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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