The Football History Boys: My Top 10 of the last 10 years | @Benny_J

This week, Gareth 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 short blog I am going to look back at each year from 2013-2022 and offer my personal choices for the moments that will stand the test of time.

2013 - Sir Alex Ferguson Leaves Man United

Surprisingly, the first moment in our list doesn't come directly from the football pitch. Rather it celebrates the incredible, and quite frankly ridiculously successful, career of one of the game's greatest managers. After a successful spell as manager of Aberdeen, Sir Alex Ferguson would enjoy a managerial reign stretching over a quarter of a century at Manchester United. Joining the Red Devils in 1986 following the sacking of Ron Atkinson, 'Fergie' would be greeted with a team far removed from the later titans so synonymous with the Scot. After a rocky start to his tenure at Old Trafford, Ferguson would eventually lead United to 13 league titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions Leagues. 

Managing to embed youthful homegrown players alongside tried and tested world class regulars, the Red Devils' dominance helped the club form a genuine dynasty. By the time he left, Sir Alex had achieved his initial aim when he first arrived - to knock Liverpool off their 'f**king perch'. Perhaps the clearest example of Fergie's impact on English football is in the ten years that have followed his departure. As of 2022/23, United are still without another league title with their only successes coming in the FA Cup and Europa League. Furthermore, both their local rivals, Man City, and arch-enemies, Liverpool, have gone from strength to strength. Writing after Ferguson announced his imminent retirement, the BBC summed up the uncertainty felt across the sport,
"Whatever the next twist in this drama, one thing is certain. Sir Alex Ferguson's power, influence and personality means football in this country will never be the same again" 

BBC Sport 

2014 - Brazil 1-7 Germany

When we started The Football History Boys, the infamous Maracanazo was one of our favourite stories to research and study. The almost impossible defeat of Brazil to the unfancied Uruguay in front of 200,000 fanatical home supporters in 1950 was something we never thought would happen again. However, if football history has taught us anything, it certainly has a tendency to repeat itself. The 2014 World Cup saw the game's greatest tournament reach the shores of South America as Brazil welcomed the world once again. Reaching the semi-finals, it appeared to be the Samba nation's destiny to dispel the demons of 1950.

Meeting Luis Felipe Scolari's side at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte was a strong German team. Prior to kick-off most journalists and pundits alike couldn't separate the sides. Despite losing the talismanic Neymar to injury, Brazil were seemingly on a mission to win and it seemed that nothing could get in their way, not even a technically superior Germany. However, from the first blast of Marco Antonio Rodriguez's whistle the game could not have been more one sided. By the 29th minute, Germany were 5-0 up. As Sami Khedira rolled the ball past a stricken Julio Cesar, history had indeed repeated itself. Two more goals in the second half saw the score at 7-0 before Oscar added a consolation in the final seconds. The result rocked the football world as all those watching knew that history was being made.

2015 - USWNT Win the Women's World Cup

When the 2015 Women's World Cup was held in Canada, the tournament had certainly enjoyed an eventful history during its previous six editions. Despite the 1991 and 1995 tournament's being slow-burners (at least at an attendance level), the game exploded in 1999 as hundreds of thousands of fanatical supporters descended upon the United States to watch Akers, Lilly and Hamm mesmerise defences and lift the trophy. Many believed the USWNT untouchable following victory at the Rose Bowl but the emergence of the women's game in Europe and East Asia brought about a 16-year drought.

The 2015 World Cup saw Jill Ellis' squad enter the tournament as one of the favourites for the trophy alongside holders Japan and the number #1 ranked side Germany. Reaching the semi-final stage fairly comfortably, a meeting with the Germans was all that stood in the way of the US reaching the final again. Forward Carli Lloyd would inspire the Americans to victory to set up a repeat of the 2011 Final against Japan. Once again, it was Lloyd who would lead from the front, scoring an incredible hat-trick within the first 16 minutes of the game. The third goal, in particular, was the most special as Lloyd sent a strike from the halfway line over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori and into the net. The USWNT had asserted  their dominance on the women's game and continued their fine form four years later as another World Cup was added to an impressive trophy cabinet.

2016 - Euro 2016

This choice is certainly a little biased and is definitely more personal than the rest in this list. I could have (and probably should have) gone for Leicester's scarcely believable Premier League triumph, but instead we've chosen the 2016 European Championships. Why? Well as most readers of the blog will know - we are Welsh. When we started the blog, Welsh football was in a period of transition and tragedy following the death of Gary Speed in 2011. The arrival of  Chris Coleman provided an inconsistent start but by 2016, Cymru had achieved what many believed to be inconceivable - qualification for a major international tournament.

Despite being drawn in a difficult group alongside the old enemy England, Russia and Slovakia, Wales would top the lot to reach the last 16. Defeating British rivals Northern Ireland set up a mouthwatering clash against pre-tournament favourites Belgium. What followed next is still etched into the minds of each and every Welsh fan as goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes saw Coleman's side reach the European Championship semi-finals. Robson-Kanu's strike in particular gained the most attention after his ridiculous Cruyff turn bamboozled three Belgian defenders before scoring past Thibaut Courtois.

The 2016 Euros has subsequently been looked upon unfavourably. The decision by UEFA to expand the tournament to 24 teams prompted fears that the overall quality would decline as nations outside of the world's 'best' qualified, some for the first time. In general, the tournament did indeed see a reduction in goals and perhaps quality but not from the underdogs. Moreover, it was the favourites that failed to replicate their qualification form as England, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Spain all exited earlier than was expected. The incredible journey of Iceland to the quarter-finals would rival Wales' story but for us here at The Football History Boys, it was the Welsh dragon that roared loudest in France.

2017 - La Remontada

Growing up I had seen a number of incredible football comebacks. The Miracle of Istanbul, Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal, Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic to name but three. However, Barcelona's miraculous victory over PSG at the Camp Nou set a new level for drama, tension and a never say die attitude. After losing the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie 4-0, any chance of Barcelona progressing to the competition's quarter-final stage seemed an impossibility. Against the odds, an early Luis Suarez goal would set the tone for one of European football's most remarkable stories.

Further strikes either side of half-time courtesy of a Layvin Kurzawa own goal and a Lionel Messi penalty saw Barcelona within one goal of drawing the aggregate score level. Just past the hour mark, however, the Camp Nou would fall silent as Edinson Cavani shot high into the roof of Marc Andre Ter Stegen's net and seemingly ended any hopes of a famous Catalan comeback. The match appeared to be petering out to an anti climax but La Blaugrana's star forward Neymar had other ideas. With just two minutes left in normal time, the Brazilian striker would fire an unstoppable free-kick past PSG 'keeper Kevin Trapp before he converted a controversial spot-kick a minute into stoppage time.

The seconds ticked away with Barcelona still needing another goal in order to progress to the quarter-finals and a late free-kick provided the perfect opportunity. After his initial delivery was cleared, Neymar would float a ball over the PSG defence and into the path of unlikely hero Sergi Roberto. Getting his toe to the ball first, Roberto's effort would hit the back of the net and cue pandemonium at the Camp Nou. The football world was united in celebration as the comeback was completed (except PSG and probably Real Madrid fans). The images of the BT Sport pundits doing laps of the studio were certainly replicated in my own living room! Barcelona had achieved the most remarkable turnaround in Champions League history.......that was until a certain corner kick was taken quickly in 2019.
"Mayhem, utter mayhem.

All around me, people were hugging, jumping, screaming. Grown men were crying and strangers were leaping into each other's arms.

Unlike so much of modern sport, there was nothing contrived or orchestrated about those celebrations, about that moment."

BBC Writer Andy West 

2018 - VAR

This is perhaps the moment that has left the most chequered and controversial legacy. The introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2018 caused waves felt strongly throughout the game. Following successful trials as early as 2016, VAR was formally adopted into the rules of the game by IFAB in 2018. Its initial use at the 2018 World Cup was generally successful, particularly when determining offsides and during goal checks. Despite a tagline of 'minimum interference, maximum benefit', it was not long before VAR came synonymous with controversy. Most ambivalence would be centred around potential red cards and penalty calls. 

The ambiguous nature of the term 'clear and obvious' is where most desire more clarity. Even in spite of VAR, refereeing is still subjective and what one official believes to be 'clear' another may not agree. Perhaps the most controversial of all decisions in 2018 came during the World Cup Final as Argentinian ref  Nestor Pitana adjudged Ivan Perisic guilty of a handball moments before half-time. Antoine Griezmann would convert the subsequent spot-kick and place France into a commanding position before the second 45. Such contentious issues and debates have only multiplied in the sport since 2018 as football continues to strive to achieve the perfect game.

2019 - Miracle of Anfield

Writing after the 2018-19 Champions League Final, BBC journalist Emlyn Begley questioned whether this particular edition of the competition was the 'Greatest Tournament Ever'. It would be a season that pushed the Champions League to new heights with its semi-final stage providing two of the most dramatic matches in football history. Tottenham's dramatic late comeback in Amsterdam would see Mauricio Pochettino's side defeat Ajax to reach the final in Madrid and, in any other season, such a victory could not be rivalled in terms of drama. A day before, however, Barcelona's visit to the bubbling cauldron of Anfield would see Liverpool arguably produce the tournament's most remarkable turnaround to date.

As a Liverpool fan myself, we rarely believe a tie is over. Even after a resounding 3-0 first leg defeat and injuries to star players Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, there is always that feeling in the back of your head that 'we could do this'. Seven minutes into the second leg, those emotions amplified to new levels as the once forgotten Divock Origi bundled in the rebound following Ter Stegen's save from Jordan Henderson. Roared on by an incredible Anfield atmosphere, the introduction of Gini Wijnaldum at half-time turned the game on its head. First, a low strike from the edge of the box and then a thumping header from a Xherdan Shaqiri cross cancelled out La Blaugrana's advantage. Liverpool were level. Anfield was in ecstasy.

I'm not afraid to admit that upon Wijnaldum's equaliser I made a noise that I've never made before, nor have I done since as the impossible became a reality. However, the best was still to come. Like most supporters in Anfield, the winning of a corner 11 minutes from time seemed to me a fantastic opportunity to eat up some more seconds as the game appeared destined for extra-time. Trent Alexander-Arnold had other ideas. 

'Corner taken quickly...ORIGIIIII'

Those words, screamed down the microphone by LFCTV commentator Steve Hunter have been immortalised by Reds fans and will continue to be repeated each time Trent approaches the right corner flag in front of the Kop. The Miracle of Anfield is a game I will never forget and surely the moment which came to define football in 2019.

2020 - COVID Stops Play

It is difficult to mention the year 2020 without one thing entering into the mind - COVID-19. The pandemic's spread across the world saw many nations plunged into complete lockdown as borders were closed and life as we knew it came to a halt. For myself, it was not until the postponement of Italy's Serie A in early March that the nature and seriousness of the virus became apparent. Many other domestic leagues around the world would follow Italy's example and pause their football seasons, creating a wealth of questions and anxieties felt from clubs and their supporters.

I remember the excitement felt around the sporting world the day that football returned. Borussia Dortmund were to play Schalke at an empty Westfalenstadion. With substitutes and coaching staff forced to socially distance, the usually compact dugouts began to swallow up the whole stands in which they sat. Perhaps even more peculiar was the celebrations upon Erling Haaland's opening goal. The Dortmund players seemed unsure about how to celebrate, choosing to stand 2 metres apart and awkwardly dance.

Thankfully, as more domestic divisions resumed, the standard of football steadily improved once more and the game's competitive edge returned. Despite a lack of supporters inside the stadiums, football truly showed its worth. When many people were struggling through lockdown, the sport provided genuine escapism and respite from a mentally difficult time. COVID showed us what we can sometimes take for granted and football was no exception. Sometimes it is not until something has been taken away from us that we truly understand its value.

2021 - Italy win Euro 2020

As football gradually began to welcome fans back into stadiums, a sense of normality would be welcomed by most. The 2020 European Championships, postponed due to the pandemic, saw the tournament celebrate its 60th year. As a result, the competition was to be played across the continent with 11 host cities welcoming the 24 qualifiers into their borders. Although the return of major international football was greatly received, differing laws in the 11 host nations meant varying levels of spectatorship and difficult travelling conditions impacted on the experience of both players and supporters.

This in turn created a tournament lacking a true core and for many it didn't 'feel' like a major competition. However, there were still a number of excellent football matches and many incredible stories to come out of the Euros. The knockout stages in particular were excellent with stunning matches seeing Switzerland defeat the French and Spain battle out an 8-goal encounter with Croatia. The unique tournament finished with a pulsating final featuring England and Italy. It was a penalty shootout that would ultimately separate the sides as Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. For the Azzurri, football was 'Coming Rome'.

2022 - Messi

When we began TFHBs in 2013, our initial aim was to find football's top 250 players of all-time and determine who was its GOAT. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant performances for La Liga rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, had thrown both names into contention for the crown. Over the last ten years, these two individuals have truly defined the game and future histories of this era will surely write favourably on their achievements. However, the recent World Cup, held controversially in Qatar, saw Messi achieve what many believed to be his destiny.

Despite suffering one of the World Cup's greatest ever shocks in their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, Argentina would recover to eventually top their group. The knockout rounds saw Messi narrowly lead La Albiceleste past Australia before a crunch match against the Dutch was played out in Lusail. One of the tournament's all-time most aggressive games ensued with Argentina eventually winning on penalties. The semi-final was more straightforward as Croatia were comfortably seen off in order for a date with destiny to be arranged against reigning champions, France.

The final itself was billed as a battle between Messi and Kylian Mbappe. On the one hand, Messi represented the last 20 years of football and a true generational talent, arguably never to be seen again. On the other hand, Mbappe represented the future of football. A fantastic and dynamic individual, the World Cup stage would not phase him. Both players traded goals as a Messi brace either side of a Di Maria strike was cancelled out by an incredible Mbappe hat-trick (the first in a men's final since 1966). Argentina would dominate the resulting penalty shootout and under Lusail lights, Messi would lift the World Cup. Raising the trophy high above his head, for most this was the confirmation that the diminutive Argentine was indeed the Greatest of All-Time.

Written by Ben Jones (Follow me on Twitter @Benny_j and @TFHBs)

©The Football History Boys, 2023


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