Memories or Myths?
As football supporters we are not commonly known for our impartiality nor for our ability to analyse, or even remember, events accurately, especially when it comes to the teams we happen to support.
Happenings that we profess to remember in minute detail more often than not occurred in a totally different manner altogether. These recollections are then repeated so often that they practically pass into folklore and take on a life of their own.
What follows here, then, is a list of ten footballing events that have been retold so often as to become urban legends, and as such are in serious need of debunking.
#1 Sir Bobby Robson considered substituting Dave Beasant for Peter Shilton prior to the 1990 World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany.
Peter Shilton was a great goalkeeper. Once. By the time the 1990 World Cup came around, however, he was not. He was 10 months past his 40th birthday and he had seen better days. His reflexes were not what they had been, and he was arguably at fault for West Germany’s goal in the semi-final, when Andrea Breheme’s free-kick deflected off Paul Parker and looped over his head, while his penalty saving record was not exactly sterling at the peak of his career. So, as the epic struggle between the two old foes continued to be deadlocked and headed for the inevitable penalty shoot-out, Sir Bobby Robson contemplated substituting Shilts for the shoot-out with the younger, bigger, more agile Dave Beasant sitting on the bench.
Except he didn’t because he wasn’t.
1990 was well before the days of ‘squads on the bench’ where the whole 23-man squad gets stripped for action and up to 12 substitutes sit itching to join the fray. Back in 1990 only five substitutes could be named, of which just two were permitted to be called into action. On the bench that day as the named substitute goalkeeper was Chris Woods of Glasgow Rangers, so, therefore, it would have been impossible to call Dave Beasant into action. However, this minor detail didn’t prevent Sir Bobby from writing in his autobiography that he had considered doing so.
#2 Vinnie Jones ‘sorted out’ Steve McMahon in the 1988 FA Cup Final with an ‘early reducer’ of a tackle.
Vinnie Jones talked the talk, and, on occasion, he walked the walk, too. A proponent of ‘the early reducer’, he favoured clattering into his opposite number as early as possible on the grounds that such a tackle would render said opponent wary, if not actually prostate, while the referee would be loathed to punish such transgressions too early in the game. With this in mind, Jones felt his battle with Liverpool centre midfielder, Steve McMahon, would be instrumental in deciding who took early control of the 1988 FA Cup Final and he so took it upon himself to ‘go looking’ for McMahon ‘early doors’.
Jones did indeed clatter into McMahon with a challenge straight off Hackney Marshes, sending him spinning, and he has since spent the past three decades claiming credit for Wimbledon’s subsequent victory. However, the challenge and its effect has been mythologized over the years. Look at the clip on Youtube and you’ll see that it’s a coward’s tackle that hits McMahon on the blind side and knocks him up in the air.
Rather than being fazed by the tackle, McMahon had enough presence of mind to stick his elbow into Jones’ face on the way down, and so it was in fact Jones who came off worse from the challenge. Added to the fact that as both players sprung to their feet Jones could be seen raising his hands, saying “sorry, sorry, sorry” while Nigel Spackman, (yes, NIGEL SPACKMAN!) moved towards him to remonstrate, and then running away(!) this myth can be seen for the nonsense it is.
#3 Liverpool fans ‘supported’ Blackburn on the final day of the 1994-95 season when the two teams met in the title-clincher at Anfield.
This myth is particularly annoying for Liverpool fans of a certain generation. At the close of the 1994-95 season, Blackburn, managed by one Kenny Dalglish, came to Anfield needing a win to clinch the Premier League title. Any other result would potentially let Blackburn’s rivals, and Liverpool’s nemesis, Manchester United in. Legend has it that Liverpool’s fans, so obsessed with Anyone But United (ABU) winning the title, spent 90 minutes cheering their opponents on that day under the double premise that they were ABU’s and that they wanted ‘Kenny to win it’.
The truth of the matter is somewhat more mundane, as while it is correct that Liverpool fans would rather Anyone But United win things, this feeling most emphatically does not run to the extent that they would ever cheer for their opponents in a match. Liverpool fans got behind their team that day as normal whilst keeping an ear out for news of United’s progress in their match away to West Ham. In the final event, Liverpool beat Blackburn 2-1 while Manchester United could only draw 1-1 at Upton Park and so the title went to Ewood Park anyway, thus sending everyone home from Anfield that day more or less happy.
As a side note, it should be noted that the ‘Dalglish Factor’ was also grossly over-hyped. Although Liverpool fans were happy enough for their former manager to win the title with his new charges, there was still an underlying feeling that, whatever Kenny’s reasons were for resigning as Liverpool boss four years earlier, he had left the side in the lurch and now, with Liverpool struggling to finish fourth, here he was on the brink of the title once more with another team. Although still deeply respected, he was not, at that stage anyway, totally revered at Anfield.
#4 Fergie knocked Liverpool off their flipping* perch.
I know. Another Liverpool rant. Still, onwards and upwards. Sir Alex Ferguson was once asked if he considered winning a particular trophy as his most impressive achievement. He replied in the negative, stating that “Knocking Liverpool off their flipping perch is”. This, no doubt was in reference to United assuming Liverpool’s mantle as the kingpins of the modern game. In the way that United ruled the 1990’s and the first decade of the new millennium, so Liverpool were in charge of most of the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
As galling as it has been for Liverpool fans to see United supplant them at the pinnacle of English soccer, it is disingenuous, to say the least, for Fergie to suggest he “knocked them off’’ their perch. More accurate would be to say he ‘replaced’ them on it. In all of Fergie’s thirteen (sob!) title wins, only once were Liverpool beaten into second place (2008-09) and this, added to three United cup tie victories over Liverpool under Fergie, means that United under Sir Alex only directly prevented Liverpool from winning four trophies.
As I say, ‘replaced’ rather than ‘knocked-off’. Semantics? Maybe, but important semantics nevertheless.
#5 Terry Venables was ‘sacked’ or ‘forced out’ of the England job.
Following England’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, Graham Taylor was sacked as manager and Terry Venables was appointed Head Coach in January of that year. In December 1995, Venables declared his intention to stand down at the end of the upcoming Euro ’96 tournament.
Those are the facts. Venables, and his ‘friends’ in the media, have since propagated the myth that he was somehow forced out by the FA. The truth of the matter is he was offered, and signed, a contract for two and a half years with an understanding that both sides would review it AFTER Euro ’96. He then went to the FA six months in advance of the tournament and stated that due to impressive results in the games he’d been in charge of so far, he felt he deserved an extension in advance of the competition. The FA explained that as England were the host nation for the tournament and thus did not need to qualify, all games since Venables’ appointment had been friendlies and so they would be sticking to the terms of the original agreement. Venables responded with his now (in)famous declaration that he ‘didn’t do auditions’ and promptly announced his decision not to seek an extension to his contract when it expired on June 30.
It can be seen, therefore, that contrary to his and his friends’ claims, Terry Venables was not forced out or sacked by the FA. Rather, the decision to leave was totally his own. He chose to sign the contract in its original form, and he then chose to throw his toys out of his pram when the FA decided they would prefer to honour it.
#6 Harry Redknapp transformed Spurs beyond recognition.
Another media favourite who, like Venables, has seemed to get an unfeasibly easy ride from certain sectors of the British press. His achievements have been hyped-up beyond all reason, while his shortcomings either downplayed or totally ignored.
One of the most popular misconceptions about him concerns his time in charge of Tottenham Hotspur from 2008 to 2012.
While he, together with certain of his media chums, would have us believe he single-handedly transformed Spurs from relegation fodder to Champions League contenders in the blink of an eye, whilst ‘discovering Gareth Bale’ on the way, as usual the truth, though not so dramatic, is out there nevertheless.
When Harry rocked up at WHL in October 2008, five months after leading Portsmouth to the FA Cup, Spurs were indeed in the bottom three, having collected just two points from their opening eight games. When Harry vacated the hot-seat at Tottenham in May 2012, he had led Spurs to two fourth place and one fifth place finish in his three full seasons in charge. Spurs had also appeared in the Champions League for the first time, performing commendably in reaching the quarter-finals. In addition, a League Cup final had been reached (and lost on penalties to Manchester United) in 2010. So, on the face of things significant improvement was made over the three years and a half years he was in charge.
However, let’s look at things a bit closer. In the three years prior to Redknapp’s appointment Spurs had finished fifth twice and sixth once and had won the League Cup once. While this record is slightly worse than that under Harry, it is hardly one of the perennial strugglers. The reality of the matter is that Redknapp simply took over Spurs after they’d had an isolated bad start to a season, then continued and slightly improved upon the reasonable work that his predecessors had started.
#7 Brian Clough was the ‘People’s Choice’ to manage England.
Brian Clough was a genius. He won the league with two provincial clubs, Derby and Nottingham Forest, and he then followed this up by winning the European Cup twice with Forest. He had strong claims for being England manager, and there many who felt he should have been: certainly the man himself did.
However, popular he was not. In the 1970’s, in particular, Brian Clough was seen as an arrogant and brash character who was widely disliked in footballing circles. He was never short of an opinion, and never one for false modesty. At the time he was being seriously considered for the England post in late 1977, he was pretty close to being universally disliked by all and sundry outside his own club, and the editors of certain national dailies who were always keen for the controversial copy he provided. Fans of other clubs especially disliked the man and his perceived lack of humility and, although the passage of time might suggest otherwise, in no way shape or form was he the ‘People’s Choice’ to become England manager at any time when such a concept was in any way a possibility. He was only ever labelled such with the benefit of hindsight long after his time had passed.
#8 Paul Gascoigne would not have self-destructed had he joined Manchester United, and Fergie, instead of Spurs in 1988.
This is a statement often quoted by the great man, Fergie, himself. His contention is if Gazza had signed for United in the summer of 1988, as he had supposedly given his word to do, and not gone to Spurs as he ultimately did, then he, Ferguson, would have protected Gascoigne from the perceived pressures living in London entailed, and, that, added to the greater discipline Ferguson would have instilled in him, would have kept Gazza on the straight and narrow so allowing him to flourish and absolutely maximise his potential.
This is an opinion that, unsurprisingly, rankles with hPaul Gascoigne’s former manager at Tottenham, Terry Venables. Under two different spells with Venables, Gazza played arguably the best football of his career: firstly at Tottenham from 1988-91, and then with England in Euro ’96. Venables contends, quite reasonably, that if anyone knew how to get the best out of Paul Gascoigne, it was he.
What Venables is perhaps too polite to mention is the fact that Fergie hardly had a sterling record himself when it came to handling so-called trouble-makers. He was famously unable to control such wayward talents as Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside who were at United at around the same time he was trying to sign Gazza, and his later indulgences of Eric Cantona could be said to have culminated in the Frenchman’s decision to leap into the crowd and attack a supporter.
#9 Manchester City ‘stole’ the Premier League title in the last minute in 2012.
Into injury time of the last day of the 2011-12 Premier League season and the situation was clear: Manchester City had to score twice in five minutes or the title was heading back to Old Trafford and arch-rivals, Manchester United. The rest is…..oh, you know.
So, was the title ‘stolen’ by City, or rather would their failure to win it have constituted a theft by United, considering how unlikely anything other than a City home victory against a relegation-threatened QPR had been anticipated? As we know, City trailed 2-1 with just minutes remaining in a match they were expected to win at a canter. The fact that they did scrape their way to the title with two such late goals should not obscure the fact that United threw the title away.
With six games to go, United were no less than eight points clear of City and so should have been uncatchable. The fact that they then dropped these eight points in three of their next four games is what gave the title to City, and not the last-day theatrics at the Etihad.
#10 Roy Keane’s ‘tackle’ on Alf-Inge Haaland.
This last one is more of a myth within a myth entailed inside a third myth. By his own admission, Roy Keane deliberately and maliciously put in a disgraceful tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland whilst playing in a 2001 derby game for Manchester United.
The two players had history, with Keane injuring himself in a game against Haaland’s Leeds side three years previously when he had torn ligaments in his knee. Haaland, unaware of the extent of Keane’s injury at the time, had felt Keane had gone down in an attempt to con the referee and win a penalty. Not impressed with what he saw as Keane’s theatrics, he stood over Keane’s prostrate body and offered a few choice expletives.
Keane didn’t forget this. He bided his time and three long years later he extracted his revenge with a knee-high assault on Haaland. As he made the walk off the pitch, following the referee’s inevitable red card, it was now Keane’s turn to offer up some pearls of wisdom to the man writhing in agony on the turf before him.
The myth, or not as the case may be, in this sorry state of affairs is whether or not this tackle caused the end of Haaland’s career. For some years the widely held view was Keane had indeed forced Haaland into retirement through injury, but then a series of events, claims, counter-claims, and threats of legal action ensued, and as a result, various revisions of the event and its consequences have taken place.
After the tackle, Haaland was able to finish the match and indeed was able to play the first half of a friendly game for his country, Norway, a few days later. However, he never completed a full match again and retired two years later.
After reading Keane’s account of the attack in his autobiography, Haaland and his club, Manchester City, announced plans to sue Keane. This, however, did not come to pass, and Haaland himself has said at different points that he does, and he does not, blame Keane for his enforced retirement.
The above are just some examples of footballing tales that have either got twisted out of all recognition or have taken on a life of their own. There are, of course, many more such tales to be told.
* He didn’t say ‘flipping’.