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.

On the verge of greatness


With England about to take on the 2nd worst international team on the globe, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane on one of my first overseas trips to watch football.

On the 20th November 2002, I came within seconds of witnessing footballing history. I was in the tiny principality of San Marino, sitting on the edge of the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy, watching the world’s oldest sovereign state play one of the newest, Latvia, and there was just a minute left on the clock when a San Marino corner appeared to be handled in the area by a Latvia player. The score was nil-nil and had the penalty been given it would have meant a first ever win for the country after some fifty internationals. Alas it was not to be. Latvia attacked, a free kick was awarded and from the resulting kick the ball was erroneously diverted into his own net by a San Marino player for the only goal of the game. There was 13 seconds left of injury time. Played 53, lost 52, drawn 1 read their record now according to the records.

Ten years ago I came up with a bright idea, or at least I thought it was. I wanted to travel to Europe’s smallest footballing nations, in order, until I saw one of them win. The likes of Malta, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and San Marino rarely get an opportunity for a win so I figured this could be a long journey. And so this was why I was sitting in the makeshift press area of the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle along with a reported crowd of six hundred. I say reported because there certainly wasn’t anywhere near 100 in the first half but as soon as word spread that “this could be the night”, the locals literally walked here.

This was the third “leg” of my trip and so far I had seen two heavy defeats for the underdogs, firstly in Vaduz as Liechtenstein had been spanked by Portugal, and then Malta had been humbled by Denmark. I arrived in Rimini with hope in my heart and Euro in my pocket. Rimini likes to think it is the Cannes or Marbella of Italy. But on a cold morning in November it just looked like Skegness on a bad day (is there a good day in Skeggy?). Even the most ardent Italian Lothario looked like Sid James in Carry on Girls and there was no sign of the famous Italian supermodels in their teenie-weenie itsy-bitsy swimwear. Fortunately I was not staying long and my carriage awaited me. Well, a local bus that whisked me through the Italian countryside and up, up and further up until we broke the clouds at the border with San Marino, a little less than 10 miles from the Italian Coast.

Back in 2002 not everyone had the internet to research places. And by not everyone I mean I didn’t at work, and at home I had to pay £19 per month for dial up charges for my 64Kbps Compuserve product. This was the dark days before the dawn of the internet we know and love today. We all remember looking at those “entertainment” sites where pictures took an hour to load and then just when it got to a good bit, someone would come in the room, or the telephone connection would fail. Looking back now and trying to describe what it used to be like to the kids seems so unreal. Twitter was something birds did, YouTube was something Alan Brazil used to say, Facebook was a make up catalogue and Googling was reserved for using binoculars near the nudist beach at Brighton.

So I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in San Marino. I had looked for a guide book before the trip without luck. I certainly didn’t expect such a mountainous place. The bus continued to climb upwards, towards the highest point of the enclave, the 750metre Monte Titano. On the way up to the city of San Marino (population 4,493) we passed the Stadio Olimpico. It was too good an offer to miss. I hoped off the bus and had a wander into the ground.

It was certainly a grand title for basically an athletics ground with one covered stand. I tried to recall when the Olympics had been held in San Marino but couldn’t for the life of me remember when. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in the lower reaches of the Ryman League. Work was continuing on the other side of the ground where a second stand was being built. Apparently UEFA had decreed that to gain their 2 star status to continue to host International games they needed to have a capacity of at least 1,000. I queued up for the official tour, and ninety seconds later it was all over. A visit to the gift shop saw me come away with a car sticker.  Everyone who went to the shop got a car sticker.  They were free and the only item in stock. I could hardly be more excited for the big game. Continue reading

Just because you pay top dollar……


The last banners have now been taken down, hotel prices have returned to normal and bar owners are looking at the bottle half empty again. Euro2012 turned out to be a good tournament. Tournament favourites Spain romped to victory in the final against an Italian team that many doubted would get out of the group stages. But who were the over and under archives? Betting company bwin have analysed the performance of every team and compared them to the wages of the squad to create the bwin Player Value Index.

According to this index, there has been no direct correlation between wages and success at the Euro 2012 Championship, which may raise concerns for UEFA and some of the national associations about the way the game is run. England players cost their clubs almost 40% more than their German counterparts, who are the current favourites – the market may want to know just how this is justified? Furthermore, French players cost almost five times more than Greek players, yet both teams reached the same stage in the competition, surely a point for concern?

bwin’s findings certainly raise a few interesting points. Whilst we can see a direct correlation between the top payers at club level and domestic success, it simply doesn’t wash at an international level. Current Premier League champions Manchester City pay the most wages, Followed by Champions League winners Chelsea. Money buys success at club level. But put some of those high earners in their respective national side and they struggle to live with their earning potential.

The bwin Player Value Index (BPVI), which includes all teams of the EURO 2012, was first published on the 7th June and correctly predicted that Spain and Germany would offer excellent value for money from their players’ wages. It also predicted that England, Ireland and Sweden would provide poor returns from their wage bills. However, the biggest disappointment from every aspect was The Netherlands – highly paid and well backed, the team failed to deliver against expectations. A surprise? Or have we become accustom to their tournament meltdowns?

The “winners”? Well thanks to their late winner against Russia in the final group game, Greece came out on top, pipping fellow Group A qualifiers Czech Republic. Non-qualifiers who still came out well include the Danes and the Ukranians.

 

Our Euro’s so far….


So a week into the European Championship, and time to review my progress. Due to the timings of the games I have seen few of the 5pm kick off second halves but I have still over indulged in the fun and high jinx around major tournaments.

I foolishly agreed to get involved in a number of prediction games, Fantasy Football Leagues, writing for the Daily Mirror and of course the usual Sports betting.

I also took part in an interesting debate over Skype, hosted by the fantastic Mina Rzouki who failed to understand why the general football-watching public felt that Zlatan was so over rated.

Continue reading

Football’s coming home – well nearly anyway


Four weeks ago the Football Associations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales surprised the football world by expressing an interest in hosting Euro2020 in a three-way love in.  Whilst not formally stating their intention to bid for the tournament, their dipping of the toe into the murky waters of International football was received in favourable terms by many people.  Faced with competition from Turkey and Georgia at the moment, the Celtic bid looks very appealling.

Michel Platini, however, may think otherwise.  He wasn’t very keen on inheriting the joint bid from Poland and Ukraine and has expressed his Gallic frustration on a number of occasions with the progress of the infrastructure which still isn’t quite finished despite the tournament kicking off in a week’s time.  He also feels a bit guilty about France winning the bid for 2016 7-6 over Turkey where essentially he had the casting vote, so Turkey will be firm favourites.  That is unless they win a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.But do they really fit with UEFA’s vision for the Championships?  We can glean quite a lot of information from the bid document for bids for 2016 on what UEFA expects from tournaments in the future.

The first thing to remind you is that from 2016 the tournament is being farcically expanded to a 24 nation competition, which based on the potential Celtic bid, will mean that 50 UEFA nations will be competing for 21 spots – hardly a taxing qualifying tournament.  In terms of the tournament, UEFA set their infrastructure criteria for 2016 as:-

  • 2 x stadiums with at least 50,000 net seating capacity (net meaning seats free from any obstructions) of which one should preferably have up to 60,000.
  • 3 x stadiums with at least a 40,000 seating capacity
  • 4 x stadiums with at least a 30,000 seating capacity

In addition there should be a maximum of three stadiums to be used as backup that fall within these parameters.  All stadiums need to be at UEFA Category 1 level prior to the commencement of the tournament which has very little to do with design, facilities or even a fancy roof but more to do with the size of the Referee’s dressing room, the TV compound and the number of corporate boxes (40 for 30,000, 80 for 50,000+).

It also states that stadium must be well connected to public transport hubs (well that must rule out Turkey for a start – have you tried to get to the Ataturk stadium by public transport?) and be within a two hour drive of an airport.  At least three roads from different directions should lead to the stadium (to avoid “crossover” between fans, media and VIPs), and there should be specific number of parking spaces for the different catagories of VIPs.  In the past, UEFA (and FIFA) have not liked a concentration of stadiums in a small number of host cities.  Portugal was ideal for spectators who were able to travel between 7 of the 8 venues by car within a couple of hours, but UEFA felt that the teams training camps and accommodation were too close together.  So, despite its size and facilities, the day will not be anytime soon when we see a London European Championships, despite the fact the city  currently meets the stadium criteria (Wembley, Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, Upton Park and The Valley – almost). Continue reading