Unflattering footballer nicknames

Footballer nicknames are all fine and well, until you find yourself stuck with an unflattering one like 'psycho', 'ape', 'calamity' or 'sicknote'. Luckily you're not necessarily stuck with a nasty nickname. Gerd Müller is proof of that. The height challenged German striker was in danger of having to spend his career being known as 'Kleines Dickes'. That was after his first coach at Bayern Munich famously asked 'what am I meant to do with this little fat one', when Muller first entered the club's training ground. Stick him up front and let him shoot at goal, as it turned out. So outstanding was Müller at hammering in the goals, he ended up earning himself the much more flattering nickname 'Der Bomber'.

The opposite happened to William Henry Foulke, the legendary Sheffield United goalkeeper who was active around the turn of the twentieth century. At the start of his career, Foulke was noted mainly for his impressive height. At six foot four he was extremely tall for the period that he lived in. His extraordinary ability to stop even the best placed balls soon earned him the nickname 'the octopus' and a well deserved call up for the English national team.

In Pictures - Maradona plays against Scotland

The 62.000 spectators who attended the friendly between Scotland and Argentian at Hampden Park on June 2nd, 1979 were witnessing history. Unfortunately for them it wasn't a maiden win over Argentina, as the visitors won the match 3-1. What they did witness was a young Diego Maradona scoring his first ever international goal. The fans didn't seem to mind too much, reportedly chanting 'Argentina, Argentina' in recognition of the masterclass put on by the reigning World Champions, and in particular by the 18-year old prodigy in their ranks.

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Diego Maradona on the ball against Scotland at Hampden Park

Playing on with a broken neck

There are plenty of examples of footballers playing on with injuries. No self respecting football hard man is going to let a head wound get the better of him, no matter how enthusiastically the blood may be flowing out of it. The urge to play on no matter what has produced iconic images of Giorgio Chellini, Paul Ince, and off course Terry Butcher, playing with a blood stained shirt and a turban of bandages. But playing on with an broken neck? That’s taking things to a whole other level. Still, that’s exactly what happend at Wembley on the 5th of May 1956, when Manchester City and Birmingham City met in the final of the FA-Cup

In goal for Manchester City that day was the German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann. He had come to England as a prisoner of war during the Second World War. Trautmann had decided to stick around after the war and had stumbled onto a career as a goalkeeper, even though he had only started playing during his time as a POW. After having initially encountered a lot of resistance, he had earned the esteem of crowds and colleagues alike. Trautmann was living up to his reputation, when in the 75th minute, with Manchester leading 3-1, he collided with a Birmingham attacker in a brave attempt to stifle a breakthrough that threatened to throw the game wide open.

In Pictures - Gullit captains Holland in 1988 final

With Holland missing out on the 2016 European Championship, it’s time for fans of Dutch football to reflect on the good times of the past. In 1988 an impressively mustachioed Ruud Gullit captained the Dutch national team to victory at Euro 1988. The powerful forward might have expected to be the star of that team, but found himself outshone by Marco van Basten. Gullit contented himself to play in the service of his team, fully living up to his captaincy, but did produce one crucial goal when he opened the score in the final against the Soviet Union.

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Gullit and his teammates lining up before the match

Hooliganism makes it to the big stage

Football vandalism has a surprisingly long history, but modern hooliganism is the product of the England of the 1970’s, when crime and violence were rife around football games. The rest of Europe soon found itself introduced to the phenomenon, as British teams travelled to the continent for European cup ties. As authorities struggled to get hooliganism under control, crowd violence led to suspensions from European competition for Leeds United in 1975 and Manchester United in 1977. The World Cups and European Championships held during the decade however, were spared the new violent fan culture. The reason was simple: England had failed to qualify for every major tournament since the 1970 World Cup.

At Euro 1980 England was present for the first time since football hooliganism had exploded into public consciousness. The England team, featuring the likes of Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Brooking and Tony Woodcock, was widely counted amongst the favorites. English clubs had won the European Cup four years running, with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest both winning it twice. There was every reason then, to assume that English fans would travel to support their team en masse. About 4500 supporters obtained tickets for England’s first game, in Turin against Belgium, through official channels. But in fact about 8000 Englishmen descended upon Turin and the surrounding area. Any hopes that it might be a peaceful affair soon evaporated as numerous violent confrontations between English fans on the one hand, and Italian fans or police on the other, marred the run up to the game.

In Pictures - Gascoigne scores against Scotland

Paul Gascoigne had stormed onto the international scene at the 1990 World Cup. Six years later the days when Gazzamania had swept the country, seemed like an eternity away. Problems with alcohol and injuries had started to overshadow his career and there was a widespread belief he was past it. In the second game of England’s Euro 1996 campaign, Gazza replied to his critics in the most effective way: with his feet. Passing a Scottish defender with a superior flick, he proceeded to volley the ball into the net, scoring one of the most memorable goals in the history of the European Championships.

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Jack Charlton’s little black book

When Jack Charlton admitted to having a little black book during a television interview in 1970, viewers perhaps wondered if they were about to be made privy to some scandalous secrets by the seemingly happily married World Cup winner. But instead of providing juicy stories for the gossip pages, Charlton’s disclosure ended up sparking a scandal that would dominate the back pages for weeks, as journalists and officials tumbled over one another in self righteously denouncing the tough as nails veteran defender.

Charlton had made it clear that his little black book did not contain women’s telephone numbers, but names of players that he would do on the field if he got the chance because they had committed bad fouls on him. Charlton really hadn’t said much wrong. He had explicitly denounced bad or nasty fouls. It did not lessen the media frenzy that followed. “These sickening comments,” ran a headline in the Daily Express, above an article that called on Leeds to sack Charlton. Even Bobby Charlton was trotted out to denounce his older brother. The Football Association dutifully charged the man with 35 caps to his name with bringing the game into disrepute.

In Pictures - Michel Platini during Euro 1984

It’s stated quite often that Diego Maradona won the 1986 Wold Cup single handedly. But insofar as anyone can actually win a tournament on his own, that distinction would apply to Michel Platini at Euro 1984 much more than to Maradona two years later. The gifted French playmaker scored in every one of his team’s five matches. In total Platini scored an astonishing number of nine goals in the course of the tournament, including hattricks against Belgium and Yugoslavia.

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Platini celebrates his goal in the opener against Denmark (1-0)

Pelé as a goalkeeper

When you’ve famously scored more than a thousand goals and have gone down in history as one of the best players ever (if not in fact the best one), you can hardly be said to have missed your calling. Still, if the pictures below of a seventeen year old Pelé in action as a goalkeeper are anything to go by, it would seem a decent goalkeeper might have been lost in the legendary Brazilian striker. Because that seems like an excellent save he pulls of in the face of two onstorming attackers.

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In Pictures - Hughes and Rush beat Spain

Making it to the last four of the 2016 European Championship surely surpassed the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic of Wales fans and players. After all, for decades even qualifying for a major tournament had proved a pipe dream for generations of Welsh internationals. For all the European trophies players like Mike England, John Toshack and Ryan Giggs won with their clubs, they never played a World Cup or European Championship with their country.

Neither did Ian Rush and and Mark Hughes, even though they formed an impressive front two in the mid eighties that would have easily walked into the line up of much bigger countries. They complimented each other perfectly: Hughes was a powerful target man who fought for every ball, while Rush was a clinical finisher. The highlight of their partnerschip was a 3-0 home defeat of Spain in 1985 in a qualifier for the 1986 World Cup. Rush scored two goals against the Spaniards, who had made it to the final of the European Championship the year before, while Hughes scored one. It was a legendary night for Welsh football, but not enough to make it to Mexico: Wales would be eliminated from the qualifying proces on goal difference.

Thibaut Courtois following in the footsteps of…

When Belgium took the field against Italy during Euro 2016, Thibaut Courtois became the first Belgian to tend goal at a European Championship in sixteen years. He was following in the footsteps of Eric Deflandre. If that name does not ring the same kind of bell, even among goalkeeping aficionados, that the names of legendary Belgian goalies like Jean-Marie Pfaff and Michel Preud’homme do, it might be because Deflandre was in fact a full-back. He was a fine one at that, earning 57 caps at right-back for Belgium and winning the French league three times in a row with Lyon. But his true five minutes of fame came when the Red Devils experienced a night in purgatory as their Euro 2000 dreams turned into a nightmare.

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Courtois will likely be a little more pleased to be putting on the gloves

Writing the wrong kind of history

Playing in a major tournament, the dream of every team is to write history. But as England found out against Iceland during Euro 2016, that dream coming true does not necessarily equal a happy end, as you may find yourselves writing the wrong kind of history. That England team will live on in the memory of football fans, but they do so as the 21st century equivalent of that other England team suffering an ignominious defeat: the 1950 World Cup squad that were beaten 1-0 by the United States.

The World Cup was held in Brazil that year, and England had travelled to South America as one of the favorites. There was certainly a reasonable basis for that. England were able to field a strong team, featuring seasoned professionals like Stan Mortensen, Alf Ramsey, and Tom Finney. The team was captained by the Wolves centre back Billy Wright, who would collect more than a honderd caps even though he was active in a period when fewer international games were played then nowadays. Their first game in Brazil, against Chili, had been won 2-0. Lining up against the English professionals in Belo Horizonte’s Estádio Independencia was an American team consisting of amateurs and semi-professionals that had lost it’s first game 3-1 to Spain.