Ten objects that shocked and shook the football world

In comparison to the more heinous crimes and misdemeanours of our European counterparts, our beautiful, but far-from-perfect game has remained relatively unscathed. We’re not without sin, save for drunken players dressing like women and trying to film a secret porno, the ‘dentist’s chair’ or Cantona’s Kung Fu Kick.

Our football, in stark contrast to other major European football nations, has steered clear of fascism, addiction, corruption, gangsterism, Gaddafi’s son, murder, mad-shaggery and killer oysters.

However, football is connected. We’re a union of European football associations. Their pernicious actions manage to reach our shores. Three cases spring to mind. Both Dundee United and Nottingham Forest in 1984 and Marseille in 1993.

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This first object is a menu from a restaurant in Rome. From here, referee Michel Vautrot would receive confirmation from Roma’s President Dino Viola that the £50,000 bribe to fix Roma’s second leg with Dundee United was on.

That a provincial side like Dundee United would exceed all expectations by winning the league was incredible, to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup with a first-team squad of 14 was epic. Here they faced Roma. In the first leg at Tannadice on a horrible, cold evening in mid-April, the Italians, full of stars such as Bruno Conti and Falcão, didn’t fancy it. The old-fashioned ground, the poor pitch, this was a blood and snotters affair. In the second half, Davie Dodds and Derek Stark made it 2-0. The impossible dream was on.

For Roma, defeat was unthinkable. The final would be hosted at their home ground, the Stadio Olimpico. The financial repercussions of failing to make the final, for many nefarious reasons, wasn’t an option. From the airport to the hotel, to the game, Dundee United were attacked, the 3.30 pm kick-off was switched to the hottest part of the day, hardly ideal for pale, red-headed Scots. Guard dogs barked constantly outside their hotel. Jeering ultras serenaded late into the night. Roma won 3-0.

In 2011, the director’s son admitted on TV the referee had been bought. Roma’s president Riccardo Viola, son of the late Dino Viola, confirmed a bribe had taken place. “Spartaco Landini, the director of football at Genoa, came to see my father,” Riccardo Viola said. “He told him Vautrot was a friend of his and that we could get at him via another friend, but he would have to be given 100 million lire [£50,000].” Liverpool won in the final, after a penalty shoot-out.

The next object, Poirot’s moustache, is here to highlight the Belgian side Anderlecht and the bribe that robbed Nottingham Forest of European glory in 1984. By 1997, evidence came to light that the Spanish referee had taken a bung to fix the second leg of the semi-final against Anderlecht.

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Anderlecht’s then-president Roger Vanden Stock confirmed his father, Constant, had bribed the Spanish referee, Emilio Guruceta Muro, paying him one million Francs – about £20,000. Anderlecht were forced to come forward when someone at the club was subject to a blackmail plot and they decided to come clean. They admitted paying the official and won the semi-final 3-2 on aggregate.

Forest were 2-0 up after the first leg but were beaten 3-0 in the return in Brussels. An Enzo Scifo volley opened the scoring, then on the hour, eyebrows were raised at the soft nature of the penalty Anderlecht were awarded when Forest’s Kenny Swain ‘tripped’ Kenneth Brylle, who converted the resulting kick.

Forest team-mate Garry Birtles said, “That penalty was the most embarrassing decision I have ever seen in football. The distance between Kenny Swain and their guy who went down was absolutely ridiculous.” Forest defender Paul Hart added, “I’ve seen footage of the incident and it confirms their man took a dive as soon as he set foot inside the area. Ken was nowhere near him. In fact, I wish he’d been a bit closer. It was a disgrace.”

Anderlecht’s third and winning goal, in the 88th minute from Erwin van den Bergh, was the killer. But then Hart scored the crucial away goal. “We got a corner and the ball flew past Ian Bowyer’s ear to me,” he said. “I headed it straight in, but the ref gave them a free-kick and ran off without offering any explanation.” Forest had been robbed. Anderlecht received their free penalty and Forest had a clear goal disallowed, a crucial away goal, in the last minutes of the game.

Hart is still vehement about the referee’s performance, “I was convinced at the time and I have never changed my mind that the referee was fixed for that game. Some of the decisions, including the one to disallow the ‘goal’ I scored that would have put Forest through, were unbelievable. He said he awarded a free-kick against me for pushing, yet I had scored from a free header.”

During the investigation, it was revealed Constant Vanden Stock approached Brussels-based criminal Jean Elst, who spoke to a friend in Alicante, who made an offer to the ref – and he agreed to fix the game for 1.2m Belgian Francs.

This next object is a bulging envelope full of cash with Valenciennes written across it. Enter one Bernard Tapie, the flamboyant and controversial millionaire who acquired Olympique de Marseille in 1986 and invested heavily over the years with top names. Tapie’s drive and ruthless ambition to succeed in Europe consumed him to the point he would be jailed.

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In 1993, they reached the first Champions League Final beating Glentoran and Dinamo Bucharest to qualify into a group with Rangers, CSKA Moscow and Club Brugge. Football instinctively smelled a rat when Marseille casually hammered CSKA 6-0. The Russians had previously stunned European football by beating holders Barcelona 3-2 at the Camp Nou and Cruyff’s Barca were out before Christmas. CSKA’s manager Gennady Kostylev claimed he was offered money to lose the game and was convinced something was wrong with his players.

In his 2006 autobiography, the player central to the match-fixing scandal, Jean-Jacques Eydelie, confirmed members of the Marseille party syringed something through the lid of CSKA’s water. Rangers were next. The Ibrox side had beaten Brugge and were Marseille’s closest rivals in the group. Mark Hateley received a strange phone call and was offered money not to play. He refused but Hateley was sent off against Brugge and was suspended for the game anyway. Marseille and Rangers were on six points. The penultimate group game at the Vélodrome ended 1-1. If Marseille defeated Brugge, they were in the final. Alen Bokšić capitalised from slack defending in a game which, when viewed in hindsight is an unsettling watch.

Domestically, the title was in the balance. Marseille’s fixture at relegation-threatened Valenciennes interrupted their preparations for the final against AC Milan in Munich. Tapie’s general manager Jean-Pierre Bernès and Jean-Jacques Eydelie approached key players in the Valenciennes side, offering cash to take their foot off the gas. For Tapie the plan was simple. Marseille win in an uneventful, injury-free game, stay ahead of PSG and Monaco and have an undramatic passage to the final a few days later.

Marseille beat AC Milan with Basile Boli scoring the only goal of the game. This was a formidable Milan side who won every game in the competition before the final. They had the best striker in the world in Marco van Basten, and one of the toughest defences to grace European football. Even reciting their classic back four zings with poetry – and stylish malice: Costacurta, Maldini, Baresi and Tassotti. But Valenciennes player Jacques Glassman informed his boss about the bribe. Tapie denied the claims and two weeks after Marseille’s historic win in Munich, a criminal complaint was lodged.

Marseille were stripped of their league title and banned from defending the Champions League the following season. Tapie eventually received a two-year sentence, of which he served six months, for corruption and interfering with witnesses.

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This SS blindfold introduces us to Alexandre Villaplane, who was France’s first World Cup captain in Uruguay, in 1930. He was born in Algiers and was the first player of North African origin to represent France. The player was spotted, coached and mentored by Victor Gibson at FC Sète. The canny coach recognised Villaplane’s leadership, tackling and passing ability. He was an outstanding defender and his country’s finest centre-half.

Villaplane’s weakness, though, was money. He was constantly transferring and lured to the capital and Racing Club de Paris. With the temptation of the racetrack and casinos – he ‘fell in with the wrong crowd’ becoming a black market racketeer, trading diamonds. He proved to be a sadistic monster and psychopath, who was seduced by power and money and was spotted by gangsters running the French Gestapo. The former French captain became a traitor, gangster and murderer, who collaborated with the Nazis and watched as prisoners were burned alive and Jews sent to prison camps. He was shot by firing squad in 1944. His charge sheet read ‘high treason and acts of barbarism’.

Here we have a postcard, an image of Rome’s Colosseum, under a beautiful azure sky allowing us to discuss the Lazio team of the 1970s featuring Luciano Re Cecconi.

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Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ are often eulogised for their madcap behaviour and high-jinx. Nothing comes close to this Lazio side who took their pranks, wind-ups and practical jokes to a different stratosphere. Of all the exhibits, this is one of the saddest and most tragic. Luciano Re Cecconi, l’Angelo Biondo (The Blond Angel) has become a legendary figure at Lazio but for the wrong reasons. He was accidentally shot dead when a prank ended terribly. This side were notorious for their practical jokes and Re Cecconi was often the instigator and at the centre of many of them.

On the pitch, he was the pumping heartbeat of the team. Re Cecconi was the mediano (a box-to-box midfielder) in the side Tomaso Maestrelli coached to win Lazio’s first Scudetto in 1974. l’Angelo Biondo had boundless energy, skill, creativity and vision which could quickly flip defence into attack.

Maestrelli joined the club when they were in the second tier. He took explosive characters such as Darlington-born Guiseppe ‘Pino’ Wilson and the volatile Giorgio Chinaglia and galvanised them, bringing order, shape and discipline to the chaos.

In December 1976, Maestrelli died, succumbing to stomach cancer aged 54. The dark winter continued when, six weeks later, practical joker Re Cecconi and team-mate Pietro Ghedin decided to visit that jewellery shop. Re Cecconi was dead at the age of 28 and would go down in history as an immortal Lazio hero. His team-mate Chinaglia would go on to play for New York Cosmos, with Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé.

Football has always had a strong connection with the sport of horseracing from race-day bonding sessions to owners such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Owen and Micky Quinn. This object, just some sugar lumps, are here to remind us of one of European football’s most eccentric and colourful owners, Perugia’s self-made, publicity-loving president, the colourful Luciano Gaucci.

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He started life as a humble bus driver in Rome. Here, he noticed the number of cleaners coming and going from shifts on his bus at all hours, so set up a cleaning company. This became a huge success. He sold the company and the money allowed him to indulge in thoroughbred horse breeding. One of his horses Tony Bin won the 1988 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He sold this horse and used the money to buy AC Perugia. As president, it was rumoured he was encouraged by Italy’s then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to help improve trade relations with Italy’s former colony, Libya, to sign Gaddafi’s son. Muammar Gaddafi seldom played, he was too busy failing drugs tests. Gaucci was eventually caught bribing a horse-loving referee, quite literally with a gift horse before he officiated a Perugia game.

This object, a golden whistle is here to remind us of a damning and comprehensive investigation into bribery and corruption of match officials codenamed Apito Dourado (Golden Whistle) into Portuguese football. The long-running investigation looked into alleged bribery of referees in 2003/04.

In 2008, FC Porto were stripped of six points and fined €150,000 (£118,000). The champions were banned for a year from the Champions League. The arrests followed tip-offs to the police after they started extensive phone tapping. Despite the high profile nature of those caught, ranging from agents, lawyers, referees and club presidents, nothing was done. Then, the investigation gained momentum when Carolina Salgado, the ex-wife of Porto’s president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa made serious accusations in her book, Eu Carolina. She claimed to have witnessed thick envelopes being passed to Augusto Duarte, Pinto da Costa’s favourite referee.

Pinto da Costa was charged on three counts of bribing referees dating back to the 2003/04 season. Salgado’s book mentioned referees calling for some ‘fruit’ or ‘coffee with milk’, the code names referred to three Brazilian prostitutes who agreed to give evidence. In another chilling excerpt, Carolina revealed she was asked by her husband to arrange for a councillor named Ricardo Bexiga, who had witnessed Pinto da Costa bribe someone to be ‘silenced’.

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Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa was, and still is, a massive figure in Portuguese football. The Porto fans adore him. Despite the Apito Dourado investigation portraying him in such a bad light, Porto fans affectionately call him ‘O Papa’ (‘The Pope’). Pinto da Costa is currently one of the longest-serving presidents in world football and has overseen victory in countless domestic and European competitions. He accepted the six-point fine but appealed the two-year ban by the Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional’s Discipline Committee, promising to clear his and Porto’s name.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, eye-witness accounts and transcripts from mobile phone tapping, Pinto da Costa was declared innocent in April 2009.

This final object, a paintbrush, is here to discuss a chap called William McCrum, from Milford, in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He has very quietly gone into history by inventing the penalty kick. His father, Robert Garmany McCrum, owned Milford Linen, a world-famous company, Robert was a daunting figure, strict and god-fearing, a successful factory owner who made millions from the cotton trade.

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William was the very antithesis, a sports-mad scholar, an extrovert who lived life to the full, loved the dramatic arts and football. He played in goal and it was from here, he came up with the idea of the penalty kick.

It’s difficult to imagine the game without penalties yet football initially rejected the idea. The Irish Football Association proposed William’s idea and were publicly derided. The proposal whipped up a storm, the newspapers and wider football community sneered at the outlandishness of the idea. At the time, the press described the penalty kick as the ‘death penalty’ for football. IFAB who oversee football’s rules promised to consider the proposal at a later meeting but were disdainful, dismissively describing it as the ‘Irishman’s Motion’.

The game’s rapid growth and popularity saw many serious injuries and reports of violent outbursts among players. William’s concept of awarding those fouled in the box a penalty kick was about integrity and the spirit of the game. The penalty proposal was eventually approved in June 1891.

Before penalties were awarded, defenders would save goalscoring opportunities with a handball, knowing at worst they had only conceded a free-kick which half the team could block by standing in front of the ball. The penalty award proved a hit, was a fairer option and added a sense of theatre and tension to the game. It also encouraged skill and sportsmanship while helping to quell the aggression which had been allowed to permeate into the game.

Not made of the right stuff, William was shut out of the family business. He rebelled by travelling, seeing the world, and amassing eye-watering gambling debts. The narrative was driving his life toward the clichéd, flawed, imperfect conclusion and he didn’t disappoint. His cheating wife left him with their child, for another man, to live in the south of France. In the end, it was the Wall Street Crash that finally did it for him; the linen business and any income were gone. He died penniless, in Armagh before Christmas, 1932.

Football is about the human condition, it’s the people’s game – the mercurial outrageousness, absurdity and idiocy should not shock us, yet it always does.

A History of European Football in 100 Objects: The Alternative Football Museum by Andy Bollen – published by Pitch Publishing – is out on 14 February 2022

Ten objects that shocked and shook the football world
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