On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

Gareth Bales on us

It’s not often you get the opportunity to travel from one end of the footballing spectrum to another in just a few hours.  But today was one of those days.  After the highs of Lewes’s win at Wingate & Finchley yesterday it was a rude awaking at 3am for the trip to Madrid, on the first flight out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport.  So early was the departure that I had the BA lounge to myself for a good 15 minutes.  Still no Marmite though, but that is another story.  As the plane hugged the Atlantic coast of France I looked back on my previous trips to the Spanish capital, each memorable for different reasons.

9893199025_1e372f1884_b (2)In 1998, the Current Mrs Fuller and I made our first ever trip to Madrid on Debonair.  Remember them?  They flew from London Luton and went head to head with Easyjet for a number of years.  We pitched up in the middle of the Summer, not realising how hot Madrid could be.  A tour of the Bernabau raised temperatures even more, although the roof-top swimming pool of the Emperador was certainly a bonus (Madrid tip number 1: Not only an excellent rooftop pool but a huge buffet breakfast).

Two years later and we were back again.  In lieu of Christmas presents to each other we had invested in four consecutive weekends in European destinations that just happened to have four of the biggest football teams in Europe.  Milan, Madrid, Munich and Rome.  What an outstanding month.  Only it seemed such a good idea when we booked it in July.  Come January time and CMF was “just” five months pregnant.  Not handy for walking up to the top tier of the San Siro but she was a trooper and so I decided to treat her to a seat in the lower tier at the Bernabau.  Oh how she enjoyed sitting in the Fondu Sur with flares for company.  Nobody has ever mentioned that passive flare smoke is bad for unborn babies so that is OK.  In those days the East side of the stadium only had three tiers, rather than the five elsewhere.

Four years later and I was back to help Spain celebrate their 500th fixture.  And how were us party guests treated?  With water cannons in the streets around the ground, unprovoked baton assaults on the fans in the stadium and the racial abuse of Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.  The actions of the Spanish police went unpunished although their FA were fined $87,000 for failing to act on the abuse from the crowd. So that makes it all alright then. Continue reading

The Civil Service and Real Madrid: A mismatch made in Heaven

Today the term the Civil Service is still one that is mocked by comedians and commentators alike as a lapdog for the latest Government. Red tape, bureaucracy and corridors full of greying plastic furniture in nameless, faceless buildings sort of sums up the stereotypes still in existence from decades gone by. But 150 years ago it was the place to work, something to aspire to as well as an employee who offered some real social and recreational benefits. Job security was what everyone craved after the two World Wars and the Civil Service offered just that. As governments came and went, the only positions that were seen a sacred were those that existed in the corridors of Whitehall. But before the monochrome nature of this story depresses us, let’s rewind to the middle of the 19th century.

In 1863 the newly formed Civil Service Club was playing football under both Association and Rugby rules in an informal way, often rotating between the two codes every week. They became one of the eleven founding members of the Football Association in that year (a great trivia question is to name the other ten) and in 1871 they were invited to be founding members of the Rugby Football Union as well. In the same year a posh invitation popped through the letterbox of a certain Mr Warne at the War Office, inviting the “Civil Service football team” to take part in the FA’s inaugural national tournament, the FA Cup. They readily accepted the challenge and in the draw they were picked to play away at Barnes FC.

On the 11 November 1871 the club walked out into a roped off area of Barn Elms in South London (which would later be used by Fulham and QPR as their home ground) in front of an estimated 1,200 spectators. Whilst the team lost 2-0 they were invited to play in the subsequent four tournaments from 1872 to 1875 although they didn’t win a single game.

Outside of the FA Cup the team played a number of friendlies against local sides in London. In what was seen as a brave move they also accepted invitations to play “exhibition” games overseas. The team went on to play a significant role in the introduction of the game in Europe early in the 1900’s undertaking their first continental tour in 1901. Subsequent trips took them into Eastern Europe and in recognition of their contributions the club is today an honorary life member of both Real Madrid and Slavia Prague. In fact the club can lay claim to the most successful record against Real Madrid, winning twice in Madrid 4-0 and 3-1 during their tours. Quite what jobs the players actually did is a mystery, but in such a regimented occupation it is hard to imagine they weren’t expected to “make their time up” later in the year.

The one rule though that they club stuck by religiously was that they would only draw players from the Civil Service itself and vowed to remain amateur. Players were paid what was seen a good wage by the government, with good long term benefits and so it was seen as an honour to be picked for the football team. This meant that with the introduction of the Football League in the later part of the 19th century the club had to look elsewhere for its fixtures. They subsequently helped form both the Isthmian and Southern Leagues between and 1905 and 1908, playing for periods in each.

The Civil Service also boasted international honours from among its ranks in 1920 when C.W Harbridge, the club captain, won four caps for England, against Wales, France, Ireland and Belgium. He was among a number of Service players who featured on cigarette cards at the time, today’s equivalent of Panini stickers.

They still remained a bit of a force in the amateur leagues, winning a number of county cups prior to the Second World War. In 1971 they were invited back to play in the FA Cup, despite playing in the Southern Amateur League as part of the 100th anniversary of the club, and the FA Cup itself. In a bizarre move they were given a free pass directly into the first qualifying round of the cup. They drew Bromley FC, initially at home but for the first time ever in the competition, on police advice, the game was switched to Hayes Lane  “for safety reasons”.

In his excellent book, 32 Programmes, Dave Roberts recalls the game with fond memories.

“As the teams ran out, I couldn’t help notice that the Civil Service players all looked like civil servants. Not in the sense that they wore suits and bowler hats and carried umbrellas, but because they had about them a grey air of resignation combined with earnest endeavour, which we instantly recognised from our work colleagues and were starting to see in ourselves.”

At half time Bromley, officially classed as the “worst football team in Britain” in the previous season by Roberts in his book (and film) The Bromley Boys, were 6-0 up. If it wasn’t for the fact that most of the home team were fixated on trying to score themselves the score would have been more than the ten they eventually scored. The attending members of the Football Association looked on with resignation that they had possibly made a bit of a bad call in offering the Civil Service a place in the competition.

Since that fateful day in BR1 they have disappeared back into the Southern Amateur League Premier Division 2, which is part of the Amateur Football Alliance, a long way below even the Isthmian League structure having been relegated from the top division last season.  Fixtures this season include games against Crouch End Vampires, Bank of England and NUFC Oilers.  Seven games into the season they are second from bottom.

They play their home games just off the A316 on the way down to Twickenham at the Kings House Sports Ground in front of friends and family, their greatest moments consigned just to the history books, however in 2013 as the club celebrated their 150th anniversary, they hit the headlines when their home league game against Polytechnic FC played in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and officiated by Howard Webb, losing 2-1.

Whilst their position in English football today is minimal, their impact on the European game cannot ever be forgotten.

El Clasico

Ten years ago the game between Barcelona and Real Madrid held little interest outside of Spain. But thanks to the arrival in Spain of David Beckham (and of course Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate), the coverage of La Liga on our TV’s and of course the rise to worldwide dominance of Barcelona, it has today become the biggest club match in the world.

Ironically, over this period, the animosity between the players seems to have been replaced by hype in the media. This has been quoted as one of the reasons for the success of the Spanish national side in the past five years which has seen them win 2 x European Championships and a World Cup. For many years the reason for their capitulation in major tournaments was said to be the divisions in the squad between the Castillians and the Catalans.

However, today the Spanish are undoubtably one of the greatest international teams to have ever graced a football pitch, and those divisions have disappeared (10 of the 11 starters in the 2010 World Cup final played for the two teams). But that hasn’t stopped the game capturing the eyes of the world.

Over recent years the teams seem to have played each other more and more, and with characters like Jose and Pep in charge, not forgetting some of the world’s greatest players such as Ronaldo and Messi, it is more than just a game. Fortunately, this excellent book, written by Richard Fitzpatrick has come along just in time for the first high-octane meeting of the two Spanish Giants in the Super Cup.

For anyone interested in the history of the rivalry, both in terms of the political and geographical context then this is a must read. It contains some fascinating interviews as well as a page turning history. If you have read Morbo, the history of Spanish football by Phil Ball, then you will certainly enjoy this. The book also packs some serious facts and stats at the end which would put John Motson to shame.

Fitzpatrick’s advantage of living in Spain, covering football for a living allows him to get under the skin of the performers and audience of the greatest show on earth. He examines some of the classic games played between the two, and the impact the results had. The 1974 5-0 win by the Cruyff-inspired Barca team in 1974, for instance is put into context, along with the more recent encounters under Jose and Pep.

Whilst it is hard not to see that Fitzpatrick takes the Barca side in some of his debate, it is still a great read and one that should be slipped into every piece of hand luggage for those travelling, or downloaded onto the Kindle for those delayed train journeys. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon here.