Rants and musings from the magazine team
With an MEP lobbying to change the historical records, FFT.com's Rob Burnett looks at that and nine other what-might-have-beens
Fans of every football club cling on to some questionable occurences that happened long ago but still rankle to this day. Imagine if, like a footballing version of Dr Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap we could leap back in time and put right what once went wrong: what would we change? And what would that effect?
1973: Leeds’ Greek TragedyRichard Corbett, Leeds United fan and Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has set up an online petition to try to correct the generally accepted farce that was the result of the 1973 Cup Winners’ Cup final.
AC Milan won the game 1-0 over Don Revie’s Leeds, but not without controversy. Greek referee Christos Michas, who turned down several strong Leeds penalty appeals, was subsequently investigated by Greek courts and banned for life by UEFA. Now Corbett wants the result reversed and the trophy presented to Leeds.
What might have happened next Having won the Fairs (UEFA) Cup in 1971, Don Revie sets his sights on the hat-trick by targeting the European Cup. So when Leeds win the League in 1974, he decides not to take the England job. That goes to Ipswich’s thrusting young manager Bobby Robson, who leads England to Euro 76 in Yugoslavia.
1919: The Arsenal Promotion MysteryArsenal fans may not like to discuss it, but they didn’t earn their place at England’s top football table.
In 1919 the Football League decided to expand the First Division from 20 to 22 teams. Chelsea, who had finished 19th the previous season, were spared the drop; bottom-placed Spurs went down and were replaced by Second Division outfit Arsenal.
Spurs fans can (and do) talk for hours about this perceived injustice, but neutrals will raise an eyebrow to discover that Arsenal had only finished fifth in the Second Division, so their promotion must have annoyed fourth-placed Wolves and third-placed Barnsley.
Whatever methods Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris used, they worked and the Gunners were airlifted into a division they’ve still yet to leave.
What might have happened next Instead of having to wait 78 years for Danny Wilson, Barnsley are promoted to the top flight. After appointing unemployed former Leeds City secretary-manager Herbert Chapman, they win the FA Cup followed by three consecutive league titles.
"We'll go up this year, lads"
1978: Time, Gentlemen!Not all questionable decisions at Argentina 78 could be put down to the junta, although Clive Thomas was often called something similar by fans. The Welsh referee never shunned the spotlight, and he got it on a global scale while officiating the first-round tie between Brazil and Sweden.
The sides were level as the game ticked into time added on and a Brazil corner was tucked home by Zico. However, Thomas had blown for full time a fraction of a second before the ball crossed the line. Y’know, like you don’t.
What might have happened next The first-round group is won by Brazil rather than, er, Austria. However, that means Zico & Co. go into a group dominated by the Netherlands and go out anyway.
1972: The DivotWithout wishing to rob Hereford United of their moment of glory, even their own fans are sick of seeing their famous victory over Newcastle whenever Football Focus does a segment on a David and Goliath FA Cup match.
The game was the big break for John Motson, a junior commentator sent to cover a game that was supposed to be a Match of the Day footnote.
And the whole thing so nearly didn’t happen. Newcastle forward Malcolm Macdonald described Ronnie Radford’s famous goal thus: “I was four yards behind him. The ball sat up on a divot. He didn't know that was going to happen. Without that, it would've been a mis-hit and a throw-in to us.”
What might have happened next Newcastle beat West Ham, Huddersfield and Birmingham but lose to Leeds in the semi. With Motty out of the picture, statistics become increasingly popular and football turns into baseball with a .912 success ratio, whatever that means.
1986: The Hand of ShiltonDiego Maradona is 5ft 5in. Peter Shilton is 6ft 1in. You do the math. We could have avoided all this Hand of God unpleasantness if only Shilts had simply punched the ball before Maradona got there. Or, alternatively, the officials had done their job properly.
What might have happened next Without England pushing forward, Maradona is unable to score his brilliant solo goal three minutes later. John Barnes set up Gary Lineker’s winner, and another against Belgium in the semi-final. Despite food poisoning, Shilton is picked for the final against Germany and has a stinker as England are battered. Scots hero-worship Karl-Heinz Rumenigge instead.
"Doh... gah... burble..."
1971: Tinkler’s HowlerFor Leeds and Don Revie the 1973 Cup Winners’ Cup final was just another in a long line of injustices, perceived or genuine, that the club had to endure. Our next stop in time is Elland Road, April 1971 where title-chasing Leeds were taking on West Brom. Baggies striker Jeff Astle scored the winner in a 2-1 defeat for Leeds but referee Ray Tinkler should have ruled out the goal for offside.
The incredulous players (and thousands of fans) surrounded him and even Revie marched onto the pitch to remonstrate with the official. It was to no avail, the goal stood and Leeds lost the title to Arsenal by one point.
What might have happened next Leeds deny Arsenal the Double and aren’t forced to play the first five matches of the next season away from Elland Road; instead of picking up two points from them, they pick up four, thus beating Derby to the title. An incandescent Brian Clough reacts to an unwise jibe from his chairman by punching him in the face, and retires from management.
1996: Keegan the WinnerHow Kevin Keegan would have loved it if Newcastle United side hadn’t choked in the 1996 title race. But they didn’t drop the title because Keegan lost it on Sky Sports, but rather because of one match.
Keegan’s footballing philosophy was summed up at Anfield in April 1996, when possibly the best match in Premier League history saw the home side beat Newcastle at their own game. Both sides attacked relentlessly but in the end Liverpool won it 4-3.
David Ginola later claimed that was the turning point. “If we had managed to keep the score at 3-2 we would have won the league – definitely,” he said. “If we had won the league that year, Newcastle United would have gone on to win more trophies.”
What might have happened next Newcastle win the league. Keegan still resigns, as is his wont, but not until May 1997, citing stress after the Mags lose a breathless title race to Manchester United. However, his attacking focus is vindicated, and a generation doesn’t grow up with every team playing 4-5-1.
1966… and all thatOccasionally English football pundits have been known to lay the blame for the national team’s failure to win anything in years to the weight of history of the 1966 World Cup win. But it could so easily have been different.
Imagine if the ‘Russian’ linesman from Azerbaijan hadn’t given the goal. Then play was halted before the fourth goal to deal with the pitch invasion. What? It’s not that unreasonable.
What might have happened next Germany win the Tuesday night replay under Wembley’s floodlights. Alf Ramsey bears a grudge and, four years later in Mexico, keeps his best XI on the field against Germany to close out the win (“Taking Bobby Charlton off gave Beckenbauer all the room he needed,” Martin Peters has told FFT). However, Ramsey’s men lose to canny Italy in the semi, and England fans become quietly accustomed to heroic failure.
1991: Cloughie’s Last StandBrian Clough won most things in his managerial career but the one thing that eluded him was the FA Cup. He came closest in 1991 when he led Nottingham Forest to the final where they faced Terry Venables’ Tottenham side.
Age and alcohol were taking their toll on Clough and it wasn’t helped when Spurs won thanks to a Des Walker own goal in extra-time. Clough carried on for two more years but succeeded only in getting Forest relegated.
What might have happened next Clough retires a winner, having filled what seems to be the final gap in his CV. However, there’s an even happier ending for Old Big ‘Ead. Opposite number Venables, upon replacing Graham Taylor in 1994, brings Clough into the England set-up as an adviser and, for a pre-Euro 96 friendly, allows Brian to finally lead England out at Wembley.
"You're a good man, young Terence"
1954: The Mighty Magyars
The Hungarian national side of the 1950s containing Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis was unquestionably the best in the world. They had invented the 4-4-2 formation and had used it to stun England by beating them 6-3 at Wembley and then 7-1 in the return fixture in Budapest.
They were Olympic champions in 1952 and entered the 1954 World Cup as hot favourites with an unbeaten record stretching back four years. They beat West Germany 8-3 in a first round game and cruised to the final where they faced the Germans again.
This time Puskas was not fully fit but played anyway and soon Hungary were 2-0 up. But the Germans fought back and scored three times to lead 3-2. Late on Puskas had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside and West Germany had won the match they immediately dubbed ‘The Miracle of Berne’. It was one of the biggest upsets of all time and since then the footballing fortunes of each nation has differed sharply.
What might have happened next West Germany remain an average team. With the country depressed, the Economic Miracle doesn’t materialise. The resurgent Hungarians fight off Soviet retaliation to their 1956 revolution and become the dominant power in central Europe, triggering the collapse of communism and giving Americans nothing to get spooked about.
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