14th August – Jay-Jay Okocha

Jay-Jay Okocha is one of the greatest Nigerian players to have ever graced the world of football and he lit up every pitch he stepped foot on.

His smile was also seen by many and you could just tell that he loved playing football and enjoyed every minute on the pitch. His skills were wonderful to watch and he was such a good influence on other players including the Brazilian Ronaldinho.

Okocha started his career in Nigeria in 1990 joining Enugu Rangers. While on holiday in Germany visiting a friend he ended up going to a training session at Third Division side Borussia Neunkirchen and impressed the manager enough to sign the midfielder. He stayed for one season scoring seven times in 35 league games and this caught the attention of other clubs and initially he signed for FC Saarbrucken but after just a few months he joined Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Augustine Jay Jay OkochaFussball Eintracht Frankfurt

He continued to shine in Germany and scored some amazing goals during his four year spell at the club, including one against Karlsruher, where he dribbled into the penalty area, beating some players twice before slotting past Oliver Kahn. Unfortunately towards the end of his time at the club he fell out with manager Jupp Heynckes and with the club being relegated Okocha knew he had to leave.

In 1996, Fenerbahce signed Okocha and once again was an instant success, delighting fans with his skills and his free kick ability. During his time at the club he played 62 games and scored 30 goals which alerted the attention of PSG. The French side paid £14 million for the Nigerian, making him the most expensive African at the time. It was during this time that he became a mentor to Ronaldinho and in his four year stint he scored 12 times.

Okocha PSG

After the 2002 World Cup, Okocha made the move to Bolton Wanderers. Despite injuries he played a key role in helping the club avoid relegation and his seven goals, including their goal of the season against West Ham, made him a fan favourite. The fans printed shirts saying ‘so good he was named twice’. In the following campaign he was named club captain and led them to the final of the League Cup.

Okocha BW

He played over 100 times in the Premier League but he left the club under a cloud. He didn’t think they had built on the foundations that he had helped lay and went to play in Qatar for a season. Afterwards he returned to England signing for Championship side Hull City. Due to injuries he didn’t reach his full potential but he did help them get promoted. He was then released at the end of the season and retired.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “On and off the field he was the captain you looked for. He sorted the odd scuffle out in the dressing room. Then there was outstanding ability on the field. He became an iconic figure at Bolton Wanderers.”

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12th July – Stelios Giannakopoulos

Stelios Giannakopoulos is a player that helped his teams achieve much more than what was expected of them at both club and international level.

The midfielder helped Greece win the European Championships in 2004, playing in four of their six games, when nobody thought they would do anything in the tournament but it was largely down to how hard the team worked and their organisation and this is something Stelios has shown throughout his career.

Stelios Greece

In 1991, Stelios made his debut for Greek side Ethnikos Asteras and helped the club gain promotion to the Third Division and he was quickly impressing scouts from bigger clubs. He made the move to Paniliakos, where he continued developing and in three years scored 26 goals and was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs.

Olympiakos took a chance on him in 1996 and he would play a key role in helping them win the title every season he was there. But in his seven successful seasons, his most iconic contribution was in the Champions League as he scored the club’s first ever goal in the competition and it was even voted the goal of the tournament by fans.

Stelios Olypiakos

After his success in his homeland he wanted to test himself abroad with many suitors looking at him and English side Bolton Wanderers signed him on the 28th May 2003. In his first season he helped the club to their highest finish in the Premier League and also to the final of the League Cup. His performances were of the highest quality and other big clubs were trying to sign him. However, he stayed at Bolton and finished as their top scorer at the end of the 2004-05 season.

Injuries did start catching up with Stelios and he started playing less and less but he still managed to score some very important goals, including his last one for the club against Tottenham Hotspur which helped Bolton avoid relegation. With his contract coming to an end, he decided to join Hull City on a free transfer.

Stelios BW

He never really got the opportunity to show his quality at Hull and after just two league appearances he returned to Greece, joining AEL. He scored three times in his first four games and was influential until the end of the season as the club qualified for the Europa League which was seen as a miracle due to the size of them. A difficult second season followed and it ended with Stelios’ contract being cancelled and announcing his retirement.

Since retiring he has been the president of the Greek Professional Footballers Association as well as a spell as manager of former club Paniliakos from the 13th August 2012 to the 20th January 2013.

The final word can go to former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. “He might be small but he’s very aggressive and very strong. He doesn’t mind the physical side of the game. He’s proved that. He’ll take it and just get up and get on with it.”

20th October – Matt Jansen

Everyone knows that injuries play a huge part in football and some players get really unlucky and have their careers ruined by them, Matt Jansen definitely falls into this category.

In 2002 the striker was involved in a motorcycle accident and almost lost his life while on holiday and after six days in a coma it is understandable that he could never reach the level that he had previously been at. The saddest part of his story is the fact that he was on the fringes of the England team at the time and some people thought he was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the 2002 World Cup team.

The 37 year old started his career at Carlisle United and made his debut during the 1996-97 season and helped the club gain promotion from the Third Division. He also won his first piece of silverware at the club after they won the Football League Trophy against Colchester United after coming on as a substitute in extra time. Jansen made a quick start to the following season and found the back of the net nine times in 23 games before being linked with moves away from the club.
Jansen CU
He first rejected Manchester United as he wanted to be somewhere that could guarantee him games and signed for Crystal Palace in 1998 for £1 million. Although they were relegated from the Premier League Jansen proved his quality and scored three times in eight games before getting off to a positive start in Division One with seven goals in 18 games. This convinced Blackburn Rovers to sign him for £4.1 million and he would justify his transfer fee by scoring on his debut against Tottenham Hotspur in January 1999.

Once again, his club failed in their attempt to avoid relegation and he had to prove his ability in Division One. After a slow 1999-00 season he found his feet and was a very important part of Blackburn’s promotion to the Premier League in the following season, scoring 23 goals. Jansen was then helped the club stay in the Premier League with 10 league goals and also scored six goals in five games in the League Cup, including the first in the 2-1 final win over Tottenham.
Jansen BR
However, in the summer he had his accident and struggled to get back into the Blackburn team and joined Coventry City on loan in 2003 where he scored twice in nine games. At the start of the 2004-05 season he did get back into the Blackburn team and after two goals in eight games it seemed like he was beginning to rediscover his form, however a lot of people felt that he hadn’t recovered mentally from his accident and was struggling with the pressure of Premier League football and therefore decided that he should take a break from the game.

In May 2005 he signed a new deal with Blackburn suggesting that he was going to be given another chance but this didn’t happen and he was released on 11th January 2006. Two days he later he signed for Bolton Wanderers but after just seven appearances he was released.

Jansen did not return to football until March 2009 when he signed for Wrexham and he scored once against Northwich Victoria before leaving the club. Since he has played for Leigh and Chorley as his former teammate Garry Flitcroft was manager at the clubs and persuaded his friend to play for him. Jansen is now player-coach at Chorley.
Jansen Chorley
The final word can go to Dean Saunders, who coached him at Blackburn and signed him for Wrexham. “He’s not doing it for the money; he’s not earning a lot. He wants to come and get back to enjoying playing football again. Matt has done it to help me. Matt is a class player but I am not expecting miracles. He will hopefully show the bits of quality I know he has got in him.”

8th May – Jack Charlton

English World Cup winners and one club men are few and far between but today marks the birthday of someone that fits into both categories.

Jack Charlton helped England win the World Cup in 1966 and spent all of his playing days at Leeds United where he also had a lot of success. But it could have been so different for the older Charlton brother as he had at first rejected the chance to play for Leeds and then another opportunity at the club clashed with an interview to become a policeman. Charlton decided to go to the trial and was given a contract.
Charlton England
He made his debut on 25th April 1953 against Doncaster Rovers in a 1-1 draw and he would have played more in the following years if he did not have to serve two years National Service but he returned to the team in 1955 and became a regular as the team gained promotion to the top flight. The next few years were tougher for the player and the club with a relegation and a number of managerial changes. Charlton almost left the club on several occasions but the 1962-63 season was the start of an almost decade long defensive line up which included Charlton and Don Revie was getting the club back to where they belonged, challenging for top honours. They were promoted to the First Division as champions in the 1963-64 season and made an immediate impact by going on a 25 match unbeaten run and almost winning the title.

After coming close in many different competitions in 1968 they finally won a major cup by beating Arsenal in the League Cup 1-0 and then followed this up with their first European trophy the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. A season later Charlton helped Leeds to their first ever Football League title with the team only losing two games all season. In his penultimate season as a player he finally clinched the one trophy that had been missing from his collection by beating Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup final
Charlton Leeds
After being limited to 25 appearances and the signing of Gordon McQueen, Charlton decided to retire but he wanted to become a manager. In 2006 he was voted into Leeds United’s greatest XI.

On his 38th birthday he was given the Middlesbrough job. Strangely he never signed a contract and accepted lower wage demands but he did have a gentleman’s agreement in place that he could not be sacked.

It did not take him long to be successful as he won promotion for Division Two with seven games left to play and became the first manager outside of the top flight to be named Manager of the Year. He managed to keep the team in the league for a number of seasons but there was unrest in the boardroom and the board voted to sack him, however the chairman stepped in and overruled the decision. He did eventually leave the club at the end of the 1976-77 season.

His next job was at bottom of the Third Division Sheffield Wednesday and he turned them round completely and won promotion in his third season at the club. In the 1982-83 season he took the club to the top of the table unfortunately injuries struck and they slid down the table, finally finishing sixth. His greatest moment as Wednesday manager is still sang by their fans to this day as he was in charge when they beat arch rivals Sheffield United 4-0 which is known as the Boxing Day Massacre.

Charlton then went back to his native North East and first managed Middlesbrough again as a favour to the chairman and kept them in the Second Division after it looked like they were going down and then in 1984 he became Newcastle United manager. He only lasted one season but he did have to use a lot of young players and it was a difficult situation.

On the international he was also successful as a player and a manager, winning the World Cup in 1966 and then managing Ireland to their first ever World Cup in 1990, where they reached the quarter finals.
Charlton Ireland
The last word can go to his former Leeds United teammate Johnny Giles. “Jack turned it round for himself once he got his attitude right, he was outstanding: always competing and getting his foot in when it mattered. His contribution in the promotion season was vital; it was the start of something good for both him and the club