West Ham United – Champions of North America


Another day of our looking back without anger..This story is one for all West Ham fans to remember and pull from their sleeves when other fans start asking what we have won….

I like to think I know the history of West Ham quite well.  When I was younger I poured over statistics, history books and programmes to learn the managers, the players and the key games in their history.  I knew all about the War Cup victory, the FA Cup Final appearances of 1923 and 1964, the European Cup Winners Cup campaigns of 1965, 1966 and of course 1976.  I was lucky enough to experience the “golden” age of 1980 to 1986 first hand, and once touched the Intertoto Cup we won in 2000. But last week whilst researching Czech Republic football for a new project (coming to your bookshelves in 2013) I came across the International Soccer League which ran from 1960 to 1965.  When I looked at the winners of the trophy during that five-year period I was stunned.  Back in 1963 the Hammers became the first, and only English team to win the trophy.

I always look forward to my work trips to New York.  It is a chance to experience one of the greatest cities in the world, and often to get a slice of sport, US-style.  Unfortunately my timings this week meant that there was no sporting action on the agenda.  The MLS was about to kick off the 2013 season, Baseball was a month off and the NBA is dullsville.  ut over dinner at Swine (vegetarians look away now) I heard an amazing story about a little known football tournament from 50 years ago.  And apparently, West Ham had been a household name in these parts.

I can see you scratching your head, assuming that this was some random one-off game played between small clubs at the start of the season.  But you would be very very wrong. The tournament was created by a wealthy US Businessman called William Cox who saw an opportunity to bring international football sides to the US to play local sides in more than just exhibition games.  The politics of American Soccer at the time meant that its format was never rigid and was often complicated, but was ultimately a success.  In fact, the creation of the North American Soccer League in 1969 and the import of marquee players was in part due to the success of the tournament.

Polo GroundsIn its first season in 1960 Cox managed to convince some of the biggest names in European football to play.  The concept was that the ISL was divided into two “sections” formed of six teams played at different times during the close season.  The winners of the two sections then met each other in the final.  Bayern Munich, Nice, Glenavon, Burnley and Kilmarnock competed with the New York Americans in a round-robin tournament played within New York State.  The Scots shocked everyone by winning Section 1 and eventually went on to meet Bangu, from Brazil who had topped a group featuring Red Star Belgrade, Sampdoria, Sporting Lisbon, Norrköping and Rapid Vienna.  Unsurprisingly, the Brazilians took the first ISL title by beating the Scots 2-0 at The Polo Grounds (there is even video of the game here).

The following year the tournament was expanded to feature eight teams in each section with Everton winning six out of seven games against Bangu, New York, Karlsruhe, Kilmarnock, Montreal, Dinamo Bucharest and Besiktas before losing in the final to Dukla Prague 9-2 on aggregate.  Such was the interest within North America that half of the games were played in Canada.

In 1962 the organisers decided to add in the American Challenge Cup, pitting the season winners against the previous years champions.  The only British team to enter in this year was Dundee who finished fifth in a group won by eventual champions America RJ from Brazil.  They then faced 1961 winners Dukla Prague over two legs in New York, losing to the Czech’s 3-2.

Taça_da_International_Soccer_LeagueBut in 1963 it was the turn of the Hammers to take part, accepting an invite from the organisers to play in Section I along with the Italians Mantova, Kilmarnock, Recife from Brazil, Preussen Munster, Deportivo Oro from Mexico and France’s Valenciennes.  With Bobby Moore leading the side, the Hammers topped the group in one of the tightest competitions yet, with just four points separating all seven teams.  They went forward to play Section II winners Gornik Zabrze from Poland and beat the Poles 2-1 on aggregate on Randalls Island to claim the title as well as Moore being named the tournament’s “MVP”, winning the Eisenhower Trophy, and Geoff Hurst the tournament’s leading scorer with eight goals.

The following year the tournament had a number of drop-outs, reduced from fourteen sides to just ten, with Polish side Zaglebie Sosnowiec beating Werder Bremen to win the trophy, although the Hammers decided not to compete for the American Challenge Cup, passing the honour instead to 1963 runners-up Dukla Prague who beat the Poles 4-2 over two legs in New York.

The final year of the tournament was in 1965 and the Hammers were back, fresh from winning the European Cup Winners Cup against 1860 Munich who they faced again in New York.  This time they finished bottom of Section 1 with the US team, New York Americans finally winning the group, although they had to settle for the runners-up spot after losing in the final to Polonia Bytom.

This was the last season of the ISL.  The United States Soccer Federation Association filed a law suit banning the “import” of any foreign teams to play in the competition, although Cox later won a court case to overturn the decision which led to the strange United Soccer Association League in 1967, but that one is for another day.  For now I am safe in the knowledge that West Ham have won ANOTHER tournament (to go along with the Intertoto Cup) that no other English team has.  And that will buy me plenty of ammunition in the office football banter wars.

The wonderful Pitch Invasion has a complete history of the tournament that can be read here.

Only four teams on Merseyside


As part of the series I wrote on Football League clubs that are gone and almost forgotten, I stumbled on the amazing story of New Brighton FC and their ground, which today would have been the largest stadium in the UK.  Despite attempts to keep a club going, today there’s not a club based on the area sporting the famous name.

Name four teams that have played League football on Merseyside? Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and who else? Well, go back to the 1898 and Tranmere Rovers biggest rivals would have been just around the corner from Prenton Park. On tip of the Wirral you will still find today the lonely spot of New Brighton, and it was here at the start of the 20th century that league football was being played by New Brighton Tower FC. Clubs came and went all the time at this point, with the likes of Loughborough, Darwen and Glossop North End making up the 2nd tier of English football.

Thanks to Les Ward for this one

The club were formed in 1896 and moved immediately into a ground adjacent to the New Brighton Tower (hence their name). What made this so unique was that at the time it had a capacity for 100,000, and thus one of the largest stadiums in Britain. The development included the actual Tower, which when opened in 1900 was the tallest building in Great Britain at 189 metres tall, looking out over the Mersey and the Estuary and modelled on the Eiffel Tower. With a ballroom at the bottom, the whole area was THE place to be seen in Merseyside.

The club won the Lancashire League in only their second season and were elected to the Football League in 1898, taking their place in the newly expanded Second Division. Their record in the first season was good – finishing 5th and just three points off 2nd place and promotion. One of the reasons for this success was the club’s intention to sign up as many of the top footballers in the country as they could. After all, who else could offer the bright lights and glamour that New Brighton could at the time? The Football League were aghast at such behaviour and strongly rebuked the club for their strategy.

Thanks to Les Ward for the use of this picture

Did it have any affect? Not really. The club continued to try and offer the best salaries and in the following season they gambled on promotion to the top tier. The local authorities were desperate to make New Brighton an all year attraction to rival, if not beat Blackpool amongst others, and saw a successful football team playing during the winter months as key to this strategy. Unfortunately the gamble didn’t work as less than 1,000 spectators on average saw the club finish in tenth place and then in fourth in 1901. The consortium that had been bank rolling the club admitted failure. They simply could not keep bankrolling the experiment so it was with some relief that the Football League accepted their resignation in September 1901 with their position being taken by Doncaster Rovers.

The ground was still used for other sports including cycling and motor bike racing. However, the company struggled to make anything really work. They even tried a live action Cowboys and Indians show during the summer months of 1908 with over 500 performers.

With the onset of World War One the tower was deemed too dangerous to use, and by June 1919 it had been decided to dismantle the structure. The ballroom and the stadium stayed, although the terraces were reduced in size. In 1921 a new club was formed after the demise of South Liverpool FC, and two seasons later they were elected into the Football League 3rd Division North. Initially they played at Rakes Lane close by but after the Second World War games were played back at The Tower, although by this stage the capacity was a shadow of its former self. In 1951 the club finished bottom of the Third Division North and were voted out of the league in favour of Workington.

The club continued to play in the regional leagues, still using the New Tower Athletics Ground but it was clear the future wasn’t bright. Finally, the left home in 1970’s after fire and vandalism had made it unusable, and the ground lay vacant until purchased by a developer who over time turned the site into houses.

Today nothing is left of one of Great Britain’s biggest ever football stadiums bar a memory. The Wirral has returned to a one club area (although step 6 Vauxhall Motors may say otherwise), but for a couple of glorious years, one club tried to break the mould of English football, and basically failed. Kevin Costner may have been told “Build it and they will come” in his dreams in Field of Dreams, but for New Brighton Tower it was all just a Nightmare on Egerton Street.

Flickin’ Hell


First published back in 2010, this post on some of the stranger accessories available through the years for Subbuteo generated a lot of interest.

Nearly ten years on and there are even more add-ons available, to bring the game into the 21st century.  One look at eBay and you can find the following items:

TV Studio with Sky Sports branding

Champions League Players entrance arch

Champions League advert boards

Premier League centre circle graphics

In March 1947 in the small Kent village of Langton Green a game was invented that literally changed the past times of millions of children around the world.  A chap there called Peter Adolph created a set of plastic footballers that he wanted to market in a game called “Hobby”.  Unfortunately he could not get a trademark on such a generic name so he settled for the slightly similar Falco Subbuteo which was a bird of prey also known as the Eurasian Hobby (see what he did there…). Continue reading

What will you be watching on Boxing Day?


On the two days after Christmas, Amazon Prime will once again take over the screening of the Premier League games, offering back to back games for ten solid hours on Boxing Day. This is their second set of games they will be screening this season, having shown the midweek round of matches a few weeks ago as part of the deal they won back in 2018 for approximately £90million for the right to screen 20 games per season.

Amazon, and their streaming rivals Netflix, have already raised the bar in football coverage with their fly on the wall documentaries such as All or Nothing (Manchester City), Take Us Home (Leeds United) and Inside Borussia (Borussia Dortmund) so it was a logical step to bid for the right to screen games as well. They have promised to revolutionise the viewing experience for fans as they move into live streaming for the first time.

The key to their success is being able to increase the number of subscribers to their Prime service. It is certainly a compelling offer, starting from just £7.99 per month that allows subscribers to access the live games on any device in addition to their whole catalogue of movies and TV shows, a music library of over 40 million songs and the ability to get next day delivery on hundreds of thousands of items from their online marketplace. Compared to the cost of accessing Sky Sports, it is a bargain but what does the future hold for them?

There was some criticism for their first round of games in early December, ranging from the quality of the studio pundits to being able to access the games, especially when viewers switched between different streams. However, there can be no denying that Amazon have the technology and deep pockets to develop their offering. I’m sure Netflix, Apple and Facebook will be looking on with interest at the reviews and more importantly, viewing figures, for these games with an eye on the next round of bidding for the TV packages due to start in 2020.

Whilst the thought of watching any one of the six 3pm games on Boxing Day may be appealing to many, especially for those games where tickets are scarce, for Non-League clubs who hope to see bumper crowds over the festive period, it is another reason for fans not to come to games. Many clubs rely on the big crowds they get from local derbies over Christmas and the money they spend in the ground for the rest of the season. With little or no public transport, many Premier League fans choose to go and support their local team but with every game being shown live on Boxing Day (plus Wolves v Man City on the 27th), how many may decide to stay at home in front of the TV?

Indirectly some of the £90million paid by Amazon will make its way down into the Non-League game through the likes of the Football Foundation and FA Facilities Fund but it flows very slowly and the criteria to access it is strenuous to say the least.

 

The most passionate football nation in Europe


This article was first written back in 2011 but is one of the top five viewed posts I’ve ever published – if you view it in terms of population of the highest ranked country, then everyone there would have read it….twice.  Below was the original article and ranking back then with an update today to see how things have changed in the last eight years.

Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport.  His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”.  He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league.  In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position.  Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn.  You name it, he knew the answer.  He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game.  He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe.  His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-

Celtic, Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.

But this meeting got me thinking.  Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league?  My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.

So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were.  Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.

  • Population figures were taken from the CIA database
  • To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
  • Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
  • I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league.  However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.

The results were indeed very surprising.  The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23).  There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe.  So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style lets countdown from 10 to 1.

10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000.  Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential.  One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position.  However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years.

2019 update – Switzerland has now dropped out of the top ten, falling to 11th place as of the end of the 2018/19 season, replaced by Sweden. Average attendance was 11,273 but for the first time in nearly 20 years, the best supported club wasn’t FC Basel.  Champions Young Boys of Berne averaged 25,781 last season perhaps indicating a shift in power in the Alps? Oh, and Neuchâtel Xamax FCS have been born out of the ashes of the original club and are now playing in the Super League, whilst neither team from Zurich has finished in top spot.

Continue reading