Throwback: Our Three Favourite UEFA Cup Winners of the 1990s

Let’s face it: Clubs, certainly the elite clubs of European football, don’t love the Europa League with the same passion as they once showed for the UEFA Cup. Sure, winning the thing is pretty desirable, and players aren’t faking the unbridled joy evident in the celebrations. But, sadly, for many clubs and, indeed, fans, the most important thing about winning the Europa League is that it offers a gateway to the Champions League for the next season.

It wasn’t always thus, and we would argue that the golden era for UEFA Cup greatness was in the 1990s. The format of the European Cup and early years of the Champions League meant that fewer teams took part in the premier competition, and there wasn’t the big league bias for places that we see today. If you didn’t win your domestic league, you missed out on the Champions League – a concept that feels almost alien today. The upshot of that was that some genuinely great teams would be vying for the UEFA Cup.

Below we are going to look back at three of our favourite UEFA cup winners of the era. If you fancy stretching your trivia muscles by naming all the UEFA Cup/Europa League winners in history, then you can check out this weekly football quiz that can test your knowledge on that. For the moment, though, let’s look back on some cracking 90s UEFA Cup winners:

Inter Milan – 1998

Inter’s late 90s vintage was far from being a one-man team, but the final was all about one player – Ronaldo. O Phenômeno was just 21-years-old at the time but had already collected a Balon D’Or and two FIFA World Player of the Year awards (they used to be separate prizes).  It was the first UEFA Cup Final to be played over one leg, and Ronaldo and Inter battered an excellent Lazio side 3-0 to lift the trophy.

Goals from Ronaldo, Ivan Zamorano and Javier Zanetti sealed the victory for Inter, but it was Ronaldo’s powerful runs from deep in his own half that live long in the memory. The Lazio defence marshalled by Alessandro Nesta – one of the best centre backs in the world – simply could not handle the Brazilian, who powered through into the box time and time again. It was like watching a caged bull unleashed on that Lazio defence. Incredible, and a stark reminder that one of the greatest strikers in history had more than goals in his game.

Bayern Munich – 1996

Bayern might have the largess from being perennial Champions League contenders these days, but the team had to make do with UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup action for a lot of campaign in the 1990s. Indeed, Bayern had just scraped to a qualifying spot for the 1995/96 UEFA Cup after finishing sixth in the Bundesliga the season previously. However, a team containing Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus, Jean-Pierre Pain and Oliver Kahn would soon show its true class. Munich’s experience and nous allowed the team to dominate the two-legged final against a handy Bordeaux side, running out 5-1 aggregate winners.

Eight members of Bayern’s squad would go on to lift the Euro 96 trophy at Wembley that summer, but we would soon see many of the players leave Bayern. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and midfielder Mehmet Scholl were the only players to play in the successful Champions League campaign of 2000/2001. As such, there was an end of an era feel about the match, even if some like Matthaus held on for a few years. A great team, though, and one that was capable of outthinking its opponents even if the players did not have the legs to outrun them.

Parma – 1999

If you were a 90s football hipster and you did not support Parma, then you weren’t worth your salt. Just look at some of the names in the line-up for the 1999 UEFA Cup Final against Marseille: Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Sensini, Baggio (Dino), Veron, Crespo, Chiesa. An incredible team that would sadly be broken up soon after as players were enticed to join Italy and Europe’s biggest clubs.

As for the final, it was no contest between Parma’s wizards – Veron orchestrating the midfield was a thing of beauty – and a rather lacklustre Marseille side. Hernan Crespo, in particular, was a thorn in the side of the French side, opening the scoring after 25 minutes and making a nuisance of himself in the Marseille box. A well-deserved man of the match award came after. But this Parma side oozed class, and it’s something of a pity the team wasn’t kept together a few years longer as it was good enough to land a Champions League title.

Unpopular opinion…… Bingo is cool!

                      

It is true, Bingo really is cool once again. No longer is it the game typified by old ladies with ‘Bingo Wings’ played in smoked filled gala halls. Let look at the facts if you don’t believe us! Twenty years ago, there was around 1200 commercial bingo clubs within the UK. This was decreased by half pretty much as soon the smoking ban was implemented in 2007 within the UK. Bingo Halls also declined as a result of the introduction of the UK and Euro lotteries who’s initial popularity largely came at the expense of bingo. Then there were scratch cards! Instant affordable gambling ‘hits’ that could be purchased at newsagents, superstores and corner shops. While initial scratchcard offerings were relatively basic it didn’t take long for them actually replicate Bingo games themselves.  By January 2014 there was only less than 400 remaining throughout the UK. Quite a fall from grace from it halcyon days.

Over the years, Bingo was always considered a game most enjoyed by the bus pass generation! However, this has changed with the proliferation of online gaming and gambling platforms. With high end interfaces and instant connectivity, the number of younger generation Bingo players is on the rise! This was further aided with the advent of the Smartphone and the ability to play high end ‘games’ on peoples phones. It is now fair to say that online Bingo is now considered one of the most popular games in the online gambling world!

The latest data from statistics collated in 2017, clearly indicates a steady increase in the younger sector of the overall Bingo players. The 18-34 age group show an increase of 25% in comparison to 2016 figures. But what is behind this trend? Well it has been suggested that unlike the generations before them this particular generation do not enjoying going out as much and prefer to stay in and games like Bingo allow them to socialise and play a game all from the comfort of their home. Will this trend continue? Certainly in the short term it will provide a welcome distraction from the problems with Covid-19 and fill a hole where many would consider online sports betting as their go to place to spend their betting pound.         

So, has the advent of online line Bingo killed the mother that gave it birth? Here the answer is no, quite the opposite! In 2017 the number of purpose-built Bingo halls actually increased for the first time in many years! Driven not by a boom in demand for the sherry drinking over 60s but from a new wave of Bingo lovers. If going to Bingo is not for the socially shy millennials then who is driving this demand for Bingo halls? Well it is hen parties and work social evenings that have brought a new clientele into Bingo halls and  breathed a welcomed breath of fresh air to the ailing leisure sector.

So would I go as a 41 year old male? Yes, I would so Pick a Mate’ (68) and get down there!   

The big battles in the Bundesliga as the season resumes

Football fans finally have something to get excited about, with the Bundesliga resuming this weekend after its postponement as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. With eight (or in a couple of cases, nine) matches remaining, it’s all to play for at both ends of the table and as we gear up to the long overdue climax of this campaign, let’s take a look at some of the battles teams and players are facing.

The title race

This prolonged Bundesliga season has been closer than most in recent years. Of course, there’s no surprises as to who is top of the table – Bayern Munich. The current reigning champions have won the league for the last seven years and are four points ahead of their nearest rivals, Borussia Dortmund. Understandably, you’ll find Bayern the favourites in the latest Bundesliga odds from Paddy Power. But it’s also tight between the other sides within the top four – with RB Leipzig in third on 50 points, and Borussia Mönchengladbach, a further point behind them, in fourth. Bayer Leverkusen could also finish in the Champions League places, as they are two points behind in fifth – but all teams in the top six have played an equal number of games

The relegation scrap

As things stand, Werder Bremen and new boys Paderborn occupy the two relegation places, with Fortuna Düsseldorf sitting in 16th, which is the relegation play-off spot. Bremen have a game in hand over their rivals, but are four points away from that play-off and a further four points off safety. The two bottom clubs boast the worst form in all of the division – failing to win any of their last six matches. In fact, both clubs have won just one game since the turn of the year – and have won four times all season.

As things stand, Düsseldorf would face Hamburg, who currently sit third in the 2. Bundesliga, in that play-off decider. The club were relegated in 2017-18 and failed to bounce back at the first time of asking, having finished fourth. But the second tier of German football is equally as tight, and any of five teams could easily nab that coveted third place.

The battle for Europe

As we mentioned, the top of the table in the Bundesliga is tight and there are a number of teams tussling for a top six finish and a place in Europe next season. As things stand, Gladbach are fourth and currently hold the final Champions League spot. They’re on 49 points, and Bayer Leverkusen are just two behind them. With six points separating the top four, it’s all to play for and the table could easily change before the end of the season.

Further down, Leverkusen are in fifth – which would secure qualification to the Europa League. There’s a massive 10 points between them and Schalke who sit in sixth – consigning them to a place in the second round of qualifying for the same competition. But here’s where things get interesting. Mid-table is equally as tight as the top, with about six teams battling for that sixth place – and anyone from Wolfsburg in seventh (36 points) to Union Berlin in eleventh (30 points) are in with a shout. Prior to the league being suspended, of all the clubs vying for that place in Europe, Wolfsburg boast the best form with three wins in their last five. But with the season being so heavily disrupted, and teams effectively on a level playing field, it’ll all be down to who regains momentum quickest in these final matches. It’s sure to be a thrilling finish.

The Golden Boot

Like the top of the league, there’s no surprises when it comes to who leads the way for the Torjägerkanon. Robert Lewandowski is a four-time winner of the Golden Boot (with three of those accolades coming with current club, Bayern) and he’s scored 25 goals this campaign – more than he amassed last term. Lewandowski has been the most-feared frontman in German football for a decade now and his record speaks for itself.

However, hot on his heels is Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who is four goals behind with 21 scored. The striker is wanted by a number of clubs including Liverpool and while there are a few matches remaining, he could well leapfrog Lewandowski to win the Golden Boot. It’s fair to say it’s a two-horse race for the Torjägerkanon, with Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho sitting in third place on 14 goals.