Source: The Guardian
From El Clásico No1 to FC United, via women's football in England and the Old Firm, here are half a dozen highlights
Posted by Scott Murray Friday 20 May 2011 10.41 BST guardian.co.uk
1) Barcelona rout Real
The scoreline 5-0 has a rare old significance in the history of El Clásico. A month after Real Madrid had snatched Alfredo di Stefano from under the noses of Barcelona in 1953, the new boy helped his new club to a 5-0 victory at the Bernabéu; Real went on to win their first league title in 21 years. In 1973, Johan Cruyff turned up in Catalunya and, soon after, inspired Barcelona to a 5-0 win over their vicious rivals at the Bernabéu; Barça ended the season as champions for the first time in 14 seasons. Then came Michael Laudrup's two 5-0s in a row: he was dropped from Cruyff's Dream Team soon after orchestrating a huge win for Barça in early 1994, then resurfaced in Madrid where he helped Real take Barça to the cleaners in early 1995, his next El Clásico appearance; at the end of both seasons, Laudrup picked up a championship medal. Will Barcelona's famous rout of Real last November be considered a similar historical harbinger in years to come? Barça have already wrapped up La Liga, of course, but times have changed and glory is measured out in a much more exalted metre these days. Plenty have anointed this team as the greatest club side ever, but their legacy will be tarnished – and the long-term view of this signature performance altered – if they can't seal the deal in Europe next weekend.
2) Some genuine England World Cup hopes
With England's men having embarrassed themselves against the USA at the World Cup last summer, it's just as well the women are taking up the slack. Last month England beat the USA for the first time since the 1980s. Most fans, schooled in realism, would have taken a draw, or even a respectable defeat, against the world's No1 team. Instead, England flew out of the blocks, early goals from Jess Clarke and Rachael Yankey proving enough in a 2-1 victory as superstar American striker Abby Wambach was restricted to the margins by a bravura English defensive performance. Hope Powell's side have since followed that up with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Sweden, their first since 1984, despite missing their captain Faye White. With a brand-new semi-professional league launched last month, the women's game in England is healthier than ever, and hopes are high for the national team at the upcoming World Cup in Germany this summer. Nobody's betting huge sums on England emerging with the trophy, that's true, but then again the men are given carte blanche to chat nonsense every four years, so it's only fair the women get their turn to dream. Especially as they've actually got a few good results in the bag to back up any big talk.
3) The Glasgow school
The more sophisticated football hooligans think they're becoming, the louder the sound of knuckles scraping on the pavement. Bullets and bombs in the post, for the love of Struth and Maley. The overcooked sectarian nonsense off the field sadly obscured a fascinating series of matches between Celtic and Rangers, albeit one which didn't quite boast the quality of Barcelona's many run-ins with Real Madrid. Celtic played the better football overall – Emilio Izaguirre, Baram Kayal and Gary Hooper all starred, and showcased Neil Lennon's sharp eye in the transfer market – but it was Rangers who had the grit to seal the deal, Allan McGregor's late penalty save from Georgios Samaras in the final rubber of seven effectively deciding the destination of the SPL trophy. It's also a wee shame that the off-field disgraces visited upon Lennon have made it very awkward to admit to enjoying the ludicrous playground stramash between the two sides at Parkhead in the Scottish Cup, with Rangers down to nine men and Lennon and McCoist squaring up on the touchline. Because, let's not be too sanctimonious, it was highly entertaining at the time. And a pantomime is not a pass for hoodlums to act like eejits.
4) A tale of two Cities
As things stood at the start of this season, only six teams from outside the Super Spendthrift Superleague Six – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City – had won a major trophy in England since football's financial Year Zero in 1992. (For the record: Everton and Portsmouth in the FA Cup, Aston Villa, Leicester, Blackburn and Middlesbrough in the League Cup, and Blackburn in the league.) For two decades' worth of play, it's a staggeringly predictable roll of honour: even in notoriously uncompetitive Scotland, where the finances are skewed even more disproportionately in favour of the Old Firm clubs, eight clubs outside of that country's financial powerhouse have, during that same period, managed to land a major pot. So it was a welcome relief to see Birmingham City win this year's Carling Cup. Partly because it was a rip-roaring game with an old-school shock – why are Arsenal always so dire in League Cup finals against unfancied opposition, from Swindon to Luton? – but mainly because it mixed things up a bit. And then there's the FA Cup, where – let's be generous – even moneybags Manchester City get a pass, albeit for this one trophy only, on account of their put-upon fans having not celebrated a single thing of note for … what did that flag at Old Trafford say again? So long may the trend of new additions to the modern roll of honour continue. Though admittedly we don't hold out too much hope, City's likely role in this situation being a particularly savage irony.
5) FC United
It's been a great season for the common fan sticking it to The Man. The major early-season story came at Liverpool, where the support did all they could to ride Tom Hicks and George Gillett out of town, launching an online campaign which went a long way to stymying the pair's attempts to organise refinance. (For the full story of Hicks and Gillett's jaw-dropping ineptitude, we recommend Brian Reade's highly entertaining An Epic Swindle, dedicated to "The Noise that refused to be dealt with".) Down the M62, FC United of Manchester have long been sticking it to the hated Glazer regime at Old Trafford, and their apogee – so far, anyway – came in November with their FA Cup first-round victory over League One Rochdale. The winner was admittedly an egregious disgrace, Mike Norton outrageously kicking the ball out of the goalkeeper's hands in the dying seconds, but no matter: this was an FA Cup shock for the ages – there were 95 league places between the two teams – and proof that there is joyous life beyond the big stage, and that big clubs can't afford to take advantage of their fanbases too much longer. A great result, though FC United's real crowning glory came the morning after, with the club refusing to speak to Football Focus in solidarity with the BBC hacks out on strike at the time. And when you boil it down to the bare bones, good old-fashioned left-wing collectivity is what all football support is built on.
6) MK Dons, whose fans really haven't thought it through, failing yet again to win promotion
All together now.