Wednesday, 27 June 2018

In the Summer of 1974

In late summer 1974 Panathinaikos played Real Madrid in a testimonial for Ignacio Zoco - a club stalwart – and holder of 7 La Liga Titles, one European Cup, two Copa’s del Rey and a UEFA Cup medal winner to boot. A regular in those great sides of the 1960’s with his final La Liga trophy won just two years previously in 1972. So an emotional night for this great player and ultimate club man whose skills were also rewarded with 25 caps for Spain - and a place on the EURO winning side of 1964. Another trophy secured like many for his club, at his beloved Santiago Bernabeu stadium, the venue for his last outing in the all-white strip.

That warm summer night in the Spanish capital also saw the debut of some of the newer generation, including world cup medal winner, Paul Breitner. Who only weeks after scoring a penalty at the Olympia Stadion in Munich - against the clockwork Orange – made the move to play in La Liga. All memories still vivid today of the changing of the guard at Real, but also how valued a player like Zoco was to the club and honoured when his playing days were ending. Reflective perhaps of another era in football where a man so polite and friendly could also be a fierce competitor on the field of play. Earning such adulation that the stadium was full to its 100,000 capacity for his goodbye. A far cry from today when players are inaccessible and lengthy stays at any one club rarely exceed beyond three seasons.

Zoco was perhaps that first encounter with a footballing god from a previous era and so his passing last month due to illness - thirty years after seeing him retire - resonated. As did the memory of meeting Breitner after the match, alongside compatriot Gunter Netzer, who was already established at the club following his move from Monchengladbach. Both living legends at the time and hard to believe that I was in the presence of greatness that just weeks previously were mere coloured images on the TV screen. Those memories have this week been resurrected for a number of other reasons. And not all them good ones. 

As Germany 74 was the first world cup for which there are clear and distinct recollections. Or the first one also that I fully comprehended given that Mexico 1970 was just still too early on my timeline. Albeit I remember watching it in black and white during a typically hot Madrid summer and the first sight of the brilliance of Edson Arantes do Nascimento in all his splendour. A man I came to learn my Father saw in the street one day when we lived in Sao Paulo, but unfortunately never asked for his autograph. An error for which forgiveness has now been granted having met the man in person outside the Rose Bowl at the 1994 world cup final. 

The year Roberto Baggio gifted Dunga’s dreadful team their first FIFA World Cup trophy and fourth win in total.

But it was the news that Johan Cruyff faces the toughest battle of his life that served as a timely reminder of those halcyon days. As well as unstoppable march of time as Cruyff is now 68 years and requires more tests following his lung cancer diagnosis. A news story that shouldn’t be surprising since I first saw him smoking on the Barcelona team bus after match with Real Madrid in 1973. A story that no one would believe for years given it was unimaginable and tarnished his role on that mesmeric 74 Dutch side - that marked the start of my love for the beautiful game. As well the first contact with total football as his work at Barcelona was less fully appreciated given it was coloured by a Real Madrid bias that is still virulent to this very day.

However his contribution at Camp Nou was ably supported by other Johan – the tireless Neeskens – who for a number of years was the willing counterfoil to the majestic stride of his club and national captain. Both of whom it was also great to meet before one of those famous Derby’s when Jose Antonio Camacho would almost hunt Cruyff down for a full ninety minutes and on to the team bus. In tough games that never needed Sky Sports to brand as Clasicos as in most cases were far from it as so much more was at stake now. Yet in those days up until the death of General Franco in late 1975 the visit of Barcelona to Madrid was a major event. Only sufferable if the Whites vanquished the Azulgrana on home soil thus making it always a matter of national importance. 

In all clashes Cruyff played a major role as leader, captain and talisman, doing all the things for which he had become renowned globally in that summer of 19774. The foundation too of legacies to follow at Barcelona, Ajax and Holland as the younger players he coached became disciples of his footballing methods. None more so than Pep Guardiola who now ply’s his trade at Bayern Munich a club that accumulated the same pedigree as Cruyff’s first club Ajax. Both dominating the European Cup with three consecutive wins a piece in the early seventies. Mr Paul Breitner winning those medals, as he did his world cup one, alongside Franz Beckenbauer. Sadly another legendary figure who has not enjoyed the best of weeks either.

Although it took me a few more decades to meet Der Kaiser, after a close call at the old Real Madrid training in Ciudad Deportivo before a 1976 EURO qualifying match saw me watch the German team bus leaving – with himself waving courteously out the window. However the wait was worthwhile and a nicer, or more patient person I have yet to meet. Indeed a man who found a way to deal with global stardom like no other and never really straying from his Bavarian roots. Except when it came to his finances and settling in neigbouring Salzburg once his work commitments at FC Bayern came to an end. A club he ensured fond roles for many of his world cup winning team mates after they retired, such as Uli Hoeness, Sepp Maier, and Gerd Mueller. Sadly Der Bomber is suffering from Alzheimer’s and Hoeness is in prison for tax evasion.

In an outstanding career that sees him remain one of only two winners of world cup medals as a player and manager – with Mario Zagallo of Brazil the other. Albeit Beckenbauer was the captain in July 1974 and lifted the trophy with manager Helmut Schoen on their home ground in Munch. With Beckenbauer then steering his nation to a one nil victory over Argentina at Italia 1990, in a rather torrid affair that was finally settled by Andy Brehme’s penalty in the 85 minute.

This week though the Kaiser has become embroiled in torrid affair with a difference as some difficult allegations about the 2006 World Cup in Germany enter the public domain. A matter that has unravelled the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, and also swept in its wake the current UEFA President, Michel Platini. Another graceful and skillful footballer who faces major difficulties which will tarnish those great days on the field for Juventus and France. Just as we had perhaps started to forgive him for replacing Liam Brady in 1986 at old Stadio delle Alpi. Now though Platini may see his dream of running FIFA slipping away. 

The memories of meeting him – again in the bowels of the Bernabeu in 1985 - as part of the press pack when he was in his full pomp on one of those famous European nights in Madrid can’t be tarnished. Platini playing with Michael Laudrup as the two permissible foreigners in Sere A with a cast of Italian including Antonio Cabrini, Stefano Tacconi and Sergio Brio. Which now all seem names now from the distant past. Although not as far back as those great names I never witnessed, like Stanley Matthews. A man that John Toshack so fondly recalls whenever great players are mentioned. Or indeed the full span of George Best’s talents as he retired so early and Sir Bobby Charlton who was in his latter playing days at United when Shoot magazine was my literature of choice. 

In those days the top names were Peter Marinello and all the “H’s” at Chelsea - Hudson, Harris, Houseman, Hollins, Houston and company. Almost all of whom I recall played a role in the 1971 Cup Winners Cup final in Piraeus against Real Madrid. With Zoco scoring in what ended up a one all draw before Chelsea won the replay two days later 2-1. For younger football fans today, those names mean little. 

As no doubt that of Howard Kendall – another footballing great both as a player and manager – who also left the field of play in recent days. Nicely remembered by Gary Lineker on BBC’s Match of the Day reminding us all that we are all just time passengers. 

The names of Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento would have meant nothing had I not been around the Real Madrid club so often that you either met them, or saw them about at some point. In that way the legend live on in some ways. With Di Stefano I attended a post-match press conference in 1985 at Logrones when he was in his third managerial stint at Valencia. A funny man, but very prickly with certain questions and very fond of one word answers. Still well able to intimidate all those around him even without his boots.

For Zoco it was no coincidence that Panathinaikos were the opponents for the testimonial that August 29th in 1974 as Ferenc Puskas was the Greek club’s manager at the time. The game providing one more gathering for those members of the superb sixties winning European Cup winning generation. In those days everyone at Real Madrid seemed to be a European Cup winner. 

So thanks for the memories! 

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