The tournament that freedom forgot


Back in the late 1980’s Europe’s political landscape was changing.  The Eastern Bloc was crumbling. Football was one language whereby different political ideals could be set aside for 90 minutes.  That was unless you lived in the divided Germany at the time.  It is hard to imagine today when we look at Germany that it was still a country partitioned by a wall into the haves and the have-nots. No place on earth saw this divide more than Berlin where the wall completely cut off a section of the city, known as West Berlin, which was a West German isle surrounded by a sea of the Eastern Bloc, a capitalist island in a sea of communism. Football was being suffocated by the political situation.

Whilst the ageing, yet still impressive Olympiastadion, was still one of the biggest stadiums in the country, and its tenants Hertha Berlin were still able to cross the wall to compete in the Bundesliga, it was deemed a journey too far for the West German national side.  The team featuring the likes of Harald Schumacher, Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had finished runners-up to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico and would go onto win the trophy four years later.  This was a golden generation of West Germans, yet the West Berliners were denied the opportunity to see their national team play in the city for nearly four years from 1983 as the political situation took priority over the beautiful game.

During this period, West Germany had won the right to host the 1988 European Championships ahead of a joint Scandinavian bid from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and an expression of interest from England. However, political arguments kicked in from day one about the initial West German mutterings of hosting some of the games during the tournament in the Olympiastadion. The Eastern Bloc disagreed with the fact that West Berlin were part of the Federal Republic of Germany (despite Hertha Berlin’s participation in the Bundesliga and Oberliga) and concerns were expressed that should games be held there, the Eastern Bloc may withdraw their membership from UEFA.  Despite three games being played at the Olympiastadion in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, including East Germany versus Chile, it was now a footballing hot potato that the West German football federation, the DFB,  did not want to handle.

After significant political debate on both sides of the Berlin Wall, West Germany relented and agreed that the host venues would be Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Stuttgart, Cologne, Hanover and Düsseldorf. West Berlin would have to look over the wall with envious eyes.

However, DFB committee member Hermann Neuberger came up with a compromise that would placate most parties. The Berlin Four Nation Tournament was announced in late 1987 to take place prior to the European Championships, in West Berlin. Invites were sent to World Champions Argentina, European Championship favourites Soviet Union (and thus getting the Eastern Bloc onside), Sweden and West Germany. Whilst there had been calls for the participation of East Germany, many observers suggested that the Eastern Bloc didn’t want an embarrassing and politically sensitive situation of the two German sides meeting and playing with a political football.

The tournament was arranged over Easter weekend in the simplest format. Two semi-finals were played back to back in the Olympiastadion on 31 March 1988, with West Germany drawn against Sweden and the Soviets against Argentina. With a disappointing 23,700 fans in the stadium for the start of the tournament, West Germany took the lead when Olympique de Marsaille’s Klaus Allofs netted just before half time against the Swedes. Their lead was cancelled out in the 75th minute when Peter Truedsson equalised. As the stadium at the time had poor floodlight facilities at the time, there was little time scheduled between the two games and so extra time was scrapped and the tie went direct to penalties which saw the Swedes run out 4-2 winners after Lothar Matthäus and Rudi Völler missed their spot kicks.

Just thirty minutes after the end of the first semi-final, Argentina and Soviet Union kicked off the second semi-final. Despite having Diego Maradona in their starting eleven, Russia underlined their promise as potential European Champions by racing to a three-nil lead after just fifteen minutes thanks to goals from Zavarov, Prostasov and Lytovchenko. Prostasov added a fourth late in the game after Diego had scored from a freekick. The Soviet Union’s 4-2 victory meant that the final everyone wanted to see, a repeat of the 1986 World Cup Final, would be a mere warm up to the final two days later. Ironically, the official attendance for the second game is recorded as 1,300 more than the West German game earlier in the afternoon.

Once again the soccer-starved public of West Berlin hardly flocked to the Olympiastadion. Just over 25,000 saw the 3rd/4th play off game between West Germany and Argentina two days later which was decided by a single Matthäus goal, and unofficially considerably more than that stayed in their seats for the final between Sweden and the Soviets. Two second half goals from Hans Eskilsson and Hans Holmquist saw the tournament won by the Swedes with a huge sigh of relief from the organisers that the weekend had passed off without any political incidents, although disappointed at the lack of attendance for both games.

By the time the European Championships kicked off in June the competition was long forgotten.  West Berlin had to look on with envious eyes as the huge crowds flocked to the West German stadiums and saw a tournament that crackled with passion, drama and talent the like we had not seen before in the European Championships.  Both West Germany and Russia made the semi-finals, although the hosts were beaten by eventual winners Holland, inspired by Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

The concept of the Berlin tournament was never repeated, perhaps because of the fall of the Berlin Wall eighteen months later and the subsequent fall of the Eastern Bloc in the proceeding few years, although it could be said that various attempts to resurrect a similar competition were behind such tournaments as the Umbro Cup held in England in 1995 featuring England, Japan, Sweden and Brazil or the Tournoi de France featuring Brazil, Italy, England and the host nation in June 1997.  But for one bright moment in Spring 1988 it seemed that football might break the political divide between the East and West in Europe. Alas, it was not to be.

Into the Lions Den


photo 2 (3)Every year Dave Hartrick and I have the same conversation around Christmas time. “Stu – you going to stop travelling next year?” He would ask me and I would always reply with honesty, “that’s the plan…”. And then every year my travel boundaries are pushed wider, not always through choice…well, OK perhaps with a slight nudge in the work sense.

Copenhagen, Stockholm, Munich, Zürich, Paris. That’s been my regular monthly circuit over the past few years with an occasional stop in New York. Add in the occasional trip overseas with Mr Last et al and all of a sudden I’ve raked up more air miles than Judith Chalmers (kids – ask your Dad). But 2014 had started in line with my annual affirmation. Trips had been restricted to these shores. Was I happy? Of course (that’s one just in case CMF is reading).

But then gears shifted at work and all of a sudden I was being asked to visit new far-flung places for work. Nottingham, Worksop and Amsterdam didn’t really get me too excited but Gibraltar, Singapore, Hong Kong and China gave me the opportunity to travel somewhere new. Was there any football on in these places? The thought never crossed my mind, honestly. The fact that the trip to Hong Kong co-incided with the final round of games in their domestic league was pure luck, I’m sure you’d agree.

Last week I was in Gibraltar, watching one of the lowest supported leagues in the world. This week it was Singapore. Travelling 12 hours to the other side of the world wasn’t 100% fun but a stop in between in Dubai where I met up with Ben in the Emirates lounge helped dull the pain of life 40,000ft above the earth.

photo 3 (3)When I did my search for “Things to do in Singapore”, would you believe it that number two on the list after a trip to The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel was a trip to watch the Singapore Lions. The meant the football team, right? And not the big cats in the Singapore Night Safari? I mean who’d want to see that?

Football in Singapore is massive. Everyone you meet knows more about the Premier League than your average English fan and TV coverage is almost wall to wall. There are shops in the dozens of shopping malls on Orchard Road that are temples to football shirts (one shop Football@313 has over 500 different club/country shirts) and Saturday night prime time TV revolves around live games from the Premier League. Continue reading

New kids on the Rock


Three weeks ago the European footballing world officially welcomed its 54th member when Gibraltar were included in the draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifying.  Their journey for acceptance on the world footballing stage has been a tortuous one, filled with inconsistencies and back-stabbing that has dogged the governing bodies for years.  Despite not being “at war” or even military-ready against any other nation, it has taken longer for Gibraltar to be allowed to compete than the former Balkan states, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia or even Greece and Turkey.  And that has been because one nation has disputed their authenticity to be considered an equal member.  One against fifty-two other nations – no brainer? Well, it would be in most circumstances but when that nation is the most successful footballing country of the last fifty years then the rules change.

13173336393_571287081d_bFormed in 1895 by British sailors, The Football Association of Gibraltar first applied to FIFA back in 1997 and despite not actually having a stadium capable of hosting an international game the Swiss big cheeses said a big Yes in 1999 and passed the manilla folder down the road to Nyon to UEFA.  Immediately Spain started to throw their castanets out of the pram.  Whilst the rest of Europe was moving to closer, forgiving not forgetting the conflicts of the past, Spain were creating a problem over a 2.3 square mile rock that they hadn’t owned for over 300 years ago.  It seemed that their lobbying worked as in 2001 UEFA changed its statutes so that only associations in a country “recognised by the United Nations as an independent State” could become members. On such grounds, UEFA denied the Gibraltar’s application.  Of course that ruling should have meant the immediate expulsion of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but that never happened.  Whilst the rest of Europe started qualifying for the 2004 European Championships hosted by Portugal, Gibraltar consoled themselves with a trip to Guernsey to take part in the Island Games Tournament.

There was still a hope that FIFA would allow them to take part in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.  Other British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla were allowed to line up in the qualifying tournament but the invite to Gibraltar got lost in the post it seemed.  Instead of a shot at a trip to Bavaria to enjoy a month of football, Fräuleins and frikadellen, Gibraltar headed to the Shetland Islands for another shot at the Island Games title. Continue reading

Guaranteed a Kick-in


“The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation” – Bertrand Russell

Back in December 2009, Arsene Wenger, a man seen by many as a guardian of football purity,  came out with the ridiculous idea of replacing throw-ins with kick-ins.  When asked for his thoughts on how the game could be improved, he came up with the idea of abolishing throw-ins. In no other part of play are outfield footballers allowed to handle the ball, he argued, and using kick-ins as a way of restarting would be quicker and more logical.  Unsurprisingly, his idea was derided with many “experts” suggesting that it would make the game worse, rather than better.  But few will remember the summer of 1994 when this rule change was actually made reality for a short time.

l4855643On Saturday 5th March 1994, twenty years ago today,  at FIFA Headquarters, the policy makers of the beautiful game met to discuss a number of tweaks to the laws of the game.  Many will not know that it is not FIFA alone who make up the ridiculous laws, but actually the International Football Association Board, which is made up of representatives from the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations as well as FIFA, so we cannot always blame Sepp for some of the more bizarre rules. Item number 6 on the game, proposed by FIFA was “Experiments with the Laws of the Game”.  A very ominous sounding item indeed.

In that graveyard shift after a heavy lunch of Rosti they revealed their plans to revolutionise our beautiful game.  First up was the agreement that the Golden Goal would be used in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in the USA.  And then came the radical idea to replace the throw-in with the kick-in.  You can imagine the scene around the table as the rest of the room picked their jaws up off the floor and sniffed the water to see if it had been swapped with vodka. Continue reading

A Lille bit of Leuven


Two games, one day, two countries?  No problems at all for the Daggers Diary team.

In each of the last two years, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I have ventured into Northern Europe for a weekend of football. Over the last two years, we have managed to attend games in four different countries, or like last year, we attended four top flight games in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

This year though, we weren’t sure if we would be able to do the trip. Neil had taken a new job, which meant that holidays might be difficult. Added to that was a lot going on at our respective workplaces (as well as cost) and our February trip was eventually, and reluctantly cancelled.

Well it was until a couple of weeks ago. Dan sent round an email about resurrecting the trip over the regulation three days, and had managed to get five games into the time allowed. While none of us really had the cash to spend, we each reckoned that we could do it, but at a push. Eventually, sense prevailed and once again we had to abandon the idea of three days away. But a one day trip? Well, that might work, and so it is how we find ourselves on the Eurostar from Folkestone bound for Calais at 8am on a Sunday morning, before a couple of hours drive to Leuven in Belgium for our first game on our european day out.

With our normal three day trip postponed until later in the year, it meant that we could attend our own clubs games on Saturday. Dan and I suffered as Plymouth won 2-1 at Victoria Road, while Neil was at Brentford to watch Wolves win 3-0.

Of course, no trip can be truly incident free, but those that we have been on before have generally gone well, with maybe one minor mishap. This time, we had a real winner. Having arrived at Folkestone, we were waiting for Neil to arrive at the arranged time of 7am. We all stocked up on drinks and chocolate from the shop, Neil filled up the fuel tank of his car upon arrival and we moved back to the main car park in preparation of our journey. Then the bomb dropped; Neil had forgotten his passport. With our train crossing at 8.20, and with Neil living at least an hour away, it looked as though we were scuppered before we had even left the country. Dan was on the phone to Eurotunnel trying to rearrange our crossing, but the offices didn’t open until 8am, so out came the iPad. Neil was apologetic, and reckoned we should press on without him, but we do these things as a group, and we weren’t about to go without him. So Neil went back home to retrieve e errant document while Dan (having successfully sorted out our train to France) and I stayed in the service station.

It’s a strange feeling, being in a service station ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. It’s almost like a portal between the sleeping world and the awake one, with neither quite sure how to behave until one takes the lead. As we reach our intended (but now delayed) departure time, the services are starting to come alive.

Sunday 23rd February 2014, O.H. Leuven v Club Brugge

Once Neil had returned, we immediately headed toward the train terminal. Having rearranged our train for a later time, we were fortunate enough to basically just drive straight on to a train and after thinking that we might have troubles, we were on our way to Leuven. The two hour drive to Leuven is passed quite quickly, through the fields and towns of Northern France. Continue reading