Sunday, January 31, 2010

31 January 2009 - Wolfsburg Reaches The Turning Point

On 31 January 2009, Wolfsburg drew 1-1 with hosts Köln, continuing their season-long road winless streak in the league. Cruelly, the goal that denied them their first away victory was scored by Köln's Romanian forward Sergiu Radu, who was on loan from Wolfsburg.

Going into the match, the schizophrenic Wolves were sitting 8th in the Bundesliga table, having gone undefeated at home, but their nine previous away matches that season had ended in five losses and four draws. Against Köln, they appeared to be heading for yet another loss, as Radu put the hosts up 1-0 with a strike in the 34th minute. Köln had several chances to increase their lead, but were denied by a combination of poor finishing and excellent work from Wolves' Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio. Wolfsburg salvaged the draw with a 77th-minute equalizer from their Brazilian striker Grafite (pictured).

Although Wolfsburg left with yet another draw, Grafite's goal proved to be a defining moment for the club, as they carried the momentum from the Köln match into a 10-game winning streak. That streak, which included four away wins, equalled the German top flight's record winning streak and finished with Wolfsburg sitting on top of the table.

Wolfsburg lost only twice more that season (both on the road) and remained at the top to claim the Bundesliga title--the club's first major trophy. Grafite went on to become the Bundesliga's top scorer that season, with 28 goals in 25 league appearances, and was named the league's Footballer of the Year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

30 January 2006 - The Rams Butt Brown Out

On 30 January 2006, second-division Derby County sacked manager Phil Brown after only seven months in charge.

Derby had taken a risk in hiring Brown, whose only prior experience in the top job consisted of five matches as caretaker manager of Bolton Wanderers. Bolton won four of the five, but gave the permanent position to Sam Allardyce, who retained Brown as an assistant.

After he took over at Derby in June 2005, the Rams won only seven of their 33 matches, with 14 draws and 12 losses. They were sitting in 19th place when Brown was fired. Derby replaced him with Billy Davies, who led the Rams to promotion for the 2007-08 season, but was himself fired in November 2007 as Derby floundered in the top flight.

Brown, meanwhile, moved to second-division Hull City in December 2006 and led them to the Premier League for the 2008-09 season. Unlike Derby, Hull managed to stay up in their first season, finishing one point out of the relegation zone. That season was not without controversy for Brown, who drew sharp criticism for his behavior, including one incident in which he kept his players on the pitch at halftime and shouted at them in full view of the crowd (pictured above).

Brown's position at Hull is precarious, as the Tigers are presently sitting second from bottom, with one win in their last ten matches.

[2012 update: Brown's contract at Hull ended in June 2010 after the club dropped into the Championship. In January 2011, he took over at Preston North End, but was unable to save the club from relegation and was sacked eleven months later.]

Friday, January 29, 2010

29 January 2006 - Eight May Be Enough, But Nine Is Better

On 29 January 2006, the United States beat Norway 5-0 in a friendly at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Three of the Yanks' goals were scored by forward Taylor Twellman, whose hat-trick was only the ninth in the history of the US national team.

Twellman, who plays his club ball for the MLS' New England Revolution, was making a push for inclusion in the 2006 World Cup side. Despite winning the MLS Golden Boot in 2005, he had scored only one previous international goal, in October 2005, since his call up to the senior team in 2002.

Although Twellman appeared to find his scoring touch, contributing another goal in a 3-2 friendly win over Japan in February 2006, he was not part of the side that traveled to Germany in 2006. That team managed to score only one goal--a 43rd-minute strike from Clint Dempsey against Ghana--and was eliminated from the tournament in the group stage. (They also benefitted from an Italy own goal to draw 1-1 with the eventual champions.)

Twellman rejoined the national team for their successful 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign, but his most recent US appearance came on 19 January 2008 and he is no longer listed in the team's player pool.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

28 January 1978 - Congratulations, Mrs. Buffon, He's A Keeper

On 28 January 1978, Italian superstar and 8-time Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year Gianluigi Buffon was born in Carrara, Italy.

Buffon made his professional debut in 1995 for Parma, the club he had joined as a youth player. He was a key member of the club's 1999 treble-winning side, claiming that year's UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, and Supercoppa Italiana. In January 2001, he transferred to Juventus for the record goalkeeper fee of €51.5 million.

He continued his run of success for Juve, winning the Serie A title in his first two seasons and advancing to the 2003 Champions League Final, only to lose to Serie A rivals AC Milan on penalties, 0-0 (3-2). When Juventus were relegated to Serie B for the 2006-07 season after being found guilty of match-fixing, many rumors suggested that Buffon would join the exodus of players leaving the club, including Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Patrick Vieira. Buffon, however, stayed with the Old Lady and won promotion back to the top flight at the first opportunity.

Buffon debuted for Italy's senior side in 1997 and, to date, has amassed 100 caps. He had great success in the Azzurri's World Cup-winning run in 2006, conceding only one goal--a Cristian Zaccardi own goal--before the Final. Even in the Final, he did not let in any goals during the run of play, surrending only penalty kicks as Italy defeated France in a shootout, 1-1 (5-3). His performance earned him the Yashin Award as the tournament's top goalkeeper.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27 January 2001 - Damarcus' Debut

On 27 January 2001, speedy 18-year old midfielder Damarcus Beasley collected his first cap for the United States senior team in a 2-1 friendly win over China played in Oakland, California. Known primarily for his pace on the left wing, Beasley has also shown versatility, playing at forward and left back for the national team.

Beasley had previously been a standout for the U-17s, who reached the semifinals of the 1999 U-17 World Championship, with Beasley earning the Silver Ball award as the tournament's second most valuable player.

He was key player for the US in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. In the latter, he provided the assist for the only goal scored by the Americans, a 43rd-minute equalizer by Clint Dempsey in the final group stage match against Ghana. Beasley put the ball in the back of the net against Italy, but the goal was disallowed after the referee determined that forward Brian McBride had screened the Italian goalkeeper from an offside position.

To date, Beasley has made 89 appearances for the national team, scoring 17 goals. He currently plays in Scotland for Rangers, after joining the Glasgow side in 2007. He previously played for the Chicago Fire (2000-04), PSV Eindhoven (2004-07), and Manchester City (on loan from PSV, 2006-07).

[2012 Update: Beasley left Rangers for Hannover 96 in 2010, then moved to Mexico to play for Puebla, his current club, one year later.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

26 January 1963 - The Special One's Special Day

On 26 January 1963, celebrated manager and self-annointed "Special One" José Mourinho was born in Setúbal, Portugal.

After a brief and undistinguished career as a footballer in his native Portugal, Mourinho turned to management, where he enjoyed quick success. He got his first break in 1992 as translator for Bobby Robson, then at Sporting in Lisbon. After spells as an assistant at Porto and Barcelona, and brief periods in charge at Benfica and Leiria, Mourinho moved to Porto in 2002 where he became an international name.

Under Mourinho, Porto won the 2004 Champions League, beating Monaco 3-0 in the Final. In June 2004, Mourinho moved to Chelsea where, in his first press conference, he announced that he thought he was "a special one." He backed up the statement by winning the Premier League title in his first season, Chelsea's first title in 50 years. They repeated as champions in Mourinho's second season.

After winning the FA Cup in May 2007, Mourinho suddenly resigned shortly after the start of the following season amid conflicts with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich over staffing decisions and player purchases. He took the year off from football, then joined Inter in June 2008, winning the Serie A title in his first season in Italy.

Mourinho is closing in on a remarkable run of eight years without a home loss. His last defeat at home was on 23 February 2002, when Porto lost 3-2 to Beira-Mar.

[2011 Update: Mourinho moved to Real Madrid in May 2010. There, his unbeaten home streak ended on 2 April 2011 with a loss to Sporting de Gijón.]

Monday, January 25, 2010

25 January 1995 - Cantona Was Kung-Fu Fighting

On 25 January 1995, Manchester United drew 1-1 with hosts Crystal Palace in a match that proved to be very costly for United and their star French forward, Eric Cantona.

Since arriving at Old Trafford from Leeds in November 1992, Cantona had become a United favorite, helping them to the League title in his first two seasons, as well as being named the 1994 PFA Footballer of the Year. Unfortunately, he had also displayed a quick temper, once receiving two red cards in two successive matches.

In that match against Palace, both teams were scoreless early in the second half when Cantona was sent off in the 48th minute for kicking Palace defender Richard Shaw. As he was being escorted off the pitch, he suddenly turned and launched himself feet-first over the advertising hoardings into Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, who had been heaping verbal abuse on the Frenchman. Down to 10 men, United managed to take a 1-0 lead six minutes later, but could not prevent Palace from equalizing in the 79th minute to earn the draw.

Cantona was suspended for the rest of the season, sentenced to 120 hours of community service, and fined £10,000. Without him, United fell just short of winning another title, finishing one point behind League champions Blackburn Rovers.

For his part in the altercation, Simmons was jailed for 24 hours, fined £500, and given a one-year ban from all football grounds in England and Wales.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

24 January 2009 - The Clock Strikes Midnight On Schirrhein

On 24 January 2009, visiting Toulouse crushed seventh-tier amateur side Schirrhein, 8-0, ending their fairy tale run in the 2008-09 Coupe de France. It was the first time in the competition's 91-year history that a team from France's seventh division had made it to the Round of 32.

The 2,000-person village of Schirrhein is located in Alsace near the German border. The local amateur club quietly advanced through the cup's first eight rounds, then made headlines earlier in the month by beating Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot, 4-2, in the Round of 64. Describing the ensuing media blitz that had overtaken the village, Shirrhein manager Herve Sturm said "After beating Clermont, everything went mad. We made ourselves available to everyone who wanted to talk to us and we were happy about that because the media helped us in our success."

Toulouse, however, refused to play their assigned role in the Cinderella story and scored eight goals against Schirrhein--four from Danish striker Soren Larsen. They advanced to the semi-finals, where they lost to eventual Cup winners Guingamp.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

23 January 2008 - Football By The People, For The People

On 23 January 2008, the members of MyFootballClub--an online community of football supporters--voted to approve the purchase of Ebbsfleet United, thus becoming the first internet-based group to own a football club.

The brainchild of former football journalist Will Brooks, MyFootballClub ("MyFC" for short) launched on 26 April 2007 for the express purpose of purchasing a club. With an annual membership fee of £35, Brooks estimated that it would take 50,000 members to generate enough revenue to launch a takeover bid for a club. They quickly reached that number, with over 53,000 members by the end of July. The membership is multinational, coming from over 70 countries.

A number of clubs approached MyFC for a purchase deal, including Halifax Town, Mansfield Town, and Leigh RMI. But on 13 November 2007, MyFC announced that they had agreed in principle to purchase fifth-tier Ebbsfleet United for the price of £635,000. The purchase was put to the MyFC members for a vote in January 2008. Although only 50% of the votes were required to approve the purchase (with no quorum requirement), 17,368 members out of 18,112 participating voters favored the sale--an approval rate of 95.89%.

Initially, all club decisions, including sales, purchases, contracts, and even team selection, were decided by majority vote of the MyFC members, but the group later voted to leave team selection to the manager. The format appeared to work, as Ebbsfleet went on to win the 2008 FA Trophy in May. The club struggled in 2008-09, however, and is currently sitting in the relegation zone.

Since MyFC launched, similar groups have formed, both in the UK and elsewhere.

Friday, January 22, 2010

22 January 1920 - A Man With Extraordinary Vision

On 22 January 1920, World Cup-winning England manager and apparent psychic Alf Ramsey was born in London.

During his playing career as a right-back with Southampton (1943-49) and Tottenham (1949-55), Ramsey developed a reputation as an intelligent, though not necessarily physically gifted, footballer, earning three caps for England (one of which was the upset loss to the United States in the 1950 World Cup). But he truly revealed the breadth of his genius when he switched to management.

His first post as manager was in 1955 with Ipswich Town, then in the Third Division South. By the end of his second season, he led them to the Second Division, then in 1961 they were promoted to the First Division--the club's first-ever appearance in the top flight. Although most pundits thought they'd drop back at the end of the 1961-62 season, Ramsey and Ipswich defied them all by winning the league that year.

Ramsey's success with Ipswich led to his appoinment as manager of England in 1963. He embraced the challenge and boldy predicted that England would win the 1966 World Cup. He also shook up the system, personally taking responsibility for team selection and other decisions that had previously been handled by an FA committee.

Ramsey proved his value as a manager and a fortune teller when hosts England did, in fact, win the 1966 World Cup with a 4-2 victory over West Germany in the Final. He was unable to replicate his success, however, and after lackluster performances in the 1968 European Championship and 1970 World Cup, Ramsey was sacked when England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

He served time as pundit himself, then briefly served as manager for Birmingham City (1977-78), before his death from a heart attack in 1999.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

21 January 2007 - A Celebration Coach Might Not Be A Bad Idea

On 21 January 2007, Arsenal staged a dramatic comeback win against Manchester United at the Emirates, but the Gunners paid a steep price for the three points (and in ridiculous fashion).

United entered the match at the top of table, 15 points clear of fourth-place Arsenal, and were looking to avenge their 0-1 loss to the Gunners from September. United had their chances in the first half, but were repeatedly denied by Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann. They took a deserved lead in the second half, however, when forward Wayne Rooney scored with an unmarked header in the 59th minute.

The Gunners continued to attack and received an 83rd-minute equalizer from striker Robin van Persie, who had come on in the 67th minute. Ten minutes later, with United visibly tired and frustrated, Thierry Henry headed in the gamewinner.

Arsenal's joy at the win was dampened when it was later revealed that van Persie broke a bone in his foot while celebrating his goal. The season-ending injury was a crushing blow, as the Dutchman was the Gunners' leading scorer at the time. Arsenal won only 8 of their next 23 matches in all competitions and finished the season without any silverware.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

20 January 1983 - This Bird Has Flown

On 20 January 1983, legendary Brazilian winger/forward Manuel Francisco dos Santos, better known as "Garrincha," died in a Rio hospital at the age of 49.

A two-time World Cup champion with Brazil, as well as the 1962 World Football Player of the Year, Garrincha (meaning "little bird") was an unlikely footballer, having been born with a deformed spine, a right leg that bent inwards, and a shorter left leg that curved outwards. By the time he was 18, however, he had developed the uncanny ball control and phenomenal dribbling ability that would establish him as one of the world's most dynamic players.

He spent the majority of his club career in Rio with Botafogo, making 581 league appearances from 1953 to 1965. He debuted for the first team on 19 July 1953 and promptly scored a hat-trick.

Garrincha earned his first cap for Brazil in 1955. He made 60 appearances total for the national side, with Brazil winning the first 59. That run included the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, Brazil's first two cup titles. After he scored two goals in Brazil's 3-1 win over England in the 1962 quarterfinals, the British press described him as "Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, and a snake charmer all rolled into one."

Unfortunately, Garrincha's personal life was less successful, as he struggled with alcoholism, domestic problems, and financial mismanagement. He died from complications related to cirrhosis.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

19 January 1974 - I Wonder If He Wore Golden Booties

On 19 January 1974, DC United captain and all-time MLS scoring leader Jaime Moreno was born in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

Moreno started his professional career in 1991 with his hometown club, Blooming. After two successful seasons, he transferred to Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe, but made only 5 league appearances before transferring again in 1994, this time to English Division One side Middlesbrough. When Boro were promoted for the 1995-96 season, he became the first Bolivian to play in the Premier League.

After playing sparingly for Middlesbrough, Moreno returned to the Western hemisphere in 1996 to play for DC United in the new American league. Other than one season (2003) with the MetroStars, Moreno has remained with DC ever since. Along the way, he earned several honors, including four MLS Cups (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004), two US Open Cups (1996, 2008), and one CONCACAF Champions Cup (1998).

In 1997, he won the MLS' Golden Boot, scoring 16 goals in 20 league appearances. He is currently the league's all-time top scorer, with 131 goals through the 2009 season.

Monday, January 18, 2010

18 January 2006 - Lilly Travels To The Third Century

On 18 January 2006, United States forward/midfielder and captain Kristine Lilly became the first player--male or female--to reach 300 caps when she appeared against Norway in the Four Nations Tournament.

Lilly joined the USWNT in 1987 while she was still in high school and has helped them claim several honors, including two World Cups (1991, 1999) and two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004).

In the 2006 Four Nations Tournament, the US won their match against Norway, 3-1. Lilly contributed the opening goal, her 105th, which tied her with Michelle Akers for second place on the USWNT's all-time goal scoring list. She has since passed Akers to hold second place outright, scoring a total of 129 goals in 342 appearances.

You can view highlights of Lilly's 300th international appearance here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

17 January 1948 - Even Oasis Never Drew That Large A Crowd There

On 17 January 1948, a League-record 83,260 people watched Manchester United draw 1-1 with Arsenal. Although it was considered a home match for United, it was held at Manchester City's Maine Road ground (right), because Old Trafford was undergoing repairs for damage caused during World War II.

At the time, United were in fourth place in the First Division table, nine points behind league leaders Arsenal (who had won the season's prior contest at Highbury, 2-1). The Gunners would go on to win the league, while United would claim that season's FA Cup, as well as their second consecutive second-place league finish.

While the 17 January 1948 attendance set the highest total for a league match, it is second to the overall English record of 84,569, reached at Maine Road for a 6th round FA Cup match between Manchester City and Stoke City on 3 March 1934.

At the end of the 2002-03 season, Manchester City moved out of Maine Road to the new City of Manchester Stadium. By that time, Maine Road had been converted to an all-seater, eliminating the terraces and reducuing its capacity to 35,150.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

16 January 1994 - Verdy Kawasaki Kick Into Gear

On 16 January 1994, Verdy Kawasaki won the first J-League Championship by drawing 1-1 with Kashima Antlers before a crowd of 59,715 at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. It was the second leg of the final and Verdy had won the first leg 2-0 to claim the title on aggregate.

The J-League, Japan's first professional league, was founded in 1992 with 10 clubs. For the first year, they played a cup competition only, debuting the first league matches in 1993. That first season was played in two 18-match stages, named after their sponsors as the Suntory Series (the first stage) and the NICOS Series (the second stage). The teams at the top of the table at the end of each stage then met in the two-leg Suntory Championship in Tokyo to decide the title.

Kashima, as first-stage winners, and Verdy, the second-stage winners, played the first leg on 9 January 1994, with Verdy emerging as 2-0 victors with goals from playmaker Kazuyoshi Miura (60') and Brazilian midfielder Bismarck Faria (89'). In the second leg, Kashima closed the gap with a 38th-minute striker from Brazilian forward Alcindo Sartori, but Kazu restored the two-goal advantage by finding the back of the net in the 82nd minute.

Verdy repeated as champions the following season, but Kashima have come on strong, winning seven titles starting in 1996 and including each of the last three seasons.

Friday, January 15, 2010

15 January 1959 - Liverpool's Cup Runs Dry

On 15 January 1959, Southern League Worcester City staged one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history by beating Liverpool 2-1 at St. George's Lane in the third round.

At the time, Liverpool were in second place in the Second Division table, three levels above non-League strugglers Worcester City. City, however, had announced their intentions by beating Fourth Division side Millwall 5-2 in the previous round. Originally scheduled to be played on a Saturday, the frozen pitch at St. George's Lane forced a postponement to midweek. The delay heightened the anticipation for the supporters, who set a club record attendance at the time of 15,000 for the Liverpool match.

Those supporters were delighted when City's Tommy Skuse scored the opening goal in the ninth minute. He outraced the Liverpool defenders to catch a deflected ball and tucked it home to put City up 1-0, a lead they held through the break. Late in the second half, City appeared to seal their victory when Liverpool center-half Dick White botched a clearance in the 81st minute by lobbing the ball over his own keeper and into the net.

The Merseysiders pulled one back a minute later after converting a controversial penalty, but it wasn't enough and Liverpool were eliminated. City advanced to the fourth round, where they lost at home to Sheffield United, 2-0.

The loss remains Liverpool's worst Cup defeat, but not their most recent, as second division Reading dumped them out of the competition on 13 January 2009.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

14 January 1969 - Busby Bows Out

On 14 January 1969, Manchester United manager Matt Busby announced his retirement after 23 years in charge at Old Trafford, effective at the end of the season. As it turned out, it was a temporary retirement.

Although Busby had played for 12 seasons--8 for Manchester City and 4 with Liverpool--before World War II interrupted his career, he had no prior managerial experience when United hired him on 19 February 1945. He quickly mastered the learning curve, leading United to a second-place finish when the league resumed play in the 1946-47 season. They again finished in second place for three of the next four seasons (1948, 1949, 1951) and claimed Busby's first silverware, the 1948 FA Cup, before winning the league in 1952.

Busby was with the team on the way home from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade when their plane crashed in Munich on 6 February 1958. Seven players and three club officials were killed, while Busby himself was so injured that he twice received last rites. Remarkably, he recovered from his injuries after two months in the hospital and resumed his managerial duties for the 1958-59 season.

In all, Busby's United won five league titles (1952, 1956, 1957, 1965, 1967), two FA Cups (1948, 1963) and one European Cup (1968).

Upon his retirement, he remained with the club as a director while trainer Wilf McGuinness took over as manager. Busby briefly returned to the touchline when McGuinness was sacked in December 1970, but again retired at the end of that season.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

13 January 1991 - And They Still Call This A Friendly

On 13 January 1991, violence erupted between supporters of Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at a preseason friendly held at the Oppenheimer Stadium (pictured) in Orkney, South Africa, resulting in 42 deaths. At the time, it was the worst football-related tragedy in South African history.

Conditions were ripe for an incident, as the 23,000-capacity stadium held a crowd that day of approximately 30,000. To make matters worse, officals did not segregate supporters of the fierce derby rivals, so that they were all intermingled in the packed stadium. All that was needed was a spark, which was provided when Chiefs scored a controversial goal.

The Pirates supporters erupted, reportedly throwing objects, including cans and fruit, at the Chiefs supporters. A number of fights broke out and, according to some accounts, there were knife attacks. The deaths, however, were caused by the ensuing stampede as supporters rushed to get out of the stadium, with people getting trampled or crushed against the fences.

The same two teams were involved in a similar incident on 11 April 2001 at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium. That time, 43 people died, surpassing the previous incident as the country's worst stadium tragedy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

12 January 1967 - Five Paragraphs And Not A Single Booger Joke

On 12 January 1967, future West Ham striker and reported caravan enthusiast Marco Boogers was born in the Dutch city of Dordrecht.

Boogers started his professional career in 1986 for his hometown side, Drechtsteden '79, then in the Dutch second division. He played for a number of other Dutch clubs before making an ill-fated switch to West Ham in July 1995 for a transfer fee reported to be between £750,000 and £1 million.

In his second match for the Hammers, against Manchester United, Boogers came on as a substitute and was promptly sent off for a rough challenge on Gary Neville. He made only a few more appearances before being sidelined by knee surgery on 19 December 1995. He went home to the Netherlands for his recovery.

Upon learning of his absence, The Sun reported that he had disappeared to a caravan park in the Netherlands. Apparently, they were unable to reach Boogers and asked West Ham's PA announcer, Bill Prosser, where he was. Prosser, who was also responsible for making the players' travel arrangements, responded that he had not booked any flights for Boogers, so "if he's gone back to Holland, he's probably gone by car again." The Sun reporter misheard Prosser as saying "by caravan," thus giving rise to the rumor that Boogers was on permanent holiday.

Boogers never played for West Ham again, but moved back to Holland where he enjoyed a successful career.

Monday, January 11, 2010

11 January 2007 - Beckham Becomes The Biggest Star In The Galaxy

On 11 January 2007, Real Madrid and England midfielder David Beckham shocked the world by announcing that he had signed a contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Although Beckham had fallen out of favor at Real under manager Fabio Capello, the move was nonetheless viewed as a significant step down for the English icon, who had reportedly generated interest from bigger clubs including AC Milan and Inter.

Beckham and the Galaxy agreed to a 5-year deal worth approximately $250 million, though his playing wages made up only about 20% of that amount. The remaining 80% came from merchandise sales, sponsorships, and a stake in the club's projected profits.

Real attempted to keep Beckham after he enjoyed a resurgence in form in the second half of the season, helping the club claim its first La Liga title in four years, but he held firm to his commitment and joined the Galaxy in the summer of 2007.

Beckham was not the first English superstar to play in Los Angeles, and in fact wasn't even the first former Manchester United superstar to do so. In 1976, George Best signed with the NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs. Best, who, like Beckham, wore the No. 7 shirt for United, made 55 appearances for the Aztecs from 1976 to 1978.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

10 January 1982 - New Zealand's Chinese Take-Out

On 10 January 1982, in what may have been the greatest population disparity in football history, New Zealand (pop. 3 million) beat the People's Republic of China (pop. 1 billion) by the score of 2-1 to qualify for the Kiwis' first-ever World Cup.

New Zealand plays in the Oceania Football Confederation, which, for 1982 World Cup qualification, was competing with the Asian Football Confederation for 2 of the 24 available slots. New Zealand's All Whites--named to contrast with the rugby All Blacks--won their First Round group over rival Australia to advance to the Final Round, along with Kuwait, China, and Saudi Arabia.

New Zealand and China finished tied for second in the Final Round table, even on points and goal difference, and were required to resolve matters through a playoff on neutral territory. They met in Singapore, where the All Whites took a 2-0 lead in the 47th minute. China pushed to break the Kiwis' defense and managed to pull within one after finding the net in the 75th minute, but was stifled after that as New Zealand held on for the win. It was actually New Zealand's second win over China in the group. The first was a 1-0 win in Auckland on 3 October 1981 after drawing 0-0 in Beijing on 24 September 1981.

In Spain for the World Cup, New Zealand was eliminated in the First Round group stage after losses to Scotland, the USSR, and Brazil. But supporters' feelings were represented by New Zealand's then-World Cup Director Charlie Dempsey, who stated "Singapore was our World Cup Final. We have won our World Cup."

New Zealand recently qualified for the 2010 World Cup and will make its second ever appearance in the tournament.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

9 January 1900 - Football Crosses The Rubicon

On 9 January 1900, a group of nine sportsmen in Rome founded the city's oldest football team, SS Lazio. Originally known as the Società Podistica Lazio ("Lazio Track and Field Society"), after the region surrounding Rome, the club played their first football match in 1902, securing a 3-0 win over fellow Roman side Virtus. Presumably, they had acquired at least two additional members by then to field a full side.

The founders chose their colors and badge to be symbolic of both ancient Rome and ancient Greece; the colors of blue and white come from the colors of the flag of Greece, birthplace of the Olympics, and represent Lazio's ambition as a multi-sport club, while the eagle is taken from the battle standard of ancient Rome.

Although Lazio have spent the majority of their existence in Italy's top flight, their success is comparitively recent. They won their first trophy, the Coppa d'Italia, in 1958, and have since added 4 more Italian Cups (1998, 2000, 2004, 2009), two Serie A titles (1974, 2000), one Serie B title (1969), and three Italian Super Cups (1998, 2000, 2009). They have also had some European success, winning the 1999 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, the 1999 UEFA Super Cup, and the 1998 UEFA Cup.

Lazio currently play in Serie A, where they finished in tenth place last season. They qualified for the 2009-10 Europa League playoffs, however, by winning the 2009 Coppa d'Italia.

Friday, January 8, 2010

8 January 2004 - El Tri Loses Some Color

On 8 January 2004, Mexico's flamboyant goalkeeper Jorge Campos announced his retirement from football, taking his self-designed colorful kits with him.

Born in Acapulco on 15 October 1966, Campos started his professional career in 1988 with Club Universidad Nacional, better known as Pumas. In order to get time on the pitch, he played as a striker until he won the job as first-team keeper. In 1991, he got his first cap for Mexico and would go on to make 130 appearances for El Tri (in 7 of those, he played as both a keeper and a striker, and in 2 others, he played only as a striker).

Although well-known for his bright and unique kits, which he designed himself, Campos was an accomplished keeper. During the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup, for example, he did not concede a single goal as Mexico claimed the title with a 2-0 win over invitee Brazil in the final.

His career included spells with numerous clubs in Mexico and the United States, including the Los Angeles Galaxy (1997), Chicago Fire (1998) and several seasons with Pumas (1988-96, 1997-98, 1998-2000, 2001-02). At the time of his retirement, he was playing for Puebla (2002-04).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

7 January 1970 - It Sounds Better Than "Atlanta Motaung"

On 7 January 1970, former Orlando Pirates striker Kaizer Motaung, who had recently returned home to Soweto, South Africa after spending two years in the NASL with the Atlanta Chiefs, founded a club of his own. He called it Kaizer Chiefs, combining his name and that of his former club. (He also adopted the Atlanta Chiefs' logo, which explains the Native American profile on the club's badge.)

Nicknamed the Amakhosi ("Chiefs" in Zulu), the club was an almost instant success, winning a number of cup competitions in its first few years. It is now the most decorated club in South Africa, having won 10 league titles and more than 80 trophies in total. They won their last league title in 2005.

The Chiefs maintain a longstanding rivalry with Motaung's first club, fellow Soweto side Orlando Pirates. Both teams currently play in South Africa's top flight, the ABSA Premiership.

The members of the English band Kaiser Chiefs don't actually support the Amakhosi, but are followers of Leeds United. They adopted their name in honor of former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe, who played for Kaizer Chiefs from 1990 to 1994.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

6 January 1934 - No Paradise For This Milton

On 6 January 1934, Halifax Town goalkeeper Steve Milton set a club and league record by conceding 13 goals against hosts Stockport County. It was Milton's debut appearance.

The final scoreline was 13-0, which remains the club record defeat for Halifax Town and the club record victory for Stockport County. At the time, the margin also set a Football League record which was later matched when Newcastle defeated Newport County 13-0 in a Second Division match on 5 October 1946.

Stockport finished the season in third position in the Third Division North table and the club currently sits at the bottom of League One. Halifax finished that season in ninth and was wound up in 2008 after being demoted out of the Football Conference after running up large tax debts. A new club formed right away under the name FC Halifax Town and currently plays in the Division One North of the Northern Premier League.

No word on what happened to Steve Milton.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

5 January 1965 - Happy Birthday To The Hard Man

On 5 January 1965, future Wimbledon defender and film star Vinnie Jones was born in Watford, England.

Jones started his footballing career in 1984 with non-league Wealdstone and spent a season in Sweden before moving to Wimbledon in 1986. There, he was part of the rambunctious "Crazy Gang" that won the 1988 FA Cup, the club's highest achievement. He moved to Leeds the following year, starting a journey that included stints at Sheffield United and Chelsea before returning to Wimbledon in 1992.

He earned a reputation as one of the game's great hard men, getting sent off 12 times in his career. His most notorious incident occurred in a match against Newcastle in 1987 when Jones unnerved Paul Gascoigne by squeezing the young midfielder's testicles. The image was caught on film and became an iconic representation of Jones' style of play.

After leaving Wimbledon again in 1998, he served nine matches as player/manager of QPR before retiring. By that time, his film career was underway, starting with his breakout role as hard man "Big Chris" in Guy Ritchie's 1998 film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Despite his ongoing success as an actor, Jones continues to play football for Hollywood United and has expressed a desire to return to Leeds some day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

4 January 1920 - First Blood In The Battle Of Belgium

On 4 January 1920, Standard Liège claimed the first victory in their rivalry with Anderlecht with a 1-0 Belgian second division win in Brussels. It was the second meeting of the two sides, with the first ending in a 2-2 draw on 19 October 1919 in Liège.

The rivalry is the most popular in Belgium, with the country divided between Les Rouches of Liège and Les Mauves of Anderlecht. Since that first loss, Anderlecht have been the more successful side. Of their 163 meetings, Anderlecht has won 74 and Liège 46, with 43 draws.

The disparity is even more pronounced away from the derby, with Les Mauves winning 29 Belgian First Division titles, 9 Belgian Cups, and 8 Belgian Super Cups. They have also had success in Europe with 2 Cup Winners' Cups, one UEFA Cup, and two European Super Cups.

Liège have won fewer honors, with 10 First Division titles, but have won the league the last two seasons. They have also won 5 Belgian Cups, 4 Belgian Super Cups, and one Cup Winners' Cup.

The next match will be played in Liège on 16 January.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

3 January 1995 - In A League Of His Own

On 3 January 1995, reigning CONCACAF Player of the Year Tab Ramos became the first player to sign with Major League Soccer.

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1966, Ramos moved to the United States when he was 11. In 1983, he led his high school team to the New Jersey state championship and was named the Parade Magazine National High School Player of the Year. He was drafted by the New York Cosmos in the following year, but chose instead to attend North Carolina State University where he was a four-time All ACC selection and a three-time All American.

After brief spells with the American Soccer League's New Jersey Eagles (1988) and Miami Sharks (1989), Ramos was one of several players to sign contracts with the United States Soccer Federation to play exclusively for the national team in preparation for the 1990 World Cup. After the World Cup, the USSF loaned him to Spanish second division club Figueres.

Ramos played well for Figueres in 1990-91, leading to club to purchase his contract from the USSF. At the end of the following season, however, Figueres transferred him to fellow Second Division side Real Betis. Ramos made 59 apperances for Betis over the next two seasons which ended in promotion to Spain's top flight for the 1994-95 season. Ramos' play for Betis, along with his work for the US national team, won him recognition as the 1994 CONCACAF Player of the Year. Although Ramos remained with Betis through 1994-95, he suffered a skull fracture that kept him sidelined for the entire season.

When Ramos signed with MLS, the new league was not yet ready for play, so it loaned him out to Mexican First Division side Tigres. He returned to the US in 1996 to play for the NY/NJ MetroStars in MLS' inaugural season. He played eight seasons for the MetroStars before retiring at the end of the 2002 season. In 2005, he was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame at his first opportunity.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2 January 1971 - Disaster Strikes At Ibrox Again

On 2 January 1971, a stairway at Ibrox Stadium collapsed under the weight of exiting spectators, killing 66 people and injuring over 200 others. It remains the worst disaster in the history of Scottish football and is second in Britain only to England's Hillsborough Stadium tragedy.

The collapse occurred in the waning moments of an Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic. The match was a 0-0 draw until the 89th minute, when Celtic's Jimmy Johnstone scored to put the visitors up 0-1. At that point many Rangers supporters began to leave.

It the last moments of stoppage time, Rangers striker Colin Stein equalized, causing a loud roar from the Rangers fans still in attendance. After the match, rumors suggested that the stairway collapse was caused by returning Rangers fans climbing the stairs to get back into the stadium, but a subsequent inquiry concluded that it was caused solely by the pressure of fans exiting the stadium.

In 2001, Rangers officials erected a memorial in honor of the victims. It includes the names of all 66 spectators who lost their lives, as well as a statue of John Greig, who was captaining the Rangers side during that fateful match.

Sadly, it was the second such disaster at Ibrox. The first occurred in 1902 during a Scotland-England international when the West Stand collapsed, killing 25 and injuring 517.

Friday, January 1, 2010

1 January 1973 - Hibs Start The Year By Breaking Hearts

On 1 January 1973, visiting Hibernian defeated Hearts 0-7 in the Edinburgh derby before a crowd of 36,000 at Tynecastle. The scoreline remains the largest margin of victory in the derby and Hearts' record margin of defeat in all competitions.

One of the oldest active rivalries in football, the Edinburgh derby is currently played three or four times a season, depending on whether both sides are in the top half of the SPL table when it splits near the end of the season. It can be played more often, as the the sides also meet occasionally in cup competitions. The mid-season derby is traditionally played on New Year's Day or the following day, though it has moved slightly in recent years to accommodate television schedules.

By New Year's Day 1973, Hibs had enjoyed a dominant run in derby matches, with 4 wins and 5 draws since their last loss on 7 September 1968. Hibs had won 2-0 in the first derby of the season, played on 9 September, and were sitting in second in the table at the start of the match, two points behind Celtic. Meanwhile, the Jambos were four points back in seventh place.

The match itself was entirely one-sided, as Hibs forward Jimmy O'Rourke scored in the 9th minute to start the rout. By the break, Hibs were up 5-0 after goals from Alan Gordon (15'), Arthur Duncan (26', 37'), and Alex Cropley (35'). O'Rourke and Gordon both scored again in the second half to complete the thrashing.

The win sent Hibs to the top of the table, but they finished the year in third, behind Celtic and Rangers. It nonetheless remains a favorite match of Hibernian supporters, who refer to it as the Greatest Match of All Time.