Saturday, 14 July 2012

Joe Kinnear

At the foot of mountains

1978 : Al Sharjah (UAE)
1984 :  India 
1987 :  Nepal

Joseph Patrick Kinnear was born in Dublin in 1946. His family emigrated to England when he was just 7 years old, and Kinnear would grow up with his single-mother and four siblings in Watford. He played for St. Alban's as a lad and was snapped up at 19 by First Division giants Tottenham Hotspur.

Over the next 10 years at the club, the Irishman would play over 200 matches for Spurs. With English international Cyril Knowles, Kinnear would form a talented full-back pairing and help the club to 5 trophies, including the UEFA Cup in 1972. 

His international debut for the Republic of Ireland came in a 2-1 away defeat to Turkey in 1967. Kinnear would gain a further 25 caps for the Republic over the next 8 years. After leaving Tottenham in 1976, he spent a season with Brighton & Hove Albion making 16 appearances.

A young Kinnear at Tottenham
Kinnear retired from playing football in 1976 due to a knee injury, he was only 31 years of age. After two years out of the game, he took up his first management role. In an unusual move, and possibly motivated by money, he tasted coaching for the first time with Emirati side, Al-Sharjah. Established in 1966 as Al Orouba, the club known as the White Bees, have 5 Emirati League titles and 8 UAE President's Cups to their name. The club became known as Al Sharjah the same year as Kinnear took charge. His reign with the club did not produce positive results, and soon thereafter, Sharjah replaced Kinnear.

In five years however, he would be back in the UAE. In 1983 former Tottenham defender Dave Mackay was named manager of Al Shabab, and the Scot opted to hire his former Spurs team-mate Kinnear as his assistant at the Dubai-based side. This stint proved as unsuccessful as his first in the country, and within a year, both Kinnear and Mackay were sacked.

In 1984, he replaced Englishman Bob Bootland as manager of the Indian national football team. His task was to help them achieve qualification for the 1984 Asian Cup in Singapore. He only lasted three months in the job, loosing 9 matches, and was replaced by the former Yugoslavia, Lazio and Valencia manager Milovan Ciric. India subsequently qualified for the tournament for the first time in 20 years.

Three years later, he found himself in neighbouring Nepal. The country were relative newcomers to the international scene, having only been affiliated with FIFA in 1970. Between then and 1982, Nepal had not attempted to qualify for the World Cup. Kinnear's appointment came in the wake of the nation's first failed attempt at reaching the tournament of 1986. 

Nepal's Dasarath Rangasala Stadium

Kinnear enjoyed his time in the Asian country, and recalls it fondly years later. "It was an amazing experience. You have to do it when you are young".

"We trained at the foot of Mount Everest. There was a hotel right near and you could see it as you looked outside."

Ganesh Thapa, top scorer at the 1987 South Asian Championships
He inherited a squad though, severely lacking in quality but the sport was growing in popularity. "Most of the players were Guerkas and when we played World Cup qualifiers there would be 80,000 at every game. People would queue for days and sleep in the street to get a ticket".

The Dubliner's first challenge with the Gorkhalis was at the South Asian Football Championships in India. His side beat Bangladesh and Bhutan and topped their group, setting up a final encounter with the host nation. In front of 80,000 fans packed into the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta, Kinnear's charges narrowly lost 1-0 through an 89th minute goal. 

Calcutta's 120,000 seater Salt Lake Stadium

This would be Kinnear's only major finals appearance with Nepal and he stepped down after the tournament. His achievements however, in guiding a small and emerging nation to a surprising 2nd place was not forgotten. Former referee Shree Sam Ranjitkar, himself a Nepalese national believes that "Kinnear led Nepalese football to bloom and did his best for the country." Ranjitkar also stated in 2008 that he felt that Kinnear "had done more than anyone for Nepalese football".

After leaving Nepal, Kinnear reunited with Dave Mackay at Doncaster Rovers. In 1993 he would take reins of Wimbledon FC and over the following 6 years, would establish the club as a regular Premier League outfit, known unceremoniousley as the Crazy Gang. In 1999 Kinnear suffered a heart attack and stepped down as manager. Wimbledon were relegated a year later.

After brief spells with Nottingham Forest and Luton Town; his last job was with Premier League side Newcastle Utd, but he had to resign his post in 2009 due to his recurring heart problems.

Best known for his time with Wimbledon, Kinnear's successes with Nepal also deserve credit. Taking a small nation so close to a major regional trophy, against all-odds and superior opposition is no mean feat. Sadly though, the Irishman is best known at home and in England as a swearing, conveyor-belt manager. Yet it must be said, Kinnear is no small personality. From Dublin to London, Dubai to Kathmandu and finally to Newcastle; his good nature, work ethic and adventurous spirit have made Kinnear remembered wherever he has gone.

As the Nepalese Association's treasurer Birat Krishna Shrestha once said; "we are still remembering him". It seems Kinnear's work there at least has not been forgotten.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Liam Brady


1980 - 1982 :  Juventus (Italy)
1982 - 1984 :  Sampdoria (Italy)
1984 - 1986 :  Internazionale (Italy)
1986 - 1987 :  Ascoli (Italy)

Born 13 February 1956 in Dublin, this man is regarded as Ireland's most technically gifted footballer of all time. An elegant midfielder, his 17 year career earned him 72 caps for his country and won him 2 league titles, a cup and various personal accolades. His natural ball-skills and supreme passing ability mark him out as unique among other Irish players, and the country has arguably never since produced a footballer like Liam Brady.

Brady's story began in Dublin where he played for St. Kevin's Boys as a youngster. He moved to North London to join English giants Arsenal in 1971 at the tender age of 15. He was part of a talented and highly regarded Arsenal youth side who would win the Southern Counties League and the Youth FA Cup. His senior debut came in 1973 against Birmingham, and Brady never looked back.

The Arsenal side of the 1970s was a strong side, and featured a host of other Irishmen playing alongside Brady, including Pat Rice, David O'Leary, Pat Jennings and Frank Stapleton. While at Arsenal, Brady became a club legend. He played over 300 games for the Gunners, netting over 50 goals including a screamer against Tottenham in 1978. In 1979 Arsenal won the FA Cup, and Brady was named PFA Player of the Year (the first ever non-British player to do so).

Despite the growing sense of success and strength of this Arsenal side, Brady decided in the summer of 1980 to move on to a new challenge. The previous season, Arsenal had beaten Italian side Juventus in the European Cup Winners' Cup 2-1, and Brady had impressed with his performances. So it was, that summer, Juventus paid 500,000 pounds to sign the Irishman. Brady would become the third Irishman to play in Serie A and the second to play for Juventus after Matthew Kunding 70 years earlier. 

Juventus were Italy's most successful club, having already won the Scudetto 18 times since 1905. However, they had lost out on the title for the previous two season, and the signing of Brady was meant to change that.

Brady with Juventus
He arrived at Juventus amid some fanfare at Turin airport. Orchestrating games from the midfield, he became the lynch-pin of all of Juventus' attacking play, linking well with Italian internationals Roberto Bettega and Marco Tardelli. Managed by the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni, they clinched the Serie A title in style and Brady was top scorer for Juventus in his maiden season in Italy. In Europe however, Juventus had less  joy. After a shaky first-round aggregate win over Greek side Panathinaikos in the UEFA Cup, they were put out in Round 3 by Polish outfit Widzew Lodz on penalties.

The following season would see Juventus compete in the European Champion's Cup with similar failures. After overcoming Scottish champions Celtic in Round 1, they were dumped out of the competition by Belgian side Anderlecht 4-2 on aggregate. Domestically however, Juventus succeeded in defending their crown. This 1982 Scudetto was a particularly proud one for Brady. Three matches before the season's end, with Juventus still battling Fiorentina for the title, Brady was told that he would be moved on in the summer, to accommodate the arrival of French ace Michel Platini. At the time, Italian clubs could only have two foreigners in their roster, therefore, in order to bring in Platini, Juventus had decided to discard Brady (Zbigniew Boniek being the other foreigner kept by the club). Yet, amidst all this, it came down to a penultimate game penalty against lowly Catanzaro for Juventus to clinch the title. The spot-kick was taken by Brady himself, and converted with ease. Brady had thus led Juve to the title, in spite of knowing he would not be there the next Autumn. Brady has described Juventus' decision to let him go as devastating. Giampiero Boniperti, then President of Juventus also lent a lament, stating "Brady, Boniek, Platini - we had one too many. If only we had been able to hold on to all three of them, we would have become one of the greatest teams of all time".

Rather than return to Britain, as  many Irishmen had and have done, Brady stayed on in Italy. He signed for recently promoted sleeping-giants Sampdoria. 

Founded in 1946 as a merger between a handful of local sides, Sampdoria had endured a shaky existence and by the 1970s, found themselves in Serie B. However, in 1979 the club were bought by tycoon Paolo Mantovani, who invested heavily, bringing them back into the Serie A in 1982. Money was spent on bringing in the likes of Brady, Trevor Francis and manager Renzo Ulivieri.

Brady with Trevor Francis at Sampdroria
Brady would link up with English striker Francis, another new signing, at the club, a man he had played against frequently back in England. Brady's playmaking and Francis' goals helped them to a respectable 7th place finish in his first season. The 1983-84 season would see Sampdoria clinch 6th place, with Brady proving an irreplaceable squad member. The next summer, he transferred again, this time to Milan giants, and perennial under-achievers Internazionale. 

Internazionale or Inter Milan, were founded in 1908 by Italian and Swiss members of the Milan Cricket Club. They won their first Serie A title in 1910 and would go on to win the Scudetto on 12 occasions by the time Brady arrived. He joined Beppe Baresi, Guiseppe Bergomi and German legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at the San Siro. In his first year with the Nerazzurri, Brady & co. finished the Serie A in 3rd, five points behind winners Hellas Verona. One sweetener for Brady was Inter finishing two points ahead of his former club Juventus, in part thanks to a 4-0 drubbing handed to the Old Lady at home.

In Europe Inter saw off Sportul Studentesc and Glasgow Rangers to reach the Third Round of the 1984-85 UEFA Cup. After losing 2-1 away to Hamburg in the first leg, Inter Milan beat the German side 1-0 at home, thanks to a penalty by Brady, sending them to the Quarter-Finals where they dismantled FC Koln. In the Semi-Finals, another Brady penalty wasn't enough for Inter to beat eventual champions Real Madrid.

By now he had become a main-stay of the Serie A and a respected and well-known figure in Italian football. He had settled well, having learned the language and enjoyed the lifestyle. His Ireland career was also in full swing, and Brady had become his country's captain.
Brady with Inter Milan

The 1985-86 season would see Inter finish in 6th again, and Brady, now 30 moved on, to his final destination in Italy. He signed on for the 1986-87 season with newly promoted Ascoli. A small club from Marche in central Italy, Ascoli play their home matches at the 20,000 capacity Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca. Prior to Brady's arrival, Ascoli's greatest achievements had been two Serie B titles in 1978 and 1986.

This was the season of the famous all-conquering Napoli of Diego Maradonna. Brady's lowly Ascoli would finish the campaign in 12th, clear of relegation. It was while with Ascoli that Brady scored his most famous goal for Ireland in a 1987 friendly win over Brazil at Lansdowne Road. 

Brady's time in Italy had come to an end however, and Brady returned to London for 100,000 pounds, signing for West Ham United. He would spend three seasons with the Hammers scoring 10 goals in just over 100 appearances. His final game was a 4-0 thumping of Wolverhampton Wanderers, in which Brady scored his last senior career goal.

Brady would briefly go into management, first with Celtic and then with Brighton & Hove Albion, but neither stint was successful. He then became a Youth Team Coach with his old side Arsenal, helping to develop the young talent that would go on to feature prominently in the Premier League era. He has also created a stable career, as a respected television pundit in his home country with RTE Sport, working alongside former Irish internationals Eamon Dunphy and John Giles.
Brady was capped 72 times for the Republic of Ireland

Brady is the blue-print for success for any Irish or British footballer aspiring to make it on the continent. In a colourful and respected seven year stay in Italy, Brady won two Championships and became regarded as one of the finest in midfielders in Europe, and is still regarded today across the continent as one of the finest of his generation. It was unfortunate that he never managed to represent his country at a major international tournament, but such failures were beyond his control. Brady's modesty, sensibility and good nature allowed him to adapt quickly to life in Italy and learn its language and its customs.  For that reason Brady is often regarded as one of the finest British/Irish exports to Europe in the history of modern football.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Roddy Collins


2009 :  Floriana (Malta)

Roderick Collins is one of Irish domestic football’s most recognisable and outspoken figures. Having been in the game for over 30 years, he has won various honours both as a player and manager in Ireland, as well as some more unsuccessful stints in England.

Most recently manager of the ill-fated Monaghan Utd, Collins is now mainly employed as a pundit on RTE’s Monday Night Soccer show. Beginning his senior career in 1979, he has respresented 12 Irish clubs as a player and manager, and some clubs in Northern Ireland and England, most notably Mansfield Town, Carlisle, Glentoran and Cliftonville. His greatest success as a manager came in 2000 when he led Bohemians to the League of Ireland title and victories over Aberdeen and Kaiserslautern in the following season’s UEFA Cup campaign.

He held a number of posts until 2006 when he was released by a finacially beleaguered Shamrock Rovers. For two years his only work was with RTE, until he was surprisingly named as the new manager of Floriana FC on June 30th 2008.

Founded in 1894, one of the most well-supported and successful in Malta. The club hail from the town of Floriana, a suburb of Valletta,  and play their home matches at the Independence Ground. The stadium holds 3,000 people, 665 more than the population of the town itself.

The club are known as the Tal-Irish, and play in green and white. Their nickname and colours were adopted following a 1905 friendly with the Dublin Fussiliers of the British Army who were stationed in Foriana. The club has other Irish connections, most notably through their long-standing partnership with Shamrock Rovers, and their kit suppliers Azzurri, based in County Waterford. The club has won 25 Maltese Championships and 25 Maltese Cups, making them the islands most succesful club alongside Sliema Wanderers.

Collins' unveiling as Floriana manager
Collin’s unveiling took place at the Maltese Embassy in Dublin. This was followed the next day with a massive unveiling in the town of Floriana itself. It was the largest media event ever held by a Maltese club. The appointment was widely noted in Irish football media too, mainly because of Collins’ fairly large reputation at home, and also because of the novelty of an Irish manager working abroad. Brian Kerr had been made manager of the Faroe Island’s national team only three months before, and Collin’s appointment was treated with as much fanfare both in Ireland as in their respective new locations.

On his appointment, Collins spoke of the need to bring Floriana back to glory. He got to work straight away on assembling a new squad which included Donovan Simmonds, formerly of Kilmarnock, and Nigerian Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who were drafted in to bolster the attack. However, in spite of the fanfare surrounding Collins and the club's ambitions, money was still tight, and Collins was frustrated in his attempts to tempt many Irish players to Malta.

His start to life as Floriana manager was poor. The season's opening game was a draw against Qormi. Tal-Irish then experienced a humiliating 6-0 drubbing against Valletta. Two of Valletta's goals were scored by former Manchester United player Jordi Cruyff. This was followed by a mediocre draw with Tarxien and a home-loss to the Dingli Swallows.

Collins erupts with delight after a win against Msida

However, Collins soon steadied the ship and Floriana climbed up to fifth place in the standings and were in a good position to claim a berth in the Championship Pool after three wins and a draw. In spite of this generation of good form on the pitch, a December 13th away win over Msida was to be Collin's last match.

He announced his departure from Floriana on December 15th 2009. Floriana reacted angrily to his sudden decision, and threatened Collins with legal action. Collins cited family reasons for his quitting his post saying "'It was a very hard decision but I couldn’t continue to coach Floriana in the present circumstances". He had been living in a hotel in Malta for five months, while his wife and children were back in Dublin. 

Since leaving the Medtierranean Island, Collin’s briefly took up tenure at Cork City, before the club’s precarious financial situation cost him the job before he had even managed a game. He later returned to management in 2011 with First Division side Monaghan United, winning promotion to the Premier League before the club announced their withdrawal from the league in June 2012 citing financial reasons. 

Malta is perhaps not the most glamorous or high-calibre of footballing locations, but it could have been a step in the right direction for Collins' career. Sadly, it didn't work out and his luck with clubs has not been fantastic since. He did a marvellous job getting Monaghan United to the Premier League, but financial concerns have yet again affected his chances. A good manager, here's hoping he gets another chance again.

Tom Davis

The French Menace

1935 : FC Metz (France)

Throughout the 1920s, the newly formed American Soccer League (ASL) had begun enticing British based players across the Atlantic. Excited by the prospect of higher wages and a more glamorous lifestyle, scores of English and Scottish men began crossing the ocean to reap the rewards of the new American soccer gold rush. This was British football's first experience of loosing its players en masse to more competitive and commercial league systems. 

By the early 1930s however, American soccer's power was being replaced by that of France. In 1932, France had introduced professionalism into its football, and the Ligue 1 was born. Clubs began scouting Europe for talent, and Britain was targeted. The French exodus  began in 1932 with the accosting by SC Nimes of prominent members of the Chelsea squad, doubling their wages. Thus began the period known as the French Menace. The English FA, after their experiences with the ASL, responded that any players who went to France, would not be allowed back. However in reality, they merely imposed small penalties on the players when they returned.

Thomas Lawrence Davis was born in Dublin in 1911. He played for a variety of clubs in Ireland, before being snapped up by English outfit Boston Town. He made his name as a young yet menacing striker, and finally landed at Third Division club New Brighton where he netted 50 goals in 77 appearances. This form gained the attention of recently promoted Ligue 1 club FC Metz.

When Davis arrived at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, he joined a club on the rise. Metz had been formed in 1932, upon the merger of two sides and had been a regional side playing the French Northern League until 1933, before earning promotion to Ligue 1 in 1935. French football was at the height of its British phase. The French national team was managed by Englishman George Kimpton, whilst various British players and managers were plying their trade around the country, including Ted Maghner, Tom Devlin, Fredrick Kennedy, George Berry and Peter O’Dowd. Also playing in France at the time were two other Irishmen; Bernard Williams at Sochaux and Owen Mac Cahill, at CA Paris. Thus, Davis would find himself surrounded by familiar accents and voices, partially eliminating the risk of home sickness.

France in particular appealed to journeymen and peripatetic players, who had become disillusioned with the overcrowded scene of the English game, forcing them to play in the lower divisions. Yet Davis, a textbook journeyman, struggled to settle in France. Breaking his contract, Davis signed for Oldham Athletic. Metz meanwhile finished in 11th and established themselves as a Ligue 1 side for years to come.

Program from Davis' first Irish international
Returning to England, Davis was one of the first players to fall foul of the English FAs penalties, and was handed an immediate three month ban. This only halted his form temporarily though, his tally of 35 goals in the 1936-37 season is still a  record for an Oldham player. He gained the first of his four Irish caps in 1936 in a memorable 5-2 win over Germany at Dalymount Park. Davis himself netted two of Ireland's goals.

He finished his career in Ireland with Shelbourne and later Distillery in Northern Ireland where he continued his prolific record with 24 goals in one season. He also gained one cap for Northern Ireland, in a 1937 Home Nations' Championship defeat to England.

Davis had no impact whatsoever in France, and the whole episode is a black mark on an otherwise brilliant lower league career. His failure in France would be another chapter in the list of Irish failures on the continent.

For what its worth, a large proportion of the British and Irish players who went to France around the same time, failed to last either. His records at Brighton, Oldham and for Ireland (he scored 4 goals in 4 games) mark him out as one of our most prolific goal-scorers of the inter-war era.