Every two years football fans of various countries see their hopes of winning a major trophy steadily rise as they approach either the World Cup, European Championships, or their regional equivalent. When England won the World Cup on home soil in 1966, fans would have found it difficult to believe that they would still be waiting for a second major trophy 50 years on. The World Cup in 1990 was seen as a near miss but with the 1996 European Championships to be held in England, surely they would have a great chance of winning their second major trophy.
San Marino, for those who are unaware, is a microstate enclaved by Italy. Located east of Florence, it has an area of less than 25 square miles and a population of less than 35,000. Nevertheless, despite their lack of space and people, the proud republic has its own football league and national team that has gained somewhat of a cult following amongst avid football fans. Their international matches may end in defeat more often than not but when you play in the most competitive continent on Earth, surely it would be hasty to expect too much more.
When people hear the term 'amateur football' they may think of their local non-league side with players that receive no payment to play but turn up, week in, week out, for the love of the game. Perhaps the club has a short history and plays on a council owned pitch that they are overcharged for and is slightly, or highly, uneven. Amateur football is a huge part of modern day society in the UK but there is one amateur club that play at a 50,000 seater stadium, in the third tier of Scottish football and even had Sir Alex Ferguson play for the club in the late 1950's. That club, is the unique and historical Queen's Park FC.
It was July 2001 and following a disappointing season for Spanish giants, FC Barcelona, they decided to open their cheque books once again. The large spending just a year earlier on the likes of Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit had not brought the club the glory they craved and so the dice was re-rolled. The signing of Javier Saviola made headlines across the world for two huge reasons. The first of those reasons was that his £15 million price tag made him the most expensive teenager in the world. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Barcelona had signed the new Diego Maradona.
We have all met that guy at work who had trials with Liverpool but didn't make the grade or that fella in the pub who claims he was a potential superstar but had to retire at 16 because of a crippling injury. These stories seem to be surprisingly common among the general populous and it is often difficult to know just how true they are. Injuries are a cruel mistress in any sport and there is no doubt that countless careers have ended far too soon because of them. For Dean Ashton, his career ended just as he was reaching the height of his powers, immediately ending the rise of a star.
The Welsh population watched Euro 2016 with a wide range of emotions. Pride was no doubt the overriding feeling during the tournament but elation, nerves, heartbreak and hope will all have reared their heads too. Reaching a semi final of a tournament such as the European Championship will have been unthinkable to many. After all, Wales had only ever qualified for the World Cup once in their history and had never made an appearance at the Euros. There were only four countries at Euro 2016 whose squad did not contain a single player from their own domestic league, Wales was one.
16 years ago when Arsene Wenger signed a young English striker for £8 million many people thought that the 20 year old would go on to be one of the countries great strikers. Names such as Lineker and Shearer had become household names thanks to both their predatory instinct and superb finishing ability and Francis Jeffers showed signs that he held that very same goalscoring talent. What actually happened was very different and the career of Jeffers slowly went pear shaped as soon as he left Everton in search of a brighter future. Where did it all go wrong? How did a player so highly rated slowly slip into footballing obscurity?
As part of our semi regular features that cover English footballers playing overseas, we have taken a closer look at players such as John Bostock and Luke Steele in recent times. As we are always looking to shine the spotlight on the stories that you may not be aware of, our next journey takes us to Sweden, a country that many English players have turned to in the past in an attempt to revive their hopes of making it in the game. Kenny Pavey is a little different, he hasn't used Sweden as a stepping stone to something bigger, he has been there for 19 years and enjoyed quite the career.
Oxford is a city that is known across the world, in large part, because of its prestigious university, but it also has a rich sporting heritage. In addition to being the birth place of Tim Henman and Martin Keown, the annual boat race is a British institution, watched by millions, that the city's university is a key part of. Although football may not be a sport that you associate with the historic city, Oxford United are down in history as one of the 23 winners of the English League Cup. Sadly their place amongst the footballing elite was short lived.
Every year there is an event in American sport that the fans of every club or franchise look forward to and yet there is no actual sporting action to watch. The draft process is perhaps alien to those from the UK but across the Atlantic it is a huge part of many sports. The concept is, that once a year the best players of a given sport that have graduated college, are signed up to professional teams for their shot at the big time. Although the draft is usually huge news, when it comes to football, or soccer as the US would say, it does not have the same stature compared to the other American sports.
There is a debate that goes on in offices, playgrounds, pubs and on building sites every single day that is never solved. This discussion will usually have a certain amount of bias depending on the parties involved. Trying to decide who is the best player at any one club is hard enough but settling upon the best in the English Premier League is an even tougher conversation. There are many great players and fans of the big clubs will all have valid arguments as to why their star man should be hailed as the king of the league. Let me wade right into the middle of that debate!
Growing up in England throughout the 90's and early 00's, there was something about Italian footballers that made them seem almost untouchable. The English Premier League was hugely respected but there were certain players that you just knew would never end up on these shores. For me, Italy has a rich history of developing some fantastic talent and I feel lucky that I grew up watching the likes of Del Piero, Cannavaro, Buffon and Pirlo. That golden generation are coming towards the very end of their careers, or have already retired, but one man still clings on, even at 40 years old.