Friday, 31 May 2013

Graham Stack

2002 - 03 : Beveren (Belgium)

Graham Stack is an English-born goalkeeper who played for 10 clubs between 2000 and 2013. Born in London in 1981, he began as a trainee with Arsenal. He spent six years with the Gunners but only featured in the League Cup making 5 appearances. Leaving them in 2006, he went from Reading to Barnet, via Plymouth and Hibernian. 

As he is London born-and-bred, you may wonder why Stack makes it to the Wild Geese list. 

"You can hear me," he once said. "I am definitely not from Dublin. I am a London boy and was brought up here.

"But my mum was born in Glenamaddy in Galway, so was my Nan and Grandad plus half a dozen of my aunties and uncles.

"I made a decision at 16 or 17 to play for Ireland and it has been a great privilege to play for a great country. The people are so passionate about their football. I have not looked back."

Prior to joining Hibs in 2009, most of Stack's game time had been restricted to loan spells while with his various parent clubs. One of these spells occurred during the 2002-03 season while he was with Arsenal, when he spent the season with Belgian club K.S.K. Beveren.

Beveren hail from East Flanders, and were founded in 1934. Little Anderlecht, as they are known, are two time winners of Belgium's League and Cup. When at home, they have played at the 12900 capacity Freethiel Stadion since 1938.

Stack showed an adventurous zeal in choosing to join the Belgians, a quality rare in British/Irish players. "I could have gone out to a number of English clubs in pre-season but that was the easy option," he said at the time.

"I have a chance now to play 30 First Division games in Belgium with all the pressure and all the attention that first-team football brings.

"The fact I have had to cope with living away from my family and girlfriend in a foreign country will help me as well.

"This year at Beveren will set me up for the rest of my career

He arrived with fellow Arsenal loanees John Halls and Steve Sidwell, although the latter would only last a few weeks in the country.

That season, Beveren were playing the Championnat de Belgique (today known as the Pro-League), Belgium's top division. Under coach Herman Helleputte, they had a decent squad. Two players of note were a young Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. Eboue would later be permanently signed by Arsenal, the only player to do so during the two club's partnership. Toure would go on to play for Barcelona and Manchester City.

Stack made his league debut on August 10th. At home to RAEC Mons, the 20 year old kept a clean sheet as Beveren won 3-0. He also kept goal later in the season, in a record 6-1 home win over KV Mechelen. However, some awful results came his way too. These included 7-1 and 7-2 defeats to giants Anderlecht and Club Brugge respectively. He was also one of two Beveren players sent off in May, during a 0-3 home loss to Gent.

Generally he put in a series of fine performances which impressed the Arsenal scouts. Yet Stack is best remembered in Belgium for a November incident in the derby with Antwerp. After two opposing fans invaded the pitch and attacked him, the Irishman responded by dealing one of them a hefty slap, knocking him down. The clip became a Eurosport hit in the pre-youtube days, earning him continental renown and a place in Beveren folklore.

Stack battles two Antwerp fans

"Everyone seems to have seen it at this stage," admitted Stack.

"My mum and dad are living down in Spain at the moment and I think they nearly fell off the couch when they saw it on Eurosport.

"It did get a lot of attention, but thankfully people are also t
alking about my football here as well. We've kept three clean sheets in the last five games now so that can't be bad."  Little Anderlecht won the game 3-1.

While at the club Stack won the first of his 7 under-21 caps for the Republic of Ireland under Don Givens

Beveren finished in 11th, one place above rivals Antwerp. In the Cup, they had been put out in the last 16 by K.Bochotler V.V. Stack made 24 first team appearances, and all-in-all the first team experience was a valuable gain.

This wasn't enough to impress Arsene Wenger at Higbury however, and Stack was sent on further loans to Millwall and Reading, without ever really settling. He became a journeyman goalkeeper before joining Hibernian.

Today, he plays for non-league club Barnet.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Patrick Kohlmann

1993 - 07 : Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
2007 - 08 : Rot-Weiß Erfurt (Germany)
2008 - present : Union Berlin (Germany)

The son of a German father and an Irish mother, Patrick Kohlmann is one of a handful of Republic of Ireland players to have been in German football over the past 90 or so years.

Noel Campbell, Joe Kendrick, Ben Hannigan, Tim Pilkington and Selcuk Tidim are the only other Irishmen to have this honour. Although, Campbell is the only of the above 5 to have made a name for himself at senior level.

That Kolmann has played all his career in Germany, shouldn't be surprising since he was born there, in Dortmund in 1983. At the age of ten, he began playing with local giants Borussia, where he would spend the next 14 years.

One of German football's biggest clubs; Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund were founded in 1909 by local athletes. Since its establishment Die Schwarzgelben have won 8 league titles, 4 Super Cups, 3 German Cups, 1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and 1 UEFA Champions League. Borussia play at the Westfalenstadion which, with an 80000 capacity, is German football's largest. They are known for their passionate fans and the South Stand which is Europe's largest terrace.

The young Kohlmann spent nine years rising through the club's youth ranks before emerging as a reserve team player with Dortmund II in 2002. He would make over 100 appearances for Dortmund's second team between then and 2007, mainly operating as a central defender. Reserve teams in German football don't play in a reserve league, as they do in England. Rather, like Spain, they play independently in the various lower tiers of the country's football pyramid. Dortmund II play most of their football in the Regional Liga West.

Because of his impressive spells with the German club, he was well-spotted by Irish youth manager Brian Kerr who invited him to an Under-16 training camp in Rotterdam in the mid-1990s. “I think Brian Kerr knew I played for Borussia, he didn’t know me, but decided to invite me along,” he told the Meath Chronicle in 2010. The experience went well, and from then on; Kohlmann would declare for the country of his Mother. 

He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s in August 2003 against Poland and would go on to earn 5 caps for the side. Really, agreeing to play youth football for Ireland was a win-win situation for the young man. If Germany did eventually come knocking, he could always switch his allegiance if he wanted to before getting a senior cap. If not, he would still earn caps with Ireland. But it seems the young player was more keen on a green jersey than a white one.

In 2004, his hard work had paid off and the defender was finally drafted into the Borussia senior squad for the upcoming season. Under manager Bert van Marwijk (who had previously managed David Connolly at Feyenoord), Kolhmann would finally be representing his boyhood club in the Bundesliga alongside the likes of Roman WeidenfellerDédéTomáš Rosický and Jan Koller
Kohlmann with Dortmund

However, misfortune was to play a harsh trick on the Irishman's rise at Dortmund. On November 13th 2004, the was handed a starting role in a crucial Bundesliga game away to Kaiserslautern. Playing at right-back, Kohlmann made his senior debut in front of 34700 spectators. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a knee injury just 43 minutes into the game, and was substituted for Marc Kruska. It was a disaster for player and club. Kaiserslautern won 1-0, and Kohlmann was forced to sit out the rest of the season on the injury table. He would never make a senior appearance for Die Schwarzgelben again.

He did however, stay at the club for another two seasons, putting in some quality performances for the second team. However, by 2007 he was 24 and realising the need to leave in order to secure first team football. 

So it was that he dropped a crushing three tiers into the Regional Liga, with ambitious outfit Rot-Weiß Erfurt. Rot-Weiß hail from the central German city bearing their name and were founded as a cricket club in 1895. Between 1945 and 1990, Erfurt was in East Germany and competed in that country's league, which they won twice in the 1950s. Since reunification, the club has not appeared in the Bundesliga, but diminished to being a regional side, apart from a brief stint in the 2. Bundesliga in 2004. Their stadium is called the Steigerwaldstadion and holds 20000 people.

When Kohlmann arrived in 2007, the club was knocking about in the Regional Liga Nord. His new manager was German tacitician Karsten Baumann, who had played for Dortmund when Kohlmann was a youth player there. Most of the side were German, with a Brazilian, a Filipino  a Frenchman and an Albanian joining the Irishman. Kohlmann would wear the no.4 shirt.

Speaking on his switch to Thuringen, Kohlmann said, "there were several key factors that made me move here: the positive discussions I had with the manager and coaches, the ambitions of Erfurt, the environment and also the very beautiful city.
Kohlmann makes the front of Erfurt's
program for a match against Dortmund II

It was hard to leave friends and family. But I was looking for a new challenge, and the decision to join Erfurt was just right. "

His first goal came on March 4th in a 3-0 win against Wolfsburg II, and two weeks later he played at home against his old team-mates, when Erfurt took on Borussia Dortmund II. 

In his only season with the club he played 25 league matches and scored 1 goal as they earned promotion to the 3. Liga, Germany's third tier. 

As the club were not in the top two tiers of the German league system, they were not permitted to play in the DFB-Pokal (German Cup). Rather they played in the regional Thüringenpokal. As the rest of the competition was fairly weak, they steamed into the final against ZFC Meuselwitz, who they beat 1-0 after extra time.

The Irishman had been crucial to the side's promotion push, and his performances at the back earned praise. 

Such it was that the next summer, fellow 3. Liga team Union Berlin snapped him up.

The lesser team of the German capital, 1. FC Union Berlin has spent most of its history in the shadow of Hertha. Founded in 1906, Union have played home matches since 1920 at the Alte Försterei, which can hold just under 20000 fans. Known as Eisern Union (the Iron Union), the club is one of two clubs called Union that split from each other after the Second World War. While the other Union was in West Berlin (and competed in the West German leagues), this club were in communist East Berlin. They were runners-up in the Weimar German Championship of 1923, and won the East German Cup in 1968. After a final appearance at the German Cup in 2001, the club played in the 2001-02 UEFA Cup, where they reached the 2nd round. When Kohlmann arrived in the summer of 2008, they were in the 3. Liga (Germany's Third Division).

Union Berlin would be facing some formerly big names in German football, such as Eintracht Braunschweig, Dynamo Dresden, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Kickers Offenbach. Fallen giants also keen on promotion and resurrection. Bayern's, Stuttgart's and Werder's second teams were also in what was a tough league.

His coach was Uwe Neuhaus, another manager with Borussia connections, who had coached Kohlmann at Dortmund II between 2004 and 2006. I think its probably a testament to how valued the Irishman was at the Westfalenstadion's academy, that he has been signed twice by coaches who knew him there. Turkish under-21 international Kenan Sahin and Algeria international Karim Benyamina were two of his prominent new teammates, but most of the squad were lower league journeymen. Kolhmann would wear the number 7 shirt.

German seasons begin early, so his debut for Union came on 27th July, in the league's opener away to Bayern Munich II. Up against future stars Burak YilmazHolger Badstuber and Thomas Muller; Kohlmann's team lost 2-1. His first home match came six days later against VfB Stuttgart II. Deployed as a left winger, he helped Union to a 3-1 win.

On December 6th, he returned to the Steigerwaldstadion with Berlin to face his old club, Erfurt. The match ended 1-1. He again faced Erfurt on May 16th, at home, coming on as a substitute for Michael Parenson. Once more, it was a 1-1 stalemate.

Again, as Union were not in the top two divisions of the German game, they wouldn't play in the DFB-Pokal, but the Berliner Landespokal. Reaching the final, they saw off Borussia Berlin 2-1 at the Freidrich Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark. This was Kolhmann's second regional cup medal.

An ankle injury hampered part of his season in March, but he made a strong comeback to the first team in May and made 26 league appearances in total. Overall, Berlin triumphed. Only losing 4 games they finished 1st and gained automatic promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. 

With some new signings for the 2009-10 season, Berlin prepared to face Kaiserslautern, Alemannia Aachen, Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich. They got off to a great start by hammering Oberhausen 3-0 away, with Kolhmann playing at left-back. Impressive results followed, and it was October by the time Union lost their first game. The Irishman would miss the last three games of the season through injury, but would put in 30 appearances in total, becoming a vital component of a successful team. Berlin ended in 12th, a fantastic finish for a promoted side.

2010-11 was even better for Union, and they finished in 11th. The previous season, Hertha Berlin had been relegated from the Bundesliga, setting up a capital derby for the first time in generations. Kolhmann played at right-back as the two sides drew 1-1 at the Alte Försterei. But the zenith of Union's season, came at the Olympiastadion in the corresponding fixture. In front of 74000 screaming fans, Kohlmann and Union pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win over their rivals. A bitter sweet aspect of the season for the Irishman came on August 22nd, when he scored his first goal for Union away to Osnabrück, only for Union to lose 4-1

Kohmann scored a 30m cracker, but Union lost

Altogether, he put in 28 appearances for Eisern Union. In the Pokal, Union went out in the first round to Hallescher FC in Leipzeg.

Improvements were made again in 2011-12, with new faces joining the team. Finishing in 7th place, Union had shown that 'second season syndrome' would not be a problem, and they established themselves as a stable 2. Bundesliga side. The Irishman played in all but one of the team's games. They were again knocked out of the cup in the first round.

By 2012-13, Kohlmann had been at the club for four years, by now becoming a permanent squad member, synonymous with the club. He struggled with injury at the beginning and end of the season, yet still represented Union 23 times in the league. They finished 7th again and reached the Second Round of the cup where they were put out by Kickers Offenbach.

As of May 2013, Kohlmann remains at Union Berlin, where he is a respected figure, beloved by fans. On May 25th 2013, Dortmund reached the final of the UEFA Champions League. For the previous two seasons they had been Bundesliga champions, and even had a Pokal to their name. One wonders, if Kohlmann hadn't been injured all those years ago, could he have survived at Borussia and been a key member of their squad since, just like past teammates Roman Weidenfeller and Sebastien Kehl.

At the age of 30, his Ireland career is most likely over. However, it shouldn't be. Plenty of footballers from England's Championship are routinely called upon to represent the Republic, so one wonders if Kohlmann shouldn't have been given the chance over the past three years.

“It would be a big dream for me. To play for Ireland is still the dream,” Kohlmann admitted recently. “If I was told to come over and join the team of course I would, I always look out for the results because my eyes are always on the Irish national team.”


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Liam Lawrence

2012 - present : PAOK (Greece)

I know I’m a long way away and out of sight but I’m hoping the manager {Trapattoni} hasn’t forgotten about me.

Famous last words for Liam Lawrence's international career. Sadly, in spite of playing good football for a decent team in a decent European league; Lawrence has not been even mentioned by Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni, since the midfielder went to Greece in 2012.

Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire in the English East Midlands on December 14th 1981. His first professional contract was earned with Mansfield Town in 1999, and over the next ten years he would climb the divisions with Sunderland and Stoke City, becoming a Premier League player by 2009. 

Lawrence's grandfather was born in Kerry, and the midfielder grew up in a distinctly Irish household, playing for England was never his dream. His debut came against Nigeria in 2009, and between then and now he would earn a further 14 caps, scoring 2 goals.

Lawrence with Ireland
In 2011, he found himself on the sinking ship that was Portsmouth FC, and following their relegation he was told by Irish coach Giovanni Trapattoni to find a better club.

So, on August 13th 2012, he moved to Greece, joining a small band of non-domestic/non-British based Irish players at the time.

His new team Panthessaloníkios Athlitikós Ómilos Konstantinoupolitón (PAOK for short) are one of Greece's biggest clubs. After foundation in 1926, they would go on to win 2 league titles and 4 cups, as well as a decent Cup Winners' Cup run in 1974. Problematically for PAOK, they play in the same country as big hitters like AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos; limiting their trophy haul. Their home stadium is the 28000 capacity Toumba Stadium and their lengthy nickname is Dikefalos tou Vorra (the Double-Headed eagle of the North).

Briefly in the late-1970s PAOK were managed by Northern Ireland legend Billy Bingham. Lawrence was the second Irishman to play for the club, after Dubliner Paul Bannon's spell in the 1980s.

He was handed the no.20 shirt by manager Giorgos Donis, a young coach who had played in England. Some interesting names were joining the Irishman at the club's Nea Mesimvria training ground. Included were former Liverpool stopper Charles Itandje, ex-Real Madrid midfielder Pablo Garcia and Greek captain Dimitris Salpingidis

Lawrence (front-row, second from right) with PAOK in 2012

The club had finished the previous season 5th, and were thus eligible to play in Europa League qualification for Lawrence's maiden campaign. They had already disposed of Israel's Bnei Yehuda before he arrived, and so he made his debut for PAOK against Rapid Vienna in the Play-offs for a Group Stage berth. The game was Lawrence's first ever European match, and he entered as a 68th minute substitute. The Greeks won 2-1. However, the Eagles would lose the corresponding fixture 3-0 in Vienna, and were out of Europe.

Just over a month after his arrival, the Irishman found the net for his new club. In a September league fixture with Asteras Tripoli, Lawrence sparked a comeback with a 46th minute equaliser, and PAOK went on to win 2-1.

Later on that month, he scored again in a 4-1 win over bitiser rivals Aris. His 12th minute stunning strike made it 1-0 to PAOK. But it was a dirty game, which saw 3 red cards, including one for the Irishman for lashing out at an opposing player in stoppage time.

Lawrence scored a cracking volley against Aris

By all accounts, Lawrence was bedding in well. Liked by team-mates and respected by fans, he was achieving far more than he did in Britain. In February, he was even awarded with the MVP title by fans for his contribution that month.

"It's been really good and better than I thought. Coming to a different league, with a different language and new surroundings was going to be a challenge, and some of it has been an eye-opener," he told the Herald.
"The atmosphere here is something I have never experienced before. I played in derby games in England, and I always thought that Portsmouth-Southampton or Sunderland-Newcastle were intense games, but this is a different level."

PAOK finished the season in 2nd place, yet 15 points behind champions Olympiacos. In the subsequent play-offs to determine European places, they finished in 1st, and will play in the UEFA Champions League for 2013-14.

Lawrence's contribution was vital. He started 19 matches, playing 22 in all and scored 3 goals. His heart and determination can also be measured by the 7 yellow cards and 1 straight red that he was shown in his maiden season.

"The football side of things has been great, I've loved it here, we had a good season by finishing as runner-up and we have a good chance of making it into the Champions League."

In the Greek Cup, Lawrence scored a penalty in PAOK's 6-0 Fourth Round demolishing of Kallithea. Unfortunately, the club lost to Asteras 3-2 on aggregate in the Semi-Finals. On April 29th, Donis was punished for this failure and was sacked by the club's chairman, Zisis Vryzas, and duly replaced by Georgios Georgiadis"They want instant success here and they don't hang about," said Lawrence. "Our fans went mental when we lost the cup game and here, the fans get what they want." Olympiacos would win the cup, securing the double. 

In 2013-14, Lawrence will be playing in the UEFA Champions League. He might be one of only two Irish players doing so, along with Celtic's Anthony Stokes. Yet neither player has appeared for the Republic of Ireland in two years. The PAOK winger himself fears his Irish future is over (at least while Trapattoni is in charge); "Never say never but I think the writing is on the wall for me. If I am in the Champions League next season I might get looked at again but I wouldn't hold my breath" he told the Herald in May 2013.

Its difficult to know how long Lawrence will stay in Greece. At 31 he is getting to an age where he is probably considering where to retire. Greece would be nice, but his family remain in England while he is in Salonika. That is tough, no matter what business one is in. 

"The football has been good but the personal side has been tough," he admits. "It's tough being on your own and you have the language barrier but it's been an experience.
"It will be hard to stay out here, I miss my two boys and I've not seen my mum since Christmas so I will need to have a think."
Anyone would feel for Lawrence, but as an Irish football fan, I still hope he decides to stay in Greece and play in the Champions League. Lord knows, Irish football needs it.

A video of Lawrence's PAOK highlights

Friday, 24 May 2013

Michael Hamill

1924 - 26 : Boston (U.S.A.)
1926 : New York Giants (U.S.A.)

99 years before this article was written, the first great Irish team was busy lifting the British Home Nations Championship. It was a deserved title for a talented group of Irishmen, from both sides of the modern border, who were now kings of Britain.

Dublin's Val Harris and Patrick O'Connell, and Belfast's Fred McKie and Sam Young were some of the names on Ireland's team sheet when they lined out against Scotland on March 14th 1914 with Ireland already champions. 

Ireland's captain during that campaign was a midfielder named Mickey Hamill, the 25 year old Catholic boy from West Belfast. A complex, strong-willed and beautiful man; Hamill would dazzle crowds in packed stadiums for over 15 years. He was a national hero, and crusader for the downtrodden. He went from Belfast to Manchester to Glasgow to Boston and New York, and finally back to his roots which in his heart he'd never left. And in the end, he died cold, alone and forgotten in the River Lagan aged only 54. A remarkable individual, and one of Irish football's first great personalities.

Although his sporting life started in Gaelic Football, Hamill eventually began playing soccer for boyhood club Belfast Celtic in 1909 when he was 20. After just a year with Celtic, he moved to English giants Manchester United, but endured a tough time at Old Trafford where his pace was called into question by the coaching staff. After 4 years and 60 appearances for the Red Devils he returned to Celtic Park where he became a club legend. Widely regarded by many to be the greatest Belfast Celtic player ever, Hamill therefore ranks above the likes of Charlie Tully, Tom Aherne, Willie McStay and Elisha Scott in the hearts and minds of fans. No small feat. In fact he would be, many years later, referred to as the George Best of his time.
Hamill at Celtic

Such was the character of the man, that during the 1918 Irish Cup Final against arch-rivals Linfield, Hamill played through a serious knee injury to beat The Blues 2-0. After a brief loan spell with sister club Glasgow Celtic, Hamill signed for Manchester City in 1920 and would go on to make over 120 appearances for them in four years at Hyde Road. The English media even dubbed him the 'world's greatest' centre half.

His Ireland career ended prematurely in 1921, when he took a stand against what he saw as discrimination against Catholic players by the Belfast-based Irish Football Association. He refused to line out for the team, and was never selected again. By the time the Free State team came into existence, Hamill was already in his mid-30s and living in America.

He married wife in 1924 aged 35, when most footballers would retire. But Hamill had other ideas. He crossed the Atlantic to go on trial with Massachusetts outfit the Fall River Marksmen. 

The Marksmen were members of the relatively new American Soccer League, a competition established in 1921 as the country's first significant professional football league. Usually made up of 8-12 teams, it attracted large attendances and by the mid-1920s was challenging traditional American sports for crowds, especially in large cities with significant European immigrant populations. All of the clubs were based in the Eastern United States, especially in cities like Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Newark.  

As the league improved, club's became bolder and began raiding European leagues (in particular Austria, Hungary and Scotland) for talent. They offered larger wages and a glamorous lifestyle in America to poorly paid footballers only happy to come and play. This phenomena became known as the American Menace as fans in Europe lost star performers.

Hamill would play just two pre-season games for the Marksmen, before signing for Boston Soccer Club

Boston were in the vanguard of Euro poaching. The Wonder Workers, owned by A.G. Wood, announced themselves by signing Glasgow Rangers and Scotland veteran Tommy Muirhead from the Ibrox club to serve as player-manager. Muirhead, in turn, stunned Britain by signing Scottish international Alex McNab from Morton. McNab was signed for $25 a week to play soccer and work at the Wonder Works factory. Other Scots like Barney Battles and Tommy Fleming became legends in Boston, alongside Hamill. 

The Irishman made his debut on November 8th at home against Brooklyn. In front of 5000 fans, Boston triumphed 3-1. Boston's home ground was the Walpole Sports Ground, which had previously been the home of the Boston Braves baseball team.

Walpole Sports Grounds

In Hamill's first season with the Wonder Workers, Boston came 4th in the League. They did however win the 1925 Lewis Cup, then the FA Cup of America, by beating Fall River 2-1 in front of 15000 spectators at the final in Rhode Island. Hamill had been a constant presence in the squad through both campaigns, ever present in the centre of midfield with 32 appearances.

He became an icon in the city, held as high as Babe Ruth and was invited to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge. (The next Irish soccer player to do so would be Robbie Keane in 2012). While the make-up of the Boston squad was mainly Scottish, Hamill was the real hero to the club's large Irish-American following. Boston being a hub for Irish immigrants into the states since the mid-19th century.

His second year with the club saw them come in 3rd place in the League. Hamill again played every single game with 32 starts, and scored 1 goal. His last game for Boston came on February 14th 1926 against Fall River, they drew 1-1.

Hamill left Boston at the end of the season, and signed with the New York Giants (not the other team), a soccer team with a large number of Jewish European players from Austria and Hungary. He only played two matches for the Giants however, before returning to Antrim.

Mickey Hamill played until the age of 41 with Belfast Celtic again. Later in life he managed Distillery and owned a pub on the Falls Road.

On July 23rd 1943, Hamill's body was found in the River Lagan. The cause of his death was ruled as an accident, and there was no inquest. A sad end to a remarkable life, a life cut short.

Everything about Hamill's story suggests he was tough, resilient, proud, adventurous and hard working, and Irish football is lucky to have had him.

"Spectator’s used to gaze in awe as he skipped on to the pitch like a trotting pony, his stomach was like four tennis balls and the rest pure muscle and whipcord".

Michael Hamill 1889 - 1943

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Gerry Peyton

1994 - 95 : Júbilo Iwata (Japan)
1996 - 97 : Vissel Kobe (Japan)
1998 - 99 : AIK (Sweden)

Gerry Peyton was an Irish international goalkeeper, born in Manchester in 1956. Over the course of 19 years in senior football he played for 10 clubs, in particular for Fulham and Bournemouth. 

In 1977 he made his Republic of Ireland debut, and went on to make 33 appearances for the Boys in Green, and was included in the squads for Euro 1988 and World Cup 1990.

He retired in 1994 and earned his coaching badges.
Later that year he became the first Irishman in footballing history to play or coach in Japan when he signed on as Goalkeeping Instructor for J-League side Júbilo Iwata.

Júbilo are a professional franchise, founded in 1970 as a team for the employees of the Shizuoka based Yamaha Motor Corporation. Júbilo means joy  in Portuguese and Iwata is a city in Shizuoka prefecture where the club are based. Their home ground is the beautiful Yamaha Stadium, which holds 17000 fans.

Yamaha Stadium
The club played its way through the lower leagues of northern Japanese football before entering the old Japan Soccer League. In 1993, they were founder members of the new J-League Division 1 (J1). J1 is the top flight league of the country and has been fully professional since its inception. 1994 would be the first full season of J1.

He was hired by former Japan manager, the Dutch Hans OoftAs goalkeeping coach, Peyton was responsible for training the club's Dutch keeper Dido Havenaar, father to current Japan international Mike. Outfield members of the squad included Dutch international Gerald Vanenburg and Ireland's nemesis at Italia '90 Salvatore Schillaci

In Peyton's two seasons at the club, Júbilo managed to come 8th in 1994 and 6th in 1995. That year they also reached the final of the J-League Cup (the League Cup of Japan). 

Kobe old crest
Two years previously, Scottish coach Stuart Baxter took control at Vissel Kobe, and in 1997 Peyton switched south to the Kansai side. Vissel Kobe were founded as far back as 1966, but used to be a company club based in Okayama. In 1994, the club was bought by the city of Kobe and moved there with the intention of participating one day in the J-League. Turning professional in 1995, they hired Baxter soon after. However, the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake stalled development, and by the time of Peyton's arrival in 1996, they were still in the Japan Football League (then Japan's second tier). 

Kobe's name is a combination of the words victory and vessel, in recognition of Kobe's history as an industrial port city. Today they play in dark red, but in 1995 were playing in black and white stripes. While now they are based at the 30000 capacity Home's Stadium, built for the 2002 World Cup, before that the 13000 Kobe Central Stadium was their home.

Kobe Central Stadium
Kobe's goalkeepers under Peyton's command were two Japanese players Ryoji Ishizue and Ippei Watanabe as well as Baxter's own son Lee. Another squad member was Danish legend Michael Laudrup. In Peyton's first year as goalkeeping coach with Vissel, the club ended the JFL season in 2nd, but were promoted due to a red-tape issue involving champions Honda FC. Thus in 1997, Vissel would be playing in the J1.

Peyton (second-row, far-right) with Vissel Kobe in 1997

The first season in Japan's top flight was a difficult one for Kobe. By the half-way stage they were doing okay and were in 14th place, but by season's end they had finished in last place (17th) picking up just 24 points all season. Baxter was sacked by the board, and soon after Peyton went with him.

The Scotsman and the Irishman next teamed up at Swedish club AIK. 

Taking his son Lee, who had just had an unsuccessful stint with Glasgow Rangers, Baxter set about preparing the club for the new season. AIK's full name is Allmänna Idrottsklubben, literally meaning The General Sports Club. They are based in Solna, Stockholm and have been playing football since 1896 (although the parent club was founded 5 years earlier).

They are currently the third most successful team in Sweden with 11 Championships and 8 Cups to their credit, as well as being one of the country's most recognisable names to football fans across Europe. From 2013 they play at Stockholm's new 55000 seater Friends Arena, but were playing at the 30000 Råsunda Stadium until then. 

Baxter and Peyton arrived in January of 1998. Some players of note in the squad that year were Swedish internationals Anders LimparNils Eric JohanssonOlof Mellberg and Johan Mjällby.

The Scot was intent on playing his son in goal, but after 7 games AIK were languishing in the relegation zone. Making a hard call, the father dropped the son and replaced him with another one of Peyton's goalies Mattias Asper. This would herald a run of form for AIK. With Asper guarding the net, AIK didn't lose a single game all season and he was named MVP.

AIK won the Championship that year. Peyton can add this to his CV. Although not the Head Coach or Manager, football squads are made up of all types of staff and his input will have been as important as anyone's in the shaping of that success. 

During his time in Sweden, Peyton returned to Ireland on a number of occasions. On April 17th 1998 he played in goal at Lansdowne Road for the Paul McGrath testimonial game. Then in January 1999 he arrived in Dublin with AIK to take on UCD in a friendly match.

A double was also set, as they won the Cup aswell. Unlike the League Championship (which is based in one year alone i.e. 1998), the Swedish Cup is run on a regular footballing calendar (i.e. 1998-99), and so in 1999 AIK celebrated their double, although it was technically in a different year to the League win.

Peyton (far-left) celebrates AIK's Cup win in 1999
As League Champions for Sweden, AIK had the honour of participating in the 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League. They beat Dnepr-Transmash of Belarus and AEK Athens of Greece to book a place in the Group Stage. There they were met by a formidable trio of Barcelona, Fiorentina and Arsenal. They ran a few games close, and claimed a great draw with the Italian side, but ultimately failed to win a game and were knocked out.

They came 2nd in that year's League Championship, and in December 1999, Baxter left AIK. He would continue to wander around the world of football and today manages in South Africa. As for Peyton, he returned to England to work with Fulham FC, before taking on his current job as Arsenal's goalkeeping coach in 2003.

He never played 'abroad', and although he was never Manager of any of his teams, Peyton's hard work and footballing knowledge bore success in some obscure parts and that makes him a quality Wild Goose.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Thomas Coggins

1910 - 11 : Genoa (Italy)
1911 - 12 : Andrea Doria (Italy)
1912 - 25 : Genoa (Italy)
1928 - 29 : Derthona (Italy)
1937 - 38 : Andrea Doria (Italy)

Thomas Coggins was a pioneering Irish player, coach, journalist and referee who spent a majority of his career in Italy. Although born in England, Coggins was raised in Ireland by his Irish parents, and according to Italian records of the early 20th century, he was registered as an Irishman.

He was born in Ormskirk in July 1879. Little is known about his early life or if he played football in Ireland or Britain, but in 1910 he appears in the roster for Italian club Genoa CFC. 

Its full name is Genoa Cricket & Football Club, and this reflects the very British nature of the club's origins. Founded in 1893, it served as a social club for British expats in Genoa, then regarded as the most English city in Italy. Early into its existence, football began to dominate the club as success was found under English coach James Spensley.

In 1898, Italian football began to develop with the creation of the Football Championship (today known as Serie A). Genoa entered into the league in its first season, and had been crowned champions 5 times by Coggins' arrival.

His sole season as a player with the Rossoblu was one of significant change for the club. January saw the opening of the Marassi Stadium, now named the Luigi Ferraris. 

That year Genoa finished the Italian Championship in 5th place. Matthew Kunding's Juventus finished in last place while early pace-setters Pro Vercelli were champions. Coggins played just 2 matches, although; given that he was 31 perhaps he was never more than a squad member.

Coggins may be in this early
picture of Andrea Doria
Coggins was on the move the next summer, and he signed for another Genoa based side, Andrea Doria. This club no longer exists, as it merged 1946 with another club to form Sampdoria (future club of Liam Brady).

Andrea Doria had been founded in 1895 as a Gymnastics Society and played its first season in the Italian League in 1902. Between then and 1911 they became fierce rivals with Genoa. That season, Coggins again made just two appearances as Andrea Doria ended in 6th place, while Pro Vercelli were again champions.

He retired following the end of the 2011-12 campaign and returned to Genoa to coach the youth team at the request of Ettore Leale. He also completed his refereeing course, and was an official during the 1913-14 season. It was in his capacity as youth team coach that in 1912, Coggins referred the club to an Englishman named William Garbutt for the Management job at the club. Garbutt would become the first fully professional manager in Italian football and his arrival at Genoa would spell a revolution in coaching on the peninsula  Garbutt's methods would be modeled by Italian coaches for generations, and without Coggins' role in his appointment, Italian football might have been completely different.

At the outbreak of World War I, Italian football was suspended from 1915 to 1918, however in 1915-16 a replacement tournament was operated. Known as the Coppa Federale, it was contested by 15 clubs divided into 5 separate divisions. With Garbutt joining the British Army, Coggins took command of the Genoa team

His team played very well, and earned a 1-1 draw with giants Juventus. Coggins led them to 2nd place, being beaten 3-1 by AC Milan in the final.

Following the Federale final; Coggins, then aged 37, enlisted in the British Army where he fought alongside the Italians at the Piave River, before being relocated to the Western Front. 

In 1919, he returned to Genoa and coached their youth team for a further 6 years. During that time he became a journalist by contributing to one of Italy's first soccer magazines in 1921. In 1928, he was appointed manager of Derthona 1908, a club based in Piedmont in north-west Italy. The club were then 20 years old, and were playing in the First Division. Coggins managed to guide them to a very good 4th place finish, but cruelly due to restructuring the next year, they were still relegated to the newly formed Serie B.

Coggins didn't stay, and Derthona would never again see the Italian top flight. They were last seen in Serie B in 1935 and now play in Serie D. His last forray into professional football was a brief spell in charge of old club Andrea Doria who he guided to 8th place in the 1937-38 Serie C.

By then however, Coggins' passion was Women's Field Hockey, and he pioneered the sport in Italy during the 1930s. During World War II he left Italy, but returned to Genoa, his adopted home, where he died in 1950. 

An obscure one indeed, Coggins is nonetheless remembered in Italy for his role in Garbutt's appointment at Genoa. An early Wild Goose.