It has been reported on The Guardian website today that up to 900 away end tickets have been returned by Manchester City to their hosts Arsenal ahead of the forthcoming Premier League clash between the two teams. The reason is suspected to be that, at £62 a ticket, it is simply either too expensive or a case of fans not wanting to pay such an extortionate amount of money out of principle. For fans of the English game this is simply not a surprise anymore; indeed the only surprise is that anybody still puts up with being ripped off.
Since the formation of the English Premier League in the 1992-93 season ticket prices have been rising at an alarming rate. Even in the last year, a survey published by the BBC revealed that the cost of the cheapest adult ticket in the top four divisions had risen by 11.7%. Of course it is Premier League clubs who will be largely responsible for the biggest of price hikes especially as the clubs are finding it more difficult to pay ever increasing wages to top stars, despite the fact that the Premier League is raking in more money than ever before due to increased television revenue. The advent of all-seater stadia was supposed to herald a new era of safety and comfort in English stadiums with the TV money a prime reason to help keep ticket prices as cheap as possible. In recent years, however, it seems that clubs will rip the fans off anyway, a situation which has arguably been a factor in increased calls for the re-introduction of standing areas in English football grounds. Fans simply cannot keep forking out at the current rate for match tickets along with all the usual necessities that going to a football stadium brings such as a match programme, food, drink and transport.
In recent months many English newspapers and football websites have made comparisons between the situation in England and that in Germany and how fans of Bundesliga clubs get such a bargain. Current German champions Borussia Dortmund, for example, charge as little as €190 for a season ticket which allows a fan to see seventeen home league games, an average of €11 a game. When one takes into account that the possession of a match ticket allows free travel on public transport to the stadium and the fact that one can drink beer whilst watching the match (something that ceased to be the case in England years ago where beer must be drank in designated areas away from the seating) and it is clear that fans in Germany have a much better deal. Even when clubs have tried to raise prices for big games in the Bundesliga fans have always been ready to vote with their feet, a most famous example was when fans of Borussia Dortmund boycotted a derby match against arch rivals Schalke 04 due to their hosts raising the ticket price to €20. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been to watch many games as a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the most amazing deal was going to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to watch Eintracht play against Hertha BSC five years ago. The cost of a ticket? Only €9! And in a stadium which has hosted the FIFA World Cup final too.
Such a ticket price, which would work out at £7.30 at the current exchange rate, would be a dream to any English football fan in the current climate. The worst offenders in the English game tend to be clubs from the south of the country, the worst being Chelsea at £41 for the cheapest ticket, perhaps not surprising given that the cost of living is much higher than elsewhere in the country. Even Manchester United, who are the par excellence example in the commercialisation of the game throughout the Premier League era, still keep their cheapest ticket prices to a reasonable £30. Season ticket prices are an even more obvious example in how fans are having to dig deep in their pockets with Arsenal being the most expensive. There wouldn’t be much change given from £2000 if you were to get a season ticket at the Emirates stadium.
The fact is that Premier League clubs will always be prepared to charge what they want as long as people are prepared to keep paying the money. If fan movements in England had any importance, such as they do in Germany, then perhaps there would be no need for clubs to have to send batches of tickets back in the first place for such big games. After all it is the big games which fans want to see but the clubs should know where to draw the line and, in the name of fairness, stop testing the patience of loyal, hard-core fans whose bank balances suffer terribly in order to subsidize those of their heroes.
FIFA’s annual awards ceremony took place in Zurich last night and there weren’t too many surprises as to who would come top of the main awards of the evening.
It was obvious to all of the world and his dog that Lionel Messi would come to win the Player of the Year award in 2011 following yet another truly successful twelve months with his club FC Barcelona. The Ballon D’or award will adorn his mantelpiece for the third year in a row but it could easily have gone to any of his club colleagues Xavi or Andres Iniesta due to their consistency, as well as Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo who was conspicuous by his absence at last night’s ceremony. However Messi topped the poll once more due to his amazing ability to stand out in one of football’s greatest ever club sides. His recent performances in this season’s El Clasico against Real Madrid and FIFA Club World Cup final against Santos FC have put to bed the recent question as to who is the best player in the world with Messi getting the better of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar respectively in those games.
A repeat of the historic sextuple triumph of 2009 was almost replicated but for the head of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2010-11 Cope del Rey final which deprived Barcelona of one trophy last year. Nonetheless the 2010-11 league title was won with an astonishing total of 96 points, four ahead of Madrid, and the UEFA Champions League win was the club’s third in five years. Wins in both the Spanish and European Super Cups at the start of the 2011-12 season took Barcelona’s haul of trophies to four for the calendar year before December’s triumph in the FIFA Club World Cup, which culminated in a 4-0 pasting for South American champions Santos FC in the final, meant that five out of six had been achieved and cemented the club’s recent dominance in world football. On a similar theme the Manager of the Year award went to Pep Guardiola who, three years after taking the job at the Camp Nou, shows that he is still as hungry for success as ever and has raised the bar of how football should and can be played. Upon receiving the award Guardiola said that he would like to share the award with his two challengers for the prize, namely Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson would admit himself that what is happening at FC Barcelona at the moment means that they should grasp the limelight but, outside of Catalonia, Ferguson is still going strong at Old Trafford and showing no signs of slowing down. His continuing exploits at the top of the English and European game saw him recognized by FIFA last night with a special Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year saw Sir Alex win his twelfth Premier League title with Manchester United, which was the club’s 19th English league title overall and saw them overtake Liverpool FC’s total of 18 which had been an English record for over three decades. Although the 2010-11 season wasn’t the most dominant title win during his reign, Sir Alex has at least set the ball rolling for another potential era of sustained success and his charges currently lie second in the English Premier League table three points behind arch rivals Manchester City who they knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend. In a year in which Ferguson was recognized by all and sundry in the football world for the remarkable contribution he has made to football during his 25 years at Old Trafford his peers at the club invoked the most perfect of tributes by renaming the North Stand in his honour and has now been similarly held in high esteem by world football’s governing body.
Sir Alex’s club Manchester United saw two of their players reach the FIFPro World XI in the shape of Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney. The latter was denied the Ferenc Puskas prize for the goal of the year with the prize going to Santos FC and Brazil wunderkind Neymar (see goal below). Neymar didn’t get into the World XI this time but surely his time will come whilst this year nine out of the eleven players came from either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. Finally the FIFA Fair Play award went to the country of Japan which having started off the year in tragic circumstances following two natural disasters in the form of an earthquake and subsequent flooding, the country paraded itself on the world stage in the eyes of football fans everywhere with the men’s team winning the 2011 AFC Asian Cup whilst the women’s team became 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions from which Homare Sawa stood out to win the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award.
FIFPro WORLD XI 2011
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) – Daniel Alves, Gerard Pique (both FC Barcelona), Nemaja Vidic (Manchester United), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) – Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Lionel Messi (all FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
NEYMAR’S GOAL OF THE YEAR 2011
The two Manchester clubs have been sensationally dumped out of the UEFA Champions League following the final round of matches this evening.
Three-time European champions Manchester United are out of this year’s tournament having suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Swiss champions FC Basle 1893. United only needed a point to progress but found themselves two goals down with ten minutes of the match remaining, with Basle’s Marco Streller and Alexander Frei getting the goals, before Phil Jones pulled one back to make it an anxious finish for the Swiss side. United finished third in Group C behind Basle and group winners Benfica SL, who finished their campaign with a 1-0 win over Romanian champions Otelul Galati, and must now contend themselves with a place in the UEFA Europa League early next year.
Manchester City, meanwhile, needed a win against FC Bayern München and hope that Spanish side Villarreal CF would do them a favour by taking points from Italians Napoli SSC. Despite getting the win they needed, a 2-0 victory thanks to David Silva and Yaya Toure, City had to be satisfied with a third place finish in Group A finishing one point behind the Italians and three behind Bayern after the Neapolitans won by the same score line away in Spain. For all the money spent, City are still a work in progress and will hope to have learnt some of the lessons by the time the UEFA Europa League comes round again. City went out of that competition last season at the hands of Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv.
Pre-season expectations have been dampened in North London as both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC succumbed to heavy defeats by Manchester clubs City and United respectively with the two northern giants beginning to look the most likely candidates to fight it out for the English championship crown.
Tottenham Hotspur began the weekend at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League table but they had only played one game due to their opening home match of the season against Everton FC being called off due to the recent rioting that affected England’s capital city. Despite performing well in the UEFA Europa League qualifying stages, Spurs’ first match of the domestic campaign saw the White Hart Lane club lose 3-0 away at champions Manchester United while yesterday’s 5-1 hammering at the hands of Manchester City compounded the misery further for coach Harry Redknapp and his club whose ambitions to fight for the title already look shattered even at such an early stage of the season.
The only consolation for Tottenham was that their bitter rivals Arsenal FC have had just as traumatic an opening to the new season. Before yesterday’s soul-destroying 8-2 defeat to Manchester United, Arsenal had only picked up a point from their opening two Premier League games away at Newcastle United and at home to Liverpool. Despite the consolation of scoring their first Premier League goals of the season reality is surely hitting home for coach Arsene Wenger who increasingly looks ill-equipped to do anything about the situation.
Indeed it’s been a difficult summer for both Redknapp and Wenger, both of whom have had to deal with a deluge of questions regarding want away players such as Luka Modric, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Modric started for Spurs in yesterday’s defeat and it has emerged that the player himself had asked before the game not to be featured. With the transfer window due to finally close on Wednesday it is looking like Modric’s proposed departure to Chelsea would be best for everyone concerned. Arsenal’s enforced parting of Fabregas (FC Barcelona) and Nasri, who linked up well with Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko in his first game for Manchester City yesterday, have shown that Arsenal are yet to do anything about addressing their major weaknesses. The sad fact of the matter for Wenger, however, is that he has continually sold some of his club’s best players in recent years without finding adequate replacements. It was obvious to everybody last season that the club lacked quality at the back and a leader in the midfield and these concerns still remain in the air and is beginning to make many Arsenal fans doubt Wenger’s ability to carry on in the job.
At the top of the table the two Manchester clubs continue to go from strength to strength and they are the only clubs in the English Premier League to have a 100% record after three games. Manchester United got most of their pre-season targets and the likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea are starting to fit in nicely at Old Trafford. Manchester City, meanwhile, have spent countless millions on propping up an already talented squad of players and with new signings Kun Aguero and Samir Nasri featuring so prominently already in their fledgling City careers then it is clear to see that the future looks bright for the Eastlands club. The two Manchester giants won the league (United) and the cup (City) between them last season, the first time this had occurred since 1955-56, and with the talent and the money at both clubs’ disposal then the immediate future looks bright for them and seemingly bleak for everybody else. Even Chelsea and Liverpool, who have both started off well with two wins and a draw in their opening three league games, still seem a bit off the pace but those clubs do at least have more reason to be optimistic than the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham at the moment in light of recent performances.
There are 35 games to go and fortunes can turn around quickly in football. However the minimum that both north London clubs want at the end of the season is to qualify for the UEFA Champions League but with decline seemingly setting in at Arsenal and the increased competition for the top four spots for the likes of Tottenham to worry about, things are definitely looking better if you’re a Mancunian rather than a Londoner at the moment.
The weekend played host to two of the world’s most intense local derbies as the teams involved fought for the honours in their respective national Super Cup tournaments. Whereas the Italian Super Cup saw two clubs who are virtually equal in all respects face up to each other in the shape of league champions AC Milan and cup winners Internazionale, the same couldn’t be said in its English equivalent which saw record champions Manchester United meet up once again with local foes Manchester City with the latter finally demanding more respect from their more illustrious neighbours having won the FA Cup last season.
The National Stadium in the Chinese capital of Beijing, more commonly known as the Bird’s Nest stadium due to its design, played host to the Italian Super Cup for the second time in three years with Milanese neighbours AC Milan and Internazionale hoping to become the first club to win Italian football’s curtain raising fixture for the sixth time. AC Milan won their 18th Scudetto last season, thus equalling Inter’s number of title triumphs, but hadn’t won the Super Cup since 2004 whereas Internazionale, whose run of five straight Scudetti came to an end last season, were playing in their seventh consecutive Super Cup fixture having won either the domestic league or cup (if not both) every season since 2005.
In a contest which threatened to boil over at times, the Nerazzurri of Inter took the lead after 22 minutes thanks to a Wesley Sneijder free-kick in what could possibly be the Dutchman’s last appearance in an Inter shirt before a speculated move to one of the Manchester clubs becomes a reality. There would, however, be no fairy tale win with which Sneijder could seal his time at the San Siro as the Rossoneri came fighting back in the second half when both Zlatan Ibrahimović and Kevin-Prince Boateng got their names on the score sheet to give coach Massimiliano Allegri his second trophy at AC Milan since he took charge at the beginning of last season. For new Inter coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who joined the blue half of Milan from Genoa this season, it proved to be a disappointing start to life at the helm. He will now have some idea as to what will be required to keep his team at the top of the tree and he will need to put it into practice as soon as the league campaign kicks off in two weeks’ time if he is to knock AC Milan off their perch. The champions will begin their campaign away at Cagliari whilst Inter have a home tie against Lecce.
Twenty four hours after the “Derby della Madonnina” had finished its English counterpart took place at Wembley Stadium. League champions Manchester United, who sealed a record breaking 19th championship last season, were hoping to claim the FA Community Shield for the fourth time in five seasons but faced opposition from “noisy neighbours” Manchester City who were appearing in this fixture for the first time in 38 years having finally won a trophy of their own last season in the form of the FA Cup. The two Manchester clubs had previously met in this fixture once before in 1956 when a Dennis Viollet goal sealed the win for United, a result which the Blues were hoping to reverse this time around. They gave themselves a great chance of doing just that when goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Džeko late in the first half gave City a 2-0 half-time lead. However it was perhaps predictable that the champions would come back to win the game as only they seem capable of doing. Chris Smalling pulled one back seven minutes into the second half whilst Nani equalized six minutes later. United piled the pressure upon City and it seemed that the game would go into extra-time before Vincent Kompany’s defensive error allowed Nani to go through at goal and go around keeper Joe Hart to seal the 3-2 victory for the Red Devils with virtually the last kick of the game. Yet an ominous sign to the rest of the Premier League that no matter what changes Sir Alex Ferguson makes to his side that he always comes out smiling in the end.
Manchester United duly won a record extending 19th FA Community Shield and now face up to an away match at West Bromwich Albion in their defence of the Premier League title. Manchester City will want to bounce back from this defeat quickly with a home tie against newly=promoted Swansea City next Monday evening.
Following their fourth UEFA Champions League triumph on Saturday virtually every superlative has been used to describe Pep Guardiola’s current crop of FC Barcelona stars. The Catalans’ 3-1 triumph over Manchester United meant that Guardiola, in only his third full season in charge at the Camp Nou, has won ten major trophies including the amazing Sextuple triumph from the 2008-09 season. Are they, in your opinion, the best side ever? Or is there really a team that came before who deserve the accolade of the best ever? Decide from the following choices:
REAL MADRID 1956-60
The team who took to the concept of the European Cup more than any other, the great Real Madrid side from the mid 50’s were European champions in the first five years of the competition. As well as winning two La Liga titles at home los Blancos had one of the greatest forward lines in the history of football including the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás who scored all seven goals between them in the club’s most famous win of the famous five, the 1959-60 European Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt which they won 7-3 in front of a record 127,000 crowd at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The club also became the first unofficial world champions in 1960 after defeating South American champions Peñarol in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup match.
The Italians were never also easy on the eye with their defensive brand of football, widely known as Catenaccio, winning few friends amongst their opponents. However the team known affectionately amongst all Nerazzurri supporters as La Grande Inter won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 defeating Real Madrid and Benfica respectively. As well as the 1964-65 Scudetto, Inter also became the first European team to win successive Intercontinental Cups beating Argentinians Independiente on both occasions.
AJAX AMSTERDAM 1971-73
Dutch football came to prominence in the early 1970’s with Feyenoord Rotterdam winning the European Cup in 1970 before their arch-rivals Ajax Amsterdam took their brand of Total Football to the international stage and won three successive European Cups. Players such as Johan Cruijff, Johnny Rep and Arie Haan took centre stage with final victories over Panathinaikos (1971), Internazionale (1972) and Juventus FC (1973), the latter as part of an historic treble, helping write the club’s name into the history books. Ajax also won the 1972 Intercontinental Cup against Independiente and were the inaugural UEFA Super Cup winners defeating Cup Winners’ Cup holders AC Milan in 1973.
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN 1974-76
In a manner similar to the Ajax team that preceded them, FC Bayern won the European Cup three times in a row from 1974-76 with a team full of international greats such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß. Their maiden European Cup win against Atlético de Madrid was achieved in a replay, the first and only such occasion this occurred, before going on to beat Leeds United and Saint-Étienne in the following two years. The Bavarians also won the 1973-74 Bundesliga title and their first world title with a 1976 Intercontinental Cup win over Brazilians Cruzeiro.
LIVERPOOL FC 1977-81
Liverpool, under the astute guidance of Bob Paisley, won the European Cup three times in the space of five years, thus assuring the reluctant successor to Bill Shankly his place in football history as the first, and so far only coach, to have won the trophy on so many occasions. Liverpool were dominant at home during this time with three league championship wins in 1977, 1979 and 1980 complemented by European triumphs over Borussia Mönchengladbach (1977), Club Brugge (1978) and Real Madrid (1981) which were won with a dynamic team including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Phil Neal.
AC MILAN 1988-90
Just three years after the acquisition of the club by controversial figure Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan started to make a mark on the European scene once again with back-to-back European Cup wins over Steaua Bucharest (1989) and Benfica (1990). Having won the 1988 Scudetto the Rossoneri, led by coach Arrigo Sacchi along with his team of superstars including the Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit as well as Italian legends such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, began a spell of domination which also led to successive triumphs in the UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1998-99
It is difficult to pinpoint any team over the last two decades which could stand out for Manchester United, such is the amount of success they’ve come to enjoy under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. However the team which won the Treble in the 1998-99 season deserves special praise for their sheer will-to-win and ability to turn things around when all seemed lost. A team including most of the “Class of 92” such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville went on to claim the English league and cup double before winning an unlikely UEFA Champions League triumph over FC Bayern München as the Red Devils, who were a goal down as the game went into the 90th minute, somehow scored two goals deep into stoppage time to claim the club’s second European Cup. Six months later Roy Keane scored the winner for United as they claimed the Intercontinental Cup with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras.
FC BARCELONA 2008-11
The Catalan giants have enjoyed considerable success at home and abroad over time but the club underachieved in the European Cup for many years. Having only ever been champions of Europe twice before Pep Guardiola took the coaching job in 2008, FC Barcelona have finally started to realize their potential under the current coach who has guided the club to two UEFA Champions League finals and a semi-final in three years as well as winning a host of other trophies including a grand slam of Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009. With the likes of FIFA World Cup winners Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta as well as superstar Lionel Messi many predict that their dominance could continue for some time yet.
SO WHO GETS YOUR VOTE AS THE BEST?
The word “Superclásico” has come into footballing lexicon in recent years as a way of describing those games which are amongst the biggest and most widely anticipated in world football. Sunday sees five such encounters taking place all over Europe and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews them all here (all times given are local):
FEYENOORD ROTTERDAM v AJAX AMSTERDAM (12:30)
A repeat of last season’s KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final, these two oldest and bitterest of enemies meet again in the first Klassieker of the new season. Home team Feyenoord last won this fixture in the 2005-06 season and their success starved supporters will feel that a victory over Ajax is long overdue. They start the game in eighth place, six points behind Martin Jol’s Ajax who, in turn, lie in joint second place with PSV Eindhoven and have the chance to go top of the table this weekend. Ajax have won five out of the last eight matches between the two sides in the Eredivisie and are favourites to win again on Sunday.
MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (13:30)
The most decorated fixture in English football takes place at Old Trafford with both clubs experiencing different fortunes. Manchester United are in third place and unbeaten in the 2010-11 season so far going into this game whilst Liverpool, under new coach Roy Hodgson, have had some teething problems and have only won one of their four matches and lie in 16th place before kick-off. Manchester United still has the whip hand in this fixture having won 59 games to 52 with 43 draws (league game stats only) but Liverpool’s recent record against United is pretty good having won three of the last four matches. The odds, though, are certainly more favourable towards the Red Devils with United expected to gain all three points.
SCHALKE 04 v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (17:30)
Die Königsblauen (Royal Blues) of Schalke 04 have caused controversy ahead of this game by significantly raising prices for visiting Borussia Dortmund fans who, in turn, have threatened to boycott the game in large numbers in protest. On the pitch Dortmund are in good form and have won two of their three Bundesliga matches so far in stark contrast to Schalke 04 who have lost all three of their matches and lie rooted to the bottom of the table. The head-to-head record between these two arch-rivals is close with just one Schalke win (27 wins) separating them from Dortmund (26) and it’s the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the better of it in recent times with six wins in the most recent ten league matches, die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) from Dortmund last winning in 2007.
FENERBAHÇE v BEŞIKTAŞ (19:00)
OK, so many people would argue that the true Superclásico of Turkish football is the game between Fener and Galatasaray but the statistics show that games involving Beşiktaş are every bit as important as those involving the original Big Two. Beşiktaş go into Sunday’s game three points better off having won three and lost one of their four games thus far in the Süper Lig whilst Fenerbahçe have won two and lost two. In recent years honours have been even in these games with each team winning one each in the last two seasons but the picture overall favours Fener who have won 122 of the 326 matches between them (all competitions) with Beşiktaş just three wins behind.
SPORTING v SL BENFICA (21:15)
Champions Benfica have struggled domestically this season with just one win and three defeats in their first four matches of the new campaign whilst local rivals Sporting lie in sixth place with seven points. The head-to-head record between these arch local rivals – despite FC Porto’s recent dominance this is still regarded as the biggest derby fixture in Portugal – goes in Benfica’s favour with 168 wins in 401 official matches (all competitions) compared to 153 for Sporting. Last season Benfica got four points from the two league derbies whilst Sporting last had the better of this fixture in 2005-06 when they did the ‘double’ over the Águias (Eagles).
Two more important league derbies which take place on Sunday but are not quite of Superclásico status involve the derby of Hamburg between newly-promoted St Pauli and the traditional giants of the city Hamburger SV (kick-off 15:30) whilst across the border in Denmark an important derby in the capital city of Copenhagen sees the defending SAS Superliga champions FC København take on arguably the country’s most famous club Brøndby IF (kick-off 18:00). St Pauli won their opening match of the new Bundesliga campaign away in Freiburg but have lost both their subsequent games whilst HSV hope to jump into second place with a win against their local rivals from the local district of the same name. In Denmark the New Firm take centre stage with Brøndby IF needing a win away from home to stay in touch with their neighbours FC København who come back to domestic action following their 1-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League.
When Manchester United and Glasgow Rangers walk out of the tunnel on to the Old Trafford turf tomorrow night the two giants of British football will write another chapter into what UK-based journalists always refer to as the “Battle of Britain”. There have been many such occasions in UEFA club competition over the years where English and Scottish clubs have been paired against each other and these matches are, more often than not, truly memorable occasions in which passion and emotion run high as clubs from rival nations try to outdo each other with national pride at stake. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at some of the famous clashes.
It is very surprising that the European Cup or Champions League has only ever seen seven fixtures of this type in its fifty five year history. More surprising is that there were only two such contests before the competition became rebranded in 1991-92. The first Battle of Britain to grace Europe’s elite competition was a famous two-legged semi-final in the 1969-70 season which saw the great Glasgow Celtic side of Jock Stein overcome Don Revie’s Leeds United. George Connelly’s lone strike for the Bhoys was the decider in the opening leg played in Leeds whilst United’s Billy Bremner opened the scoring in the return leg at Parkhead to restore parity overall in the tie. Celtic, who were in the middle of a nine year reign as Scottish champions, went through with two second leg strikes from John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch to reach their second European Cup final in three years. A little over a decade later in the 1980-81 season saw English champions Liverpool FC easily overcome the challenge of Aberdeen FC winning 5-0 on aggregate in the 2nd round. Terry McDermott scored the only goal in the first leg at Pittodrie whilst goals from Phil Neal, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and a Willy Miller own goal completed the rout for the Reds from Anfield. Maybe it was this experience more than any other in his career that made the then-Aberdeen coach Alex Ferguson want to “knock the Scousers of their f***ing perch”…..
Since the UEFA Champions League came into being in the early nineties there have been five such contests in the competition. In 1992-93 there were two knockout rounds before the group stages came into play and it was in the 2nd round that English champions Leeds United met up against another Scottish club who were in the process of a nine-in-a-row title procession, namely Glasgow Rangers. Once again the Yorkshiremen would be on the losing side as the Scottish champions won both legs with a 2-1 scoreline and, thus, 4-2 on aggregate. The first leg at Ibrox Park saw Leeds take the lead through Gary McAllister (it’s ironic that, up until this point, many a Scotsman has featured prominently for the English team in these “Battles”) before a John Lukic own goal and an Ally McCoist goal just before half-time give the Gers the advantage going into the second leg at Elland Road. Any hopes that Leeds had of a glory night at home were dashed when Mark Hateley (for once an Englishman doing the Scots a favour) gave Rangers the lead after two minutes before McCoist would increase the lead further, putting the tie beyond doubt before Eric Cantona scored a consolation for Howard Wilkinson’s men.
In the last decade Manchester United were paired against both of the Old Firm in the Champions League group stages and pretty much enjoyed the lion’s share of success losing just once in six games. In the 2003-04 season the Red Devils made easy work of Glasgow Rangers with a 1-0 win at Ibrox Park complemented by as one-sided a 3-0 win as you’ll ever see in football. The former tie was decided by Phil Neville with a fifth-minute goal whilst the latter tie saw Diego Forlán and Ruud van Nistelrooy (2) and those wins aided United’s progress to the top of their group whilst Rangers finished bottom propping up Panathinaikos and VfB Stuttgart as well as United.
The 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons saw United take on the other half of the Glasgow with four matches against Celtic. The 2006-07 season saw home success for both teams as United won the first game 3-2 in a topsy-turvy game in which both teams lead at some stage before United sealed the deal. The other game at Parkhead saw a late strike from Shunsuke Nakamura lift the roof of the stadium as Celtic gained revenge for the Old Trafford defeat with a 1-0 victory but, in any case, both teams progressed from the group only to suffer the anguish of elimination by that season’s champions AC Milan. Manchester United would gain four points from six in the 2008-09 group stages against Celtic winning the first game at Old Trafford 3-0 thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov (2) and Wayne Rooney whilst in the return leg Ryan Giggs saved United from defeat with a late equalizer six minutes from time having been behind since the 13th minute through Scott McDonald. Celtic would end up bottom of their group with Villarreal and Aalborg also finishing above them whilst United would go on to reach their second consecutive Champions League but were put to the sword after a classic FC Barcelona won a complete set of trophies in that year.
The final contest took place in the Play-Off stage of 2009-10 in what was a return back to two-legged knockout football as Celtic and Arsenal FC met in order to try and qualify for the Champions League proper. The Gunners would eventually see off the Celts with a 5-1 aggregate victory but after winning the first leg 2-0, Arsenal gained the first goal in the return leg in controversial circumstances when Eduardo dived in the box – the resulting penalty would see off the challenge from Celtic much to their fans annoyance.
There have been many more matches between English and Scottish teams in European competition throughout the years. The very first meeting came in the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1960-61 season when Glasgow Rangers defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 over two legs. Overall there have been 58 matches played between clubs from these two historic rival nations with English clubs enjoying double the number of victories that Scottish clubs have – England has 28 wins compared to Scotland’s 14 with 16 drawn matches – with many memorable games along the way (e.g. 2002-03 Liverpool v Glasgow Celtic in the UEFA Cup) and some not very memorable ones (does anyone out there really have any memories from the 1968-69 Cup Winners Cup quarter-final between Dunfermline FC and West Bromwich Albion?) Nevertheless one can only guess that the match-ups to come in this year’s UEFA Champions League will live up to their billing and will add another glorious chapter to these most fascinating of fixtures.
FC Bayern and Chelsea were amongst the teams crowned national champions in Europe this weekend whilst Italy’s champions-elect FC Internazionale have been taken to the wire by AS Roma who will complete the Serie A season next weekend. In other leagues Real Madrid and FC Barcelona also will fight it out on the last day in Spain after both teams won their Saturday night matches against Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla CF respectively.
FC Bayern München had pretty much sealed the title after the penultimate round of games after they had beaten VfL Bochum at the same time their only title challengers FC Schalke 04 were going down to home defeat against Werder Bremen. On the last day FC Bayern travelled to the German capital to face a Hertha BSC side who were already facing up to the prospect of Second League football next season. This game proved to be a stroll for the Bavarians with goals from Ivica Olić and a brace from Dutch sensation Arjen Robben sealing a 3-1 win in the Olympiastadion where FC Bayern have the chance to complete a domestic double against Werder Bremen in next weekend’s DFB Pokal (German Cup final). Schalke 04 could only draw 0-0 away at 1.FSV Mainz 05 to put a disappointing end to their campaign whilst Werder Bremen gave themselves a boost before the cup final by gaining a point at home to bitter local northern rivals Hamburger SV and clinch the third UEFA Champions League place. Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and a rejuvenated VfB Stuttgart will take their places in the UEFA Europa League next season. As well as Hertha BSC the 2.Liga will be joined by VfL Bochum next season with the possibility of 1.FC Nürnberg joining them should they lose a promotion/relegation play-off to FC Augsburg.
In England it was a topsy-turvy campaign in the Premier League with the leadership changing hands on no fewer than twenty two occasions during the campaign. Thankfully for the Blues of Chelsea FC it didn’t turn out to be twenty three as the Stamford Bridge side won with considerable ease against Wigan Athletic by eight goals to nil. A hat-trick for Didier Drogba and a brace for Nicolas Anelka was supplemented by solitary strikes by Frank Lampard, Solomon Kalou and Ashley Cole to give Chelsea their fourth English championship, their first since the days of Jose Mourinho in 2006. Present Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti has a real chance to win the Double in his first season in charge should the Blues do, as expected, win next weekend’s FA Cup final against Portsmouth FC at Wembley Stadium. Chelsea’s title rivals Manchester United saw off Stoke City 4-0 at Old Trafford but the Red Devils only have the League Cup to show for their efforts in the 2009-10 campaign. The top two will be joined by Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur in next season’s UEFA Champions League while Manchester City, Aston Villa and a very disappointing Liverpool FC will be playing UEFA Europa League football next term. At the bottom of the table Portsmouth FC’s relegation was confirmed some time ago and they will be joined in the Championship (second tier) by Hull City and Burnley FC who go straight back down after their maiden Premier League appearance.
SL Benfica sealed their 32nd championship title in Portugal’s Liga Sagres thansk to an Oscar Cardozo double which gave the Eagles a 2-1 home win over Rio Ave. At the same time their only title rivals Sporting Braga could only muster a 1-1 draw on the island of Madeira against a determined Nacional side who ensured that the league title would’ve gone to Benfica even had the league leaders had surprisingly lost at home as Braga needed all three points coupled with a Benfica defeat to win the title. In any case Sporting Braga can be very proud of their efforts as they finished second and, thus, qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. Deposed champions FC Porto finished three points further back in third and will only play in UEFA Europa League next season along with Sporting Lisbon and Marítimo. At the bottom last season’s surprise package SC Leixões were relegated along with Os Belenenses, both of whom will play in the Liga de Honra next season.
Title races in Spain and Italy must be sorted out on the final day of the season as both the main challengers in both countries won their penultimate fixtures this weekend. On Saturday in Spain both defending champions FC Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid won tough fixtures against Sevilla CF (3-2) and Athletic Bilbao (5-1) respectively. Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona side were coasting to a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Messi, Bojan and Pedro before they allowed the Andalucians back into the game with two goals in the space of sixty seconds from Fredi Kanouté and Luis Fabiano to give the Blaugrana a real scare but the visitors held out for three very important points. Real Madrid were being held at one all with a little under twenty minutes to go before Gonzalo Higuaín opened the floodgates for los Blancos who went on to record a 5-1 win and keep up the pressure on the Catalans. Next week sees FC Barcelona at home to Valladolid and Real Madrid away at Malaga FC on what should be an exciting final day’s action.
In Italy FC Internazionale, who won the Coppa Italia final against AS Roma earlier in the week, thought that they were going to celebrate their fifth straight Scudetto as they were beating Chievo 4-1 with goals from Mantovani (own goal), Cambiasso, Milito and Balotelli, giving the Nerazzurri a healthy advantage whilst nearest challengers AS Roma were losing 1-0 at home to Cagliari Calcio. But in the last twenty minutes Chievo pulled two goals back to give Inter a scare and AS Roma’s talismanic captain Francesco Totti scored twice to give the Giallorossi hope of winning the title with one game left. Next Sunday’s action sees Inter away to already relegated Siena and AS Roma away at Chievo and many will fancy the Nerazzurri to do the domestic Double before meeting up with FC Bayern in the UEFA Champions League on Saturday, May 22nd.
The UEFA Champions League is now at the quarter-final stage and there are four mouth-watering clashes that whet the appetite for the feast of football which lies ahead in the next fortnight. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” looks at the current form guide of each pairing of teams involved in the last eight of the competition:
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v MANCHESTER UNITED (England)
This game brings back memories of United’s famous last-gasp triumph in the 1998-99 UEFA Champions League final where the Red Devils came from behind in second half stoppage time to win a thrilling contest 2-1. FC Bayern have gained revenge since then having knocked United out of this competition at the quarter-final stage in 2000-01, going on to lift the trophy against Valencia CF in that same season. At the moment both teams are, as expected, fighting for their respective national championships with Manchester United topping the English Premier League and FC Bayern just two points behind current leaders FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. However the form of the two teams makes interesting reading as United have won all three of their games (against Fulham FC, Liverpool FC and Bolton Wanderers) since knocking AC Milan out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. In contrast FC Bayern have won only one of their last three league games, losing the last two matches to Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart, although they did reach the DFB Pokal final thanks to a “Traumtor” (dream goal) from Arjen Robben. Two potential classic matches await in this fixture.
OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v FC GIRONDINS de BORDEAUX (France)
During the UEFA Champions League draw in Nyon the reaction of Olympique Lyonnais chairman Jean-Michel Aulas said it all when his team were paired with fellow compatriots Girondins de Bordeaux in the last eight of this competition. After he had laughed off the events of the draw ceremony the serious business of preparing for France’s biggest football contest for many years began. This is a match that will grip the French nation as it will be a fascinating duel between the two teams who have won the last eight championships with Girondins having brought OL‘s fantastic run of seven successive championships to an end last season. Domestically Girondins are hanging on to the lead in Ligue 1 by a thread with no fewer than five teams capable of mounting a realistic challenge to their crown and their European opponents will want to remind Laurent Blanc’s men that there will be psychological points to be scored in this match. Olympique Lyonnais lie two points behind the leaders (albeit having played two games more) and will wish to make a statement in this game in order to sew a few seeds of doubt in the heads of the league leaders. Since the Round of 16 stage FC Girondins have only played two matches, winning one in the league against Lille OSC but losing the first domestic silverware of the season last Saturday in the Coupe de la Ligue final against Olympique Marseille. Olympique Lyonnais have a mixed record since they sensationally knocked-out Real Madrid in the last round, taking four points from their last three games.
ARSENAL FC (England) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)
There may be more history in the FC Bayern – Manchester United match but this is the match that all football purists everywhere will be looking forward to. Defending European champions FC Barcelona will hope to put Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal FC side to the sword in a repeat of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League final and a game which brings Gunners legend Thierry Henry back to his old club. He has publicly stated before this game that he will “always be an Arsenal fan” despite him now sporting the famous Blaugrana shirt of the Catalans. There is a reunion of sorts for Arsenal captain Cesc Fàbregas who will return to his boyhood heroes in the second leg fixture at Camp Nou. With both teams playing arguably the most exciting brand of football anywhere in Europe it should be the most technical and skillful of the four quarter-final match-ups. Both teams are in good form domestically since qualifying from the Round of 16 with Barça winning all three of their games against Real Zaragoza, Osasuna and Real Mallorca to keep in touch with eternal rivals Real Madrid CF at the top of La Liga. Arsenal are currently four points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United having dropped two points in their most recent game against Birmingham City following wins against Hull City and West Ham United.
INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)
Both of these teams pulled out amazing victories in the Round of 16 with Jose Mourinho’s Inter disposing of his former club Chelsea FC and Russian side CSKA Moscow knocking out Sevilla FC who were fancied as outside favourites by many people prior to their elimination in this tournament. Both of these teams played each other in the UEFA Champions League as recently as the 2007-08 season with the Italians having the better of their two games in the group stage beating the Army Men 2-1 in Russia and 4-2 in Italy. Internazionale FC are currently top of Italy’s Serie A but only by one point having dropped five out of the last available nine points in the league. Since knocking out Chelsea the Nerazzurri struggled to a draw against Palermo, beat relegation-threatened Livorno and lost the crucial top-of-the-table clash at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to AS Roma who now lie in second place. The Russian Premier League season is only three games old and the Muscovites have started the season well having taken seven out of nine points to share the lead with three other teams. An opening day win over Amkar Perm and a Matchday 3 victory win over Anzhi Makhachkala sandwiched a goalless draw in the big local derby against Dinamo Moscow.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS (team on left is home first)
1st Leg 30/03/10; 2nd Leg 07/04/10
FC Bayern München v Manchester United
Olympique Lyonnais v FC Girondins de Bordeaux
1st Leg 31/03/10; 2nd Leg 06/04/10
Arsenal FC v FC Barcelona
Internazionale FC v CSKA Moscow