"Birmingham have qualified for the Europa League group stage," wrote William Call last week. "Is this the furthest a non-top-flight club has ever progressed in European competition?"
Blues will have to go some way to eclipse the achievements of Atalanta and Cardiff City, who, as several readers emailed to point out, reached the Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals in 1987-88 and 1967-68 respectively.
Cardiff, at that time in the Second Division but regulars in European competition thanks to their successes in the Welsh Cup, faced a very different proposition to the one that now stands before Birmingham. While Blues joined 75 other teams in the Europa League play-offs and 47 other clubs in the group stage, and face the prospect of 14 matches simply to reach the semi-finals, the Bluebirds were one of only 32 sides in the 1967-68 tournament, who, in the best-case scenario, could have been Cup Winners' Cup champions after nine matches.
Shamrock Rovers were beaten 3-1 on aggregate in the first round and NAC Breda of Holland were hammered 5-2 thanks to a 4-1 win at Ninian Park. The quarter-finals brought Torpedo Moscow, a far tougher task, and after 1-0 wins for each side in their home legs, Cardiff triumphed in a play-off in the Bavarian town of Augsburg. Another trip to Germany, this time to Hamburg, awaited in the semi-finals, and a 1-1 draw in the first leg was followed by a dramatic tie at Ninian Park in front of over 43,000 fans. Cardiff took the lead through Norman Dean, Gert Dorfel equalised then Uwe Seeler put the Germans ahead early in the second half. Brian Harris headed Cardiff level with just over 10 minutes to play and another play-off seemed to be on the cards before Franz-Josef Honig scored the winner for the visitors with the last kick of the game.
Atalanta qualified for the Cup Winners' Cup in 1987-88 despite defeat to Napoli in the 1986-87 Copa Italia final. The Naples club had won Serie A leaving the way clear for Atalanta, who were relegated from Serie A in 1986-87, to take on the rest of Europe from their position in Serie B. Merthr Tydfil, of the Southern League Division One (Midland), were beaten in the first round (although Merthr won the first leg in Wales), the mighty OFI Crete, again after a defeat in the first leg, were also well beaten in Bergamo, putting Atalanta in the quarter-finals, where Sporting Lisbon were impressively beaten 3-1 on aggregate. The adventure came to an end, though, in the semi-finals when KV Mechelen, the eventual winners (beating the Ajax side of Blind, Wouters, Witschge, Bosman, Winter and Muhren in the final), won 4-2 over two legs.
An honourable mention should go to Third Division Newport County, who as Welsh Cup winners in 1979-80 carried the flag for Wales in the 1980-81 Cup Winners' Cup and reached the quarter-finals before losing to Carl Zeiss Jena of Germany.
"Jupp Heynckes is making his first managerial appearance in the Champions League since he won the competition with Real Madrid in 1998, 13 years ago," noted Mark Ashley Thomas last week. "Is this the longest gap a winning manager has had until he next managed in the competition?"
We do believe it is. Heynckes, who left the Bernabéu after the 1997-98 campaign despite his success in the Champions League (he guided Real to only fourth in La Liga) returns to Europe's premier competition with Bayern Munich this season. When his Bayern side take on Villarreal on 14 September, it will be Heynckes first appearance on a Champions League touchline since he stood in the technical area at the Amsterdam Arena as his Real side beat Juventus 1-0 on 20 May 1998 – 13 years and nearly four months ago. Victory for Bayern in the competition this year, though unlikely, would see the German manager eclipse the record set by the great Ernst Happel, who won the tournament 13 years apart with Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg in 1983.
There have been a fair few coaches to win the title then never again grace the competition, but the longest previous gap was the seven years between Emerich Jenei winning the European Cup with Steaua Bucharest in 1986 and returning in the 1993-94 season. But one man still active in the game who could eclipse Heynckes is Ljupko Petrovic, who won the tournament with Red Star Belgrade in 1991 and has not managed in the competition since, though he is still coaching and was manager of Croatian top division side Lokomotiva Zagreb until March this year.
Last week we looked at the players who have cropped up – in name at least – on the small and silver screen. And the Knowledge inbox has been bulging with more answers, indeed the world and his wife, their families, their families' servants, their families' servants' tennis partners and some chap I bumped into the other day called Bernard have pointed out Dennis 'Cutty' Wise of The Wire.
First the coincidental – Fernando Torres crops up in the US Sitcom My Wife and Kids, there's a Michael Dawson in Lost, a John O'Shea in the film Mystic River, a Pirlo and a Gattuso in the BBC drama Zen, Bruce Willis starred (somewhat ironically given the player's injury record) as David Dunn in the film Unbreakable and Wesley Sneijder will appear in the new series of Chuck.
More interesting, though, are the screenwriters and directors who have shoehorned players from their favourite teams into their productions. Andrew Sunter points us towards the 2003 episode of Taggert containing most of the 1968 Scottish Cup-winning Dunfermline Athletic side. "As a writer, one never wants something to detract from the story, but I couldn't resist slipping in a few names from that heroic side," said the writer Stuart Hepburn. "I changed some of the sexes and slightly altered some of the names, but one eagle-eyed Dunfermline fan sussed me out. I'm just pleased someone else was able to remember the glory days."
"There is a famous case of a footballer's name used in a Belgian movie," writes Gerd De Keyser. "The movie is called De Zaak Alzheimer (The Alzheimer Case). It's about a hitman who suffers Alzheimer's disease. Director Erik Van Looy is a big Antwerp fan and wanted to give his hitman the name of a Marseille player that sounded "maffi-esque". He made a telephone call to the sports desk of a Belgian television station and asked journalist Filip Joos if he could provide a name that would suit, preferably the name of an Olympique Marseille player.
"Joos searched for the Marseille team that won the Champions League in 1993 and came up with two suitable names: Eric Di Meco and Bernard Casoni. Van Looy went for Casoni, hence the name of the hitman in the film is Bernard Casoni (played by Jan Decleir). The real Bernard Casoni is coach of newly promoted Ligue 1 team Evian-Thonon."
And when the writers don't do it, the actors sometimes help out. "Roy Cropper (played by Loughborough-born David Neilson) in Coronation Street has been known to drop a few Leicester City references," writes Tim Burke. "After our glorious Carling Cup win in 1997 he gave the serial number of a kitchen appliance in his cafe as 'LCFC97', then in a discussion about inspirational teachers he lauded a certain 'Mr O'Neill', and when our much loved striker headed off to Wolves he bade farewell to a customer with the words 'Goodbye Mr Claridge'."
And, as Mark Taylor proves, you don't always have to shoehorn in the name of a star striker to get your point across. "I directed the animated CBeebies show 'Boo!'" writes Mark, "and in the episode where the little stripey blighter becomes 'Footballer Boo' I managed to get him into the strip of the mighty Bristol City and, better still, in the episode the Reds score against a team wearing the blue and white quarters of the old enemy (Bristol Rovers).
"Despite the efforts of the educationalists who wanted both teams to score and everything to end equally (as usually happens in the world of pre-school) I refused and so the animated Reds won the game."
"You said that Liverpool were the first British club to have a shirt sponsor (Hitachi in 1979), but while Liverpool are doubtless the first professional club to be sponsored, I'm pretty sure Kettering beat them to it by a few years. This is not a wind-up. Maybe you can confirm it?" asked Jon Cudby back in 2000.
Having spoken to the Kettering club historian Mel Hopkins, Jon, we can indeed. When the Wolves striker Derek Dougan retired from football in the summer of 1975, he joined Kettering Town, then of the Southern League, as chief executive. Within a month of his appointment, he had brokered a "four-figure" deal with local firm Kettering Tyres, and in a league game against Bath City on 24 January 1976, Kettering became the first British club to run out with a company's name emblazoned on their shirts.
Sadly, the groundbreaking new strip would not get another run-out. Four days later, the FA predictably ordered the club to remove the new slogan, despite Dougan's claim that the ruling body's 1972 ban on sponsorship had not been put in writing.
Characteristically, Dougan did not take this body blow lying down. He cheekily changed the wording on the shirts to Kettering T, which he claimed stood for Town and had nothing whatsoever to do with Tyres. For a couple of heady months, the team played on under the new slogan.
Sure enough, however, Kettering were soon up before the FA, which ordered them to "remove the words Kettering T from their strip". The threat of a £1,000 fine was too much for such a small club, and the words were reluctantly removed.
There would be one final irony. Kettering did not let the matter lie – after all, clubs such as Bayern Munich had been coining it in on the continent for years – and so, with Derby and Bolton, they put forward a proposal to the FA regarding shirt sponsorship. But although the proposal was accepted on 3 June 1977, Kettering could not find a sponsor for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, Derby players began that season running around in Saab shirts and Saab cars. Where's the justice?
For thousands more questions and answers take a trip through the spiderweb-strewn corridors of the Knowledge archive.
"After reading this article about Sheffield Wednesday using up their substitutions within 19 minutes of kick-off in the Carling Cup," begins Ramzi Suleiman, "I wondered if this was the shortest length of time it took a club to use all their substitutions whether by design or bad luck?"
"With Scott Parker joining Spurs, it means he joins the fourth London club of his career (adding to Charlton, Chelsea and West Ham)," writes Chris Nathans. "Which player has played for the most London sides, or alternatively the most sides in the same city?"
"By my reckoning, as of the latest transfer deadline, the Arsenal squad contains the international captains of Belgium, Russia, Czech Republic, South Korea, Israel, Morocco and Wales," notes Alex Davies. "Is this a record for most current international captains in a single squad?"
"I've been recently researching Gloucester City in the FA Cup, and it's come to my attention that since last reaching the first round proper (eventually losing to Cardiff City in a second-round replay) in 1989-90, we've had a very unenviable record to say the least," writes Simon Clark. "In the 21 years since we last reached this hallowed ground, we have been giantkilled (that is to say, beaten by a team from a lower division) an incredible 11 times, including five times in the last seven seasons and a stretch of six in a row from 1992-93 to 1997-98. Does any other team have a worse record of being giantkilled? Eleven times in 20 seasons seems quite remarkable to me, but there must be a team to save us!"
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