Wednesday, November 25, 2015

25 November 1914 - Hearts Go To War

On 25 November 1914, sixteen players from Heart of Midlothian enlisted for service in World War I, becoming the first British team to sign up in such large numbers.

The United Kingdom had declared war on Germany the previous August, spurring enlistments across the nation. Football, however, continued as usual, though not without criticism from some who thought the players would be put to better use in the trenches. Hearts were on a strong run, taking a firm hold on the table's top spot from the first matchday and holding onto it for 36 straight weeks (they would finish in second place).

In November 1914, Edinburgh politician Sir George McCrae declared his intention to raise a battalion of volunteers within a week. Sixteen Hearts players signed up immediately, 11 of them with McRae's Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots. Another five tried to enlist, but were rejected for medical reasons. Those who did enlist were soon joined by players from Hibernian, Falkirk, and Raith Rovers, as well as supporters and club staff members.

The 16th Royal Scots deployed to the continent in 1916 and saw their first major action at the Battle of the Somme, near the French village of Contalmaison. On the first day of battle, the 16th lost 229 men, including three Hearts players, and saw another 347 wounded, while making the greatest advance that day against enemy lines. Before the end of the war in 1918, Hearts had lost seven players, including five from McRae's Battalion.

In 2004, Contalmaison erected a monument to McRae's Battalion, with a special plaque recognizing the contributions of Heart of Midlothian.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

24 November 2009 - For Once, The Commentator Really Was Blind

On 24 November 2009, the Guardian's Paul Doyle provided live commentary of a Champions League match despite missing the first 32 minutes.

The chief football writer for the Guardian website, Doyle was responsible for their minute-by-minute commentary of the Champions League group stage meeting between holders Barcelona and eventual champions Inter Milan. But just after the whistle, Doyle announced "The match has kicked off, or so I assume. My hi-tech TV has just crashed." It was still down when Barcelona scored the opening goal in the 10th minute, prompting Doyle to write "Word is there's been a goal by Barca--scored by Pique--but intense study of my blank screen does not offer up any clues as to how it came about. Brilliant." Some readers sent their own descriptions of the action to Doyle, while others suggested simply making stuff up. He also missed Barça going up 2-0 in the 26th minute, relying on Sky's Sports News Channel for word of the goal.

His TV was repaired by the 33rd minute, but with Barça's two-goal lead, there wasn't much to see. The holders passed the ball around Inter for the remainder of the match, winning comfortably. Inter did get their revenge in the semifinals, beating Barcelona 3-2 on their way to winning the tournament.

Monday, November 23, 2015

23 November 2002 - Figo's Unhappy Return

On 23 November 2002, former Barcelona hero Luis Figo returned to Camp Nou for only the second time since his controversial move to Real Madrid two years earlier. It did not go well.

Figo joined Barça in 1995 and quickly became a fan favorite, winning two league titles and the 1997 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in his five seasons there. In 2000, Real Madrid lured him away for the then-world record fee of £37.2 million. The move did not sit well with the Barcelona faithful, who regarded the move to Madrid as the ultimate betrayal.

When Figo returned to Camp Nou in his first season with Real Madrid, he was subjected to taunts and jeers, but that was nothing compared to his appearance in 2002. By then, he had won La Liga and the Champions League with his new club, intensifying the state of the rivalry. By the time he prepared to take a late corner, emotions had risen to the point where people in the stands were throwing things at him, including plastic bottles, cans, and lighters. Someone even threw the head of a piglet and one of a rooster.

The situation grew so bad that the referee stopped the match for 16 minutes before allowing it to continue. It ended as a scoreless draw, leaving nobody satisfied.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

22 November 1922 - Minter's Unlucky Number 7

On 22 November 1922, Wilf Minter scored seven goals in an FA Cup match and still ended up on the losing side.

The match was an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round replay, pairing Dulwich Hamlet from the Isthmian League against Minter's side, reigning Athenian League champions St. Albans. Their first meeting ended in a 1-1 draw at St. Albans, with the hosts nicking a late equalizer.

Played before a crowd of 4,060 at Dulwich's Champion Hill, the replay featured emergency replacements in both goals, which undoubtedly contributed to the scoreline. After the first 30 minutes, Minter had his first hat-trick and St. Albans were leading 3-1. Dulwich rallied to go ahead 5-3 in the 60th minute, but Minter notched another hat-trick in the next 10 minutes to push St. Albans ahead, 6-5. With 5 minutes remaining, Dulwich scored again to send the match to extra time.

Dulwich struck first in extra time, but Minter again rose to the occasion, scoring his seventh to equalize five minutes from time. The teams appeared to be headed for another replay when a Dulwich player named Davis scored his fourth of the day to win the match 8-7.

Dulwich nearly repeated the feat 7 years later, drawing 7-7 with Wealdstone in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

21 November 1973 - The Soviets Avoid A Chile Reception

On 21 November 1973, Chile beat the Soviet Union 1-0 in a World Cup qualifying play-off match. It helped that the Soviets didn't bother to show up.

For the first time ever, World Cup qualification pitted a European team against a South American team in a playoff for the final spot in the tournament. The two teams drew 0-0 in the first leg, played in Moscow on 26 September. The second leg was scheduled for the National Stadium in Santiago, which had recently been used as a prison camp during that year's Chilean coup d'etat led by US-supported General Augusto Pinochet against Soviet-backed President Salvador Allende.

The Soviets refused to play in the stadium, effectively withdrawing from the tournament. The match went ahead as scheduled, though, with the Chileans kicking off before a crowd of thousands. They passed the ball down the pitch to their captain, who kicked it in from right in front of the goal. FIFA, however, declared the match a forfeit.

Immediately afterward, Chile hosted a friendly against Brazilian club Santos and lost 5-0.

Friday, November 20, 2015

20 November 2004 - The Return Of Socrates (Or A Reasonable Facsimile Thereof)

On 20 November 2004, legendary midfielder and former Brazil captain Socrates returned to the pitch for the first time in 15 years, making a solitary appearance for amateur English side Garforth Town.

Embodying a combination of strength and flair, Socrates began his professional career in 1974 with Botafogo, but spent the majority of it with Corinthians, scoring 172 goals in 297 appearances between 1978 and 1984. He also played for Fiorentina, Flamengo, and Santos before returning to Botafogo for his ostensible final season in 1989. Along the way, he earned 60 caps for Brazil and captained them in the 1982 World Cup.

After his initial retirement from football, Socrates--who obtained a medical degree during his playing days--became a print and television commentator on sports and politics. His unusual appearance for the Northern Counties East League First Division side Garforth Town was orchestrated by Town owner Simon Clifford, who used the publicity to promote his stable of Brazilian-style soccer academies.

In the 78th minute, with Garforth and visitors Tadcaster Albion level at 2-2, Socrates--then 50 years old--stripped off his layers of protective clothing and entered the match. With his first touch, he took a powerful dipping shot from 25 yards forcing a save from the Tadcaster keeper. But that was his only real contribution to the match, which ended at 2-2. Afterward, he said "It was much faster than the type of football I'm used to. It was a lot more competitive and keenly fought but I really enjoyed it and it was an interesting experience."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

19 November 2008 - Argentina Tries To Recapture The Magic

On 19 November 2008, Argentina embarked upon the new Diego Maradona era with a 1-0 victory over Scotland.

As a player, Maradona had led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, then to the 1990 Final. His playing career ended in 1994, but he remained a near-permanent fixture in the press due to his public battles with drug use and weight gain. He had been out of professional football for over 13 years when Argentina came calling again and had no managerial experience other than a year apiece at a couple of clubs in Argentina--Mandiyú in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995.

His first match in charge of the national team was the win against Scotland, thanks to an 8th-minute goal from Maxi Rodriguez. But poor results followed, including a record 6-1 loss to Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier on 1 April 2009. Argentina eventually did qualify, prompting Maradona to instruct to his critics to "suck it." But after cruising through their first-round group, they lost 4-0 to Germany in the Round of 16.

Maradona's term ended in July 2010 after the Argentinian Football Association chose not to renew his contract.