Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Don Givens

The Don of the Castle

1982 - 1987 : Neuchâtel Xamax (Switzerland)

Born in Limerick in 1949, Daniel Joseph Givens was one of Ireland's most talented footballers of the 1970s. He began his professional career at Manchester United, but it would be at Queens Park Rangers that Givens would make a name for himself and cement his place in the Ireland team.

He also played for Luton, Birmingham, Sheffield United and Bournemouth in a respectable career and in recent years would be known best to Irish football fans as the manager of the nation's U21 side.

Givens moved to Manchester at the age of 17. Over the next sixteen years in England he would make over 400 senior appearances, bagging more than a hundred goals. He never won any trophies in England, but his goals did help QPR to promotion to DIvision One in 1973 and to second place in the 1975-76 Championship. Retiring from international football in 1981, he finished his Ireland career with a record of 19 goals in 56 games. This record would not be beaten until Frank Stapleton scored his 20th senior goal for Ireland, against Malta in 1990.

Givens scored 19 times for Ireland, including a hat-trick against the USSR in 1974

By 1981, Givens was playing for Sheffield United in the old Third Division. His career at Bramall Lane ended horribly though, as the 33 year old Givens missed a crucial, final-day, last-minute penalty for the Blades, which sent them crashing down to Division Four. The following winter, Givens decided to leave England and Sheffield behind, having never escaped his reputation as the man who missed the penalty.

He took up an offer to move to Neuchâtel Xamax, a moderately sized club in the Swiss Football League. Xamax were founded in 1970 as a merger between two local teams and achieved promotion to the first division in 1973. They played their matches at the 25,000 capacity Stade de la Maladière, moving to a smaller ground in 2007. Givens' move to Xamax was unusual, but he later stated that after his spell at Sheff Utd, his desire had been to go abroad. He had considered Holland, until his agent recommended Xamax to him. 

Givens arrived at Xamax in mid-season, he was the only full-time player at the club., but would help them to the UEFA Cup Quarter-Final that year, scoring a goal in the loosing tie against Hamburg. In his first full season at the club, Xamax came a respectable 6th place and reached the final of the Cup of the Alps, in which Givens played, but lost 1-0 to Nantes. 

Givens (No.8) played in the 1985 Swiss Cup Final

In 1985, Xamax reached the Swiss Cup Final. Givens started the match, but was unable to prevent them loosing to an Arau team coached by a young Ottmar Hitzfeld. In the 1985-86 season, Xamax again marched to the UEFA Cup Quater Finals. They brushed aside Sportul Bucharest, Lokomotiv Sofia and Dundee United, before being put out by eventual winners Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate. (One team that would progress to the Semis, would be Belgian club Waregem, who among their players was another Irishman named Liam Buckley.)

Domestically, Xamax were improving every year, and their final position had gone from 6th in 1982-83, to 2nd in 1985-86. In the 1986-87 season, Givens was handed the captain's armband and Xamax finally won the Swiss Championship for the first time in their history, outpacing Grasshopper Zurich by 5 points.

Givens winning the Swiss Championship in 1987

Givens retired in the summer of 1987 at he age of 38. He had captained Xamax to its first ever Championship, as well as seen them make great progress in Europe and in the Swiss Cup. He experienced something of a swansong in the country, having scored 35 goals in 150 appearances. He would go on to a respectable career as a coach, mainly of younger players. In the early 90s, he returned to Xamax to earn his badges, and later managed the Ireland Under-21s betweeen 2000 and 2010.

Givens as Irish U21 Manager

Givens himself would later recall his time in Neuchâtel as ""undoubtedly the best of my playing career". His stint in Switzerland is fondly remembered over there too, and he was recently voted the club's 31st best player in its history. Known as Daniel Don, his name is still mentioned on numerous forums and message-boards as an influential figure in the rise of Xamax as an established team in the Super League.

As Xamax's website warns its younger fans; "if the names of Hermann, Givens, Stielike and Gress mean nothing to you; you have not experienced the Golden Age of the club". 

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