Corsica Away with AC Ajaccio

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Away Colours spent some of its Summer visiting the home of AC Ajaccio. Formed in 1910,  Athletic Club Ajaccien or ‘ACA’ are one of Corsica’s oldest football clubs, formed 5 years after Northern Corsican mega-rivals and Ligue 1 stalwarts SC Bastia. Separated now by ACA’s recent relegation from the French top flight, these two sides are banned from playing each other on the island due to fan ‘over-exuberance’ and the local police simply having had enough. Click below for a flavour of a typical ACA v SC Bastia match, littered aplenty with flags, missiles, some traditional Corsican polyphonic chanting, a good old-fashioned player punch-up and a man eating a baguette.


ACA or “The Bear’ play their football in the dry heat of the François-Coty stadium, a 12,000 capacity ground with lighthouse style floodlights situated spectacularly in the shadow of Corsica’s Maqui covered mountain landscape and just a short distance from the island’s bustling port capital.

ACA are still recovering – not only from the multi-million pound drop into Ligue 2 – but also from losing ultra-hero Guillermo ‘Memo’ Ochoa to Malaga CF, Mexico’s stunning goalkeeping Number 1, who lit up WC 2014 and who is far too good to warm Malaga’s bench. A man who will never have to buy a drink in the red and white striped areas of Corsica for the rest of his life. Take a look at the video at the end of this piece for some of the reasons as to why.

ACA are certainly finding life in Ligue 2 a challenge. Now bedfellows with old city derby rivals Gazélec Ajaccio (GFCA) or ‘Le Gaz,’ who are riding high, last season it was Zlatan and Co who could be seen strolling the length of Corsica’s sun bleached Agosta Plage outside the island’s swanky Radisson Blu in the hours pre-match. How things have changed.

We watch the fortunes of this small budget club with interest. We like their sun-baked port style stadium. We love their love of Memo. We also like their iconic badge. We await the next ACA v GFCA derby with relish in a city where it is not unusual for Ligue referees to be confined to hotel quarters for their own safety in the hours post-match and to have unscheduled encounters with Renault Clio’s driven at speed.

But in the meantime, take a midday stroll with us around ACA’s stadium and Le Boutique du Club in the red and white striped side of the city. Forza…….!

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© Text and Photos by Away Colours Editor September 2014

Why doesn’t anyone like Arjen Robben?

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Robben earning one of his 73 caps for  Holland – Photo by Tsutomu Takasu (under CC-BY-2.0)

It’s been an odd career has Arjen Robben’s, spent almost exclusively in the very upper reaches of the game, yet one where he has failed to receive the plaudits that his play has deserved.

It’s particularly odd when you consider the kind of footballer that he is. Fleet footed, generally playing on the wing, darting at and beyond defenders, unleashing crosses and shots at goal and generally causing mayhem among opposition backlines wherever he has gone. When the ball is at his feet, excitement is rarely far away and yet, and yet…

When people talk about the greats of the modern era, Robben is rarely mentioned by the cognoscenti. Sure, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are out there at the head of the pack, the gloriously eccentric Zlatan Ibrahimovic places himself in and around that company with both his extravagant performances and his gnomic pronouncements. But while Franck Ribery has forced himself into that company in the last couple of years, Robben has never quite followed him into that particularly distant part of the cosmos where the Gods are busy necking back the honeydew.

In part, perhaps it’s the look of the man. There’s something of the Albert Steptoe about him, an air that makes him resemble a pensioner on wheels, some kind of drawback in an era where the big three have a trace of the matinee idol about them. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge as Ribery’s recent elevation has illustrated, so it cannot be the only issue. His appearance is barely helped by the remarkably tight shirts that he insists on wearing, tops that appear to be sprayed on. I suspect that it’s their very tightness around the nipple – and God alone knows just how tight his garments around the gentleman’s area must be – that causes Robben to have that peculiar relationship with gravity that might well be the one issue that keeps him away from the pantheon. Such serious chafing as must occur must put intense strain upon his body which surely explains why he falls over such a lot.

Arjen Robben

Robben has been installed at Bundesliga champ’s Bayern Munich since 2009 Photo: Rayand [CC-BY-SA-2.0

It is that which makes Robben such a hard player to warm to, though let us recognise that Ronaldo is every bit as quick to make a swift acquaintance with the turf when he sees the chance. But where Ronaldo can swiftly acquire our forgiveness by doing something utterly impossible, great player that Robben is, he does not have that gift for redemption.

His petulance is always something that is peculiarly unappealing to many too, though again, he is not alone on that front. His willingness to wave the imaginary card at transgressor who have waved in his general direction is an unedifying spectacle and one that detracts from his general play.

That’s a real pity because with the ball at his feet, he is a genuine treat to watch, a player who can ignite excitement in a stadium in the blink of an eye and who can transform defence to attack in a similar twinkling. At his best, Robben is a throwback to a glorious age, one of width, of pace, of wingers with pace and trickery being the key figures in teams that are willing to take the game to the opposition.

While Bayern Munich have carried all before them at home and abroad in the last couple of seasons, where Ribery, Neuer and Schweinsteiger have been the ones most often picked out by the media, it is Robben as much as anyone who has been at the core of their success. He is the one who can provide an outlet, he is the one that can press the opposition deeper and deeper into their half, he is the one that can spring the most steadfast of defences by the simple expedient of express pace and padlock control of the ball, an ability as old as the game itself.

Robben is, without doubt, one of the most exciting sights in world football and should be lauded as such……As long as he’s on his feet.

Now @awaycolours invites you to watch this in neutrality – we dare you…

© Nigel Molesworth 2014

The Kings from Amsterdam: When Cruyff’s Ajax ruled Europe

Ajax 1973

It’s become common currency for Guardiola’s Barcelona to be lauded as the greatest club side of all time. Perhaps they were, though there are plenty of other teams who can lay legitimate claim to that title.

Arguably, the seeds of Barcelona’s success were sown some 40 years before their time, when Ajax of Amsterdam began their run of three straight European Cup wins, back in those far off days when you had to win your own league in order to qualify for the competition. Arguments rage over whether the shift to the Champions League has made it harder to carry off the trophy these days, the fact that no side has repeated that hat-trick since the shift to a league format indicating it is, but Ajax’s achievement should not be denigrated, for their dominance of the game in the early 1970s made for a seismic shift in the way we thought about the game.

Dutch football, which was to become so revered around the world, had no such stature back in 1971. As a nation, their European Nations Cup record was non-existent, their World Cup record laughable, one game, one defeat in each of the 1934 and1938 competitions their sole contribution. But as the 1960s ebbed away, it was clear that something was stirring. A youthful Ajax side made it all the way to the 1969 European Cup Final before being crushed 4-1 by Milan in Madrid but a year later, Feyenoord became the first Dutch club to claim the title, beating Celtic 2-1 in extra time in the San Siro.

But while Feyenoord were first, Ajax were the best. Coached by Rinus Michels, led by his apostle on the pitch Johan Cruyff and gradually assembling the first elements of what would be the national team’s golden side of the 1970s, Ajax busied themselves by giving the world what was to become known as total football. If Feyenoord pipped them to the greatest prize, the need to equal and then surpass their great rivals along with the burning desire to atone for their humbling in 1969 burned bright within Michels and his team.

By the 1970/71 tournament, Ajax were ready. A comprehensive thumping of Celtic in the quarter-finals followed by victory over Atletico Madrid took them to the final and a game with Panthinaikos. The gloriously named Dick van Dijk gave the Dutch side an early lead, but Ajax were not as imperious as they’d have liked. Both substitutions were made at the interval, evidence of Michels’ tactical nous, and though it took them until the 87th minute to score a second through Arie Haan, the victory was comfortable and never really in question.

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Ajax v Panathinaikos at the European Cup Final 1971. Photo: Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo CC 3.0 licence

Europe began to sit up and take note of the swagger in Ajax’s step, and particularly of the way in which players refused to stick to regimented positions as Ajax employed the most fluid of systems, full-backs operating as auxiliary forwards, strikers dropping deep to stiffen the midfield, sweepers rampaging beyond them to create and to score. That said, the fact that their opponents had been the little fancied Panthinaikos meant few were quite ready to confer greatness on Ajax yet. That would be another 12 months away.

After all, who could dismiss the claims to greatness of Inter Milan? But for all their experience, for all the brilliance of Facchetti and Mazzola, for all their expertise in spoiling a game, in closing it down, Inter were simply second best. Truly unveiling the full majesty of the vision of Cruyff and Michels – the coach by now replaced by Stefan Kovacs after his move to Barcelona in 1971 – Ajax dominated from first whistle to last. Catenaccio, the scourge of European football for a decade, was swept aside by a totally different conception of the game, a game of movement, of style, of tactical and technical eloquence, of pure joy at the possibilities the game held, while introducing a level of fitness that outstripped anything we had seen before.

Ajax were approaching full maturity, the side brimming with Dutch brilliance. As well as Cruyff, there was Neeskens, Gerrie Muhren, Krol, Haan, Suurbier, Keizer, an XI who understood not just their own job, but that of the other ten, and who could acquit those other roles almost as well as their own. It took until the second half before Ajax got the goals that their superiority demanded, but with Cruyff twice on the scoresheet, justice was done and Ajax retained their trophy.

Completing a hat-trick is reserved only for the true Gods, but that was the standing of the men from Amsterdam by this stage. Italy provided the opponents again, Juventus this time on the receiving end. Johnny Rep opened the scoring after four minutes and for the remaining 86, the Italians barely saw the ball as Ajax stroked it around the park with an arrogance bordering on contempt, a trait that would ultimately be the undoing of the national team.

It ended 1-0 to Ajax, a third straight European Cup, and something approaching immortality. But we are all mere mortals in the end, even Cruyff, and the lure of a new challenge, infinitely better rewarded, was too much to turn down. In 1973, he left Ajax for Barcelona for a sum just short of £1million which seemed simply unbelievable and just a little immoral back then. While Ajax were no one man team, that one man had been the difference between a great team and a legendary one. It was never the same again.

But in Catalonia, homage was paid to Cruyff, to Michels and to the method of total football. Cruyff ultimately became the manager there, setting down principles that have persisted, enthusing and inspiring a young player called Pep Guardiola….

Before we go, a look back at Ajax in their full glory and don’t start us off on that beautiful kit…

© Nigel Molesworth for @awaycolours 2014

In the heart of Maradona: A Travel Guide to Boca Juniors

Boca Juniors vs. Pumas by nica*, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Photo by  nica* 

HISTORY:

Club Atlético Boca Juniors has its roots in the Italian immigrant community of the La Boca area of Buenos Aires and was originally founded as an amateur club in 1905, winning the first newly created professional league title in 1931. Boca, unlike their city mega rivals River Plate, have famously never been relegated from Argentina’s top flight – the Argentine Primera División. The club have a number of nicknames – ‘the Xeneizes’ or the Genoese or ‘La mitad más uno’ or half plus one, a reference to the fact the club is supposedly to be supported by more than half of the entire Argentine population. Fans of River Plate will beg to differ, rather vigorously.  Its reported that 70% of Argentinians support one or other of the two clubs.

ARCH-RIVALS:

Games between city rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate are famously known as the ‘Superclásico,’ which many would say is the most fiercely contested football derby on earth, between two teams united by neighbourhood but divided forever. A Boca Juniors fan here summarises for us what the fixture means for him – “Winning the derby has become a goal in itself. It is the party of the year. The win represents salvation, redemption or coronation. The defeat brings about suffering and humiliation. A victory is celebrated as a title, a fall is not easily forgotten. Years pass, one wins, the other wins, draws, exciting games, boring meetings, the sad and dramatic events. Boca cannot live without River, River can not live without Boca. Argentina can not do without this derby.”

Boca x River Plate em Mendoza (2013) by rogeriotomazjr, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  A matter of life and death? -the Superclásico of 2013. Photo by  rogeriotomazjr 

Currently there are discussions between both clubs regarding the playing of a future fixture of this game in Cancun, Mexico in an idea dreamt up by, you guessed it, both team sponsors, in what would be the strangest of Argentine exports.

Meanwhile, the next Superclásico is March 30th 2014 at LA Bombonera in front of ‘you know who’ – Club God Diego Maradona who has his own family VIP box at the Boca Juniors stadium, which he can regularly be seen literally hanging or climbing out of screaming ecstatically.

Here spend a minute or two with the CABJ faithful at the home tie of the Superclásico of 2013.

…and in case you are wondering what the chant in that clip is, that will be the “River how does it feel song” (referring to their recent time spent down in the second division) which, with all due respect to River Plate fans, is the greatest football sing-song ever penned in my opinion.

FAN CULTURE:

CABJ fans will tell you that their club is the ‘true’ club of the working class of La Boca neighbourhood, as River Plate or ‘Los Millonarios’ sold out when they moved to the wealthier suburbs of Núñez in 1925. Fans of River Plate are known to Boca fans as gallinas (chickens) whilst the latter are referred to by fans of River Plate as ‘Los Chanchitos’ (little pigs) or ‘Los Bosteros’ (the manure handlers) due to the apparent smell of the local river. Yes it’s that childish and that silly.

Although there is nothing remotely silly about the ultra hardcore Argentine football culture of the ‘Barras Bravas’ (fierce blocks) which have been referred to as ‘the world’s most dangerous football fans’, operating as gangs of football mafia with a variety of ‘business interests’ and a particular foothold in the poverty stricken backstreets of Buenos Aires.  These gangs argue that Argentine football belongs to them – and have been reported to “have the occasional word’ with a player if required.

The history of Argentine football violence is bloody to say the least and in 2002 was declared a ‘national emergency’ by the Argentinian government. Away fans have been banned from attending matches since June 2013 as a desperate attempt to try and control the violence. Attendees at a recent Superclásico recount the moments where a police helicopter hovered one metre above their heads whilst sat inside the Boca Juniors stadium. Its different over there.

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La Doce T Shirt by footshirts.com

Boca Junior’s most hardcore fans are known as ‘La Doce‘ (the twelfth player) and they literally ‘run the doors’ at La Bombonera with scant security applied to their activities – and are the self styled Kings of the Stadium. They are undoubtedly Argentina’s most talked about fan group with it’s leaders famous cult anti-heroes and are backed with what as described as ‘serious funds’ and even have a book devoted to their history, of course they do.

LA Doce

STADIUM:

CABJ play in the iconic open air Estadio Alberto J. Armando otherwise known as ‘La Bombonera’ or ‘the chocolate box’ which has a 49,000 capacity (almost 9000 of that standing) and was opened in 1940 in the La Boca area of Buenos Aires. La Bombonera is known for the incredible atmosphere of home games as well as its tiny pitch (the smallest allowable under FIFA regulations) and has an unusual ‘Capital D’ style construction. The design of three stands only was due to the lack of space in the stadium’s residential surroundings. The ground has also been home to many rock concerts and due to the incredible acoustics, many locals have been unfortunate to be exposed to the sounds of the likes of Elton John and James Blunt whether they wanted to be or not. There are plans for a new stadium but its been clearly stated that the historic La Bombonera will remain and be used for ‘ other purposes’ – we do hope so.  It’s an incredible piece of football culture and history.

Buenos Aires - La Boca: La Bombonera by wallyg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  La Bombonera:  Photo by  wallyg 
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Photo by Daniel Alexandre on Flickr (under CC non-commercial 2.0 licence)

La Bombonera by boxchain, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  The outside of La Bombonera : Photo by  boxchain 

KITS:

I have known grown men (and women) almost weep at the bare mention of the kits of Boca Juniors and their iconic Logan’s Run style blue shirts with gold band. Apart from the odd year where the band was transformed into a dare we say ‘River style sash’ – the kit has changed little since Boca ditched the black & white stripes in 1907 and never looked back.  The colours and style of the kit were said to have been been inspired by the Swedish flag, attached to a random ship in La Boca’s harbour. That story is so good it has to be true.

In terms of design, the Boca Juniors home kit is probably the greatest if not the most beautiful home shirt of all time. Too much? You decide. Here are some pictures for you to review in private. NSFW.

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Boca Junior in their classic 1969 strip

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This season’s home kit 13/14

12-13 away

Away Colours 12-13

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From the days when adidas ruled shirts.  Home kit 1988-89

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Martin Palermo in the away colours of Boca’s 2008 season : Photo by Osnat Vis under CC 3.0 licence

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The shirt history of Boca Juniors – It’s art

RECENT FORM:

CABJ are at time of writing 8th in the Argentina Primera Division and one point behind noisy neighbours River Plate. Those familiar with Argentinian football will be aware that the season is split into two Torneos and the overall champions are crowned following a play off between the winners of the two competitions. In this season’s Torneo Inicial, Boca finished 7th. In 2012/13, Boca finished 6th in the initial ‘Torneo Inicial’ and 19th in the second part ‘Torneo Final’ of the season. Will they tail off again in this year’s ‘Torneo Final’? We will watch with interest.

SILVERWARE: Argentina Primera División Champions x 30 (that’s 5 less than ‘you know who.’ )  Copa Libertadores x 6 and lots of other Copas, Recopas and Supercopas ( Argentina has more Copas than you can shake a stick at and CABJ have won a bit of everything.)

NOTABLE EX-PLAYERS: There is only one place to start and end. The Alpha. The Omega. Diego Maradona played twice for the club he loves. Once as part of the title wining team of 1981/82 and again in 1995/97 where he ended his professional career. Boca’s list of heroes includes that lad Carlos Tevez, mega hero Martin Palermo and club giants Silvio Marzolini and Roberto Mouza amongst a long list of others.

And to end, here is Diego at Boca Juniors doing what Diego did best…. astounding.

© LRM for @awaycolours 2014

1970s Flashbacks : Episode 2 – The Tanktop & The Hawthorns

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With my footballing-life in tatters I was doomed to the ragged-edge. Destined to always be in the ‘last two to be picked when choosing sides’ league for any subsequent 10 minute 20-a-side games during what we referred to as ‘play-time’ or ‘dinner-break’. Whenever I was ‘reluctantly’ chosen I always tended to try to get on the right wing, the scene of my fateful knitted jumper début. As the years passed I continued playing and I think the average ‘ball-touches per game’ would be about twice every other game. At times, however, I may get a tiny dribble together and gain a few yards before attempting to slot one through the defence to one of the first team goal-hangers. But alas my final touch would either see the ball ‘fanny-off ‘at break neck speed at a right angle to my foot or I’d swing and kick fresh air. This ‘air-kick’ was usually accompanied with a pirouette followed by my arse hitting the deck. I lost count of the times I returned home only to have my mother detect a huge grass stain down the side of my flares or my pockets full of caked-in baked-in mud. My football craft was not pretty in fact if smart-phones and YouTube had been about back then I’d have been a viral internet sensation.

 Off the field things were very different as I’d been lucky enough to be taken to most West Brom home games so the fan-side of my football-world was another story. I managed to see many of the greats of the era including, Astle, Doogan, Charlton, Best to name a few, as my dad would take me to the Hawthorns regularly.  It was only a few minutes up the M5 in his silver Ford Corsair from my Granddad’s house in Blackheath. There were very few if any seats at any ground in my day so everyone generally stood on concrete or shale held in place by railway sleepers. There were also evenly spaced tubular bars, called crush barriers, placed throughout the stands behind the goals. If you were there early enough before a game you could stand behind one and rest your elbows on them, if you were tall enough of course. I could easily walk underneath one without even ruffling up my perfect, ‘curling tong’ crafted feather-cut, hair style.

One of my first memories of being the Brummie Road End was Dad and Granddad resting on the crush bars next to something I’d never seen ever before. It was a man, I’d say in his early twenties, who was wearing denim jeans rolled up to mid-calf, Albion socks and bovver boots that had been casually sprayed with silver spray paint. Laces-and-all. He was sucking the life out of a Park-Drive and had his scarf, not around his neck, but fashionably tied around his left wrist. Silver boots I could not compete with but my green and yellow WBA ‘away-scarf’ was straight onto my wrist I can tell you.

Another thing that struck me about my first full West Brom game was the terrace chant singing. Everyone sang the same songs and knew all the words. I was captivated as to how they did this. Did they have songs sheets? Was it someone’s job to pass them out at the back?   Did they meet, say on a Wednesday, and practice singing, in perhaps a scout hut or someone’s garage? Was there a conductor perhaps standing on an upturned Banks’s Mild Ale box, conducting these wondrous ditties and tunes? There was a vast array of songs. Some for when we were winning, some for losing, some for being displeased at referees and also specialised ones reserved for when we played The Wolves. I was amazed. Supporting The Baggies and singing these songs at the top of my voice was definitely something I needed to be involved in. I decided that I would learn every song throughout the rest of the season. My personal favourite was always sung generally after the opposition had scored against us. It went something like, ‘You’re going home with a fork and ambulance’.  I wasn’t sure what it meant but whenever we were playing Wolves there were loads of songs about ‘forks’ and ‘forking’ things.

It’s strange really what you remember and a few events ‘up the Hawthorns’ stick in my mind. One is the West Brom theme tune that the players used to march onto the field before a game to. I later found out it was called The Liquidator and was an outstanding song as the Baggies choir had worked out a few choice words they could drop in at the appropriate time in order to score maximum insulting points again at The Wolves’ expense. It was a triumphant rally call and also the opportunity to sing ‘F**ck off Wanderers, West Brom!’ without being clipped around the ear or sent to a juvenile detention centre.

Along with that was the time I witnessed an unforgettable free kick at the Smethwick Road end. The Smethwick End was for three types of people. 1, for the opposing team’s fans, 2 for Albion fans who wanted to be close enough to throw Steak and Kidney pies or worse at opposing fans and 3 for Albion fans who couldn’t get in the Brummie Road end as it was jam packed. One Saturday I was in the Smethwick end with my Dad. I always struggled to see as I was such a shortie. Anyway, it was late into the second half and West Brom were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box attacking the goal towards the Smethwick End. Everyone was on tender-hooks as Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown stepped up to take the direct free-kick. Bomber had a killer right foot so we were all expecting a ripper of a goal or alternatively the untimely demise of any of the opposing teams players who were daft enough to make up ‘the defensive wall’. Through gaps between people in the stand I managed to just see Bomber’s boot connect with the ball. It was a cracker and absolutely flew through the air bound for goal. Then, just at the last second, it veered right whizzed past the goal post and proceeded crowd-ward. In the blink of an eye it hit a chap, who was standing three people behind me, square in the face. He dropped like a sack-of-hammers. The poor chap ended up being stretchered out of the stadium by a gaggle of grey-haired Albion first-aiders who looked like they’d seen at least a couple of World Wars each.

Football was a big part of my life. It was something I did with my Dad and Granddad and was the hub of any conversation at school. A famous football past-time for us kids in the 70’s was managing your own league table. This was an essential part of school-life and ranked up there with football cards and 1970 world cup cream-coloured plastic heads that your dad could get free from certain petrol stations if he’d bought over a certain amount of ‘gallons’. League tables were ace and were offered as a free gift with the magazine ‘Shoot’ at the start of each season. They consisted of a cardboard ladder of tables, divisions one to four and a set of pop-out cardboard team names. Every week when the league table was published in most newspapers and we all used to adjust our tables to match the actual tables. In principle this was a fantastic idea and looked great on the black and white ‘Shoot Magazine’ TV advert but after about the third week I used to just get bored with the fiddly bits of cardboard so I’d end up just putting the teams in my own ‘dream team’ order. That would be WBA top, Man Utd second, Leeds third and Wolves ALWAYS, ALWAYS at the bottom of the league with Birmingham City and Aston Villa just above them. Sometimes I’d even move Wolves to the 4th division.

So, we’ve established that my football skills were beyond help. That was until one day…one…shall we say…perfect day… What can only be described as a miracle occurred.

As most will know the 70’s were fashion-fuelled. Love it or hate it fashion dominated music, sport and school. Everyone wanted to look like their heroes who were generally ‘pop-stars’ or sports-stars. This extended to us young-un’s. We wanted to be like the big-un’s. We wanted feather hair cuts, flared trousers, platforms and ‘tank-tops’. I was no different. My problem was finance. On 50p a week pocket-money there is no way I could afford to deck myself out in the same sparkly-gear that The Osmonds, T-Rex or The Jackson Five used to wear on the un-missable Top of The Pops Thursday night BBC TV programme. So, I needed to improvise. Some kids in my year must have had rich parents as they always seemed to have the latest clothing or foot-wear.  They were ‘in the fashion’…I was generally not and was a bit jealous as ‘not being on trend’ was a sinful thing at my school and would possibly bring on imminent mickey-taking. To be honest mickey-taking was absolutely and fundamentally part of daily school-life. It was uncomfortable and unkind but everyone accepted it.  For example; new hair-cut you got bullied; new shoes, you got bullied (you also got them scuffed and stomped on by all your mates for at least the next week); new ‘unfashionable’ clothes, you got bullied; new school-bag, you got bullied. It was the law of the playground. You had it done to you and you delighted in doing it to others. So, I wanted to be fashionable and fit in but I had no money to catch the bus up to the Concorde Market [emporium of cheap, badly made rip-off fashion items] and buy cool gear. That’s where mom came in. She had recently been acquiring strange new skills at what she called the local ‘Women’s Guild’. She had made a lampshade and some other odd ornaments and more recently she’d constructed a scarf by using an exotic method of hand-made-crafting called ‘crocheting’. This process is some weird black-art of creating ‘things’ from wool and in order to do this ‘craft’ you need a tool called a crochet hook which for any fishing fans resembles a mediaeval disgorger. Crocheting is bit like knitting. My mind began to ‘fashion’ a crafty thought. ‘If mom can make scarves, couldn’t she not construct and finger-build me a crocheted tank-top?’ I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Seeing my request as a challenge my mother decided to accept and set about obtaining some mystical coded document called a ‘pattern’. The seed was sown; all I had to do was choose the colour. That was a doddle. ‘WBA colours please mom!’. It was Christmas 1972 when I laid down the tank-top challenge. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Occasionally I’d have to report to mom for a fitting, whereby she would hang the flat material against me to check on size and arm-hole placement. At the beginning of summer the garment was completed. I ran upstairs to mom and dad’s bedroom and leapt onto their bed so that I could see the navy blue and white tank-top in all it’s glory in their dressing room mirror. It looked amazing! I was fashion-boy! I was cool. I could not wait to wear it to school the next day and dazzle my fellow fashionista’s with my hand-made garment of style.

‘That day’, that perfect day is lasered into my memory. It was a sunny day (but not so warm that I would need to remove my prized made-by-the-hands-of-my-mother navy and white fashion garment). It was Monday. We always met early on a Monday before school to talk about the weekend’s football, torment any of our mates with new hair-cuts, eat sweets we bought or ‘borrowed’ from the local newspaper shop across from the school or drink milk that may or may not have been borrowed from a local doorstep. My new top passed the test and I got the knowing nod of approval from my school-mates.

And so, to the miraculous part…where do I begin…

We picked teams in the usual way. Captains alternatively chose from the pack. I was usually last or last but one to be picked owing to my unusual ‘Is he trying to dribble that ball or is he Northern Soul dancing?’ footballing skills. We kicked off and this is no word of a lie and I have no idea how I did it but I could not put a foot wrong, I was quite simply on fire. I pretty much won the ball in  tackled from any player, including lads who were in the school first eleven, I dribbled like the ball was magnetised to my ‘Winit’ trainers and I must have scored three or four goals in about 15 minutes. I quite literally played like I was possessed. My mates were all saying stuff like, “Bloody hell, what’s happened to you then” and “Wait until the sports teacher sees you he will definitely put you in the first team”. The sense of my abilities was incredible, it was a miracle. When the school bell rang out I remember marching back to the class room not quite realising what had just happened. Then it dawned on me…it must be my magical tank top, that was the only reason for my new gift. I couldn’t wait until break so we could play again.

Morning break came around and I was first on the little pitch. For the first time in my life I think I was picked from the pool about second or third. Before we kicked off our match one of the stars of the first team said “Put him in goal”. So I joined my tam-mates and took my place in the five a side goals. Once again, I was amazing. Nothing got past me. I was literally cat like. If I had known what a ninja back then was I would have been a ninja-keeper. Shot after shot, I parried, punch and saved. It was the best footballing day of my life.

However, the next day I marched out once again at break –time expecting to ‘ do my thing’ but alas my super-powers had deserted me. I was back to tripping over my flares. Miss-kicking the ball and general uselessness. Even though I was wearing my magic tank top, I was once again a mere mortal.

© Andrew Mark Rudall for @awaycolours 2014

Tales from the Tally: The Jan Lewicki Era

JAN

Being the Tally Vic. Jan in action.

The story of how Jan joined our club is brilliant in two ways. The first is that we never would have met him without Twitter and it shows what a brilliant tool that is for grassroots clubs. The second is if you’re sitting thinking you’d love to get playing then it’s a real inspirational tale of why should take that first, hardest step. Jan found the team on Twitter and followed for a bit.

At the time the club was struggling. The team was poor and we constantly struggled to field a team. I even had to play a couple of times. It was that bad. Jan I think, was wanting to find something to do on a Saturday and asked about coming to training. He said he’d think about coming down but didn’t make any arrangements. A month or so later on a Friday with me and Mo short of players again we desperately needed anyone who could play Centre Back. We asked on Twitter if anyone was available for the next morning and Jan offered to play.

I think he nearly shat it to turn up but the next morning there he was introducing himself – this big, affable lad smoking a fag, joking away nervously. I remember me and Mo liking him right away. Jan played his first game and scored the first goal in a 5-2 victory and joining that exclusive and revered club of Tally players that have ‘scowered on their dayboo.’

TALLY VIC

The Tally Vic training next to another upcoming Scottsh club

Before the end of the season Jan had brought along his brother Ross and four or five other good players – all good boys. Through Jan we’ve signed players like Chrissy Reilly and Stephen Cunningham, Scott Keys, Andy McNab, Johnny Williams and the Neeson brothers. Jan was a good player for us who was really unlucky with injury. He knew the basics of the game and was keen to learn and develop. He revelled in the camaraderie that being part of a team brings and was brilliant on nights out. He’s made a lot of friends in the game over the last year and a half and I’m sure he’d agree that being involved with the team has brought a lot to his life.

Jan has gone from taking that first difficult step to turning up to a team where you don’t know anyone through being made Club Captain and then eventually being made manager with Marky Thompson assisting. I wonder what he would have said had someone told him that first day that in 18 months he would be managing the club and sat top of the league and in a cup semi-final – the first in the club’s history. Getting involved in grassroots football has helped him keep fit and active, to make new friends and get a sense of achievement that slaving away at your work will never give you. Tantallon is in Jan’s blood now and after I move away this year the lad who answered a desperate plea to help keep the club alive will take over a Chairmon and Secretary. There’s no-one better to do the job.

A lot of people are disillusioned with professional football. If you are still of an age to be kicking a ball about then there are leagues and team nationwide which would allow you to train and play at a level you are comfortable with. I promise you that just like big Jan, the feeling you get from a win with your own club where you’ve battled alongside your mates can’t be beaten. If your playing days are over then there are hundreds of clubs who would love someone with passion and enthusiasm to help with administration and fundraising and of course if you have the right people skills, like Jan, you can coach and manage.

So take that first step and find your own place in The Grassroots Revolution. I promise you that you won’t regret it and like Jan it’ll open doors to new friendships, good health and good times.

© Davie Brown, Chairman, Tantallon Victoria AFC for @awaycolours 2014

Football on the Small Screen

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Cherie Lunghi starring in The Manageress

The wonderful world of  TV/football crossovers.

Remember any of these? By no means a definitive guide, but merely what Away Colours found in their vast TV vaults…feel free to add your views, opinions and any shows we may have missed. Here we go…

JOSSY’S GIANTS.

Forget his erudite, poetic darts’ commentary – THIS was arguably Sid Waddell’s finest afternoon’s work. Boys’ team Glipton Grasshopers were misfits. They included a goalkeeper – like a junior Jim Leighton/Gary Bailey in appearance and style – who allowed the ball to roll through his fingers, outfield players who kicked thin air more than the football and ‘characters’ with colourful hair. Geordie coach and one-time Newcastle player Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair transforms their fortunes amid a backdrop of teenage angst.  Jossy’s Giants ran for two series, between 1986 and 87. Filmed in Manchester, United legend Paddy Crerand was a ‘football consultant’ – presumably before his current job as MUTV’s resident cantankerous old sage – with one particular cringe-behind-the-sofa episode being rudely interrupted by Bryan Robson appearing as himself and delivering the wonderfully wooden ‘Good to see ya kidda, howsa horses treatinya?’ Acting, much like football management, clearly wasn’t for Bryan.

ALL IN THE GAME.

So a young English footballer called Darren Matthews (played by Lloyd Owen) who looks a bit like Gary Lineker, is signed up by Barcelona to play under an English manager…hang on: this is the Gary Lineker story right? Not quite. Created by Jonathan Holmes (Lineker’s agent) this is a fictional – honest – portrayal of an English striker who leaves behind the bleak Football League to play for an exciting Spanish club. The foreign locations contrast with the British side of the narrative, that being a dreary, money-troubled club with a slippery chairman, who’s not averse to ‘bunging’ a foreign agent so that our man Linek…I mean Matthews can be flogged to the highest bidder. How very 1990s. This was all a bit Footballers Wives before Footballers Wives came along. Thankfully, this awful mini-series, made in 1993, never got beyond the opening six shows.

THE MANAGERESS.

An ailing second-division football club goes down the route of drastic, desperate action: No, not Alan Curbishley, they appoint a woman football manager, who has no experience of professional football but clearly knows a lot about the game and looks, well, easy on the eye. Played by Cherie Lunghi, Gabriella Benson takes charge of a fictional side and restores their fortunes in quicker time than it takes to say ‘Mauricio Pochettino’. We were never told the name of this ailing club, but the scenes were shot at Reading’s Elm Park stadium. Our heroine has to deal with sleaze, corruption, performance-enhancing drugs, a player dying through sudden illness and a club captain trying it on with her – essentially issues you wouldn’t expect, say, Arsene Wenger has to worry about. Naturally, Benson keeps ‘them’ up and all is well in the world, despite the season-from-hell off the field.

BORN KICKING.

A woman playing in the top flight of men’s football? Goodness knows what Harry Redknapp would have made of it. This was the early 1990s and Queens Park Rangers sign Roxanne (no clues to her surname, though she was played by Eve Barker), a good-looking dark haired woman footballer. The woman-takes-on-male-environment cliches were endless. Tough challenges by jealous men, inappropriate love-interests, a greasy chairman and success at Loftus Ro…no, wait. Ok, so it wasn’t all true to life. And as for Harry? Given that his wife Sandra could convert chances that Darren Bent never could, perhaps he wishes fact was more like fiction. This drama deserves kudos for using real footballers in the action shots. The rest of it was rubbish. So rubbish, in fact, that nobody can be bothered to download it onto youtube. Postscript: Our Roxanne is not to be confused with Darren Peacock, long hair or otherwise.

MURPHY’S MOB.

On BBC we had Blue Peter, which was like school, but with better-looking people telling us what to do. They also had animals. Meanwhile, over on ITV anarchy was stirring. The theme tune gave clues. Images of graffiti-strewn walls flashed across our screen as the late Heavy Metal Kids singer Gary Holton  – Cockney Wayne from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet –  tore his way through a high-tempo track, with the main lyrical hook being one of anti-establishment and rebellion. As watching nine-year-olds we had no idea what this meant but we were clearly being told to wave two fingers at ‘Thatchasbritain’ as if we meant it.  And we wonder why our parents wanted us to find out what Simon Groom was up to over on the Beeb? Murphy’s Mob was like a football-version of Grange Hill, but based around a young supporters’ club – lots of snogging at fundraising discos, spotty teenage frustration but, sadly, not enough football for our liking.

ELEVEN MEN AGAINST ELEVEN.

Back in 1995, everyone was talking about football corruption and monetary scandals. So it’s just as well Drop The Dead Donkey’s brilliant co-creater Andy Hamilton offered this satirical production. ‘City’, a fictional Premier League side, are in deep financial trouble and fighting relegation.  When club manager (Peter Howitt – ‘Joey Boswell’ from Bread) is sacked for dodgy transfers and (perhaps) impersonating a bad actor, he is replaced by long-time club coaching staff member and ex-player Ted Whitehead (James Bolam), who tries to steer a troubled club through a route obstructed by money, corruption, in-fighting, drug-taking, scandals and such like. This was a one-off drama. Yet it was to become so brutally realistic. Even the in-game sequences looked decent. Perhaps the most understated drama of all, but one of the best of the lot. Don’t expect Sky, BT Sports or any of the other Premier League’s media pay masters to show this
drama any time soon – it might just give people the ‘wrong’ idea…

THE IMPOSSIBLE JOB.

Ok, not a drama as such, but this belongs here for entertainment value. Graham Taylor bellows his way through a series of muddled touch-line instructions like ‘WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN INSTRUCTED?’, ‘WHAT SORT OF THING IS HAPPENING HERE?’ and the pseudo-Shakespearean ‘DO I NOT LIKE THAT?’ during this 50-minute ramble of his darkest days as England boss. What was intended as a low-key documentary became a unintentional slapstick tale of the nation’s inglorious failure to reach the 1994 World Cup with Taylor wrestling between management and media interrogation. His assistants don’t exactly get off lightly either. Phil Neal agrees to everything with a ‘yes boss’, while Lawrie McMenemy simply puts his hands in his pockets, stands tall,  looks dismissively bored and wishes he was elsewhere, maybe selling used cars. ‘The referee’s got me the sack…thank him ever so much for that, won’t ya…?’ concludes a miserable Taylor as he chats idly to the fourth official during the final stages of England’s 2-0 loss in Holland. And sacked he was. Never again would an England boss allow TV cameras anywhere near him in the name of documentation. For sure, Steve McClaren got off lightly.

© The Libero for @awaycolours 2014