Plucky underdogs overcoming apparently insurmountable odds

Barry Glendenning
The Guardian


The Miracle On Ice. David versus Goliath. Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp. Everyone loves stories in which plucky underdogs overcome apparently insurmountable odds to achieve unlikely triumphs over heavy-handed bullies and on Monday the beleaguered, put-upon church mice of Manchester City added their own tale of plucky derring-do to the canon. Having been found guilty of going all Gordon Ramsay on their books by Uefa and handed a two-year ban from European competition on top of a €30m fine, this morning they heard that the court of arbitration for sport had overturned their ban and reduced the financial penalty to chump change of €10m.

Related: Manchester City's Champions League ban lifted by Cas but club fined €10m

Scroll to continue with content

It was welcome vindication for a club who had always maintained they have “overwhelming evidence” to prove their innocence, but preferred not to show it to anybody when the option of cranking out paranoid but fan-pleasing statements claiming they were the victims of a high-profile Uefa conspiracy was also available. While City’s Abu Dhabi ownership had previously been found guilty of pumping millions into the club and disguising it in the official club ledger as commercial sponsorship, Cas has decreed that “most of the alleged breaches were either not established or time-barred”, thanks to Uefa’s own five-year statute of limitations. A five-year statute of limitations The Fiver and many other legal experts were puzzled to learn that nobody at Uefa seems to have known about.

The reaction from City fans has been predictable, with some taking to various social media disgraces to crow about their club being found not guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play rules, even though that’s not exactly the case. For the offence of obstructing the Uefa investigation that led to their conviction at what they perceived to be a court presided over by Skippy the bush kangaroo, their club will have to rummage down the back of the sofa and find €10m to cover their fine.

“The club welcomes the implications of today’s ruling as a validation of the cub’s position and the body of evidence that it was able to present,” cheered City in a champagne-drenched statement. “The club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered.” At Uefa HQ in Nyon, by contrast, the sound of popping corks was conspicuous by its absence as assorted elderly men in blazers came to terms with the fact their efforts to keep City and other little guys like them from undermining and destabilising European football’s well established Big Club hegemony seem terminally doomed.

“Over the last few years, financial fair play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and Uefa and ECA [the European Club Association] remain committed to its principles,” they droned wistfully. Still in the FA Cup and Big Cup, with the Rumbelows Cup and a Cas appeal already in the bag, plucky little Manchester City are hoping to finish their season with a rare quadruple. They may be little underdogs, but their tails are very much up. Unlike their Premier League counterparts at Sheffield United, Wolves, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester, for whom the race for fifth place just got far less interesting.


Join Rob Smyth for piping-hot MBM action of Manchester United 2-2 Southampton from 8pm BST.


“You follow him, you’ve watched his Instagram account, you watch Twitter” – Ole Gunnar Solskjær gives Manchester United fans eye-opening insight into how he scouted Harry Maguire’s solid social media game as much as his footballing one before signing him.


The latest edition of Football Weekly will be in this general area soon. Oof!


“I’m sad about Jack Charlton’s demise and have appreciated the memories of his considerable achievements shared over the weekend. My fondest memory is of the rascal being caught fishing without a licence in 1996 having previously been the poster boy in a campaign for the legal requirement to have such a licence” – Damien Healey.

“Daniel Farke was quite right to say that when you don’t win you can’t divide the team into winners and losers (Friday’s Fiver). I would put that down to a lack of winners” – Dan Ashley.

“As the Championship table stands, Fulham and Nottingham Forest would meet in the promotion play-off semi-final. I’m relishing this potential match-up for nostalgic reasons. Fulham have a player with the first name Neeskens, up against Forest’s 1970s history. Bring back the mullets and bell-bottoms for this one, and may the grooviest team advance to the final!” – Peter Oh.

“With regards to Andrew Massey’s quote can I (and 1,056 others) just ask: whose penis would he have rather stitched?” – Adam Smith.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Damien Healey.


Jack Charlton’s life and times – in pictures. RIP Big Jack.


Tottenham have confirmed the death of Serge Aurier’s brother, Christopher, in Toulouse. The 26-year-old was also a footballer, playing for Rodéo Toulouse in the French fifth division last season.

Wilfried Zaha has divulged the grim truth that online racist abuse, of the type that has landed a 12-year-old in police custody on Sunday, “happens every day”. The Palace player spoke after Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick shared an example of disgusting racist filth.

Manchester United Women are continuing to bolster: Spain full-back Ona Batlle is on the way from Levante and former academy coach Martin Ho has been named Casey Stoney’s assistant. In a happy accident, Stoney tooted: “Her style of play fits perfectly.”

Meanwhile, Manchester United’s men’s team aren’t one of those made-up ones you hear about – they’re a “proper team”, snorts Paul Pogba.

Eddie Howe has confiscated the conch of doubt to declare his unshakable faith in Bournemouth’s previously goal-bereft Dominic Solanke, who scored twice in victory over Leicester on Sunday. “I’ve always felt that the goals have been there,” Howe honked.

And Derby boss Phillip Cocu has howled “hou op!” at those behind “beyond the limits” social media abuse aimed at Ben Hamer after the goalkeeper’s error against Brentford on Saturday.


There are wonderful anecdotes aplenty in this lovely Jack Charlton appreciation piece by Kevin Mitchell. Here’s Brian Glanville’s obituary and we also have Paul Doyle’s take on how the big man was thought of in Republic O’Ireland, where he had them dancing in the streets, and Kevin Sheedy on what it was like to play – and drink Guinness – for him.

A no-look penalty and another Monchi recruitment masterclass leaves Sevilla close to a Big Cup return, writes Sid Lowe.

The handball rule cheapened the top-of-the-table clash between Atalanta and Juventus, sighs Nicky Bandini.

Relegated Norwich found out that slick technique can be fool’s gold in the Premier League, writes Paul MacInnes.

Mustang-driving, leather-jacket-wearing rock’n’roll manager Gareth Ainsworth has made makes Wycombe unlikely Wembley headliners in the League One play-off final against Oxford United, reckons Ben Fisher.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!


What to read next