72 Classic: Lessons from Europe for English football

AT the start of 1971-72, England’s football fraternity was still clinging to the idea that the nation was a major power in the game. The 1970 World Cup defeat at the hands of West Germany was mostly seen as an aberration and partly attributable to the rustiness of poor old Peter Bonetti, the outstanding Chelsea goalkeeper. There was little suggestion that perhaps the English method was outdated and the product of a stubborn manager, although Sir Alf Ramsey was starting to lose friends among the media.

English clubs had won seven of 12 European competitions in four seasons, including Manchester United lifting the European Cup in 1968. As soon as the World Cup was over in 1970, Bobby Charlton and Bonetti said farewell to international football and Ramsey started to introduce new faces: Peter Shilton, Roy McFarland, Martin Chivers, Joe Royle, Colin Harvey, Peter Storey, Chris Lawler, Paul Madeley, Tommy Smith, Larry Lloyd and Tony Brown all won their first caps for England in 1970-71. England had a relatively easy European Championship group that included Malta, Switzerland and Greece. They made hard work of Malta in Valetta but beat them 5-0 at Wembley, and won 3-0 at home to Greece.

England were well placed to qualify for the quarter-final stage as they went into 1971-72. There was nothing to suggest that normal service could not be resumed, even though Ramsey stuck loyally to 1966 acolytes like Geoff Hurst, who  had his least effective season for his club, West Ham, in 1971-72.

Into Europe

Meanwhile, English clubs were having mixed fortunes in European competitions. Arsenal, who had won the “double” in 1970-71, were embarking on their first European Cup campaign and many people felt they were one of the favourites.  They had won their first European trophy in 1970, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Anderlecht in the two-legged final. On the way, they had beaten Ajax in the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate, a team that included the emerging Johan Cruyff and would win the Dutch league by 15 points and lose just one Eredivisie match. Bertie Mee, reflecting on the fact that Arsenal had brushed Ajax aside with relative ease, commented that the Dutch champions looked somewhat “amateur”. Mee’s comments were a little hasty, for Ajax, within a year, were European champions.

Arsenal had two relatively unchallenging rounds to start with, beating Norway’s Strømsgodset 7-1 on aggregate and Grasshopper Zurich 5-0. The quarter-final draw, which included no less than five previous winners, paired Arsenal with Ajax. Celtic, Feyenoord, Benfica and Inter Milan also possible opponents so it was no surprise that the last eight was tough.

Ajax had certainly moved forward since 1969-70 when the two teams met in the Fairs Cup. Although Rinus Michels, their innovative coach, had moved on and was replaced by Stefan Kovacs, Ajax were in their pomp and would win the “double” in the Netherlands and half of their team – Cruyff, Keizer, Hulshoff, Mühren and Neeskens – would feature in the European Footballer of the Year voting, a prize that Cruyff had won in 1971.

Ajax were rock star footballers, all flowing hair, beads and trendy attire. They were a team that reflected the times and they played a progressive brand of football that became known as “Total Football”.

Arsenal’s own style had not convinced the critics – “sorry lads, you’re bores” was one headline on the day they won the FA Cup final in May 1971 – and they had found it hard to defend the prizes they had won in 1970-71. Arsenal signed Alan Ball from Everton just before the halfway stage to add an extra dimension to the midfield, paying over £ 200,000 but he was unavailable for the European Cup.

Ajax won the first leg in Amsterdam by 2-1, Ray Kennedy putting Arsenal ahead after 15 minutes but Gerrie Mühren scoring twice (25 and 70 minutes). The away goal had given Arsenal a good chance of getting through – a 1-0 victory would be enough. However, Ajax were gifted an early goal at Highbury, an own goal by George Graham and that was enough to send the holders through. There was absolutely nothing “amateur” about Ajax this time. Brian Glanville, in his book, Champions of Europe, said Arsenal looked “clumsy and naïve” compared to the sleek Ajax side.

Out cheaply

London, as a result of the capital’s fine season in 1970-71, had three representatives in European competitions – Chelsea and Tottenham were also deeply involved. Chelsea were defending the European Cup-Winners’ Cup they had won in Greece in May 1971. The Blues had almost lost their manager, Dave Sexton, to Manchester United in the close season, but the bid to try and lure him north had been played down. Sexton was convinced his talented, but often inconsistent and ill-disciplined squad could win the title, but they were, essentially, a team for the big occasion rather than one that could grind-out results week-in, week-out.

They had started the 1971-72 season abysmally, with one or two players a little thick around the girth, suggesting two successive years of winning trophies had been well celebrated. Chelsea were gifted an easy tie to start their European campaign, Jeunesse Hautcharage of Luxembourg. This was a village team of steelworkers, hairdressers and butchers. There was player with one armand another with taped-on spectacles. Little wonder that over two legs, Chelsea won 21-0 with Peter Osgood, who had been placed on the transfer list by Sexton after the first two league games for a bad attitude and “not trying”, scoring eight over the two games.

Chelsea’s fans must have thought the path to the 1972 final was charmed when their heroes were drawn against Swedish part-timers, Atvidaberg. The first leg in Sweden demonstrated there would be no repeat of the previous round’s goal-fest and it ended 0-0. Sexton was confident of victory in the second leg, but Chelsea were still not playing well.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were wasteful and didn’t go ahead until the 46thminute through Alan Hudson. They had a golden chance to extend that lead on the hour, but John Hollins, normally so dependable, sent a penalty kick against a post. Five minutes later, Atvidaberg silenced the 28,000 crowd when the blond and athletic Roland Sandberg scored a shock equaliser. Despite the pressure, Chelsea couldn’t score and they went out on away goals. They were jeered by the fans and the players were just as stunned. It seemed to shake Chelsea out of their early season malaise, for they soon went on an impressive run and eventually reached Wembley again.

Liverpool were also in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, but they too, went out in the second round. They beat the Swiss side, Servette in round one but then came up against Bayern Munich, a team packed with players who would become household names in the years ahead – Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeneß, Paul Breitner and Gerd Müller. Liverpool were held at Anfield but then lost 3-1 in Munich, with Müller, Der Bomber, netting twice.

So both Arsenal and Liverpool were dismissed by two teams that would be representative of the era of Total Football and two years later, would form the backbone of two World Cup final teams.


In the UEFA Cup, England had a strong quartet: Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton. Leeds, after two seasons of heartache where they fought on all fronts and ended with very little, had won the last Fairs Cup in 1971. They won their first round first leg in Belgium, beating Lierse SK 2-0. In the second leg, they fielded a weakened side and came unstuck, losing 4-0 at Elland Road. Did Leeds decide to sacrifice the competition after running their squad into the ground over the past few years? They had another year of near-misses, winning the FA Cup but losing their chance of the league in the final, controversial game. Southampton also fell at the first hurdle at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.

Tottenham and Wolves, though, provided the first all-English European final in the UEFA Cup’s first season. Spurs enjoyed a roller-coaster ride to the final. Keflavik of Iceland were no problem, Spurs winning through to the tune of 15-1 on aggregate over the two legs. Then came Nantes of France, who gave Spurs two tough games and only went out 1-0 on aggregate, Peters scoring the only goal in the second leg at White Hart Lane.

Two bruising encounters with Romanians Rapid Bucharest followed, with Nicholson incensed after the second meeting that his team had been kicked and punched for 90 minutes. But Spurs won 5-0 on aggregate, so the last laugh was on them.

Another Romanian side, UT Arad, were next, with Spurs doing all the hard work in the first leg, winning 2-0 away and overall, 3-1 on aggregate. It set them up with a semi-final against Italians AC Milan. This was a severe test for Nicholson’s side. Perryman was the hero at White Hart Lane, scoring twice as Spurs beat the Serie A aristocrats 2-1. Mullery, who had been out on loan to Fulham to aid his recovery from a pelvic injury, came back to score at the San Siro in a 1-1 draw. The fires were burning on the terraces as Spurs hung on to claim a famous win.

Wolves, meanwhile, had worked their way through against some very decent teams. Académica de Coimbra and Den Haag were both beaten 7-1 on aggregate and “crack” East Germans Carl Zeiss Jena were disposed of by 4-0. Then came a memorable 3-2 aggregate victory against Juventus, a team that would win the Italian league in 1971-72.  Finally, Wolves overcame Hungary’s Ferencvaros. Their team included experience and the very experienced Derek Dougan, a player who always attracted attention.

If there was disappointment, it was because the final was between two English clubs – it just didn’t seem like a European final. The first leg at Molineux was won 2-1 by Spurs, which almost killed the tie. Chivers was on song, scoring both goals (his tally reached 44 in 1971-72). In the return, Mullery headed Spurs in front early on and David Wagstaffe levelled for Wolves, who then battered the home defence. Spurs held out and won their second piece of European silverware.

End of an era

On the international stage, England received another lesson from the West Germans in the quarter-finals of the European Championship. On April 29, 1972, Günter Netzer tore England apart, driving West Germany to a 3-1 win at Wembley in the first leg. During the game, the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder had brushed aside the English – one move saw him outpace Bobby Moore, dismiss Francis Lee like a ghost and side-step the usually agile Martin Peters. Sir Alf Ramsey had made a career-changing mistake in ignoring Netzer’s threat and power and had paid dearly for it. In the second leg, with England’s hopes all but gone, Ramsey fielded a team of “cloggers” to neutralise Netzer. The game ended 0-0, but England had avoided humiliation. For Ramsey, it was the beginning of the end.

While England had lost their World Cup crown in Mexico, there was an underlying feeling that the game at Wembley in 1972 was really closure of an era. The balance of power in Europe had shifted and the new darlings of the football media were the Dutch and Germans. In little under 18 months, another nail was hammered into the coffin when Poland knocked England out in the World Cup qualifying group. Then Ramsey was sacked and, in 1973-74, after a six year period in which English clubs had won nine European trophies, the sequence ended with Tottenham’s fans rioting in Rotterdam.

The question was whether England could learn from the free-flowing football of Ajax, who won their second successive European Cup and Bayern Munich and the West German national team, who were crowned European champions in the summer, playing superb and intelligent football. English clubs suddenly looked a bit stodgy and over-reliant on function over form. There would be some very difficult, and sometimes dark, days ahead for the country that gave the world association football.


Photos: PA

Grey Neutral Weekly: The very mighty Müller

SAD news from Germany that the most famous footballer to remove England from the World Cup without cheating is no longer with us. Gerd Müller, a legendary figure in the Bayern Munich story, World Cup winner and goalscoring machine, has died aged 75. 

Born November 3, 1945 in Nördlingen, Müller is considered the greatest striker of all time by many pundits. Although he came to the attention of British fans in 1967 when he played a key role in his club, Bayern Munich, winning the European Cup Winners-Cup against Glasgow Rangers, it was the 1970 World Cup that earned him the reputation of one of the most feared forwards in the game.

Müller was the leading scorer in Mexico, scoring two hat-tricks in the group stage – against Peru and Bulgaria in the space of four days – and went on to become top marksman in the competition. England fans caught a glimpse of his ability to be quite athletic, despite being nicknamed “kleines dickes Müller” (short, fat Müller) by green-eyed coaches. Two years later, with the West German team in its pomp, Müller scored at Wembley against England to effectively knock the reigning World Champions out of the European Championship.

Müller won the Ballon d’Or in 1970, fending off the challenge of Bobby Moore and Luigi Riva. From 1967 to 1976, he featured in the top 20 of the award and also made the top three in 1969 and 1973. Furthermore, he won the European Golden Shoe as Europe’s top scorer in 1969-70 and 1971-72. He was West German footballer of the year in 1967 and 1969.

After 1970, Helmut Schön’s West Germany arrived, winning the European crown in 1972, the calendar year in which Müller netted an astonishing 85 goals. Bayern Munich, too, were coming to the boil and in 1974, were European Champions for the first time. Muller was still the kingpin in a team that included Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier and when West Germany hosted the World Cup, it was Müller who won the new trophy for his country, swivelling his hips to score the winner in Munich after the Dutch had earlier threatened to embarrass their hosts. It was Müller’s last game for his country and his 68th goal in 62 games, a remarkable statistic. He later admitted that he had been a little hasty in retiring from the national team. West Germany certainly struggled to replace him.

With Bayern Munich, Müller won a total of three European Cups (1974 to 1976), four Bundesliga titles, four DFB Pokals and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, and accumulated 398 goals in 453 games, a phenomenal record. As good and as lethal as he was, his post-playing career was something of an anti-climax and he experienced great problems with depression and alcohol. Thankfully, his former team-mates and old club, Bayern, rallied round “Der Bomber” – they realised the debt of gratitude they owed to the little (5ft 9 inches) front man.

Down to Millwall

AS EVER, a trip to Millwall leaves you with mixed emotions. There’s scarcely a stadium in Britain where the atmosphere is more raucous and intimidating. Against Blackburn Rovers, it was no different, there was a sense of “we’re back” about the afternoon. It started with a free-for-all in the stand where our seats had been taken by a group of regulars who clearly didn’t fancy Row E and we were not going to argue. Inevitably, they only sat in our Row B seats for about half the game, the rest of the time, they were either topping-up at the bar or expelling what they had already consumed. Never mind, we still had a decent view, when they were not standing up. Why do we go to Millwall, you might ask? It’s such an interesting place to watch a match, a throwback to more robust times and a good example of how influential a passionate and full-on crowd can be. They didn’t like the “taking the knee” at the Den, the gesture was roundly jeered by the fans and, the Millwall team didn’t take part. The game itself was unexceptional, ending 1-1. Both goals, by Millwall’s Jed Wallace and Blackburn’s born-again Chilean Ben Brereton-Diaz, were decent efforts, but the 12,490 crowd won’t remember the contest for too long. Millwall need more punch up front and Blackburn need more ambition.

The Kane game

NOW that Lionel Messi has found a home for the next two years, the emphasis is switching to Harry Kane and the game of “will-he, won’t-he” for the next couple of weeks. Kane was not at the Tottenham stadium for their deserved and eye-catching 1-0 win over Manchester City. You could read this in many ways, but our take at GOTP towers is the deal has probably been done and it’s a little embarrassing for Kane to be rubbing shoulders with City on the opening day of the season. Fans are fickle, as we have saw at Tottenham – at the end of the 90 minutes, they were chanting, “are you watching, Harry Kane?”, which suggests the bond has been broken. Kane has been idolised by the Spurs faithful, but how quickly the sentiment can change. It will be a surprise if Kane doesn’t leave, and judging by City’s lack-lustre performance, they need him.

Payback time for Lille?

LILLE’s Ligue 1 success in 2020-21 was marvellous for the French club, but it has all gone horribly wrong for them since. The club lost their coach, Christoph Galtier in the summer and he returned this weekend with his new club to win 4-0 in Lille. The club already had financial problems when Callisto Sporting bought them in December 2020, with debts around € 150 million and rising. Lille’s wage bill in 2019-20 was just over 20% of the total paid by Paris Saint-Germain, so their achievement in 2020-21 was considerable. Their revenues for 2019-20 were just € 96 million, as it is unlikely last season will be better than that, what will the impact be of trying to keep pace with more affluent clubs? Lille may yet lose the core of their title-winning team, which might swell their bank balance, but how damaging will that be for their on-pitch performances?

Photo: Alamy


50 years ago, Mexico 1970 was a game changer

AT THE age of 11 and a half, my football career probably peaked. In fact, you could say that 1970 was my Annus mirabilis in terms of the beautiful game. In 1969-70, I was leading scorer for my primary school, Benyon of South Ockendon in Essex. I scored 10 goals in 15 and a half games (actually 16 starts). I was chaired off the pitch after scoring a hat-trick in one game, completing a dramatic comeback from two-down. By the halfway point of the season, I had scored seven goals in 10 games, but then disaster struck – twice.

Firstly, I started having problems reading the chalk board, which prompted a trip to the school nurse and the horror of all horrors, I had to wear glasses. In 1970, this was the equivalent of having a contagious disease and I was heartbroken. “Never mind, son, Nobby Stiles wears specs,” said one teacher. “But he’s useless, I would say.” I remember it well, it was the day that Sutton United hosted Leeds United in the FA Cup. Days later, I had another setback. Playing football in the playground, I was kicked in the groin. Later that evening, I was rushed to the doctor with a burst bloodvessel. I was confined to bed for two weeks, missing my 11-plus and also in danger of losing my place in the school team. I prayed for snow and it came, by the time I returned, I lined-up to reclaim my number nine shirt (actually, we didn’t have numbers).

Just like Greaves

I wasn’t the same player, though. I had lost confidence and the cricketer’s box taped into my shorts made me look like a court jester around the time of Henry VIII. I scored three more goals, but there was another blow waiting to scupper my fragile self-esteem. In the area five-a-sides, an end of season ritual, I was not selected to play for the team. “Sorry, Neil, you’ve not been as effective since your eye problems, you’re the spare man,” said my teacher. I walked away, holding back the tears and muttered, “I know how Jimmy Greaves must have felt in ’66.”

But it was not all was gloomy, far from it. Chelsea won the FA Cup and I rejoiced, sitting in my kit, writing down the main events from the game and jumping for joy when David Webb nudged the ball into the net for the winner. The next day, before school, I ran to the village green, circled the war memorial and ran back, dressed in my Chelsea kit.

The summer was going to be exciting, for it was World Cup 1970. I had read a lot about overseas football thanks to the International Football Book, which my parents had bought me for Christmas 1969. I was an avid reader of Goal, too, so I was interested in European football at a very young age. I knew about Pelé, Gianni Rivera, Gerd Müller and all the top players of the time. I was excited about 1970, it was my first World Cup. The only problem was, the games were on the other side of the world, how would I get to see a lot of them?

I had a plan. I would come home from school, have my dinner and then go to bed, setting an alarm clock to get-up around midnight, I think, to see the games. It seemed to work and I would prepare myself for the evening with some research on the teams and who might be worth watching. I was also doing some scouting for new players for Chelsea, so it was important to know my stuff.

I compiled a book of the players I was watching, identified by my sticker book, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and Goal. I had read that Brazil’s Tostão had problems with one of his eyes and that he was lucky to be in the squad. I felt some affinity with him, my eyesight had effectively cost me a place in that five-a-side line-up. We were both forwards. I wanted him to succeed. His name went down in my book. I wrote: “Good player for Chelsea. Unusual for a Brazilian, he is very white.” It was 1970.

Brazil’s Pele celebrates opening the scoring as Tostao and Jairzinho rush to congratulate him in the final.

Dear Mr Sexton

The competition got underway. “Gustavo Peña (Mexico)…takes a good penalty…Byshovets (USSR)…fast, but communist…Ladislao Mazurkiewicz (Uruguay)…good goalkeeper, but difficult name to pronounce, probably not good idea to sign him.” It went on and on, the pattern of going to bed with the sun shining, getting up when everyone was in bed (my Dad hated football) and then waiting for the TV to get warm before seeing a broadcast that looked like it was on the moon or on a similarly far-off planet. This prompted me to start my “Dear Mr Sexton” letters which I sent to the Chelsea manager to recommend players for his squad. I anticipated Fantasy Football and foreign imports by at least two decades. If Mr Sexton had listened, Pelé might have worn the blue shirt of Chelsea and Franz Beckenbauer might have gone on to become as popular as John Terry at Stamford Bridge. But did they listen?

There was another aspect to 1970 that makes it special and that was the decision by me and my brothers to play our own World Cup, game-by-game. We had a special pitch at the back of our railway cottage house, on some disused allotments. With old bed frames as goals, we played two-a-side and went through the entire fixture list. If political correctness had been around, we would have been in trouble, for when Peru were in town, we blacked our faces with shoe polish. We had a problem when the polish disappeared before Pelé was due to run-out against Czechoslavakia. I wanted to be Pelé, but the others said I should be Tostão because I had a suspect eye. When England met West Germany in the quarter-final (coinciding with the real thing), I was Peter Bonetti and saved a Gerd Müller penalty. But over in Mexico, there was disaster looming for the “Cat of Stamford Bridge”.

I blame the local greengrocers. To this day, I will not forgive Mrs Stone for running-out of Jersey tomatoes.

It was like this. I had read in the Victor comic that footballers had lucky charms or rituals. One had a little black cat sewn into his shorts, another would only put his shorts on at the last minute before running onto the pitch, others had lucky underpants, and so on and so forth. Mine was tomato sandwiches. If I had them for tea, Chelsea (or England) would win. It worked in the 1970 FA Cup from round three all the way to Wembley. It also worked in the World Cup against Rumania and Czechoslavakia. When England played Brazil and lost, I blamed it on the fact that the tomatoes were a little green.

When England met West Germany in León on June 14, 1970, I was far from confident. I had enjoyed watching the Germans and when we had played their games out on our own stadium, I had worn a swimming cap on my head in honour of Uwe Seeler. Actually, I looked more like “The Hood” from Thunderbirds, but nevertheless, it was a passable representation of Hamburg’s number nine. At half-time, it was 1-0 and four minutes into the restart, 2-0. But then it all went wrong. “For pete’s sake, Mum, are you sure we don’t have any tomatoes?” I said when West Germany levelled. She went in search, scouring the allotment next to our pitch, but nothing. “Then we are doomed,” I replied.



And we were. Meanwhile, England were in “our semi-final” but lost 8-7 to Italy. “That Luigi Riva’s some player,” I told my disinterested Dad. “He scored six against England earlier this evening.” The game had to be finished with a neighbour shining his torchlight onto the pitch and we had to replace the ball as a hefty clearance from “Jack Charlton” had sent our best red Frido into the pig sty. But we got there and it meant Italy and Brazil would meet in the final, just like the real thing.

We played our game on the morning of June 21, 1970. We had an improvised Jules Rimet trophy, a misshapen carrot with some cardboard wings (we had the carrot for Sunday lunch later) and we even cut the grass on the allotment. “The old stadium’s looking good, I said. “I wonder if we could build a grandstand here, this competition’s been such a success.” We never got planning permission, but it was an ambitious idea.

The game was exciting, but my brother twisted his ankle and had to limp off. We stuck him in goal but he could only watch as Italy capitulated and lost 5-3. “If the game this evening’s as good, we will be in for a treat,” I said in my best commentator’s voice. It was, as we all know, possibly the most memorable World Cup of all and I drank-up every second of it. A few hours before the final, our TV packed-up, but my Dad managed to borrow a set from a neighbour. We were very close to a disaster.

By 1974, I was an avid fan of Ajax, the Netherlands, Cruyff and Total Football. In my office I have huge posters of Cruyff and Netzer and pennants of Bayern Munich, Juventus and other European clubs. This obsessive interest in football outside the UK has stayed with me and I’m delighted that one of my sons has a deep interest in the game. I don’t write to the Chelsea manager anymore to recommend players, but I’m often tempted. There’s no doubt that it was triggered off by my Mexico ’70.



Photos: PA