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For many of us, our love for the game begins from a young age and it’s these early experiences that often define our relationship to football and the connection we have to our favourite club. This was certainly the case for Andy Jackson. Growing up a diehard Aston Villafan in Birmingham, the 1980-81 season was one he would never forget.

I can’t remember any particular moment. I think you just grow up as a football fan in the UK. I was just playing the game from as soon as I could stand and being from Birmingham, you go one of two ways. It was either an Aston Villa fan or a Birmingham City fan and I chose the Claret and Blue path.

Andy attended his first Villa game at the age of five or six with his Dad who had managed to get an invite to the directors box through his business contacts. But the first game he really remembers watching was the 1977 League Cup when he was eight years old. It was the now famous replay versus Everton at Old Trafford where Villains centre half, Chris Nicholl scored a stunning long range shot from about 40 yards.

These were very different times for supporters and it was much easier for young fans to connect directly with their club and the players themselves. It certainly strengthened the bond for Jackson.

You would be able to sit on the sideline on the training pitch at Bodymoor Heath and watch them train. And then the minute the training session was over you were running on the pitch with your programme or to get photos with the players and autographs and that.

Andy began attending regular games with his father for the 1980-81 season. Villa started the season strongly and eventually the title challenge was between them as Ipswich. With five games to go, the two teams met on April 14th at Villa Park with Ipswich winning the game 2-1. Many thought Villa’s shot at the Championship was over, but not manager, Ron Saunders.

Ipswich would go on to lose three of their next four matches, while Villa, who had one less game to play, won two and drew one, before it all came down to the final game of the season. In the days of two competition points for a win, Aston Villa only needed a draw or better to win the league. But they would have to do it away to Arsenal on the last day. Ipswich on the other hand were facing Middlesbrough.

There was a real buzz about the match at Highbury in the week leading up to kick off. Villa fans were desperate to get down to North London from Birmingham and come game day, the stadium was packed.

I’ve never been in a crowd like it. Huge swathes of people, you know, you’d end up sort of ten rows forward, people were passing out it was that full.

About 15 minutes prior to kickoff, Arsenal and Villa fans were suddenly rushing the pitch as fights broke out. The stakes were high for the Gunners too as they needed a win to qualify for Europe. Fortunately, police managed to get it under control just before the players came out. With the match got underway, Villa proceed to be 2-0 down inside 20 minutes while Ipswich were leading 1-0 to Middlesborough at half time.

So we’re losing the league, everyone’s like ‘we’ve lost it, we’ve lost it on the last day.’ Villa hadn’t won the league since 1910, so this is 71 years.

Within the space of 10 minutes in the second half, Bosko Yankovic scored twice for Middlesbrough. With Villa fans listening on transistor radios, the news began filtering through at Highbury. Cue celebrations.

And the whole Clock End erupts and all of a sudden Villa fans start appearing in the seats and you know, you suddenly realised how many Villa fans were there. And then obviously a few minutes later a second went in and it’s just this crazy image of fans celebrating when their team’s 2-0 down.

Full time, Aston Villa had won the league and Arsenal had qualified for Europe. Both sets of fans were storming the pitch once again but this time there were no fights, only mutual elation. For young Andy Jackson, it was the experience of a lifetime.

I’ve never forgotten that day, I’ve never forgotten the sights, the smells, the feeling. And it’s that ridiculous combination of fear, joy and absolute depression and I went through all of those that day. But then you come away and it’s just like, man, what a day that was.

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Football is an emotional game and we all express those feelings in different ways. But sometimes it’s difficult to actually explain those emotions. Football writer, Musa Okwonga uses poetry to express his passion for the beautiful game.

For Musa, his love of football started at school where he and his friends would play nearly three hours a day, before and after class and during the lunch break. His earliest memories of following the professional game include watching the FA Cup and the 1990 World Cup.

Okwonga sites Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich in the Final as the defining moment of his football fandom. He remembers watching the game with a group of friends at University, all crammed into a small room. With United winning the game at the death in dramatic fashion, Musa was overcome with emotion and jumped out of the first floor window, celebrating like crazy. He didn’t even see the final whistle.

I think United are consistently the ones who won very, very late in the game. Like the smart kid who doesn’t really work that hard at school who always manages to kind of pull it out of the bag with a bit of last minute revision.

Musa has been writing poetry from a young age so it was a natural step to bring together two of his passions and try to capture the game in a unique way.

I suppose what lends itself so well is the brevity. So you know, football ultimately is about moments. They make you wax poetic, you know, quite literally in my case. You know, a lot of people, their response is to ooh and aah and my response is to actually, I’m going to get my pen out and see what I can create to do justice to that.

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In July, 1936, The Civil War broke out in Spain. Understandably, things like football were suspended. The 1936/37 La Liga season was put on hold as tensions grew around the country. Aligning with the Republicans, FC Barcelona were a club under threat. Shortly after war broke out, a number of players enlisted to fight against the Nationalist uprising and club president, Josep Sunyol was murdered. On the verge on bankruptcy, it was the actions of the club’s then manager that saved Barcelona from financial ruin. Irishman, Patrick O’Connell.

Patrick was born in Westmeath in 1887, before his family moved to Dublin where he grew up. It was here that he developed a real love for football from a young age. Football provided Patrick with an escape from what was a tough upbringing around the inner suburb of Drumcondra, a very poor area at the time. In amongst playing junior football, Patrick began working in a factory from the age of 14, which was quite common in those days. So the opportunity to play professionally was certainly a way out.

O’Connell started his playing career at Belfast Celtic as a centre forward. It was also during this time that he married his wife, Ellen, who gave birth to their first son just a few months later. He would eventually be converted to a centre half before transferring to Sheffield Wednesday in 1909, who were then in England’s First Division. He arrived with teammate, Peter Warren and the combined fee for both players was just 50 pounds.

While at Sheffield, O’Connell only made 18 appearances in three years but in 1912, as his time at The Owls was coming to a close, Patrick began his International career for Ireland. His next club was Hull City, where he spent two seasons and made 58 appearances. But it was his performances for his country in the 1914 British Home Championship that would help secure his next contract.

As captain, Patrick O’Connell led Ireland to win the tournament, which included defeating England for the first time ever, 3-0 at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough. A 1-1 draw with Scotland in the final game secured the British Home Championship for Ireland, a match in which Patrick played the entire second half with a broken arm.
Ireland’s 1914 British Home Championship side, featuring Patrick O’Connell (back row, far right).

This was enough to get the attention of Manchester United who paid £1,000 for his services – quite a lot of money in those days, which meant United had to pay Hull City in instalments. Patrick was appointed captain and scored on debut against Oldham Athletic on September 2nd, 1914. But his time at Man Utd wasn’t without controversy. On April 2nd, 1915 in a match against Liverpool, he was accused of being involved in a betting scandal. The game was allegedly fixed for a 2-0 result in Manchester United’s favour, who were fighting to avoid relegation.

The final result? 2-0. That was the score when Patrick had missed a penalty, something he was known to be good at. There was an FA investigation and seven players were allegedly involved. Three from United and four from Liverpool. But O’Connell was never charged. He only made two more appearances for The Red Devils before the First World War interrupted professional football in England.

During the war, Patrick actually remained a registered Manchester United player but in between working in a London factory, he completed guest appearances for non-league clubs, Clapton Orient, Rochdale and Chesterfield. When competitive football resumed in 1919, O’Connell was left to find a new club. He moved to part-timers, Dumbarton in Scotland, making 31 appearances before returning to England a year later to join non-league side, Ashington.

It was here that Patrick started his managerial journey, taking over as player-manager in his second season. This was an important period in O’Connell’s football career, but it also marked a change in his personal life. From 1919, upon leaving Dumbarton his family never saw him again, except for one son. For reasons unknown, one day Patrick just walked out on his family with no notice.

He remained at Ashington until 1922 as his playing days came to an end, before making yet another move to pursue his managerial career full time at Racing Santander in Spain. O’Connell would spend seven years as manager of Santander, winning five regional titles in the process. He then joined Real Oviedo in 1929 for two seasons before arriving at Real Betis and achieving promotion from the Second Division by winning the league in his first year at the club. Then in 1935, Patrick guided Betis to their first and only La Liga title to date.

His achievements at Real Betis were so highly regarded that it forced FC Barcelona to take notice and he was appointed their new manager for the 1935/36 season. A year later, the Civil War breaks out on July 18th, 1936. Although Barcelona itself isn’t on the front lines, it’s still subject to hardships, including many bombings and the war also provokes a social revolution within the city and La Liga is suspended. With no football and tensions building around the country, Patrick returns to Ireland. But in early 1937 he’s lured back to Barcelona when the club receives an invitation – or rather, a lifeline.

They’re offered the chance to play a series of games in the Americas, including matches in Mexico and New York. The idea is presented to Barcelona by a Catalan exile named Serrano Mas and O’Connell plays a crucial in not only convincing the players to go, but giving the tour legitimacy. The trip proved to be a success, raising the required funds that ultimately saved FC Barcelona from bankruptcy.

Patrick remained at Barca until 1940 before returning to London. Not long after, that same year he received a pardon to go back to Spain, joining Real Betis for a second stint for two seasons. He then switched to local rivals Sevilla for three years and finally finished his career where his Spanish journey started – back at Racing Santander from 1947-49.

In football terms, his achievements are beyond impressive, but his personal life was just as intriguing. During his time in Spain, Patrick actually re-married, without divorcing his first wife. Upon finding out he was a bigamist, his second wife left him. Alone and cut off from his family, Patrick returned to London in 1954 to live with his brother. By this time he was penniless and had to claim welfare benefits.

Patrick O’Connell died of pneumonia, destitute in 1959, aged 71 and he was buried in an unmarked grave in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in North-West London. For years, he remained largely forgotten in the football world, until 2014 when a couple of fans learned of his incredible story.
Patrick O’Connell’s final resting place prior to its 2016 restoration.

They established the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund in an effort to restore his final resting place, in addition to arranging several initiatives that recognise the huge contribution he made to football. A fitting tribute for the man affectionately known as ‘Don Patricio’.

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When we think of football tours, the world’s top clubs travelling the globe for exhibition matches might spring to mind. But it’s not just the professional teams. In 1995, an amateur pub team embarked on a tour of their own in the Far East. This is the story of Wild Westerners FC.

What started as a conversation between mates over a few beers developed into an organised, three country tour of India, Vietnam and the Philippines. Stewart Cruttenden, a travel writer and journalist made regular trips to the Far East for work, during which time he joined up with some local expat teams, just for fun. He enjoyed playing so much that he decided to form his own team.

Wild Westerners came together as a group of friends, playing in tours around Asia for several years. However, on their third tour in ‘95 things started to get a little more serious. By then, Cruttenden had made a few friends in the region and had right the contacts when it came to arranging matches. Although, being the early nineties, most of it was done via fax machine.

WWFC would usually play two games at each destination against some expat teams who would then help them set up a match with a local team in the same or similar location. Enter Cantho City FC, full time professionals and one of the top clubs in Vietnam at the time. In fact, they’d won the national cup competition the year before, finishing second in the league. They also had ten Vietnamese Internationals on their books.

Upon arrival at their hotel in Cantho, it was clear to Cruttenden that there had been a serious misunderstanding. They were greeted by an excited crowd, held back by police and a welcoming party of military and local sports directors. Between the faxes back and forth, something had certainly been lost in translation.

Cruttenden met with the head of the local sports committee who wanted a list of their players and squad numbers for the radio commentators. He then began explaining the etiquette of marching out and presenting bouquets to people in the crowd. Yes, the crowd. The 25,000 capacity Cantho Stadium had been sold out for weeks. Bewildered, but not really in a position to back out, Cruttenden decided to play along.

Come match day, Wild Westerners piled onto the bus which drove into the stadium like it was an FA Cup Final at Wembley. Torrential rain delayed kick-off by 90 minutes but the locals deemed the match too important to postpone, so it went ahead. The wet weather would be in Wild Westerners advantage though, keeping the scoreline somewhat respectable, given the contrast between the two sides. 12-2 the final score in favour of the locals.

Only 5,000 spectators remained in the stadium but it didn’t matter. The local fans weren’t disappointed the this team from England turned out to be complete amateurs. Actually, it wasn’t clear whether they even realised. But they were just as excited as they’d been at the hotel days before, cheering both teams and the efforts on display. In response, the Wild Westerners signed autographs and gave away their playing shirts and gear to all the kids in the crowd before departing.

It’s important to note that during the early nineties the Vietnam War was still firmly in people’s memories and Westerners had only just started going back to the country. But this was a perfect example of the power of football to transcend and unite.

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In 1992 the European Cup was rebranded as the. Along with changes to the competitions format, including the introduction of a group stage, UEFA called for a complete design overhaul and commissioned the marketing company, TEAM (Television Event And Media) to carry out the rebrand. It was the process that gave us the distinctive.

Britten used the first few bars of Handel’s rising string phrase, adapting them into a full three minute orchestral composition, performed by the. Britten employed a linguist to translate numerous superlatives into English, French and German – the three official languages of UEFA.

Since its introduction the anthem has become synonymous with the competition and is now loved all over the world by fans and players alike.

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