About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #15 - Arthur Rowe

“Keep it simple, keep it quick, keep it accurate” is a phrase most associated with double winning Tottenham Hotspur manager Bill Nicholson, but it was originally uttered by Arthur Rowe the man who had created the environment for Nicholson’s triumph, ten years previously at White Hart Lane. In doing so he not only laid a template for Spurs forever ephemeral footballing aesthetic but also planted the seed for England’s world cup triumph.
A Tottenham man by birth, Rowe grew up with the club spending time with their nursery clubs Cheshunt and Northfleet United in the 1920s. The Spurs coach at the time was Peter McWilliam, a Scot who brought with him the passing tradition of making the ball do the work, for which his native country had been renowned since Victorian times. 
In Rowe he had a willing student, although McWilliam’s departure meant by the time Rowe’s cultured centre half act was on show in the first team in the 1930s he was suffocated by the dominant English philosophy of kick and rush which he translated in these terms:  “I never scored a goal for the first team. They didn't like the centre-half to go too far over the halfway line in those days.”
England recognition followed in 1933 but a cartilage injury restricted his progress and he retired in 1939. Fate then intervened to create a serendipitous invitation to advise the Hungarian FA on developing their national game. The outward looking Rowe accepted and went onto consult with the likes of Gustav Sebes and Ferenc Puskas in a meeting of minds which promised much only to be cut short by World War two. However in being able to discuss and develop his progressive tactics, Rowe was given the confidence to implement his radical philosophy when peace returned.  
This began at Chelmsford City whom he led to the Southern League title in 1946, the Clarets almost following this up with election to the Football League. His success was noted by his alma mater and he was appointed manager at second division Spurs in 1949. What followed was in the words of his Spurs captain Ronnie Burgess, nothing short of a “revolution”.
Rowe saw his ideas as the embodiment of the notion that football was a simple game. Peppering his team talks with aphorisms such as “a good player runs to the ball, a bad player runs after it”, Rowe emphasised the importance of the short pass accompanied by swift movement off the ball as the key to success. The style, to Rowe’s distaste, became known as push and run, featuring a high frequency of wall passes, a term Rowe did approve of given how as a child he had honed his technique by kicking a ball against an actual wall.
By its nature this required players to free themselves of the strictures of their notional position, either to fall back from the forward line to collect the ball, or attack from defence to pursue it.
For what would now be an overlapping full back, Rowe signed Alf Ramsey, with the seeds of the latter’s World Cup winning wingless wonders being planted as Spurs raced to the Division Two title in 1950, leading throughout the season to win by a margin of nine points as the leading scorers and best defence.
Twelve months later, Spurs were champions of all England, winning plaudits for their breath taking football which reached its apogee in a seven goal demolition of Newcastle United. They almost defended their title, finishing runners up in 1952 but from this point on, faded quickly, a demise which led to Rowe suffering greatly from anxiety and depression, resigning his post in 1955 in the wake of an FA Cup defeat to York.
His success in developing instantly, with the addition of Ramsey, an existing Spurs squad into an irresistible force for three seasons created sky high expectations which he couldn’t maintain. However having imbued his philosophy in his players Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily he had created the management team that would take the club to new heights in the early sixties, winning not only the double and back to back FA Cups, but also England’s first European title. In 1954 he had also signed Nicholson’s captain Danny Blanchflower.
The fifties also saw the flowering of the managerial talent Vic Buckingham (MWMMF 17) at West Bromwich Albion. He had been a team mate of Rowe’s at Tottenham in the 1930s and considered him his mentor.
Rowe returned to football as assistant manager at fourth division Crystal Palace in the late fifties, becoming manager in 1960 and taking the Eagles to promotion in 1961. He again resigned due to the pressure of the job in 1962 but soon reverted back to his assistant role, helping the club to another promotion in 1964 as Palace continued a decade long climb to a first ever season in the top flight.
Granted a Selhurst Park testimonial, an honour not received at White Hart Lane, Rowe drifted around the game into the seventies with spells at Orient, Brentford, West Brom and Millwall. He had become something of a forgotten man, remembered only by those privileged to see his team play in a pre-television era. This proved to be a fleeting glimpse of what English football might have become, as with the exception of the tantalising triumphs of Nicholson’s Spurs and Ramsey’s England, clubs reverted to type.
Rowe summed up this devotion to character rather than intellect saying:  “All you need to remember is that 50 per cent of the people in the game are bluffers. So a decent manager's halfway there when he starts out.”

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #14 - Gusztáv Sebes

Having started on a mitteleuropa trail that began with Meisl and continued with Hogan, Erbstein and Guttman, it is inevitable that the last Hungarian to feature in this series is Gusztáv Sebes, the man who coached the magnificent Magyars of the 1950s and changed football forever.
The son of a cobbler, Sebes was born in Budapest, and spent time in Paris working as a fitter for Renault, playing for the works team Olympique Billancourt. However he spent the bulk of his playing career with MTK Hungaria winning three League titles.
Following retirement he was put in charge of the national team as the Deputy Minister for sport. Influenced by the great Austrian and Italian national teams of the 1930s he aimed to draw the majority of his players from one or two clubs. This was made easier following the nationalisation of sports clubs under the post war Soviet regime. The ministry of defence took over Kispest, renaming it Honved. Already containing Ferenc Puskas and Jozsef Bozsik, the team was augmented using conscription, with Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor, Laszlo Budai, Gyula Lorant and Gyular Grosics. As the army team Honved could become the training camp for the bedrock of the Hungarian national team.
Back at his old club MTK, coach Marton Bukovi pioneered the use of the 4-2-4 or M-M formation, using a deep lying centre forward. With this team providing the rest of Sebes eleven, he then layered on his philosophy of what he called socialist football, and what is now known as total football.
Essentially this required every player to have equal responsibility in attack and defence, and thus able to play in any position on the pitch. In practical terms this meant developments such as overlapping full backs and a false nine. The stage was now set for Hungary to rock the world of football.

Their rise to prominence began at the 1952 Olympics staged in Helsinki. Hungary cruised to the final scoring twenty goals and conceding just two, beating defending champions Sweden in the semi-final. The gold medal was won with a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia, and the watching head of the FA Stanley Rous was moved to invite Hungary to play England.
The fixture was to be played in November 1953. In the meantime Hungary won the Central European International Cup. Sebes planned meticulously for the England game, using the heavier ball favoured by the English, and a training pitch which matched the dimensions of Wembley. He also played training matches against teams using the English style.

With rising star Nandor Hidegkuti scoring a hat-trick, Hungary stunned England with a 6-3 win, the first time England had lost to a non British team on home soil. Also to the fore was the brilliant Puskas, scoring one of his two goals with an amazing drag back to leave captain Billy Wright flat on his back before firing the ball into the back of the net. The fact that the match was important not just for the result but also its introduction of a radical exciting way of playing the game was symbolised by the commentary “here’s the number five and he’s not playing centre half”. A few months later Hungary emphasised their superiority by winning the return match 7-1 in Budapest.
By the time of the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Sebes’ team had been unbeaten for four years. They sailed through the group stage and beat 1950 runners up Brazil 4-2 in a quarter-final which became known as the Battle of Berne due to a post match brawl in the tunnel. In the semi-final they overcame defending holders Uruguay 4-2 leading to a final tie against West Germany who they had already beaten in 8-3 in the group stage. Puskas had broken his ankle in this win and was absent from the following two matches but returned for the final.
Playing in heavy rain Hungary were two nil up in eight minutes but the Germans had levelled the score only ten minutes later. Hungary threw everything at the Germans hitting the woodwork twice and having two shots cleared off the line but went behind with six minutes to go. Puskas thought he had equalised in the dying minutes only for his goal to be disallowed for offside. In a match mired with controversy there were post match allegations that the Germans had taken performance enhancing drugs.
Back in Hungary the first defeat of the Golden team since 1950 triggered demonstrations which goalkeeper Grosics believed sowed the seeds of the 1956 uprising. Grosics ended up under house arrest whilst Sebes himself came under severe criticism. He carried on in his post for two more years before being sacked. The Soviet invasion of 1956 led to the defection of the team’s stars and by the time of the next World Cup only four players remained.
The spirit of the mighty Magyars lived on in the performances of the players in club football, most notably Puskas at Real Madrid, and Sebes’ place in history is assured as the man who drew together the threads spun over thirty years to produce one of the most exciting teams the world has ever seen. Its fluid and flexible philosophy endured most notably through Holland in the 70s and Brazil in the 80s before finally finding the ability to synthesise the aesthetic of style and a winning ruthlessness in the modern day Spanish team.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #13 - Béla Guttman

Introduced in the last episode of this series as escaping from the Nazis alongside Ergi Erbstein, Béla Guttman was a globe trotting coach who is best known for creating the all conquering Benfica team of the early 60s before cursing the Eagles never to hit the same heights again.
A larger than life character who gave his players great self belief, he was from the same Austro-Hungarian coffee house school of coaching as Hugo Meisl, with his tactical influence most felt in the development of the 1950s Brazilian national team.
His playing career began by winning back to back titles with MTK Hungaria and international caps, but the anti-semitic government of Admiral Horthy led him to leave his country of birth for Vienna. Signing for the all Jewish club Hakoah, he won another title in 1925. Following a post season tour in 1926 he spent several seasons in the USA but having lost a fortune in the Wall Street Crash returned to Europe.
During the 1930s he coached clubs in Austria, The Netherlands and Hungary where he ended the decade winning the title and Mitropa Cup with Újpest. The outbreak of war led to him leading the life of a fugitive, even when he was eventually interned he managed to escape by jumping out of  a transport train with Erbstein.
Post war he flitted between coaching jobs in Romania (where he insisted on being paid in vegetables) and Hungary. His frequent departures were characterised by angry disputes, leaving his homeland for the final time when he fell out with Ferenc Puskas at Kispest.
Italy was his next destination where he worked at four clubs including AC Milan where he was sacked midway through the 1954/55 season with the Rossoneri top of Serie A. From this point on Guttman insisted on having a clause in his contract which meant he couldn’t be dismissed if his team was top of the table.
A tour to South America with Honved led to a job with Sao Paulo where he won the State championship in 1957 and introduced the Hungarian 4-2-4 formation which was subsequently adopted by the winning Brazil team at the 1958 World Cup to herald twelve years of domination.
A lucrative offer from Porto to restructure the club and win the league was accepted in 1958 and by the end of his first season he had met the challenge to win the first of three consecutive Portuguese titles. However the second two wins were with Benfica, the Eagles tempting Guttman into joining them with an even more lucrative package.
Starting the season with an unbeaten run of twenty five matches, the 1960 title followed him to Estádio da Luz, and prompted a demand for a 200,000 Escudo bonus should he go on to win the European Cup in 1961. Such was Real Madrid’s absolute domination of the competition the Benfica chairman increased the bonus by fifty per cent as he thought it an impossible feat.
With a team built around signings from the Portuguese colonies, Benfica duly reached the final in Bern where they faced favourites Barcelona who had inflicted Real Madrid’s first European Cup defeat, inspired by a trio of mighty Magyars in Kocsis, Czibor and Kubala. Despite going behind Benfica came back to win 3-2 with goals from Angolan José Águas and Mozambican Mario Coluna.
Thus Guttman duly collected his bonus and asked for half a million Escudoes for retaining the trophy. To help him do so he had poached a nineteen forward from Mozambique from the grasp of deadly rivals Sporting. He had mythically heard about Eusebio earlier in the season following a chance meeting in a barber shop with a former Brazilian colleague
Benfica reached their second consecutive final after beating the double winning Spurs 4-3 in the semi-final. This time their final opponents were Real Madrid. Before the tie in Amsterdam Guttman highlighted to his team how sport evolved over time, how achievements which once seemed remarkable were now common place implying that the Madrid stars Di Stefano and Puskas were over the hill.
Lining up in typical 4-2-4 formation, Benfica found themselves 3-2 down at half time due to a Puskas hat trick. Guttman continued to infuse his players with belief saying: “Don’t worry. We’re going to win this thing. They’re dead tired”.
Five minutes after the break his captain Coluna, known as the sacred monster for the way he could influence others with a glance, equalised. Real then went down to ten men with no substitutes permitted for injured players. The protégé Eusebio then came to the fore, winning and then scoring a penalty before sealing the win with a second goal.
Inevitably Guttman again asked for a third pay rise, which this time was turned down prompting him to leave for Penarol to live up to his maxim that “the third year is always fatal for as coach”. He also aimed a parting shot at the board saying: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion".
This curse has stood to date with Benfica going on to lose all eight of their subsequent European finals, including five European Cup finals. In 1990 the final was played in Guttman’s final resting place of Vienna. Eusebio prayed at his graveside to no end as Benfica lost again, this time to AC Milan.
Guttman continued to move from club to club into his seventies, his fiery nature coupled with financial insecurity creating a peripatetic career sealing his greatness as a coach whose influence lay in its breadth of global coverage and his unquenchable belief in his ability to scale the greatest heights with any group of players.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #12 - Ergi Erbstein

World War Two and its aftermath led to an incredible movement of people around Europe as borders were drawn and redrawn. The next three articles in this series will focus on three men who despite being uprooted from their home, ended up having a lasting impact in the country where they ended up.
My first subject is Ergi Erbstein, a Hungarian Jew who created Il Grande Torino side which tragically perished in the Superga air disaster. Born in 1898, Erbstein was a Hungarian army officer in World War One who spent most of his playing career with Budapesti AK but also had short spells in Italy and the USA. Following retirement in 1928 he returned to Italy as a manager of several clubs including Bari and Lucchese before arriving at Torino. His time in Turin was cut short by World War Two but he returned post war and alongside Leslie Lievesley with unprecedented success.
He first came to prominence whilst at Lucchese in the mid 1930s, taking the club from the regional leagues to Serie A and a still best ever finish of seventh. His success was due to a holistic approach to management which encompassed scouting, tactics, technical skill, physical fitness and motivation.
This led to a move to Torino in 1938 but Mussolini’s race laws led to his decision to leave Italy, and after being stopped by the SS he was deported with to Hungary where Jews faced similar oppression to that in Nazi Germany. Inevitably Erbstein ended up in a concentration camp but along with Bela Guttman (MWMMF #13), he escaped by jumping from a train whilst being transported.
Following the end of the war Erbstein returned to Torino to finish what he had started. His football philosophy utilised a scouting network ensuring the opposition were thoroughly analysed and players signed to suit his style of play which evolved from swift counter attacking using long diagonal balls to crisp short passing.
With ten Torino players starting for Italy in, appropriately, a match against Hungary, his team were at the peak of their powers when he took them to Benfica for a friendly in the spring of 1949.

Tragically the plane crashed against the Superga cliff-side monastery on its return flight killing Erbstein, Lievesley and the squad. Only able to field a youth team for their remaining league fixtures, Torino’s opponents did likewise and they won a fifth consecutive Scudetto at the end of the season, a fitting tribute to Erbstein and his groundbreaking team.
You can read about his amazing life in more detail in the recently published Erbstein: football's forgotten pioneer by Dominic Bliss which is available from www.theblizzard.co.uk

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #11 - Jack Greenwell

Jack Greenwell was a Durham miner who not only played an influential role in the development of FC Barcelona but also remains the only non South American manager to win the Copa America.
Born in Peases West near Crook, County Durham he followed his father down the mine when he left school. He was an amateur player of distinction playing for his home town club Crook Town but it was an invitation to play as a guest for West Auckland in an early international competition, the Thomas Lipton Trophy, in Italy in 1909 which was to change his life. Whilst playing in the tournament which the English team won, Greenwell was spotted by the president of FC Barcelona, Joan Gamper, and in 1912 Gamper invited Greenwell to join his team. He quickly settled in Catalonia, becoming fluent in both Catalan and Castillian Spanish and marrying Doris, a dancer from the Moulin Rouge risqué cabaret.
He played for four seasons up to his retirement in 1916, and then on the recommendation of the players, Gamper appointed him manager.
At the time Spanish clubs only completed in their regional championship, with the winner going onto play in the Copa Del Rey. In a six year spell in charge Greenwell led Barcelona to four Campionat de Catalunya and two Copa del Rey.  This was to become known as the club’s first golden era but it was not without controversy.
Greenwell had a radical football philosophy which emphasised the need for passing in favour of dribbling. He also wanted to develop players so they could fit into any position in the team, a salient move in an age before substitutes. This would lead to his teams building from the back and can be seen as a fledgling tiki taka style for which the club are now renowned. However when he took Paulinho Alcántara, who was Barcelona's star striker, and played him as a centre back there were protests and calls for Greenwell’s dismissal but Gamper stuck by his man as the club established themselves as the premier club in Catalonia.
Greenwell moved onto smaller Catalan clubs UE Sants and CD Castellon in the mid 1920s before moving to Espanyol where he again won the Campionat de Catalunya and the club’s first ever Copa del Rey in 1929. He then returned to Barcelona to win a fifth Campionat de Catalunya and also managed Valencia, Gijon and Mallorca. By now a high profile symbol of Catalonian Nationalism, Greenwell was forced to flee Spain due to the civil war in 1936.
He was appointed as a tactical advisor to Peru in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Reaching the quarter-finals, the Peruvians came back from a two goal deficit to Austria, to take the tie to extra-time. They then had three goals disallowed but went onto score twice only for a pitch invasion to force an abandonment. This was blamed on Peruvian supporters so a replay was ordered which Peru refused to contest and so they returned to South America.
Greenwell went with them and became manager for the inaugural Bolivarian Games in 1938 which Peru won. He then combined running the national team with managing club side Universitario, winning the national championship in 1939.
Peru then hosted the 1939 Copa America which was contested on a league format. In the final match in Lima Peru faced Uruguay, the strongest South American team of the era. With both teams having previously won all their games, this was effectively a final. In front of a capacity crowd of 40,000 spectators, Peru won 2-1 to lift the Copa América for the first time.
Greenwell then accepted an offer to work in Colombia, who were not affiliated to FIFA. Asked why he would isolate himself he replied “did the people of Colombia not deserve the beautiful game just because FIFA deemed so?”
He died of a heart attack in 1942, two days after he managed Santa Fe to a 10-3 win over local rivals Deportivo Texas. On his person were found two items he carried constantly: an image of St. George killing the Dragon, which he referred to Catalan style as St. Jordi, and a small piece of cloth of the blaugrana colours.
That Barcelona remained so important to him reflected his length of service as their manager which at seven seasons remains second only to Johan Cruyff. The latter was a football icon that completed the club’s transition into a global phenomenon, the former a Durham miner that started the process.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #10 - Vittorio Pozzo

Only one manager has won back to back World Cups, Vittorio Pozzo, who led Italy to consecutive wins in 1934 and 1938 which established the Azurri as the dominant European national team. Known as il Vecchio Maestro (the old master), the foundation of Pozzo’s triumphs were in his Metodo formation which emphasised the need for strong defence, presaging the Catenaccio style for which the Italians became renowned in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Pozzo grew up in Turin in the late nineteenth century and was an academic who studied languages. As well as travelling abroad to study he played football in France, Switzerland and England. In 1906 he returned to Italy and helped to found Torino where he spent the last five years of his playing career, becoming technical director in 1912. He led the national team at the 1912 and 1924 Olympics, winning bronze in Paris at the latter games. In between in World War One he served in the Italian Alpini an elite mountain warfare military corps. Following the death of his wife in 1924 he moved to Milan and managed AC combining his job with the Rossoneri with writing for La Stampa.
At the end of the decade Pozzo became the national team’s Commissario Tecnico, the first to be appointed to the run the Azurri free of interference from the FA. He immediately won the first Central European International Švehla Cup in 1930, beating Austria’s wunderteam led by Hugo Meisl (MWMMF 5#) who had created the competition. This encouraged him to implement his Metodo (Method) formation which he had been devising since watching Manchester United's centre-half Charlie Roberts at the turn of the century. Influenced by Meisl and Herbert Chapman (MWMMF #4), Pozzo discarded the traditional Cambridge 2-3-5 formation and looked to strengthen the midfield. However rather than Chapman’s WM, he came up with a WW or 2-3-2-3. This relied less on the centre-half and more on the inside forwards, withdrawn from the front five, with Internazionale star Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari perfect for the role to spearhead swift counter attacks backed by a numerical superiority in midfield.
These homegrown players were complemented controversially by Oriundi, South American born Italian nationals, including the centre half playmaker Luisito Monti who played for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final. Pozzo shrugging off the criticism referring to their Italian army service saying: "If they can die for Italy, they can also play for Italy".
Authoritarian but paternalistic and attentive, Pozzo refereed every small-sided training match himself; never hesitating to send a player off if he deemed it necessary. If two players were not getting along personally, he made them roommates in the team’s next hotel.
Inevitably his reign was influenced by the fascist dictatorship led by Mussolini which governed Italy and he worked alongside Giorgio Vaccaro – a general from the fascist militia during that first World Cup campaign which was held in Italy, the finals being coloured by allegations of weak refereeing said to favour the hosts.
Pozzo’s team moved comfortably into the quarter-finals where they contested a fierce battle with Spain which ended 1-1 after extra time. A replay was ordered for the following day with the teams missing eleven players between them through injury, the Italians scoring the only goal of the game. In the semi-final Italy met Austria and again won by a single goal which came early in the match from oriundi Enrico Guaita scoring from close range with their opponents crying foul after Meazza had fallen over the goalkeeper.
In the final, Italy looked to have met their match in Czechoslovakia team, who took the lead with twenty minutes to go and looked set for victory. Pozzo responded by switching the positions of forwards Schiavio and Guaita. This simple ploy gave the Italians a way back into the game, and sparked a spell of relentless pressure that eventually led to the equaliser through another oriundi Raimondo Orsi with nine minutes. They won the Cup in extra time when a hobbling Meazza, all but left alone to drift in and out of the match, picked out Guaita from the wing. The Roma midfielder slid the ball to Schiavio, who just managed to poke in the winner five minutes into the extra period.

On the back of the World Cup success, Pozzo was awarded the title of Commendatore for greatness in his profession, and more significantly in the context of the global game encouraged a move from attacking to the counter attacking systems which dominate to this day.
In 1936 Italy again beat Austria in major finals, this time to win the 1936 Olympics in Berlin having found a new goalscoring partner for Meazza in Lazio’s Silvio Piola. Pozzo then headed for France for the 1938 World Cup aiming to become not only the first manager to defend the World Cup but also the first to win outside of his own country.
After being the hosts in Paris in the quarter-finals, the Italians travelled south to Marseilles to meet Brazil in the last four. Pozzo learned that the Brazilians were so confident of appearing in the final in Paris that they had requisitioned the only airplane from Marseilles to Paris on the day after the semi-final. Pozzo asked if they would allow Italy to use the plane should they win only to be told "it is not possible because to Paris we will go, because we will beat you in Marseilles". This provided the ideal motivation for Pozzo’s players and they won 2–1 headed back to Paris by train for the final which they won 4–2 against Hungary (below).

Pozzo continued to develop his tactics moving the centre-half into a defensive three, in a revised formation known as the Sistema (system). As football was interrupted by World War Two Pozzo secretly became involved with the antifascist resistance, helping supply food to partisan rebels and assisting the escape of Allied prisoners. He then ended his career as national coach at the 1948 London Olympics. He followed the Italian national team for La Stampa until his death in 1968

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #9 - ‘El Mister’ Fred Pentland

Having spent the last few chapters of this series in central Europe we now head south to the Mediterranean, starting with the story of ‘El Mister’ who coached the first team outside the British Isles to victory over England and transformed Spanish football.
Born in Wolverhampton he had a distinguished career as an outside right forward in the Edwardian era having spells in the first division with Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough. Whilst with Boro he won five England caps in 1909. Injury forced his retirement in 1914 and he was appointed coach of the German Olympic team, unfortunately the subsequent outbreak of World War One meant Pentland was interned in Ruhleben camp along with up to 5,000 other prisoners. Whilst there he organised cup and league competitions for his fellow inmates. There were enough footballers in the camp to make up an England XI and alongside fellow Middlesbrough and England team mate Steve Bloomer; Pentland appeared in the triangular Coupe de Allies tournament which also featured a French and Belgian team. He remained in the camp until the armistice upon which he returned to England.
Appointed French national coach, he took them to the semi-final of the 1920 Olympics held in Antwerp. After the games he moved to Spain where he was to stay for fifteen years and make a lasting significant impact on the development of the Spanish game.
During five years of internment Pentland had plenty of time to debate and theorize about football with his fellow ex professional footballers. This crystallized into a simple motto “Get the simple things right and the rest will follow.”
Eschewing the English kick and rush style which was brought by his countrymen to Iberia in the late nineteenth century, Pentland instead focussed on skill, possession, short passing and rapid movement, a style that became commonly known as push and run. This philosophy necessitated a change of formation so Pentland abandoned the traditional 2-3-5 in favour of a 2-5-3 which made for more creativity in midfield.
This was tried first at Racing Santander but after a year he moved on to Athletic Bilbao for the first of two spells which would transform the history of the Basque team. Los Leones were the most English of Spanish clubs, with even their red and white striped kit having originated from Southampton but despite Pentland being the latest in a long line of English coaches at San Mamés he was to lead the club in turning their back on their forebears. Using the force of his considerable character, Pentland introduced his favoured methods of play and won the 1923 Copa Del Rey. Known in the city as El Bombin, Pentland would invite his players to stamp on his trademark bowler hat when they won a big game. Addressing him by the more respectful El Mister, the players were encouraged to be more professional, being given lessons in how to dress and even how to tie their shoelaces.

Leaving Bilbao in 1925 he led Atlético Madrid to the 1926 Copa Del Rey final then moved onto Real Oviedo for a season, returning to Atlético in 1927, where he won the Campeonato Del Centro, the regional league for clubs in the Madrid area. In 1929 he was coach alongside manager José María Mateos of the Spanish national team which beat England 4-3 in Madrid, England’s first ever defeat to a non-British team.

Barcelona won the inaugural La Liga in 1929 using Pentland’s style of play but in 1930 El Mister claimed the title for himself, making a triumphant return to Bilbao with an invincible season which included another Copa Del Rey win. He made it a double double in 1931 (squad pictured above) and went on in the following two seasons to twice defend the Copa Del Rey and finish runner up twice in La Liga. Going back to Athletico Madrid in 1934, his third spell there was curtailed by the onset of the Spanish Civil War and he went back to England.
After a short spell as manager of Barrow, his career in football ended with the outbreak of World War Two. His impact on Athletic Bilbao was not forgotten though and he was invited back to San Mamés in 1959 to receive the club’s Distinguished Member’s medal. He kicked off a special testimonial game against Chelsea on this occasion, a feat repeated by his daughter Angela in 2010. His death in 1962 was commemorated at the San Mamés stadium by a special ceremony reserved solely for people who have significantly contributed to the Basque culture. His statue remains at San Mamés to this day.

The high water mark of his time at Bilbao was a 12-1 win over Barcelona in 1931, the record defeat ever suffered by the Catalans. This established his footballing philosophy as the superior one in Spain and was adopted nationwide with Barcelona and Real Madrid going on to owe much to the influence of El Mister as they dominated firstly Spanish and then European football.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #8 - Jack Reynolds

The most notable absence from the oligarchy of clubs which currently dominate European football must be Ajax. Revered not just for their success from the 70s onwards, but also their tactical philosophy of total football, the origins of their eminence lie with English coach Jack Reynolds.
Born in Bury, Reynolds’ playing career was similar to that of Jimmy Hogan (MWMMF #7), retiring at the age of 30 after spells in and out of the league with the likes of Burton United, Grimsby Town, Watford and New Brompton (Gillingham Town). Like Hogan he saw a future in coaching on the continent, starting in 1912 with St. Gallen in Switzerland where he impressed enough in a two year spell to be appointed German national manager. Unfortunately this coincided with the outbreak of World War One so he moved to the Netherlands instead and in 1915 started what was to become the first of three spells in charge of Ajax Amsterdam spanning 27 years. By 1919 he had led the club to their first pieces of silverware winning the KNVB (FA) Cup in 1917 and back to back Eredivisie (League) titles in 1918 and 1919, the latter being an invincible unbeaten season. Following the armistice he took charge of the Dutch national team for one match before fellow Englishman Fred Warburton was appointed on a permanent basis.
He continued at Ajax until 1947, apart from three years at Blauw Wit in the mid-1920s, and the Nazi occupation during World War Two when he was interned in a labour camp in Upper Silesia alongside PG Wodehouse where he arranged international football games between other prisoners and laid a cricket pitch.
He won five more Eredivisie titles in the 1930s and an eighth in his final season in charge in 1947. During this time he laid the foundations for the Total Football system with which Ajax would rule Europe under Rinus Michels (MWMMF #21 and coached by Reynolds during the 1940s) in the early 1970s. After his death in 1962 a stand at Ajax’s De Meer Stadium was named after him and when the Godenzonen moved to their current home at the Amsterdam Arena, he was remembered in the Jack Reynolds lobby.
Known by the Dutch as Sjek Rijnols, his greatest legacy lies not in the trophies won but the coaching philosophy introduced whereby all age group teams at the club were coached in the same tactics and style of play. In this way he changed the club forever.
Ajax expert and author Menno Pot said that he:
“really reshaped the club into something professional, even though the players weren't paid at the time. Football was an amateur game, but he introduced professional training methods, professional facilities that really allowed Ajax to make a huge leap forward. He was the man who came up with the idea that every player at Ajax should play the same system and the same formation. He wanted them to play offensively with skill, rather than with physical power."

This became the Ajax tradition which bore such prized fruits in the 1970s that it was seen as the ideal for all other clubs to aspire to. Today the financial muscle of Arsenal and Barcelona has allowed them to become its best exponents. If only Ajax could join them.