About Me

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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.

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.