So a young 19 year old carried the hopes of a nation of 50m on his back, a kid who wasn’t born when Kevin Kilbane missed a penalty at World Cup ’02 and we lost out to Spain, a kid just out of his ‘A’ Levels, a black kid as 50% of London are now, a grandchild of migrants as indeed were 8 of the England team, including three with Irish heritage, the ravages of Empire and colonialism were definitely coming home?
I felt for the young guy who took the penultimate penalty, afterwards he was inconsolable despite his teammates moral support, he was devastated, it was a terrible responsibility to place on the shoulders of one so young. Southgate placing responsibility on a kid still wet behind the ears was a dereliction of duty, he may play for Arsenal and on a huge financial contract but he was still only 19, where were the senior players on the England team, surely it’s their responsibility to stand up and be counted but they shirked away, megabucks superstars with a weak backbone!
Once again England failed to ‘bring it home’, perennial failures, a bit like Mayo as Joe Brolly would say, ‘they find a new way to get beat every year’, or as some say England, the Tottenham of Europe. I was 12 when they won the Jules Rimet trophy aka the World Cup, we will never be allowed to forget it because they show it on BBC2 every Christmas, I suppose it’s their moment in the sun in over 150 years of association football, I mean apparently they invented the game we all love, the beautiful game, but despite letting them play all the games at Wembley in ‘66, finding dodgy referees who wouldn’t know if a ball crossed the line, they will still find a way to miss a penalty from 12 yards in ‘2021, I suppose like Dixie Deans back in ’72.
While everyone and his dog know that England has an abysmal record in penalty shoot outs, we are not immune ourselves when it comes to deciding a game by this version of shoot to kill? In fact Celtic were involved in the decision to scrap the tossing of a coin and go for a penalty shootout. Back in ’69 when I went to my first ever game v Benfica, Celtic won 3-0 on the night and we all thought safely through to the next round, but in Lisbon the scores were reversed and after extra time and the teams still level it went to the dreaded toss of a coin. Deep in the bowels of the Stadium of Light Billy McNeill and Mario Coluna watched as the referee, Dutchman, Van Ravens tossed a Dutch guilder coin in the air as Cesar called ‘heads’ and it came up but this was only to see who would spin the coin to decide who went through.
Once again Cesar called ‘heads’ and the coin spined through the air as if in slow motion, falling to the ground it rolled around for a few seconds hitting the referees boot before landing with ‘heads’ facing up, Celtic were through, McNeill hugged Coluna, two great players and captains, this was no way to win a football game.
After the game Celtic Chairman Bob Kelly launched an official complaint with UEFA stating that tossing a coin was totally against the spirit of football, he also said that if Celtic had lost the toss they wouldn’t have complained but did so in a spirit of genuine sporting integrity. The following season UEFA introduced the penalty shoot-out to decide games drawn after extra time, it came too late for the great World Cup of 1970 but a few months later the great George Best missed in the first penalty shootout in Britain. And then we come to ‘Dixie’, named after the great Everton icon, Dixie the latest in a long line of star strikers that Celtic had over the years, McGrory, McPhail, McBride, Chalmers, Wallace, he became a darling of the Jungle and scored almost 100 goals in his Celtic career but as he has said himself on many occasions, ‘the only thing I get remembered for was missing that bloody penalty against Inter’!
Celtic won the big cup in ’67, lost to AC Milan in the quarters in ’69, lost the final to Feyenoord in ’70, lost again in the quarters to Ajax in ’71, but in ’72 they were back in the semi-final again against Inter, it was the golden era for the club with another semi in ’74 against Atletico, with a bit of luck we could have rivalled Liverpool with 6 European Cups, to say we underachieved is an understatement. That night in April ’72 sticks firmly in my memory, I was with a ‘captive’ audience in Cage 10 as an internee in Long Kesh; the previous year along with Mickey Kearney we planned to go to the Ajax game but Stenna line were on strike, Micky was shot dead years later during the conflict; the year before that I thought I might make it to Milan, we were barmen in Belfast city centre, another young barman friend Jimmy McCallum was blown up by a UVF bomb a few months later; football was becoming a bit irrelevant in the mad world we lived in but still the European Cup was magic ever since my first game v Benfica I just loved European nights at Paradise and still do.
Celtic were European royalty at the time, along with the Milan clubs, AC and Inter, Ajax, Man U, Benfica, Real had been the best ever but were by their sell by date and Bayern were lurking and then Liverpool, but when the draw was made Celtic didn’t fear any of them, for young fans now it’s hard to figure it out when we struggle to make the group stages, but for us older guys they were years of heaven at Paradise. On that April night in ’72 we watched with bated breath to see the Hoops through to a third European final. They had drawn 0-0 on a cold snowy night in the San Siro and were favourites to progress but Inter were no mugs and with the catenaccio in full force they kept a clean sheet and Celtic couldn’t penetrate the Italian defence, and so to penalties. To take a penalty in a shootout takes courage, confidence, commitment, Dixie had all these and so up he went first, facing into the Celtic end his run up was confidence personified but he ballooned the ball so high over the bar it nearly left the ground and that was that, the other 4 Celts all converted but alas the 5 Italians did also and they were through to the final v Ajax and gained a form of revenge for ’67.
I honestly couldn’t believe it, we weren’t used to penalty shoot outs then and just assumed our star players would score from 12 yards, and the best of all is that we just took it for granted we would be in a European final or semi every few years,’64, ’66, ’67, 70, ’72,’74, little did we know? As for Dixie he went on to have a prolific career with Celtic scoring hat tricks in League and Scottish Cup finals, but you know I’m sure he would have forfeited those medals to have sunk the ball in Vieri’s net that night in April ’72.
The other major Cup final penalty shootout that sticks in my mind was the Scottish Cup final 1990, the Anton Rogan final. On a scorching hot day similar to what we’ve been experiencing this past few weeks, Celtic and Aberdeen played out a scoreless draw and the game went to penalties, the first time a major Cup final had been decided by the dreaded shoot out. It seemed as if the script had been written in the stars, Anton Rogan a fellow Belfast man from Andytown was a good Celt, his attacking overlaps paved the way for the Centenary final victory two years previously. But he was unfortunately a little accident prone, and while an excellent attacking full back with an exquisite left peg he sometimes could make an odd error, I think this was on everyone’s mind at Hampden that sunny day, 20 players took penalties that day and only three missed, Charlie Nicholas actually scored the 5th for Aberdeen to send it to sudden death, excitement and dread mounted, then Anton walked to the penalty spot, I think many closed their eyes, he placed the ball and confidently strode up and sent it to the corner but the big Dutch keeper saved at the post, Anton collapsed on the pitch and was in tears as he was consoled by fellow teammates, honestly I feel it was meant to be, of all players to miss I wished it hadn’t been Anton, a guy brought up in the Celtic tradition in Belfast, a young guy who impressed Celtic so much that even after he broke his leg twice at 17 while they watched him, they still came after him and a great Celt he was.
So the penalty shootout can be a harrowing experience but to be honest while we all love to see it, jeez Engerland take the biscuit when it comes to fluffing their lines in penalty shoot outs. At Italia ’90 they lost to Germany; Euro ’96 at home they again lost to the Germans at Wembley with present manager Gareth Southgate’s miss sending them out; at the World Cup in France in ’98 they lost to old foes Argentina; in Euro ’04 and the World Cup in ’06 Ronaldo and the Portuguese put them to the sword; and at Euro ’12 the Italians administered the coup de grace, a pretty dismal record of failure when it comes to penalty kicks. While it was difficult not to feel sorry for the young kids who missed for England, as a nation it nearly makes the tournament when our arrogant ‘friendly neighbours’ fail once again, in fact in a perverse way it’s nearly better watching England lose again on penalties than it is watching the Republic or Scotland win a game.
So after 55 years this was to be their moment of salvation, Boris and Priti Patel jumped on the bandwagon despite not knowing the difference between a football game and the annual boat race on the Thames and then there was Wembley opened up again despite all COVID warnings and almost 70,000 spreading the Delta virus like there was no tomorrow, and amongst them a cohort of the crowd right wing racists, this was their moment, they took over Leicester Square and told the world that ‘football was coming home’ to an England estranged from Europe, the Brexiteers were having a field day, they would show the other 500 million Europeans that they didn’t win two World Wars and a World Cup for nothing despite the rest of us knowing except for the Russians the Germans would have wiped the floor with them in WW2 and to top it all a Russian linesman in ’66 gave them a dodgy goal to lift the World Cup, they owe them Russians big time!
So on the Sunday evening after a hard day on the golf course, then watching Donegal snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, we sat down to watch the final on RTE, listened to Liam Brady, Didi Hamann and Damien Duff discuss the merits of the two teams; Brady knows the Italian psyche from his time at Juve, Didi has that Germanic mentality and Duffer, well sure he toyed with many an English full back in his time in the EPL. The verdict was that Italy would lift the trophy, that sentiment was shared with about 10 million people in Ireland and Scotland amongst 500m in Europe, only in the Brexiteer streets and towns throughout England did anyone imagine that Cellini and Puccino would concede defeat?
And so it was, England scored with almost the first attack of the game but the Italians dominated the match. It looked like England were playing for penalties from the 1st minute, as Danny Blanchflower the former Spurs and NI Captain and an irreverent but witty journalist once said, ‘our tactics were to equalise before the other team scores’. That’s exactly what England did; they scored first and then waited the whole game for Italy to equalise, as in Brexit, seriously flawed thinking. It was hardly the beautiful game of Argentina v Brazil from the previous night’s Copa America, but it was a fascinating match, the three ‘Irishmen’, ‘Arry, Declan and Jack Grealish’ all played although Grealish with the exotic hairstyle might have inspired them if allowed more time, but Italy were superb. The Italians won two out of the first three World Cups in ’34 and ’38 and 4 times in total, most recently ’06, also 12 European Cups/Champions Leagues between Juve, AC and Inter Milan, and now their second Euros, they are football royalty and now presented with the big cup in the home of royalty, as football came home…..to Rome!
Sadly off the field the English fans once again let the side down, most ordinary English football fans will be genuine guys but they have a massive element of right wing National Front, they boo the national anthems of every other country, unheard of in sport; they boo their own England players when they ‘take the knee’ against racism; after three of their players missed penalties and happen to be black, the English fans abused them on social media, quite correctly condemned by Gareth Southgate. Rashford, Sancho and Saka are role models in their respective communities, I’m sure they felt bad enough after missing the penalties without the racist abuse, it was pathetic. But there was worse, the crowds gathered in Leicester Sq., up to 200,000, drinking all day with a late kick off and began fighting amongst themselves and left a mess like in an elephant enclosure in a circus., then at Wembley they broke in through the disabled turnstiles without tickets and finally they attacked innocent young Italian supporters and the stewards stood by as they kicked them as they lay on the ground, it was disgusting.
UEFA have ordered an investigation into the whole sorry saga and already charged the English FA with various offences. The London Met have said that there was a major chance that the final would have been abandoned if things had got any worse, and the behaviour of England fans has put a question mark on the joint bid for the 2030 World Cup which will have repercussions for the Republic and Scotland?
England have always had this element, we witnessed it at the old Lansdowne in ’96, and in every country they travelled to in Europe they wreaked havoc, although they were never so brave when playing at Hampden, but it followed the 70’s/80’s when English club football was bedevilled by hooliganism culminating in the night 39 lives were lost in Heysel as English fans rioted and Juve lifted the Cup, it was dubbed ‘the English disease’, they don’t go to football games to enjoy the game but just to cause trouble, it’s a sickening mentality, a racist if not fascist way of behaving, and then they wonder why most people in Ireland, Scotland and the rest of Europe were willing Italy to win that night, they just don’t get it?
Paddy was born in Belfast with Donegal and Tyrone parents. He spent the 70’s in Long Kesh. He has been going to Paradise since the Benfica game in Nov. 1969. He lived in Donegal for 30 years but now lives in Galway. He returned to University at 50 and became a secondary school teacher of history and English.