The Football History Boys: My Top 10 of the Last 10 Years | @GJ_Thomas

This week, Ben and I can celebrate The Football History Boys reaching its 10th birthday. When we set the website up from our freezing cold uni house in 2013, we could never have imagined we'd still be writing ten years later. In 2013 we saw football history as a gateway to so much more than just the scorelines with over 150 years of stories to read, dissect and share. As we've been researching and writing, history has continued to be made as the last 10 years have provided its own defining moments. In this blog, I'm going to look back at each year from 2013-2022 and offer my personal choices for my most memorable footballing moments.

2013 - Cardiff 3-2 Manchester City, Premier League, 25 August 2013

On 25 May 2003, I watched Cardiff City earn their promotion to the Championship as they beat QPR 1-0 after extra-time at the Millennium Stadium. Just over a decade later and Cardiff City lined up for their first home game of the 2013/14 Premier League season, their first ever Premier League match, their first top flight game since 1961/62. 

Man City, with their A-List team featuring Sergio Agüero, Yaya Touré & David Silva travelled to South Wales looking to start their campaign strongly, after rivals Man United lifted the title the previous season. As a Cardiff fan I hoped we would give a strong showing but I hardly expected anything special!

However, the Bluebirds (now playing in red of course, thanks for that Vincent Tan!), turned up and delievered. After Edin Dzeko opened the scoring in the 52nd minute, Cardiff quickly struck back. My favourite all-time Cardiff player, Aron Gunnarsson, levelling in the 60th minute. Things were to get better though, Fraizer Campbell (79', 87') bagged a brace and Cardiff City Stadium was in dreamland, 3-1!

Man City did launch a late comeback attempt through Álvaro Negredo, his goal in the 92nd minute made it a nervy finish in front of the 27,068 in attendance and for those watching on Sky Sports that Sunday afternoon. The Bluebirds hung on for the 3-2 victory and it is a game I will never forget, what a start (to what turned out to be a disappointing campaign)!

2014 - Brazil 1-7 Germany, FIFA World Cup Semi-Final, 08 July 2014

Brazil's men are the most successful international football team of all-time. Winners of the 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 tournaments, the chance to win it again on home soil was something the whole nation dreamed of. The only other time Brazil had hosted the World Cup was 1950, where the infamous 'Maracanazo' incident saw Seleção lose the competition in the final game to Uruguay.

Led by poster boy Neymar, 2014 was a chance to right the wrongs and lift an unprecedented sixth trophy. Brazil had marched through the group, winning two and drawing their final group match to ease into the knockout rounds. The Brazilians would then see off Chile on penalties, before beating fellow South Americans Colombia 2-1 in the Quarters, setting up a mouth-watering Semi-Final clash with the Germans. Neymar however, had picked up a serious back injury and would miss the biggest game of his life.

Turning up to the Heath Pub, Cardiff, I expected a tight, nervy affair as often Semi-Finals are. What I was not expecting, was a 7-1 goal fest for the ages. After just 11 minutes, Thomas Müller gave Germany the lead, the underdogs doubling this lead in the 23rd minute through Miroslav Klose. At 2-0 Brazil couldn't afford to concede anything more, but just one minute later Toni Kroos made it 3-0, netting again in the 26th minute, before Sami Khedira 29th minute goal saw the score reach 5-0, in just half an hour - absolutely staggering!

The Semi-Final was clearly over by half-time, but Germany were not finished there. Andre Schürrle (69' & 79') added a brace, and despite Oscar's injury-time strike, the game would finish 1-7. A totally mind-blowing game of football!

The picture above shows a man caught on TV, weeping with his World Cup trophy. It marked the sadness the nation felt, an opportunity to erase 'Maracanazo' blown, and a new 'Mineirãzo' tragedy was born. The Cardiff pub I watched this in was stunned at what they were witnessing, a moment never to be forgotten.

2015 -  Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United, Premier League, 28 November 2015

I am a massive Fantasy Premier League fan, it makes watching football for me. Especially being a Cardiff City supporter, often not having a 'horse' in the Premier League, it gives you people to cheer on week by week. Sometimes, such as in 2022/23 with Erling Haaland, there are 'must-haves'. In 2015/16, the 'must-have' was Leicester City's Jamie Vardy.

Jamie Vardy's story to reach the top flight is incredible. After being released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16, Vardy did not give up on football, joining Stocksbridge Park Steels where he would score 66 times in 107 matches. His form earned him a £15,000 move to 7th tier Halifax Town in 2010, where his 26 goals helped win Halifax the league. Vardy would be on the move again, Fleetwood Town bought him to join them in the Conference Premier (National League, 5th tier). Another 31 goals in just 36 matches would follow and Vardy finally got his move to professional football, Championship club Leicester City for £1m.

Just five years after his Halifax Town move, Vardy was now a proven goalscorer and the main threat for a Leicester side who had only just survived relegation the previous campaign. The Foxes had controversially parted company with manager Nigel Pearson, appointing Claudio Ranieri in what was seen as a risky move. With some smart signings, Leicester started the season in fine form, as did striker Vardy.

On 28 November 2015, Vardy would break a Premier League record as he became the first player to score in 11 consecutive matches, netting 13 in those games. On 29 August he began his run with a penalty v Bournemouth, then scored v Aston Villa, Stoke City, 2 v Arsenal, Norwich City, 2 v Southampton, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Watford & Newcastle. His composed finish following a Christian Fuchs through ball helped him break Ruud van Nistelrooy's record and earn an important point v Man United at home.

Of course, this is the season Leicester would go on to win the Premier League title, the underdog story that is now etched in modern English football history. Vardy's 24 strikes was vital to his side's title win and that run of 11 consecutive games helped the Foxes pile on the points.

2016 - Wales 3-1 Belgium, UEFA Euro 2016 Quarter-final, 01 July 2016

Being a Cardiff City & Wales fan means your footballing experience is, on the whole, negative. Your personal sporting experience is characterised by failure, frustration or even misery. For Welsh football fans this was the case ever since Wales' last international tournament proper, the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden.

However, in 2016 Wales would qualify, and that feeling itself was euphoric - Wales would be at a major tournament! But as a footballing pessimist my excitement was marred by fear we would flop in France, particularly being drawn in the same group as England. Come the June/July of 2016 though, I experienced the best summer of my life, as Wales far exceeded any expectations even the most optimistic fan had.

It took just 10 minutes for Gareth Bale to send the imagination running wild, the greatest Welsh footballer of all-time beginning to cement his status as he opened the scoring v Slovakia. Ondrej Duda equalised, but in the 81st minute, Hal Robson-Kanu won Wales' opener and a big tick was secured, we had won a game at a major tournament. 

England followed, and watching at the school that I worked at was painful. Bale again proved his importance with a stunning free-kick but Wales suffered heartbreak as Daniel Sturridge's 92nd minute winner sunk the Welsh late on. This led to a tricky tie with Russia to make it out of the group stages. Watching in Cardiff's fanzone, Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Bale again all scored in a mighty 3-0 win that actually saw Wales top their group ahead of the English.

Wales then beat Northern Ireland 1-0, as I watched from the Swansea fanzone, a Quarter-Final v the much-fancied 'dark horses' Belgium awaited. Back in the packed Cardiff fanzone the pessimist in me returned, just 13 minutes in Radja Nainggolan's stunner gave Belgium a 1-0 lead, "uh oh, this could get ugly!". Step up captain Ashley Williams... The centre-back, not known for goalscoring, headed home to level the clash at the break. 

The joy of the fanzone that fateful summer

Into the second half and here is the moment that will never, ever be forgotten. Free-agent Hal Robson-Kanu pulled off one of the most staggering Cruyff-Turns you will ever see. The striker turned three Belgian defenders and finished expertly to send the Cardiff fanzone into absolute hysteria. The rest of the game was packed with tension until substitute Sam Vokes headed a third for the Welsh - 3-1, unbelievable!

This game would later play a far-too-large-a-part in my wedding day speech as I reminisced on the joy of the match. Despite losing 2-0 to eventual winners Portugal in the Semi-Finals, no Welsh football fan can ever have a conversation without referencing this beautiful summer!

2017 - Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona, La Liga, 23 April 2017

I am a fully-fledged #TeamMessi member in the Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo debate. As a Brit, with Sky Sports owning the La Liga TV rights in the late 2000s-early 2010s, you could catch all the big games, namely the El Clásicos that felt like they were every other week in this period. The Pep Guardiola (Barça 2008-2012) v José Mourinho (Real 2010-2013) era also added huge drama to proceedings. By 2017 with both managers long gone, it was Messi v Ronaldo that still continued to steal the headlines. 

On 23 April 2017, Barcelona would travel to the Santiago Bernabéu needing a win to keep their title hopes alive as they chased Real Madrid, who themselves were seeking a first title since 2012. Messi as ever was the target of heavy treatment from Madrid, a notable elbow to the face from Marcelo causing Barcelona fans a brief worry as cameras showed a bloodied Messi's face.

After 28 minutes Real Madrid struck first, Casemiro tapping in a rebound from the post to send the Bernabéu wild. Messi though, who had been running around with a tissue to stem the blood, would level things just 5 minutes later. Beating two defenders he slipped the ball home and Barça were back in things. 

Into the second half things would explode as the tension grew. Ronaldo blazed over a good chance, before Ivan Rakitić gave the visitors the lead in the 73rd minute. Minutes later Sergio Ramos picked up a customary red card for a wild lunge on Messi, Real Madrid were down to 10 men. Despite this Los Blancos pushed for an equaliser and it came, through James Rodríguez with just 7 minutes to go.

Barcelona could not afford to drop points in the title race and with just 12 seconds of injury time remaining it would be Messi's heroics that sealed the game. Jordi Alba pulled an inviting ball back to the edge of the area where Messi hit it first time to the bottom right-hand corner, an beautiful finish to steal the three points. Real Madrid players collapsed to the turf, whilst Messi, celebrating his 500th Barcelona goal, whipped his shirt off and displayed it to the home crowd at the Santiago Bernabéu, an iconic image!

2018 - Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final, 26 May 2018

As I settled down for this Champions League Final, it was one of those games where what you wanted to happen was probably unlikely to. Welsh hero Gareth Bale only started on the bench for Real Madrid, it had widely been reported that manager Zinedine Zidane did not fancy Bale and his time was coming to a close in Madrid. Equally, the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo winning yet another Champions League had me supporting Liverpool. 

After a goalless first 45, Karim Benzema would open the scoring for Real Madrid in the 51st minute. Liverpool struck back quickly, Sadio Mané (55') netting to level things up. After an hour, Zidane relented and subbing off Isco, Gareth Bale was sent on for Los Blancos. A room full of neutral/leaning-towards-Liverpool Welshmen in Cardiff suddenly wanted Gazza B to stamp his mark on this final.

Less than three minutes after entering the fray, Gareth Bale had his moment. Left-back Marcelo swung in a high cross and Bale threw himself at it. With his only option for making any contact on the ball via an overhead kick, the chances of Bale catching it sweetly enough to even go near the target were minimal. However as was the genius of Bale, he caught it perfectly and the ball flew into the top-left corner of the net, it was a goal that you could only dream of scoring, and he had done it in the Champions League Final.

The living room I watched the game in exploded, we cheered, we hugged, someone even removed their top and swung it above their head - what a goal! Added to his first, Bale would seal the game 3-1 with a 40-yard audacious effort that swerved past the unfortunate (& incidently concussed) Loris Karius in between the Liverpool sticks. Bale was the final's Man of the Match, and despite Ronaldo earning another UCL medal, it was the Welshman who had stolen the show (much to Ronaldo's ire!).

2019 - Manchester United 0-2 Cardiff City, Premier League, 12 May 2019

Following Cardiff City is not often a journey flushed with success (as you may have gathered from this blog so far). From 5-hour each way away trips to Scunthorpe (1-1 draw) to three Wembley finals (lost them all), I wouldn't swap supporting my club for anything, I have just learnt not to expect too much. In our first Premier League campaign in 2013/14 we were relegated, in our second attempt in 2018/19 we also had been relegated.

Our last game in the top-flight would be against Manchester United at Old Trafford. With not knowing how long it would be before we returned again, and with having friends living not far from Old Trafford, it was a must-do away trip. Already relegated the pressure was off but I hardly expected us to beat the Red Devils at home, especially with my shocking win record on the road following Cardiff. 

After 23 minutes winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing got in behind and was brought down by Diogo Dalot. Mendez-Laing stepped up and tucked away his penalty to give us Bluebirds fans something to celebrate in the away end. United plugged away throughout the game, Cardiff keeper Neil Etheridge pulling off some fine stops to keep us ahead at the half.

On 54 mins Josh Murphy found a wide open Mendez-Laing who slotted home his second of the game to double our advantage and send it to party time for the Cardiff fans preparing for the Championship next season. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, widely regarded as one of Cardiff's worst managers of all-time, was roundly booed by both home and away fans in unison at full-time to finish the season. For Neil Warnock, he had a victory to remember in what would be his last ever Premier League match.

2020 - Liverpool 2-3 Atlético Madrid, UEFA Champions League Last 16, 11 March 2020

2020 as a year is one that no one who lived through it will ever forget as long as they live. The COVID-19 pandemic struck globally and whole countries entered lockdown. In the resulting years debates have raged about lockdowns, whether countries did so too early or too late, but one thing for sure is, but March 2020 the virus was rapidly getting out of control.

Football is a global sport, a sport where not just teams, but thousands of fans travel from country to country regularly. With talks of football being shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Champions League clash at Anfield between Liverpool and Atlético Madrid would still go ahead. 

Liverpool had spent the Premier League season looking like ending a 30 year title drought, Jürgen Klopp's heavy metal football helping them to win match after match. The Reds were also the Champions League holders, having beaten Spurs the previous campaign and the travelling Atleti squad had a 1-0 advantage coming into the match from the home leg. 

The tie was an instant classic, Gini Wijnaldum's first half goal levelling the contest on aggregate and sending it to extra-time. The bonus half hour was where things went a bit bonkers, Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a 2-1 aggregate lead 4 minutes in, but just minutes later Marcos Llorente scored to give Atleti an away goals lead. Keeper Jan Oblak had made a string of saves throughout the match for the visitors, and continued to do so. Llorente then bagged again on the brink of half time in extra-time, and the much lamented Alvaro Morata sealed the deal for the Spaniards in the 121st minute, a 4-2 aggregate victory in England for Diego Simeone's boys. 

I remember watching this game, enjoying it's breathless brilliance, but also clearly thinking "should this game be going ahead with all these travelling supporters?". 12 days later on 23 March, as the spread of the virus worsened, at 8:30pm Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 'stay-at-home order' that would be effective immediately. Sport was suspended and for many months we were left with just the memories of games like this one.

2021 - Italy 1-1 England (Italy won 3-2 on penalties), UEFA Euro 2020 Final, 11 July 2021

As noted, I am a Welshman, and part of being Welsh is not wanting England to win at anything, it is in the birth contract if you will. On the whole, during my lifetime, this has been quite easy to live with, and at times quite enjoyable. During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, living in England and working in a school, I felt relief as Croatia beat the English in the Semi-Finals. In the COVID delayed UEFA Euro 2020s tournament though, I was convinced England would lift the trophy on home soil. 

England had the advantage of all home ties (bar one) throughout the tournament with UEFA sharing the hosting rights across Europe. This helped England as they made it through their group with victories over Croatia and Czech Republic (both 1-0), and a 0-0 bore-draw with Scotland. The Last 16 saw them face the historic enemy, Germany. Germany had put England out of many previous competitions, but at Wembley England put them away 2-0 earning a Quarter Final v Ukraine. A 4-0 win there and a 2-1 (a.e.t) win against Denmark earned England a first tournament final since the 1966 World Cup.

Italy themselves had marched to the final, beating Turkey & Switzerland (both 3-0), Wales (1-0) and Austria & Belgium (both 2-1). The Semi-Final required a penalty shootout against the Spanish after a 1-1 draw and the 4-2 meant the Italians would attempt to beat the English on their home turf to win the Euros.

The game got off to a flier, Kieran Trippier's cross met by left-back Luke Shaw who stroked home his first England goal on the grandest stage. The final grew into a tense affair, but in the 67th minute Italy equalised, the veteran centre-back Leonardo Bonucci tapping in from close range, 1-1. With neither side getting the go-ahead goal, extra-time and then penalties loomed. Penalties, something the English did not have a loving history with. 

For England it would be heartbreak as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho & Bukayo Saka all missed their spot-kicks to allow the Italians victory. Penalties had done it again for England. In my living room in Cardiff, six Welshmen celebrated the Italian success. I'm sorry England fans, as I said, it is just part of being Welsh.

Shamefully all three players who missed recieved racial abuse in the coming hours and days, thoroughly condemned throughout football in the aftermath. In terms of major tournament victories, for what it is worth I am pretty convinced it is coming for England. The 2022 FIFA World Cup was another great opportunity blown, but I'm certain the long wait will soon be over, be that UEFA Euro 2024 or FIFA World Cup 2026!

2022 - Argentina 3-3 France (4-2 on penalties), FIFA World Cup Final, 18 December 2022

The narrative was written for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was Lionel Messi's last shot at emulating Diego Maradona. For many it would settle the GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time) debate, if Messi lifted the trophy for Barcelona it would be absolutely massive, likewise if Cristiano Ronaldo could take Portugal all the way, his achievements would also seal the debate.

Messi was the loser in the 2014 Final, as Germany stole the show away from him. As Argentina lost their first group game to Saudi Arabia, in one of the biggest World Cup upsets ever, Messi must've been thinking it was destined not to happen for him. 2-0 wins in their next games v Mexico and Poland though, would seal Argentina's progression to the knockout stages and set up a clash with Australia.

The Socceroos put up a fine fight in a 2-1 defeat, and despite Messi looking back to his best aged 35, many doubted his nation would reach the final. Next up were the Netherlands, and after letting a 2-0 lead slip, Argentina were taken to penalties in a bad tempered affair. The 4-3 penalties victory secured a semi-final spot and after beating Croatia 3-0, a place in the final and a place in history would be written against defending champions France on 18 December.

France were led by Kylian Mbappé, the heir apparent to Messi's throne and the game was billed as a battle between the two. It was Messi who struck first, he netted a penalty in the 23rd minute to give Argentina a lead, which was doubled by Ángel Di María in the 36th minute, it seemed Messi would have his World Cup. However, Mbappé hit back for France, a crazy spell seeing Mbappé equalise in the matter of two minutes and take the match to extra-time.

Messi scored again in the first half of extra-time, it looked once more than Argentina would lift their first World Cup since 1986 and Diego Maradona. Mbappé though, was not finished, he sealed his hat-trick from the penalty spot and it would be penalties needed to decide a pulsating final. Both Messi and Mbappé would score their spot-kicks but Argentina held their nerve as a side and the 4-2 victory meant Messi had done it, he was world champion and officially the 'GOAT'!

My wish for 2023 & beyond - Pundits/Commentators to actually learn the Laws of the Game!

Listen, I get it, people don't like VAR, but I think it is important and here to stay. I totally accept the views of those who think it ruins spontaneous celebrations, or that fans in the stadium need to be adequately informed of what the check is for. For me though, since I started watching the beautiful game I always struggled to live with decisions that were outright robberies such as the picture above shows. Cardiff City were relegated largely thanks to this offiside by Chelsea's César Azpilicueta, Neil Warnock's "worst decision against me" of his career. 

Warnock and I still smart over this decision and what it meant for the club. The relegation and years that followed in the Championship that have us teetering on League 1 relegation. Had this gone the right way and Cardiff had survived in 2019, where could we be now?! We'll never know, in large part because of one decision. I can take the 'toenail' offsides, because I can live with the mantra "offside is offside, it doesn't matter how close it is".

Now, for sure some of the Laws of the Game have issues. Some don't like things such as the current handball rules, others don't like that VAR doesn't referee yellow cards, or that there should be greater margins for error built into offside calls. Again, all these are fair, but what I cannot bear is the pundits or commentators who simply don't know the Laws of the Game.

I have no greater frustration watching football and hearing TV personality say ridiculous things such as, "I know this isn't the rule (LAW), but I think the referee should have..." - What, so the referee should ignore the Laws of the Game?! Or "In my opinion this is the wrong decision", "Why wasn't this looked at?" & "What was the referee/VAR thinking here?" - When the Law of the game/interpretation of VAR has been correctly applied, however unpopular it may be, the correct decision has been reached.

Pundits and commentators have a responsibility in their position to know the Laws of the Game and to inform fans of this, irrelevant of your opinion, what does the law say? I know that isn't a popular one, but here is hoping that we see referee's microphones being broadcast ASAP, and along with that a great knowledge and understanding of why decisions are made.

What are your top memories of the last 10 years? What would you like to see in 2023 and beyond? Let us know!

This piece was written for @TFHBs by Gareth Thomas - you can follow him on Twitter: @GJ_Thomas

©The Football History Boys, 2023
(All pictured borrowed kindly & not owned by TFHB)


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