Top 10 British Sporting Cities

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Britain truly is the home of organised sport, and her sporting influence is felt across the globe. Whether you’re a South American footballer, a North American golfer, an Indian cricketer, an Australasian Rugby star, or a Chinese snooker player, you owe it all to the sporting heritage of the UK.

This article aims to tap into the lucrative market of British sporting tourism. The ten featured cities range from the metropolis of London, to smaller destinations such as Preston and St. Andrews.



London is easily the UK’s largest city, so it not surprising that some of the nation’s most famous sporting venues are found here. The north London skyline is dominated by the newly refurbished Wembley Stadium, which plays host to international matches, and domestic cup finals, such as the F.A. Cup. In addition to the national arena, there are also a dozen league clubs to be found in and around London.

The English Rugby Union side also play their home games in North London, at the majestic Twickenham Stadium, with its 80,000 capacity. Tennis enthusiasts flock to the lawns of Wimbledon for a fortnight each summer, to view the oldest Grand Slam tournament.

Whilst the spiritual home of World Cricket is also to found in London, at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Finally, from 2012 onwards the sporting tourist will have the chance to visit the Olympic Stadium in the East End of the capital.



Whereas Aintree in Lancashire claims the Grand National, the town of Cheltenham holds the three-day racing festival that offers the tourist the best atmosphere of any Horse Racing event in the world.

This is due in part to the pleasant Cotswold Hills that overlook the Race Course, and the high standard of equestrianism, but above all the wave of Irish punters who flock annually to this elegant corner of England.

Every March the usually sleepy town is transformed into a home from home for thousands of Irish racing enthusiasts, even when there isn’t an Irish trained winner, the Guinness is sure to flow long into the night.



Rugby Union was invented in an English Public School almost two hundred years ago, but the spiritual home of British rugby is undoubtedly in South Wales. There are many proud ‘Rugger’ towns in the vicinity, but Cardiff is the site of the Millennium Stadium, with its retractable roof.

Built as a replacement for Cardiff Arms Park, the most hallowed of twentieth century rugby grounds, the Millennium Stadium represents not only the pastime of Wales, but also the regeneration of the Welsh capital.

The Millennium Stadium also hosted the English F.A. Cup between 2001 and 2007, during the renovation of Wembley Stadium.



The East Midlands city of Nottingham is the smallest English city with two football teams, Notts. County and Nottingham Forest, the latter having twice won the European Cup. The riverside stadium of Trent Bridge is a scenic venue for Test Match cricket.

In addition, the National Water Sports Centre is one of the most impressive leisure facilities in Britain. The fast-flowing artificially created rapids challenge Britain’s elite canoeists, kayakers, and white water rafters.

Whilst the two kilometre long Regatta Lake caters for the needs of Britain’s hugely successful Olympic rowing team.



Both Sheffield football teams, Wednesday and United have been crowned English champions, but perhaps the hilly Yorkshire city’s most famous sporting association is with snooker.

The Snooker World Championship is held every spring in Sheffield, in what is literally the most dramatic setting for any high profile sporting event, the Crucible Theatre.



Yorkshire is perhaps the proudest of all English cricketing counties, and there are few venues in the world that can match Headingly for nostalgia, and passionate support. Cricket is a way of life in Yorkshire, and until very recently only those born within the Four Ridings of Yorkshire could qualify for the county team.

The cricketing ground is next door to the home of Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club, who have enjoyed recent successes that Leeds Football Club can only dream of.

However, despite its tenants falling on hard times, the footballing stadium of Elland Road still makes an impact on the visitor.



There’s more to Manchester than Old Trafford, though the home of Man. United does attract fans from around the World. Local rivals Manchester City also boast an impressive stadium, which was originally constructed for the Commonwealth Games of 2002.

In addition to the two large stadia that between them can hold 125,000 spectators, the city also hosts the Manchester Velodrome, one of the World’s premier cycling venues.

For fans of the oval ball, the rugby league towns of Salford, Wigan, and St. Helens are a just a short hop away.



The small Lancashire city of Preston has one major claim to fame, namely being the Mecca of world club football. Preston’s unparalleled footballing heritage, centres around the recently refurbished Deepdale stadium, home of the famous Preston North End Football Club.

Deepdale is the oldest professional football ground anywhere on Earth (football was first played here in 1880), and consequently the English F.A. chose as the site for the National History Museum, a must-see for football fanatics of any allegiance.

The Museum has an extensive collection of artefacts from the nineteenth century to the present day. There are also many interactive amusements for children, and the opportunity to view the hallowed turf of Deepdale itself.

Preston has excellent transport links due to it’s proximity to the M6, and the West Coast railway that connects the Midlands to Scotland.



Glasgow, not Edinburgh, is the footballing capital of Scotland, as testified by the majestic sight of Hampden Park. Hampden is the headquarters of the SFA, the second oldest football association in the World, and it also holds the Scottish Football Museum.

The rivalry between the two main Glaswegian teams, Celtic and Rangers is perhaps the fiercest in Europe. Rangers have won the Scottish League more times, but Celtic was the first British team to lift the European Cup back in 1967.

Both grounds are worth a visit; Celtic Park (Parkhead to traditionalists) is the bigger of the two, and holds over 60,000 supporters, however it lacks the red-bricked elegance of Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium.

In fact, Glasgow is the only European city that can claim three football venues with a capacity of over 50,000. However in the summer of 2014, football will for once take a back seat, as Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games.


St. Andrews

Scotland’s association with golf goes back many centuries, in fact it is said that Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed the game. Though the Fife town has a population of little more than 15,000, it is home to the world’s most famous golf club, the Royal and Ancient (founded in 1754), plus a dozen pristine golf courses in the vicinity of this historical university town.

The advantage of a trip to this seaside location, is that any party members who are not interested in golf, can enjoy the beach, or the rustic charm of St. Andrew’s many old buildings.


Written by Brian Heller

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Chelsea: The Blues capitulated when it mattered the most against the determined Parisians


Jose Mourinho is a man after my heart. In my opinion, the greatest manager of my lifetime, the Portuguese’s managerial ingenuity took a hit in front of his own fans (who he has for most part of the season ripped apart for their lack of support) when PSG came from behind twice to end Chelsea’s chances of qualifying for the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition. The way they did it? The Mourinho style. I don’t think I have ever seen a team with so much heart in my football life. Maybe I have and probably forgotten.

In a game expected to be a cake walk for Chelsea, PSG fought like wounded lions that they were. With 10 men, they dominated all aspects of play, thanks to Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. But for Edinson Cavani’s wastefulness, they could have been home and dry before the end of normal time. Bjorn Kuipers, one of the best referees in the world, was given the whistle for this great game but he let himself and his status down by sending off Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on for a tackle that was worth a yellow at worst.

His decision was most likely influenced largely by the barrage of blue shirts. Chelsea players, including Diego Costa who ran 50 yards, were all up in the face of the Dutch official who had to brandish the red card at the Swede. Without their talisman and top scorer, le Parisien wore their hearts on their sleeves and put on a show that will be talked about for years and years to come. It was Blanc who took centre stage rather than his more illustrious managerial colleague. A turnaround in fortunes that meant justice was served in the end.

The rather shambolic and classless display by the hosts when Ibra and Oscar went in on a 50-50 was the talking point of the match even above the excellent game played by the French champions. All 9 outfield players (Oscar was rolling on the floor like he was hit by a truck) surrounded Mr Kuipers, who is no stranger to the big occasions having been placed in charge of the 2013 Europa League final, the 2014 Champions league final among others. He caved in under pressure and off Ibra went.

Daniel Taylor’s piece on the utterly scandalous display by Chelsea players is the best I have read in my life. I almost stopped writing mine in order not to look like a befuddled clown in the eyes of those who have digested the aforementioned piece.

As Daniel Taylor said, Chelsea are not the only guilty ones. Mourinho may have Rui Faria but Diego Simeone also has German Burgos, Gustavo Poyet has Mauricio Tarrico…all of whom are ‘the smaller the pip, the louder the squeak’ kind of people, except Burgos whose frame alone can scare the hell out of whoever is unlucky to be his victim. All attack dogs mentioned take it upon themselves to literally pounce upon match officials when they feel decisions have gone against them.

Last Wednesday, justice was served when PSG, despite all the unfair treatment meted out on them, qualified for the quarter-final of the Champions League at the expense of the more fancied Chelsea. The match represents Mourinho’s worst ever. Not the scoreline but the way it played out. He may have been a brute and an ogre in the Spanish League, but his rants and constant complaints this season have far outdone all his previous atrocities and misdemeanors.

The man who is driven by the fear of failure every single week will taint his legend if he continues this way. Even Cesc Fabregas has become an Oscar nominee in football’s version of playacting.

Our beautiful game is becoming a terrible nightmare with all these situations repeating themselves every time.


Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Chelsea: Have the Blues sealed this season’s league title?

Chelsea haven’t been at their best for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped them opening a five point lead over closest rivals Manchester City, who have been found out far too many times this season. Their good performances have proven to be little more than one-offs, and they have faltered in a variety of games: at tough away games like West Ham, Everton and Liverpool to supposedly comfortable opposition at home like Burnley, Hull and Stoke.

Chelsea meanwhile, despite losses to Newcastle and Tottenham, have generally been strong in all types of matches, sometimes playing better than others. Indeed, Chelsea have consistently shown the clichèd “character of champions”. So, as dull as it sounds, the title race may already be over in early March.

Upcoming fixtures: Man City, Burnley (away), West Brom (home), Crystal Palace (away), Man Utd (away), West Ham (home), Aston Villa (home), Tottenham (away), QPR (home), Swansea (away), Southampton (home)

So not too bad for the defending champions then. With the exception of Manchester United at home, one would expect Manchester City to win those games. Yet where Manchester City have fallen down is in these so-called easier games previously mentioned. It can therefore be said that although these games appear easy, Manchester City haven’t got the players willing to dig their team out of the proverbial mud.

In my view, Kompany has been in a slump for a while now, Demichelis isn’t as pacy as he once was, while Mangala has struggled for consistency, perfectly understandable for a player in his first season in England. Without leaders with confidence leading from the back like Kompany and Zabaleta did last year, it is hard to see this team producing the sort of form out of the blue (pardon the pun) to lead them to another title.

Chelsea however, have been solid if rarely spectacular this season. Their advantage over Manchester City has come in the form of an ability to win games without always playing well, and as much of a cliché as that is, it has been true of the blues this season. Their wins at places like Anfield, Upton Park and Goodison Park have been in stark contrast to Manchester City’s timid play at those grounds. A few years ago, many of the title challengers would have been a part of such performances, but only Chelsea have given them consistently this season.

Fundamental to this has been their defence, a back line largely consisting of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta have proved formidable at times, protected by the dynamism and balance offered by Nemanja Matić. Such a balance alongside Fàbregas has proven far better and more consistent than that used by Manuel Pellegrini, Fernando taking a while to settle, Fernandinho not always being a regular starter, while Yaya Toure has proven far more effective up the pitch. For this again, lack of consistency and assurance in City’s team, this title race may be over by late April.

Manchester City, and in particular, Manuel Pellegrini, may end up ruing some of their early season displays. Slack, perhaps arrogant and or naive, it was not a City who looked like they had just won the league. Away to Chelsea they were up against a top XI nonetheless as one would expect, but the Blues had just beaten Liverpool 2-1 after a gruelling 30 minutes of extra time so to see City produce so little that game in what ended as a 1-1 draw perhaps sums their season up: a lack of drive and inspiration at times.

Is there a huge difference in quality between the two sides which puts the title race on the brink of being over in mid-March? I don’t think so, with Agüero, Yaya Toure and David Silva this is a City side with experience and quality alike, but they have lacked the consistency and perhaps even desire at times this season. Perhaps “over” is too strong as we said that in 2012 at this stage and were left eating our words in shock come May, but this City team looks too shaky and Chelsea look too long in the tooth for any late twist this season.


Written by Joshua Sodergren

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Infographic: 10 of the Premier League’s most expensive teenage stars

Below is an infographic 10 of the Premier League’s most expensive teenage stars by the team at HowToBet4Free and designed by NeoMam Studios.


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Franco Di Santo: The Man Behind Bremen’s Revival

The Argentine striker Franco Matías Di Santo has been a key contributor to Werder Bremen’s impressive run of form. He has been injured at the end of the first part of the season, but he made his mark immediately after getting back on the pitch with two incredible goals against Hertha Berlin helping his team go on a four game unbeaten streak in the process.

Di Santo who was born on the 7th of April 1989 first started his career with Chilean club Audax Italiano. He moved to Chelsea in 2008. He was handed a first team start shortly after impressing with the reserves. Following a season-long loan at Blackburn Rovers he made a move to Wigan where he won the FA Cup in 2013 but was released after that because of the team’s relegation.

After that mixed season, Di Santo signed a three year contract with Germany’s Werder Bremen on the 14th of August 2013. He scored his first goal for the club on November 14 in a 3-2 loss against Mainz and then went on to finish the season with 4 goals in 23 appearances. This season however he has been the main goal-getter for his side bagging 11 goals so far this season in the Bundesliga, a record that makes him tied in fourth place with Bayern star Robert Lewandowski on the goalscoring leaderboard.

His link up with youngster Davie Selke at the front of the pack has been crucial for Bremen, who are now in the top half of the table and out of the relegation zone. He also scored a goal in his side’s recent loss to high flying Vfl Wolfsburg in an eight goal thriller which ended 3-5.

Di Santo’s clinical finishing has been remarkable. His positioning and control of the ball, his ability to dismantle defenses with his pace and skill are some of the impressive qualities Di Santo possesses in his locker. The Bremen fans always have something to be optimistic about whenever he is in the line-up.

Di Santo was handed his international debut on the 31st of October 2012 and was also included in the provisional 26 man squad for the 2014 World Cup, despite not being able to make it to Brazil. His national career may not have been that impressive, but given his recent performances it would only be a matter of time before he gets another chance to represent his country.


Written by Brook Genene

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Mohamed Salah: The Egyptian Messi grabbing his chance to prove his worth at Fiorentina

Chasing a Champions League spot, Inter Milan backed Roberto Mancini in January with the loan signings of Lukas Podolski, Davide Santon and Xherdan Shaqiri as well as the permanent signing of Marcelo Brozovic for £2.5 million from Dinamo Zagreb as Inter looked to close the gap on a flagging Lazio in third. Fiorentina meanwhile, sitting in sixth as the January window closed, were weakened by the loss of Juan Cuadrado who moved to Chelsea for €33 million.

Mohamed Salah would come in on loan as a makeweight but it was expected that La Viola, now bereft of Cuadrado’s energy and dynamism on the flank, would fade away in the race for third while Inter’s strengthening would see them mount a significant challenge. However that script hasn’t quite been followed, with Fiorentina now unbeaten in their last 8 and now just 3 points off third-placed Napoli after beating Inter in the San Siro at the weekend with a goal from Salah.

It just had to be him. The Egyptian scoring has become a regular sight in Italy since he made the move as Jose Mourinho’s bargaining chip in the move for Cuadrado. The goal against Inter was the winger’s 4th goal in the 6 games since moving to Florence and his winner followed a trend of netting vital goals; openers in the win over Sassuolo and the draw with an in-form Torino, plus the decisive second in the 2-0 Europa League victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

It was no wonder why manager Vincenzo Montella leapt at the chance to introduce Salah, whom he started on the bench following his mid-week excursions, for the injured Kouma Babacar once the Senegalese striker limped off with injury in the 13th minute. “I wanted to make the most of Salah’s extraordinary form that is why I chose him ahead of Alberto Gilardino” he said, “I know that when a player is going through that kind of form, it’s the duty of a coach to encourage it.”

Encouragement is a commodity Salah didn’t really receive from Jose Mourinho who would hand him just 18 appearances in the 12 months following his £11 million move from Basel in January 2013. The 22 year old would be limited to only 4 starts for Chelsea this season, in the two meetings with Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League and one against Shrewsbury in the League Cup which first exposed the signs of Mourinho’s growing frustration with the Egyptian.

His fourth, in the embarrassing FA Cup capitulation to Bradford City, was the final straw and together with Andre Schurrle, he was packed off as a new stringent Chelsea made room for the £26 million to be spent on landing Cuadrado.

Cuadrado’s relentless energy and work-rate made him appealing to Mourinho as those traits made the Colombian defensively diligent as well as an effective attacking option. Both Schurrle and Salah failed to offer enough in the defensive side of their games and so Mourinho’s patience tired. The difference in dynamic between Salah and Cuadrado has seen a small shift from Montella’s 3-5-1-1 to a 4-3-3 which has given the Egyptian more scope to focus on attack. The January recruitment of Alessandro Diamanti and Alberto Gilardino to accompany the likes of Mario Gomez, Josip Ilicic and Babacar in a talented front-line has also helped Salah to settle in seamlessly.

After the victory over Spurs, Montella was perhaps being mischievous when he reflected on January’s swap deal. “Who did better out of the Cuadrado exchange?” he asked, “Fiorentina earned a lot of money and, on the pitch, they are similar players.” Salah’s scant defensive contributions suggest they are not that similar, but his new manager is left under no illusion where the Egyptian is most dangerous. “Salah is a player that, even if he takes some breaks, is devastating over 40 or 50 yards,” said Montella.

The 22 year old has been operating mainly from a preferred position on the left-side for La Viola, while in the San Siro he showed the confidence and fitness to produce an impressive display as an emergency centre-forward. Montella, who knows a thing or two about playing as a forward, said “I think he can play any position in attack. He attacks the space well and is very good at getting straight into the tempo of a game when coming off the bench.” For a team that has struggled with injuries to Giuseppe Rossi and Gomez, in Salah they may have stumbled upon an unexpected solution.

It has been reported that the manager has instructed his directors to keep Salah at the club, with €1 million the price to keep him at the club on loan for next season while a further €18 million is the agreed buy-out clause due in the summer of 2016.

If the Egyptian continues the resurgent form he has started with in Florence, it will turn out to be a bargain.


Written by Adam Gray

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British clubs in Europe: Ten Memorable Matches

1955: Hibernian v Rot Weiss Essen

Edinburgh team Hibernian, known more popularly as Hibs, became the first British football club to compete in the European Cup. English sides declined to enter the inaugural contest, but there was more interest north of the border.

However, reigning Scottish Champions Aberdeen did not enter. Hibs were selected partly because of their reputation for flowing football, but more importantly due to the fact that they were one of a handful of British teams to then have floodlights; European matches were generally played in the evening.

The first round opponents were West German Champions Rot Weiss Essen. The Scots crushed the Germans 5-1 on aggregate. Their next opponents were Swedish club Djurgarden IF who they easily beat 4-1 over two legs.

Hibs’ run finally came to an end in the semis against Reims who went on to lose the opening European Cup Final against Real Madrid. This would be Hibernian’s last foray into the competition, though they did claim the notable scalp of Barcelona in the 1960/61 Fairs Cup Final.

The following year Manchester United became the first team to represent the English League. They also progressed to the semi-finals, but were beaten by Real Madrid. British involvement in the fledgling European Cup was still beset by snobbery towards foreign football. During the 1950’s there was a growing realisation that England and Scotland were not the only powers in the World Football. Both countries had made disappointing debuts in the World Cup, and it was clear that they were falling behind the likes of Hungary, Uruguay, and Brazil.

For the first decade no UK club managed to reach the final. Hibs, Spurs, Dundee, and Liverpool all made the semis once, and Manchester United narrowly missed out on the final three times. Gradually clubs began to adapt to the differing style of Continental football, and it was Celtic who became the first to reach a European Cup final in 1967.


1967: Celtic v Inter Milan

Celtic’s first ever run in the Cup, would prove to be their most successful. After beating Dukla Prague in the semis, Celtic faced Inter Milan. The Italians had knocked out reigning champions Real Madrid in the quarter-finals, and went into the final as strong favourites.

Inter played a typically Italian brand of defensive football, but the underdogs were quietly confident. Their manager Jock Stein had assembled a team of locals (every player was born within 30 miles of Parkhead), who knew each others’ games inside out. Although star striker Joe McBride was missing, Celtic still felt their attacking ethos could overturn even the most defensive of teams.

Just six minutes into the match, Inter were awarded a penalty, which Sandro Mazzola converted; it was their only shot on goal. The Glaswegians then had a seemingly fair goal disallowed by the referee, and two decent penalty calls turned down. Nevertheless Celtic refused to panic, and instead kept faith in their creative game.

Just after the hour-mark the Scots finally broke down the efficient Italian defence, with Tommy Gemmell blasting the ball through the keeper’s hands. Celtic continued to push forward, and Steve Chalmers grasped the winner six minutes from time, much to the delight of the Lisbon crowd who had been won over by Celtic’s beautiful.

The Scottish side became the first team from Northern Europe to be crowned Champions of Europe, and the eleven players that day were immortalised as the ‘Lisbon Lions’.
1968: Manchester United v Benfica

The year following Celtic’s triumph, Manchester United became the first English club to reach the European final. Man United did have the benefit of effectively playing at home, as the match was played at Wembley. It was a classic United starting eleven with such household names as George Best, Bobby Charlton, and Nobby Stiles on the team-sheet, though Dennis Law was injured.

The most famous player in the Benfica squad was Eusebio, the Black Panther, who had so impressed at the World Cup in England two years earlier.  The Benfica team was made up entirely of Portuguese citizens, whilst United’s starting eleven was composed of players from the British Isles.

The first half passed largely without incident, but early in the second, Charlton put the Red Devils in front. Benfica scored as equaliser through Jaime Graca with twenty minutes to go, to set the Wembley crowd on edge.

During the first ninety minutes there was little between the two teams, yet once extra time began, Man United began to dominate. Charlton bagged another goal, before Best and Brian Kidd secured the cup for Man United. It had been a long journey for the Manchester club following the Munich Air Disaster a decade before.

Though ironically, having captured the European Cup, the club went into decline. The next quarter of a century would be one of consistent under-achievement.


1970: Celtic v Leeds

This was the first time the champions of England and Scotland had met in Europe.  The media, on both sides of the border, hyped up the ‘Battle of Britain’. The English press seemed utterly convinced that Leeds would ease through the tie, despite Celtic’s European pedigree. However Don Revie’s men lost the opening leg at Elland Road nil-one through a first minute goal from George Connelly.

Celtic elected to play the corresponding fixture at Hampden Park, Scotland’s international stadium. Such was the interest that even thousands of supporters of Celtic’s arch-rivals Rangers bought tickets to cheer on the men in green and white. The extraordinary attendance of 136,505 remains a European club record, and since there is currently no stadium on the continent with a larger capacity, it will probably remain a record for the foreseeable future.

Leeds faced an uphill struggle, though their most expensive player, Allan Clarke, cost £165,000, over three times the paper value of the entire Celtic team. The Yorkshire team were clearly fired up for the match, and they started the better with Scotsman Billy Bremner, a childhood Celtic fan, temporarily silencing the mammoth crowd by scoring for Leeds early on.

Even that fine goal could not hold Celtic back. Early in the second half John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch settled the tie in Celtic’s favour with a goal apiece. Though the star of the show was the irrepressible Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone who ran the Leeds defence a merry dance all night.

Celtic was expected to win the final, but the tag of favourites did not suit the Bhoys, and they were defeated 2-1 by Feyenoord. It was the last time a Scottish team would reach just exalted heights. For Leeds it was the worst defeat in their history.


1978: Nottingham Forest v Liverpool

Today the meeting of English clubs in Europe is a common occurrence. Yet before the introduction of the Champions League format in which, ironically, non-Champions could now compete, such meetings were extremely rare. In fact this was the first fixture between two English clubs in the European Cup.

Liverpool, the reigning champions of Europe, took on Nottingham Forest who’d won their only league title the previous season. Manager Brian Clough was at the peak of his career, and there was no one his team feared. Clough, probably the most revered English manager of all time, had earned his reputation at nearby Derby County, where he had guided the Rams to the English League title.

His Forest players were still the underdogs, as Liverpool had already amassed two of their five European Cups. The first leg was played at Forest’s City Ground, and it proved to be the decisive match. Garry Birtles opened the scoring midway through the first half, and then played a part in Colin Barrett’s second.

In the return leg, Liverpool just couldn’t find a way through the Forest defence despite the partisan backing of the Anfield crowd. Forest got all the way to the final that year beating Malmo to become the smallest team ever to triumph in Europe.

The following season they retained the European Cup, becoming the only side to have been crowned champions of Europe more times than they won their domestic league.


1982: Aston Villa v Bayern Munich

Such was the dominance of English clubs in Europe at the time, Aston Villa’s surprise capture of the Cup is not widely acclaimed. In the decade between 1975 and 1985, it was assumed that whoever won the English League would have a great chance of triumphing in Europe.

Ron Saunders who had masterminded Villa’s English Championship the season before, resigned mid-campaign. Furthermore, the English Champions had made one of the poorest defences of league title in English football history, finishing the 1981/82 season in eleventh position.

Saunders’ replacement, Tony Barton, is one of the forgotten men of English football, but he led the Midlanders to the European Cup Final in Rotterdam. There they faced European giants Bayern Munich.

The contest itself was not a classic. Jimmy Rimmer was injured ten minutes into the final. He had been the substitute goalie during Man United’s 1968 European Cup victory, and would again miss out. His replacement was Nigel Spink, a future Villa legend who was making only his second full appearance for the Birmingham team. He was probably the finest player on the pitch, making a string of fine saves.

The tie was settled in the 67th minute when Peter Withe converted Tony Morley’s cross, to score the only goal.
1999: Manchester United v Bayern Munich

Man United can be considered fortunate to have even been in the final. The previous season they had finished runners-up in England to Arsenal, but the 1998/99 season was the first time that the competition had been extended to include non-Champions.

United’s greatest achievement was beating Juventus 2-3 away from home in the second-leg of the semi-final. This was the first time that manager Alex Ferguson’s had reached the final of Europe’s greatest competition.

In truth the Manchester team also played poorly in the final, but luck was on their side. Mario Basler opened the scoring seven minutes into the match with a well taken free kick. The United midfield was playing distinctly below par. Beckham was working hard, but ineffectively, and the Reds were sorely missing Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Bayern continued to create the better chances with Basler and Stefan Effenburg coming close.

Just as it appeared that Mancunian luck was running out, an amazing turnabout occurred. In injury time, substitute Teddy Sheringham scored from a corner. Lightening then hit twice. United were again awarded a corner, and another substitute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, stabbed in an unlikely winner.

The luckless and bewildered Bayern players were left slumped on the pitch as the Reds celebrated.
2005: Liverpool v A.C. Milan

Between 1977 and 1984, Liverpool dominated continental football. They picked up four European titles, and as a result are the most successful British team in Europe. Regardless, the actual finals from Liverpool’s Golden Age were not particularly exciting affairs. The same could not be said of the 2005 final. Since the 1980’s the Merseysiders had experienced a marked decline, and their appearance in the final had not been widely predicted.

Manager Rafa Benitez, considered an expert in European football, had persisted with his controversial squad rotation system, which seemed to serve the club well during a congested fixture list at the end of the season.

Captain Steven Gerrard was one of just two Englishmen to play that evening, the other being Jamie Carragher. Veteran Italian defender Paulo Maldini scored inside the first minute, and the Argentine Hernan Crespo netted a brace during the closing stages of the first half to leave Liverpool trailing by three. However in the space of just six minutes, Gerrard, substitute Vladimir Scimer and Xabi Alonso each scored a goal.

Having thrown away a three goal lead AC Milan seemed incapable of regaining the initiative. Extra time passed uneventfully, and the clash was to be decided by penalties. Serginho, Pirlo and Shevchenko all missed for AC Milan, leaving Scimer to slot home the winning penalty.

The unfancied Liverpool team, considered by many to be a shadow of their former selves, had pulled off the greatest comeback in a European Cup Final.
2008: Manchester United v Chelsea

With the introduction of the Champions League format, fans were becoming accustomed to all English ties in Europe. Nevertheless, this was the first all English final. Chelsea was led by caretaker gaffer Avram Grant, whose squad had just missed out to Man United in the league.

The star of the United team was the brash but highly skilful Christiano Ronaldo who scored in the twentieth minute. Chelsea stalwart Frank Lampard then equalised at the end of the first half.

The next talking point did not arrive until extra-time, when Ivorian Didier Drogba was sent off , becoming only the second player to be red-carded in a European Cup Final. Yet ten-man Chelsea hung on for penalties.

In a dramatic ending Christiano Ronaldo missed his penalty. Captain John Terry had the chance to seal victory, but the Chelsea legend slipped as he approached the penalty spot and misdirected his kick wide.

The contest now went to sudden death with Anderson and Kalou both scoring for their respective clubs. Ryan Giggs held his nerve to score, meaning Nicolas Anelka’s miss condemned Chelsea to defeat.


2012: Chelsea v Bayern Munich

Chelsea have often been accused of buying their success. Their Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds into the club since taking over in 2003. Yet Chelsea had never quite managed to conquer Europe.

During the 2011/12 domestic season, the Londoners had a comparatively poor time in the English league, and Abramovich had sacked manager Andres Villas-Boas. His temporary replacement was the inexperienced Roberto Di Matteo. However the Italian caretaker boss steered his team towards an unlikely European Cup Final against Bayern Munich.

Most punters were expecting an all-Spanish affair, but Bayern defeated Real Madrid in the semis, and Chelsea produced an even greater upset by eliminating Barcelona.

The German side went into the contest as clear favourites, and were fortuitous in having home advantage (Bayern’s Allianz Arena had been selected as the venue of the Champions League Final earlier in that year).

Despite this, Bayern Munich had a woeful record against English finalists. Bayern held the upper hand throughout the match and with seven minutes left on the clock, Thomas Muller scored what looked like the winner. Didier Drogba was, however, in no mood to concede defeat in his last appearance for the Blues.  He scored with a trade mark header with two minutes left on the clock.

In extra-time, Drogba then gave away a penalty. Arjen Robben’s poor strike was saved by Petr Cech, and neither team could produce a winner. Penalties were required to settle the tie. Mata missed Chelsea’s first, but his side were able to ride their luck.

Olic and Schweinsteiger both failed to convert their spot-kicks, leaving none-other-than Didier Drogba to send the keeper the wrong way and finally bring European glory to Roman Abramovich.


Written by Brian Heller

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English Premier League: The Most Capped Club Duos

With the high level of competition in the English Premier League (EPL), it’s rare for players to play together for many seasons. When it does happen, however, it’s something special, and they often form the core of a legendary team.


3. Frank Lampard and John Terry (351 games)

While both players are still playing in the Premier League, they aren’t playing for the same teams anymore. Both Lampard and Terry have won several trophies for arguably some of the best Chelsea sides ever assembled in the past decade.

Even when managers were constantly being replaced, Terry and Lampard were able to hold together the team and ensure that they achieved success on the field year after year.

This was highlighted by winning the Champions League for the first time ever in 2012, despite a brand new manager mid-way through the season in Roberto Di Matteo.


2. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs (358 games)

The dominance of Manchester United is astounding, and a lot of their success is due to career-long players like Scholes and Giggs. Giggs had an unbelievably long career that helped secure this long partnership, but was only able to do so because of his prolific technical ability.

Scholes is often rated as one of the best midfielders to ever play the game.


1. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard (382 games)

When you think of Liverpool in the past decade, you think of Gerrard leading the charge while Carragher organizes the defence. These two players were the core of a team that won several trophies over the years and were feared all over Europe.

These records only go until the end of the 2013-2014 season, but since none of these top duos are still in action, they likely won’t be broken anytime soon.

Which duo do you think has the potential to unseat Carragher and Gerrard from the top?


Written by Dale Cahill

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English Premier League: The top three best 30+ performers this season

All players decline with age no matter how gifted they are. However, some players are able to adapt their play to emphasize technical ability and intelligence over physicality, and are able to make an impact in the best leagues in the world well past their physical peaks.


3. Frank Lampard

What Frank Lampard has accomplished in the English Premier League (EPL) is unrivaled. He is the top scoring midfielder of all time, and has scored more goals than most strikers. In addition, he has been a mainstay of the English national team since a young age.

Even at the age of 36, Lampard has postponed a transfer that would result in him playing in Major League Soccer (MLS) in order to remain at Manchester City for the 2014-2015 season. He’s already scored a number of pivotal goals to help them challenge for the title.



2. Martin Demichelis

Also at Manchester City is Martin Demichelis. At the age of 34, Demichelis is sometimes exploited for his lack of pace, but does an admirable at recovering by using his intelligence and vast experience.

Despite his age, Demichelis has been a crucial part of the Manchester City team this season, starting almost every game. In the absence of Vincent Kompany for a long stretch, Demichelis stepped up to hold the defense together.



1. John Terry

Most players slow down, Terry seems to do the opposite. Even at the age of 34, he has never looked sharper. Terry has been a rock in the Chelsea backline this season as they challenge for the league title and other trophies.

Terry has stated that he has no intentions of retiring anytime soon, so don’t worry about seeing him leave any time soon. With a strong protective midfield that includes Matic, the Chelsea captain can utilize his intelligence while he directs his teammates to do any extra physical work that is needed.



While the up-and-coming stars are exciting to watch for the first time, it’s the experienced leaders that put in a shift every week that are crucial to a club’s success and stability. While they may not have as much value on the transfer market, they have tremendous value to their clubs.



Written by Dale Cahill

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Juan Cuadrado: Mourinho continues to operate under the scope of FFP but finds a diamond in the Colombian star

When Jose Mourinho returned to media commitments after his silence before and after the 1-1 draw with Manchester City last week, in protest to Diego Costa’s suspension for stamping in the League Cup semi-final with Liverpool, he would turn his attentions to City and the Financial Fair Play regulations that he believes they are in breach of. In a provocative mood after a recent period in which his relations with the media have notably soured, the Portuguese would ask for a points deduction to hit teams that fail to comply with FFP.

Of course that comes with Mourinho and Chelsea sitting in a comfortable position in relation to FFP, with the club recently tightening up their transfer policy to adhere to UEFA’s rules. “It was explained the profile of club Mr Abramovich wants, with total respect to the FFP rules. To keep the team strong, with the possibility to compete against the ones financially more powerful or against the ones who don’t care and don’t respect FFP, we had to work very hard” said Mourinho. “In my area, I tried to do that, analysing the players we can sell and those we can buy”.

Since he re-took control of the London club in the summer of 2013, Mourinho has recouped well over £150 million through selling Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, David Luiz and most recently Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah. They have helped to balance out luxurious forays into the market to sign Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas for a combined total of £62 million, but the new approach is markedly different to the past transfer windows that Arsene Wenger was quick to remember in response to Mourinho’s FFP criticisms, the ones where David Luiz and Fernando Torres would be acquired for £72 million with very little coming in return.

Mourinho calls the new policy of sensible business and the close analysis of players to ensure they are buying and selling the correct players for the correct amount of money “a challenge” and it is one that will inevitably provide errors as well as vindication for the Portuguese’s judgement along the way. For instance, for every Lukaku sold, struggling for form in the Premier League after joining Everton permanently for £28 million, there will be a De Bruyne, now leading Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga challenge to Bayern Munich with 11 goals and 13 assists since his £17 million move to Germany.

Schurrle, who was one of Mourinho’s first signings after returning to Stamford Bridge, has now followed De Bruyne to Wolfsburg after failing to hold down a regular place in a side that has its attacking spots inhabited by the likes of Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Diego Costa. With Chelsea’s strong record on injuries enabling Mourinho to remain consistent on his team selection, it has been difficult to get back into favour once injured or omitted from the side, regardless of name or reputation. Hence the sales of Mata and Schurrle, a World Cup winner who was signed for £18 million just 18 months earlier, such is Mourinho’s demanding nature and ruthless obedience to FFP.

With Mourinho bringing in Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina for a fee of £27 million, the German was the one to bite the bullet as Chelsea attempted to balance their finances, together with Mohamed Salah who has moved in the opposite direction to Florence in order to facilitate the move.

Since being signed by Mourinho last January, Salah made just 13 Premier League appearances (only 6 of them starts) and the £11 million spent to get the Egyptian winger can be bracketed as erroneous. Boasting two impressive performances against Chelsea in the Champions League earlier that season and a record of exciting form for Basel, it can be argued Chelsea’s indulgence was justified, but it is indicative of the risk taken when attempting to find astute bargains when restricted by new rules on expenditure.

Fiorentina hold the option to extend Salah’s stay in the summer and manager Vincenzo Montella has welcomed what the Egyptian winger will bring to his team, following his debut as a second-half substitute in the 3-2 win over Atalanta at the weekend. “Salah is an unpredictable and talented player” opined Montella, but that wasn’t enough for Mourinho who cherishes high-work rate and defensive contribution as well as attacking craft and guile in attack.

Failure to comply with those demands have also previously done for Lukaku and Mata but in Cuadrado, an all-round winger who has often played right-back during his time in Italy, Mourinho has seemingly found an option that possesses pace, trickery and vision as well as defensive diligence. Montella noted as such when bemoaning his loss, comparing him with the incoming Salah and saying “from a defensive standpoint, Cuadrado guarantees us a lot more than Salah. Cuadrado is a player that has always arrived with a smile and given everything to Fiorentina.” It means that Mourinho can now call on an alternative to Willian on the right flank without sacrificing the defensive graft the Brazilian offers.

Arriving on the back of an impressive World Cup showing for Colombia and a productive half-season in Italy that has yielded 4 goals and 4 assists, the 26 year old will bring an extra dimension to Chelsea’s attack with his directness and searing pace. According to Opta, the 413 completed dribbles Cuadrado has completed since making his Serie A debut in 2009 is 28 above any other player and it suggests the type of fearless attacker Chelsea have brought in.

His tireless work-rate sees him clock between 10km and 12km per match and that is a trait that Cuadrado, speaking after he made a 10-minute cameo debut in Saturday’s 1-2 win at Aston Villa, owes to a recurring nightmare which sees a witch constantly chasing him.

With Mourinho trying and failing to address his squad’s lack of genuine attacking strength in depth last January, the exciting Cuadrado looks like he could be the answer, all for a modest £26 million. They will just have to hope that witch continues to chase him.


Written by Adam Gray

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