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November 16, 2015

Can we still believe in (football) miracles?


Trevor Francis, Bryan Clough and John Robertson, by Hans van Dijk / Anefo [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Let’s play a game. Do you know which team is currently in the 13th place of your country’s football second division? We are talking here of Queens Park Rangers in England, Laval in France, Alcorcón in Spain, Arminia Bielefeld in Germany, or 1461 Trabzon in Turkey. What future do you think that such a club will have in the next few  years? Imagine, for a moment, that this clubs fires the manager and decides to employ a young coach that was sacked by his previous employer only after 42 days in charge. Would it be possible for QPR, Laval or Arminia Bielefeld to earn promotion to the top tear, win the league, two League Cups, qualify for Europe and win two back-to-back UEFA Champions Leagues?

Not a single chance! Is, quite probably, your answer? And you are quite surely right. However, there was a time in which this was possible. In fact, there was a time in which this indeed happened. It was in the late 1970s, the club was Nottingham Forest and the young manager a striker turned coach from Middlesbrough by the name of Brian Clough, aptly assisted by his lieutenant Peter Taylor.

I write these lines after watching, for the second time, I Believe in Miracles, the recently released documentary by Welsh director Jonny Owen. In the movie, Owen looks back at the extraordinary achievements of Nottingham Forest during Clough’s peak years. Clough arrived to Forest in February 1975, with the team lingering in the bottom half of English football’s second tear. In the space of five years the reds from Nottingham went on to win a league and two European Cups. They also set a record for consecutive unbeaten matches in the top division – 42 matches – only surpassed by Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal a quarter of a century after. Forest and Clough did all this, moreover, whilst maintaining five players of the original 1975 second division squad (Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neill, Ian Bowyer, Tony Woodcock and John Robertson). Using Clough’s own words, I would not say this is the best football achievement in history, but it surely is in the top one.

Jonny Owen’s film is complemented by a new book from The Guardian’s chief football writer (and confessed Forest fan), Daniel Taylor. In the book, Taylor reflects of how Forest’s Miracle Men achieved what was almost impossible: to transform a small provincial city’s team into a European champion that not only defeated the all-mighty Liverpool but was also playing nice attacking and passing football. And whilst watching the film and reading the book, I could not help to think that this will be, quite probably, impossible in today’s modern football. Yes, there was a good degree of nostalgia in me for a time that I have not lived. And yes, I know perfectly well that today’s game is probably more spectacular, more comfortable, quicker and, why not say it, perhaps better. Also, I am also perfectly aware that these lines, that respond more to the beat of the heart, are in perfect contradiction to what I have written elsewhere, when the cold and analytical logic of the brain and research were in command.

The reality is, however, that whilst I was indulging myself pausing, rewinding and repeating Trevor Francis’ goal in the 1979 final, I learned that European top basketball clubs reformed the Euroleague to create an almost-closed 16-team competition, with 11 clubs having a permanent license to participate in yet another turn of the screw of modern team sport seeking a financial deal with a media partner. That is to say, whereas the EU has 28 members, or the Council of Europe more than 40, top basketball’s competition is going to be restricted to only a powerful eliteof a dozen of countries. And I could not help but thinking that it is wrong that Serbia, Montenegro or Croatia, the cradle of some of the best European basketball players, will not have a team in the Euroleague. Whilst I could understand perfectly the economic and commercial dynamics at play, I could not help thinking that we may be losing part of our culture, our identity and even our soul.

Continuing with the film, as I was watching on my screen John Robertson scoring against Hamburg to win the 1980 European Cup in the Bernabéu stadium, I could only think that we will never see anything like that again. But, quite probably, we will not see Red Star Belgrade lifting the European Cup either. Can we still believe in miracles in today’s modern professional sport? We leave in a different time now. One of increased skill, but also of major commercialisation and, some would say, a doping arms race to the medal table. I guess it is human nature to enjoy nostalgic memories of a past that quite probably was not a better time, but we still enjoy so much. Do not get me wrong; I like watching the Champions League, and also the Euroleague for that matter. But at the same time I feel we may be loosing part of our culture and identity. Yet, it is perhaps not a loss, but only a transformation. I still follow Forest’s misfortunes, again rooted to the bottom half of the English second tier. Is there any young manager from Middlesbrough around to take on the clubnow?

I Believe in Miracles, the movie by Jonny Owen, is now available on DVD, Blue Ray and digital download.

Its name-sake book by Daniel Taylor is also out this week.

Post by Borja García in the category : Governance, History, Memory - 1 Comment

1 comment sur “Can we still believe in (football) miracles?”

  1. Jonathan Hill

    2015-11-19 10:05:13

    Great piece, Borja, and you are more than merely nostalgic. I think you speak for many people over the age of 30-40 when you say: "Whilst I could understand perfectly the economic and commercial dynamics at play, I could not help thinking that we may be losing part of our culture, our identity and even our soul." And not only as a comment on modern football but many aspects of modern life too. And thank you again for supporting our team. I doubt we will ever replace Real Madrid in your heart but we do our best. Jonathan

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