#oneaday 32: Big Joe – age will not weary him

I have praised the power of Twitter more than once recently, but on Tuesday night, I read a whole load of Tweets to do with a game of football in Milan, between AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur in the so called Champions League (so called because the league is not actually full of champions). Far from informing me about Spurs’s magnificent victory against the odds, Twitter was full of  Tweets centred around the behaviour of Gennaro Gattuso and Joe Jordan. There had been some disagreements between the 2 firebrands. Football is a physical game and tempers can fly as testosterone and adrenaline strut in equal measure. But this was a little more spicy than usual.

So, it was with some incredulity that I sought out and watched the said incidents. First up, the tough pocket battleship that is Gattuso  decided to push Joe Jordan in the face during the match. Allegedly Big Joe, who actually played for Milan and can speak Italian, had been berating him throughout, probably in language Gattuso would comprehend. Clearly young  Gennaro does not know who he is taking on, probably assuming the bespectacled sexagenarian Scot was just some insignificant and weak member of Harry Redknapp’s Spurs backroom team.

Well I remember Joe Jordan playing professional football for Leeds, Manchester United and of course Scotland. He really did come from the hard school of knocks, the only forward of recent times that would come close to his combative style would be Alan Shearer. Jordan’s nickname later in his career was ‘Jaws’ on account of his missing front teeth and likeness to the principle henchman in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. Needless to say Joe was the archetypal target man.  Any ball in the air, in and around the penalty box would be fair game for Joe. He would put his head and his elbows in where it hurt. Given also that this was the age of the bustling centre half put on the pitch to ‘stop’  the centre forwards, literally with anything they could get away with, footballers were a lot more used to physical battery as opposed to athletic exertion.

Joe Jordan was an icon for many of us as kids in the 70’s. He played hard, honest and with passion. He also possessed a pretty unitelligible accent (or at least unintelligible to us sassenachs) and thus when he gave post match interviews, you really needed subtitles. ‘Manchester United’ was pronounced ‘Man Chstr Neetah’ and every sentence was peppered with liberal use of ‘aye’. Just like players such as Billy Bremner, Dave Mackay, Norman Hunter, Jackie Charlton, Ronnie Harris, Billy Bonds and Tommy Smith,  there were some footballers that you just did not argue with. Add in the fact that he was the only Scot to score in 3 successive World Cups – ’74, ’78 and ’82 and you know you have a great player. I think it must have been something to do with England not qualifying for the World Cups in ’74 and ’78 that meant when we watched the tournaments on TV, BBC and ITV naturally followed Scotland and Joe Jordan, Kenny Dalglish and Archie Gemmil got increased air time.

Joe was also one of the few British players to find his fortune outside of the Football League when he joined AC Milan. Although he was part of the squad that got demoted from Serie A, he was on hand to bang and knock the goals in the following season when they came straight back up again. He loved his time in Italy and I remember seeing him on Channel 4’s Football Italia  speaking gently,  looking lean and above all talking sense about the game. Clearly his spell in Italy taught him valuable lessons in diet and physical conditioning, something pretty absent in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s in British football. Above all Joe appeared very Zen like, as if he had decided that all the aggression had evapourated and life was about enjoying the good things. His specs helped cultivate that image.

 At the final whistle on Tuesday, you therefore have to think that Gattuso really did not know who he was taking on.  As Mark Lawrenson said on Football Focus yesterday, ‘Joe had taken his glasses off, and I though aye aye, here we go’. It is a real pity that the little Italian stopper is now banned from the return fixture. It would have added some extra spice to epic that will take place at White Hart Lane in two and a half weeks time.  Harry Brown, aka Michael Caine would be proud.

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