The off-field adventures and the admiring (and scoffing at certain) football stadia are important elements of the Lost Boyos universe, but ultimately it’s the sport of football that keep the whole blog alive. I mentioned in one of my previous end of season blogs that amongst the pub anecdotes and purring over sexy floodlights, I sometimes feel that I don’t put across how much I actually love watching the sport of football. But, I really, really do love football you know?
I do sometimes try to suss out what ignites such passion within me for the sport, especially as I have such little love for other sports, but asking myself such a question triggers a sort of system overload in my brain.
I’m used to people making the usual ‘but it’s just 22 primadonnas prancing around the pitch after a ball’ comments and I gave up trying to combat people with these notions a long time. When these comments are made I just smile inside, as I think about the whole host of emotions and feelings that are denied to them through such football prejudice. It seems we’re the lucky ones with the keys to such a joyous vault of such fervent sensations. Those cynics miss out on a lot: watching a crucial last gasp goal go in in front of 50,000 fans roaring with ecstasy on a floodlit European night – they’ll never have that feeling; being on a terrace when from nowhere a striker scores a gravity defying overhead kick and you’re running around hugging random strangers – they’ll never have that feeling; but, the best of all, when your humble team, against all the odds, scores 2 late goals to crush a far more prominent team in their own backyard to spark scenes of sheer euphoria – they’ll never have that feeling…and that is the best feeling in the world – when those goals for the team you support hit the back of the net.
Luckily for me, football is a far more romantic and wonderful entity to me than the lazy stereotyped ‘just 22 primadonnas’ and I can say I have had the opportunity to experience all those aforementioned feelings just listed and a hell of a lot more. And what feelings they are. So with that in mind, it’d be rude in the second part of my 5th year anniversary Top 5 blogs not to acknowledge some of those magical moments I’ve witnessed on many hallowed turfs over the past 5 years. Here we go then, from my favourite games to those players that have taken on a semi-mystical form of veneration on the blog, the Top 5 of my footballing moments of the past 5 years.
Top 5 Games
I thought about this long and hard. Obviously, you have more emotionally invested in a game involving your team (in my case, Swansea City) and thus certain triumphs for them become more memorable and meaningful. Really, this could just be a list of my favourite 5 Swansea games over the past 5 years, but that would be just a little bit boring for you, the reader, I suppose (unless you are a fellow Jack Bastard). I’ve opted for the 5 games that have provided me with the most entertainment over the past 5 years and have got my pulse racing the most. Incidentally, despite most of these not featuring my team (bar one entry) they were all emotional rollercoasters that have stayed with me.
5. Egypt 1-1 New Zealand (Old Trafford / London 2012 Olympics / 29th July 2012)
Okay, this might look a bizarre choice, but anyone who witnessed this group stage match in the 2012 Olympics will testify it was a belter. Brazil were taking on Kazakhstan at Old Trafford later in the afternoon, but for the price of one ticket, spectators could also go along to watch this earlier kick-off. As wonderful as it was to watch the elegance of a young Neymar and Oscar, the early kick-off was far better. Firstly, I finally got to see the legendary Mohamed Aboutrika play for Egypt and he was as magnificent as I had hoped – easily one of the greatest players never to play in Europe (admittedly, by his own choice it seems). It took 17 minutes for Chris Wood to put New Zealand ahead, before an impressive Mohammed Salah made it 1-1 before half-time. The second half was probably the most end-to-endhalf of football I’ve ever seen as both teams attacked, attacked and attacked, yet missed a whole host of chances. The last 10 minutes were even more wild and both teams looked absolutely knackered but determined to win – through entertaining football too I should add. Both teams missed open goals in the dying minutes before the final whistle blew. Almost in synchrony with each other, all 22 players slumped to the floor at the whistle’s blow, all completely drained of energy. It was a beautiful sight to see when the all in attendance at Old Trafford – who were probably only really here to witness the iconic yellow shirts of Brazil – stood to the their feet and clapped off both teams until they exited the pitch.
4. Arsenal 0-2 Swansea (Emirates Stadium / Premier League / 1st December 2012)
One Swansea game was always going to creep onto this list. I had a few candidates for favourite game (we did win the League Cup in the last 5 years after all) but I tried to pick the best spectacle and one I enjoyed the most. I almost picked Liverpool 4-3 Swansea in 2014, but we ultimately lost that ridiculously entertaining game. Probably my favourite ever Swansea away game though was heading to the Emirates back in 2012. This was the magical, attacking Swans in the prime of the Laudrup era taking on Arsenal’s slick passing machine. Days before, Swansea had beaten West Brom 3-1 and delivered what many Swans fans consider to be the greatest 45 minutes of football a Swansea team has ever produced. Genuinely. That football was still here v Arsenal, but Arsenal were equally elegant too. The game was a purist’s dream, but the two teams were cancelling each other out. Who would have thought Laudrup’s tactical change of bringing on Luke Moore and Dwight Tiendalli would change everything? With 89 minutes on the clock, Moore played through Michu, who lifted the ball over Wojciech Szczęsny to make it 1-0 and surely guarantee Swansea the win. That wasn’t enough though. As Arsenal threw the metaphorical kitchen sink at us, Dyer stole the ball off Carl Jenkinson and then Michu was through on goal again. Back then, he never missed. 2-0. The photo of Michu celebrating god-like in front of the pandemonium in the away end will be the iconic image of his time at the club. What a game and what scenes.
3. AFC Emley 3-4 Congleton Town (Welfare Ground / FA Vase / 3rd October 2015)
Non-league football is brilliant. A football match is obviously an unpredictable affair, but I always feel that the sometimes frantic nature of non-league football enhances that unpredictability somewhat. This epic FA Vase tie was a perfect example. We turned up in the small Yorkshire village of Emley focusing more on celebrating Gibbo’s birthday than the football itself, but the football was just too brilliant to ignore. I always really enjoy Vase games and this is the best I’ve ever been to. In a thrilling game, Emley found themselves 3-1 up in the early stages of the second half against their higher league opposition; the third goal for Emley being the peachiest of peachy goals you could see at non-league level (more on that later). The last 30 minutes was an end-to-end classic before Congleton ramped up their efforts to make it 3-3 with minutes left. Then, in the dying seconds, the away team scored a last gasp winner to break Emley hearts. A real non-league humdinger of a game.
2. Crawley Town 2-2 MK Dons (Broadfield Stadium / League One / 10th January 2015)
‘The Matt Harrold Game’ as I’ve repeatedly dubbed it. Perhaps the most bonkers game I’ve ever been to, but easily one of the best too. I turned up at Crawley in January 2015, with Crawley a sinking ship in League One and a Dele Alli-inspired MK Dons battling for automatic promotion from the league. Crawley were on an awful run of form and were supposed to lose badly to MK; so the Reds taking the lead was quite a surprise. However, shortly after scoring, their keeper, Brian ‘Beast’ Jensen, dislocated his finger and had to be subbed off; the problem was that there was no sub keeper on the bench. Donning the gloves would be striker Matt Harrold for over an hour and so everyone expected MK to now claim victory. Instead Crawley defied the script again and went 2-0 up . This led to a full-on, relentless attack on Crawley’s goal for the final 30 minutes, yet somehow every shot kept hitting Crawley defenders and Harrold himself was making some great (if unorthodox) blocks. With 15 minutes left, MK finally scored, but were still 2-1 down heading into injury time. I’ve never seen so many penalty box scrambles, but the ball was incredibly still staying out of Crawley’s goal…that was until, with virtually the last kick of the game, Alli smashed home through a host of bodies to heartbreakingly make it 2-2. I was exhausted by the end of it all. A striker in goals for over an hour; attacking football concluded with a last gasp equaliser; and, not to forget, a Crawley fan throwing lukewarm coffee over a MK player who had offended him – what more could you ask for?
1. Celtic 3-3 Inter Milan (Parkhead / Europa League / 19th February 2015)
I’d heard all about those famous European nights under the floodlights at Parkhead and by golly did this live up to the billing. It may have been a mere Europa League game last 32 game and not one of those legendary Champions League nights, but inside the stadium the atmosphere was immense and like nothing I’ve ever experienced; this was perhaps fueled by the semi-ceremonial and sentimental feel to proceedings, as Celtic were playing Inter Milan – the team Celtic had beaten in 1967 to become the first ever British team to claim the European Cup. On the pitch, this game was as spectacular and as all action as you could get, matching the cauldron of noise emanating from the crowd. Almost instantly, and completely against the run of play, Celtic were 2-0 down, before pulling it back to 2-2 – all this with 25 minutes not even gone. A Craig Gordon mistake led to Inter making it 3-2, which was the cue for a Celtic onslaught in the second half. I’m not a Celtic fan, but I was so emotionally invested in this epic that I was desperate for them to score a much deserved equaliser. Enter big John Guidetti in the role as hero, popping up in the box in the 92nd minute to score, making it 3-3 and causing scenes of delirium around Parkhead. There was utter jubilant chaos in the stands; when ‘Paradise’ roars, it is one hell of a noise. The best game I’ve ever watched live (disclaimer: without my club or country being involved).
Top 5 Goals
Nothing in the world beats the feeling of your team scoring an important goal. Nothing. Swansea scoring is still my favourite feeling in the world, but as I moved away from the Land of my Fathers, I’ve had to look for new ways to get that ‘goal feeling’ fix. Luckily, I’ve seen some worldies over the years. So, I’ve tried to take away sentimental attachments (hence no Swansea goals – although a few Gylfi Sigurdsson screamers almost crept in there) and just picked these beauties that made my heart soar.
5. Steve Settle volley (Ashton Town v West Didsbury and Chorlton / Edge Green Street / MEN United Cup / 25th October 2014)
The end of season Lost Boyos awards have always been a bit tongue in cheek, but if there’s one person who has revelled in his award more than anyone it’s West Didsbury & Chorlton’s Steve Settle. For that alone, he deserves to feature here – his goal was an absolute screamer too. Surging up the pitch from right back, the ball bounced before Settle launched a 35 yard dipping volley from near the touchline. I was right behind the shot and it soared in. Just weeks after I made that goal my Lost Boyos goal of 2014/2015, Steve moved from player to manager of West and during preseason I even got to chat with him and congratulate him on his award (which he’d been made aware of by my pal and Mr. West Didsbury & Chorlton himself, Rob McKay). I’m fairly sure it was the highlight of a great career in non-league football.
4. Ashley Flynn’s sexy lob (AFC Emley v Congleton Town / Welfare Ground / FA Vase / 3rd October 2015)
Easily the most memorable day of my 2015/16 travels was my trip to AFC Emley – a day now just known as ‘Gibbo’s birthday with the duck-covered shower curtain.’ We had a blast off the pitch, but the entertainment on the pitch was just superb too (as mentioned in my Top 5 games). This was Emley’s 3rd goal of the game and the goal that put them 3-1 up. Having just gone 2-1 up, Emley won the ball straight from kick-off, launched a tiki-taka passing move, before playing through goal machine Flynn. From 20 yards out, Flynn couldn’t be bothered with the 1-on-1 dual with the keeper and so opted for a delightful scoop over the onrushing keeper. Players and fans went crazy with Emley’s manager even sprinting down the touch line to celebrate with his players.
3. Darren Ambrose thunderbolt (Manchester United v Crystal Palace / Old Trafford / league Cup / 30th November 2011)
I love artistic goals and solo goals, but I think I only truly appreciate them on second viewing after the game. When at the game, I think it’s a barnstorming long range drive that really gets my juices flowing. This is probably the most barnstorming of drives I’ve seen live. Then Championship Crystal Palace were at Old Trafford for a League Cup tie and were very much unfancied. Ambrose was having none of that underdog stuff though as he let rip from 35 yards with a thunderous strike, which left Ben Amos pawing at thin air. I stood up and applauded, only to quickly remember that I was in the Stretford End having received the ticket for the game through a United friend. In my eyes, everyone in the stadium should have been applauding such a strike. Palace went on to win the tie 2-1 in extra time – that goal deserved to be on the winning side.
2. Jonjo Shelvey 40 yard freekick (Blackpool v Bristol City / Bloomfield Road / Championship / 1st October 2011)
Me and Jonjo have a weird connection. I witnessed him play as a 17-year-old v Swansea for Charlton (he was brilliant); I was on the Kop to witness his Liverpool debut at Anfield; and I was at the Liberty to witness his Swansea bow. Randomly, I also found myself in Blackpool the day he made his loan debut for Blackpool (from Liverpool) and fair to say I’ve not seen many better live individual performances from any player in the second tier, as he led the team to a 5-0 thrashing of Bristol City. He absolutely bossed it and had all the swagger you associate with peak Jonjo. The free kick he scored though was otherworldly. 40 yards from goal he fired low into the bottom corner. I was right behind the goal and saw it flying in from the moment he hit it. I was just worried it may break the net and wipe me out.
1. Morten Nordstrand overhead kick (FC Nordsjælland v FC Copenhagen / Farum Park / Superliga / 11th August 2013)
We had been in Copenhagen for 5 days – with a trip to Malmo for the small matter of Swansea playing in Europe in between – and this moment was the perfect way to end a brilliant week. I still watch this goal regularly on YouTube, such is its majesty. We stood on the Farum Park terrace behind the goal with the Nordsjælland Ultras watching them trail FC Copenhagen 2-1 with just over 5 minutes to go. Cue Nordstrand. Firstly, the pass from near the halfway line appeared to be a peach, but looked sadly like it would just elude Nordstrand if he threw his head at. What happened next though was just immense. Me and my pal Tom watched in awe as Nordstrand spun around, threw himself in the air and smashed home the most ridiculous overhead kick from inside the box. The keeper had no chance even though it was almost straight at him. I ran around the terrace shouting, “Oh my fucking god! Oh my fucking god!” like a lunatic drunk on Danish beer (I was). Just the best way to end any European football trip.
Top 5 Football Hipsters
I did consider doing a general Top 5 Players I’ve seen live in the Lost Boyos era, but thought it’d have been the usual superlatives about the usual superstars you already know about. The list would have held elite names like Modric, Neymar, Lahm, Scholes and of course the greatest Welshman to ever live, Gareth Bale. Number one spot most certainly would have belonged to Leo Messi – whose performance at the Etihad in the Champions League remains the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on a football pitch. Admittedly, not far behind him though would be David Silva, a player I’ve had the fortune of watching many times and I have no doubt is one of the greatest Premier League players ever; I still think he’s not celebrated anywhere near enough outside of East Manchester, where I know he is very much appreciated and adored.
Anyway, instead of waxing lyrical about such stellar names, I thought it’d be more interesting to go down the more Lost Boyos-ish route: the best hipster players of the last 5 years – a sort of sub genre of footballers which has become a bit of a running joke that has taken on a life of its own between me and my pals.
I still can’t really truly define what makes a contender for a Lost Boyos ‘hipster player’ but it usually means an exotic foreign player, usually relatively unknown, with some sort of quirk or touch of panache to them. I’ve really witnessed some wonderful footballing characters over the past 5 years to the extent that me and Gibbo once spent a semi-productive afternoon in a pub in South Wales’ most hipster town, Abergavenny, coming up with a combined Lost Boyos/ Gibbo’s 92 hipster XI, since we’ve largely shared most of the same experiences watching the more random footballers over the past years. Here’s my top 5 of the hipster cohort anyway:
5. Pablo Podio
A bit of a glimpse into who is the clear frontrunner to claim the much coveted ‘Cosmin Matei Hipster of the Year Award’ for 2016/17 at the moment. Introducing the majestic Pablo Podio of Podbrezová. When I went to watch Podbrezová v Tatran Prešov, on watching the home team warm up I took to Twitter to slate their no.19 as he had the audacity to wear different colour boots. By the end of the match I decided he could wear clogs if he wanted to – he’d probably still be a baller. The Argentinian absolutely bossed proceedings from start to finish, as he sat in the middle of the park. He did have a slight belly on him and was far from fast, adding a touch of Jan Molby to him. He was class and my favourite player that I’ve encountered in Slovakia so far (apart from Martin Mikovič of course). With Podio running the show, it’s easy to see why the small village team of Podbrezová are flying high in 2nd place in the league at the moment.
4. Bo Henriksen
The only manager ever to win a Lost Boyos award: introducing the nutcase that is Bo Henriksen. Real lower league football cognoscenti will know Bo Henriksen from his time playing in defence for Kidderminster and even briefly at Bristol Rovers, but I encountered him back in his homeland managing Danish second tier team Brønshøj BK, located on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Put bluntly, on the touchiness the man is an absolute maniac; on my encounter with him, he was a well-suited and brown-shoed frenetic ball of energy. Sadly, he couldn’t encourage his team to victory as they lost 3-1 to Hvidore. On hearing that there was a tourist at the club though, Henriksen did come and have a chat with me in the bar after the game. We talked about British football and Swansea (then managed by his prestigious compatriot Michael Laudrup) and it was soon clear that Henriksen was far less crazy off the pitch and a most amiable person. Apparently he’s now managing another lower league Danish team in the shape of AC Horsens.
3. Nelson Mota
As I lived about a 10 minute walk from Salford City’s Moor Lane, I used to find myself regularly going up to watch The Ammies – especially for midweek games. Long before the glitz and glamour of the Class of 92 arrived at Salford City, there would be about 30-50 people in attendance watching rather dire footballers play rather dire football to be honest. Then, one evening I went and there was Nelson Mota – the little Frenchman who lit up those evenings for me. Of course, many a time he’d be bullied out of games, but he never conformed to the brutish non-league stereotype and persisted in trying to perform tricks and play elegant football. On those nights, when it would all come together for him, he was magical at that level and he didn’t last very long before FC United snatched him away. The last I heard of him, Darlington were releasing him a couple of seasons ago.
2. Gareth Delve
‘Llanwern’s no.10 is football.’ That was my exact tweet, as me, Gibbo and Nicky (of My Year in the Welsh League fame) stood in the stand at Ystrad Mynach’s swish footballing centre watching what should have been a mundane preseason affair between Llanwern and Ynysddu Welfare. Thanks to Delve, it was far from mundane – it was a footballing masterclass. The entire 70 minutes of Delve on the (artificial) pitch involved the three of us swooning and making all sorts of excited noises as he tricked and danced his way around the pitch with his left foot. This wasn’t a guy with a Messi physique – this guy was tall and fairly gangly – but as fun to watch as the little maestro. Plus, he is the current holder of the Boyo d’Or (another silly award we invented) after seizing the crown from Messi himself. The world needs more Delvinhos (he calls himself Delvinho on Twitter by the way).
1. Cosmin Matei
The king of the hipster footballers. The first and only one of two players to have a Lost Boyos named after him; his legend led to the invention of the ‘Cosmin Matei Hipster of the Year Award’ (unsurprisingly, he was the inaugural winner). The Romanian enchanted me and my group of pals as we watched the rather strange friendly fixture of Dinamo Bucharest v Hearts unfold at Leigh Sports Village; yes, we had no idea why they were in Leigh either. Matei was the mercurial winger for Dinamo, as they tore Hearts apart in a game 5-1 preseason thumping. Virtually the whole 90 was spent with us gushing over Matei and crowning him ‘The Romanian Messi.’ The dream is to see him play one more time – a slightly arduous task with him now playing for Gençlerbirligi out in Turkey.
That’s me done then. Just like my last blog, let me know your favourite games, goals, players etc. Leave the comments below.