In sport you only tend to remember the winners. The runners up or those who finished in second place are rarely remembered.
The same could be said in football. Read any book and everything is all about the winners. You are told all about the England side who won the World Cup in 1966, Manchester United’s 1999 Treble Winning team, the Arsenal Invincibles, Liverpool’s sides of the 70’s and 80’s and Aldershot’s 2008 Conference winning side (maybe not so much about the last one!)
I thought this blog would celebrate those teams who were the greatest teams NOT to win anything and I have picked 6 teams I think should be recognised more for their ability and less about the fact that they never won anything.
Number 1 The Magical Magyars 1953-54
One of Hungary's six goals against England, November 25th 1953
This Hungary side were amazing. Although they did actually win a competition (the Olympics in 1952), they still count in my list of great sides not to win anything as that doesn’t count as a major competition.
The Magical Magyars as they were called were the first team from outside of Britain to beat England at Wembley. They did so with a 6-3 win on a cold November afternoon in 1953.
To rub salt in England’s wound, The Magyars won 7-1 in the return fixture a year later in Budapest when England probably went out there to ‘set the record straight ’!!
This Hungarian side had a genius in their ranks (as most great teams do!) in Ferenc Puskas. To look at you wouldn’t think he had any footballing skill, he was short and tubby and probably wouldn’t have looked out of place in a barbers or as a chef!
But Puskas did have lightning quick feet and vision too. He would pick out an opponent with ease, take on an opponent and make them look stupid and would think ahead of everyone else and hit a pass that no one would even think of.
The Hungarians baffled England from the start by putting different shirt numbers on players who would usually have another number when in that position. It’s strange to think of that now but it worked as England weren’t expecting the shirt number methods used.
Kenneth Wolstenholme, commentating on the game mentioned early on in the commentary :
“You might be mystified by some of the Hungarian numbers. The reason is they number the players rather logically, with the centre half as 3 and the backs 2 and 4.”
England numbered the left back 3, centre back 5 and right back (Alf Ramsay) 2. They also numbered the left winger 11, centre forward 9 and right winger (Stanley Matthews) as 7. This was still done until squad numbers came in from 1993.
Hungary went from right to left with their 5 forwards 7-11 and England had no idea who was supposed to mark who and where each of the opponents would be running!
Ference Puskas showed one moment of true skill, dragging the ball back before blasting the ball ast Gill Merrick in the England goal as seen below….
Hungary qualified for the World Cup in Switzerland a year later. They reached the Final and faced West Germany in Berne. After 8 minutes they were 2-0 up but this wasn’t to last. On 10 minutes, Germany got one back before equalising on 18 minutes. They then scored late in the second half and won 3-2. The Germans refer to the game as ‘The miracle of Berne’ but was truly heart-breaking for the Hungarians. They truly were part of a golden generation.
Hungary have never seen such a good national team since those days of the early 1950’s. The last time they qualified for the World Cup Finals was in 1986 and have finished 3rd and 4th in the two European Championships in 1964 and 1968 having lost in both semi finals.
Number 2 Holland 1970s
The 1978 Dutch World Cup team
This was the team that brought the world Total Football. Players such as Johan Cruyff, Arie Haan, Johan Neeskens, Arnold Muhren and Johnny Rep featured in the bright orange jersey and made football look simple.
In the early 70s, Ajax had dominated European football and one of the players who was standing out was a certain Johan Cruyff. He later became the World Footballer of the Year and signed for Barcelona.
Cruyff pulled off an amazing piece of skill in a game in the 1974 World Cup that had the whole world sit up and take notice. Holding a defender off the ball with his back to goal on the wing, he swiftly dragged the ball back, turned 180 degrees and ran to the byline.
This totally confused the defender and it took him a second or two to realise what had happened but Cruyff was long gone.
Now this move is commonplace in the game and is known the world over as the ‘Cruyff turn’ but when it happened for the first time it looked amazing!
This Holland side lost both the 1974 and 1978 World Cup Finals to the hosts on both occasions. First West Germany beat them in Munich and Argentina beat them in Buenos Aires. This side really did deserve much more and a World Cup Winners medal for all their hard working players would not have been disputed in any way.
Number 3 Arsenal 1998/99
The 1998/99 Arsenal squad proudly displaying the FA Cup and League trophie won in the previous season and the Charity Shield won at the start of the season against Manchester United
Ok, so I’m biased but I don’t care, this is my blog!
We had won the Double the previous season and a couple of our players had just won the World Cup with France. This was a truly great time to support the Arsenal!
There was the Champions League to look forward to, something we had yet to compete in, in it’s new format. We played our home games at Wembley but went out in the group stage so let’s not dwell on that!
The League campaign consisted of competing for top spot with Manchester United, who we had beaten 3-0 at Wembley in the Charity Shield the week before the start of the season!
Arsene Wenger had brought in a young Swede by the name of Freddie Ljungberg (you know, the bloke that advertised pants!) and this was the second full season he was in charge of the club.
The Frenchman was quickly changing things around at the club. The diet changed (much protest of the removal of Mars bars according to some of the players) as well as players going. Legends such as Ian Wright (who had scored 185 goals for us in a little over 7 years) and Paul Merson (who had scored 99 goals for us, tantalisingly close to the century!) had been shown the door by Wenger.
A new French teenager had come in as Wrighty’s replacement by the name of Nicolas Anelka. He was lightning quick and had composure in front of goal. If his team mates hit the ball over the defence he would run through and no defender could keep up with him.
Kanu, a lanky Nigerian striker was also brought in from Inter Milan. A risky buy too as he had heart problems and was used as an impact sub most of the time by Wenger. He scored some quite amazing goals in his first season and we were by far the best team in England at the time.
Here's a video of a goal by Kanu in the 3-1 win at Tottenham:
We reached the semi final of the FA Cup and of course we were still holders of the competition. We drew Manchester United and played a decent game against them and drew 0-0 after extra time.
Then in the replay, it was 1-1 going into injury time after 90 minutes. Ray Parlour got the ball and raced into the box. Phil Neville strayed close waiting to tackle him, tried to reach across and kjnock the ball away from Parlour but instead, brought him down. PENALTY!
Dennis Bergkamp stepped up to take the penalty. The Iceman as we called him because of his calmness and composure stepped up to take the penalty.
Peter Schmeichel guessed the right way and pushed the penalty away. Then in extra time Patrick Vieira hit a sloppy pass in the centre circle and Ryan Giggs got hold of the ball. We all know what happened next so we don’t need to dwell on that!
In the League it was pretty much a two horse race, but Chelsea weren’t too far behind. The penultimate games of the season saw us play at Leeds and a day later Manchester United went to Ewood Park to play Blackburn Rovers.
Kaba Diawara a young French striker hit the woodwork several times for us and then Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink headed in at the far post to win the game for Leeds right at the end of the game.
Manchester United won at Ewood Park to relegate Blackburn and this meant that we would have to rely on Spurs who were playing Manchester United at Old Trafford on the last day of the season.
We were playing Aston Villa at home and needed to win and for Spurs to win. Then the unthinkable happened Spurs went 1-0 up at Old Trafford! We celebrated a Spurs goal. Then unfortunately United came back and won 2-1, making our 1-0 win against Aston Villa totally irrelevant.
So next time you hear a Manchester United fan boasting about their Treble winning success of 1999, you can tell them they came bloody close to not winning both the League and the FA Cup and should count themselves very lucky indeed!
Number 4 England Euro 96
The England 1996 squad line up before the Semi Final against Germany in the fetching grey kit and David Seaman wears his wonderful rainbow kit!
This was when football came home. We knew this because Frank Skinner and David Baddiel told us so in their great anthem ‘Three Lions’!
Euro ’96 was and always will be my favourite tournament of all time. We came so close to reaching the first final since the World Cup Final of 1966. 30 years of hurt and all that!
England hadn’t qualified for the previous major tournament USA ’94 World Cup (thanks to Graham Taylor!) and didn’t neeed to worry about qualifying for this tournament as we were hosts.
The preparation we had was playing meaningless friendlies and everyone else had to worry about qualifying. Once all the teams had qualified the draw was made. England were in a group along with Switzerland, Scotland and Holland.
The opening game was a dull 1-1 draw with Switzerland. Alan Shearer broke the deadlock with his first goal for England in nearly two years before the Swiss scored a penalty.
In our second game we faced the Auld Enemy, Scotland. Once again Alan Shearer scored first before Tony Adams gave away a penalty that was taken by Gary Mc Allister and saved by David Seaman.
Then a couple of minutes later, Gazza scored a marvellous goal lobbing Colin Hendry, his team mate at Glasgow Rangers but opponent in this game, and then powering an unstoppable shot past Andy Goram in the Scotland goal. He then lay on the pitch and waited for his team mates to come over and re-enact the Dentist’s Chair drinking game the squad got caught doing in Hong Kong weeks before the tournament started.
In the final group game we needed to avoid defeat against a strong Dutch side to qualify for the knockout stages. Holland had narrowly lost in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup two years previously, going out to Brazil who went on to win it.
This game was quite simply UNBELIEVEABLE! England played so well and thoroughly deserved the 4-1 win we got. Incidentally, if Patrick Kluivert hadn’t scored, Scotland would have qualified instead but just missed out having scored fewer goals than the Dutch in their 3 group games.
This is a brief video of the 4-1 win over Holland:
The Quarter Finals paired us up with Spain, who hadn’t lost a game in nearly two years. The first 90 minutes were very dull and very little happened. Then in extra time when Golden Goals could be scored, Spain had the ball in the net twice and both goals were perfectly legitimate. Luckily for us, the officials saw differently and didn’t give the goals!
So penalties would decide the outcome of the game to decide who would progress through to the Semi Finals. David Seaman and Stuart Pearce would be England’s heroes, Seaman saving a couple of penalties and Stuart Pearce scored a penalty to erase all the memories of his penalty in Italy against Germany 6 years before.
Incidentally the Semi Final saw us paired against Germany and yet again the game would go the distance.
Alan Shearer (who else!) opened the scoring with a close range header from a Gascoigne scorner that was flicked on by England captain Tony Adams.
Stefan Kuntz scored an equaliser following a Stuart Pearce mistake almost ten minutes later. Before we knew it the game had gone to extra time and this was a really nerve racking half hour. Darren Anderton hit the post for England, Germany had a goal disallowed for a foul and then Gazza couldn’t quite get on the end of a cross shot. Three opportunites that if they had gone in or been allowed to stand, would have sent their respective team through on Golden Goals!
Penalties would decide the game. Both sides scored their first five (including Stuart Pearce scoring for England!) until Gareth Southgate nervously stepped up to take his penalty. He tamely hit the ball straight at the German goalkeeper and Andreas Moller smashed his penalty into the roof of the net and Germany were through to face Czech Republic in the Final.
Tony Adams later wrote in his autobiography ‘Addicted’ that he thought England would have thrashed Czech Republic had we got through to the Final.
Gareth Southgate’s mother’s first words when she saw him were “why didn’t you just blast it?!?” and he went on to do a Pizza Hut advert with Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce later on in the year laughing at his penalty miss.
England haven’t reached a Semi Final since Euro ’96 but have reached several Quarter Finals of the European Championships and World Cups.
Number 5 Brazil 1982
The 1982 World Cup side
This Brazil side is widely known as the best team from Brazil not to win the World Cup. At Spain ’82 they played the best football of the tournament with players such as Socrates, Zico, Eder and Falcao in their squad.
They were drawn in Group 6 alongside the Soviet Union Scotland and New Zealand. Their first game was against the Soviet Union, who scored just before half time. It took until the 75th minute for Brazil to equalise. Captain Socrates scored the equaliser and it was a fantastic goal. He got the ball over 30 yards out and he knock the ball past two opponents before blasting an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. Eder scored the winner for Brazil with three minutes to go.
In the next game against Scotland Brazil went 1-0 down yet again. Zico equalised before half time with a marvellous free kick. Oscar headed a second, Eder lobbed a great third and Falcao added the fourth following a great counter attacking move.
Brazil won 4-0 in the next game against New Zealand, Zico grabbing two goals, Falcao and Serginho scoring the others and Brazil topped the group with three wins.
The second round was another group set up of three teams (the last time this method was used before straight knockout competitions after the first group stage). Brazil were in the same group as Argentina the holders of the World Cup and Italy the reigning European Champions.
Italy beat Argentina in the first game 2-1 and Brazil beat Argentina 3-1 with Zico, Serginho and Junior scoring. The next game would be regarded as the best of the tournament as well as one of the best in World Cup history.
Paulo Rossi opened the scoring for Italy on 5 minutes. Socrates equalised on 12 minutes with a great goal but Rossi gave Italy the lead one again on 25 minutes.
Falcao equalised for Brazil and this would have sent the Brazilians through to the Semi Finals. However there was one final twist of the story and Paulo Rossi went on and completed his hat trick. Italy held on for a 3-2 victory and Brazil were out of the tournament. If the World Cup was to be won by performances, this Brazilian team would have won Spain ’82 with ease.
These are all the goals scored by Brazil in the 1982 Finals:
Since this Brazil teams failure to win the World Cup, they have won the trophy twice in 1994 and 2002 and reached the final in 1998.
Number 6 Newcastle United 95/96
This goal by Eric Cantona was the winner of the top of the table clash between Manchester United and Newcastle United
This Newcastle side were playing some amazing attacking football. Les Ferdinand had joined from QPR in the summer and scored 5 goals in his first 6 games. David Ginola had also joined Kevin Keegan’s side from Paris Saint Germain.
Newcastle were top of the Premiership for most of the season, going down to 2nd place for the first time of the season on 23rd March. On the 4th March Manchester United won 1-0 at St James Park in a massive top of the table clash. Having led the league at one point by a massive 12 points, Newcastle’s lead gradually slipped away.
Alex Ferguson tried to use mind games to put Keegan off and it worked as Newcastle eventually lost their lead at the top of the table. Keegan lost the plot live on TV on an interview live on Sky Sports after Ferguson made a comment about Newcastle to the press. Andy Gray and Richard Keys were interviewing him after Newcastle played Leeds and Keegan went mad live on TV.
Here is a video of the interview.
One of the all time great games in the Premiership occurred between Liverpool and Newcastle United. It ended 4-3 and Liverpool won in the last few seconds of the game. It really put a dent in Newcastle’s title hopes.
This Newcastle side finished the season in second place and after the 1996 European Championships Newcastle signed local hero Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers for a British record of £15 million.
Newcastle still haven’t won a major trophy since 1969 but reached consecutive FA Cup Finals in 1998 and 1999.