Sunday, May 31, 2009

31 May 1903 - Leipzig Über Alles

On 31 May 1903, VfB Leipzig (pictured) defeated DFC Prag 7-2 in Hamburg to claim the first German national championship.

Founded in 1896, Leipzig was one of the original 86 teams that joined together in 1900 to form the German football association, known as the Deutscher Fussball Bund or "DFB." In order to increase its membership, the DFB included ethnically German teams from other countries. One of those teams was DFC Prag, based in the city of Prague which is now part of the Czech Republic, but which was at the time part of Austria-Hungary.

Prag advanced to the final under mysterious circumstances. They were scheduled for a playoff match against Karlsruhrer FV, who received a telegram claiming to be from the DFB and informing them that the match had been postponed. Karlsruhrer thus failed to show up for the match - which had not been postponed - and Prag were declared winners by forfeit, placing them in the Final against Leipzig. While the telegram has never been officially explained, it is perhaps no coincidence that the DFB President at the time - Dr. Ferdinand Hueppe - was also the chairman of Prag.

The heavily-favored Prag side showed up for the match in poor condition, the players having gone pub-hopping the night before. They nonetheless took an early lead, going up 1-0 after eleven minutes. Leipzig equalized and the first half ended with the teams tied at 1-1. The late night apparently took its toll on the Prag players in the second half, however, as Leipzig scored six more goals to claim the 7-2 victory.

Leipzig won two more championships, in 1906 and 1913, before being disbanded by Allied authorities after World War II. Club members reorganized the team in 1946 and they have played under several different names since. Since 1965, the club has been known as 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. They currently play in Germany's fifth tier.

DFC Prag was included in Nazi Germany's reorganization of sports and disappeared after World War II.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

30 May 1995 - The Passing Of A Saint

On 30 May 1995, former Southampton forward and FA Cup legend Bobby Stokes died at the age of 44.

Born in Portsmouth on 30 January 1951, Stokes signed for local rivals Southampton in September 1966 as an apprentice and turned professional in February 1968. He made his first-team debut on 7 April 1969 against Burnley and contributed a goal to the Saints' 5-1 win. Thereafter, Stokes was a regular, if not constant, presence in the first team.

He is best known for his role in the 1976 FA Cup Final, which pitted Southampton, at that time in Division Two, against First Division Manchester United. Although United was a heavy favorite, the Saints surprisingly held them to a scoreless draw until the 83rd minute, when Stokes raced past United defender Martin Buchan and shot the ball past keeper Alex Stepney to score the match's only goal. The 1-0 win remains Southampton's greatest honor.

Stokes left the Saints in 1977, playing one season for Portsmouth and two for the Washington Diplomats before retiring from football after the 1979-80 season. He battled with alcoholism and died in 1995 after contracting pneumonia.

Friday, May 29, 2009

29 May 1963 - "... And A Child Shall Lead Them ..."

On 29 May 1963, center back Bobby Moore became England's youngest senior team captain at 22 years, 47 days.

Moore, who played for West Ham from 1958 to 1974, earned his first senior cap for England in May 1962 in a 4-0 friendly victory over Peru. He played a significant role for England in the 1962 World Cup, which ended in a quarterfinal defeat to eventual winners Brazil.

His appearance on 29 May 1963 was only his 12th for the national team. Long-serving captain Johnny Haynes had just retired and his immediate successor, Jimmy Armfield, was injured, leading new manager Alf Ramsey to hand the captain's armband to Moore. He rewarded Ramsey's faith by leading the team to a 4-2 win over Czechoslovakia.

Armfield reclaimed the captaincy upon his return, but Moore received it permanently in 1964. He led England to victory in the 1966 World Cup, which made him an English football icon. He made a total of 108 appearances for the national team, a record at the time that was later surpassed by goalkeeper Peter Shilton (125 caps) and David Beckham (109, as of the time of this writing).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

28 May 1928 - The Birth Of The World Cup

On 28 May 1928, the FIFA Congress in Amsterdam decided to organize and stage its own international football tournament, which came to be known as the World Cup.

FIFA had previously been involved in organizing Olympic football, starting with the 1920 Summer Olympics and continuing in 1924 and 1928. It was the success of those tournaments that prompted FIFA, under the leadership of President Jules Rimet, to stage its own competition starting in 1930.

To host the inaugural World Cup, FIFA looked to reigning two-time Olympic champions Uruguay, for whom 1930 was also the centennial anniversary of their independence from Brazil. Unfortunately, the choice of Uruguay as host country placed a significant travel burden on the European national sides, leading only four - Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia - to participate. They were joined by seven South American teams and two North American teams to make a total of thirteen participating nations.

The first two World Cup matches were held simultaneously on 13 July 1930 - France defeated Mexico 4-1 and the United States beat Belgium 3-0.

That first World Cup concluded with host Uruguay successfully defending its world champion status from the Olympics with a 4-2 victory over Argentina in the Final.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

27 May 1987 - Madjer's Magic Match

On 27 May 1987, FC Porto won their first European Cup/Champions League trophy, defeating Bayern Munich 2-1 before a crowd of 62,000 at the Praterstadion in Vienna.

Porto started their march to the trophy in strong fashion, beating Maltese side Rabat Ajax in the first round by the aggregate score of 10-0. They followed that win with victories over Czechoslovakia's F.C. Vítkovice (3-1 agg.), Denmark's Brøndby I.F. (2-1 agg.), and the USSR's Dynamo Kiev (4-2 agg.). Bayern, meanwhile, advanced to the Final with wins over PSV Eindhoven (2-0 agg.), Austria Wien (3-1 agg.), Anderlecht (7-2 agg.), and Real Madrid (4-2 agg.).

Bayern were favored to win and club president Fritz Scherer was reportedly so confident that he drafted his victory speech in advance. It was thus no surprise when the German side took an early lead with a 25th minute goal from striker Ludwig Kögl and held onto the 1-0 advantage into the match's final minutes.

In the 78th minute, however, Porto's Algerian forward Rabah Madjer (pictured) equalized by flicking a brilliant backheeled shot into the Bayern net. Two minutes later, Madjer slipped past a Bayern defender and crossed the ball for Porto's Brazilian midfielder Juary, who had come on as a substitute in the 46th minute. Juary volleyed the ball into the roof of the net, giving Porto a 2-1 lead in the 80th minute and the Portuguese side held on to claim the victory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

26 May 1999 - Saving Their Best For Last

On 26 May 1999, Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich to claim the 1999 UEFA Champions League title before a crowd of over 90,000 people at Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium.

Bayern scored first after Manchester United's Danish back Ronny Johnsen fouled Bayern striker Carsten Jancker just outside United's penalty area. Right forward Mario Basler took the ensuing free kick, which swerved around the United wall and into the left corner of the net, giving Bayern a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute.

Despite an advantage in possession, Manchester United were unable to penetrate the German side's defense. In the 67th minute, manager Alex Ferguson attempted to strengthen his team's offense, substituting forward Teddy Sheringham on for Swedish midfielder Jesper Blomqvist. Still down 1-0 in the 81st minute, he then brought on Norwegian forward Ole Gunnar Solskjær for forward Andy Cole.

At the end of regulation, the fourth official indicated that there would be three minutes of injury time. It was then that the substitutes rewarded Ferguson's decisions, as Sheringham scored the equalizer in the 91st minute. Less than 30 seconds later, United earned a corner, which was taken by midfielder David Beckham. He arced the ball in to Sheringham, who headed it down to the feet of Solskjær. The Norwegian then prodded the ball into the top of the net, giving United their first lead in the 92nd minute. The German side were stunned and United held on for the 2-1 win.

The victory completed a treble for Manchester United, who had already won the Premier League title and the FA Cup.

Monday, May 25, 2009

25 May 1988 - Pretty Sweet Victory, Eindhoven

On 25 May 1988, PSV Eindhoven won the European Cup Final, defeating Benfica on penalties 6-5 before a crowd of 70,000 at Neckarstadion in Stuttgart.

Benfica had beaten Albanian side Partiziana Tirana, Danish side Aarhus Gymnastikforening, Belgian side Anderlecht, and Romanian side Steaua Bucharest on their way to the Final, but had just lost their captain, midfielder Diamantino Miranda, to injury before the match. With him unavailable, the Portuguese team played very conservatively, keeping 11 men behind the ball for much of the match.

PSV made it to the Final with victories over Galatasaray, Rapid Vienna, Bordeaux, and Real Madrid, advancing against the last two teams by virtue of the away goals rule. Although PSV dominated possession in the Final, they could not break through Benfica's defense and the teams were scoreless through extra time, sending the match into penalty kicks.

Neither side had trouble finding the net during the initial penalty period, with both sides converting their first 5 shots each. In sudden death, midfielder Anton Janssen scored PSV's first kick. On Benfica's following attempt, Dutch keeper Hans van Bruekelen guessed correctly, diving low to his right, and saved the kick from back António Veloso.

The win completed a treble for the Dutch side and their manager, Guus Hiddink, who had already won the Eredivisie title and the Dutch KNVB Cup.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

24 May 1995 - Milan Was Heard Later Yelling "Get Off Our Lawn!"

On 24 May 1995, Ajax won the UEFA Champions League Final, defeating A.C. Milan by the score of 1-0 before a crowd of 49,730 at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna.

The two sides stood in stark contrast - Milan was older, having only one player under the age of 26, while Ajax was young, with only two players over the age of 25. The Dutch side was experienced, however. They had just won the Eredivisie title without losing a match and had also gone unbeaten in their Champions League run to the Final, including two earlier wins over Milan in the group stage.

And while the teams battled to a scoreless stalemate in the first half, Ajax's youth was served in the second half by the introduction of 18-year-old forward Patrick Kluivert. He came on in the 69th minute, replacing Finnish midfielder Jari Litmanen. In the 85th minute, Kluivert started an attack that involved touches from every Ajax midfielder on the pitch, from Nigerian winger Finidi George to winger Marc Overmars, then to center mid Edgar Davids before midfielder Frank Rijkaard delivered the ball back to Kluivert in the penalty area. Kluivert slipped past two Milan defenders, then swept the ball past Milan keeper Sebastiano Rossi for the match's only goal.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

23 May 2001 - You Want Penalty Kicks, We Got Penalty Kicks

On 23 May 2001, Bayern Munich won their fourth European Cup/Champions League trophy, defeating Valencia on penalties before a crowd of 71,500 at the San Siro in Milan.

Just days earlier, Bayern had won their third consecutive Bundesliga title and entered the Champions League Final after knockout stage victories over Manchester United (3-1) and Real Madrid (3-1). Valencia, who had finished fifth in La Liga, defeated Arsenal (2-2, Valencia advancing on the away goal rule) and Leeds United (3-0) on their way to the Final.

Valencia drew first blood quickly, benefiting from a handball in the Bayern box to earn a penalty in the 2nd minute. Valencia's captain, midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, took the shot and scored, putting the Spanish side ahead 1-0.

Bayern then received a penalty call in the 6th minute, as Valencia's French right back Jocelyn Angloma fouled Bayern's captain, midfielder Stefan Effenberg, on the edge of the area. Midfielder Mehmet Scholl took the shot, but it was saved by Valencia keeper Santiago Cañizares. Bayern got another chance in the 49th minute, however, as Valencia left back Amadeo Carboni was flagged for a handball in the box. This time, Effenberg took the penalty and converted it.

The teams were deadlocked at 1-1 for the rest of the second half and all of extra time, forcing a decision by penalty kicks. Through the first five kicks, each team had missed two, sending it to sudden death. The match ended when Bayern keeper Oliver Kahn guessed correctly, lunging to his right to stop the shot from Valencia's Argentinian center back Mauricio Pellegrino. Bayern won by the score of 1-1 (5-4).

Friday, May 22, 2009

22 May 1996 - The Crowd Might Have Been Slightly In Juve's Favor

On 22 May 1996, Juventus defeated Ajax on penalties to win the 1996 UEFA Champions League Final before a crowd of 67,000 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Manager Marcello Lippi's Juventus side scored first when, in the 12th minute, forward Fabrizio Ravanelli collected a poorly headed ball from Ajax's central defender Frank de Boer, rounded the keeper, and slotted the ball into an empty net. Ajax equalized in the 41st minute, however, as Juventus goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi failed to secure de Boer's free kick from the edge of the box. The ball fell to the feet of Ajax's Finnish midfielder Jari Litmanen, who knocked it home from a yard out.

The teams played a physical second half, with the Bianconeri dominating, but unable to take the lead due to the brilliant play of Ajax keeper Edwin Van der Sar. The teams played through a scoreless second half and two periods of extra time before heading to penalty kicks.

It was Peruzzi who shined the brightest during the penalties, first saving the opening kick from Ajax midfielder Edgar Davids. Then, after Juventus scored on their first four kicks, he stretched out to his left to save the shot from Ajax defender Sonny Silooy, giving Juventus the win with the final score of 1-1 (4-2).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

21 May 2008 - Chelsea's Trophy Slipped Away

On 21 May 2008, Manchester United defeated Chelsea in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow before a crowd of over 67,000. The match was the first all-English European Cup final as well as the first one held in Russia.

The two teams entered the Final having finished the English Premier League season in the top two spots. United won the league, only two points ahead of the Blues.

United winger Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a header in the 26th minute. Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard then equalized in the 45th minute.

Chelsea carried the momentum into the second half, in which they continually pressured United. Michael Essien, Michael Ballack, and Didier Drogba all had good chances to put Chelsea ahead, but their shots just missed the goal. The teams ended the second half still tied at 1-1 and went into extra time, where Drogba received a red card in the 116th minute for hitting United defender Nemanja Vidić. The teams finished extra time still at 1-1 and advanced to penalty kicks.

United went first and, through nine kicks, the teams were tied at 4-4, with Chelsea keeper Petr Cech having made a diving save to keep Ronaldo's shot out. Chelsea defender and captain John Terry then stepped up to take what would have been the winning kick, but he slipped and sent his shot wide.

On the fourth kick of sudden death, United keeper Edwin Van der Sar saved Nicolas Anelka's kick, giving United a 6-5 win on penalties and the club's third European Cup trophy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

20 May 2004 - A Birthday Present Only FIFA Could Give (To Itself)

On 20 May 2004, FIFA organized a friendly re-match of the 1998 World Cup Final between France and Brazil. FIFA was founded on 21 May 1904 and organized the match to honor its centennial.

The friendly, like the original match, was played at Paris' Stade de France, but this time before a crowd of 79,344 - a new attendance record for the French national team. The match featured a virtual galaxy of stars, including Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaká for Brazil and Marcel Desailly, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, and David Trezeguet for Les Bleus.

Unlike the 1998 Final, which was a 3-0 victory for France, the friendly ended as a scoreless draw. That in itself was historic, as never before in the ten previous meetings between the two countries had a match ended without a goal.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

19 May 1977 - Who's In The Top Flight Now, Jimmy Hill?

On 19 May 1977, Sunderland were controversially relegated out of the English top flight after losing 2-0 away to Everton on the last day of the season.

At the start of the day, Sunderland was battling Coventry City and Bristol City for the final relegation spot. Sunderland were in the third-bottom position with 34 points, one point behind the other two clubs, who were playing against each other. Coventry chairman Jimmy Hill (pictured) delayed the start of their match for 15 minutes, claiming "crowd congestion" as the reason for the late start. As soon as he learned of the Sunderland result, Hill had the score announced in the stadium, where the match was tied 2-2. Sunderland's loss meant that both teams each needed only a draw to stay ahead of the Black Cats and avoid the drop. Both Coventry and Bristol switched to very conservative game plans and the match ended 2-2.

Hill was subsequently reprimanded by the Football Association for delaying the kick-off, but the results of that day were allowed to stand.

Hill, who later became a television pundit, attended Fulham's 2008 match against Sunderland at Craven Cottage. When the Black Cat supporters in the stands saw him, they made clear that they remembered his role in their 1977 relegation, showering him with boos and verbal abuse. Hill had to be led out of the stadium under police escort.

Monday, May 18, 2009

18 May 2001 - Maybe If They Used Bits Of Real Panther, They'd Be More Successful

On 18 May 2001, 98-year-old Portuguese club Boavista F.C. defeated Desportivo das Aves 3-0 to claim their first SuperLiga title.

The club, founded in Porto on 1 August 1903, is nicknamed "As Panteras" (the Panthers) and "Os Axadrezados" (the Checkereds), after their black-and-white checked shirts. A minor team for most of its existence, Boavista joined Portugal's top flight in 1936. They became more successful in the mid-1970s under the leadership of manager José Maria Pedroto, who guided them to a second-place league finish in the 1975-76 season. They also won Portugal's cup competition, the Taça de Portugal, in 1975, 1976, and 1979.

After another fallow period in the 1980s, success returned to the club in the '90s, with cup trophies in 1992 and 1997, plus another second-place league finish in the 1998-99 season.

Boavista followed up their 2001 first-place finish with another second-place finish in 2001-02. They currently play in Portugal's second division, the Liga Vitalis, after being relegated in 2008.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

17 May 2004 - Horse And Armor Not Included, Apparently

On 17 May 2004, FIFA President Joseph S. "Sepp" Blatter was knighted as a member of the French Légion d'Honneur by French President Jacques Chirac in a ceremony held at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Blatter was born in Visp, Switzerland in 1936. He began working for FIFA in 1975 as Technical Director. In 1981, he became the organization's General Secretary and then, in 1998, its President. He initiated several changes to football, including the elimination of the "golden goal" rule, in which a match ends immediately upon the first goal scored in extra time, in favor of the "silver goal" rule, in which the match ends at the first half of the extra time period if one team is ahead and, if tied, continues to the end of the second half of extra time. Also, after the 2002 World Cup, he eliminated automatic World Cup qualification for the defending champion.

Blatter has also drawn his share of criticism for making controversial statements, including the suggestion in 2004 that women footballers should wear "tighter shorts" and his 2008 accusation that Manchester United was engaging in "modern slavery" by blocking Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer to Real Madrid.

The Légion d'Honneur was created by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward military achievements and other forms of service to France.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

16 May 1998 - The French Connection, Scottish Football Style

On 16 May 1998, Heart of Midlothian defeated Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final by the score of 2-1 before a crowd of almost 50,000 at Celtic Park, Glasgow.

The match got off to a quick - and controversial - start, as Hearts midfielder and captain Steve Fulton was impeded on his way to the goal by Rangers midfielder Ian Ferguson. The foul appeared to occur just outside the box, but the referee awarded a penalty kick to Hearts. Midfielder Colin Cameron smashed the spot-kick home past Rangers keeper Andy Goram, and Hearts were up 1-0 within 80 seconds.

Still 1-0 at the half, Rangers manager Walter Smith went on the offensive, replacing his Norwegian defender Ståle Stensaas with forward Ally McCoist at the start of the second half. It was Hearts who scored again, however, as French keeper Gilles Rousset launched a long ball down the field. Rangers' Italian back Lorenzo Amoruso misplayed it, then Rousset's fellow Frenchman, Hearts forward Stéphane Adam, stole it away and fired a powerful shot into the net, putting the Edinburgh side up 2-0 in the 52nd minute.

Rangers continued to pressure the Jambos' goal and finally got through in the 81st minute as their Italian midfielder Rino Gattuso passed the ball neatly to McCoist, who scored from 18 yards out.

The remaining minutes were tense for all. With two minutes left, McCoist went down in the box after a foul by Hearts defender David Weir. Rangers clamored for a penalty, but the referee put the ball just outside the box and the ensuing free-kick went wide. Hearts continued to hold on through four minutes of extra time, earning the 2-1 victory.

Friday, May 15, 2009

15 May 1974 - "... A Three-Hour Tour, A Three-Hour Tour ..."

On 15 May 1974, several Scotland internationals were out in the early hours of the morning in Largs, a town on the Firth of Clyde, about 33 miles from Glasgow. They had beaten Wales 2-0 at Hampden Park just a few hours before and had an upcoming match against England on the 18th, so Scotland manager Willie Ormond sent them out for a few hours to enjoy themselves.

After a few drinks, they were returning to the team hotel by the beach when midfielder Jimmy "Jinky" Johnstone (right), who played his club football for Celtic, climbed into an empty rowboat. Rangers fullback Sandy Jardine jokingly kicked the boat out into the water before anyone realized that it had no oars. The tide began pulling Johnstone out to sea, so a couple of other players - Celtic's David Hay and Hibernian's Erich Schaedler - found another rowboat and set out after Johnstone. Unfortunately, their boat began to leak, forcing them back to shore as Johnstone's boat continued drifting away.

Johnstone was eventually rescued by the coastguard service and the story - known as "The Largs Boat Incident" - became a media sensation. It had little effect on Johnstone, however, who went on to lead Scotland to a 2-0 win over England three days later.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

14 May 1981 - He Was A Pre-Maradona

On 14 May 1981, Tottenham Hotspur defeated Manchester City 3-2 in the 1981 FA Cup Final before a crowd of 92,000 at London's Wembley Stadium. The match on 14 May was a replay, since the originally-scheduled Final on 9 May ended in a 1-1 draw.

Spurs opened the scoring with a goal from their Argentinian midfielder Ricardo Villa in the 8th minute. The lead was short-lived, however, as forward Steve McKenzie equalized for City four minutes later. In the 50th minute, City midfielder Dave Bennett drew a penalty, which forward Kevin Reeves converted, giving City a 2-1 advantage. Spurs then drew level in the 70th minute with a goal from forward Garth Crooks.

With the match tied at 2-2 in the 76th minute, Spurs' Irish midfielder Tony Galvin played a pass to Villa on the edge of the box. Villa then weaved a path through the City defense in front of the goal and deftly slipped the ball past keeper Joe Corrigan. English press after the match called Villa's game-winner "The Goal of the Century."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

13 May 1960 - 3 Plus 4 Equals Number 5

On 13 May 1960, Real Madrid won their fifth consecutive European Cup Final, beating Eintracht Frankfurt by the score of 7-3 in front of a crowd of 135,000 people at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Real's road to the Final was relatively easy, with impressive victories over Luxembourg side Jeunesse Esch (12-2 agg.), Nice (6-3 agg.), and La Liga rivals Barcelona (6-2 agg.), though the Meringues did lose the first leg to Nice 3-2 at the Stade du Ray before claiming a 4-0 win in the second leg at the Bernabéu.

Frankfurt's path was similarly smooth, with wins over Swiss side Young Boys (5-2 agg.), Austrian side Weiner Sportclub (3-2 agg.), and a 12-4 aggregate demolition of Glasgow Rangers.

In the Final, Frankfurt took an early lead with a goal from striker Richard Kress in the 18th minute. Real then opened the floodgates, however, with a hat-trick from their star Argentinian striker, Alfredo di Stéfano (27', 30' 73') and four goals from their equally-stellar Hungarian forward, Ferenc Puskás (46', 56', 60', 71'). Frankfurt's forward Erwin Stein scored two late goals (72', 75'), but the brace was a small consolation, as the match was effectively over by then.

Although one-sided, the match is widely considered one of the greatest European finals in history.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

12 May 1979 - Anyone Who Left Early Probably Lies About It Now

On 12 May 1979, Arsenal won the F.A. Cup Final, beating Manchester United 3-2 before a crowd of over 99,000 at Wembley Stadium.

Often referred to as "The 5-Minute Final," the match seemed well in hand for the Gunners, who, after first-half goals from midfielder Brian Talbot (12') and striker Frank Stapleton (43'), were leading 2-0 with four minutes left in the second half. In the 86th minute however, United pulled one back when Scottish defender Gordon McQueen scored off a set piece. United then equalized two minutes later with a goal from Northern Ireland international Sammy McIlroy.

The match appeared to be headed for extra time when Arsenal forward Alan Sunderland volleyed in a last minute stunner, giving the Gunners their fifth F.A. Cup in one of the more dramatic finals in F.A. Cup history.

Monday, May 11, 2009

11 May 1976 - And He Can Tell Everybody That This Is His Club

On 11 May 1978, English Fourth Division side Watford F.C. elected music superstar Elton John as chairman. A lifelong Watford supporter, John first became involved with the club's administration in 1973, when he became the club's president.

Under John's chairmanship and the work of manager Graham Taylor, Watford achieved promotion all the way to England's top flight for the 1982-83 season, where they finished in second position behind League winners Liverpool.

Their tenure in the First Division lasted for six seasons and they were relegated down to the Second Division for the 1988-89 season. They have since bounced back and forth between the top two flights. They currently play in the second flight, now known as the Coca-Cola Championship.

John, who later assumed the post of Watford's President for Life, briefly quit in November 2008 over disputes with the board. He returned to the club in January 2009, however, as a new board took over.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

10 May 1978 - In Restrospect, Celtic Probably Wishes They'd Asked For More

On 10 May 1978, Liverpool won its second consecutive European Cup Final, beating Brugge 1-0 at Wembley Stadium before a crowd of 92,000.

With a bye in the first round, Liverpool started their title defense in the second round with 6-3 aggregate victory over East German side Dynamo Dresden. They then defeated Benfica 6-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals and beat Borussia Mönchenglagbach by the aggregate score of 4-2 in the semifinals.

Brugge's road to the final was paved with wins over Finnish side Kuopion Pallosuera (9-2 aggregate), Panathinaikos (2-1 aggregate), Atlético Madrid (4-3 aggregate), and Juventus (2-1 aggregate).

The only goal in the Final was scored by Liverpool's Scottish forward Kenny Dalglish, whom they had just purchased earlier that season from Celtic for a transfer fee of £440,000. He went on the score 169 goals for the Reds in 501 appearances in all competitions, winning a multitude of honors including six League titles, two more European Cup trophies and one F.A. Cup trophy.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

9 May 1998 - Celtic Ends Their Title Drought

On 9 May 1998, Celtic defeated St. Johnstone 2-0 on the last day of the Scottish Premier Division Season to secure their first league title in ten years.

The title race went down to the wire, with Celtic starting the day only two points ahead of Old Firm rivals Rangers, who were playing at Dundee United. Celtic striker Henrik Larsson (pictured) put his team ahead in the third minute, but the Hoops were unable to extend the lead for the remainder of the first half.

Early in the second half, word broke that Rangers had gone up 0-2 against Dundee United, sending a nervous ripple through the 50,000-strong crowd Celtic Park. A Rangers win, combined with a draw for Celtic, would hand 'Gers their tenth consecutive league title. All it would take was a single St. Johnstone goal.

That goal almost came midway through the second half, when Saints striker George O'Boyle narrowly missed putting his head on a cross in front of an open goal. Shortly afterward, Celtic substitute Harald Brattbakk sealed the win for the hosts with a 72nd-minute strike to put Celtic up 2-0. The day finished as it had started, with Celtic two points clear of Rangers, giving Celtic their first title since 1988.

Friday, May 8, 2009

8 May 1999 - Carlisle Partied Like It Was ... Well ... 1999

On 8 May 1999, Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass scored one of the club's most important goals.

It was the last match of the season in the Third Division, the bottom tier of English League football, and Carlisle needed a win at home against Plymouth Argyle to avoid relegation out of the League.

The match was tied 1-1 with 10 seconds left when Carlisle earned a corner. Glass, who had just recently arrived on loan from Swindon and was playing in only his third match for Carlisle, rushed forward into the Plymouth penalty area, leaving no one on Carlisle's side of the pitch. The corner was knocked away by the Plymouth keeper, but fell straight to Glass, who volleyed it into the bottom corner, claiming the win at the death. The Carlisle supporters invaded the pitch in celebration.

Carlisle and Swindon were unable to come to terms regarding a possible transfer, so Glass returned to Swindon at season's end. He never played again for Carlisle, but remains a club legend for his goal on that day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

7 May 2003 - Because "The Forty-Niners" Was Already Taken

On 7 May 2003, Arsenal defeated Southampton at Highbury by the score of 6-1. That match was the first in the Gunners' record 49-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League, a run which saw them claim the league title for the 2003-04 season.

Three days earlier, Arsenal had lost at home to Leeds United. That loss ensured that Arsenal would finish the season in second place behind Manchester United, thus ending their title bid. Few expected that it would be their last league loss for over a season.

The Gunners took out their frustrations on the Saints, scoring early and often. Winger Robert Pires scored the first goal in the 9th minute, on his way to a hat-trick (23', 47'). Arsenal midfielder Jermaine Pennant, making his league debut, added a hat-trick of his own in the span of ten minutes in the first half (17', 20', 26'). The match was never in doubt and Arsenal cruised to an easy victory.

Arsenal carried their momentum through the last two matches of the 2002-03 season, then through the following season, in which they won 26 of their 38 league matches, drawing the other 12. They finished that season as champions with 90 points, 11 more than runners-up Chelsea. Throughout the streak, Arsenal played 49 matches, of which they won 36, drew 13, and lost 0, earning the name "The Invincibles."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

6 May 1970 - They Don't Look Very Excited Though, Do They?

On 6 May 1970, Feyenoord became the first Dutch team to win the European Cup, beating Celtic 2-1 in the Final.

Founded in Rotterdam in 1908, Feyenoord are one of the most successful clubs in the Netherlands, rounding out the Dutch "Big Three" along with Ajax and PSV. They earned a place in the 1969-70 European Cup by winning their ninth Eredivisie title the previous season.

Feyenoord started their European campaign with a flourish, demolishing Icelandic side Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur in the first round by an aggregate score of 16-2. They faced defending champions A.C. Milan in the second round, losing the first leg in Italy 1-0, but winning the second leg 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. They repeated that pattern against A.S.K. Vorwärts Berlin, again winning 2-1 on aggregate, then beat Legia Warszawa 2-0 in the semifinal.

The Final was held at the San Siro in Milan. Celtic defender Tommy Gemmell scored first, putting the Scottish side ahead in the 29th minute. The lead was short-lived, however, as Feyenoord defender and captain Rinus Israël scored the equalizer in the 31st minute. The teams failed to score through the end of regulation, forcing the match into extra time. In the 117th minute, Feyenoord's Swedish forward Ove Kindvall scored the winning goal.

As title-holders the next season, Feyenoord were upset in the first round by Romanian side U.T.A. Arad.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

5 May 1918 - The World Cup's Older Frère

On 5 May 1918, Olympique de Pantin won the inaugural Coupe de France, defeating F.C. Lyon by the score of 3-0.

Founded in a Paris suburb in 1895, Olympique de Pantin was one of 48 clubs participating in the 1917-18 tournament. On their way to the final, they beat Légion Saint-Michel (4-1), Lyon Olympique Universitaire (5-1), Club Français (3-2 aet), and C.A. Société Générale (2-1).

The final was played at Légion Saint-Michel's field in Paris before a crowd of 2,000 spectators. A. Fievet scored the first two goals for Pantin before Louis Darques added a third.

Olympique de Pantin never won another trophy, though they were runners-up in the Coupe de France in 1919 and 1921. In 1926, then known as Olympique de Paris, they merged with rival Parisian club Red Star F.C.

The competition, originally known as the Coupe Charles-Simon, was created on 15 January 1917 by the French football governing body at the time, the Comité Français Inter-fédéral. It was proposed by Henri Delaunay and supported, among others, by Jules Rimet, who went on the become the president of the French Football Federation (1919-1945) and FIFA (1921-1954), and who was the driving force behind the creation of the FIFA World Cup.

Monday, May 4, 2009

4 May 1949 - The Superga Disaster

On 4 May 1949, an airplane carrying 18 members of A.C. Torino crashed into a hill outside Turin, killing all 31 passengers.

The club was founded in 1906 as part of an acrimonious split from Juventus, which led to a heated rivalry between the two sides known as the Derby della Mole.

Torino won its first Scudetto in 1928, but enjoyed their greatest success in the 1940s. From 1943 to 1948, the team called Grande Torino won four consecutive Scudettos (there were no Serie A matches in 1944 or 1945 due to World War II). The team also regularly provided the majority of the players for the Italian national team during that period. For a friendly against Hungary on 11 May 1947, all ten field players in the Azzurri starting lineup were from Torino (the goalkeeper was from Juventus).

On the day of the crash, the team were returning from Lisbon, where they had played a friendly against Benfica. The weather around Turin was poor, with rain and mist limiting visibility. As the plane approached the Turin airport, it drifted off course and crashed into a hill called Superga on the outskirts of the city. All 31 people on board died, including the 18 team members; their coach, Englishman Leslie Lievesley; his staff; the airplane's crew; and three journalists. The only Torino player not killed that day was Sauro Toma, who had missed the match against Benfica due to injury.

At the time, Torino were four points clear in Serie A with four matches left to play in the season. Torino was forced to field its youth team for the remaining matches, while its opponents fielded youth teams as well as a show of respect. Torino won all four matches to claim their fifth consecutive Scudetto, in what was certainly a small consolation for their loss. They have won only won Scudetto since, in 1976.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

3 May 1998 - City On The Move

On 3 May 1998, Manchester City F.C. were relegated to the English third tier.

It was their second relegation in three years, as City had just dropped from the Premier League in 1996. They went through a series of managerial changes, sacking manager Alan Ball at the start of the 1996-97 season. He was replaced by Steve Coppell, who resigned just a few weeks later, claiming that the job was too stressful. City then turned to former Nottingham Forest manager Frank Clark, who led them to a 14th place finish. As City continued to struggle the following season, Clark was sacked in February 1998 and replaced by former Oldham and Everton manager Joe Royle (pictured).

City's battle for Division One survival went down to 3 May 1998, the final day of the season. City started the day in the second bottom position with 45 points, just one point behind Port Vale, Portsmouth, and Stoke City. City defeated Stoke 5-2, but Port Vale and Portsmouth also won their matches, so that City finished third bottom, one point away from safety, and were relegated to Division Two.

Royle managed to improve City's fortunes, earning immediate promotion back to Division One in 1999 and then to the Premier League in 2000, but was sacked in 2001 as City slipped back down to Division One.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

2 May 1962 - That's A Hat Trick Gone To Waste

On 2 May 1962, Benfica defeated Real Madrid 5-3 in Amsterdam to claim their second consecutive European Cup.

1962 was the seventh season of the prestigious competition and the Final matched the only two clubs with European Cup trophies in their cabinets - Real Madrid won the first five tournaments, while Benfica had won the previous year's cup, defeating Barcelona 3-2.

Real were heavy favorites, having moved through the tournament with relative ease. In the preliminary round, they defeated Hungarian side Vasas 5-1 on aggregate, then overwhelmed Denmark's Boldklubben 1913 in the first round by the aggregate score of 12-0. Their only real test leading up to the Final was against Juventus, who held them to a 1-1 draw, but then lost 3-1 to Real in the ensuing play-off. Real returned to form in the semifinals, beating Standard Liège 6-0.

Benfica's road was nearly as smooth, with a 6-2 first-round defeat of Austria Vienna, a 7-3 win over Nuremberg in the second round, and a 4-3 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the semifinals.

In the Final, Real took an early lead as their Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskás scored goals in the 17th and 23rd minutes. Benfica pulled even after goals from José Águas (25') and Domiciano Cavém (34'), but Puskás completed his hat trick with a goal in the 38th minute.

The scoring pace continued in the second half, as Benfica's Mário Coluna scored an equalizer in the 51st minute. Then came Eusébio. Benfica's soon-to-be legendary forward, making his first European Cup Final appearance, put Benfica ahead for the first time when he scored in the 65th minute. He scored again three minutes later to seal the win for the Portuguese side.

Benfica has appeared in the Finals five more times, finishing as runners-up each time. Real went on to win four more European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles, most recently in 2002.

Friday, May 1, 2009

1 May 2002 - Diamonds In The Rough

On 1 May 2002, Scottish First Division club Airdrieonians F.C. officially went out of business due to crippling debts.

The club, commonly known as Airdrie and nicknamed the Red Diamonds, began in 1878 as Excelsior F.C., but changed its name to Airdrieonians in 1881 to reflect the North Lanarkshire town of Airdrie in which it was based. They joined the Scottish League as a member of the Second Division and regularly moved between the top two flights.

Airdrie won the Second Division title three times, in 1903, 1955, and 1974, and also won the Scottish Challenge Cup three times, first in 1995, then in their last two seasons, 2001 and 2002. They also qualified for the European Cup Winners' Cup after finishing as runner-up to Rangers in the 1992 Scottish Cup Final. Their greatest success, however, was winning the Scottish Cup in 1924, beating Hibernian 2-0.

At the time they went out of business, Airdrie had just missed out on promotion to the Scottish Premier League, finishing in 2nd place of the then second-tier First Division. The club's debts had been steadily rising, however, and Airdrie had been in administration for the previous two years. By 1 May 2002, administrator KPMG had failed to find a buyer for the club and ordered it to shut its doors.

Their last match was away to Ayr United on 27 April 2002, but was abandoned by the referee when Airdrie supporters staged a protest pitch invasion, breaking the crossbar of one of the goals. The match was never replayed, but was officially recorded as a 1-0 loss for Airdrie.

In 2002, ardent Airdrie supporter Jim Ballantyne purchased Second Division side Clydebank F.C., relocated it to Airdrie, and renamed it Airdrie United. The new club currently plays in the First Division, after earning promotion in 2008.