Thursday, February 23, 2017

23 February 1901 - This One Went To Eleven

On 23 February 1901, Scotland opened the British Home Championship by recording their record margin of victory.

Ireland arrived at Celtic Park in Glasgow that day to face Scotland, who were the defending champions, but were completely unprepared for awaited them, as Scotland racked up 11 goals on the day--four from Celtic's Sandy McMahon (pictured), four from Rangers' Robert Hamilton, two from Celtic's John Campbell, and, for good measure, one from former Preston North End Invincible David Russell. Meanwhile, the Irish team were unable to breach the Scottish defense, so the match ended 11-0.

It was Scotland's biggest win, but it wasn't Ireland's worst result, as they had been beaten 13-0 by England in 1882. Scotland went on to draw their next two matches with Wales and England to finish as tournament runners-up (England won). Ireland finished last, losing all three matches.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

22 February 2006 - Australia's Continental Shift

On 22 February 2006, Australia made their first appearance as a member of the Asian Football Confederation, beating Bahrain 1-3 in an Asian Cup qualifier.

Established in 1922, the Australian national team was a founding member of the Oceania Football Confederation, formed in 1966, along with New Zealand and Fiji. They were the federation's most successful team, but believed that the level of competition hurt their chances in major tournaments against teams from stronger federations--prior to 2006, they had qualified for only one World Cup, in 1974, which they exited in the group stage.

In 2005, the Asian Football Confederation issued a formal invitation for Australia to join, which the OFC executive committee endorsed unanimously. After FIFA's approval, the move became official in January 2006. In their first official match as an AFC member, played in Bahrain's National Stadium, they fell behind 1-0 thanks to a goal from Husain Ali (35'), but got goals from Archie Thompson (pictured) (53'), Josip Skoko (79'), and Ahmad Elrich (penalty, 87') to claim the win.

The increased level of competition had the desired result, as Australia went on to qualify for that year's World Cup and reached the Round of 16 before falling to eventual champions Italy, 1-0.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

21 February 2008 - Gazza's Days Get Darker

On 21 February 2008, former England star midfielder Paul Gascoigne's tragic battle with alcoholism and depression resulted in his compulsory admission to a mental hospital for treatment. Unfortunately for all involved, it did little good and he continues to struggle with his problems.

Gascoigne, popularly known as "Gazza," enjoyed a remarkable career that started in 1985 with Newcastle and included spells at Tottenham (1988-92), Lazio (1992-95), and Rangers (1995-98), among others. Meanwhile, he was capped 57 times by England between 1988 and 1998, including a standout performance in the 1990 World Cup that sparked "Gazzamania" back in England.

But throughout, he struggled in his personal life with addiction and other issues, including depression and bipolar disorder. His problems grew worse after his retirement in 2004, followed by a short and unsuccessful spell as manager of Kettering Town that ended with his sacking in 2005 after only 39 days in charge. He claimed later that he was drinking up to four bottles of whisky and vodka per day.

In February 2008, police were called to the Newcastle hotel where he was staying while recovering from a hip operation. After he threatened to harm himself, he was taken into custody and compelled to enter a mental health facility. But by the end of the year, he was again deep into his alcoholism, reportedly drinking up to 30 cans of beer per day.

After promising signs of recovery in 2009, Gascoigne again relapsed in 2010, culminating in two separate October arrests for drunk driving and possession of cocaine. A series of rehab attempts and relapses followed, most recently by his January 2017 entrance into a new rehab program. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

20 February 1971 - The Mighty Finn

On 20 February 1971, Finnish striker/midfielder Jari Litmanen was born in the city of Lahti. He went on to become the national team's all-time leading scorer, playing for them in four different decades.

He began his professional career in 1987 and spent time with Finnish clubs Reipas (1987-90), HJK (1991), and MyPa (1992) before joining Ajax, where he rose to international prominence. Between 1992 and 1999, he scored 135 goals in 253 appearances or Ajax, winning four league titles and the 1995 Champions League final (he finished as the tournament's second-highest scorer, with 6 goals).

After leaving Ajax, he one and a half relatively quiet seasons with Barcelona, then joined Liverpool in January 2001. In his first season there, he collected four trophies--the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the FA Cup, and the League Cup--then won a fifth--the Community Shield--at the start of the next season.

He returned to Ajax in 2002 and won another league title in 2004, then moved again to a series of clubs that included Lahti (2004, 2008-10), Hansa Rostock (2004-05), Malmö (2005-07), and Fulham (2007-08) before moving to his final club, HJK, in 2011 at the age of 40 (he retired later that year). Along the way, he made 137 appearances for Finland from 1989 to 210, scoring a record 32 goals.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

19 February 2009 - They Were Just Saving Their Strength For Later

On 19 February 2009, Estudiantes got their Copa Libertadores campaign off to an inauspicious beginning, losing 3-0 to Cruzeiro in the group stage. They later rallied, however, and ended up getting their revenge in the final.

The Argentinians nearly missed out on the tournament altogether after losing to Sporting Cristal 2-1 in the first leg of their qualification round. But they won the second leg 1-0 and advanced thanks to their away goal.

Their first match of the group stage was away to Cruzeiro, played before a crowd of almost 34,000 at the Mineirão. There, after holding the hosts to a scoreless draw in the first half, they conceded a 63rd-minute penalty which was converted by Cruzeiro left back Fernandinho. That goal opened the floodgates, as substitute striker Kleber scored twice more in the next ten minutes, first beating the keeper from a tight angle with a low ball to the far post (69'), then getting the ball past him in a one-on-one (72') to finish the match at 3-0.

Estudiantes won the rematch 4-0 in La Plata and advanced to the knockout rounds as group runners-up behind Cruzeiro. They beat Libertad, Defensor Sporting, and Nacional to reach the final, where they again faced Cruzeiro and won 2-1 on aggregate to claim their fourth Copa Libertadores title (their first since 1970).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

18 February 1882 - The Luck Of The Irish Was Not With Them This Day

On 18 February 1882, Ireland set a record in their first international. Unfortunately, it was a record loss, as they fell to England 13-0.

The Irish FA had been founded two years earlier, making them the world's fourth oldest football association after England, Scotland, and Wales. For their inaugural match against England in Belfast, they pulled a team together primarily from two teams, Knock FC, who provided five players, and Cliftonville, who provided four. Their other two players came from Avoniel FC and Distillery, whose Samuel Johnston was only 15 years and 154 days old at the time.

England's team was more diverse, including players from seven different teams. But one team, Aston Villa, delivered nine of their thirteen goals, with five from Howard Vaughton (pictured) and four from Arthur Brown, both making their England debut. The other goals came from Charles Bambridge (Swifts FC), Henry Cursham (Notts County and Old Corinthians), and a couple from James Brown (Blackburn Rovers).

The match remains England's record victory and Ireland's (now Northern Ireland) record defeat.

Friday, February 17, 2017

17 February 2011 - Viva La Rewahlution!

On 17 February 2011, American journalist Grant Wahl announced his candidacy for FIFA President, running on a platform of transparency and a pledge to clean up the global football authority.

When Wahl made his announcement, FIFA and incumbent president Sepp Blatter were the focus of extensive criticism in the wake of alleged bribery scandals and the controversial decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite concerns about the weather and the country's need to develop an extensive infrastructure in a relatively short period of time. The two leading candidates for president were Blatter, running for his fourth consecutive term, and Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA Executive Committee member.

Wahl, a writer for Sports Illustrated, announced his intention to run on the Sports Illustrated website. He assured readers that his candidacy was serious and promised reforms including the use of goal-line technology and the public release of all of FIFA's internal documents. All he needed to become an official candidate was a nomination from any one of FIFA's 208 member associations.

Although his campaign received a tremendous amount of popular support (he got 95% of the vote in an online poll and garnered a swell of encouragement among both celebrities and grassroots supporters), he was unable to convince any association to nominate him. While several members told him they would support him if nominated (votes were taken by secret ballot), they declined to submit his name, because the nomination process was public and they feared reprisals from FIFA.

In April, shortly before the close of the deadline for nominations, Wahl ended his candidacy. Bin Hammam similarly suspended his own campaign, leaving the unopposed Blatter to win his fourth term.