Thursday, April 28, 2016

28 April 1923 - Behold A Pale Horse

On 28 April 1923, Bolton Wanderers and West Ham met in the FA Cup Final. It was the first event ever held at the original Wembley Stadium.

The stadium had been built over the course of the previous year at a cost of £750,000 and was ready for business just four days prior to the Final. Approximately 300,000 people turned up for the match, far in excess of the stadium's capacity of 127,000.

Spectators spilled out of the terraces and onto the pitch before the match, requiring mounted police to clear the field for the game. The day's iconic image shows constable George Scorey on a grey horse parting a sea of supporters. His horse, Billie, appeared white on film, giving rise to the match's nickname as the White Horse Final.

The match itself was anticlimactic. Bolton went ahead in the second minute with a goal from forward David Jack. Jack's shot hit a spectator who was standing against the net, knocking him unconscious. Bolton forward Jack Smith doubled their lead in the 53rd minute and Wanderers held on for a comfortable 2-0 victory.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

27 April 1974 - Law Sentences United To Relegation

On 27 April 1974, Manchester City defeated Manchester United 0-1 at Old Trafford, securing United's relegation to the Second Division. The match's lone goal was scored by former European Footballer of the Year Denis Law, who had spent the previous eleven seasons with United before moving to City on a free transfer in the summer of 1973.

United entered the match in 21st position on 32 points, three points behind Birmingham City, who were sitting above the drop in 19th place. At that time, wins earned two points each and United, with two matches left to play, had a match in hand. Thus, in order for United to avoid relegation, they needed at least a draw against City and a Birmingham loss.

With less than 10 minutes to play, the match was scoreless. Then City pressed forward and the ball found its way into the United box where Law instinctively backheeled it into the net. Law's teammates rushed over to congratulate him, but he refused to celebrate, realizing that he had just sealed the fate of the club he loved. United's supporters invaded the pitch and the match was stopped. The scoreline held, though, 0-1 to City.

As it turned out, Birmingham won their last match, so United would have gone down even if they had beaten City. Nevertheless, the goal is remembered as the one that sent them down to Division Two. In any event, they didn't stay down long, earning promotion back to the top flight at the first opportunity.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

26 April 1991 - The Hand Of God Gets Caught In The Cookie Jar

On 26 April 1991, police in Buenos Aires arrested Diego Maradona for possession of cocaine. It was one more twist in the spiraling descent of the Argentina star, who had just started serving a 15-month ban from Italian football.

Although he was already suffering from a cocaine addiction when he joined Napoli in 1984, he reached his greatest potential while at the club, winning two Serie A titles (1987, 1990) and the UEFA Cup (1989). Meanwhile, he shined on the international stage for Argentina, guiding them to the 1986 World Cup trophy while winning the Golden Ball at the tournament's best player.

But in March 1991, the Italian Football Federation suspended Maradona for 15 months after he tested positive for cocaine. He returned to Buenos Aires, but could not escape his troubles. On the morning on 26 April, police roused him from bed at his apartment and arrested him for possession of cocaine.

Maradona's ongoing problems proved too much for Napoli, who transferred him to Sevilla in 1992 at the completion of his suspension. His troubles continued, however, including a dismissal from the 1994 World Cup after a positive test for ephedrine and another arrest for cocaine possession in 1997. The latter effectively ended his playing career.

He returned to the sport in 2008 to manage Argentina's 2010 World Cup campaign, but his contract expired after the tournament. He followed that with a brief spell in charge of UAE club Al Wasl from 2011 to 2012 and he is currently out of football.

Monday, April 25, 2016

25 April 2004 - The Invincibles Take The Title

On 25 April 2004, Arsenal drew 2-2 with Tottenham at White Hart Lane. The point they earned was enough to clinch the Premier League title with four matches remaining.

The Gunners were near the end of an incredible season, having gone undefeated in the league. They started the day on 81 points, nine clear of second-place Chelsea and with a game in hand. Playing before a crowd of 36,097 at the home of their fierce derby rivals, Arsenal never looked in danger of losing the title.

They went ahead after only three minutes, as Thierry Henry recovered the ball from a failed Spurs corner, sped down the pitch and fed it to Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman delivered a precise cross for captain Patrick Vieira, who provided the final touch that put the ball into the net. Bergkamp started the attack for Arsenal's second goal in the 35th minute, beating the Tottenham defenders with a through ball to Vieira, who then gave it to Robert Pires for the finish.

Amid constant pressure from Arsenal, Tottenham fought back, cutting the deficit to one with a goal from Jamie Redknapp in the 63rd minute. Then, in stoppage time, Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann fouled Robbie Keane, who converted the ensuing penalty kick to earn the draw.

The result put Arsenal ten points clear of Chelsea, who had lost that day to Newcastle and had only three games left. Arsenal drew two of their last four, but finished the season undefeated.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

23 April 1923 - The Young Turks

On 23 April 1923, the Turkish Football Federation formed, creating a national team that would become a force in Europe and eventually reach third place in the World Cup.

Shortly after formation, Turkey joined FIFA, but did not qualify for a World Cup until 1950. They withdrew from that tournament, however, claiming they could not afford to send their team to Brazil for the competition. They did show up in 1954, but were eliminated in a first-round playoff by eventual champions West Germany.

Turkey did not participate in another World Cup until 2002, when they stunned observers by taking third place. Their run in the tournament included wins over China (3-0 in the group stage), co-hosts Japan (0-1 in the Round of 16), and Senegal (0-1 in the quarterfinals) before a second 1-0 loss to Brazil (who had beaten them by the same score in the group stage) sent them to the third-place match. There, they downed the other co-hosts, South Korea, 2-3, in a dominant performance that belies the close margin of victory.

Since 1962, Turkey has been a member of UEFA and has qualified for the European Championship in 1996, 2000, and 2008. In the latter, they advanced to the semifinals with electrifying wins over the Czech Republic and Croatia before losing to Germany.

Friday, April 22, 2016

22 April 2000 - Gueugnon Gets The Goods

On 22 April 2000, FC Gueugnon became the first--and to date only--team from outside the top flight to win the Coupe de la Ligue, beating Paris Saint-Germain 2-0.

Founded in 1940, Gueugnon spent their first forty years as an amateur club. They eventually turned professional in 1980, earning promotion to Division 1 in 1995, but were relegated after one season. In Division 2 for the 1999-2000 season, they faced only one Division 1 team on their way to the Coupe de la Ligue Final, beating Strasbourg 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

In the final, they faced two-time winner PSG (who would finish the year in Division 1's second place). Playing in Paris at the Stade de France, PSG were a heavy favorite, but were unable to crack Gueugnon's defense. The underdogs seemed to gain enthusiasm with every minute as they stifled PSG's attack and, in the 65th minute, a 25-yard blast from Gueugnon midfielder Nicolas Esceth-N'Zi fell at the feet of teammate Marcelo Trapasso, who tapped it in for the go-ahead goal.

Gueugnon doubled their lead in the 90th minute when Sylvain Flauto (pictured), who had come on as N'Zi's replacement, turned a cross into the net. The whistle blew shortly afterward.

The win proved to be costly to Gueugnon, as they lost several key players to bigger clubs, including defender Sylvain Distin, who left for Arsenal. Gueugnon dropped through the ranks to the third tier and were liquidated in 2011. Later that year, they reformed and re-entered the league at the sixth tier. After earning promotion in 2013, they currently play in the fifth tier..

Thursday, April 21, 2016

21 April 1986 - Goalkeeping By Committee Doesn't Work

On 21 April 1986, West Ham center back Alvin Martin scored a rare hat-trick against Newcastle--with each goal coming against a different goalkeeper.

Playing before a crowd of almost 25,000 at Upton Park, Newcastle began the day with Martin Thomas, their regular goalkeeper. Thomas had missed their previous match, a 1-1 draw at Chelsea, due to a shoulder injury and was still not completely fit. But Newcastle's back-up keeper had himself gotten injured at Stamford Bridge and did not make the trip to West Ham, so Thomas had to start.

After only four minutes, Martin beat Thomas for his first goal of the day. By halftime, with Thomas having conceded two more West Ham goals and a Newcastle own-goal, he was unable to continue, replaced by midfielder Chris Hedworth for the second half. Hedworth lasted less than 30 minutes in goal after damaging his collarbone on an awkward fall, but not before Martin scored again.

As Hedworth returned to the midfield, forward Peter Beardsley stepped between the pipes and conceded three more goals, the last of which was delivered by Martin in the 84th minute.

The Hammers ended the season in third place, their best-ever finish. Martin remained at Upton Park until 1996, when he moved to Leyton Orient.