Our European guru educates and enlightens
Where are they now? is one of the most pointlessly fascinating questions in football.
Yet after a trip to a second hand bookshop I embarked on a where are they now binge fully cognisant of the risk that, as a binging Brit, I might end up condemned on the front page of the Daily Mail.
In the bookshop my heart leapt as I spotted a rare gem: International Football Book No13 (1970), the definitive football annual of my childhood, mislaid in a semi-nomadic progress across London in the 1980s.
And it was in reasonable nick even though one previous owner had thoughtfully scribbled an apparently random series of fractions – 6/15ths, 5/7ths, 8/10ths – across the statistics section.
If you’re 30-something or older you probably owned similar annuals filled with articles by stars all – I presume – ghosted with punchy headlines like “Luigi Riva Goal-hungry but a monster!”, the inevitable article by Brian Glanville and a light-hearted story for comic relief. In International Football Book No13, this niche was filled by a shot of Ken Dodd, with Diddymen, demonstrating tactics in the goalmouth at Runcorn FC.
I know what Riva is doing now, he’s still at the Italian FA, fishes a lot and does his best to avoid saying anything that will provoke headlines in the voracious Italian sports dailies. He was the first bloke to console Baggio at USA '94 after that penalty. But what, I wondered, about the rest of them?
Luigi Riva: "Goal-hungry but a monster!"
A shocking number are no longer with us. Ian Hutchinson, George Best, Alan Ball, Belgian centre-back Leon Jeck, East German footballer of the year Roland Ducke, and Romanian striker Florea Dumitrache had all died as had Julio Baylón, the Peruvian winger who wasn’t fully fit for the 1970 World Cup but, in his prime, could run the 100 metres in 11 seconds.
Baylón died in 2004 at the age of 53 but his 19-year-old son – the illustriously named Jair ‘Jairzinho’ Julio Baylón Iglesias – is on Braga’s books although he is on loan to Alianza Lima where the great Teofilo Cubillas made his name.
Georgi Asparuhov, the gifted Levski Sofia striker reductively known as the “Bulgarian George Best” was killed within a year of the annual’s publication. Just 28, he died in a car crash. There’s a semi-apocryphal story about him turning down Milan with this cracking speech: “There is a country named Bulgaria and in that country there is a team called Levski. You haven’t heard of them, but that’s where I was born and where I shall die.”
When Asparuhov met his untimely end, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people packed Sofia to watch his funeral. He scored a cracking goal against England at Wembley and was, Levski fans insist, better than Stoichkov.
George Best may no longer be with us but Clyde, the black striker who started at Bermuda’s Somerset Cricket Club before signing for West Ham, certainly is. In 2006, he was given an MBE and spent £500 on a top hat to wear at the ceremony only to have it temporarily confiscated by a Buckingham Palace guard on security grounds.
The International Football Book No13 being a book for kids, Clyde’s article talks about tackling, climate and results but gives racism in football the swerve. Known as something of a gentle giant, Best was often the scapegoat for the team’s failures but persevered and later had a reasonably successful career in north America with the Portland Timbers and Toronto Blizzard.
Gentle giant Clyde Best gets up above Leeds' Gordon McQueen
Best endured longer than Ade Coker, a slight, nifty black striker who, after nine games for the Hammers between 1971 and 1974, flew to North America and joined the Boston Minutemen. Today, he’s a successful youth coach.
Coker’s party piece, according to Hammers fan Jim Munro was to stop the ball, spin 180 degrees and take it with him. And no, Munro says, he’s not related to Nigel Reo-Coker.
International Football Book No13 carried a piece enticingly headlined “Mordecai Spiegler talks of his travels and offers,” by another bit part player at West Ham. Spiegler, who scored Israel’s only goal in a World Cup finals in 1970, was a gifted midfielder, probably the best Israeli footballer ever, who so impressed Ron Greenwood in a friendly that he tried to sign him for West Ham.
But the move was blocked. David Lacey blames the Football League but Spiegler, in his article, says the Israeli FA had nixed any moves abroad. Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Nantes had all been spurned. He did, eventually, join PSG when he was 28 but the move never paid off. Spiegler obviously hasn’t held this against the IFA as he serves on one of their committees.
Anatoly Byshovets, the Ukrainian star who impressed for Dinamo Kyiv and the USSR in the late 1960s and early 1970s, isn’t dead – nor does he have any discernible connections to the Boleyn Ground – but he is in disgrace. He has managed various clubs – including the fantastically named Tom Tomsk – but left Lokomotiv Moscow last year after they came seventh in the league and allegations of bribery were flung around.
Hector Chumpitaz, the great Peruvian defender famous for his storming excursions upfield, had a more serious brush with the law in 2005 after accepting $30,000 to take part in a mayoral campaign, but the sentence was quashed. Chumpitaz inspired Peru – famous for the red diagonal stripe that Crystal Palace imitated when they were branded as ‘the team of the eighties’ – to a historic triumph in the 1975 Copa America.
Hector Chumpitaz models the latest line from Crystal Palace
His Peruvian team-mate Cubillas is quoted in the annual telling the world to watch out for Peru in 1974. He was only 20 in 1970 but his – to quote Glanville – “electric dribbling and cool effective finishing” made him an outstanding player.
Though he came back, with Peru in 1978, Cubillas never quite made the impact his form in Mexico had suggested and never flirted with joining West Ham either. He did well at Porto between 1974 and 1976 but was later equally prolific for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
No player who inspired his team to two World Cup quarter-finals and victory in Copa America can be called a failure but Cubillas looked, in that hazy summer in 1970, as if he would be as big as Best (George) or Pelé.
But it never happened. And that is where all this 'where are they now' stuff comes up short. You can plot a player’s career through sites like Wikipedia and various books but you can never really answer the game’s eternal mystery: why do some players fulfil their promise and others don’t?
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