It’s great to see Finn Harps at the top of the Premier Division table after their brace of wins over Bohemians and Dundalk. Ollie Horgan is a League of Ireland manager who makes the most of the resources and budget at his disposal and puts out a team that plays with pride and passion. Hopefully their excellent start can continue, it is a breath of fresh air.
Elsewhere in the Premier, Longford maintained their fine start, drawing 2-2 with Bohemians at Dalymount Park. Sligo impressed in a hugely entertaining 2-1 win away to Waterford, while St Patrick Athletic got their first win of the season after a 2-1 victory over Drogheda.
The First Division started this weekend. Cork got the better of local rivals Cobh Ramblers on Friday night, while Cabinteely returned from Wexford with all three points. Cabo started strongly last term too, only to falter as the campaign progressed, so will be anxious to avoid their season panning out along a similar trajectory.
Elsewhere Galway and Shelbourne played out a scoreless draw and UCD and Athlone shared the spoils in a four-goal encounter at Belfield. Bray waited until Sunday to entertain Treaty United, the newcomers heading back west with a share of the spoils after a 0-0 draw.
Does Stephen Kenny deserve more time?
‘We don’t have the players at the moment’ is a phrase that is popular at present when it comes to discussing our national team. It is true in that we don’t have as many players playing first team soccer at top-flight English sides compared to previous years, but this is a symptom of the Premier League hoovering up the best talent from around the world. English players get less of a look in too, year-on-year, and it is their own league.
Given these circumstances, there are really only two options. You get in a manager like say, Mick McCarthy, who can get the most out of what English-based players we have, make them better than the sum of their parts. Success will be limited and the football mightn’t be pretty at times, but there is still the chance of qualifying for major tournaments. We brought Mick back, and whilst I’d have preferred to have seen Captain Fantastic stay for a four-year term rather than the botched tenure he was offered, that ship has sailed.
Alternatively, you appoint some home-grown talent like Stephen Kenny and give him time. Stephen hasn’t had enough time yet. The defeats to Serbia and Luxembourg were as hard to watch for me as anyone else, but personally I don’t think the FAI should jettison Stephen now. If money was no object perhaps we could go after a big international name but the FAI have mishandled their finances for so long that it simply can’t afford to further bankrupt itself paying a king’s ransom to get in a big-name foreign coach and attendant backroom team. We need to stick with Stephen.
At this point I’d like to mention Michael O’Neill. He was given a lot of time at the start of his tenure with Northern Ireland [which included a defeat to Luxembourg] and ultimately led his side to the 2016 Euros, where they distinguished themselves. Incidentally, Luxembourg are a much-improved side than the one which defeated our neighbours eight years ago.
I’d like to see Stephen Kenny encouraged by the FAI to bring in more League of Ireland players into his squads for the remainder of this qualification group. Why not? It would be a shot in the arm to the domestic game. Realistically our qualification hopes are all but gone at this stage. Let’s stop chasing the Qatar dream and start dreaming about the future beyond.
Heading for trouble
Perhaps you caught the documentary ‘Finding Jack Charlton’ on Virgin Media One on Sunday. It was poignant. To see such an iconic figure at times unable to remember his greatest moments as a player and manager was heartbreaking. Was Jack’s dementia caused by heading the football? Partly contributed to by it?
Soccer is heading for trouble. Literally. This isn’t fresh news; it’s a story that has come to the fore intermittently since the death of Jeff Astle in 2002. The former West Bromwich Albion player was only 59 when he died, but was the first ex-player to be diagnosed with brain damage blamed on heading the ball. Gordon McQueen, who was diagnosed with dementia last month, is just the latest big name to bring the story back out of the shadows.
There have been lots of high-profile ex-players to have passed away from, or come out as living with, either dementia or Alzheimer’s. Four of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad died from one of these illnesses – Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton. Jack’s brother Bobby – another member of that squad – is currently living with dementia.
You could argue that these men were all elderly, that it is a matter of coincidence that they all died of similar diseases, and that their deaths were in no way contributed to by the heading of the ball during their playing careers. You wouldn’t get too far with that argument though, not any more.
It has been established by extensive research that former players are four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and four times more likely to die from it or another degenerative brain disorder, such as Motor Neurone Disease or Parkinson’s disease. Shocking figures.
I mentioned Jeff Astle above. He was a member of the West Bromwich Albion side that won the FA Cup in 1968. Last August another member of that side passed away, a player named John Talbut. Talbut was 79 and in the same week he died several other ex-players passed away from dementia or Alzheimer’s, including Mike Tindall , the former Aston Villa player and Barry Pierce , a former Crystal Palace forward.
Jeff Astle now has a foundation named after him and they are working towards a proper programme of care for former players who present with symptoms of the illnesses mentioned above. The foundation knows of more than 300 ex-players who have either died from or are living with symptoms, and reckon that is only the tip of the iceberg.
What’s to be done, and can football achieve it if there is? Yes, they can achieve change – the game is weathering the COVID-19 storm, and if it can survive that it can survive whatever changes dementia awareness and care could throw at it.
As to the specifics of what’s to be done, that’s a debate that needs to happen yesterday. Could players be monitored from their playing days into and through retirement for brain abnormalities? Could awareness contribute to an increased public demand on Pharma companies to stay in the Alzheimer’s / dementia space and bring meaningful treatments to market? Could the ball be changed for a less damaging one?
Back to Gordon McQueen. Players like those from the 1966 World Cup squad date back a long way, but McQueen played into the 1980’s, meaning that the problem is constantly updating itself. How long before a player from the 1990’s presents with dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Frank Worthington – who died last week aged 72 – scored the goal I remember most from my childhood. It was in April 1979 at Bolton’s Burnden Park, and Bolton Wanderers [who were Frank’s club at the time] were playing Ipswich Town, one of England’s then-strongest teams under future England manager Bobby Robson.
Worthington had his back to goal outside the Ipswich box, with a full defence behind him. A goal seemed impossible. Then he produced the magic, flicking the ball over his head, spinning on his heels and when he was the other side of the stunned defenders he caught the ball on the volley and rifled it into the net.
Worthington won the Golden Boot that season [1978-79], holding off Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish and Arsenal’s Frank Stapleton [who were both at the peak of their powers]. His goals kept Bolton up. He scored goals everywhere he went, starting at Huddersfield Town in 1966 and ending at Halifax Town 26 seasons and 24 clubs later, in 1992.
His career total of 266 goals in 882 appearances in all competitions is impressive in itself, but even more impressive is the fact that Frank did all this while being one of the game’s stand-out characters [in an era of characters, it took a lot to stand out].
Worhtington lived a playboy lifestyle, similar to George Best. Unlike Best though, who let the off-field activities ruin his career, Worthington seemed fuelled on by them to continued success. In looks he resembled Jason King, a television detective popular in the 1970’s; he also liked to dress up as Elvis.
The oft-told anecdote about Bill Shankly wanting to sign him in 1972 for Liverpool but being unwilling to complete the deal due to Frank’s sky-high blood pressure [caused by his off-field ‘activites’] sums Worthington up; he signed for Leicester City instead. In total he spent 14 seasons in the top flight, scoring 150 goals in 466 games.
Worthington had talent in abundance and a mere 8 England caps was a poor return. Successive England managers were put off by his showmanship, preferring instead to pick players who could follow instructions and not act like mavericks.
Worthington came from a footballing family. His father Eric had played professionally for Halifax Town, and his brothers Dave and Bob [both defenders] operated in the Football League in the 1960’s and 1970’s, their careers coinciding with the first half of Frank’s. Indeed, Frank was still playing when his nephew Gary [Dave’s son] came into the professional game in 1984 [Gary is now head of player recruitment at Manchester City].
Amongst Worthington’s many clubs was Galway United, where he had a brief spell in the late 1980’s. Another Irish connection was his marriage to Noel Dwyer’s daughter [Dwyer played as a goalkeeper for Wolves, West Ham United, Plymouth Argyle, Swansea City, Charlton Athletic and Ireland in the 1950’s and 60’s].