Thursday, 21 June 2012


Having once found a blood-spattered note titled ‘14 semi-literate football-writing fuckwits that must be killed in the most gruesome way possible’ sellotaped to The FCF’s fridge, I knew they were fond of an unusual list: Goalkeepers beginning with Z, an Apostrophe XI – nothing is too esoteric.

So, I thought about writing a list for the European Football Experts that was thematically linked to the Euros being held out there behind the old Ironic Curtain, in the land of hard liquor, neo-Nazi psychos, pornography, Stalinist carbuncles, stag-dos, bad roads, scant interest in male grooming products, dodgy wi-fi at hotels that frankly should know better, interesting vinegary food, dense bread, massively callous gangsters, and totalitarian nostalgia. Oh, and one-footed, left-footed magicians (OFLFMs) with a fitba at their feet.

Why left? Well one has to be cautious about drawing weak parallels with political left-wingers – since, frankly, it doesn’t quite fit with the notion that the East is like 28 Days Later, rabid neo-fascists hating their own hate, right-wingers galore – but this is the age of inverted wingers, so lefties can play on the right with success. Anyway, before I get lost in this mazy dribble of a metaphor, here are 10 players who may have used the right foot only for standing – and walking, I presume, perhaps jogging and swimming, too – but it mattered not. These men were geniuses…

The Slovene prima donna from was probably the greatest player ever with the initials ZZ. No, hang on… Anyway, he definitely came from Eastern Europe, and he definitely had a good left peg, which he put to use in the warmer parts of Europe (Porto, Benfica, Valencia, Olimpiakos) with mixed results, as well as ‘inspiring’ (being tolerated because he was half-decent) Slovenia to back-to-back major championships, in the second of which (World Cup 2002) his ass was hauled off in the opening game defeat by Spain, whereupon he had a punch-up with the coach and his ass was long-hauled back to Ljubljana. His hair in both tournaments was alice-banded to perfection.

Dear Man City fan of 2032 AD: Once upon a time your club would have struggled to mither the Manchester Senior League’s trophy engravers, even though you had the odd cultic wizard from the East. Where Krazimierz Deyna wowed Moss Side in the 80s, Georgi ‘Kinki’ Kinkladze did it for a couple of years in the mid-90s, momentarily persuading the Gallagher brothers to get their beaks out of their stash of ‘Gianluca’ in order to watch the Georgian troubadour strap Velcro to his left tootsie and zigzag his way to some of the most memorable golazos in English football history. Despite playing for such cult institutions as Ajax, Boca Juniors and Dinamo Tblisi, he must be filed under Unfulfilled Talent since, by the age of 30, he was trialling for Anorthosis Famagusta.

“Who?” you say. Who?!?! Call yourself a #europeanfootballexpert? Frankly, if you don’t know your Czech box-to-box midfielders of the 50s and 60s, his country’s UEFA Golden Player, scorer of the opening goal in the ’62 World Cup final, then you can do one. He even came 96th in the Top 100 Players selected by Football Pantheon (motto: mi research, su research) and had a dribble named after him: ‘the Masopust slalom’. 

Instrumental in Yugoslavia’s semi-final defeat of England at the 1968 European Championship and voted in the All-Time XI for that competition, Red Star Belgrade’s chalk-heeled dribbling wizard of the sixties and seventies is, nonetheless, one of the unsung greats of European football, and he certainly had a Sweet Left Foot. He was also one of the club’s great administrators – as President, he stopped warlord Arkan buying the club – but in late 2011 he was arrested on corruption charges relating to various transfers on his watch. Imagine Trevor Brooking being outed as a people trafficker.

Tempting as it was to go with Aljosa Asanović, that languid sidekick of the plaudit-hogging Zvoni Boban (cop kicker) and Bob Prosinečki (bifter chugger), thus giving Derby County another representative here, I have instead to go for his colleague Lyle Lovatt Davor Šuker. No, he’s not a deep-lying playmaker. No, he’s not a floating trequartista enganche number 10. Yes, he was a goalhanger. Even so, a goalhanger whose left foot was the proverbial wand, and who therefore qualifies as a magician.

‘The Maradona of the Carpathians’ was a top-notch roaming playmaker, a legend at Galatasaray at the end of a career that took in both Real Madrid and, for a couple of years, Barça, sitting on his shooting stick somewhere on their Big Pitch when the oppo had possession, then strolling wherever the fuck he felt like strolling, socks down, when his team had it, generally looking shifty, like an ambitious second-rank gangster scheming to whack the boss. And what a schemer he was, swinging that little ham trotter through the pig’s bladder to score some preposterous goals, especially from dead balls. A genius who was more sinister than gauche.

Learned his trade under another leftie sorcerer in Lobanovskyi, the unthinking man’s Jim Smith, and won the Ballon D’Or in 1975 – presumably for being shit hot, which YouTube can confirm he was. Wiry as a windurfing whippet and pacey to boot, Blokhin was not as one-footed as the others (thus possibly anomalous under the exigent criteria of this ‘ere list, which of course merits a shoeing…for YOU if you bother to make the point), but with his rigid parting and bouncy fringe, he definitely looked good in the old CCCP jersey (which, incidentally, is the abbreviation of the FCF’s one-word descriptions of the England midfield: P for prodigy or prick, depending whether Ox or Ashley Louganis is out left).

As with Hrvatska and Asanović and Suker, so too the Bulgarians who preceded them as unlikely World Cup semi-finalists had their pair of OFLFMs: the lefty regista was sometime physics PhD and Fame extra Krasimir Balakov, while what some butterheaded pundit incapable of thinking beyond superficial resemblances would no doubt call ‘the Šuker role’ was filled by Hristo Stoichkov, a man whose wallet definitely said ‘Bad Mutherfucker’ on it and who was as similar to Šuker as an omelette is to Greenwich Mean Time.

He was a quicksilver, aggressive forward (not ‘striker’) with thighs like lutes who rarely used the right peg (and even more rarely had anyone question him over it). Of course, he became famous as part of Cruyff’s Barça Dream Team – where Fresian farmhand Ronald Koeman was respected, Michael Laudrup was admired, and Romário was enjoyed, it was the Bulgarian that the culés loved. And Cruyff rarely left him out in the era of the three foreigner rule.

Twice runner-up as World Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or winner in 1994, when he inspired Uncle Bulgaria to the World Cup last four with a famous victory over Germany en route to the golden boot, he oozed talent, passion and menace, and was for a while the world’s most charismatic player, especially when transliterated in Catalan: STÒITXKOV. (Incidentally, it might be worth someone doing a psycholinguistics doctorate to ascertain whether there’s a connection between Cyrillic script and callousness.)

Barça were not the only club with issues when it came to UEFA’s three foreigner rule. AC Milan also had an abundance of imported talent – including, when he arrived in 1992, van Basten, Gullitt, Rijkaard, Boban, Papin and later, Desailly, Weah and Brian Laudrup and – but perhaps the brightest creative star was the man known as ‘il genio’. He played with an almost childlike joy and innocence, an old-fashioned dribble-till-you-fall-over-exhausted sort of player who dropped more shoulders than players in a State of Origin final and was silkier than a barrister’s wardrobe. In the mood, unplayable.

‘The Galloping Major’ – no, not the nickname given our former cricket-loving Tory PM when engaged in horseplay-roleplay at Bullingdon’s déclassé Tuesdays, but the moniker of the most famous of the Hungarian ‘Golden Squad’ that went 50-odd games unbeaten at the start of the 1950s. Puskás also won a few trophies at Real Madrid, but it is his goalscoring record of 84 in 85 for his country (or 0.9882352941 goals per game) and over a monkey for his clubs that staggers, and is even more phenomenal when you realize every single one was scored with his left peg. Every. Single. One.  

Feel free to suggest alternatives to The FCF on Twitter, using the hashtag #onefootedleftfootedeasteuropeanmagicians, which leaves you with a whole 99 characters for your polysyllabic Poles and tongue-twisting Tchecoslowhackians. For those among you who are thick as pigshit, these are the countries you can choose from: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia. Oh, and YugoslaviaCzechoslovakia and USSR

Friday, 15 June 2012


So, you can either take my word for it or, better still, do the research for yourself, but for this piece I went through every division of every league across the world, primarily using this website and the following 10 were the best club badges I found. Yes, the best; the crème de la crème. How I arrived at this judgement is far too complicated a process to explain, but it involved the conception of various algorithms and absolutely no whimsicality whatsoever. I’m so sure of these results that I didn’t even bother to speak to anyone who knows anything about design, just to see if their frankly unscientific take on things accorded with the facts, as established, as I say, through rigorous scientific method. So, without further ado, here are the top 10 club badges in world football:

I don’t know how many octopi are caught off the coast of Albania (not that Lushnjë is even on the coast), but whatever the reason for having a red octopus as their badge, this is wonderfully bizarre: alien head with eight sucker-less tentacles drawn on. Lev Yashin, the ‘Black Octopus’, didn’t play at the Albanian club (maybe he’d had enough of everything being red in USSR) but they did once have Mario Kempes as coach (I shit you not), so they have to be pretty cool on that basis alone. I only hope they managed to sell a few replica shirts on the back of the brief fame of Paul, the ‘psychic’ Octopus from the 2010 World Cup.* 
I was very tempted to go with Bari or Doxa Katokopia; maybe next year...

When it comes to cool football crests, clubs from the former Soviet bloc have a distinct advantage: Cyrillic inscription. I have only bought one replica shirt in my life – FC Cherno More (ПФК ЧЕРНО МОРЕ), from Varna, Bulgaria – and did so on that basis alone. The Minsk crest looks like many from the westernmost republics of the USSR, a corona-like shape enshrining a single D for ДИHAMO that looks, ironically enough, like one of the initial letters one might see in the cap or jersey of a Major League baseball franchise. Anyway, there’s nothing especially outstanding in any of the individual elements of this crest and I couldn’t really put my finger on why it works so well – it does, doesn’t it – but it just pips its close cousin, Dynamo Kyiv*, to a place in the top 10. It reminds me of chocolate.  
* Yes, this is the universally accepted spelling among my #europeanfootballexpert amigos, even if Iceland persist in calling them Chicken Kievs

Another monochromatic design, this time centred around a single large red star (now where have I seen the connection of that symbol with fitba before?) flanked by the club’s name in both Roman and Arab script – the latter’s intrinsic, font-transcending beauty attested to by thousands of hastily conceived tattoos on the arms of people who probably think that all people from Islamic nations are jihadist psychopaths; the former’s presence justified by the fact that semi-francophone Tunisia was also once a stronghold of the Roman Empire (Hannibal, lecteur?). Based in Soussa, Tunisia’s third city, Étoile were the first club to win all the competitions organized by the African Confederation (only Juve - in Europe, of course - have also managed this feet) so deserve a badge that conveys potency, and nothing conveys potency like a big star. Apart from a fist. Or a hammer. Oh, they're also nicknamed the Red Devils, though quite why a Maghrebian club would have a Viking for their mascot is beyond me... 

There’s an elaborate, Baroque quality to this crest, very much in step with the wonderfully ornate yet still elegant Islamic architecture of the first half of the last millennia. This is perhaps surprising, given that the club is only twenty-two years old in present form, having metamorphosed from the footballing caterpillar that was the municipality’s water distribution company team. They have come a long way wuickly, however, and now compete in the Süper Lig while playing their home games at Turkey’s biggest stadium, the Atatürk, 76,000-capacity scene of Liverpool’s Six Crazy Minutes™ in 2005. Anyway, the copper and blue colours work well together, I feel, but the real killer, and that which sets it above its major city rivals (the ‘Big Three’ of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş), is the incorporation of the minarets of the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s most famous landmark. (Author’s note – they could well be generic minarets. I giveth nary a fuck.)

There’s a simple design rule when it comes to animals on the crests of sports clubs: the more representative or naturalistic the image, the worse it’s likely to look, with the possible exception of eagles. Naturalistic or not, I do like a good bird of prey – Seattle Seahawks, for instance, although that could be a Frasier thing – and the Sheffield Wednesday owl (designed by Jarvis Cocker, Prince Naseem Hamed, Peter Stringfellow and Roy Hattersley) is beautifully rendered. It’s positively funky. Perhaps an ornithologist might tell me which breed it is: tawny, barn, snow or teat?

Simplicity: the eternal key to design (and plans, according to what Walter Sobchak learned in Vietnam). It’s like those round glass ashtrays with equidistant grooves at north, south, east and west – it cannot be beaten, it will outlast all fads, it should be embraced as the zenith and subsequent design energy should be expended elsewhere. So, football crests that look like they’ve come from the heraldry of some bogusly important family are not at all appealing to me. In fact, they are as likely as anything to breach my psychopathy hymen, but that’s another yen. Anyway, quite why a team from Prague have a green kangaroo as its emblem, lord only knows. I guess they’re just being, y’know, bohemian. Well, they’ve succeeded.  

Before the pandemic cynicism and consumer apathy of us postmoderns took root, there came an era that believed deeply in the transformative (political) power of culture (or art, as they preferred to call it). Indeed, one of the common claims of modernism (which probably died sometime in the late 1960s) across the various visual arts was that design could ennoble and civilize. Perhaps the quintessential expression of such utopianism was in the architecture of men such as Le Corbusier, whose famous Unité d’Habitation building in Marseille conflated form and function in an ideal of modern urbanism. Or something. And perhaps it is apt, then, that one of the great badges of world football is also found in France’s rough-and-ready southern maritime metropolis, on the famous shirts of the country’s only European Cup winner (whence the star), L’OM, who call home the imposing, raucous Stade Vélodrome. “Straight to the Goal” indeed…

False 9 is partial to football badges that resemble the labels of designer beers or the stamp of quality cheeses and, with all due respect to Heineken-esque Étoile du Sahel, the best of these is without doubt Polish fourth division side Orlęta Łuków, a crest in which the town’s possibly un-PC symbol, the dancing bear, is encircled by the O of an eagle, in a design that would not look out of place on aforementioned overpriced hops-based libation.

When it comes to design elegance, Paris already has something of a head start on, say, Rotherham. Or Cluj. Even so, if you’ve conjured a football club into being in 1970 from the merger of two pretty unsuccessful ones, and you are looking for an iconic structure to incorporate into your logo, then it probably merdes all over everywhere else (New York, Rio, Cairo and one or two others maybe have a shout), including Istanbul. Sorry, Buyuksehir… Beneath the Eiffel Tower is, apparently, a fleur-de-lis and the cradle of Louis XIV, the Sun King, symbol of Saint-Germain. Anyway, when it comes to swank it has until now been more style than substance; however, where PSG once had a midfield featuring Ronaldinho, Jay-Jay Okocha and Mikael Arteta (I’ll take that style any day, ta), they’ve now been bought out by some money jizzers from Oilville and are probably only going to get a whole lot cooler and better. So, quick: add them to your list of hipster clubs whose shirts you’ve got to buy, if only ‘cos their crest’s a whole lot swisher than Athletic Bilbao or Borussia Dortmund, ja?  

One of the very, very few football crests that wouldn’t look totally shit as a tattoo, Forest’s ingenious tree-and-river design is the quintessence of simplicity, to an almost infantile degree (wavy lines = water), while also ticking the design box marked monochromatic and even being confident enough to throw in a lower case ‘e’ among the capitals. Back in the day when football shirts were unadorned with players’ names, sponsors’ names, or even manufacturer’s names, Forest’s white emblem on red shirt looked cool-as, especially during their romp to back-to-back Big Cups. And for those pious souls among you who like to fetishize the badge or the shirt as some sort of eternal or immortal representation of the identity of the club, get this: it wasn’t the original crest (but I guess you already knew they didn’t do design like this in the 1860s, right?). Yes, that’s right: they changed it, the heartless corporate bastards. They ripped the very essence of the club out and wiped their arses all over it…

20 near misses 

And one that didn’t make the final longlist… 

AS Beauvais Oise (France)