Slumming it Across Europe

Posted by on Aug 27, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Although their last serious trophy was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969, the fanfare surrounding Newcastle United’s return to the second flight has been loud and prolonged. A massive club, they really shouldn’t be here, it’s claimed, but along with former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, here they are all the same. However, the Magpies are not alone across Europe in having fallen upon hard times – there are a number of Mr. Micawbers waiting for something to turn up. Here are a few being forced to spend 2009-10 a notch lower than that to which they have been accustomed:

Torino (Italy)
The Granata have perhaps never fully recovered from the Superga disaster of 1949. All 31 on board died as the team’s plane crashed into the mountain top basilica complex overlooking Turin on May 4 of that year. A legendary formation, the Piedmontese club had won 5 titles in the 1940s and would only repeat that feat once again – in 1975-6. The current decade has seen them yo-yo between divisions with financial problems even preventing them from taking up a spot in Serie A in 2005. After a reprieve the following season, Torino enjoyed a few more seasons up top, only to tumble again in June. David Di Michele has returned from a loan spell at another claret shirted squad, West Ham, to hopefully spearhead a quick return.

Nantes (France)
The Breton city hosted former Celtic, Watford and Rangers forward Mo Johnston for a couple of seasons in the eighties and their list of alumni is a who’s who of French football, including Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly, Maxime Bossis, Fabien Barthez and Christian Karembeu as well as Argentinian World Cup winner Julio Olarticoechea and Belgian all time great Franky Vercauteren. This kind of playing roster has brought them eight French titles, with 1995 and 2001 being the most recent. Les Canaris have gone backward as new powers such as Lyon have emerged and are beginning to resemble their close English cousins, Norwich City. The club enjoyed just a single season back among the elite last year and will look to the experience of manager Gernot Rohr and former Forest and Rangers front man Jean-Claude Darcheville as well as Croat Ivan Klasnic to affect an immediate return. As the only player to have competed in a major Finals (Euro 2008) after a kidney transplant, the latter is just happy to be playing.

Real Sociedad (Spain)
There are one or two other candidates from this year’s Segunda Division and although Real Betis are a fervently supported club, they miss out in this article by virtue of their only title dating back to 1935. The Basques of San Sebastian won glory as recently as 1981 and 1982 under John Toshack, whose achievements in the Iberian Sunshine seem distant these days, and they have featured a number of familiar faces since abandoning their Basques only policy in 1989. English league stars, John Aldridge, Dalian Atkinson, Xabi Alonso, Mikel Arteta, Darko Kovacevic, Kevin Richardson, Sander Vesterveld and Bjorn Tore Kvarme have all worn the blue and white stripes; the strong ex-Liverpool and Everton contingent among these names underlining the affinity between Euskadi and Merseyside. Sociedad were relegated in 2007 and after a false start under the Championship’s own Chris Coleman, are regrouping, with the squad once again dominated by local lads.

1. FC Kaiserslautern (Germany)
The Fritz Walter Stadion is named after the West German World Cup hero of 1954, as chronicled in the movie, The Miracle of Bern and known colloquially as the Betzenberg, it has played host to some rousing triumphs. The club’s four Bundesliga successes are separated by forty years with two in the Fifties and two in the Nineties, their most recent coming eleven years ago. The Chairman is Stefan Kuntz, England’s nemesis in Euro 1996 and the large and unwieldy playing staff will do well to live up to the ghosts of heroes past such as Michael Ballack, Andreas Brehme, Hans-Peter Briegel, Youri Djorkaeff and…err…Michael Mifsud.

Dukla Prague (Czech Republic)
Ok – Dukla haven’t seriously challenged for honours for years now and are still best known for that Half Man Half Biscuit tune, but they were a huge name in Communist days, with 11 league title wins, the last of which came in 1982. At their peak, Dukla contributed heavily to the national side’s European championship win in 1976 and were the perfect example of what was known then as a “crack” East European side. Forever associated with their army links, the Velvet revolution did not provide fertile ground for them to prosper and although some ostalgie allows them to continue trading (unlike the state sanctioned Dynamo Berlin across the border), times have moved on.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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