How Come You’re Not Funny Anymore? It isn’t just Steve Martin who has suffered a dramatic fall from grace. It happens in football as well…
Ghostgoal’s Top 5: Falls From Grace
In 1994 Tomas Brolin had the world at his feet. Part of a successful Parma team (more on that here) and off to the World Cup with Sweden. Just four years later he was assistant manager to Attilio Lombardo at Crystal Palace and pretty much retired aged less than 30 (according to the Palace chairman he was just an interpreter, but that is nowhere near as funny).
Predictably, Brolin’s decline began with an injury. In late 1994 he broke his foot on international duty and never fully regained fitness. His undoubted ability and tender years did persuade Howard Wilkinson to part with a hefty £4.5m for his services. He would only play 20 games for Leeds, scoring 4 goals, before being told that he could find a new club. Loan deals at FC Zurich and Parma were wholly unsuccessful and eventually his contract was terminated for a reported £140,000. His time at Leeds will probably be best remembered for a slightly ill-judged April Fools prank, joking on Swedish TV that he was to join IFK Norrköping on loan for the rest of the season, this whilst he was still part of the Leeds first team. His last recorded game was as a goalkeeper for Hudiksvalls A.B.K, aged just 29.
Retirement has been a mixed bag for Tomas. Ranging from restauranteering and professional poker to selling vacuum cleaners. Amusingly, earlier on this year Brolin began proceedings to try and claim a goal originally credited to Roland Nilsson in Sweden’s match against Norway in 1991, claiming it deflected off his back.
U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio won 7 Italian top flight titles between 1908 and 1922, and aside from a couple of Serie D titles, absolutely nothing since. The small rice town’s dominance in Italian football in this era was absolute. They provided the vast majority of the Italian national team and were way ahead of their rivals in terms of fitness and youth development, even if their slightly aggressive attitude earned them the nickname Leoni (lions).
Their dominance in Italy led to an invite to compete against the best teams in the world at a tournament in Rio de Janeiro. This involved a game against Liverpool, who on their tour as champions of England had been victorious in every game. They could only draw against the Bianche Casacche.
Ultimately, the size of Vercelli, with a current population of just 47,000, was to prove incompatible with the growth of football. Pro Vercelli embarked on a steady decline following the sale of their undoubted star player, Silvio Piola. Piola, scored 51 goals in 127 appearances for Pro Vercelli, before moving to Lazio in 1934. He would go on to be one of the best Italian players of his generation, scoring 30 goals in 34 appearances for the national team and playing a vital role in the 1938 World Cup winning squad. The Bianche Casacche were relegated to Serie B in 1935 and to Serie C in 1941. They did drop as low as Serie D on a few occasions, but are now relatively stable in Serie C2. If any team deserves a Hoffenheim style intervention, surely it is U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio.
It would be a real shame if Jardel was remembered in this country as the rather rotund creature that played 7 games for Bolton in 2003. Just two years before this he had won his second European Golden Boot, scoring a stunning 42 goals in 30 games for Sporting CP of Portugal. His first Golden Boot came in 1998-99 with Porto, with an almost as impressive 36 goals in 32 games. He was also top scorer in Europe the following season, but lost out to Kevin Phillips, who despite scoring less goals won the award based on the relative difficulty of their respective leagues. Overall, Jardel scored an astonishing 169 goals in 166 games for Porto.
At the end of the 1999-2000 season Jardel moved to Galatasaray for $16m. He failed to settle in Turkey and would spend only one season in Istanbul. He still ended up with 34 goals in 43 games, including 6 goals in the Champions League. He quickly moved back to Portugal with Sporting CP, winning the aforementioned Golden Boot in his first season. Spanning the period 1996-2002, Jardel scored – wait for it - 255 goals in 254 games.
Despite this record, Jardel was continually ignored by successive Brazilian national team coaches, earning just 7 caps in total. His omission from the 2002 World Cup squad appears to have been the beginning of the end. Jardel’s career, aged just 29, would never reignite. Several trips back to Brazil and a messy divorce prompted Jardel, claiming to be suffering from depression, to say he no longer wished to play for Porto. The Porto hierarchy rejected these claims, insisting that Jardel had been holding out for a move to Spain or Italy. A stop-start season, beset by injuries, was to follow, culminating in Porto releasing Jardel at the end of the 2002-03 season. Spells at Bolton, Ancona and several South American and Australian clubs were on the whole unsuccessful. Jardel currently plies his trade for Cherno More, in the Bulgarian league.
The first ever European Cup final took place in 1956. It was the culmination of Gabriele Hanot’s dream to discover who really was the finest team in Europe. Football fans are, of course, now well-versed in the success of Real Madrid – winners of the first 5 trophies. Less known is that the first final was a see-saw affair against Stade Reims of France with the Spanish outfit edging to glory by 4 goals to 3. It wasn’t a fluke – Reims were back again to contest Europe’s most glittering prize in 1959, where they were defeated by Real again, 2-0. It has been downhill ever since.
The city of Reims, 80 miles east of Paris, had the pleasure of boasting France’s finest football team for the best part of 20 years after the Second World War. Their first title came in 1949 with players like Robert Jonquet, Pierre Flamion and, significantly, Albert Batteaux. Batteaux took over as coach the following year and would preside over Reims’ period of dominance of the French game.
The arrival of the legendary Raymond Kopa in 1951 helped secure 2 more titles before that magical night in Paris in 1956 saw Reims very nearly become the first ever champions of Europe. Incredibly, they were 2-0 up after just 10 minutes before Di Stefano & co turned things around. To make matters worse, Kopa moved to Real Madrid after the game. It was a set-back but the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Just Fontaine that summer actually saw Reims go from strength to strength. The double was secured in 1958, leading to a 2nd appearance in the European Cup Final for Batteaux’s men where they were edged out again by Real. On this occasion, Kopa returned to Reims after the game – meaning they were able to field him alongside Fontaine, 2 of what were to become Pele’s 125 greatest living footballers, in the same side.
Further titles followed in 1960 and 1962 but the catalyst for Reims’ demise was the departure of legendary coach Albert Batteaux in 1963. They plummeted from having finished second in his final season to second from bottom in their first without him. Reims have struggled on ever since, haunted by the ghosts of their glorious past. There was a respectable 5th place finish in 1976 but a disastrous 13 point season in 1978-79 ended their stay in Ligue 1, seemingly for good. Last season was a good one for Reims as they managed to win promotion back to Ligue 2 .. but it is all a far cry from those magical 50s nights that captured the imagination of Europe.
Ok, not a fall from grace as such (the man himself would argue it is the exact opposite), more a conscious decision to stop playing. But, there surely isn’t a better example of a promising footballer wasting his talent. After signing for Wolves aged 16, Knowles quickly gained a reputation as an extremely gifted, albeit mercurial and controversial player. After equalising away at Portsmouth, he collected the ball from the goal and proceeded to kick the ball clean out of the ground, resulting in a lot of bemused fans and a bill from Portsmouth for the match ball.
A series of impressive performances saw him heavily linked with Liverpool and he was on the fringes of the very strong England squad readying itself for World Cup 1970. Just as it looked like Knowles’ career was about to take off, it was over. In the summer of 1969, on return from a pre season tour of United States, Knowles dropped quite the bombshell, “I shall continue playing football for the time being but I have lost my ambition. Though I still do my best on the field I need more time to learn about the Bible and may give up football.” This claim wasn’t taken particularly seriously, most believing it was nothing more than an attention seeking fad, Knowles had just bought a personalised MG and was widely seen as a bit of a playboy.
However, after the 8th game of the 1969-70 season, following a 3-3 draw against Nottingham Forest, Knowles left the dressing room, never to return. He became a Jehovah Witness and was last seen working as a bag-filler in Wolverhampton’s Marks and Spencer (seriously). It is a measure of the esteem he was held in by Wolves, that they kept hold of his registration until 1982, in the forlorn hope he would return.