Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Seven of the Best... Matches at Munich's Olympiastadion

Since Munich's two main football clubs FC Bayern and 1860 left to play at the new Allianz Arena in 2005 there has been, a Women's Champions League final in 2012 aside, very little footballing action at the city's Olympiastadion. This could soon be about to change, however, with reports that local side Türkgücü München might well be playing matches at the stadium next season. Türkgücü currently sit top of Regionalliga Bayern and if their promotion from the league, suspended due to COVID-19, is ratified then they will be playing 3.LIga football next season. The club's home ground, however, does not meet 3.LIga standards and if the club does go up they will need to find an alternative venue with the Olympiadstadion currently looking a very likely solution to their problems.
Home to Munich's two main clubs for over 30 years, the Olympiastadion opened in 1972 having been built for the 1972 Summer Olympics held in the city. This famous stadium has, however, hosted many other major events since, particularly in the world of football. The list includes the 1974 World Cup final, several European Cup and Champions League finals, and also the final of the European Championships in 1988. With the stadium's two former tenants having also played 100s of games at the stadium, the Olympiastadion has been host to some fascinating matches over the years - here are seven of the best.

West Germany 2-1 Netherlands, FIFA World Cup Final, 7 July 1974 

When the Olympiastadion hosted the final of the 10th FIFA World Cup in 1974, 77,833 thousand spectators were in attendance to see what they thought would be a straightforward victory for the Netherlands. After all, a Dutch side that included star of the tournament Johan Cryuff had set the planet alight playing what was known throughout the world as 'Totaal Voetbal' an exhilarating brand of passing football with interchangeable positions. 

The Dutch were massive favourites to win their first ever World Cup but for opponents Germany, however, being rank outsiders was nothing new. 20 years earlier in 1954 they had also been given no chance at all but lifted the World Cup trophy after a final in which they beat a much fancied Hungary side that included the legendary Ferenc Puskás - a team they had lost 8-3 to earlier in the tournament it must be pointed out. That 1954 victory was referred to as the 'miracle of Bern', could there now be a miracle in Munich? Could the West German team, one that had suffered an embarrassing loss to neighbours East Germany earlier in the tournament, upset the odds and once again claim the unlikeliest of victories?

A few days before the final, a German tabloid newspaper claimed that the night before their previous match the Dutch stars had been partying in their hotel swimming pool with naked girls. Baring this in mind one can assume that as the final approached maybe some of the Dutch players were seemingly distracted by angry wives and girlfriends unhappy at these revelations. Who knows what effect this would have on the group but, regardless, almost everyone still had the Dutch down as clear favourites and when they took the lead after just two minutes the eventual outcome was never in doubt, surely? Germany's Uli Hoeneß brought down Cryuff in the box, the Dutch were awarded a penalty without the Germans having even touched the ball yet, and Johan Neeskens scored from the spot. 1-0. 

For the next twenty minutes or so the Dutch completely dominated the match with their possession football, at times toying with the opposition for whom facing up to these eleven Dutchmen for the rest of the game looked a very daunting prospect. If those watching thought the game was going to be all a one sided affair, however, then they were wrong as 23 minutes after the Dutch scored the Germans managed to draw level. Bernd Hölzenbein was fouled and another penalty was awarded. Out of almost nothing the Germans had a chance to get back in the game. Many accused Hölzenbein of diving but nonetheless the penalty was given by English referee Jack Taylor and Paul Breitner converted from the spot to level the scores. For many in the Netherlands, the disputed penalty is remembered for Dutch TV commentator Herman Kuiphof uttering a now infamous line “Zijn we er toch nog ingetuind,” which translates as “They’ve tricked us again”.

The Germans had looked the better side after the second penalty but surely the Dutch would win the match in the second-half? Shockingly, though, they would have to do it from a losing position as two minutes before half-time they found themselves 2-1 down when Gerd Müller slotted home for the Germans - a parting gift from an all-time great who was to retire from international football after the final. Nonetheless the Dutch were still sure they would, in the end, come out on top - everyone was! 

The Dutch had come out all guns blazing for the second period and dominated most of the play but in the words of Dutch defender Ruud Krol "the ball didn’t want to go in". Chance after chance after chance but no goal! Try as they might they could not find an equaliser and the Germans held out for an improbable victory. It was a result no one had expected but West Germany had for a second time won the World Cup - cue despair across the Netherlands and street parties all over Germany. 

Four years later, this time without star man Cruyff, the Dutch would lose another World Cup final by losing to tournament hosts Argentina. Germany have twice won the World Cup since whilst the Dutch are still looking for that first elusive win having in 2010 lost for the third time in a final.

FC Bayern München 4-1 Real Madrid CF, Champions League Second Group Phase, 8 March 2000 

For a short few years, during which a new millennium dawned, the Champions League included a second group stage where now they have the last 16 knockout round. During the 1999-2000 second group stage, we saw two cracking matches between FC Bayern München and Real Madrid CF with FC Bayern coming out on top on both occasions. After a 4-2 victory away at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, FC Bayern faced their Spanish rivals on home turf at the Olympiastadion week later. 

Mehmet Scholl slotted home to put the hosts ahead after just 4 minutes although the goal should have probably ruled offside. 1-0 became 2-0 on 30 minutes when Fernando Hierro misjudged a clearance by 'keeper Oliver Kahn and Giovane Elber beautifully controlled the ball before lifting it over Iker Casillas in the Real Madrid goal.

The hosts were comfortably ahead at the break but Iván Helguera fired the visitors back into the game on fifty minutes and the match became a rather tense affair. Bayern, however, did not intend to drop points and Alexander Zickler smashed them back into a two goal lead after some fantastic passing football in the build-up. Zickler fired home another on 90 minutes to complete the route and the hosts ran out 4-1 winners.

Real Madrid would have the last laugh, however, as, after managing to finish second in the group, they went on to beat Bayern 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals before defeating Valencia CF 3-0 in the final at the Stade de France.

Germany 1-5 England, FIFA World Cup Qualifier, 1 September 2001

"Oh, this is getting better and better and better" exclaimed the BBC's John Motson commentating to the nation. Michael Owen had just completed his hat-trick and England were rampant. When Germany had won what was the final ever match at the old Wembley Stadium before it was demolished and rebuilt, England manager Kevin Keegan resigned. But now under new manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, England were beating their rivals, not the other way round, and boy were they doing it in style.

Things had not started well for England in this World Cup qualifier at the Olympiastadion, however, as the hosts took the lead after just under six minutes. Germany broke forward which saw Michael Ballack find Oliver Neuville who headed the ball down and across to Carsten Jancker who prodded the ball home. Germany's lead did not last very long, though, as England were level six minutes later through Michael Owen. Oliver Khan came out but was all over the place, he missed the ball and Nicky Barmby headed down for Owen to slot home. After the equaliser, it was end to end stuff but the only other goal in the first-half came deep into stoppage time when England took the lead. A David Beckham free-kick was cleared and his second attempt was headed clear only as far a Steven Gerrard who smashed the ball home from 30yds out to make it 2-1 with a stunning strike.

Three minutes into the second-half and 2-1 became 3-1 in what was the perfect start to the second period for the visitors. Beckham found Emile Heskey who headed back across to Owen and Owen found the net on the half volley to grab his second. A fourth followed 18 minutes later as Owen completed his hat-trick. A long kick forward from the keeper was headed onto Owen who rushed forward towards the goal before slotting home. Owen was on fire, England were rampant. Then on 73 minutes, there was a fifth for England. Paul Scholes back to Beckham, Scholes runs forward and Beckham finds him with a pinpoint long pass, Scholes takes the ball forward and hits it through to Emile Heskey, unmarked, who slots home past Kahn. That was that no further goals and England won 5-1 in what was an emphatic victory against 'ze Germans' which helped ease the pain of two semi-final penalty shoot-out defeats against them at Italia '90 and Euro '96 respectively.

England gained automatic qualification for the following years World Cup finishing top of the qualifying group. A Beckham free-kick in second-half injury time secured a 2-2 draw with Greece in their final match whilst at the same time Germany themselves drew 0-0 with Finland and had to settle for second place. Germany would qualify through the play-offs, however, and make it all the way to the World Cup final where they lost to a Brazil side who had defeated England in the quarter finals.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin 2-0 1. FFC Frankfurt, UEFA Women's Champions League Final, 17 May 2012

Munich's Olympiastadion has hosted three European Cup/Champions League finals over the course of the history of the competition. Nottingham Forest defeated Malmo FF there in 1979, whilst Marseille defeated AC Milan 1-0 at the venue in 1993, and four years later the final returned to the stadium and saw Borussia Dortmund defeat Juventus 3-1. If you include women's football, however, there has actually been four of these finals at the Olympiastadion. 

The 2012 UEFA Women's Champions League Final set a new record attendance for a women's club match in Europe with a crowd of 50,212. Those present saw Olympique Lyonnais Féminin defeat 1. FFC Frankfurt thanks to first-half goals from Eugénie Le Sommer and Camille Abily. 15 minutes in Frankfurt's Melanie Behringer brought down Shirley Cruz Traña in the box and from the spot, Le Sommer smashed the ball past the keeper who despite diving the right way had no chance of stopping the ball find the net. On 28 minutes a long clearance saw Frankfurt goalkeeper Desirée Schumann rush out and head the ball into the path of Abily who looped the ball over her to double Lyon's lead. 

Lyon dominated most of the match but failed to increase their lead, 2-0 was the final scoreline and Lyon were European champions. The following season Lyon reached the final again only to lose to VfL Wolfsburg Frauen whilst in 2016 they returned again and this time were victors over Wolfsburg defeating them via a penalty shoot-out. That 2016 win was the first of four Champions League final triumphs in a row for the club. The following season saw them win again on penalties as they this time defeated Paris Saint-Germain Féminine whilst successive 4-1 wins over Wolfsburg again in 2018 and FC Barcelona Femení in 2019 followed. Frankfurt had one more final appearance up their sleeves as they defeated PSG 2-1 in 2015.

FC Bayern München 4-3 SG Dynamo Dresden, European Cup Second Round, October 24, 1973

When FC Bayern were drawn to face Dynamo Dresden in the second round of the 1973-74 European Cup, it would produce an epic East versus West duel. The two German nations would face off against each other as their two best sides met in Europe's premier club competition.

50,000 spectators were present for the first leg at the Olympiastadion including 1,000 Dresden supporters hand picked by the Stasi (East German secret police) who saw Dresden take the lead then come from 2-1 down to lead 3-2 at the break. 

Dynamo broke forward on 13 minutes in a move that ended with Frank Ganzera hitting the ball across the box only for Johnny Hansen to knock the ball into his own net. 1-0 to the visitors. Four minutes later it was all square, however, as Bayern broke forward and Bernd Dürnberger found Wilhelm Hoffmann who slotted home. 1-1 soon became 2-1, nine minutes later to be precise. Dürnberger smashed the ball home in off the post from the edge of the D and the hosts were in front. Rainer Sachse on 36 minutes and Gert Heidler on 42 minutes turned the game, however, and put the visitors 3-2 up at the break. A cross into the box saw Sachse score with a diving header whilst Heidler, the ball headed down to him, controlled the ball turned and hit home from close range. 

Both teams had chances in the second-half but Bayern were the better side and won the match 4-3. Poor defending helped Franz Roth drive the ball home for the equaliser on 17 minutes whilst 12 minutes later Gerd Müller ran in to knock the ball home from close range after a cross into the box missed several Bayern heads.

FC Bayern went all the way to the final that year and after 1-1 draw with Atlético de Madrid defeated them 4-0 in a replay to crown themselves champions of Europe for the very first time. The following season Bayern faced more East German opposition with 1. FC Magdeburg beat 3-2 at home and 2-1 away. Again Bayern reached the final and again they won with Leeds United defeated 2-0 whilst a third consecutive triumph saw AS Saint-Étienne defeated 1-0 in the 1976 final. Bayern did not reach the final again until 1982 when they lost to Aston Villa. Twice more runners up in 1987 and 1999 it would be 2001 and some 25 years after their last triumph before they were crowned champions of Europe again. Dynamo Dresden have never reached a European final.

Soviet Union 0-2 Netherlands, Euro 88 Final, 25 June 1988

The Dutch have painful memories of losing the 1974 World Cup final at Munich's Olympiastadion but when they returned to the venue for the final of the European Championships in 1988 it was an altogether happier occasion.

The Netherlands had actually lost to their final opponents Soviet Union 1-0 in their opening match but followed that up with victories over England and Republic of Ireland to reach the semi finals where they avenged that 1974 defeat by beating Germany 2-1. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, had drawn with Ireland and beaten England before defeating Italy 2-0 in the semis.

The Soviets had the better of the opening exchanges but it was the Dutch who found themselves in front at the break thanks to a thumping header from captain Ruud Guillit. In the second half, Marco Van Basten scored what would go down as one of the greatest goals in the history of the European Championships. It came in the 54th minute and Van Basten volleyed a right-footed shot over 'keeper Rinat Dasayev from the tightest of angles on the right of the penalty area after a looping ball from Arnold Muhren had found him. Later the Soviets would miss a penalty when Hans van Breukelen saved from Igor Belanov having himself brought down Sergey Gotsmanov to concede said penalty.

The Dutch held on for the win and Guillit lifted the trophy as the Netherlands won a major tournament for the first and to date only time in their history. Those in orange finally had something to celebrate.

TSV 1860 München 2-3 Newcastle United, Intertoto Cup Semi Final, 25 July 2001

Okay, being a Newcastle fan I may be a little biased in picking this one but in my defence, it was a five goal thriller. 

The now defunct Intertoto Cup was once upon a time a qualification route for the UEFA Cup, or UEFA Europa League as it is now known, and separate from the UEFA Cup's own qualifying rounds. The Intertoto Cup was formed as a summer football tournament in the 1960s and came under the wing of UEFA in 1995. Clubs could apply to take part in the competition with the highest ranked clubs from each countries applicants selected by UEFA to participate.

In the 2001 edition Newcastle United were drawn against TSV 1860 München at the semi final stage. Having entered only in the previous round, United had defeated Belgian side Sporting Lokeren whilst, entering a round earlier than their semi final opponents, 1860 had defeated Serbians FK Sartid Smederevo and Dutch side RKC Waalwijk before facing Newcastle.

United found themselves 2-0 up with goals from Nolberto Solano on 11 and 55 minutes - the second a penalty whilst 1860 scored twice to draw level at 2-2. The first of those was scored by Paul Agostino and came just a minute after the visitors had doubled their lead whilst the second came 10 minutes later and was scored by Filip Tapalovic. United won the match in the 83rd minute, however, thanks to a goal from Aaron Hughes. The Northern Ireland international met a Solano cross to head home and secure a vital first leg win.

Newcastle won the second leg at home 3-1 but would lose to French side Troyes in the finals with all the goals coming in a second leg that finished 4-4 and saw Troyes win on the away goals rule.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Not the Usual Chart Toppers: The Current Top Three in Turkey's Süper Lig Aren't the Three You'd Expect

There is, perhaps, one major similarity between the Turkish and Scottish football. As in Scotland Turkish football has been always dominated the same rivals from the country's largest city who between them win the title almost every year leaving the rest without a look in. But whereas if I head 60 miles north of my Newcastle home and cross the border into Scotland I would find Scottish football more one sided than ever, if I were to catch a plane to where Europe meets Asia I would find, for this season at least, this is now anything but the case.

Whilst the two Glasgow giants of Rangers and Celtic have traditionally dominated Scottish football, winning over 100 titles between them, three sides from the city of Istanbul, Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray, have consistently lead the way in Turkey. Between them, these three have managed to claim virtually 80% of all titles awarded since the original Turkish football championship was created over 100 years ago. In the  Süper Lig era (1957 onwards) that figure rises to almost 90% which shows just exactly how much these titans from Istanbul have dominated. This season, with the league having just resumed after a covid-19 enforced suspension, things are looking very different, however, with only one of the usual three part of what is essentially now a four team title race.

İstanbul Başakşehir in second and Sivasspor in third in have never won a top flight championship in their histories whilst although Trabzonspor in first have six league titles to their name the last of those came in 1983-84. To exemplify the dominance of big three, only one since that last Trabzonspor triumph has anyone other than those main three won the title. That lone season was 2009-10 when Bursaspor where surprise league champions but since then normal service has resumed. Galatasaray in fourth are the other contenders still left in the title race but defeat in their opening match post COVID has done much to dent their chances, especially with their other three title rivals all winning. The results in this first weekend back leave Trabzonspor and İstanbul Başakşehir both four points ahead of Sivasspor in third with Galatasaray two points further back again in fourth.

Could this season finally see someone from outside the big three win the title again in what would be exactly ten seasons after it last happened? Ten years ago no one anywhere expected Bursaspor to be challenging for the title. The previous season the club, based due south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara, had finished sixth and although this was a significant improvement from the thirteenth place they'd managed a year prior it was still a long way short of any sort of title challenge. The 2009-10 campaign did not get off to the best of starts for Bursaspor but crucially they only lost once in the second-half of the season. They did not find themselves top until matchday 24 but from that point on it was neck and neck between them and Fenerbahçe as Bursaspor did not again drop out of the top two. It was advantage Fenerbahçe, however, going into the final round of fixtures but whilst Bursaspor won 2-1 at home to Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe could only manage a 1-1 draw in their home match with Trabzonspor. Bursaspor were suddenly champions for the first time in their history defying all expectations. The following season Bursaspor finished third but some 21 points behind second placed Trabzonspor who were denied a league title thanks to goal difference. Even with a 4-0 win on the final day of the season, their +46 was still no match for Fenerbahçe's +50 after the Istanbul side won their match 3-2. The usual stranglehold on the title from the big three in Istanbul has continued ever since.

The port city Trabzon, famous for its anchovies, lies in on the Black Sea coast in the north east of the country about two and a half hours drive from the border with Georgia. The city's football club Trabzonspor were first promoted to the top flight in 1974 and have remained there ever since. The club's excellent form in the early years of their top flight adventures saw a glut of titles. The club were crowned Turkish champions for the first time in their history after only two seasons at the top table. Back to back titles were followed by a second placed finish and then three titles in a row to make it five league titles in their first seven top flight campaigns. Two second placed finishes again followed before a sixth title in 1984. There were also four Turkish Cup triumphs for the club during this period and this included three league and cup doubles. In those days Turkish clubs were not known for making waves in Europe, however, and sadly Trabzonspor never made it past the first round in European competition. At home, though, they were dominant.

Ahmet Suat Özyazıcı had taken over as Trabzonspor manager in 1973 and was the main man behind the club's success but Özyazıcı left the club in 1984, however, and the team began to struggle. There would be no more league success for the club and the next cup final win would not be until 1992. Four more cup final triumphs have followed but league success has continued to elude them. There were 10 successive top four finishes in the 1990s including successive runner up finishes in 1994-95 and 1995-96 whilst there were also further successive runner up finishes in the mid-noughties and of course that painful end to the 2010-11 season but alas no more league titles. Could this finally be their year again? Well although they currently sit top of the table only goal difference separates them from second placed İstanbul Başakşehir.

İstanbul Başakşehir are a more recent addition to the Istanbul footballing landscape having only been founded in 1990. Formed originally as İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, the club did not manage a top flight appearance until the 2007-08 season where they remained until 2012-13 when relegation saw a return to the top flight at the first attempt. A change in ownership in 2014 and a move to the Başakşehir district of the city saw the club renamed and start a new life under its current guise. 

Investment has seen the club climb up the league and suffer several near misses in terms of titles. This investment has seen several marquee signings and ex Premier League stars Martin Skrtel, Gaël Clichy, and Demba Ba all currently play for the club. Arguably their biggest name these days, however, is Robinho who as well as having played for Premier League side Man CIty also previously played for AC MIlan and Real Madrid. As yet the big name stars have yet to bring Süper Lig success but finishes of fourth, fourth, second, third, and second have been hugely impressive and a league championship is surely not too far away.

Having previously played in the large Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadyumu the club recently moved to a brand new much smaller venue more suited to their needs. The club's average attendance this season pre covid-19 was 3,860, almost a tenth of what the big three each attract though still significantly higher than what they achieved under their previous guise.

If either Trabzonspor or İstanbul Başakşehir don't win the title then one of either Galatasaray or Sivasspor will clinch the prize. But whilst Galatasaray are 23 times champions of Turkey, five behind Fenerbahçe and three ahead of Beşiktaş, Sivasspor have never once been crowned champions. Based in the city of Sivas, south west of Trabzon and some 400 odd kilometres east of the capital Ankara, Sivasspor were formed in 1967 and did not reach the top flight until 2005 finishing runners up in 2009. The club were relegated in 2015-16 but returned to the Süper Lig at the first attempt. Last season's 12th placed finish gave no indication of a title challenge but they sit currently in third on merit with seven league wins in a row from the end of October onwards helping propel them to their present position.

As things stand Trabzonspor and İstanbul Başakşehir are clearly favourites to win the title but Galatasaray and particularly Sivasspor aren't completely out of the hunt. The final outcome is yet to be decided but one this is clear, it's increasingly likely that for the first time in over a decade and only the second time in 37 years the monopoly of the 'big three' could once again be broken.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2020


Tonight FC Bayern München were crowned Bundesliga champions for the eighth successive season after a 1-0 win away at Werder Bremen.

On 7 December Bayern lost 2-1 at Borussia Mönchengladbach, their second league defeat in a row and their fourth of the season. By that point Bayern had dropped 18 points and sat seventh in the table, winning the title seemed very far fetched. On 3 November they had sacked manager Niko Kovač and Hansi Flick took charge as replacement. As you can see things did not run smoothly to begin with for Hansi but since that defeat at Mönchengladbach his side have dropped only two points in a run that's seen them win 17 and draw one. The turnaround has been incredible and you can't argue that they don't deserve the title based on that form.

Bayern's final game pre covid lockdown was a home win against FC Augsburg as they celebrated their 120th birthday in what were joyous scenes at the Allianz Arena. I was present that day as part of a trip to Bavaria that saw me take in games in each of the top three divisions of German football. You can read my feature on those Bavarian travels of mine, as featured in the latest issue of Football Weekends magazine, here.

Friday, 5 June 2020

A Whistle Stop Tour of Football in Berlin

Obviously, due to COVID-19 football is currently being played behind closed doors. But hopefully, things will soon get back to normal, travel restrictions will be removed, and supporters will be able to attend to matches again - at home and abroad. Whether it be in Berlin, as detailed in this piece, or anywhere else I'm sure we will all flock back the stadiums as soon as we are allowed. Think towards the future and think positive.

With a salient history, very few cities can rival, Berlin is a fascinating metropolis for a zillion and one reasons. Fascinating for not just the obvious but for so much more. You can very much include football in that too. The city's current two major clubs met recently in what because of Berlin's complicated history has been over the years a pretty rare derby matchup. After all, the two clubs once existed each in different countries and separated by a giant wall. The tale of these two sides and their missing rivalry is in itself a compelling story, but Berlin also has many other interesting footballing stories across what feels like an almost unlimited number of teams. Here is a whistle stop tour of some of the city's notable sides, including those two main rivals, and the intriguing tales they have to tell. This also includes three sides you've possibly never heard of who have all actually played Bundesliga football, one as recently as 1985.

Berlin is a city full of famous landmarks and one of them is the city's Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium) which has been home of Hertha Berliner Sport-Club since 1963. This large full of character with a touch of modernisation athletics stadium has hosted various major events over the years, including Champions League and World Cup finals, but it was originally built by the Nazi regime for the 1936 summer Olympics. A stadium tour is a must for anyone visiting the city and it can honestly be said that the stadium has a very rich history that makes it arguably more famous than the club that plays there. Strangely, though, when I visited my English language tour guide had a very striking resemblance to Angela Merkel. Maybe she gives stadium tours as a welcome rest from running the country?

Named after a steamship one of the club's founders had once ridden with his dad, Hertha BSC, who play in the steamships colours of blue and white, are the number one club in what is one of Europe's major capital cities and have been regulars in the top flight for most of their life. Despite this fact, however, they have had a rather uneventful history. Two pre Bundesliga era German championships are the only major title successes the club has had with two DFB-Pokal final defeats in the 1970s the closest they've come to adding to that tally. There was a third cup final loss in 1993 but unbelievably this actually involved their reserve team. 

Reserve sides are no longer permitted in the DFB-Pokal but once upon a time they could qualify for the competition and some of the countries major clubs would see their reserve teams enter and play alongside their first team. This was still the case in 1992-93 where although Hertha's first team were knocked out in the round of 16, their reserve team were only halfway through their cup run. Hertha BSC Amateure, as they were then known, lost to top flight side Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the final having beaten another Bundesliga side in 1. FC Nürnberg along the way. Hertha BSC Amateure were the first and last reserve side to reach the cup final.

Despite having been regulars in the Bundesliga, Hertha have also had two short spells in the second tier in recent years and that is where they have come face to face with currently Berlin's second biggest club.

In 1989 the Berlin wall was opened for the first time since it was originally built in 1961 and those in the East were all of a sudden able to travel freely to the West of the city. These were surreal times and although, perhaps, not everyone realised immediately but communism in the East was beginning to collapse. Within a few years, the two sides of the city would be completely united as East and West Germany reunified as one nation again. Amongst this backdrop of change and new beginnings, Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union Berlin in 1990 met in a match that only a few years earlier would have been unthinkable. But as a city and indeed a country were coming back together so was their football. Although only a friendly match over 50,000 attended in what were largely joyous scenes.

Unfortunately, post reunification most East German clubs struggled and Union were no different. East German clubs were assimilated into the West German league structure but only two were granted a spot in the top flight with the rest given positions in the leagues below. East German clubs such as Union found the transformation from communism to capitalism rather tough. In this new world a lot of clubs struggled financially and in many cases saw their star players head west with dollar signs in their eyes, or should I say Deutschmarks.

After years in the wilderness, promotion to the 2. Bundesliga in 2009 saw Union become regulars in the second tier where in 2010 they eventually met Hertha for the first time in competative football post reuninication after the West Berliners had been relegated from the top flight. A 1-1 home draw was followed by a historic 2-1 win for Union at the Olympiastadion in front of a 74.000+ crowd that included around 20,000 away supporters from the East of the city. It was Hertha, however, who would be promoted come the end of the season although they would soon be back in the second tier and the pair met twice more two seasons later.

Situated in the Köpenick district of the city, Union Berlin's Stadion an der Alten Försterei really is, as the name suggests, the stadium in the forest. Situated a little off the beaten track you actually have to walk down cycle paths and woodland to get there. If heading for a nose around on a non match day without the hustle and bustle of thousands of supporters you will find yourself wondering where on earth you are a going because it's hard to believe that there could be a football ground here. When the club returned to the 2. Bundesliga in 2009 an army of fans helped redevelop the stadium to get it up to standard. Supporters even bled for the stadium by donating blood for which in Germany you receive payment and using that money to help cover rebuilding costs.

After nearly 30 years of plying their trade outside the top flight Union were finally promoted to the highest level in 2019. Later that year they defeated Hertha 1-0 at home thanks to a late goal in what was the first ever Bundesliga derby between the two sides. A DFB-Pokalfinale defeat in 2001 and the brief UEFA Cup campaign that followed aside, the club's post reunification history has been, as I've said, very unremarkable and very much overshadowed by their crosstown rivals. Having said that, albeit Hertha spent most of that same period in the top flight they never themselves actually reached any major heights.

Being overshadowed by city rivals is nothing new for Union, however. In the former league system of East Germany, there was another team from Berlin who dominated. Between 1979 and 1988 Berliner FC Dynamo, the team of the hated Stasi (secret police), won ten top flight DDR-Oberliga titles in a row whilst Union mostly struggled at the other end of the table and even spent periods in the second tier.

BFC Dynamo are a team that came about in the 1950s when East Germany's star side of that time Dynamo Dresden were moved to the capital East Berlin at the behest of the regime who felt the capital should have a winning team. But it wasn't till many years later, however, that they had large scale success with a side called Vorwärts Berlin, now based in Frankfurt (Oder), initially having the glory BFC Dynamo were supposed to secure for the city.

Dynamo Dresden recovered and were the country's star side for much of the 1970s before their counterparts from East Berlin went on their mammoth title winning streak with, as some claimed, arguably a little help from friendly referees and the support of the communist regime - something that made the club despised by many. But BFC Dynamo's dominance had seemingly come to an end by the time reunification came about and like their East Berlin neighbours 1. FC Union, and indeed most other East German clubs, they struggled in the new world that they had entered. Unlike Union, however, BFC Dynamo never have made it to the Bundesliga and currently sit in the fourth tier Regionalliga Nordost surviving on crowds of barely more than 1500 with a support that is nowadays interestingly renowned for their far right views. The club's Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark home which sits in the north east of the city does not look like it's changed much since the days of the Stasi. Alongside BFC Dynamo in the fourth tier are four fellow Berlin sides, five if you include Hertha's second team. 

VSG Altglienicke who currently groundshare with their ex Stasi neighbours were sat at the top of the division before the inforced COVID-19 lockdown. The club are currently on a high enjoying arguably the most successful period in their history having gone unnoticed for most of their past, even in their East German days. During the GDR era fellow East Berliners SV Lichtenberg 47, then known as Sportgruppe Lichtenberg-Nord, were for a long time one of the last private clubs that existed in East Berlin. The club's current name comes from the day in January 1990 when GDR citizens stormed the nearby Stasi headquarters across from Lichtenberg 47. Today those headquarter form what is now the Stasi museum which showcases a fascinating detailed history of East Germany's secret police. The club have always been minnows in German football both pre and post reunification. 

Formed in 2013 thanks to a merger between Lichterfelder FC and BFC Viktoria 1889, FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin have played in the fourth tier ever since. The club won the Berliner Landespokal (Berlin regional cup), which is open to lower league sides, in 2014 and again in 2018 to qualify for the main DFB-Pokal (German Cup) where on both occasions they lost in the first round to Eintracht Frankfurt and Arminia Bielefeld 2-0 and 1-0 respectively. BFC Dynamo have in recent years also had several Landespokal triumphs to their name and like Viktoria have fallen at the first hurdle in all their recent DFB-Pokal appearances. Viktoria are based in the west of the city near Charité which is one of Europe's largest university hospitals and dates back to the 1700s. There is a German Netflix drama series based around life at the hospital in the year 1888. Predecessors BFC Viktoria were actually twice German national champions in 1908 and 1911. 

Berliner Athletic Klub 07, usually shortened to Berliner AK 07, or sometimes BAK 07 or even just BAK, play at the Poststadion which is a 10,000 capacity athletics stadium in Moabit, West Berlin. The stadium can be accessed by walking through a charming park complete with family picnics and sets of tennis on nearby courts. Unfortunately, I remember the venue most for its heavy handed stewards on a visit a few years back where full pats downs, searched bags, and confiscated items were the order of the day for all home supporters. This seemed a bit over the top, especially as so many families and children were in attendance.

BAK's most famous moment of recent times came in 2012 when they defeated top flight side 1899 Hoffenheim 4-0 at home in the DFB-Pokal though the club were unable to make it past the second round. The club supposedly has a bit of a following amongst the Turkish community and a Turkish president though, aside from a few Turkish looking names on the teamsheet, this was not overly evident when I visited. Crowds at the stadium are low with this season's average attendance before the league came to a halt just 492. Having said that, this is also the case with most of the Berlin based clubs in the Regionalliga who themselves hardly fare any better with only BFC making it into quadruple figures.

Below those aforementioned Regionalliga sides that many might consider nobodies of German football, Berlin does boast three clubs who have actually played top flight Bundesliga football.

Tennis Borussia Berlin just missed out on promotion to the Bundesliga when it was created in 1963 and in the years after before they eventually did reach the top flight in 1974 only once finished outside the top three in the Regionalliga Berlin (fourth place). They only lasted one season in the Bundesliga before relegation to the newly created 2. Bundesliga Nord but were promoted back to the top flight at the first attempt. Again, the club only lasted one lone season at the top table and have sadly for themselves never made it back to the Bundesliga since. 

Based in Westend, West Berlin, and just a couple of miles from the Olympiastadion, which they used as a temporary home when in the top tier, the team were founded in 1902 as the delightfully named Berliner Tennis und Ping-Pong Gesellschaft Borussia. After their Bundesliga exploits, they drifted between the second and third tiers before dropping out of the 2. Bundesliga for the last time in 2000. A second straight relegation followed and the club have spent the years since moving between the fourth, fifth, and sixth tiers of the German league system.

The other two Berlin based clubs to have appeared in the Bundesliga are Tasmania Berlin and Blau-Weiß Berlin. The pair play in the south west of the city about 3 miles apart at rather small venues so like Tennis Borussia have both had to use the Olympiastadion as a temporary home at times. The two sides lasted only one season each in the top flight with one of them holding an unfortunate record.

When in 1965, Berlin's only Bundesliga side, Hertha BSC, had their license revoked and were forcibly relegated for breaking the league's player salary rules, the DFB, for cold war related political reasons, were uncomfortable about the idea of not having a Bundesliga team in the city. To resolve this issue SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin who had failed to gain promotion through the play-offs were given Hertha's place in the top flight and so began the worst season in Bundesliga history. Tasmania would win just two of their 34 league games losing 28 and ending the season with just eight points, some 14 behind the team directly above them.

In 1973 SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin went bankrupt and were reformed as SV Tasmania Berlin. Under their new guise, Tasmania's most successful period started in 1981 when promotion saw ten straight seasons in the third tier. More recently, seven straight seasons in sixth tier Berlin-Liga ended with promotion to the fifth tier NOFV-Oberliga Nord last season.

It is believed that the club's name comes from the fact the founders of the original club had been planning to move to Australia with Tasmania their preferred destination. The teams Werner-Seelenbinder-Sportpark home is situated barely five minutes from the iconic former Berlin Tempelhof Airport which closed in 2008. The place is now known as Tempelhofer Feld and used a recreational space it is, including the surrounding land, the largest inner city open space in the world.

This brings us nicely to Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin, the only other club from Germany's capital to have played in the Bundesliga. After bouncing between the third and fourth tiers the club were in 1984 promoted to the 2. Bundesliga and two seasons later a second placed finish saw them move up to the top flight. Although the club managed to more than double Tasmania's points tally by finishing the season with 18 points they still finished bottom of the league and headed straight back to from where they had come. Mirroring Tasmania the club also went bankrupt a few years later and reformed as SpVg Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin. Since reformation, the club have moved back to their old Sportplatz an der Rathausstraße home which they had left in 1966 and back at this venue have mostly played in the lower echelons of Berlin football currently finding themselves in the Berlin Liga.

As for the rest, the list of football clubs in Berlin is seemingly endless. FC Spandau 06 who play in Berlin's seventh tier Landesliga Staffel 2 bear no relation to the 1980s new wave group Spandau Ballet whilst BFC Germania 1888 in the tenth tier Kreisliga B Staffel 5 are the oldest still active football club in the country. The city also boasts numerous ethnic clubs including Türkiyemspor, Türkspor 1965, Hilalspor, and BSV Al-Dersimspor. All four play in the Berlin-Liga and even more so than BAK 07 all four hail from within Berlin's large Turkish community. Another ethnic side, Croatian club SD Croatia Berlin play at the same level. Türkiyemspor's Willy Kressmann Stadion home sits just outside the Schöneberg district where rock star David Bowie for a time famously lived along with Iggy Pop whilst the Lilli-Henoch-Sportplatz home of Al-Dersimspor is barely a ten minute walk from the Hansa Studios where Bowie recorded his famous Heroes album. Also in the Berlin Liga are Jewish club TuS Makkabi Berlin. Under the rule of the Nazi's all Jewish clubs were dissolved, but Makkabi, with links to a much earlier club from before the Nazi era, were formed in 1970 well after Hitler's reign of terror had come to an end.

No doubt there will be people in the know screaming that I've missed out team x or team y, but with its own league system within the main German football pyramid Berlin has more teams than I care to know and it would take many more paragraphs to go through them all in detail so I won't delve any further. Besides, most of these unmentioned clubs have all played a very insignificant role within the history of German football and are probably of little interest to the reader anyway.

Finally, though, I must give a shout-out to a club who call themselves Reinickendorfer Füchse, at least that's what it says on my scarf, the internet refers to them as Füchse Berlin which translates as Berlin Foxes. When last in Berlin they were my only option for a Friday night football fix but an out of date club website lead me to the wrong ground. Thankfully there were two others who had made the same mistake and after introducing themselves we found our way to the correct venue via a delayed train that saw us miss the first half. The football team form part of a sports club known as Füchse Berlin Reinickendorf that includes a far more famous handball team who are the city's sole representatives in the country's Handball-Bundesliga. Their mostly unheard of football side currently play in the Berlin Liga, just not at the ground they tell you!

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Tuesday, 2 June 2020

If You Are Going To Slag Off John Aldridge in a Loud Voice Best Not Do It When He's Walking Right Past You...

I wrote about this unfortunate event for Issue 4 (March 2020) of Gateshead FC supporters fanzine 'Kenny's on Corners', but never got round to posting it on here until now. You can follow Kenny's on Corners on twitter.

"He's a fake Irishman, he's from Liverpool and has a full on Scouse accent," I shouted, or something along those lines anyway. It was I think 2013 and we were about to play Oxford United then of League Two at home in an FA Cup first round replay and a match that was to be televised live on BT Sport.

The original game with Oxford had ended in a 2-2 draw after Gateshead had squandered a two goal lead at the Kassam Stadium. BBC Newcastle had provided live commentary on the match and I remember listening to it at my parent's house and feeling extremely frustrated come what full-time. Matthew Raisbeck filling in for an absent Mick Lowes had travelled with summariser John Anderson down to a Sunday Newcastle away game in London or somewhere or other a day early via Oxford to provide the commentary. 

As for the replay it was originally postponed due to a waterlogged pitch but eventually took place a week or two later on a Thursday evening. I vividly remember that the match took place on the same night that Nelson Mandella died, and I also remember there being an Ashes test match on down under and that I'd foolishly booked the Friday off work to stay up and watch it. I attended the match with a few friends (who sadly never really went on to become Heed regulars as I did) and it ended in a 0-0 draw with Oxford winning the tie in extra-time thanks to a dubious penalty decision. The clothesline (singing section) were in full voice that night including several renditions of a personal favourite of mine 'A Little Respect' whilst the lads had done themselves proud on the pitch but sadly it wasn't to be.

The most memorable moment of the night, however, came whilst sat in the main reception/bar area downstairs before kick-off. One of my mates had seen John Aldridge being interviewed earlier and mentioned it in passing. Unable to remember his name he referred to him as "that scouser who used to play for Wales". Eventually, we worked out he meant John Aldridge a scouser who had actually played for the Republic of Ireland and not Wales. We figured he must be there for the TV coverage. 

Like several players of his era, not good enough to play for England Aldridge managed to find his way into the Irish national team by having an Irish grandparent. Another player who famously did this was Tony Cascarino from Kent who admitted years later that he'd eventually found out his mother had been adopted and his Irish grandparents were not actually blood relatives after all meaning he basically had no Irish blood in him whatsoever! Aldridge's Irish relatives were apparently genuine blood relatives, however.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, without realising he was walking right behind me I went on a massive rant in a loud voice about how Aldridge was a fake Irishman who should never have played for Ireland in the first place as he was Liverpool born and bred so therefore English. My kind friends never bothered to shut me up and before long I saw him out of the corner of my eye walking off whilst glaring right at me! It really was a case of 'Oh no he did-ent!' and it's fair to say I was left feeling a little awkward.

Thankfully though nothing came of this incident, Aldridge carried on walking and never said a word, our paths did not cross again that evening, and the rest of us all had a good laugh about it afterwards. Some light relief after a heartbreaking end to the night for us on the pitch.

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Friday, 22 May 2020

Read Me in Football Weekends Magazine Again

Tales from my pre lockdown football trip to Bavaria have been included in a large feature on the region that is part of the new issue of Football Weekends magazine. Although they have edited out some of my extra observations if you ignore a poorly edited second paragraph which no longer fully makes complete sense (thank's editor) it is still an excellent piece. The full unedited version can be viewed on this very blog here but please do buy the magazine for all the other wonderful features included. I think it's in the shops sometime next week but you can order it online or purchase a full monthly subscription by going to

Thursday, 14 May 2020

The Bundesliga is Back! A look ahead to the remainder of the football season in Germany

With nine games left to play and the pair still to meet for a second time, the title race is certainly not done and dusted yet. But, having won the previous seven championships and currently having a four point lead over nearest contenders Borussia Dortmund (BVB), FC Bayern München are definitely the favourites to win the Bundesliga when it resumes this weekend. Meanwhile, to make life even more difficult for said challengers there is the small matter of a Revierderby derby against hated regional rivals Schalke 04 on Saturday, never an easy proposition. Not only that but BVB have several clubs hot on their heels.

After a break of over two months in response to COVID-19, the top two tiers of German football finally get back underway on Saturday with all 36 clubs set to take the field over the course of the weekend in matches played behind closed doors (although at the time of writing, Hannover 96 v SG Dynamo Dresen is under threat with the whole Dynamo squad in quarantine after two players recently tested positive for coronavirus). This restart of all things fussball is highly anticipated with many issues still to be decided at both ends of the tables. 

Of course, the main question on everyone's lips is can FC Bayern make it eight in a row? But although BVB in second are their closest challengers on 51 points, RasenBallsport Leipzig on 50, Borussia Mönchengladbach on 49, and even Bayer 04 Leverkusen on 47, could all still pip Bayern to the crown. However, even if the title race comes to a premature end, as could be the case if Bayern continue the form that's seen them pick up 31 points out of a possible 33 in their previous 11 leagues matches, those four challengers could still be fighting it out right to the death for Champions League qualification. The losers in that battle for one of the four Champions League spots, along with one of any number of teams below them, will have to settle for a Europa League place instead. Sixth placed Schalke, some ten points behind Leverkusen one place above them, are best placed to pick up the second league spot for Europe's secondary competition. VfL Wolfsburg and Sport-Club Freiburg, both sitting a point behind Schalke, and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim a point further back again, however, are just some of the clubs who could pip the Gelsenkirchen based side to a European place.

Having lost only league four games last season, to have lost the same number even before the halfway point this time around put FC Bayern's title credentials in doubt but their form since then has been almost impeccable. The club have been scoring goals for fun and star striker Robert Lewandowski with 25 goals to his name is the league's top goalscorer ahead of RB Leipzig's Timo Werner on 21, but equally as important has been their defence. 

Since they last lost a league match on 7 December, the club have went on to concede only six league goals in 11 games before the COVID-19 enforced suspension. Mostly used as a full back despite many assuming he would be back up for the centre halves, Benjamin Pavard, signed before the season started for £31.4m from VfB Stuttgart, has featured in 23 of FC Bayern's 25 league games this season and been a revelation, particularly from December onwards. Club president Uli Hoeneß predicted Pavard would be one of Bayern's best ever signings and although it's still early days many would find his assertation so far difficult to argue with. With Joshua Kimmich having been moved into his preferred position in the centre of midfield, Pavard has shown a defensive stability at right back which Kimmich was never able to reach. 

Another team with a solid defence has been RB Leipzig where stability has been the key. Dayot Upamecano, Lukas Klostermann, Marcel Halstenberg, and Konrad Laimer have all been ever presents as the club have conceded just 26 goals in league which has generally been a high scoring one, a feat only matched by FC Bayern.

BVB, in second, have conceded more goals than anyone else in the top five but will be hoping they have enough firepower to keep them in the hunt for the title. 19-year-old Norwegian Erling Braut Håland, who has scored nine goals in eight Bundesliga matches since joining from Red Bull Salzburg in January, will be keen to help them achieve this by featuring highly in the scoring charts alongside teammate Jordan Sancho. A potential continuation of his meteoric rise will be watched with intrigue by many. 

There has also been plenty of other standout names so far this season, Philippe Coutinho and Serge Gnabry have both been in excellent form for FC Bayern, for example, whilst slightly more unexpected has been the rise of another youngster. In December Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz became the youngest ever player to reach 100 appearances in Bundesliga history aged 20 years, six months, and four days old. Havertz, a versatile midfielder who is reportedly a Manchester United target, will be hoping to keep his side in the hunt for a Champions League spot by continuing the excellent form that has earned him significant praise from the likes of Dietmar Hamann who likened him to a "young Michael Ballack".

Whilst goalscoring has not been too much of a problem for many teams, Fortuna Düsseldorf and SV Werder Bremen have both certainly struggled in that department scoring only 27 goals each and it is no wonder that they sit third and second bottom respectively. Bottom club SC Paderborn 07 on 18 points sit two behind Bremen in the relegation zone with Düsseldorf sitting two points ahead again in the relegation play-off spot. Interestingly Paderborn travel to Düsseldorf this weekend in what will be considered a must win match for the visitors if they want to keep their hopes of staying up alive much longer. 1. FSV Mainz 05 four points ahead of Düsseldorf on 26, FC Augsburg on 27, and Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt who both sit on 28, will all be hoping not to drop down into the relegation places whilst 1. FC Union Berlin on 30 points and 1. FC Köln on 32 are seemingly just about safe for another season at least. 

There was one other major talking point before the league's suspension that thankfully should not be a problem when the season restarts. The behaviour of some fans, much of it offensive and abusive in nature, towards Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp saw several games halted whilst spectators were told to calm down. But with games resuming behind closed doors for fear of the spread of Coronavirus, the fans hatred and offensive banners directed towards Hopp, who has been perceived by many to buy his teams position at the top level of German football with excessive spending, should not be an issue on matchdays.

Issues surrounding Hopp have also angered fans in the second tier 2.Bundesliga but we can again assume events on the pitch will be the main focus upon the division's resumption. DSC Arminia Bielefeld lead the table five points ahead of VfB Stuttgart with Hamburger SV a point further back again in the promotion play-off place. There is a four point gap to 1. FC Heidenheim 1846 in fourth whilst the further five point gap between them and SpVGG Greuther Fürth in fifth and SV Darmstadt 98 in sixth makes Heidenheim the only realistic challengers to the top three.

Leaders Arminia Bielefeld have not played in the top flight since 2009 whereas VfB Stuttgart in second were relegated to the second division just last season and are hoping for an immediate return to the flight just as they managed after their last relegation 2015-16. HSV in third, meanwhile, are spending a second consecutive season outside the top flight after being relegated from the Bundesliga for the very first time in their history in 2018. Heidenheim in fourth have never played in the top flight.

What will happen in terms of relegation is still not 100% clear however provisional plans to restart the third tier 3. Liga by the end of the month means relegation and promotion to and from the 2. Bundesliga will more than likely take place as normal. Below the third tier, completion of the season is rather unclear with a final outcome yet be to agreed though it is expected some leagues will be cancelled.

Assuming the third tier does resume, however, and relegation from the 2. Bundesliga does indeed take place, SC Dynamo Dresden and Karlsruher SC, both on 24 points, currently occupy the bottom two places making them most likely to go down automatically. SV Wehen Wiesbaden are a point further ahead in the relegation play-off spot but would be perhaps rock bottom if it were not for the goalscoring exploits of Manuel Schäffler who's 15 strikes so far this season puts him second only to Arminia Bielefeld's Fabian Kloss in terms of goals scored. 

VfL Bochum 1848 who with 28 points sit three ahead of Wiesbaden will be nervously looking over their shoulders as will a trio of clubs on 29 points, 1. FC Nürnberg, SV Sandhausen, and VfL Osnabrück. FC St. Pauli sit on 30 points whilst SSV Jahn 2000 Regensburg and Hannover 96 who both sit on 32 will be hoping they are just about safe. But as unlikely as it may seem even fifth placed Greuther Fürth on 36 points could still plausibly go down. As for who will replace the relegated teams in the 2. Bundesliga, unbelievably only six points separate the top ten sides in the 3. Liga making it anyone's guess who will gain promotion from that division!

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Winning a Premier Division Title and Knocking Barcelona out of Europe: Dundee United - The Glory Years

It's a classic footballing 'Remember When?' But Dundee United knocking FC Barcelona out of Europe is only half the story. A Premier Division title, domestic cup final wins, and several memorable European runs all form part of what can be considered the glory years for one half of Tayside's footballing duo. This is the story of how during the 1980s Dundee United in their famous tangerine shirts became one of Scottish football's dominant forces both at home and on the continent as alongside Aberdeen they challenged the duopoly that was the Old Firm to see for a short while the big two suddenly become the big four.

Building For Success

The Dundee United that Jim McLean took charge of in 1971 were a small-time club and as such, they existed on small crowds. Like many, they struggled to compete with the might of the two Old Firm clubs of Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers who had dominated Scottish football for longer than anyone cared to remember. Whilst the Old Firm could regularly draw average crowds of up to 30,000 each to their home games, sometimes even much higher, United would usually see about 8,000 spectators through the turnstiles on a good day. 

McLean had been coaching at Dundee FC for 18 months but wanting to further his career into management put himself forward to replace a retiring Jerry Kerr as manager of rivals Dundee United. United gave him the job and he moved down the street to join them. Dundee's Dens Park and Dundee United's Tannadice are famous for being on the same street and little did anyone know just how big an impact McLean would have at United when he headed down Tannadice Street to join them from their arch-rivals. 

McLean joined a Dundee United side that had never won a major trophy before. The only footballing success in the city had come at their rivals up the street. Dundee's greatest success came in the sixties. They entered the decade with one Scottish Cup triumph and a couple of League Cup titles to their name but ended it having won the First Division title in 1961-62, reached the semi finals of the European Cup a year later, and made it to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi finals some five years after that. The season Dundee won the title United finished tenth in the top flight but for the Tangerines the times they were a-changing. Whilst in 1975-76 Dundee would be relegated from Premier Division as it was by then known Dundee United were going from strength to strength. By the time Dundee returned to the top flight for the 1979-80 season United under McLean already had four top-four finishes in the division under their belt.

United were a team that grew up together. Many of the players signed by McLean in his earlier years had been brought in as youth players and nurtured from a young age, indeed most of these players did not cost a penny with Eamon Bannon and Paul Hegarty, who had cost £192,000 between them the two main notable exceptions. Most of this squad would make many hundreds of appearances for the club, David Narey: 872, Maurice Malpas: 830, Paul Hegarty: 707, Hamish McAlpine: 688, Paul Sturrock: 575, Eamonn Bannon: 440, Billy Kirkwood: 399, Davie Dodds: 369, Ralph Milne: 287, and Richard Gough: 256 just to name a few. There would be a few additions as the eighties wore on and some of those new names would come to prominence in the 1986-87 UEFA Cup run but otherwise the club's success was based around this group of well established players who had spent years together working towards their ultimate glory.

Several of those aftermentioned stars also went on to become noted Scottish internationals. Centre-back Gough, and left-back Malpas, for example, played 61 and 55 times for their country respectively although many of Gough's caps would come after he'd left in 1986 for Tottenham and then Rangers. Others would also play for the national team including Narey, another central defender, and Sturrock, a centre forward who would go on to score 171 goals for United. Meanwhile, club captain Hegarty who for many years played alongside Narey in the centre of defence, particularly after Gough had moved on, was widely regarded as one of the best centre-halves to have never been a regular for Scotland. Hegarty had been signed from Hamilton where he'd played up front but McLean cleverly turned him into the successful defender that he became.

Another star of the side was goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine. McAlpine eventually lost his place in the first team due to injury towards the end of the 1984-85 campaign and having been an ever present for many years he would fail to permanently regain his place making only eight league appearances the following season before moving elsewhere. Signer/songwriter Michael Marra, known as the Bard of Dundee, actually wrote a song about McAlpine entitled 'Hamish the Goalie' even though Marra was himself a Dundee FC supporter. Billy Thomson would replace him as first choice 'keeper and go on to play a big role himself. 

First Successes and forays into Europe

This group of players would, of course, turn United into a hugely successful side but their first real success came in the Scottish League Cup when they won the competition in 1979-80 and 180-81. The first of those two finals ended in a stalemate with United eventually defeating Aberdeen 3-0 in a replay at Dens Park to lift their first ever major trophy whilst the second of those finals pitted United against their same street neighbours Dundee FC after United had thrashed Celtic in the semis. A 1-1 draw in the first leg saw Celtic overwhelming favourites for the second leg at Parkhead but United had a shock instore running out 3-0 winners. In the final over 24,000 were present for a match played at Dens Park with interest at fever pitch. United defeated 3-0 a Dundee side had been relegated again the previous season to win the League Cup for the second year running. Sturrock who was making his 250th competitive appearance for the club helped set up United's first and scored their second and third. Sturrock's two strikes took his goals tally in that season's competition to nine making him the competitions top scorer again having led the charts the previous season with six.

The following season United reached the final again only to lose to Rangers and were runners up again in 1984-85, in fact in the six years immediately after those two triumphs they never once failed to reach at least the semi-finals. In 1980-81 United were also runners up in the Scottish Cup, defeating Celtic in the semi finals via a replay but losing a replay against Rangers in the final. United would be runners up in the Scottish Cup a further three times in the eighties and again in 1991 with winners medals in the competition seemingly alluding them.

If United were a very much a cup team at home then what about in Europe? League success wouldn't be too far off as the eighties began and the club's fortunes continued to rise but first would be two successive UEFA Cup quarter final appearances the first of which took place in the 1981-82 campaign. Prior to that season, Dundee United had never progressed past the second round in European competition, that is discounting the 1966-67 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup where they reached round three but had not entered until round two. Either way, their European record was poor. 

Bearing the above in mind, when United were drawn against a strong AS Monaco side in the first round of the 1981-82 UEFA Cup they probably did not hold out too much hope of progressing. A brilliant 5-2 first leg victory away at the Stade Louis II with Dodds and Bannon both scoring twice helped them progress to round two, however, where Borussia Mönchengladbach would be the opposition and United progressed after a rather memorable night on Tayside.

Mönchengladbach were one of Germany's top clubs and just two seasons earlier had been runners up in that very competition having won the whole thing the year prior to that. They'd also been five times Bundesliga champions during the 1970s and also European Cup runners up in 1977. After a 2-0 first leg defeat in Germany United had a mammoth task on their hands but did not disappoint. United had clawed back their two goal deficit by half-time in what was close to a perfect 45 minutes. Goals from Milne and Kirkwood were both set up by Sturrock and it was game on. The great Jupp Heynckes at the time manager of Mönchengladbach had in the build-up to the game played up his team's chances and stated there was no chance of United winning the tie after that first-leg defeat. Now Heynckes must have been wondering if would have been better keeping his mouth shut! United were in the ascendancy and when Sturrock put them 3-0 up after the break they never looked back running out 5-0 winners with Hegarty and Bannon completing the rout in what was a dream evening on Tayside for the hosts. It was a result even the most optimistic of Arabs, as the United supporters were known, could scarcely have imagined.

The next round saw another 5-0 display. This time the opposition was Belgian side FC Winterslag who would later become the current K.R.C. Genk after a merger. Their Belgian visitors were comfortably defeated at Tannadice after a 0-0 first leg scoreline in Flanders. Defeating Winterslag in the third round saw United reach the quarter finals and a tie with Radnički Niš of Yugoslavia who had impressively defeated Feyenoord Rotterdam in the previous round and S.S.C. Napoli in round one. Despite a 2-0 home win in the first leg United would lose the tie 3-2. United's most impressive European run to date sadly coming to an end at the quarter final stage.

The following season PSV Eindhoven drew 1-1 on Tayside in a first round first leg match but could not finish off United in the second as the Eredivisie leaders were left stunned with United 2-0 up at the break. The visitors held on for the win and would face Viking Stavanger in round two with Viking knocked out when a 3-1 away win for United was followed by a goalless draw at home. Next up were German side Werder Bremen who came to Tannadice for the first leg and lost 2-1. United then got off to the perfect start in the second leg by taking the lead after 3 minutes and although Rudi Völler, a future West German international star, equalised for the hosts in the second-half United held on for the draw that would send them through. As with the previous season, United's 1982-83 European dream came to an end at the quarter final stage. A 1-0 defeat away against Bohemians Praha 1905 was followed by a 0-0 draw at home in the second leg. 

Winning the League Championship

Those two matches against Bohemians came at what was a busy period for United at the business end of the 1982-83 season. Having finished fourth in the league the previous season United were looking to finish even higher this time around and come March when those two big quarter final legs took place the club were right in the thick of it, the title race that is! By the time the new year had come around United had lost only one league game, a 5-1 defeat away at Aberdeen. Aberdeen had been in excellent form themselves as had Celtic and it looked certain either one of those two or United would clinch the title that season.

On 19 March two goals from Milne helped United defeat Aberdeen 2-1 and move United within one point of the Dons who were at that point top the league. Celtic were level on points with United and United would face Glaswegians twice away from home in April. By the time the pair met in the first match Celtic now themselves lead the table by a point. United suffered a 2-0 loss but when the pair met again two games later it was a different story as United won a five goal thriller 3-2. Celtic twice came from behind but United who saw Gough sent off on 57 minutes with the score at 2-1 found a winner six minutes from time. Milne controlled the ball on his chest before lobbing it over three Celtic defenders and beyond goalkeeper Pat Bonner to score what was a brilliant goal to put his side within one point of the league leaders.

Celtic then lost 1-0 at Aberdeen before Aberdeen themselves dropped points at Hibernian a few weeks later. United, however, did not drop any. Including that Celtic victory, United won five on the bounce, including three 4-0 victories in a row, to head into the final round of fixtures a point ahead of their two challengers. The title race really would go down to the wire! A 4-2 Old Firm victory secured Celtic all the points in their final day match whilst fresh from beating Real Madrid in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final just three days earlier Aberdeen won 5-0 to also secure themselves maximum points. United could not afford to slip up. That day United, like Celtic, had a derby of their own and one they would need to win to secure the title. United headed across to their next door neighbours Dundee for what was the biggest game in the club's history. 

29,106 packed into Dundee's Dens Park, the venue for United's previous two major triumphs in the League Cup, with the ground full over 30 minutes before kick-off. Those supporters would see three goals within the first 28 minutes. Milne and Bannon put United 2-0 up, with Milne's goal a delightful chip over the 'keeper from 25-yards out, whilst Dundee pulled one back. 2-1 at half-time but a nervy second-half saw little goalmouth action. What didn't help with those nerves was news that Celtic had come from 2-0 down to lead in their game and would snatch the title from United's grasp if United could not hold onto their slender advantage. 

Hold on United did though and they had achieved their greatest success of all-time. “I would like to think that Scotland is happy for us and don’t begrudge my players this success. It is incredible,” said jubilant manager Mclean. Dundee United, a small time outfit, had won their first ever Scottish Premier Division title and done it at the home of their bitterest rivals. United had lost only 4 of their 36 league games and scored on average 2.5 goals a game, the Tannadice faithful had never had it so good! The celebrations lasted long into the night and beyond but eventually, things died down and United looked forward to their next challenge. Next on the horizon was the European Cup. As league champions the club got to enter the continents premier competition and what an exciting run they would have!

United in the European Cup

Dundee United's 1983-84 European Cup campaign started with a 6-0 aggregate hammering of Maltese minnows Ħamrun Spartans as United won both matches 3-0 to set up a second round tie with Belgian side Standard Liège. The first leg in Liège ended in a 0-0 stalemate so it was all to play for when Standard came to United's Tannadice home for the second leg. At Tannadice, it was Milne who was the star of the first-half scoring twice to give United a 2-0 half-time lead. Over 19,000 spectators were in attendance as United ended up winning the match 4-0 with Milne chipping the ball over the Standard 'keeper Michel Preud'homme for his second which was the pick of the four. United had reached the quarter finals in Europe again, but this time in the continents premier competition.

SK Rapid Wien of Austria were the opposition for the quarter finals and whilst Stark gave United the lead in the first leg away in Vienna it was a match they would ultimately lose 2-1. Still, an important away goal to take back to Tannadice. In the second leg, the tie was resolved in 21st minute when Dodds smashed the ball home in off the bar to give United a 1-0 lead. The match was never a classic but the hosts held on for the win and due to the away goals rule Dundee United had made it through to the semi finals of the European Cup. United were no longer strangers to European competition, after all, they had twice reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in recent years but this was the European cup, this was the big one, and they were one two legged tie away from reaching the final. Heady days indeed.

When United were paired against Roma in the European Cup semi finals of 1983-84 a potential all British final with Liverpool awaited them. Over 21,000 spectators turned up at Tannadice with their side on the verge a triumph arguably far greater than even winning the Premier Division the previous season. Roma were tough opposition and United were happy to go in at the break with a 0-0 scoreline but they would be even happier come what full-time as two goals gave them a very useful lead going into the second leg. Dodds and Stark found themselves on the scoresheet and the second from Stark saw him thump the ball home from 30 yards and in what was an absolutely brilliant goal. That same night Liverpool beat Dinamo Bucureşti 1-0 at home and prospect of an all-British final was alive and well. Exciting times - one half of Dundee were absolutely jubilant and dreaming dreams that at the start the campaign would have been unthinkable.

The second leg in front of over 69,000 at the Stadio Olympico saw United 2-0 down at half-time and struggling to cope with an intimidating atmosphere. The same venue was to be used for the final and Roma were desperate to reach a final taking place on their home turf. This was perhaps one step too far for United as the match finished 3-0 and United were out of the European Cup having been just 90 minutes from the final. In that final Roma lost to Liverpool on penalties. For United that semi final defeat came as their title hopes back home were faltering.

A Little off the Pace in the League

United's title defence did not end with another championship. The club finished ten points off the pace as Aberdeen were crowned champions. Despite winning all of their first five matches they'd lost four times before Christmas and when Aberdeen beat them 5-1 in April they found themselves eight points adrift from their title rivals. The following season Aberdeen were champions again and this time 12 points ahead of United. The pair had become known as the 'New Firm' due to them challenging the status quo ie the dominance of the Old Firm who prior to United's 82-83 success had between them won 16 out of the last 17 titles with Aberdeen's victory in 1979-80 the only blemish.

After Aberdeen's two successes in 1983-84 and 1984-85 normal service was resumed, however, as Celtic were crowned champions again. The Bhoys finished ahead of Heart of Midlothian on goal difference after Hearts who had been two points ahead before kick-off lost 2-0 at Dundee. United finished three points further back in third with Aberdeen back in fourth some six points behind the champions. Between 26 October and 26 February, United had gone on a 16 match unbeaten run in the league but that run had included too many draws and followed a disappointing start to the season in which United had already lost four times by 19 October. This left them slightly off the pace come the business end of the campaign but still saw their best finish since the title win three seasons earlier.

In 1986-87 United finished in third again, nine points behind champions Rangers and were also in European action again where they would again give their supporters an exciting ride. The previous two seasons United had been knocked out the UEFA Cup at the third round stage which included a 5-4 aggregate defeat to Manchester United in 1984-85, but this time around they would progress even further in what would turn out be their most memorable European run to date, eclipsing even that famous European Cup campaign of three years earlier!

Reaching a European Final

Racing Club de Lens were defeated 2-1 in round one whilst Universitatea Craiova of Romania were the opposition in the next and United progressed 3-1 with a 3-0 home win in the first leg. That 3-0 win saw goals from two new names, two for Ian Redford and one for John Clark. 23-year-old defender Clark had been at the club since the age of 12 but this would be his first season as a real first team regular whilst Redford, a midfielder, had signed for the club from Rangers in 1985. Clark would score three further goals in the competition that season. Hajduk Split of Yugoslavia were defeated 2-0 at home in round three with goals from Jim McInally, signed that summer from, Coventry City, and Clark again before a goalless draw away from home to set up a mouthwatering quarter final tie with Catalan giants FC Barcelona.

United had actually defeated Barcelona 20 years earlier in the second round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in what was an incredible feat for a small time club against one of Europe's elite. But how about now, could they do it again? After all, this was a much stronger United who were nowadays challenging the Old Firm and had already in recent seasons also made a name for themselves in Europe by beating several big names. Jim McLean, however, described the tie as “a cornershop against a supermarket” and you can see why! This was a very strong Barcelona side and managed by Terry Venables they included amongst their ranks the likes of Mark Hughes, Gary Lineker, and Bernd Schuster, and would finish their league campaign just three points behind champions Real Madrid in second. On paper a much stronger side than United. 

The first leg took place in front of 21,322 spectators at Tannadice and United got off to a cracking start scoring after just 1 minute and 48 seconds. A first time effort from Kevin Gallagher sailed over goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and into the net in what was a stunningly spectacular goal. Goalscorer Gallagher had made his first team debut in aged 19 roughly a year and a half earlier and soon became a star. He would win 53 caps for Scotland and playing in England after he'd left United he won the Premier League title with Blackburn Rovers in 1995. United dominated large parts of that first leg against Barcelona. McInally and Redford put in commanding performances in midfield and Sturrock was unlucky not to put the hosts 2-0 up early in the second-half. 1-0 was the final score and a positive result to take to the Camp Nou for the second leg.

In the Camp Nou two weeks later there were about 1200 United supporters stuck up in the gods and for them, it would be a nervy night. Goalmouth action was fairly limited in the first-half but there was one goal and it came for the Catalans which was not what United had wanted. From the outset, United looked more dangerous in the second period, however. United created chances but could not score, they defended well though and Barcelona were restricted to long range efforts that mostly went wide. All the time the game remained at 1-0 the result of the tie could go either way but only one team could win though and that team would be Dundee United. A Clark header found the net off the inside of the bar to seemingly to settle the tie and when United found time for a third the fat lady was well and truly singing. A Sturrock chip found Ian Ferguson's head on 89 minutes and the rest was history as the man signed for £145,000 from Rangers found the net and saw the white hankies being waved by the Camp Nou faithful. Little Dundee United, as they had done 21 years earlier, had knocked the mighty FC Barcelona out of Europe. The city of Dundee may be home to two well known children's comics in The Beano and The Dandy, but this was yet more Roy of the Rovers stuff from United!

As with the European Cup three years earlier, United had reached another European semi-final and as Sturrock who set up the second goal in the Camp Nou would later put it the club were "on the crest of a wave". This time the opposition would be Borussia Mönchengladbach the same side they'd beaten five years earlier in the same competition. Dundee United were just two legs away from the UEFA Cup final. 

Mönchengladbach came to Tannadice for the first leg to face a United side buoyant after their exploits in Catalunya but that match itself would turn out to be a damp squib. United were poor in the first-half and lucky to go in at half-time with the score still goalless. They improved in the second but couldn't the net and had to settle for a 0-0 draw to take to Germany with them. For the second leg in Germany, the home side were if anything overconfident. Painful memories of five years earlier would be comfortably erased or so they thought... The Germans came up against a strong and resolute United defence who's a performance in the first-half was complemented by a useful attack who scored just two minutes before the break thanks to a diving header from Ferguson which came about after the 'keeper failed to clear the ball properly. The Germans now needed two without reply to progress but it was the Scots who had the better of the chances in the second-half and with the game heading to a close found a second just minutes from time. Gallagher found Redford who rounded the 'keeper and slotted the ball into the net to send Dundee United into the UEFA Cup final.

IFK Göteborg of Sweden would be United's opposition in the final. The UEFA Cup as it was in those days was a two legged affair even in the final and United would have to travel to Gothenburg for the first leg. The Swedes had a good reputation in this competition but they were hardly Barcelona or even Mönchengladbach so optimism was high. United still knew it would be tough though and were happy to come away from that first leg with a 1-0 defeat. The home side had played well but United had also had chances themselves, particularly in the second-half, so it was still all to play for in the second leg at Tannadice. It was worth pointing out, however, that IFK had scored in every European away tie that season, yes United still had a real chance of winning but it wouldn't be easy. 

Losing to St Mirren in a Scottish Cup final was hardly the ideal preparation for the second leg but United had to dust themselves down and go again. 20,911 were in attendance for that second leg hoping for a United victory but things were made difficult for the hosts when IFK took the lead on 22 minutes. United had nearly taken the lead themselves after five minutes but were now behind. The score remained the same at the break but five minutes into the second-half United drew level. Clark picked up a Ferguson pass on the edge of the box and after he controlled it he fired the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-1. United were still 2-1 down on aggregate, however, and IFK had an away goal - There was still a lot of work to do. United did create further chances, Clark had a free-kick saved for example, but it wasn't to be, IFK held on for the draw and it was they who were the new UEFA Cup champions. It had still been an incredible run for United, however, with some memorable nights along the way, none more so than that famous night in Barcelona. They may have lost at the final hurdle but they could certainly hold their heads up high! The supporters did exactly that and were magnanimous defeat applauding the Sweedish champions at full-time.

After the Glory Years

Since Aberdeen were crowned champions in 1985 the old Firm between them have won every single title since. Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson's departure for Manchester United in 1985 seemingly heralding the end of the 'New Firm'. Starting in 1989 Rangers won 9 titles in a row, equaling the feat Celtic managed between '66 and '74, whilst Celtic's triumph last season was their eighth title in a row and the completion of a treble treble. Alongside the league title winning both League the Cup and the Scottish Cup to complete a domestic treble and doing it three seasons running. 

As for United, they continued to hang about in the top four/five league positions without ever actually coming close to another title challenge whilst in Europe they would never again progress beyond the second round of UEFA competition. Their only success since those heady days has been limited to two Scottish Cup triumphs in 1993-94 and 2009-10. Their longstanding squad all eventually moved on or retired, along with McLean who stepped down in 1993, and the club were relegated from the top flight in 1994-95. None other than Billy Kirkwood took charge and they did make a swift return to the top flight, however. They remained there until another relegation in 2016, confirmed thanks to defeat at Dens Park of all places, having only twice finished as high as third and never higher. They have yet to return to the top flight. As for Kirkwood, he was sacked after barely more than a season in charge, Paul Sturrock would himself spend two years in charge before a fairly successful managerial career in the English lower leagues and a brief rather difficult spell in charge of Southampton in the English Premier League. Paul Hegarty, another star from those glory days would also spend a season as manager of United.

It's fair to say Dundee United since Jim McLean stepped down as manager have failed to match the success they had when he was in the dugout. Yet despite stepping down as manager some 27 years ago, however, he still remained at the club until 2000 as chairman, a role he'd taken on in 1988 four years after the board made him a director. McLean was for many years a majority shareholder but sold his 42% stake in 2002. Jim McLean still remains the only manager in the club's history to have guided them to a Premier Division championship, a feat even he had never dreamed possible: “I didn’t think we had the strength in depth to win the league, although I knew we were good in the cups,” he recalled some years later. Luckily for McLean though he had been wrong. His team did win the championship and he himself would go down in history as the club's most successful manager of all time.

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