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.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #18 - Ernst Happel

Over the last twenty years an elite group of European managers such as Ancelotti, Heynckes, Mourinho and Van Gaal have moved seamlessly from post to post collecting trophies wherever they go. Tending to be on the grizzled side with a wry turn of phrase, they appear weary but have a tireless appetite for success following the template created over a thirty career from the sixties to the nineties by Ernst Happel.
He was the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs, and the only one to do so in the pre champions league era. He won the domestic league and cup in four different countries, squeezing in a World Cup Final to boot. He unsurprisingly summed up his career thus "everything paid off and I have no regrets".
Rarely for a successful manager he had an equally glorious playing career. A defender, one season at Racing Club Paris aside, he spent it all in his native country Austria at Rapid Vienna, winning six league titles including one double. He was capped 51 times and was part of the Austrian team which finished third in the 1954 World Cup.
From his defensive role he could see in his own words that it was "from midfield, [that] the game unfolds.". A deeply reflective manager, he was best described as taciturn in his speech, ensuring he commanded attention when he spoke.
Happel moved to the Netherlands to begin his managerial career at Den Haag, a lowly team, where he had the freedom to develop his tough but fluid 4-3-3 formation. Saying he would rather win 5-4 than 1-0, he expected his teams to shape themselves in his image: strong but with guile. The strength was represented by an aggressive pressing game, whilst the guile translated into players who could adapt ot the situation of the game.
By 1968 he had turned Den Haag into a top four team, beating Ajax to win the Dutch Cup. This was noted by Feyenoord who won the double in 1969 but decided they wanted a man of Happel's calibre to lead them into European competition.
A bon viveur who enjoyed a cognac along with his ubiquitous cigarette, he soon settled into a routine whereby he would chew the fat with regulars in a bar near Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium, pondering tactics and selection.

One of his first actions was to complete the "holy trinity" of a midfield adding Austrian Franz Hasil to the more defensive minded Wim Jansen and "De Kromme" Wim Van Hanegem. Recalling the 36 year old goalkeeper Eddy Pieters Graafland for the 1970 European Cup final against Celtic after he had initially dropped earlier in the season, defeated manager Jock Stein was moved to say afterwards: “Celtic has not lost to Feyenoord. I have lost to Happel,”.

Feyenoord went onto win the Intercontinental Cup (World Club Championship) against Estudiantes and the 1971 Dutch league title before being eclipsed by Ajax. This led to Happel electing to leave the Netherlands, staying briefly at Sevilla before spending the rest of the seventies in Belgium, firstly with Brugge where he won the league three seasons in a row from 1976 (with a double in 77). He also took them to the 1976 UEFA Cup final and 1978 European Cup final, losing on both occasions to Liverpool.

Before moving to Standard Liege he took the Dutch national team to 1978 World Cup Final where substitute Dick Nanninga equalised with 8 minutes to go against the hosts Argentina. Robbie Rensenbrink almost won the game in ninety minutes only for his shot to hit the post but Argentina ran out 3-1 winners in extra time.
After winning the Belgian Cup in 1981 with Standard Liege, Happel moved to West Germany to manage Hamburger SV. Praised by the veteran Gunter Netzer for his man management he won the Bundesliga in his first season alongside another defeat in the UEFA Cup Final.

Twelve months later he retained the league title and won his second European Cup, beating a Juventus team which featured Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and several of the Italian side which had won the 1982 World Cup. After a German Cup win with Hamburg in 1987, Happel returned to his native Austria, leading FC Tirol to back to back league titles, the first of which was in 1989. Fittingly his career ended in 1992 managing the Austrian national team. He died in post, with the Praterstadion in Vienna soon renamed Ernst-Happel-Stadion.
A philosopher manager who summed up his approach as "It is not important why you win. You have to know why you have lost", Happel, married the Austrian tradition of his childhood with the nascent Dutch style he helped to create, successfully transferring the finished product from club to club across western Europe.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #17 - Vic Buckingham

The previous instalment in this series looked at the way Helenio Herrera ended the era of free flowing passing football derived from the Austro-Hungarian school of the inter war years, with his catenaccio tactic. Although remaining a dominant influence on the Italian game for a generation or more, it was quickly challenged by the Dutch system of total football, a revolution that was sparked by an Englishman.
Vic Buckingham was a former Tottenham Hotspur team mate of Arthur Rowe (TMWMMF #15) in a playing career cut short by World War Two. Buckingham admired Rowe's appreciation of the art of passing, and with Rowe's encouragement went into management in Post War England. A deep thinker and articulate speaker a spell coaching at Oxford University led to a prestigious appointment to manage Pegasus before re-entering the professional game at Bradford Park Avenue. He then took over at West Bromwich Albion, almost winning the first modern double with the Baggies in 1954 when an FA Cup win was matched with runners up spot in the League.

With a side containing future managers Don Howe and Ronnie Allen, it was one of their team mates Graham Williams who came up with a delicious metaphor to describe West Brom's style of play:
‘He wasn’t interested in defending. He wanted to see tricks and goals and push and run. He said he didn’t want us to go ‘da di da di da’, passing for the sake of passing. He always said he wanted us to play like ice cream and chocolate. That was his phrase. Just flow, like ice cream and chocolate.’
This was push and run in the style of Rowe's Tottenham, but like his mentor his team only shone briefly, overshadowed in a more physical footballing era dominated by local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In 1959 he moved to the Netherlands to manage Ajax, where the professional game was in its infancy. He found a club redolent with the influence of Jack Reynolds (TMWMMF #8), Buckingham explaining: “Their skills were different. Their intellect was different and they played proper football. They didn’t get this from me, it was there waiting to be stirred up. I influenced them but they went on and did things above that which delighted me."
Taking the opportunity to develop ideas discussed years previously with Rowe, who had spent time in Hungary, he sowed the seeds of the system which would make Ajax champions of Europe a decade later and establish Dutch football as a major force in the game. This was nothing short of a philosophy which would envelop the whole club in terms of technical development and positional play. Buckingham won the Eredivise title and the Dutch Cup, in his first two year spell in Amsterdam, when he also spotted a talented 12-year-old in the junior section called Cruyff.
By 1961 Buckingham was back in England with Sheffield Wednesday but with his reputation tarnished by a match fixing scandal which engulfed the Owls he returned briefly to Amsterdam in 1964 in time to give a debut to a teenage Johann Cruyff around whom the great Ajax team would be built.
Following a controversial spell at Fulham he returned to the continent when Barcelona, remembering an Inter Cities Fairs Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday in the early 60s, harked back to the time of Jack Pentland (TMWMMF #9) by turning to Buckingham to rejuvenate a team that had fallen to the lower reaches of La Liga.
In a wonderful final flourish as manager Buckingham's style was the perfect match for the Catalan club, and within two seasons repeated his feat from the Hawthorns by almost winning the double.
His team were pipped to the title by Valencia, as despite having the same points and a better goal difference, the Spanish championship was decided by the head to head record between the two clubs. However he achieved a modicum of revenge and wrote his name into the club annals of history by going onto win the 1971 Copa del Rey, then known as the Copa del Generalísimo, 4-3 after extra time against Valencia, a triumph played out in front of deadly rivals Real Madrid's biggest fan, the dictator General Franco, who presented the trophy at the Bernabéu.

Back surgery forced Buckingham to step down but before he did so he worked with Barcelona to lift the Spanish FA's ban on foreign players. He was then replaced by Ajax manager Rinus Michels who brought with him his star player Johann Cruyff.
Buckingham's career then wound down at the likes of Sevilla and Olympiakos, his key role in the development of the game being a connector of football's knowledge network. A man who came into contact with others who had more illustrious careers, soaking up their ideas, first adapting and then passing them onto future greats. A man of sophistication with the ability to boil his philosophy down simply thus:
“Long-ball football is too risky. Most of the time what pays off is educated skills. If you’ve got the ball, keep it. The other side can’t score.”

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #16 - Helenio Herrera

Flick through the back pages of 2017, and you will find the latest trials and tribulations of the likes of Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho, Ranieri and Wenger, superstar managers one and all. Despite previous characters in this series leading their teams to similar feats, all were, in their time, firmly in the shade of their team, until one man broke the mould and created the template for the cult of the manager.
Commonly known by his initials HH, Helenio Herrera was born in Argentina in 1910 to Spanish parents, and at the age of 10 moved to Casablanca, then part of the French empire. Becoming a French citizen he started his playing career in what is now Morocco then at the age of 22 moved to Paris to play for a variety of clubs around the capital. An unremarkable defender, his career was hampered by injury, retiring aged 35, Herrera openly confessing his mediocre playing career was to give him an edge when he moved into management, initially in France.

He soon moved to Spain where he won back to back La Liga titles with Atletico Madrid in 1950 and 51. After two years in Portugal he returned to Spain with Barcelona, on a mission to end the dominance of the all-conquering Real Madrid. He did this domestically, doing the double in 1959, and successfully defending La Liga in 1960. In Europe he led Barca to win the first two Inter Cities Fairs Cups (now the Europa League) but he couldn’t stop Real winning their fifth consecutive European Cup losing comfortably to them at the semi-final stage.
At this point Herrera was a manager who prized psychology, popularising phrases such as "he who doesn't give it all, gives nothing" and "with 10 our team plays better than with 11". He would post slogans like: "Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships" on signs around the ground and get players to chant them during training. He insisted on strict discipline supervising players’ diets and insisting on no smoking and abstinence from alcohol. At Camp Nou this bought him into conflict with the maverick lifestyle of star player László Kubala and led to his departure to Italy in 1960.
Angelo Moratti, the multimillionaire owner of Internazionale had spotted the opportunity to bring Herrera to Milan, and it was at the San Siro that he became known as Il Mago (the wizard) by building the Grande Inter team that would win three Serie A titles as well as back to back European Cups.
He elevated himself to greatness by adding tactical innovation to his man management, becoming the leading proponent of Catenaccio. Although this was a phrase which became synonymous with defensive play, Herrera insisted that the formation also known as Verrou (the door bolt) was a catalyst for exciting vertical play featuring rapid counter attacks.
Its origins date back to Austrian Karl Rapan’s deployment of the tactic in 1930s Switzerland. Based on a 5-3-2 formation, it created a free (libero) role known as the sweeper with a third centre back used to tidy up between the middle two defenders. Herrera used this to suck the opposing team forward, then utilised Inter’s deep lying Spanish playmaker Luis Suarez to launch accurate long balls to speedy attacking full backs Giacinti Facchetti and Brazilian Jair Da Costa. Responding to criticism of his team as defensive, Herrera would point to Facchetti’s record of scoring as many goals as a forward
In addition Herrera pioneered the use of the Ritiro to prepare his team by taking them away to a hotel for a few days to prepare for matches and using the phrase “12th player” to cite the importance of supporters which inadvertently boosted the fledgling Ultras movements in the late 60s

Herrera finally vanquished Real Madrid in the 1964 European Cup Final, defending the Trophy twelve months later by beating the other Iberian powerhouse Benfica in 65. He was denied a third win in 1967 by Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions, as his team started to wane.

He became the highest paid manager in the world in 1968 when he moved to Roma for an annual salary £150,000 pa, but despite winning the Coppa Italia in 1969 he was sacked in 1970. His career wound down in the next decade, partly due to ill health, making brief comebacks with Inter and Rimini, before ending his career at Barcelona at the start of the 80s, just as star of the greatest Briton to follow in his footsteps, Alex Ferguson, was starting to rise.