In 1975, Milan made their only visit to Ireland for a competitive European football match. It was not expected to be competitive: the ramshackle St Mel’s Park was crammed with locals, all expecting to see the Italian aristocrats hammer part-timers Athlone Town in the first leg of their second-round Big Vase tie. Just pleased to be there for the occasion – and equally impressed that Milan had even deigned to turn up to such a provincial backwater – the capacity crowd enjoyed pre-match entertainment in the form of a local pipe band accompanied by a billy goat, before settling back with interest to watch the slaughter of their team unfold.
Remarkably, it did not – on the morass that was the St Mel’s pitch, Athlone held out for a goalless draw. Indeed, they might have even won the game had midfielder John Minnock not fired a weak penalty straight into the arms of revered Italian goalkeeping legend Ricky Albertosi. “A crowd of 12,000 – which is Athlone’s population – crammed into St Mel’s Park to watch the match,” reported the International Herald Tribune, adding that local historians claimed the match “was the biggest thing to happen since the Earl of Lucan burned down the town’s bridge in the 17th century.”
While they still talk about the game in Athlone (where the bridge has since been rebuilt), these days it probably doesn’t merit much of a mention in Milan. Remarkably, the Italians were held for another hour by the plucky Irish minnows in front of 70,000 fans at the San Siro, before running out comfortable 3-0 winners and advancing to the next round. Almost half a century later, they must return to Ireland, where they will be hosted by Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght, on the outskirts of Dublin.
Famously the home of Robbie Keane, the now-defunct Belgard Inn and a massive shopping centre called The Square that is actually a pyramid, Tallaght will welcome Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his teammates to town when they take on Rovers in the next qualifying round of Big Vase at the local 8,000-capacity stadium. Sadly for Rovers, the draw is not as plum as it might have been, as the Covid-19 pandemic dictates their game will have to be played behind closed doors.
Furthermore, a Uefa diktat ensures that as the away team, Milan will get all but the Irish broadcasting rights for the game, meaning the plucky Dublin Super Hoops won’t even enjoy the bumper payday their glamour draw deserves. To add insult to injury, the winners of this one-off qualifier go on to play Bodø/Glimt of Norway or Lithuania’s Zalgiris Vilnius at home in the next round. That means Rovers will again miss out on a considerably smaller windfall.
What’s the deal with Lionel Messi, and how can George Costanza help him out of his Barcelona predicament? David Squires takes a look.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’d played in the World Cup, was a star back home, and now it was like ‘Please … I can’t even get on the ball!’ In England I could sense the difference immediately. You run down the pitch and everyone starts screaming ‘shoooooot!’. You can hit the worst shot ever and people will clap for you because they really appreciate you trying to score. I love it” – former Watford man Miguel Layún on adjusting to life in the Championship and much more in this cracking interview with Nick Ames.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the latest edition of Football Weekly, coming soon.
“Let me get this straight. Barcelona are trying to keep their grasp on Lionel Messi by the tips of their clause, and Manchester City are trying to dig their claws into him? He’ll be torn to pieces! No matter how the story turns out, this episode is sure to cement the Argentinian’s status as this generation’s rebel with a clause. Just stating the (buro)fax” – Peter Oh.
“Seeing as Jeff Hendrick (Friday’s Bits and Bobs) had already named Newcastle as ‘massive’ when he recently signed, surely he should have said that Milan was ‘massiver’? Or is ‘massive’ just footballer-speak for ‘pretty sh1tty but I’m getting plenty of wonga, so thanks plebs’?” – Gerry Rickard.
“In response to the Fiver Ed’s question about my happiness (Friday’s Fiver), I still believe we should STOP FOOTBALL, but I am also saying START THE PARTY!!” – Tom Duignan.
“I looked at Friday’s edition on my phone and all the screen could initially show was the headline ‘The Fiver: Irrelevant at the best of times’. How very true” – Paul Brookwood.
Ever since the Fiver’s transfer-tracking cousin, Two-Phones-Wicked-Whispers-Deadline-Day-ITK-Fiver, stopped returning our calls we’ve been getting all our gossip from Fabrizio Romano. Here, he explains how he keeps track of all those deals.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Marcus Rashford continues to be among the very best of us. The Manchester United forward has launched a new taskforce in collaboration with several supermarkets and food brands, calling on the government to end child food poverty.
Ivan Rakitic has returned to Sevilla for just £1.35m plus add-ons, after being directed to the Door Marked Do One by new Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman.
Newcastle’s Steve Bruce has had a rummage down the back of the sofa and is offering Matt Ritchie plus cash to Bournemouth for Callum Wilson, who frankly deserves better.
Rodrigo has said he is happy to get away from Valencia’s off-field issues at, er, Marcelo Bielsa’s Nasty Leeds. “As one of the captains, it was one problem after another,” Rodrigo sniffed. “I wanted to focus on football”.
The frankly baffling Big Vase qualifying draw has been carried out across two days, with Tottenham facing crack Bulgarian outfit Lokomotiv Plovdiv, and then either Romania’s Botosani or North Macedonia’s Shkendija if they get through that one. The Queen’s Celtic have parachuted into the third round, where they will face Riga or San Marino’s Tre Fiore.
Elsewhere, the Pope’s O’Rangers face Lincoln Red Imps before a potential return to Luxembourg to face Progrès Niederkorn, a team they have failed to beat on two previous visits. Aberdeen fans are in mini-break dreamland, with potential trips to Norway’s Viking Stavanger and Sporting Lisbon on the cards.
And Stuttgart fans have launched a crowdfunding bid to pay Lionel Messi’s release clause and bring him to the Bundesliga. It’s got off to a slow start.
STILL WANT MORE?
Lyon’s all-conquering Champions League winners are needed more than ever in a difficult landscape for women’s sport, writes Jonathan Liew. Meanwhile, Tim Stillman picks his best goal, player, match and memory from the tournament in Spain.
Remember the name: Eduardo Camavinga. Get the lowdown on the Rennes midfielder who might be Europe’s most exciting young footballer.
“I’d known I was transgender since I was about seven years old … it took me the best part of 50 years to work it through in my head,” Sophie Cook, Whitehawk FC’s equality and diversity officer, talks to Paul Doyle about her journey.
Who would you prefer to drive you home in a cab: José Mourinho or John Sitton? Stuart Jeffries sits through All or Nothing.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!
THESE ARE THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER