#1 FC Start
In an occupied Ukraine during World War II FC Start, a team which would later evolve into Dynamo Kyiv, lined-up out against a German team of combined army divisions – Flakelf.
The stadium was full of armed Kraut officers and during the preliminaries the Ukranian players, who had been sternly instructed to deliver the Nazi salute, heroically lowered their heads and then as one raised their arms and shouted “Fizculthura” to an aghast Wehrmacht.
The choice of this slogan was significant. As a word it’s difficult to translate; in itself it means “physical culture” in the sense of improving oneself physically and mentally for its own sake. Not only was it a gesture of good will, but it was also an affirmation that what was about to take place had a higher significance than a mere result; traditionally before any Soviet sporting event participants would offer this greeting to one another. Under the circumstances there was no more appropriate rallying call.
FC Start beat their German counterparts on that faithful afternoon. It was a result which would cost many of those players their lives. Indeed, their heroics provided the basis for the 1981 classic Escape To Victory.
The Irish Times’ Keith Duggan wrote a terrific article recounting the events of that faithful day – When football meant far more than a game.
#2 The FAI . . . 1965 . . . Spain
The Republic of Ireland faced Spain in a two-legged affair in 1965 with the winner destined to claim their place in the 1966 World Cup. Now the Republic were fairly handy at the time with the likes of JohnGiles, Charlie Hurley, Noel Cantwell and Shay Brennan in the side. Indeed, they won the first leg 1-0, but seemingly that result failed to do their efforts justice. Ireland travelled to Seville for the second leg and lost 4-1. Thankfully FIFA didn’t employ aggregate scores at the time so a winner-takes-all play-off was required at a neutral venue.
The Irish players wanted Wembley and the Spanish plumbed for Paris. The boys at FIFA suggested they toss for it, but then the Spaniards, cute as bees these lads, threw a cat among the pigeons and offered to pay all of the Republic of Ireland’s travelling expenses if the game was played in Paris. Playing in London, obviously, offered the Republic the best chance of qualifying while Paris shortened the odds a little. The FAI snapped the hand off the Spaniards and the play-off took place in Paris’ Colombes Stadium in front of 35,000 hostile supporters. Spain won 1-0.
During the ensuing seven years the Republic only managed to win three games. Seemingly the players were feeling a little disillusioned with it all. Can’t imagine why?
#3 Getting all philosophical
It’s September 1972 and in the 90th minute of a hard-fought encounter at the Olympic Stadium in Munich a vital goal is scored.
“Socrates has scored,” shrieks commentator Michael Palin.
“The Greeks are going mad! Socrates scores, he got a beautiful cross from Archimedes. The Germans are disputing it. Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant, via the categorical imperative, is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming it was offside.”
And so concluded the Monty Python philosophers’ football match during which, well for 89 minutes at least, the players wandered around the field too consumed by their own thoughts to actually kick the ball. Indeed, Nietzsche is actually booked during the encounter for accusing Confucius of having no free will. It’s a tame enough affair; that is until Archimedes enjoys his “Eureka” moment and crosses the ball to Socrates who heads home from close range.
#4 Alex Ferguson
Way back in April 1992 Manchester United travelled to Anfield with the smell of a long overdue league title in their nostrils. Liverpool handed Alex Ferguson’s men a 2-0 defeat however and all but presented the league trophy to Leeds United.
Oh, how the men and women of Anfield rejoiced. As Ferguson passed the home dressing room shouts of “fuck you” were audible. And, outside the ground a supporter asked Ryan Giggs for his autograph. Giggs gladly complied – “I signed it and he tore it up in front of my face”.
#5 Deportivo Alavés
Liverpool fans will be familiar with Deportivo Alavés – in the 2001 UEFA Cup final Liverpool beat the Basque outfit 5-4 in a dramatic decider. As most football fans will now know Basque clubs share a special bond with their supporters. And, to celebrate Deportivo Alavés’ very first season in Europe (2000-01) the club initiated a special edition shirt. The shirt famously incorporated the names of all 13,400 season-ticket holders in the design to reward them for their loyalty. Only 13,400 of said jerseys were made.
#6 Austria crowned Euro 2008 champions
After a few pints down his local David Shalko happened upon the right idea. In reaction to the Austrian goal-scoring legend Toni Polster describing the national side as the “worst team” in Euro ’08 Shalko, a filmmaker, decided to piece together a spoof documentary, The Miracle of Vienna, which depicted his beloved Austria lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy.
The mockumentary was set four weeks after the triumph and featured players, managers and pundits reflecting on a series of unlikely victories including a quarter-final win over Switzerland, a tense one-nil defeat of Germany in the semis and then an emphatic thrashing of the Dutch in the final. Brilliant.
#7 Jan Olsson
During the 1974 World Cup Holland were in devastating form. During the group stage the Dutch beat Uruguay (2-0) and Bulgaria (4-1) before drawing (0-0) with Sweden. Holland had sauntered through the Sweden game, but still produced moment of the tournament: the Cryuff turn.
Finding himself stationed to the left of the penalty area, with his back to goal and tightly marked by Swedish full-back Jan Olsson Johan Cryuff looked, momentarily, as if he might lose possession. Cryuff however allowed the ball to come to rest a couple of inches ahead of his right foot as he turned his back to Olsson. Cryuff then positioned himself to cross the ball with his right foot before swivelling and dragging the ball behind his marker at a ninety-degree angle and past a dazed Olsson.
Such was the gravity of the moment that Olsson felt honoured rather than embarrassed and commented that, even though he had won numerous domestic honours, “it was the proudest moment of my career”. The Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig once wrote a ballet inspired by the movements of Marco Van Basten, but it was the Cryuff-Olsson moment which deserved such an accolade.
In May 2008 Levante faced Deportivo La Coruña in La Liga. Deportivo duly kicked off and Sergio surged into Levante half of the field. Levante however refused to take defensive action. Indeed, they did nothing. Instead, the Levante players stood in a line with their arms linked in the centre circle. Sergio duly sprinted into the Levante penalty area and, now faced with an unguarded net, booted the ball high into the stands. And, at that the Riazor stands burst into wild applause. Sergio then returned to the centre circle and hugged the Levante players one-by-one. The entire incident was played out as part of the Levante players’ protest over unpaid wages.
#9 Madagascar madness
After a hotly-disputed penalty prevented SOE Antananarivo from winning their penultimate game in the Madagascar league play-offs (2002) the club’s chances of landing the league title were duly dashed. In protest SOE Antananarivo kick off their final game against AS Adema and immediately opt to score an own goal. Indeed, SOE Antananarivo repeated that trick several times over. The full-time score read: 149-0.
#10 Up for auction
In 2008 KFC Uerdingen, a fourth division German club, gave lucky punters the chance to manage the team for a 24-hour period after an eBay auction – the winner managed the team for a pre-season friendly against Rot Weiß Oberhausen with the help of real life coach Aleksander Ristic and was ‘sacked’ after the game. The men and women behind KFC Uerdingen are no slouches and that wasn’t the first time the 1985 German Cup winners took their chances with an amateur in an effort to stay in the black. In 2006 an insurance salesman bought a temporary spot on the team for three minutes of glory on the field during a friendly game against Bayern Munich. The 33-year-old insurance salesman paid €2,688 for the honour of playing four minutes against the Bavarian giants.
Post-script: A little off topic, but still
In March 1988 a lady representing Universal Studios knocked on Don Lansing’s door in Dyersville, Iowa before explaining to him that she was interested in using his farm for a movie. Mr Lansing couldn’t believe his ears.
That summer Don Lansing’s corn was converted into a baseball field for the movie Field of Dreams - the book upon which the movie is based is about an Iowa farmer who cuts a baseball diamond out of his cornfield so that the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox can come back to play ball.
As the movie ends, the camera pulls away into the night sky to reveal a line of car lights backed up for miles, all of them coming to see the field. Thing is they’re still coming – Field of Dreams struck such a chord in the American consciousness that more than 50,000 visit the site every year. This is life imitating art, imitating life.
Some people treat the place as a shrine, content to touch the bases reverently. Others come to play ball with whoever happens to be around. The Lansing’s don’t charge anyone for the privilege of visiting this baseball shine, they ask only for donations. Dreams, they think, should be free. Extraordinary.