Saturday, 22 August 2015

REG IN EXCELSIOR




After Carlisle’s 4-4 draw with Cambridge last Saturday, manager Keith Curle said: 'We have to remember Rome wasn't built in a day. Likewise, Carlisle United wasn't resurrected in a summer. The pillars are in place where we can grow. There's no fear factor in the way we play because I know where the changing room is going.'

Which I rather enjoyed.

Also, on the first Saturday of the season at Sam Smith's Park. The game about five minutes old, the linesman on the touchline nearest us set off on a trot, slipped and fell flat on his face, provoing the following:
First fan: Sniper!
Second fan: Cheat
Third fan: He never touched him, ref.
Fourth fan: There's no one near him.
Fifth fan: Diving is the scourge of the modern game.
There was a pause. The linesman picked himself up. Then a Shildon fan shouted, 'Don't worry, lino - nobody noticed.'

Off to Seaham today. And so for no good reason whatsoever here is a piece that appeared in the 2012 Wembley Handbook. It’s about the 1948 Olympic football tournament. Great Britain’s squad for the event was entirely made up of amateur players from the Home Nations, yet despite the obvious strength of the Northern League only one player from the North-East - Bob Hardisty - was selected for inclusion. That didn’t mean there was a lack of regional interest, however. In fact a former-pitman from Darlington picked up a bronze medal....
 
 
 

 

 
At the 1948 London Olympics, a football team managed by a tough and patriotic English defender romped to the gold medal hitting 22 goals in just four matches and winning plaudits for their skill and athleticism. That might have been good for Great Britain, except that the Englishman in question, Yorkshire-born George Raynor, was the coach of Sweden.

Not that the 1948 version of Team-GB did badly. Great Britain had not won an Olympic medal since they took gold in Stockholm in 1912 and few observers expected that drought to end when the competition began on July 26th with a preliminary match that saw Luxembourg hammer Afghanistan 6-0 in front of 5,000 curious spectators at Brighton’s Goldstone Ground. Yet a Great Britain side that supplemented its post-War food rations with parcels of grub furnished by the sympathetic Swiss FA and trained on a Stately Home tennis court, put in an inspiring performance that did much to lift the spirit of the nation’s football fans. The team’s manager, Matt Busby, would later say that leading this makeshift side to within a whisker of a medal, ranked as one of his proudest achievements.

Playing in a strip that was simply the England kit with an Olympic badge sewn on the left-breast, Busby’s side was made up of recently demobbed military personnel and featured ten Englishmen (including captain Bob Hardisty, a mate of Busby’s from the Army Physical Training Corps), seven Scots (all from Queens Park), three Welshmen and a pair of Northern Irishman that included Denis Kelleher, who four years previously had escaped from a German POW camp in Bremen with such elegant nonchalance it inspired the film The Great Escape

The Second World War and its aftermath were keenly felt. Lack of funds prevented any of the South American teams from competing, Germany was not invited, and, under orders from Stalin, the USSR and the rest of what was soon to become the Soviet Bloc refused to take part. Amongst the 18 teams that did compete were three exceptional sides – Sweden, Yugoslavia and Denmark - and a dozen players who would go on to become stars in Italy and Spain.

While Luxembourg triumphed over Afghanistan, along the coast in Portsmouth a Netherlands side who had – daringly- flown to London the week before, overcame the Republic of Ireland, managed by Johnny Carey, captain of Manchester United. Holland was not yet a football powerhouse, but, coached by Jesse Carver – a Liverpudlian who’d played centre-back for Newcastle – there were inklings of what was to come, not least in the figure of Servaas Wilkes, who netted twice against the Republic. The inside forward was one of the best dribblers in European football, tormenting opposing defenders often merely for the sake of it. Shortly after the Olympics he’d leave his homeland – where football was still strictly amateur - for the rich pickings of Serie A, signing for Internazionale. Wilkes became a star in Milan and later moved to Spain to play for Valencia, where mothers named their sons “Faas” in his honour. Frivolous and entertaining, he was the idol and inspiration of thousands of youngsters in the Netherlands, amongst them Johan Cruyff.

The Dutch defeat of the Irish earned them a first round tie against Great Britain at Highbury. It was a blood and thunder encounter. Quite literally in the former case. Like Dutch teams of more the more recent past, this one did not shy from the physical side of the game, thumping into challenges with such ferocity that GB defender Tommy Hopper of Bromley finished the match with concussion and a fractured cheekbone. The physicality of the contest only seemed to inspire Busby’s men, however, and they went in at half-time 3-1 up. In the second period Holland hit back, with Wilkes striking a fabulous left foot volley to tie the scores.

He might have got more had it not been for Britain’s teenage goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson. The Scot was still school age, but he already had plenty of experience having made his league debut for Queens Park when he was just 15, Of all of the Great Britain’s players he would go on to have the greatest career, collecting two FA Cup winners medals with Newcastle United, before returning north to star for Jock Stein’s Celtic in the 1967 European Cup Final.

With Simpson pulling off a couple of memorable saves the match went into extra time. Here Busby’s ruthless fitness regime gave his side the edge, the British growing stronger as the Dutch wilted. A goal by Harry McIlvenny sealed it for the hosts. At the final whistle the gore splattered Hopper fainted and was rushed to hospital.
 
 

The most curious match of the first round was played at Lynn Road, Ilford where 17,000 fans watched India take on a French side whose training had been disrupted by a shortage of footballs (Nations had been asked to bring their own, but the French FA forgot theirs).  The Indians were playing their first official match since independence and astonished everybody by taking to the field without boots. Despite the obvious problems of going unshod, the Olympic Report declares approvingly that: “Not one shirked the heaviest tackle”. France took the lead, but India soon equalised. In the second-half the men from the Sub-Continent dominated, winning two penalties. Unfortunately for them the first was blasted wide and the second struck straight at Rouxel in the French goal. With a minute remaining the French burst up the field and Persillon struck the winner

In Portsmouth Italy, managed by the bespectacled autocrat Vittorio Pozzo who had taken the Azzuri to back-to-back World Cup triumphs in the 1930s, hammered the USA 9-0. The Americans – who had barely had time to practice together - were not demoralised. Two years later, in Belo Horizonte, many of the players humiliated at Fratton Park would pull off one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history defeating England 1-0.

Raynor’s Swedes, meanwhile, brushed aside an Austrian XI that included Ernst Happel, later to manage Feyenoord and Hamburg to European Cup triumphs; while South Korea beat Mexico 5-3 at Champion Hill, Dulwich.Luxembourg too were on the end of a thrashing, conceding six against a Yugoslavia team which played in a style so creative and free-flowing at times it appeared to British observers raised on the rigid certainties of the WM formation to border on total anarchy.

In the remaining matches Turkey easily defeated the Republic of China in Walthamstow, while Denmark – managed by one Englishman, Reg Mountford – defeated an Egyptian side coached by another - Errington 'Eric' Keen.
 
 

The son of a tailor, Mountford was born in Woodland Road, Darlington. He'd played for the Quakers and netted a hat-trick for them in a game against Rochdale before moving on to Huddersfield Town for whom he appeared in the first televised FA Cup final. After the war he'd emigrated to Denmark to take up a coaching position at BK Frem of Copenhagen leading them to the runners-up spot in the Danish League.
 
 
 
Eric Keen was born in Walker and as a junior played for Newcastle Swifts. He'd briefly been on Newcastle United's books but made his name at Derby County, winning four England caps. When the war started he was player-manager of Hereford United. After the Olympics he'd manage IFK Norrkoping in Sweden and Turkish giants Besiktas.
 
In the Quarter-Finals the Yugoslavs were drawn to meet Turkey in Ilford. The Yugoslavia line-up – who all played football full-time, though not, apparently, for money - included the strikers Stepjan Bobek who is – and is likely to remain – that now non-existent nation’s leading international goalscorer; Rajko Mitic of Red Star Belgrade and Franjo Wolfi of Dinamo Zagreb who had top-scored in the Yugoslav national League in the two previous seasons. The trio were in formidable form scoring two of goals and setting up the third as Turkey were easily vanquished.

Denmark – who were genuine amateurs - also had an outstanding bunch of attacking players and proved it by smashing five goals past Italy. The watching Azzuri officials were impressed and soon a trio of Danes – centre-forward John Hansen, left-winger Karl-Aage Prest and schemer Karl Aaage Hansen were on their way to Turin where they helped Juventus win the Scudetto in 1950 and again in 1952.

At Selhurst Park, Gunnar Nordahl of Sweden struck four goals as his team thrashed South Korea 12-0. Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren also got on the scoresheet. Within a year, the trio would form the so-called GRE-NO-LI spearhead of a Milan side that won the Italian title four times in ten years.

There were to be no such heroics, or big money moves abroad for Matt Busby’s men. Still tired from their efforts against the Dutch t they battled hard to overcome a listless France at Craven Cottage, eventually triumphing through a single goal from Bob Hardisty.

The win set up a semi-final meeting with Yugoslavia at Wembley. To cut costs in austerity Britain the team travelled to the stadium on the underground. The match, pitting what was effectively a team of full-time pros against a side comprising of doctors, teachers and biscuit factory workers had the whiff of the FA Cup third round about it. Busby’s team were the underdogs, but cheered on by a crowd of 40,000 and with little to lose they tore into their opponents from the outset. Twice in the opening twenty minutes McIlvenny, was put clean though on goal only to muff both chances. Gradually Yugoslavia’s superior speed and passing began to assert itself. They took the lead through Bobek, when Northern Ireland’s Kevin McAlinden – who had replaced the injured Simpson in the England goal – fumbled.  Frank Donovan – who played his club football for Pembroke Borough - equalised shortly afterwards with a thumping shot, but the Yugoslavs’ attacking play was of a higher order than anything Busby’s men had encountered so far and Volfy soon restored the visitor’s lead, Mitic adding a third after half-time. England hit back with passion but insufficient guile, and could not score again. They had given everything, but been beaten by a better side.

Sweden edged out the Danes 4-2 in the other semi-final and then, in front of 60,000 fans on a heavy, wet Wembley pitch that didn’t suit the Yugoslavs mesmerising style, ran out deserved 3-1 winners to take gold.

Over the next decade Raynor would take the Swedes to third place in the 1950 World Cup, bronze medal position in the 1952 Olympics and then, after a spell coaching in Serie A, to runners-up spot in the 1958 World Cup.
 
 

Tired of living abroad the Yorkshireman returned to England shortly afterwards. But he was never given much chance on these shores, where his innovative style was regarded with suspicion and his success on the continent counted for little. A man who was feted in Europe as a football genius, ended up spending two seasons coaching Skegness Town while eking out his salary giving football lessons to children in a local holiday camp.

The Bronze medal match in which Busby’s now exhausted side took on Mountford’s Danes proved an anticlimax. Only 5,000 turned up at Wembley to watch a game the swift and skilful Scandinavians eventually won 5-3.

It was to be Great Britain’s last brush with Olympic glory. Four years later a GB side under the supervision of the coach of the full England team, Walter Winterbottom travelled to Helsinki and suffered the ignominy of being knocked out in the preliminary round by Luxembourg, 5-3. The team struggled on for another twenty years before finally giving up after failing to qualify in 1972.

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