Archive for July, 2007

July 31 – Hoey Backtracks Over Man United FA Cup Absence

In the summer of 1999, as Manchester United were trying to bask in the glory of achieving an historic treble, a pesky row over their participation in the following season’s FA Cup kept niggling away at the club like an annoying yappy dog that won’t go away.

As Champions League winners, FIFA wanted them to take part in its new Club World Cup which would see the champions from all six FIFA continental confederations competing for the rights to be called the best club in the world.

The competition was to be held in Brazil in 2000 and United were justifiably concerned about fixture congestion, what with the League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League, and now the Club World Cup to think about.

The FA were sympathetic to United’s plight, and excused them from the FA Cup for one season, a decision which angered much of the club’s fan base, particularly as they were the current holders of the trophy.

It was on this day in 1999 that the new Sports Minister Kate Hoey was doing some serious back peddling after comments she had made about the club treating its supporters “shabbily”.

Manager Alex Ferguson and then Chairman Martin Edwards were livid with the minister, as the FA and the government had in fact pressured United into competing in the tournament, in the belief it would aid an English bid for the 2006 World Cup.

The club’s chairman, Martin Edwards, said: “We won’t be having a re-think. We made the decision weeks ago and that decision stands.

“It wasn’t just our decision – it was a joint decision with both the government and the Football Association.

“For a new sports minister to suddenly enter the arena at this late stage and tell us we are treating our supporters shabbily and should go back in the FA Cup is a disgrace.”

In a grovelling climb-down, Hoey said: “I had no intention whatsoever of offending Manchester United. But they know as well as anyone that many fans are very upset by this.

“I know they have been faced with a very difficult decision. I was merely pointing out, as my predecessor had done, that it would be good if this could be resolved and the club able to play in both competitions.”

As it turned out, United did not play in the FA Cup that season, but did go to Brazil, where they were eliminated at the group stage. Oh, and England didn’t get the World Cup either. Brilliant.

In the absence of any footage of the tournament, watch Fergie and his team selling their souls for Pepsi below, and don’t forget to tune in tomorrow to find out which long-serving Premiership player will be blowing out candles on his birthday cake.

July 30 – Three Lions Roar To World Cup Victory

It was a match that had everything, two fiercely rival teams, plenty of goals, controversy, extra time and a pitch invasion. Oh, and it was the World Cup final at Wembley. It was on this day that the Three Lions roared their loudest and England reached the pinnacle of their footballing achievement by winning the World Cup in 1966.

The tournament was being held in England for the first (and so far only) time and England managed to avoid conceding a goal until they came up against Portugal and Eusebio in the semi-final, who was the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals.

98,000 fans packed into Wembley to watch England come up against the old enemy West Germany in the final, with another 400 million viewers around the world watching the match on television.

Ever his own man, manager Sir Alf Ramsey left out star-striker Jimmy Greaves despite his return from injury, and instead opted to keep faith with the front two pairing that had fired England to the final: Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt. Greaves was distraught, but Sir Alf would be proved right in sensational fashion.

Despite going a goal down when Helmut Haller scored early in the first half, Hurst equalised minutes later, with Martin Peters putting England 2-1 ahead with just 13 minutes of the match remaining.

The Cup looked to be in England’s hands, but the Germans had other ideas and Wolfgang Weber scored late on to take the score to 2-2 and the match to extra time.

Sir Alf rallied his troops and told the players: “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

It was in the 11th minute of extra time that the match took a controversial turn when Hurst’s shot on goal hit the cross bar and bounced down on to the line. Roger Hunt was near enough to tap in the rebound but instead wheeled away in celebration of the goal.

Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst did not see it, but Tofik Bakhramov, the linesman from Azerbaijan gave the goal, to the disbelief of the Germans. Tofik later said that he believed the ball had bounced down from the roof of the net, not the cross bar, meaning the ball had already crossed the line before it bounced down on to the goal line.

In 1995 some Oxford University boffins put technology on the case, and using computer video analysis concluded that the ball did not cross the line and the goal should not have been given.

The Germans never got over this injustice, and to this day a controversial goal that bounces off the cross bar is known as a Wembley-Tor (Wembley goal) in Germany.

There was to be yet more drama before the final whistle however. In the last minute of extra time as the Germans pressed for an equaliser, Captain Bobby Moore won the ball and passed it long up to Geoff Hurst. As he ran towards the goal fans started running on to the pitch in celebration prompting commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous words, “There’s some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over.” Hurst then smacked the ball into the top corner to take the score to 4-2 and England victory. “It is now!” Wolstenholme said with brilliant timing.

Hurst’s hattrick remains the only one ever in a world cup final, although there may have been an element of luck with his third – he has since admitted that his powerful shot was simply an attempt to kick the ball as far as possible into the stands in order to run down the clock.

See if you can watch this clip of the goals from the final without going all misty-eyed.

July 29 – Happy Birthday Graham Poll

Bad news for football fans everywhere. Graham Poll’s going to have cards in his hands again today. But don’t worry, they’ll only be birthday cards from the two (or maybe three – it’s so hard to keep count sometimes) people that the Thing from Tring didn’t annoy during his 26-year refereeing career.

Yes, on this day in 1963 Britain’s most high profile and controversial referee ever, Graham Poll was born. Poll refereed some of the biggest matches in football, such as the 2000 FA Cup Final, the 2005 UEFA Cup Final and was the English representative for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. However, during this time he was constantly hounded by players, fans and the media alike, as he was widely seen as a serial match wrecker that carved to be the centre of attention. Poll oversaw 1,544 matches in his career, with only six of these ending without him flashing a card of some description.

The defining moment of Poll’s career came in the 2006 World Cup, when he famously gave Croatia’s Josip Simunic three yellow cards before sending him off. This was after he had already sent two players off and generally had a rotten game. After suffering international ridicule Poll immediately flew home from Germany and announced his retirement from international finals matches.

If Poll thought he could quietly reintegrate himself into domestic refereeing following the World Cup he was wrong. John Terry was on the receiving end of another of Poll special, as it was reported that he told the England captain that he needed to be “taught a lesson” when he sent him to an early bath. Days later he sent off Everton’s James McFadden for calling him a cheat.

Poor old Graham wasn’t even respected amongst his whistle-blowing peers. Commenting on a curious incident when Robbie Savage was caught short and used the referees toilet when Poll was officiating, ex-cardster Jeff Winter said “the referee in question was not one of my favourite people. In fact, anyone who craps in Graham Poll’s toilet can’t be all bad.”

See below for the finest moment of the man that the bulky Italian striker Christian Vieri described as “not even a division two official, but a village official” and click here to see what else went down today.

July 28 – Van Nistelrooy Signs for Real

No matter how good you might perceive yourself to be, you can’t cross Sir Alex Ferguson. This is what Ruud Van Nistelrooy found out today in 2006, when Manchester United sold their leading goalscorer of the past five seasons to Real Madrid for €15 million.

Ruud had been an instant success and fans favourite since his record-breaking £19 million move from PSV Eindhoven in 2001. He would score 36 goals in his debut season at Old Trafford and bagged the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award in the process. He maintained this prolific scoring rate throughout his time at the Red Devils, scoring an incredible 150 goals in 201 appearances and finishing with a better goals-to-game ratio than any other United striker.

Of course, all this success, particularly at the country’s most hated team will only breed contempt amongst ones rivals. There were constant allegations of diving, jokes that started “so why the long face…”and no-one wants to have Martin Keown as close to their face as Ruud did when he missed a penalty in a top-of-the-table clash against Arsenal in 2003.

In the 2005/06 season however, it was not only his rivals that he was beginning to upset. Van Nistelrooy’s grandfather was once banned for 15 matches for punching an opponent, and Ruud would offer proof that these character traits would indeed skip a generation, as it was reported that he came to blows with Christiano Ronaldo during a training session, after the Dutchman criticised his team-mate for keeping hold of the ball. This came at frustrating time for Van Nistelrooy as he had been dropped by Ferguson for the Carling Cup final and kept on the bench for the next six matches. Van Nistelrooy believed that the club were trying to force him out. “I exploded and began swearing at Ferguson because I felt he had kicked my soul. That was the moment things died and, after that, things would never be good, they could never be the same again,” was how he later recalled the aftermath of the Carling Cup victory over Wigan.

With Van Nistelrooy also falling out with his national team boss, Marco Van Basten, it became clear that he needed a change. His move to Real Madrid proved to be just the tonic, finishing as top scorer in the La Liga with 25 often crucial goals, as he was an integral part of Los Merengues’ first title win in four years.

See below for footage of the afore-mentioned rumble with Martin Keown and Ray Parlour at Old Trafford in 2003.

July 27 – Shearer Breaks Transfer Fee Record (The First Time)

While Dario Gradi’s academy at Crewe Alexandra is rightly lauded as having been something of a production line for footballing talent over the years, Southampton is another club that have produced their fair share of top players.

In recent years Wayne Bridge, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott have all been brought through the ranks by the south coast club. These young guns are merely following in a long tradition of Southampton talent – Mick Channon, the Wallace brothers, and of course Matthew Le Tissier also learned their trade at the Dell.

It was on this day in 1992 that Alan Shearer, another graduate of Southampton’s youth set up, was sold to big spending Blackburn Rovers for a then British record fee of £3.6m.

Shearer was another player overlooked by his hometown club – he was famously played in goal on a trial at Newcastle United (boy was that going to cost them). This resulted in his long-distance move to Saints where he flourished under Dave Merrington’s academy tutelage.

On Shearer’s full debut in 1988, he had fans and the media marvelling with a hattrick against Arsenal at the Dell. At the age of 17 years and 240 days, he broke the record for the youngest player to score a hattrick in top-flight football, held for more than thirty years by Jimmy Greaves.

Playing in a forward line with Le Tissier and Rod Wallace, Shearer continued to impress and in 1991 he became a regular in the England under 21 team, and won the Saints fans’ player of the year award.

Shearer also found the net in his full England debut in 1992 and was in the Euro 92 squad, although he only made one appearance at the finals.

Meanwhile, up in Lancashire, millionaire Jack Walker was pumping money into his beloved Blackburn, as well as installing Kenny Dalglish as manager.

The club won the 1992 play-offs to clinch a place in the newly formed Premier League, and Dalglish was able to splash Jack Walker’s cash to ensure success, with Shearer, who turned down an offer from Alex Ferguson to join Manchester United, his flagship signing.

Blackburn went on to sign Chris Sutton from Norwich and the SAS (Shearer and Sutton) partnership delivered the Premiership title on the last day of the 1994/95 season, beating Manchester United to the trophy. That turned out to be the only trophy Shearer won in his 17 seasons as a player.

Shearer would stay at Blackburn until 1996 when he again broke the transfer fee record when Kevin Keegan took him to his hometown club Newcastle United, but that, as they say, is another story.

July 26 – Juve Down, Inter Champs as Moggi-Gate Grips Serie A

To say the summer of 2006 was eventful in Italy is a bit of an understatement, even by their own standards. In mid-May Juventus were celebrating their record 29th Scudetto, two months later their captain had lifted the World Cup for the Azzurri in Germany, then weeks later the Old Lady found herself cast out of the top flight for the first ever time and starting the new season with Jean-Alain Boumsong marshalling their defence.

Yes, it was today in 2006 that the Italian Football Federation, or FICG for all you bi-linguists out there, announced its final rulings on the Calciopoli affair that rocked Italian football to the core. Juve were stripped of the two back-to-back titles they had just won, with FICG awarding the 2005/06 Scudetto to Inter and relegating Juve to Serie B in the process. Also indicted in the scandal were AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina. Upon appeal these teams would end up with docked points, but all kept their top-flight status.

The whole sorry mess had come about when Italian papers had published transcripts of suspicious phone calls involving Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and Pierluigi Pairetto, who was the vice-president of Uefa’s refereeing committee and also responsible for allocating referees in Serie A. Further transcripts showed Pairetto talking to various referees, as it became clear that Moggi was instigating a network of managers and officials that saw favourable referee appointments for those that were involved.

And he would’ve got away for it, but for those pesky Italian cops who only stumbled upon ‘Moggi-gate’ when they began tapping the phones of Italy’s leading football officials in order to investigate claims of organised doping of players. Moggi himself was banned from the game for five years and Juve saw an exodus of their star players, as Thuram, Ibrahimovic, Zambrotta, Emerson and Patrick Vieira all left the club in search of Champions League football. Juve’s two Fabio’s, manager Capello and talismanic captain Cannavaro both left for Real Madrid, as the financial realities of second-tier football and no Champions League pot of gold hit home for Juve.

Smugly looking on was Massimo Moratti, as his Internazionale side had now been awarded their first Scudetto since 1989, after years of heavy investment into the playing squad. As you can see by the footage below, straight from the terraces of the San Siro, their joy was in no way tempered by the circumstances that lead to their fifteenth title.

The dust has now settled on the Calciopoli scandal and, strangely enough for Italian football, most of the key players have come up smelling of roses. Juve stormed to the Serie B title, despite a nine-point handicap, and will take their place among the big-boys for the 2007-08 season following a brief sojourn out of the top flight, with a reported €100m transfer fund to boot. AC Milan, who were originally kicked out of the 2006-07 Champions League found themselves lifting the trophy for a seventh time in Athens and Lazio and Fiorentina will both find themselves playing in Europe this season. Whoever said Italian football was boring?

July 25 – Super Kev is Born

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘I wonder why Peter Reid was such a success at Sunderland, when he has been little short of a disaster anywhere else he has been manager?’

No? Oh well. Anyway, the answer is Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.

It was on this day in 1973 that Mr Phillips was stood outside in the hospital hallway smoking a cigar while Mrs Phillips gave birth to little Kevin, who would go on to become a Sunderland legend.

In their first three seasons as the classic big man/little man strike partnership at Wearside, Phillips and Quinn scored a mighty 143 goals between them. After gaining promotion, this scoring record ensured consecutive 7th place Premiership finishes for Sunderland, before Quinn’s age started to catch up with him, and injuries forced him to play less and less. Super Kev missed his big buddy and the team as a whole began to struggle badly.

Sunderland decided to throw money at the problem, and Reid even bought Tore Andre Flo in a desperate attempt to find a replacement for Quinn and get Super Kev scoring again.

The gamble did not pay off, Reid was sacked, and Sunderland relegated with a points total of 19, which at the time was a record low – a record that Sunderland themselves would break in 2006 under Mick McCarthy with a measly 15.

Phillips’ potential was not initially spotted, and he was in fact released at an early age by Southampton, who thought he did not have the stature to be a striker and played him at right back.

Non-league, semi-professional outfit Baldock Town took him on, and spotting his eye for goal, converted him to a striker. Then he met a strange man called Spotty who told him a secret magic word that gave him super pow- oh no, that was someone else, sorry. Anyway, in his new position up front Super Kev fired the team to the top of the table, and earned himself a move to Watford for £10,000.

In 1997 Sunderland paid £600,000 for him, and his career really took off. As well as achieving promotion and Premier League success for his team, Phillips also revelled in some personal glory during his time with the Black Cats. Despite being predicted to struggle in the top flight, in the 1999/2000 season Phillips scored an incredible 30 league goals, winning him the European Golden Boot. He remains the only Englishman to win the prize.

After Sunderland were relegated, Southampton paid £3m for the player they released as a youth. On paper, the partnership of Phillips and James Beattie looked lethal, but they never really hit it off, and after Beattie was sold, and Saints also relegated, Phillips moved to Aston Villa, and then West Bromwich Albion.

There are some mammoth ten-minute goal compilations on YouTube, but this clip gives you a taster of the pint-sized poacher’s exploits for Sunderland.

July 24 РLuis Figo Breaks Bar̤a Hearts

Not many things in football rile fans more than their star player leaving for their biggest rivals. And there’s not many places in the world where the fans are more passionate than Barcelona. So when Luis Figo left the Catalan club for arch-rivals Real Madrid you knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

It was on the day in 2000 that Figo, fresh from an eye-catching Euro 2000 campaign with Portugal, was unveiled as the world’s most expensive signing, as he put pen to paper for Real in a £38 million pound deal.

His signing was the result of Florentino Perez’s Presidential election win that summer, as he had promised to refund all season ticket holders if he did not bring the Portuguese winger to the Bernabeu. This gamble paid off, and as promised Perez wasted no time in getting his man, bringing in one of the most exciting players in the world, and breaking the hearts of their biggest rivals in one fell swoop. This marked the start of Real’s Galácticos programme, that would see some of the biggest stars in the world, such as Zidane, Beckham and Ronaldo arrive at the club in the following three summers.

In what is know as the ‘gran clasica,’ the Real versus Barça rivalry is one of the most intense in the world. During the rule of Franco, the Nou Camp was the only place where residents of the suppressed Catalan region of Spain could show any local pride. Barcelona were the team of the people, whereas Real have historically been representative of the establishment, so el Derby is never short of passion.

Three months after the controversial transfer Figo returned to the Nou Camp wearing the all-white strip of Madrid. He sarcastically described it as “one the richest experiences of my life.” As expected, the Barça fans didn’t exactly role out the red carpet for their former-hero. Pro-Madrid newspaper Marca ran with the headline “Figo, they’re going to make your ears burn,” and they weren’t wrong. Judas chants, anti-Figo banners and missiles such as mobile phones, bricks, bicycle chains, and whiskey bottles from the crowd were the order of the day. Roberto Carlos rated the atmosphere as the most intense he’d ever played in. “I remember spending ninety minutes worrying about being hit by flying objects. All we wanted to do was get out if Barcelona alive,” he later said. With Figo staying well clear of the touchline and temporarily giving up his role of corner-taker to avoid the wrath of the Barça faithful, Real went down by two goals to nil. They might have fared better if only the whole team had had the attitude of Real’s favourite scouser Steve McManaman, who “thought it was a laugh. What other reaction can you have?”

See below for some rather gritty footage from an angry Nou Camp on one of Figo’s later visits, and play ‘spot the decapitated farmyard animal’ while you’re at it.

July 23 – Rattin Sees Red

After Germany, there is only one other nation that seems to stir up jingoistic sentiments in the English supporters whenever the Three Lions face them on the pitch. It is of course Argentina.

It seems the two teams cannot meet without some controversy or other, which only adds to the intensity of the matches between them.

Despite the vast distance between England and Argentina, the rivalry is intense on both sides. The Argentines consider matches against England second only in importance to those against Brazil.

The origins of this rivalry go much further back that Beckham’s red card at France 98, Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ in Mexico 86, or even the Falklands conflict in 1982.

To find the start point of this hate/hate relationship, you have to go back to this day in 1966, and the quarter-final of the World Cup at Wembley.

The Argentines had played the game in a ‘robust’ manner, which finally proved too much for the German referee who sent off their captain, Antonio Rattin.

Rattin was incensed and refused to leave the pitch, particularly as the ref claimed to be sending him off for bad language, despite the fact the German ref spoke no Spanish.

With Rattin refusing to leave, the English referee supervisor, Ken Aston, came down on to the pitch to try to sort things out. This seemed only to confirm to Rattin the Argentine suspicion that the English and Germans were collaborating to eliminate the Argentine team.

After briefly sitting down on the Queen’s red carpet, Rattin finally left the field of play, ten minutes after he had been shown the red card, and England won 1-0 thanks to a Geoff Hurst header.

On the final whistle the Argentine players made their feelings known in no uncertain terms to the ref, who had to be escorted away by police.

England Manager Alf Ramsey (he wasn’t a Sir in those days of course) was appalled by the spirit in which the Argentines had played the game and famously refused to allow his players to swap shirts with them at the end of the game.

Ramsey later told the press: “Our best football will come against the team which comes out to play football, and not to act as animals.”

You can see a clip of the sending-off here; try to ignore the bizarre musical soundtrack. Better yet, turn your speakers off.

July 22 – Rio Ferdinand signs for Manchester United

It was on this day in 2002 that the cracks were really beginning to show at Leeds United.
The big spending of the last few seasons was catching up with them, forcing the club to sell their captain and record signing Rio Ferdinand to their bitterest rivals, Manchester United for a fee that totalled £29.1million.

Ferdinand had joined Leeds from West Ham in November 2000 for £18 million, becoming the world’s most expensive defender in the process. He soon became an integral part of David O’Leary’s young, exciting Leeds side, assuming the role of captain from the club legend Lucas Radebe. By the time of the 2002 World Cup his club form had seen him command a regular spot at the heart of the England defence, and his partnership with Sol Campbell was one of the bright spots of another disappointing tournament for the Three Lions.

It was this emergence on the world scene that finally forced Sir Alex Ferguson to splash the cash on Rio. Ferguson had long been an admirer of the Peckham-born centre back and was close to making a move for him before Leeds snapped him up. Fergie, however, believed that his young charge Wes Brown would become “the best centre back in the world.” Not quite, Sir Alex.

The then-Leeds Chairman Peter Ridsdale made repeated claims that Ferdinand would not be sold. However, a £15 million payment to the bank had to made that summer and with Leeds’ failure to qualify for the next season’s Champions League and the collapse of Lee Bowyer’s move to Liverpool and Oliver Dacourt’s to Lazio, Ridsdale had to renege on his bolshy promises and accept Manchester United’s offer.

The following September, Rio was to return to Elland Road, with the Leeds’ faithful giving him the warm welcome you would expect – plenty of Judas banners and a chorus of boos, as Leeds ground out a long-awaited victory over their historic rivals.

Ferdinand may have won two titles with the Red Devils, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. An eight month ban for missing a routine drugs test and the clip below will both bring a smile to the faces of Manchester United’s many rivals.