than 53,000 locals attended the match to supposedly cheer on West Germany but over 40,000 spectators had also attended the home match against Norway so maybe there was actually some support for the Saar after all. Not only that but, despite a narrative that everyone firmly wanted the hosts to lose, Saarland forward Herbert Binkert, also speaking to Volksfreund, said: "We weren't interested in politics we just wanted to play football," suggesting that some of the Saarland players would have been happy to win the game. 

Play football is exactly what they did as well almost taking the lead early on only for the Dutch referee to declare a Saarland goal offside. It was, of course, West Germany who won the match though and when Saarland did finally score on 67 minutes the West Germans had already found the net twice thanks to goals from Max Morlock who these days has a stadium named after him in Nuremberg. Saarland's goal came from the penalty spot but was followed 16 minutes later by another West German goal, this time from Hans Schäfer, that saw the visitors win 3-1 and qualify for the World Cup and we all know what happened next...

"We would certainly not have become world champions with Saarland," Clemens said after West Germany won the 1954 World Cup final in what became known as 'The miracle of Bern'. Although the story of West Germany winning that World Cup after defeating Puskas' Hungary is one well known throughout the footballing world Saarland's story post that qualification failure is not. To be fair, however, there is not much of a tale to tell. That match with Germany was not quite the end for Saarland but they would play only nine more times before they were disbanded. All of those games were friendly matches of which only one was won. Then, before you know it they were gone for good. Mind with the world champions on their doorstep did anyone really miss the Saar team? 

Most within the Saar supported West Germany in that 1954 final and with Saarland's Telesaar tv channel not showing the match some went to great lengths to watch it. Many close to the West German border could pick up the broadcasts from West German channel ARD whilst others could pick up broadcasts from France, but for some this was not possible. Those who could not pick up a signal with their usual aerials had to get creative and often with difficulty build larger tv antennas to get the match. Of course, many people could not afford a television though and had to listen on the radio rendering those signal problems moot. For the players of the Saarland national team, however, watching the game was certainly not a problem. The whole squad was invited to Bern where they cheered on from the stands the team that earlier in the year had beat them.

Perhaps West Germany winning that World Cup was the beginning of the end for Saarland, after all, mass support for the West German team from the Saarland population showed that most of them were German at heart even if their passports said otherwise. As we know it took less than three years after that day in Bern for Saarland to rejoin West Germany and with it bring to an end the shortlived adventure that was Saarland's national football team. After a lone qualifying campaign and a few friendlies, they had very quickly disappeared never to return. The state of Saarland lives on but firmly as part of a now unified Germany. There are, nowadays, only limited hints in Saarland of its former Frenchness, that phrase Salü being a major one, whilst anything even remotely close to independence of any kind, in football or elsewhere, is completely non existent.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

David Ginola and the Cross That Saw France Fail to Qualify for a World Cup

Surrounded by reporters, not long after the final whistle in Paris, perhaps in heat of the moment, David Ginola looked absolutely shellshocked: "C'est terrible, c'est terrible," he whimpered. A mistake by none other than himself had led opponents Bulgaria to victory with seconds left to play and seen France fail to grab the point they needed to qualify for the World Cup. The visitors would be playing on the world's greatest stage the following summer but those representing the tricolour of blue, white, and red would not. Ginola had a few more words of despair then hurried off shaking his head. All these years later and some have still yet to forgive him.

Despite a recent bribery scandal, at the beginning of October 1993 French football was still on the crest of a wave. At the start of the summer Olympique de Marseille had become the first French club to win the European Cup, or indeed any European competition, whilst two French sides had reached the semi finals of the UEFA Cup. And, although the national side were not favourites to win next years World Cup in the USA many certainly believed Les Bleus still had half a chance of lifting the trophy for the first time.

France had not yet actually qualified for next summers tournament but only needed one point from their two remaining games, both at home at the Parc des Princes, against lowly ranked Israel and certainly better but still unfancied Bulgaria. The idea that they might not qualify seemed a fallacy. 

Everyone knew the Israel game was supposed to a formality and a straight forward victory as, after all, France had already put four past them without reply in the reverse fixture. The newspapers were talking as if France had already qualified with one publication in the build up running with simply that Q word as one of its headlines. The matchday programme, meanwhile, used the title "Let The Party Begin" and the VIP section of a prominent Parisian nightclub had been reserved for the players after the match. All the talk was of America next summer and not of Israel at the Parc des Princes in the here and now.

It would be described by some as a trauma and certainly, France's defeat to Israel was unexpected. Israel were in front after 21 minutes but France managed to come from behind to lead at the break with Ginola. arch nemesis in the next match, grabbing the second. The win seemed in the bag until Israel equalised seven minutes from time but a draw would have been enough to see France qualify. Unfortunately in the 90th minute disaster struck. Israel ran forward and in the blink of an eye won the game 3-2 scoring to leave French manager Gérard Houllier looking rather glum in his technical area.

Perhaps the anger and frustration would have been worse had it not been for the fact that France still had a second chance. Defeat to Israel depressing as it may have been was not the end of the world or indeed France's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup tournament. They still only needed a draw in their final game. Another month would pass before the Bulgaria match and the despite Michel Platini stating: “This [Israel] defeat is the worst result for the France team for forty years," the general consensus amongst the nation did not change, France would surely still be in the States next summer. There was no blame game just the belief that the eventual outcome would be World Cup football next year. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way and sports daily L'Equipe compared the performance against the Bulgarians to that of a village team. 

Didier Deschamps captain for France on the day would years later say in reference to the Bulgaria match: "The Parc des Princes contains my worst memory." Deschamps as we well know would be captain of the France team that won the World Cup on home soil almost five years after the Bulgaria debacle but that was won at the new Stade de France not yet built when qualifiers for 1994 took place. Others, however, took their anger out on one man in particular. Manager Houllier said of David Ginola: "He sent an Exocet missile through the heart of French football," and would later call him a bastard in his autobiography. Whilst although forward Eric Cantona never used such flavoursome words in his condemnation of Ginola he too never forgave the man either. His crime came in the form of a cross into the box.

The nightmare began not as a nightmare but with France taking the lead and their World Cup place looking assured. They went in front through Cantona on 32 minutes and although they conceded five minutes later they were still on course to grab the point they needed. One Bulgaria goal would put a dagger through French hearts though so things probably were at least little bit nervy albeit seemingly nowhere near panic stations. Jean-Michel Larqué who commentated on the match for France's main free to air tv channel TF1 disagreed, however, and felt there had been severe anxiety from the word go: "As soon as they entered the field they were trembling," Larqué said of the French side. Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria's star player at that time,  also thought along the same lines and said: "The French were so scared they played with their buttocks clenched." Mind, trembling or not the French side were seemingly holding on for the required point they needed as the match drew to a close and it wasn't until the 90th minute that things went pear shaped. 

The footage of Ginola slumped over the advertising hoardings at full-time looking absolutely deflated is now iconic and he is the man who will forever carry the can for France's failure to qualify for USA '94. With seconds left to play France were awarded an indirect free-kick to the right of the box. Ginola, who had entered the field as a substitute some twenty minutes earlier replacing Jean-Pierre Papin who'd set up Cantona for his goal but had failed to head the ball clear before the equaliser, saw the ball knocked to him by Vincent Guérin. Ginola decided to cross the ball into the box hoping to find Cantona but unfortunately for Ginola, his cross missed everyone and bounced out of the box to the feet of a Bulgarian. Bulgaria promptly went up the other end and scored and that was that the Bulgarians won the match and France had failed to qualify. In other words "A crime against the team," or at least that was another phrase Houllier would use to describe the incident. Ginola's actions really did upset him.

It seemed to many that Ginola struggled to come to terms with what happened that night and indeed he wrote in his autobiography in 2000: "It is something which will haunt me for the rest of my life." Ginola, in 1993 playing for Paris Saint-Germain, did, however, go on to have a successful career in the English Premier League so perhaps those events did not completely destroy him and besides, years later he would be more philosophical on the issue: "The whole thing is such a long time ago I don't care anymore. I didn't kill anyone. I made a mistake on the pitch." Houllier never did forgive him though, in fact, things turned into a feud which got so bad that in 2012 Ginola unsuccessfully tried to sue Houllier for defamation.

Houllier for all intents and purposes would not take any responsibility for France's failure to qualify. In his post match press conference, he declared that despite the loss he would keep his job and said: "My contract lasts through the end of 1994. I'm going back to work." Houllier's assumptions were misplaced, however, and he was soon replaced by his assistant Aime Jacquet. Under Jacquet, France would reach the semi finals of Euro 96 just two years after the American World Cup they missed and, as the whole footballing world well knows, followed that up by winning the ultimate prize two years later. Their 1998 World Cup triumph on home soil, however, did not include substitute Ginola or indeed much of the starting line up from that Bulgaria match. 

With Zinedine Zidane the star of the show, Marcel Desailly, Emmanuel Petit, and captain Deschamps were the only three players who started that Bulgaria clash to enter the Stade de France pitch for the 1998 final, although, alongside them were Bixente Lizarazu and Youri Djorkaeff who had both been substitutes in 1993. It probably would have been four but Laurent Blanc was sent off in France's semi final win and therefore banned for the final. Ginola himself played ten more times for the national side after the Bulgaria match with his last cap coming in 1995 against Azerbaijan. Injury prevented him from playing in the next match against Romania and he was never picked again. Ginola would regret missing out on playing in a World Cup on home soil and said the nation's victory was: "fantastic for the French people, but on the other hand, from a personal point of view, it was terrible."

After that 1998 triumph France won a second successive major tournament when they triumphed at Euro 2000 under Roger Lemerre, Jacquet's assistant, which capped off what had been a rather successful seven years following the 1993 disaster - far more successful than it had been for Bulgaria despite them reaching the semi finals in the USA. France won the World Cup again in 2018 and thankfully for them, those three triumphs mean their football is not defined by that November night in 1993.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

The Forgotten Team of Chernobyl: The Football Club Put to an End by the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster

9 May 1986 was supposed to be the beginning of a new era for FC Stroitel Pripyat but the club never lived to see it. That day in early summer the club were supposed to play FC Shakhtar Oleksandriya in a Ukrainian league match, what was the fourth tier of Soviet football, and it would be their first ever match in their brand new stadium. But unfortunately, the match never took place and the new stadium lay empty in fact so did the whole town. Nearby events that took place just under two weeks earlier shook the world and brought an end to life in this treelined town of Pripyat. But whereas people still well remember the now more than 30 years empty town that was home to the workers of the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant very few remember its football club.

Considered the worst nuclear disaster in the history of the world, events on 26 April 1986 left large parts of Ukraine and Belarus uninhabitable due to high radiation levels. This was caused by events at the VI Lenin Memorial Nuclear Power Plant, otherwise known as Chernobyl, during which reactor number four was completely destroyed. This affected the now infamous nearby town of Pripyat which was evacuated just days after the incident and has remained all but empty ever since. The excellent Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham gives a blow by blow account of the event, the aftermath, and the lives of those involved. I could rave on all day about his brilliant book but of course one of thing he does not tell us is the story of FC Stroitel Pripyat.

Formed in the mid 1970s, according to Belarusian football blog A Ya Vse Chashche Zamechayu initially most of Stroitel's line up came from the nearby village of Chistogalovk although others claim the club originally consisted of construction workers working in the local Chernobyl nuclear plant and this would explain the club's name because Stroitel translates into English as 'builder'. Regardless of the club's beginnings, however, and more on that shortly, it does seem that for much of its existence the club's playing squad consisted of workers from the nuclear plant along with the odd player brought in from Kiev. 

Playing in the fourth tier, in 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985 Stroitel were champions of the Kiev region qualifying for the Ukrainian championship that completed the season and for which the winners were granted a place in the third tier Soviet Second League that sat below the First league and the Top League. In 1985 the club ended the season just four points behind top position and what would have been a promotion in what was the clubs most successful season of all whilst in contrast in 1982, however, they had finished bottom of the eight team Ukrainian championship and in all other years not mentioned did not qualify for it. Playing in the lower echelons of Soviet football the club naturally was not a team of big name stars but one name of note was Anatoly Shepel a former Soviet International who had two League titles and one cup triumph to his name as a player with Dynamo Kyiv. Shepel never actually played for Stroitel on the pitch but for a short while did take up the role as manager of the club during this period of success in the eighties.

It was Vasili Kizima Trofimovich, a man heavily involved in the building of Chernobyl's nuclear plant and the creation of the town of Pripyat, who was the man behind the formation of the town's football club. “We have people in four shifts and nowhere for them to go and rest," he explained. "Let them go and watch football and drink beer." The rest, as they say, was history as many did take up his offer of watching football with home crowds averaging at 2,000 for much of the club's existence. Considering construction of the town did not begin until 1970 and at its height it had a population of barely 50,000 such support was actually fairly impressive. 

With only the most basic of stadiums, however, it was eventually decided that a new one would be needed for the club and so one was constructed. The new Avanhard Stadion was built complete with an athletics track and a 5,000 seat grandstand. It was a stadium the town could be proud of or at least they would have been if the whole area had not have been evacuated shortly before it was due to open.

The week before the grand opening of Pripyat's new stadium, Stroitel were to play in a Kiev regional cup semi-final against a team called Mashinostroitel Borodyanka. However, as the story goes, in their final training session before the match the Borodyanka players were interrupted by an army helicopter which landed on the pitch. Out of helicopter came two military officials who told them that the following day's match was postponed. In the early hours of that day, the now infamous incident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant had happened. 

We all know what happened next for the town of Pripyat, contaminated with radiation leaking from the nuclear plant's destroyed reactor, it would be evacuated with its residents never to return and its shiny new football stadium would lay empty never to be used. But as for the football, well Borodyanka actually went on to win the cup that year and FC Stroitel Pripyat would eventually return as FC Stroitel Slavutych with Slavutych being the name of a new town created for many of the displaced residents of Pripyat to reside. This new side, however, would be dissolved after only a few seasons. Their hearts were not in it. 

The end of FC Stroitel started on that day in April 1986 and their story is one rarely told. In the midst of such a horrifying disaster, one that shook the whole world, the story of the local football club, just one of many subplots to a far bigger tale, was never deemed overly important. But for many of those who lived in Pripyat, FC Stroitel had probably been a significant part of a former life that they would soon come to mourn.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Football Book Review: The Farther Corner by Harry Pearson

A brilliant book from start to finish.

In The Farther Corner Harry Pearson returns to North East football which is the scene of a previous book of some 25 years ago called The Far Corner. His first book saw him visit many North East grounds from top flight right through to non-league although this latest book is set mostly amongst the delights of the Northern League. However, regardless of the matches he takes in, Pearson still manages to fill the pages with many witty observations akin to what we saw in the first book whilst even more so than in that first offering they are interwoven with many tales from North East football's past across the professional and amateur game.

Pearson's interest in the history of North East football brings up some fascinating tales from the game and also paints a vivid picture of the hard life amongst the coalfields of County Durham and Northumberland, as well as the steelworks of Teesside, that were an existence for many in the region across large parts of the twentieth century. With memories from friends, family, and others with a history in the local football scene to draw upon the book is rich in detail of the inner workings of North East football's past and its importance within its local communities. The book particularly immerses itself in some of the great non-league teams of the past, particularly the great (perhaps not so) amateur sides such as Bishop Auckland who won a record ten FA Amateur Cup's for example whilst also covering the ups and downs of the regions three main professional clubs.

Whilst the book includes many tales from the past it also covers the more recent era of not just football but Pearson's life in general with many anecdotes bordering on the peculiar. All of this is set around a season of non-league football and the specific games he attends where he has a sharp-witted awareness of his surroundings and the people present. This comes with the ability to poke fun at some of the inane habits and characteristics of some of the supporters he comes across as well as football fans in general.

This is a brilliant book from start to finish that involves lots of chuckling to yourself at Pearson's humorous observations as well as getting engrossed in his fascinating stories from North East football's past. On a scale of 1 to an absolute belter, I'd say it is an absolute belter.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Day When Borussia Mönchengladbach Almost Pulled Off the Impossible: The Story of the Incredible End to the 1977-78 Bundesliga Title Race

Borussia Mönchengladbach were defending champions having won the Bundesliga title each of the previous three seasons. But despite going into the final day of the 1977-78 season in second behind 1. FC Köln on goal difference there was seemingly no chance of Gladbach making it four in a row. Gladbach's goal difference of +30 put them 10 goals behind Köln on +40 and with Köln playing bottom of the league and already relegated FC St Pauli the title was, therefore, this time surely out of reach or so everyone thought. But a routine afternoon of Köln winning the title turned out to be not so routine after all thanks to one of the craziest games in Bundesliga history.

In 1978 Borussia Mönchengladbach were not just a top side in Germany but one of the best in Europe and had reached the previous season's European Cup final in Rome although they lost to an all conquering Liverpool side. Gladbach were managed by Udo Lattek who would go on to eventually become considered an all-time great by winning 15 major trophies as manager of Gladbach, FC Bayern München, and FC Barcelona. He already had three Bundesliga titles to his name and had won the European Cup with FC Bayern in 1974. Gladbach also had big names on the pitch and their squad included West German internationals such as Bertie Vogts, Rainer Bonhof, and Jupp Heynckes as well as then European Footballer of the Year Allan Simonsen, a Danish international.

Whilst Gladbach went into the final day of the 1977-78 season hoping to pip 1. FC Köln to the title Köln were hoping to clinch their first Bundesliga title since 1964. Their squad also included some star names in Toni Schumacher, Herbert Zimmermann, Heinz Flohe, and Dieter Müller, all fellow West German internationals. Köln's manager Hennes Weisweiler had himself been in charge of Gladbach just three years earlier and like Lattek would also end up classed as an all-time great. Retiring with 11 major trophies to his name he also just like Lattek had three Bundesliga titles to his name by this point as well as having won the UEFA Cup in 1975.

In the penultimate weekend of the season, Köln laboured to a 2-1 win at fourth placed VfB Stuttgart whilst Gladbach defeated Hamburger SV 6-2. Although they both entered the final weekend challenging for the title, neither sides campaign's had been out of this world. Gladbach had lost four times in the opening half of the season, Köln five. But with eight defeats in total compared to Gladbach's six Köln just edged in front of their rivals by virtue of having drawn fewer games. It was a competitive era, however, and winning it at a canter like Bayern often do these days very much uncommon. Besides, the league table still showed they were the two best sides in the country and the pair had numerous big name stars that many other clubs just did not have.

On on April 29, 1978, that final day, Gladbach were at home to Borussia Dortmund (BVB) though with their home stadium being renovated the match was played at Fortuna Düsseldorf's Rheinstadion. Köln meanwhile were away from home in Hamburg where opponents FC St Pauli were based. Both matches kicked off at 15:30 and it did not take long for goals to go in, at least not in Düsseldorf... 

By 15:52 Gladbach were 4-0 up after a stunning opening period and were really going for it but with Köln taking the lead after 28 minutes in their match they would need plenty more goals. Gladbach had gone 1-0 up within a minute thanks to Jupp Heynckes who had been part of West Germany's 1974 World Cup winning squad. He scored with a looping header. Twelve minutes later Heynckes grabbed his second with a low drive whilst a minute later Carsten Nielsen headed home to make it 3-0, one of 23 goals the Dane would score in a Gladbach shirt. Then on 22 minutes 22-year-old winger Karl Del’Haye, signed from Alemannia Aachen three years earlier, made it four by running with the ball from just inside his own half before confusing several defenders then firing the ball into the net from almost 15yds out. Some brilliant football but Gladbach weren't done there - they would be 6-0 up by half-time. Heynckes completed his hat-trick nipping in to slot the ball home on the line before later a through ball saw Herbert Wimmer hit the ball over a sliding out keeper and into the BVB net.

With Köln 1-0 up Gladbach would need to score plenty more goals in the second-half and in what was turning out to be an incredible game did exactly that. For their next goal, Heyneckes looked like he barely touched the ball but just about got a head onto it and the 'keeper who'd rushed out had no chance. 59 minutes gone Gladbach were 7-0 up and It did not take long for 7-0 to become 8 and then 9-0. Nielson turned and fired home before Del’Haye grabbed his second by knocking the ball home after his initial shot was saved. As noted by supporters in the stands who were following events in Hamburg via portable radios, by this point Köln had grabbed a second in their match, however, and were still firm favourites for the title but, nonetheless, Gladbach were really giving it a go.

Heyneckes then grabbed his fifth of the match as the keeper who blocked his first effort didn't quite manage to keep the ball in front of the line from the rebound. Köln scored goals either side that Gladbach tenth, one before and two after, they were 5-0 up and the title was all but theirs but still Gladbach were not done yet. Ewald Lienen, in his first of two spells at the club, made it eleven by controlling then firing the ball home on the half volley before in injury time a through ball saw Christian Kulik, seven years into a ten-year spell at the club, run from just outside the box before firing home from almost 15yds out to finish off the rout and give a final score of Borussia Mönchengladbach 12-0 Borussia Dortmund. 12-0, but trying to overturn a ten goal deficit in the goal difference column they had, however, came up three goals short thanks to Köln's 5-0 win. "We'd rather score a dozen goals than Cologne lose at St. Pauli," said the Gladbach striker on the morning of the match. They did exactly that but on unfortunately in this instance, it was still not enough.

Despite losing out in the title race, Gladbach's supporters headed home very impressed with their team's performance but others less so. Accusations of match-fixing would unsurprisingly be voiced after such a performance and even as it unfolded live many were suspicious. As the goal updates filtered through to Hamburg some St Pauli fans feeling something wasn't quite right even started cheering on their opponents Köln. Of course, everyone involved denied this especially the BVB players themselves. They did not do it on purpose they had everyone believe and right back Amand Theis admitted regarding the poor performance that: "The shame has accompanied us for years." Nothing has ever been proven and it's generally accepted these days that the match was played fairly. 

If the match was embarrassing for BVB then none more so than their goalkeeper Peter Endrulat. Playing in place of injured first choice keeper Horst Bertram the game was most definitely the beginning of the end for the 23-year-old at the club as the as the following day he was told his contract would not be renewed. A short lived career saw him go on to make 60 appearances for 2. Bundesliga Nord club Tennis Borussia Berlin.

Endrulat was not the only departure at BVB post the 12-0 debacle as manager Otto Rehhagel was also fired the day after the match. He would go on to manage various other clubs across Germany before coaching the Greek national team to shock European Championship glory when as rank outsiders they unexpectedly won the Euro 2004 tournament held in Portugal.

Others not sacked by BVB did not get off scot free, however, as their poor performance was rewarded with a DM2000 fine for each player. 

For Gladbach's five goal star of the show it was also the end as Heynckes had announced he was retiring after a distinguished career that saw two spells at the club and 39 caps for West Germany. He would go on to have a managerial career almost as successful as his mentor Lattek starting at none other than Gladbach a year later when Lattek quit to join unbeliebably BVB having just won the UEFA Cup with Gladbach. Gladbach won five league titles over the course of the seventies, three with Lattek in charge, and twice finished runners up but have yet to win a Bundesliga title since or indeed even finished second again. As for the team that pipped them to the title on that final day, Köln have also yet to the title again though dd twice finish runners up at the end of eighties. Manager Hennes Weisweiler left at the end of 1979-80 season and moved to America to briefly manage the New York Cosmos.

Considering, as mentioned, neither side would win another title, in some ways that April afternoon in 1978 was the last hurrah for both Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1. FC Köln. And as for that 12-0 win well it was and still is the biggest ever winning margin in Bundesliga history. The match was also listed 43rd in 11 Freunde magazine's greatest matches of all-time. A truly crazy scoreline that saw one of the most surreal final day title races in football history - Even if the final outcome was the one everyone had predicted beforehand!

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

More Amateur Cup Stories: Pegasus, the post-war Oxbridge side that became stars of amateur football

'Maybe a university degree is the perfect passport to soccer success' wrote Bob Rodney in the Daily Mirror the Monday after the 1953 FA Amateur Cup final and this was certainly true for the students of Oxford and Cambridge who had battled together on the pitch. Pegasus Association Football Club, a joint venture between Oxford and Cambridge Universities had just won their second Amateur Cup in three seasons. A year before Bishop Auckland and Crook Town battled it out in that mammoth final I wrote about recently it was a rather more unique side who put their name on the trophy for a second time - This is a brief look at their story.

Although in much later years the players of Pegasus were not solely university students, the side included a lot of ex-servicemen, when the club was originally set up its players were either Oxbridge students or ex-students who had left university the previous year and this was generally the case during their two FA Amateur Cup wins. Formed in 1948, the club was an amalgamation of the Oxford and Cambridge University football teams. Harold Warris Thompson, a professor at St. John's College, Oxford, who would later become chairman of the Football Association was the main man behind the creation of the club along with Ken Shearwood who would later write a book about the team. The name Pegasus came from the winged horse of the same name in Greek mythology and symbolised the union of the Centaur horse on the Oxford crest and the Falcon on the Cambridge crest.

Vic Buckingham, Joe Mercer, Bill Nicholson, and Arthur Rowe all famous names in the footballing world were involved in coaching the Oxford and Cambridge University teams at one point or another with all three having all previously played for Tottenham Hotspur and Rowe also going on to manage them. Unsurprisingly then Pegasus often tended to play with the same push-and-run style football that eventually helped Spurs win the league championship in 1951 under that man Rowe. Indeed playing that same style of football actually brought Pegasus Amateur Cup success in that same year with none other than Buckingham at the helm.

Pegasus would fold in 1963 when they decided to no longer play matches but interestingly during their 15 years of existence they did not play in a league of any sort. Alongside friendlies and tours, the only competitive matches they played in came in varying cup competition's which, of course, included the Amateur Cup. They entered the competition in their very first season with regular Amateur Cup followers wondering quite who this new team were. 'Pegasus are the mystery club of the F A. Amateur Cup competition,' wrote David Williams in the Daily Herald before continuing 'As a club they have not kicked a ball, so there's a mystery in why they have been exempted until the final qualifying round,' The Football Association were seemingly not forthcoming with an answer to this question but Pegasus proved their worth by reaching the quarter finals before losing 4-3 at home to Bromley.

In 1949-50 Willington defeated Bishop Auckland 4-0 in the Amateur Cup final with Pegasus knocked out early on but the following year, however, it was Pegasus who won the competition. With the team being based in Oxford there was a bumper crowd in attendance when they faced city neighbours Oxford City in the quarter finals where they ran out 3-0 winners to set up a semi-final tie with Hendon. In the semis, a 1-1 draw at Highbury was followed by a 3-2 replay win at Selhurst Park. 

In the 1951 FA Amateur Cup final, Pegasus would face Bishop Auckland, that great amateur side who would go on to win in total a record ten Amateur Cups having won several already, but pre-match some in the media were already talking about a potential Pegasus victory and the historic nature of it. 'Who outside the writers of cheap fiction, could visualise such a romance as a club winning on of the games chief trophies in its third year of existence thus fulfilling one of the very objects for which the club was formed,' wrote Eric Stanger for the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, for example.

The crowd of around 100.000 in attendance was a record for the competition and saw a Pegasus performance that 'smacked of the old Corinthian spirit and Spurs' skill combined,' at least according to Stan Halsey of the Sunday Mirror. Halsey, however, was not the only man to compare Pegasus to the old Corinthians amateur side that promoted sportsmanship and fair play as many others also romanticised the Pegasus story, his comments were just one of many examples. 

In the final itself, Pegasus' Henry Potts who also played first class cricket with Oxford University saw a tame effort saved just before the break as the sides went in 0-0 at half-time. Just five minutes into the second-half and Pegasus were in front, however, and it was that man Potts who got the goal with a powerful header. Nine minutes from time great link up play saw John Tanner put Pegasus two up. Tanner went on to make 305 appearances for Huddersfield Town playing First and Second Division football and also made seven first-class appearances for the Oxford University cricket team. Bishop Auckland would pull one back but Pegasus held on to win their first FA Amateur Cup trophy just three years after their formation - an incredible story.

Pegasus spent much of their time playing against representative sides such as the Coventry Football Combination and the Leeds and District FA for example, two teams they played in 1951 and 52 respectively. There was even a match against a team of Dutch players that took place in Hull. Inbetween touring the country, however, Pegasus would twice win the Oxfordshire Senior Cup with those two Amateur Cup triumphs inbetween the second of which came in the 1952-53 season. 

The club had failed early on in the previous season's competition but this time around coached by George Ainsley, an ex-Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue forward, they had no such problems as they made it all the way to Wembley once again. In the earlier rounds, their third round tie was considered by some easily the tie of the tournament as they faced Corinthian Casuals in what Laurie Burills of the Daily Herald said 'could well be the greatest amateur game of the past 25 years.' Corinthian Casuals, a team formed thanks to a merger between the two great amateur teams Casuals FC and that earlier mentioned Corinthians FC side, were favourites to win the competition whilst Pegasus were not far behind. Burills considered them evenly matched, however, claiming there was 'nothing distinguishable in strength or stamina' and that 'a clear cut result seems unlikely,' In the end, it was, as predicted, a close run thing but Pegasus ran out 1-0 winners. Slough Town were beaten next in the quarter finals before in the semis a 1-1 Highbury draw with Southall was followed by a 2-1 replay win at Craven Cottage.

In front of another 100,000 crowd, Harwich & Parkeston of the Eastern Counties Football League would be Pegasus' opponents in the final and Pegasus produced what Bob Rodney of the Daily Mirror described as 'the most devastating show seen in a cup final for twenty-one years since Dulwich Hamlet beat Marine 7-1'. Winning by the same margin as Dulwich Hamlet had done, Pegasus ran out 6-0 winners scoring three in each half. There were five different scorers for Pegasus with the pick of the goals coming from Donald Carr who controlled the ball expertly before firing a low drive into the corner of the net. 

That sublime performance would be the high point of Pegasus' 15-year existence, however. In the following season's Amateur Cup Pegasus lost in quarter finals which was followed by a semi final defeat a year later. But after in the few years that followed during their short existence, they never came anywhere near close to winning the cup again.

"Pegasus came and went like a shooting star. But in their short life they shed a light on the game as a whole. They were something different," wrote Geoffrey Green of The Times in his forward to Shearwood's earlier mentioned book on the club. Just like the FA Amateur Cup, which as mentioned in my earlier piece on the 1954 final is no longer in existence, Pegasus are also long gone. Gone is the era of amateur football, and the idea of a team such as Pegasus gaining such prominence would nowadays seem a little far fetched. Those were definitely different times!

This article was written with information obtained from the British Newspaper Archive ( and the British Library Board. 

These services are not free and incur a fee. For said fee I was allowed to view a set number of newspaper pages and have almost used up my quota. For more articles like this that will involve me paying more money to view further newspaper pages please contribute by donating/supporting me via my Patreon page

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Der Pokal Hat Seine Eigenen Gesetze: Stories from the DFB-Pokal

The great thing about the DFB-Pokal is that all teams enter at the same point. No mammoth qualifying runs for the minnows just to get a glimpse of a semi big name side when you can draw a top flight team right from the word go! Of course, with only sixty four teams entering what is Germany's premier cup competition places for amateur or semi-professional sides are limited. But for those who are allocated a place a dream tie against a big name professional side is a real possibility, especially as the draw is seeded. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a feature about the fascinating Coupe de France and, perhaps a little slow off the mark, having followed with interest the opening round of cup fixtures in Germany just the other weekend I thought I'd take a look at another interesting domestic cup competition where as the saying goes, Der Pokal hat seine eigenen Gesetze (the cup has its own rules).

I've actually written about the DFB-Pokal before, or should I say in particular the 1983 competition and the exciting run of underdogs Fortuna Köln who made it all the way to the final where they faced big time neighbours 1. FC Köln in an all-Cologne final. The DFB-Pokal is definitely worth revisiting, however, as like the FA Cup in England in and the Coupe de France in well er France, Germany's knockout competition also has many other intriguing stories to tell. It may not quite have the same tradition of FA Cup or the sheer number entrants that the Coupe de France has but it is still, nonetheless, a pretty special animal with an exciting history.

This season’s DFB-Pokal got underway the weekend before last with the sixty four entrants comprising of last seasons Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga sides, the top four teams from last season’s 3.Liga, and other selected teams including mostly the winners of Germany’s Verbandspokal the various regional cup competitions which are usually open to teams from the third tier and below. As well as the draws being seeded the lower-ranked teams in each tie are given home advantage as they vie for a place in the cup final played at Berlin's Olympiastadion each year. In this year's first round the most entertaining tie was newly promoted 2. Bundesliga side Eintracht Braunschweig's 5-4 win over Bundesliga team Hertha BSC whilst the biggest shock of the round came when fourth tier Regionalliga West club Rot-Weiss Essen defeated newly promoted Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld 1-0.

Teams from the Regionalliga and below, who are in many cases semi-professional or even amateur, defeating a top flight side as Essen did is nothing new. For many of these clubs just being in the competition is a big deal as many rarely get to enter. So when they do enter they have to savour the moment and this has brought over the years some shocks that even the FA Cup and Coupe de France, both famed for their upsets, would struggle to produce. 

In the 1990s FC Bayern München, the country's most successful side of all-time, twice lost to amateur sides in the Pokal. On 4 August 1990, Just over 8,000 spectators crammed into FV Weinheim's Sepp-Herberger Stadion to see the minnows from the Baden-Württemberg region face the might of FC Bayern and, hoping for an upset, they weren't to be disappointed. The home side took the lead from the penalty spot on 26 minutes after a rash challenge saw Bayern down to ten men but even the most optimistic of supporters would not have expected them to hold on for the win. Hold on the did though and Weinheim were through to the next round where they would sadly lose to Rot-Weiss Essen whilst four years later there was an even bigger shock in store for the Bavarian giants of Bayern.

On 14 August 1994, TSV Vestenbergsgreuth were the opposition when Bayern suffered another humiliating defeat against amateur opposition in what goalscorer Roland Stein called "the perfect day". The team from a village with a population of at the time just 350 were live on primetime terrestrial television channel ZDF with almost 7.5m people watching and they would soon be the talk of the nation. Lothar Matthäus, Oliver Kahn, Thomas Helmer, the Brazilian world champion Jorginho and the striker Jean-Pierre Papin, these were just some of the star names in the Bayern line-up. Managed by Franz Beckenbauer they were a formidable side but in this cup tie they were well and truly shown up. 

"And there is the goal. There is the goal" was the cry the commentator on ZDF when on 43 minutes Wolfgang Hüttner found Stein who headed home to put the hosts into dreamland. 1-0 up at the break, Vestenbergsgreuth still had to survive the second-half and at times they were clinging on for dear life in the match that had been moved Nuremberg to allow more spectators in. They did hold on, however, although late stoppage time drama where Bayern hit the post nearly saw an equaliser. Hearts in mouths. Vestenbergsgreuth and Stein had their moment in the sun but after defeating FC Homburg in the next round lost to VfL Wolfsburg on penalties and such is the glamour of amateur football that Stein nowadays works as an elevator fitter.

There have been numerous other upsets in the pokal down the years. When Hamburger SV lost 2-1 at amateur side VfB Eppingen in 1974 it was called Die Mutter aller Pokalsensationen (the mother of all cup sensations). With amateur and semi professionals clubs having only been allowed to enter the competition for the first time that season it was easily the biggest shock in the history of the competition up to that point. A little over four years later another amateur side called TuS Langerwehe beat Hertha BSC 2-1. In those days the lower ranked sides were not given home advantage, that rule came into force a few years later, and Langerwehe drew 0-0 (aet) away at Hertha with that 2-1 win actually coming in a replay, something that is no longer used with all ties now settled on the day. Hamburg were on the wrong end of a shock again in 1984-85 some ten years after that 'mother of all cup sensations' when they lost 2-0 to SC Geislingen of the Amateur-Oberliga Baden-Württemberg. Fastforward to 2000-01 and 1. FC Magdeburg versus FC Bayern is also worth a mention as the former East German side who won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1974 were playing fourth tier football when they defeated Bayern on penalties. Also of interest is Berliner AK 07 setting a new scoring record for a fourth tier side against a Bundesliga club when they defeated 1899 Hoffenheim 4-0 in the opening round of 2012-13. There are too many other upsets to mention them all but before we finish we must look at 1. FC Saarbrücken's run to the semi finals last season and then the curious tale of Hertha BSC Amateure which is a story definitely worth telling.

Four years after then third tier side Energie Cottbus lost to VfB Stuttgart in the final another third tier side in unfancied 1. FC Union Berlin defeated two Bundesliga sides en route to the final in 2001. 1. FC Union lost to FC Schalke 04 in the final, but arguably more remarkable was fourth tier Saarbrücken's run to the semis last season. Round two saw Saarbrücken defeat Bundesliga club FC Köln 3-2 in what was a pulsating match with Köln coming back to draw level from 2-0 down before Saarbrücken hit back with a 90th minute winner. Fortuna Düsseldorf, another top flight side, were defeated on penalties in the quarter finals before the dream ended at the semi final stage where diluted home advantage thanks to a post-COVID lockdown behind closed doors match did not help as they lost 3-0 to Bayer Leverkusen. En route to that semi final loss, Saarbrücken had also defeated two second tier sides along the way.

Another fascinating tale from the Pokal, perhaps the most captivating of all, comes from the 1992-93 season and involves Hertha BSC Amateure, who are nowadays known as Hertha BSC II, the reserve side of Hertha BSC. Rule changes in the 2000s mean reserve sides can no longer enter the pokal but once upon a time lower league reserve sides of top flight clubs were a regular feature in the pokal. Whilst Hertha BSC were knocked out just before the quarter finals their reserve side managed to progress all the way to the final something the first team have yet to manage. Second tier Lokomotive Leipzig, then known as VfB Leipzig were defeated in a seven goal thriller before Hertha Amateure beat second tier Hannover 96 who only a year earlier had become the first side outside the top flight to win the cup. Victory over Hannover set up a quarter final tie with Bundesliga outfit 1. FC Nürnberg. 

1-0 up after a first-half goal, Hertha BSC Amateure saw their visitors from Nuremberg draw level in the 89th minute but responded by immediately going up the other end and retaking the lead to win 2-1. Things were now getting serious and Hertha Amateure's part-time coach Jochem Ziegert quit his day job as a tax officer to concentrate on Hertha with the big semi final looming. Second tier side Chemitzer FC would be the opposition. The star of this Hertha Amateure side was a young  Carsten Ramelow who would later go on to play for the German national team at the 2002 World Cup and it was he who opened the scoring after just five minutes. Hertha Amateure were soon 2-0 up and leading 2-1 at the break ended up winning the match by that same scoreline to reach the final. It was an excellent performance that impressed many including Kicker magazine who wrote: "The success of the amateurs was well deserved against the higher-class guests who appeared without ideas." For the final there was a sell-out crowd at Berlin's Olympiastadion most of whom were supporting local side Hertha but, unfortunately, the fairytale ended and they lost 1-0 to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.

Above are some of the intriguing stories the DFB-Pokal brings to life each season. The unique structure of the competition means only a handful of clubs that might be considered 'minnows' get to enter each year. But the ones that do well they have a decent chance of drawing one of the big guns in their very first match and with David v Goliath ties extremely common and David always getting home advantage a famous cup upset is, as we've seen, never far away. As they say in Germany, the cup has its own rules.

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Saturday, 12 September 2020

Three Matches, 330 minutes, and Only One Goal To Separate Them: The Mammoth Amateur Cup Final of 1954 That Saw Almost 200,000 Through the Turnstiles

Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

It took a mammoth 330 minutes but eventually, a victor was found. In scenes that would seem incredulous today, almost 200,000 spectators over the course of three matches saw two Northern League amateur sides from County Durham battle it out for glory in a tale that gripped the region and indeed much of the nation. Bishop Auckland v Crook Town in the 1954 FA Amateur Cup final had a script that even the greatest of movie writers could not have come up with up but, having said that, if similar drama had occurred in America's favourite past time of baseball then Hollywood would have surely made the story into a feature-length film.

Those of the younger generation may not be familiar with the FA Amateur Cup, after all, the 1974 final was the competitions last. With many non-league clubs no longer strictly amateur and more accurately semi-professional, and many past winners having arguably been not as amateur as they seemed, the competition's eventual demise was hardly surprising. In 1969 the FA Trophy was introduced as a new competition aimed at those non-league clubs who could no longer class themselves as amateur and although it did not have the prestige of the Amateur Cup it would essentially soon replace it. When five years later the Football Association abolished the distinction between amateur and professional or semi-professional status the Amateur Cup was finally discontinued. The Trophy and a new competition for smaller clubs known as the FA Vase would together take on the mantle as the national cup competitions specifically for non-league sides, a position they both still hold today.

In the 1954 Amateur Cup Bishop Auckland scored 26 goals in their five games en route to the final and this included a 5-0 win over Hallam, and a 5-1 semi-final victory over now defunct Briggs Sports of Essex that took place in front of 54,000 spectators at St. James' Park, Newcastle. Their final opponents Crook Town were not far behind in the scoring charts, however. Crook had defeated Hitchin Town 10-1 in the quarter finals having also won 5-0 at home to Walton & Hersham earlier in the competition but needed a replay at Roker Park, Sunderland, in front of another bumper crowd, to beat Walthamstow Avenue in the other semi-final.

Based five miles apart in County Durham, Bishop Auckland and Crook were very much part of the Durham coalfield. Crook was a pit village whilst Bishop Auckland also saw many employed in the many collieries dotted about the surrounding areas. There was also large scale employment in the local ironworks. Life was tough but a work hard play hard attitude saw football play a key role for many locals in their spare time. Amateur football in the region was big and the local Northern Football League regularly drew four figure crowds that its clubs could nowadays scarcely dream of. 

Despite their amateur status, however, it was believed that players at some of these clubs actually earned more money than some at professional sides. This had been particularly noticeable at both Bishops and Crook over the years and brought with it a bitter rivalry that stemmed back to what was known as the 'Crook Town Affair'. In 1928 Bishop Auckland reported Crook Town to the Durham FA for the illegal payment of players. This started a chain of events that saw Crook booted out of the league and a widespread investigation that saw in total 341 players from numerous clubs suspended. By 1954 things were not always so obvious and as Harry Pearson notes in his excellent book The Farther Corner players at supposedly amateur clubs might have the club foot the bill when their wives or mothers went to the butchers to buy meat for the Sunday roast or have them help out financially when they needed a new suit. Having said that, some players still did, however, privately take illicit payments often referred to as boot money. In his book Up There - The North East Football Boom & Bust, Michael Walker also tells the story of a goalkeeper playing for Bishop Auckland who was offered the going rate of £15 a week to sign for Middlesbrough only for said 'keeper to laugh and say he was getting £20 a week at supposedly amateur Bishops. Yes, despite the Crook town affair, almost thirty years later such practices were still seemingly rife and, indeed, a colleague of mine recently suggested to me that BIshop Auckland and Crook used to be the two most corrupt football clubs in the country. Who knows...

Bishop Auckland were seemingly favourites for the 1954 final and after Crook's semi final win the verdict from the Sunderland Echo was that it 'will take a more skilful, harder fighting Crook Town to stand a chance against Bishop Auckland.' Another local newspaper the Shields Evening News, meanwhile, were also predicting a Bishops win and when previewing the local football for the weekend of the final they ran with the headline 'It's Bishop Auckland to win the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley, Newcastle and Sunderland in desperate league struggles,' With Bishops having beaten Crook 3-1 and 4-1 in the pairs two Northern League meetings earlier that season their favourites tag was probably justified and the Evening News continued by saying 'The Bishops are in an all conquering mood this season and the way they have disposed of previous Amateur Cup opponents this year suggests Crook's visit to Wembley will be in vain.'

Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
When the Amateur Cup final of 1954 finally came around, 20 special trains and 250 coaches would take fans from the North East down to Wembley and a crowd of 100.000 would be in attendance. Whilst for those who couldn't attend, there were BBC radio updates from Raymond Glendenning in-between commentary on that afternoons France v England rugby union match on the Home Service and live second-half BBC television coverage with a young Kenneth Wolstenholme behind the microphone. An electrical shop in Bishop Auckland, meanwhile, won permission show the match via 'projection tv' in what was basically an early version of the beam-back.

Harry Pearson, in his aforementioned book, describes the Bishop Auckland side of the 1950s as the Real Madrid of amateur football and indeed such was the stature of the club there was even a Bishop Auckland Subbuteo set. Many of the club's star players during that decade actually joined after the 1954 final, however, but they still had a few notable names that year. Wing-Half Bob Hardisty had captained the Great Britain side coached by Matt Busby at the 1948 London Olympics and 1952 edition in Helsinki and was by many considered the finest amateur player of his generation whilst Corbett Cresswell was the son Warney Cresswell a star player in the 1920s and 30s who was previously the world's most expensive player when Sunderland signed him from South Shields for £5,500 in 1922. Carlisle born inside left Seamus O'Connell was another Bishops star in 1954 but whilst others stars would soon join he would be on his way out leaving to play professionally with Chelsea shortly after the final.

In charge of Crook Town was a young manager called Joe Harvey an ex-Newcastle United player who would famously go on to manage his former club to European glory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969. Arguably their best player was Jimmy McMillan a winger who had previously turned down offers from Chelsea and Newcastle United to play professionally so he could train to be a government planning officer.

There's always a genuine excitement around Wembley Way on the day of a cup final and those expectant fans from Bishop Auckland and Crook Town would not be disappointed. Ken Wolstenholme described it as the best two hours sport of 1954, 'Thrill packed toughest ever Wembley final' was how the Sunderland Echo described it, and 'as thrilling and hard thought a match as could be desired' was the view of the Journal & North Mail. The Northern Echo, meanwhile, said that if the North East's top clubs, Newcastle, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough, had shown the same courage and never-say-die spirit throughout the season as Bishops and Crook did in the final then all three might not be in danger of relegation (In the end it was only Boro who went down).

The match had drama right from the off when just minutes into game Bishops half back Jimmy Nimmins slid into a tackle and never got up. Nimmins was stretchered off having fractured his leg. In the days before substitutions Bishops would have to face the remainder of the game with only ten men, a tough ask. Bishops fans had seen their side lose on each of their previous three Wembley appearances but this time the disadvantage of being one man short did not seem to bother their team and they soon found themselves in front. Picking up the ball after a free-kick was crossed into the box, Les Dixon smashed the ball past Fred Jarrie in the Crook goal and the Bishops lead 1-0. Crook responded almost immediately, however, and in the blink of an eye the match was all square when Ronnie Thompson fired a low drive past 'keeper Harry Sharratt and into the bottom lefthand corner.

Despite Crook's one man advantage, it was the Bishops who scored next to retake the lead whilst for Crook an injury to Ken Williamson soon saw him hobbling around the pitch for the rest of the match so really their advantage was arguably at best half a man anyway. Bob Watson, a railway worker by day, found Ray Oliver on the edge of the box and the ex Whitley Bay Athletic forward from Cullercoats darted past several players before blasting the ball into the top corner. Bishop Auckland back in front.

2-1 Bishops at the break and by all accounts they had been the better side but in the second-half Crook equalised on 55 minutes when a Bill Jeffs cross saw Eddie Appleby smash the ball home. That equaliser was the final goal of the 90 minutes so the match would head to extra-time.

The match report in the Sunderland Echo heavily emphasised Crook's man advantage and the writer referred to only as D.W. claimed that 'Bishop Auckland even with a man short, held their own for most of the normal playing time and were still able, in the last five minutes extra time, to give the Crook goal such a pounding that they might have had three more goals,' They did not, however, get three more goals, in fact, they did not get any. Extra-time came and went with no further goals and in the days before penalty shoot-outs, of course, there would have to be a replay.

There had been plenty more praise for Bishops in the following day's papers. Laurie Burills of the Daily Herald wrote: "Bishop Auckland's tremendous fighting spirit against their Northern League rivals, Crook Town, in the FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley, was one of the greatest displays I have ever seen,' Meanwhile, Bobby Rodney of the Daily Mirror who suggested 18-year-old wing-half Barry Wilkinson would replace the injured Nimmins for the replay was impressed enough by Bishops performance to say Wilkinson 'will probably end his year by winning the Amateur Cup.'

There would be a nine day wait for the replay. April 19, an Easter Monday evening, would see the pair battle it out again this time at St James' Park, Newcastle. A few days before said replay both clubs suffered league defeats but their minds were set firmly on the Amateur Cup. It was a 25-30 mile trip up the road from County Durham and 56,008 spectators made the short journey - a record attendance for an amateur match outside the capital. Supporters paid between 2/6d and 12/6d for a ticket it which I work out to be roughly between 10p and 60p in modern currency though probably a lot more with inflation.

Despite being considered favourites by most once again, it was a horrendous start by Bishop Auckland who found themselves 2-0 down within four minutes. Both goals came from Ken Harrison, a schoolmaster from Annfield Plain, a small village north west of Durham city, who'd scored a hat-trick in Crook's semi final replay win. The first goal came just 15 seconds into the match when Wilkinson was robbed of the ball by Ronnie Thompson who then passed it to Harrison and the goalkeeper was left helpless. His second came when the ball fell to him after the Bishops defence were unable to properly clear it. The drama continued in the early stages that followed with sitters missed at both ends in what had been a pulsating opening salvo.

Crook Town defended well and Bishops struggled to break them down but, 2-0 behind at the break, Bishops did eventually find their way back into the game with a goal on 79 minutes. Oliver eventually bundled the ball home to make it 2-1 after a free-kick was hit into the box. The match did not stay a 2-1 for long either as within minutes Bishops were level. It seemed these two sides could just not be separated. Oliver fired the ball home to grab his second and the replay, like the first match, was heading for extra-time. In the extra two periods, O'Connell headed over for Bishops from six yards out and this was the closest we came to a winner as like the first match the replay also finished 2-2. 

It was a match that the Shields Evening News reckoned 'could have gone either way' although they were particularly impressed by Bishops goalkeeper Sharratt. The Northern Echo meanwhile were getting accusations of favouritism with a small number of readers writing in to complain of bias towards Bishop Auckland in their coverage of the first two matches. 

The outcome Amateur Cup final could not be settled by a replay so a second one would be needed. It was decided, however, that if a third draw occurred then the trophy would be shared. The two sides would hold the cup for six months each and who held it first would be decided by the toss of the coin. When the pair were to meet again at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, three days later it would be the final act of what had been so far a thrilling drama.

Kicking off at 6pm on a Thursday one can assume that many supporters might have found it difficult getting out of work early enough to have made the match but that did not stop some 36,727 from getting into the ground. Those who did not make it would have to make do with second-half radio commentary. With BBC reporters having already sat through 240 minutes of the football and commentated on large parts of it the Shields Evening News suggested that 'The BBC must be wondering when the final is really going to end,' before adding 'Never in the history of broadcasting has so much been said about two amateur football teams.'

In this second replay, Oliver rose to head home from a Jack Major corner midway through the first-half and Bishop Auckland thought they had the lead. Referee Alf Bond, a one-armed man who Bishops supporters would refer to as the 'one armed bandit', had other ideas, however, penalising the centre forward for a foul in the build-up. Shortly afterwards Oliver should have found the net again but fired over, a chance he would especially rue missing when Crook Town took the lead four minutes before half-time. It was Harrison who scored and as described in the Sunderland Echo he 'used the sole of his boot to guide the ball past the advancing Sharrott,'

It was 1-0 at the interval but could there be one final twist? After what had happened in the two previous matches surely there would be more drama in store? Or maybe not? Those watching would soon find out. In the second-half Bishops played with a more direct style of play but it was an attack minded Crook side who were the better of the two teams. Bishops did force Jarrie to make what was the save of the match, however, punching away an Oliver header. In the end, though, Crook held on and after a mammoth 330 minutes, they had won the FA Amateur Cup final of 1954. 

At full-time jubilant Crook Town fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate before their captain Bobby Davison, himself a former Bishops player, was handed the trophy by the Mayor of Middlesbrough. Ken Williamson whose leg was in a plaster having hobbled around injured for most of the first match was helped onto the pitch to join in the celebrations. Joe Harvey's men would then board a special train back home where 15,000 people from Crook and the surrounding pit villages were there to greet them. There was not much time to celebrate, however, as many of the players had work the next day followed by a league match at West Auckland Town in the evening before a rearranged Northern League Challange Cup semi final with Shildon the day after.

The Sunderland Echo attributed Crook Town's win to what they called 'H plan', they dubbed it 'Crook Town's secret weapon' and it involved inside left Johny Coxon marking Hardisty out of the game which they claimed worked a treat. The paper was also wowed by the performance of Davison who they said was 'given the ball to keep after the match' before suggesting 'They should have struck a special medal for the number of times he pulled the defence out of trouble,'

Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
With almost 200,000 spectators in total, 196,727 according to the Yorkshire Post, having passed through the turnstiles over the course of the three games both sides each received £11,650 from the £46,000 gate receipts. This would have been a huge sum of money for the two clubs.

Bishop Auckland would make up for their defeat by winning all of the next three Amateur Cup finals whilst three more Crook Triumphs would follow in the years after. Before 1954 Bishops already had seven Amateur Cup final wins to their name, the first occurring in 1896, the last in 1939. Ten in total for Bishop Auckland was more than anyone else ever managed in the competition's history and five more than Crook Town who were joint second with Clapton in terms of wins. 

1954 may seem a lifetime ago but hopefully, the stories will continue for years to come. Of all the Amateur Cup finals the 1954 one was definitely the longest. Three matches and four halves of extra-time completed a monumental tie that saw huge crowds watching amateur football in scenes the modern football fan would scarcely believe. These scenes came in an era before violence and tragedy paved the way for all-seater stadia and wall to wall Sky Sports coverage and it may at times seem alien to the modern reader. But if there was ever a golden age for football then this was surely it and the 1954 FA Amateur Cup final surely its crowning glory.

This article was written with information obtained from the British Newspaper Archive ( and the British Library Board. These services are not free and incur a fee so for more articles like this please contribute by donating/supporting me via my Patreon page

Friday, 4 September 2020

Jack Greenwell, FC Barcelona, and a 4-2 Loss to Crook Town

FC Barcelona 2-4 Crook Town is probably not a scoreline you've heard before and, to be fair, unless you are a keen follower of North East non-league football then Crook Town are probably not a team you have heard of either. As for FC Barcelona, well they are a world-famous side and as one of the biggest clubs in the world their major trophy haul is seemingly endless - If you haven't heard of them there is clearly something wrong with you. The following story linking the world-renowned Catalan side who describe themselves as més que un club and a little known once amateur nowadays probably just about semi-professional side from County Durham is one rarely told but one that is nonetheless fascinating and worthy of being covered on this here blog.

For those unaware of Crook or its football team, Crook is an ex mining village in County Durham and its football club currently plies its trade in the tenth tier of English football, step six in the non-league pyramid. Nowadays relatively unknown, even by many within the region, Crook Town AFC have had a slightly more illustrious past compared to many non-league sides having five times won the old FA Amateur Cup. Those previous successes are all relative, however, as even in their heyday the club were still small fry in terms of English football. They did, as mentioned, however, play on numerous occasions against one of the biggest names in the world football and even beat then. Ten times they faced FC Barcelona to be precise, with their first tour to Barcelona coming in 1913. Although football was still in its infancy in Spain at the time and Barcelona were not the big force that they are now, anything but, it is still amazing to think that a little known non-league team from the North East once beat them. It is an interesting story and to tell it we must first start with the story of Jack Greenwell.

Jack Greenwell, born 2 January 1884 in Crook, was the son of a miner and would become one himself whilst playing amateur football as a wing half for Crook Town before leaving in 1912 to join FC Barcelona. In an era when travelling to the next town or village along was probably considered an adventure such a move was somewhat astonishing and how it came about is a little unclear. There is, however, one possible explanation and that is the suggestion that Greenwell made contacts in Spain thanks to partaking in a football tournament in Italy. Greenwell made several guest appearances for another local side Weast Auckland Town when they played in a competition held in 1909 and 1911 known as the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. Held in Turin and considered by many as the original World Cup as it included teams from several different countries, West Auckland won the competition both times it took place. One issue with the theory that his move to Catalunya came about thanks to connections made during his time in Italy, however, is that Barcelona never actually participated in the tournament. Italian giants Juventus did and West Auckland beat them 6-1 in 1911, but not Barcelona.

As a player at FC Barcelona, Greenwell would win two Campionat de Catalunya titles (A national league championship was not introduced in Spain until 1929) before then going on to manage the club. As manager, with his side playing a passing style of football that was very much uncommon at that time, the club won a further five Campionat de Catalunya's as well as two Copa del Rey's. His managerial career, however, extended beyond Barcelona and in fact beyond even Europe. As well as being Barcelona's second longest serving manager of all-time behind Johan Cryuff he also had spells at crosstown rivals RCD Espanyol and then Valencia CF before moving to South America. During his short spell at Espanyol, Greenwell won both the Campionat de Catalunya and the Copa del Rey whilst at Valencia he won the Campeonato de Valencia. In South America, he had spells coaching in a Peru and Colombia and coaching the Peruvian national team he won what is now known as the Copa America, the country's first and to date only one of two such triumphs (the second came in 1975).

In 1913 it was arranged, with the help of Greenwell, for his old side Crook Town to come to Barcelona and play several matches against his new club. Part of the reason for inviting an English side over was that Barcelona at that time wanted to help increase the popularity of the game of football in their homeland. The sport did not have the popularity it nowadays has and it was hoped through bringing across a team from the country that invented the game they could help increase its stature. Being not so popular, however, was perhaps an understatement as in fact the sport was actually despised by many in the middle and upper classes who thought it morally reprehensible. Despised to the point that when King Alfonso XIII announced he would attend some of the matches against Crook there was mass outrage from many and even death threats issued to him. One such death threat came from Sancho Alegre who was a prominent Catalan anarchist at the time. In the end, having weighed up his options, King Alfonso decided not to attend the matches but others did turn up and watch. Three matches took place and although only 2,000 spectators bore witness to the first the second saw that figure increase to 7,000 before reaching 10,000 for the final match of the tour. 

All played at Barcelona's then Camp de la Indústria home, there is little information forthcoming about the actual matches themselves. Although one thing that is noted about the games was the use of substitutions by the hosts. Making substitutions was something that had become common in Spain but was still a long way off in England where the idea of using substitutes was unheard of. Crook won the first match 4-2 and ended the tour unbeaten with draws of 1-1 and 2-2 in the other two matches. To this day a pennant from their trip still hangs in the clubhouse at their Sir Tom Cowie Millfield ground.

There were two further tours to Spain for Crook which involved a further seven matches against FC Barcelona. The tours of 1921 and 1922, however, saw Crook face a much improved Barcelona side that included the legendary goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora who currently lends his name to the La Liga goalkeeper of the year trophy (although it is believed he made a guest appearance for Crook in one of the games). This improved Barça side won four times against Crook with two draws and one sole win the for the visitors. These results included wins of 4-1, 5-1, and 8-1 for the hosts whilst the final match of the 1922 tour saw Crook run out 3-1 victors.

In between and after those three trips to Barcelona, Crook continued back home as a small town amateur non-league side although for a short while in the 1930s they played professionally in the old North Eastern League which included the reserve sides of Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, and Sunderland. In 1931-32 the club reached the third round of the FA Cup but lost 7-0 First Division Leicester City and, of course, there were those aforementioned Amateur Cup wins whilst in 1976 they became the first-ever English side to tour India. Currently, Crook Town play in the Second Division of Northern League which as mentioned earlier in the piece is the tenth tier of English football. Crook's average league attendance last season pre-COVID was 156, FC Barcelona's was 72,472.

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1913

20 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 2-4 Crook Town

24 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 1-1 Crook Town

27 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 2-2 Crook Town

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1921

20 March, 1921: FC Barcelona 5-1 Crook Town

29 March, 1921: FC Barcelona 4-1 Crook Town

02 April, 1921: FC Barcelona 2-1 Crook Town

03 April, 1921: FC Barcelona 1-1 Crook Town

05 April, 1921: Civil Service FC 1-2 Crook Town

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1922

16 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 8-1 Crook Town

17 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 2-2 Crook Town

22 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 1-3 Crook Town