On the Ball

Whisky labels and football
By Hans Offringa
An article about whisky labels and football has to start undisputedly with a Spanish club, since Spain is the reigning world champion. FC Barcelona was founded in 1899 by Mr Joan Gamper, together with a group of young foreigners working and living in the eponymous city. It will come as no surprise that today the club still consists of players from different countries and cultural backgrounds. It's the trademark of the FC. The founding was a direct consequence of the increasing popularity of British sports throughout Europe. At the turn of the 19th century people became more interested in sports as a way to enjoy time off from work. Around 1919 FC Barcelona had grown into a tight unit, mainly by Gamper's doing, not only concentrating on the game, but also on character building and sportsmanlike behaviour. Although the history of the club is chequered, the FC managed to survive the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, albeit it not without loss of players and members. For me as a Dutchman, Barcelona is forever tied to Johan Cruyff, who played for the team and later coached them very successfully.

One of his disciples, Pep Guardiola, has shown in recent years that the inimitable JC (some argue that these initials are not coincidental) cemented an indestructible platform. As of today friend and foe agree that Barça is perhaps the best football team in the world with probably the best education for young players. Lionel Messi presents a perfect example.

Maybe not the all-time best, but certainly the most famous one is Manchester United, mother of all football clubs. It certainly is the largest when looking at the number of supporters worldwide, estimated at 450 million. Man U is a brand in itself.

However, the club was founded under another name. Back in 1878 it was known as Newton Heath L&YR FC. Only in 1902 was it christened Manchester United. The club has known ultimate heights of triumph and deep, deep valleys of sorrow. On 6 February 1958, their plane was heading back from Belgrade to England when it crashed. 22 people did not survive. It is arguably the blackest day in club history. Fortunately then-coach Matt Busby managed to again create a formidable team, this time under captain Bobby Charlton, who celebrated England becoming world champion of football in 1966. Two other famous Busby Babes are Scotsman Denis Law and Northern Irish George Best.

Sadly, the latter liked his whisky a bit too much. Many titles would follow, nationally as well as internationally. Man U also has the longest sitting coach. In November 1986 Alex Ferguson signed a contract and never left until recently. In May this year he announced his retirement. The 1998/1999 season probably is the most legendary, when the team won the "treble". Especially the final match of the EC I was a real thriller.

Until the 90th minute of the match, Bayern München led by 1-0. Then in the extra time, within two minutes, Sheringham and Solskjaer shattered the German dream and Man U collected the Cup with the Big Ears. 2010 and 2011 saw a final in the Champions League between Man U and Barcelona. Both times the latter won.

Newcastle United y, nicknamed The Magpies, has existed since 1881, but started as football club Stanley. Their big regional rival is Sunderland. They played an extra annual game, the Tyne-Wear Derby, for the first time in 1898 and continue to do so. Newcastle's fine years were at the beginning of the 20th Issue 116 | Whisky Magazine 37 century, when the team took the national title thrice and qualified for the final of the FA cup an amazing five times, one of which turned into victory. Slowly results deteriorated and in 1955 the last prize was won, again the FA Cup. Degradations and promotions followed, lately in 2009 and 2010. Last year the Magpies again were on their way back. Their most famous player is Alan Shearer (retired in 2006), who also triumphed with the English national team on many occasions. He is the club icon and in the stadium even a bar is named after him.

Shearer sold his soul to Newcastle and once even refused an offer from Manchester United. He preferred staying true to the club from the Northeast of England. The nickname comes from their strip. At home the Magpies play in blackand- white, which, according to legend, should bring luck.

What would this story be without a Scottish club? Although Celtic certainly has to be mentioned, I write of the Glasgow Rangers this time, currently holding the record of league titles with 54 and 33 Scottish Cups. The team also won the Scottish FA cup 33 times. For many years the Scottish competition has been focused on the rivalry with Celtic. Both clubs are together named as The Old Firm. A match between the two can also be considered as a religious meeting of minds in the largest city of Scotland - the Protestant Rangers against the Catholic Celts. Only one time the Rangers were successful in the European competition when they beat Dynamo Moscow in 1972 with 3-2 in the ECII. The Rangers are the oldest football club among the ones labelled. They started in 1873. In 2012 they were forced into liquidation, but were refinanced and entered the Scottish Football League's Third Division. They managed to clinch the title in 2013.

By the way, you don't have to be a large and famous club to have your own whisky with namesake label produced. Proof of this is St Mirren from Paisley, Scotland. They started off as a general sports club with disciplines like cricket and rugby. In 1877 the decision was made to concentrate on football. Although a national championship does not adorn their trophy cabinet yet, they did win the Scottish FA Cup three times. Once in 1983/84 St Mirren played in a European tournament, the UEFA Cup.

In 2012 PEC Zwolle , from my eponymous hometown, promoted from the first division to our premier league.

To celebrate this event I had a cask of Auchentoshan bottled for the city of Zwolle by Signatory, sporting the winning team on the label.

Coincidentally Auchentoshan is Gaelic for "corner of the field". Guess where this whisky was launched?

Apparently various bottlers see business in football. Waverley Vintners supplied the Rangers and the Magpies. It is a company mainly focused on wines from all over the world, as their online catalogue on the web shows beautifully. Cask ales and organising beer festivals belong to their core business.

Burn Stewart once produced the blend for Barça. Today it would surely have contained some Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Tobermory and/or Ledaig.

Chivas Brothers delivered the whisky for the Saints. This blend may consist of many single malts, since owner Pernod Ricard owns more than 20 Scottish distilleries, among which Aberlour and The Glenlivet.

The Mancunians do not reveal the origins of their dram. This might be a nice one for a blind tasting.

Whether these bottles are still available I cannot say, but football still does the rounds worldwide, just like whisky.