This Was The Week

Seeing Red for the First Time

The Ref’s Trump Card

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Croker: An unlikely inspiration to referees

In an iconic scene from that great 1969 film The Italian Job, Charlie Croker – played so memorably by Michael Caine – and his gang set about disrupting Turin’s traffic lights as part of their plan to steal a fortune in gold bullion.

Just a few years earlier another Englishman used traffic lights as part of his grand plan but it wasn’t bullion he was after. Let me explain.

Ken Aston was a newly qualified teacher when in 1935 he was asked to take charge of a school football match – an experience that was to change the course of his life.

It led to Ken qualifying as a referee and he spent the next 14 years working his way up through the football pyramid system before becoming a Football League linesman in 1949 and a fully fledged League referee in 1953.

He officiated at some of footballs blue-ribbon events including the 1962 World Cup and the 1963 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Leicester City (won incidentally by the Red Devils 3-1).

Following that cup final he hung up his whistle only to be asked by FIFA three years later to join their Referees’ Committee. It was in this role that he  changed refereeing for ever.


Antonio Rattin gets violent with his tongue…

At the 1966 World Cup Ken Aston was in charge of the tournament referees. During a rather ‘feisty’ quarter final match between England and Argentina the German referee sent off Antonio Rattin the Argentine captain for ‘violence of the tongue’ – a decision hampered only by the lack of an interpreter.

At first it wasn’t clear what was going on and Rattin, to put it mildly, became very animated. Either the player did not understand or chose not to understand what the referee had done.

Enter Ken Aston who had to use all his refereeing experience to calm the rattled Argentine captain to prevent the match being abandoned.

It was an absolute nightmare for all concerned and in the melee England’s passage into the semi-final was somewhat lost.

The next day while out driving Aston considered how such misunderstandings could be avoided for the good of the game.

He recalled: “As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic lights turned red. I thought, ‘Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off’.” So was born the yellow and red card refereeing system.

This new system allowed both players and fans to clearly understand when a player had been booked or sent off. But it had one major flaw. It couldn’t stop those same players and fans questioning the ref’s parentage when one or other of the cards was flourished.

They were first used in the 1970 Mexico World Cup but it wasn’t until the mid seventies that they made an appearance in the Football League.

Wagstaffe was the first to see red

And it was during the game between Blackburn Rovers and Leyton Orient on 2 October 1976 that David Wagstaffe entered the annuls of English football history.  For it was he who had the dubious honour of being the first player to be red carded when he was sent off after 36 minutes for arguing with the referee.

Later that same day an ageing George Best also saw red for using foul language whilst playing for Fulham against Southampton at the Dell.

But the passage of this new system into the English game wasn’t without its controversy.

At the start of the 80s the FA had concerns over violence on and off the pitch and they thought that overt displays of red cards contributed to the problem.

In early 1981 the FA decided to withdraw their use. The last two players to receive a red card before the FA decision was implemented were David Hodgson and Nicky Reid while playing in a match between Manchester City and Middlesbrough.

However, in 1987 the games rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, said that England should reintroduce cards which the FA duly did for the 1987-88 season.

Step forward Luton’s Mick Harford who was the first player to be shown a red card after their reintroduction. He lasted a mere four minutes of the Hatters first match of the season: a defeat at Derby County on 15 August 1987 in the old Division One.

Since then, according to the English National Football Archive, over 9,000 red cards have been issued to players representing English teams in domestic and European games.

And over 23,000 yellow cards have been shown in Premier League matches since the 92/93 season.

At the end of The Italian Job the coach carrying the bullion back to Blighty is teetering on the edge of a ravine. Charlie Croker turns to the rest of the gang and says rather optimistically: “Hang on, lads; I’ve got a great idea.”

I wonder if that is what Ken Aston said to the FIFA Referees’ Committee after the Rattin debacle..?


by Richard Bowdery

The Curious Case of Stuart Pearce and his Brother the Linesman


Sibling rivalry? Just a lark on the wing

Psychology writer Marian Sandmaier once said of brothers and sisters: “A sibling may be the keeper of one’s identity.”

I wonder if she could have had one Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce in mind when she penned those words..?


“Psycho loves the line-oh…”

For it was on the 24 September 1986 when Pearce was indeed the keeper of his siblings identity, at least until after the game.

The occasion was a League Cup second round match: Brighton and Hove Albion versus Nottingham Forest. Stuart Pearce was Forest’s left back that day.

And on the wing, sporting a rather fetching red and yellow flag, was one R D Pearce, Stuart’s…er, brother!

The story goes that when the officials came onto the pitch that night Stuart had no idea that his brother would be one of them.

Now that may well be the case. But if so why, after the game, did the full-back go into the officials changing room with a birthday present for the linesman?


In his autobiography, ‘Psycho’, Pearce explained how he tried to wind-up this particular match official that night. He said: “It was funny running up the wing and having my brother alongside me on the touchline. He could have [had me] booked…because I kept taking the mickey out of him. ‘Oi, you ginger d***head,’ is one thing I remember calling him. Perhaps it is a good thing that he never became a League referee…”

Brighton v Nottm ForestForest were held to a 0-0 draw but progressed after beating  Brighton 3-0 in the second-leg two weeks later at the City Ground. They were eventually beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in the fifth round. The Gunners went on to win the trophy that year beating Liverpool 2-1 in the final at Wembley.

There is something else of interest to note from that evening. One of the linesman spotted an infringement which led to a Brighton goal being disallowed. No prizes for guessing who the linesman was…

by Richard Bowdery

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Football’s Hardest Shot!

Well not quite. But then again I’m not talking about the man who wears his underpants on the outside of his attire or uses a telephone box as his personal changing room. Very strange.


Hirst: Almost broke the bar at Highbury

No. I’m referring to the speed at which our hot shot footballers can make the ball travel through the air. And in the top-flight of the English game there is none faster than Sheffield Wednesday’s David Hirst, well not yet anyway.

On the 16 September 1996 in a match against Arsenal at Highbury, he had a shot which was measured at 114 miles per hour (or for those of you who prefer metric 183 km/h).

But you might justifiably ask: “What about Charlie Fleming who turned out for Sunderland in the 50’s, or Manchester United and England’s Bobby Charlton in the 60’s or Peter Lorimer while playing for Leeds in the 70’s (to name but three)..?

Well no one said this is an exact science and according to the Football Association’s historian David Barber there is no official record.

However, as football coverage in this country get’s more Americanised with stats such as percentage play and assists as well as multiple camera angles, the speed of a players shot can be more accurately determined.

In fact TV pundits have been able to roughly determine the speed the ball travels for a number of years which is why it has been possible to log the speed of Hirst’s shot.

Even a BBC children’s factual TV series has attempted to provide a definitive answer, contrary to Mr Barber’s stance. The Manchester City legend, Mike Summerbee, took part in a record attempt for their Record Breakers programme in 1994. His best effort was recorded at 87 mph which was claimed as a ‘record breaker’ though it should be remembered this was under artificial conditions.

Of course another condition to factor into the debate is the ball itself. Backs in the 50s it was made of leather and –  wet and caked in mud –  was akin to kicking a boulder.

By the nineties things had changed dramatically. The material was synthetic making the ball waterproof, easier to manipulate and more aero dynamic.

So arguments will rage on and on or at least until the referee blows the final whistle and there still won‘t be a definitive answer. In many cases it will depend on your preferred footballing era or your favourite hotshot. But at least a heated argument on a cold, damp, winter’s night will warm you up.

Meanwhile back at Highbury Hirst’s shot hit the Arsenal crossbar and rebounded to another Wednesday player who proceeded to hoof it into the stands (you can have a look below!). At least some things in football will never change…

by Richard Bowdery

Brian Clough Sacked! Brian Clough and Leeds United: Divorced almost before they married

Jock Stein and Brian Clough. Two very different characters. Two different paths to the very top of their profession. And two significant common denominators:

• Jock Stein was offered the manager’s job (and declined it) at Leeds before Brian Clough was appointed – though he did accept the post in August 1978.
• Both men, astonishingly, reigned at Leeds United for just 44 days.


Clough: My players are right behind me

But whereas Jock Stein resigned the manager’s role to fill the vacant Scotland post and left Yorkshire amicably, the same cannot be said for Brian Clough who, on the 12 September 1974, was unceremoniously sacked.

Though this cloud did have a silver lining. He left with a handsome payoff of around £100,000 which set him up for the rest of his life.

To many it seemed a strange appointment. Why would Leeds employ a man who had been highly critical of previous manager Don Revie (who had left to manage England) and had branded the Leeds style of play cynical and dirty – which Clough felt undermined the more skilful football they often produced.

And why, after such criticism would Cloughie take the job? He must have known it could be a poisoned chalice. Perhaps not because later he said he didn‘t realise the extent of the dislike and resentment waiting for him at the club.

In his defence Clough said he took the job so he could try to win the European Cup (as League champions Leeds had already qualified for the competition).

Looking back he could see the funny side of the experience when he wrote in his autobiography in 1994, “Did I say the European Cup? I hardly lasted long enough to be given my own teacup at Leeds.”

His brash style upset a team of seasoned professionals almost from day one when he reportedly told them that they could throw their medals in the bin because they had not won them fairly. But then Clough was never short of an opinion or two.

Yet such was the enigma of the man that before the Charity Shield match in August against Liverpool he telephoned Revie, a man he held in disdain, to ask if he would like to lead the team out at Wembley as it was Revie’s team that had won the league the previous May. The offer was declined. And Liverpool won 6-5 on penalties after the match finished all square at one goal apiece.

Things didn’t really improve after that. During Clough’s time in charge Leeds won only once in six league outings and sat in 19th place in the table with just four points. It was the club’s worst start in 15 years. Something had to give.


Brian Clough is warmly welcomed to Elland Road by Leeds chairman Manny Cussins. The young lad with the ball at the front is the current Derby County manager Nigel Clough, then 8 years old.

Leeds chairman Manny Cussins acted swiftly and wielded the sword. Cloughie was on his way after just 44 days in the job.

He left Elland Road with his ego dented. But he wasn’t known affectionately as ‘ole bighead’ for nothing. After his experience at Leeds many clubs wouldn’t touch Cloughie with a barge pole. However one did, Nottingham Forest. And the rest as they say is history.

But what of Jock Stein? He steered Scotland to within touching distance of the upcoming World Cup in Mexico. Then on the 10th September 1985 at the end of a World Cup qualifying fixture against Wales at Ninian Park Stein collapsed. He died a short time later from a heart attack. Sadly he didn’t get to see the fruition of his labour in the Mexican sunshine, the task of guiding the team at the finals fell in the lap of a certain Alex Ferguson, then manager of Aberdeen.

by Richard Bowdery.

The Birth of the World’s Oldest League Competition

by Richard Bowdery.

This week’s column departs from the comfort of its usual timeframe and for very good reason. It looks at the start of a competition that has millions of followers, is a multi-million pound industry and has spawned heroes and villains alike.

In early March 1888 William McGregor, a director at Aston Villa, wrote to several other football clubs with a simple idea: instead of each club arranging their own fixtures, why not set up a league competition guaranteeing a number of fixtures for those clubs who chose to take part. His idea was embraced wholeheartedly at a meeting of those clubs in London later that same month and the English Football League was born.

The first games of that inaugural League season kicked off on 8 September 1888 and ran until the spring of 89. One hundred and twenty five years later it is still going strong and is the oldest football league competition in the world. Although there have been changes along the way, it remains, in essence, as Mr McGregor first envisioned it.

Twelve member clubs took part on that first day. They were:

• Accrington (not to be confused with Accrington Stanley)
• Aston Villa
• Blackburn Rovers
• Bolton Wanderers
• Burnley
• Derby County
• Everton
• Notts County
• Preston North End
• Stoke
• West Bromwich Albion
• Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It had been decided that the league champion’s would be the team that won the most games. But that meant a drawn game was no better than losing a game. So eventually a points system was introduced: two points for a win, one for a draw. It remained that way until 1981 when the Football League introduced three points for a win.

By the end of that first season Preston North End were crowned League champions winning 18 of their 22 games and drawing the other four leaving the final table looking like this:

Preston North End, unbeaten in 22 games 1888

The Preston team celebrate that first title triumph

1. Preston North End – 40 points
2. Aston Villa – 29 points
3. Wolverhampton Wanders – 28 points
4. Blackburn Rovers – 26 points
5. Bolton Wanderers – 22 points (on goal average)
6. West Bromwich Albion – 22 points
7. Accrington – 20 points (on goal average)
8. Everton on 20 points
9. Burnley – 17 points
10. Derby County – 16 points
11. Notts County – 12 points (on goal average)
12. Stoke – 12 points

It might seem surprising to some that of the 12 clubs that started the Football League 11 are still playing in it today with four of them, Aston Villa, Everton, Stoke FC (now called Stoke City), and West Bromwich Albion plying their trade at the very highest level.

Sadly, despite early promise, Accrington began to slip down the fledgling League. They were demoted at the end of the 1892/93 season and rather than play in the recently formed second division they resigned. Financial problems plagued the club (so nothing new there then) and they finally folded in 1896.

Ironically in Accrington’s last season another team, Newton Heath, were starting their first season in the League. Today they are better known as Manchester United.

But until earlier this year the scorer of the first ever Football League goal was a hotly debated topic. It didn’t help that those first matches kicked off at different times, quite often because the crowd was still filing into the ground or the away side had turned up late.


After scoring Davenport tore off his shirt, did a somersault and then gestured to the away fans apparently…

Enter football historian Mark Metcalf. With the dogged detective work of a Sherlock Holmes, who, by the way, made his first public appearance around the same time as the League kicked off, Mark finally got his man.

His research leaves little doubt that the accolade for the first ever goal scored in the Football League should go to Bolton winger Kenny Davenport.

He scored two minutes into the game against Derby County which kicked off at 3.45 p.m. He quickly added a second but despite this Bolton lost their first home game 6-3.

So if the match you watch this weekend is a drab affair you can always hold an impromptu quiz with your fellow supporters. Only two questions: first League champions and first ever League goalscorer.

But before you put any money on it you had better check they haven’t read this column!



Paisley shocks Merseyside with retirement announcement

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

On the face of it Bob Paisley was not your stereotypical top-flight football manager. He wasn’t media friendly, wore a flat cap to work and bore none of the charisma exhibited by other managers of the time such as Brian Clough and Malcolm Allison.

He was also burdened with the scepticism many had about his ability to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Bill Shankly. Indeed Paisley himself was reluctant to step into Shankly’s shoes.

Fast-forward nine season to 26th August 1982 when he announced that the 82/83 season would be his last as manager of Liverpool FC and you could hear the tide turn in the Mersey such was the shock.

For Liverpool fans everywhere realised the truth of Kenny Dalglish’s words when the Liverpool star said: “There was only one Bob Paisley and he was the greatest of them all…There will never be another like him.”

His record over those nine seasons stands head and shoulders over most other managers not just in England but wherever the game is played.

European Cup winners: 1977, 1978, 1981

UEFA Cup winners: 1976

League championship winners: 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983

League Cup winners: 1981, 1982, 1983

Charity Shield winners: 1974, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1982

Manager of the Year: 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983


But when Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager of Manchester United in May 2013 started a debate as to who was the greatest British manager of all time, I wonder how many put ‘Uncle’ Bob Paisley at the top of their list?

Perhaps today we look too much at image rather than substance. For many Paisley was like your favourite uncle. He didn’t rant and rave, he didn’t class himself as the special one – long before Jose Mourinho claimed the title. He simply turned up for work and got down to the business of turning eleven fit, skilful young men into world beaters. And he did it again and again.

Even there he had his detractors. There were those who said his success came from inheriting Shankly’s team, forgetting that as Shankly’s assistant Paisley had a great say in how that team was constructed.

And Shankly wasn’t the only one in the Liverpool camp with witty one liners.

For instance, when one Saturday after Shankly had retired Paisley was asked by a reporter what the former Liverpool manager was doing that afternoon he replied: “He’s trying to get right away from football. I believe he went to Everton.”

What would he have made of the debate after Ferguson’s retirement earlier this year about who was the greatest England manager? Personally I don’t think he would’ve got involved. He didn’t need to. He’d simply opened his trophy cabinet and point. Enough said.

That was Bob Paisley; a book with success written on every page, if you bothered to look beneath the cover.

By Richard Bowdery

The Crazy Gang reach the top table

by Richard Bowdery.

On 23 August 1986 the Crazy Gang burst onto the top flight of English football. On that day they played Manchester City in their first ever match in the old First Division – and came of age.

For the record Andy Thorn scored the Crazy Gang’s first-ever top flight goal, a curling fluke of a free-kick from the touchline to give them the lead. The Dons eventually lost 3–1 but the result was immaterial. What mattered was the fact that they had risen to the pinnacle of English soccer in only their tenth season as a Football League club, climbing from the fourth to the first division in only four seasons.

Wimbledon’s first top-flight game at Plough Lane ended in a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa – the champions of Europe a mere four years before – and by the start of September The Dons were sitting pretty at the top of the table.

“My mum will want this season to finish tomorrow,” joked manager Dave Bassett, as he soaked up the table with his feisty minnows on top, and Manchester United at the very bottom.


“Lovely, just a little more perm love, hold it……Beautiful!”

Wimbledon Old Central Football Club, as they were originally called, was founded in 1889. They spent the 88 years plying their trade in the amateur and semi-professional ranks, what we call today non-league football.

Then in 1977 they were elected to the Football League and so began their meteoric rise, the culmination of which was one day in 1988 when their name would be synonymous as the little David battling the giant Goliath.

On 14 May that year this little club – whose Plough Lane ground was so intimate those playing wide could shake hands with the crowd – did the unthinkable. They beat the mighty Liverpool 1-0 to lift the FA Cup and so a legend was born.

Sadly that success was not to last. Not only did they slip down the divisions they also slipped out of Plough Lane and, much to the anger of their fans, headed to Buckinghamshire, in 2003 and were renamed MK Dons in 2004.

But Wimbledon fans, like the Crazy Gang of old, don’t give up without a fight.

In the summer of 2002 when a three-man FA commission shocked the club’s fans by allowing the old Wimbledon FC to relocate, the fans decided that their club would never die.

Within six weeks of the decision the fans had organised a new club from the ashes of the old and so AFC Wimbledon was born.

This time the club reached the football a lot quicker than before and in 2011 they were back in the football league.

Will history repeat itself and find this new incarnation plying its trade in the Premiership? Only time will tell. But given their pedigree I wouldn’t bet against it.

(Thanks to the team at WUP for their help with the Wimbledon lineup that day)

The World’s Greatest Soccer Weekly

GoalMagIn this week 45 years ago I, like thousands of other football loving youngsters, raced to the newsagents, pocket money in hand, to buy a new magazine dedicated to my favourite sport.

For on August 16th of that year GOAL hit the shelves.

It was bright, colourful and full of information that any fanatical football fan could wish to read.

The first issue featured a picture of Emlyn Hughes trying to stop George Best in his tracks – two great footballing icons, sadly no longer with us.

At its high point in 1971 the magazine was selling around 220,000 copies a week and could claim World Cup winning hero and Manchester United star Bobby Charlton among its contributors.

The topics covered show that little has changed over the years with the same issues discussed on terraces up and down the country today. They included:

Fixture allocationgoal_magazine_january_1970
Laws of the game
Team of the week

Sadly by 1974 it had become a victim of falling sales and dwindling revenue as other publications muscled in to get a slice of the action. And at the final whistle on 1 June it trudged off the pitch, down the tunnel and disappeared into the pages of another football title, Shoot.

Many football magazines have come and gone since. But for those of us who lived through those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s we look back nostalgically to the world’s greatest soccer weekly – GOAL!


by Richard Bowdery

Caught on Camera

This week 43 years ago a picture was taken of a sporting hero that, if taken today, would set the sports pages alight. Social media would be awash with comments. Questions would be asked in the House. And the health and safety brigade would burst a blood vessel.

What could cause all this furore? Jack Charlton, Leeds and England centre-half, having a crafty puff during a training session at Eland Road.

But smoking has long been associated with the game of football.

Two legends of the game, Everton’s Dixie Dean and Sir Stanley Matthews of Blackpool, both advertised cigarettes.

Football great Johan Cruyff smoked 20 cigarettes a day before heart bypass surgery caused him to quit. And the late Brazilian legend Socrates smoked frequently as a player.

But with soccer stars treated like thoroughbred athletes surely it wouldn’t happen today? Well actually it does.

One notable example is ex-Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli who was urged to quit smoking by the then City manager Roberto Mancini.

And I’m sure you could probably name players at your club who have lit up. But have they been as brazen as Jack and smoked during training? I doubt it.

By Richard Bowdery