Archive for March, 2009

March 31 – Crouchie’s Perfect Treble

IN the 2006/07 season, Anfield proved a happy hunting ground for Arsenal, in the cups at any rate. The Gunners triumphed 3-1 in the FA Cup and then demolished Liverpool 6-3 in the Carling Cup.

Today in 2007 Arsene Wengers men again travelled up to Anfield, this time to face Liverpool in a League match, and must have been pretty confident given their last two visits. They were in for a shock.

Perhaps trying to shock or embarrass his players into better performances Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had pinned up the aforementioned scores on the dressing room wall.

It seemed to work as Liverpool emerged with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Londoners (we say Londoners but in actual fact there were none in the team and not even an Englishman in the starting XI).

The win was largely down to the scoring exploits of one man, namely Peter Crouch. The bean-pole striker had been much maligned at the club where he famously went 19 games without scoring when he first signed but this was his day and he bagged a perfect hat-trick – one with his head and one with either foot.

He opened the scoring when he turned in Alvaro Arbeloa’s cross to put Liverpool ahead after four minutes, then headed in from Fabio Aurelio’s delivery in the 34th minute.

Daniel Agger glanced in another brilliant Aurelio cross on the hour before William Gallas poked in from almost on the line for Arsenal but any hopes of an unlikely Arsenal comeback were snuffed out after 80 minutes when Crouch turned Toure expertly before firing past Lehmann.

“It was pleasing for us to get four goals and beat a class side,” Crouch said. “The manager let us know beforehand we’ve had some disappointing results against Arsenal this season. You don’t care how they come but it was a nice hat-trick, I’m pleased with it. It is a special moment.”

Meanwhile he drew lavish praise from the opposition manager. “He was superb. Everything he did was intelligent. He has the size of a basketball player but the skill of a real football player,” he said, before adding rather unnecessarily: “If you had put a real basketball player in, Kolo and Gallas would have had no problem.”

See Crouchie’s hat-trick in the clip above, and see what else was happening on this day right here. As ever we’ll have more for you tomorrow. Until then sports fans…

March 30 – Spitting Image

IF we tell you Eric Cantona was hauled before an FA disciplinary panel on this day to explain himself you will probably jump to the conclusion that the words ‘kung-fu’ and ‘kick’ are marching inevitably towards this blog. But you’d be wrong. Today were are looking at a one of the Frenchman’s less civilised transgressions. Less civilised than launching a flying two-footed attack at a fan in the crowd at Selhurst Park? Yes. Today folks we’re talking about spitting.

Why footballers feel the need to do it we will never know, but today in 1993 Cantona was fined £1,000 by the FA for spitting at a Leeds fan on his first visit back to Elland Road after signing for Manchester United.

After Cesc Fabregas was accused of spitting at the Hull assistant manager Brian Horton earlier this month, it seems that nothing changes in football. We thought we’d take the opportunity to have a look at some of the most famous times footballers have chosen to say it with phlegm.

Where could we start other than with El Hadji Diouf. The man is a serial offender and has spat on opposition players and fans that many times you could fill an entire swimming pool with his spittle. The first time his gobby ways came the fore in Britain was when he was fined £5,000 by the Glasgow Sheriff Court for spitting at Celtic fans during a 2003 UEFA Cup quarter-final tie when playing for Liverpool. Two years later he proved he really hadn’t learned his lesson when Bolton fined him two weeks’ wages after he spat at Portsmouth’s Arjan de Zeeuw during a Premier League match. Charming.

Even that icon of Italian cool Francesco Totti has got in on the action. In Euro 2004 during a group stage match with Denmark Totti spat in the face of opposition midfielder Christian Poulsen. Although the referee failed to act at the time, a subsequent complaint by the Danish FA resulted in UEFA coming down hard on Totti, with a charge of gross unsporting misconduct and a three-game ban his punishment. Without him Italy crashed out after the group stage.

Patrick Viera is next up in the hit parade after he spat at Neil Ruddock during a Premier League match between Arsenal and West Ham in 1999. A trademark overly-tough tackle had got Viera red-carded and a bit of a dust-up ensued between the opposing players, with Razor and Viera at the centre of it. As Gilles Grimandi tried to pull his team-mate away Vieira spat in the direction of the goading Ruddock. The FA didn’t think this kind of playground justice was on and hit Vieira with a two-match ban for his sending-off and a further four-match suspension for spitting. Spit in haste, repent at leisure Patrick.

But we have saved the best til last. The most famous spitting incident ever to take place on a football field and one that would no doubt be dubbed ‘Spitgate’ by the media if it happened today. We are of course referring to the 1990 World Cup second-round match between Holland and Germany. Dutch midfielder Frank Rijkaard clattered into German striker Rudi Voller, who simply walked away, but Rijkaard wasn’t finished and jogged up behind him and spat in Voller’s perm. Just minutes later the pair were sent off for another clash and Rijkaard decided the best thing to do was to spit at Voller again.

Years later Rijkaard admitted it may not have been the most grown-up thing to do. “That day I was wrong. There was no insult. I always had much respect for Rudi Voller. But I went berserk when I saw that red card. I talked to him after the match and I apologized. I’m very happy that he accepted. I have no bad feeling about him now. We even posed for a very funny advert together, years after.” Ah funny adverts, they’re a bit like rehad for failed/disgraced sports stars really aren’t they? Remember the Pizza Hut effort starring Gareth Southgate after Euro 96?

There are plenty more examples of spit-based antics but quite honestly that’s about enough of this disgusting strand of footballing sub-culture so we’ll leave it there. Check out Frank Rijkaard below and click here to see which manager was returning to his spiritual home on this day in 2001.

March 29 – Jamo’s England Bow

EVERYONE’S favourite eccentric English goalkeeper was making his international debut today in 1997, when David James was picked to guard the Three Lions’ net against Mexico at Wembley.

The then-Liverpool goalkeeper was given his first run out for England as Glenn Hoddle fancied a look at a backup for David Seaman. James did all that was asked of him as England cantered to a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Fowler.

Despite this, he wasn’t able to displace Arsenal’s pony-tailed stopper as England’s number one until Seaman made it one clanger too many when England drew 2-2 with FYR Macedonia in 2002.

Back in ’97 James wasn’t really helping himself too much either, though. After he had conceded three goals against Newcastle United he ‘fessed up that he had been playing too much Playstation.

“I was getting carried away playing Tekken II and Tomb Raider for hours on end,” he said. James was also part of Liverpool’s ‘Spice Boys’ set and signed several high-profile modeling deals.

Since then James has overcome his computer game addiction and is now more renowned for some of the daftest haircuts seen in the Premier League and also fancying himself as a bit of an artist, as this clip shows.

After last night’s friendly win over Slovakia, James is still his countries first-choice as he moves towards his 50th cap. This longevity has also seen him wrestle the Premier League appearance record from Gary Speed. See another amusing Jamo clip, where James shows why he’s a keeper and shouldn’t be allowed up-front. We’ll be back tomorrow, but until then check out what else was going on today here.

March 28 – Spurs Struggle… For a Change

With Swiss Tube ticket enthusiast Christian Gross in charge, Spurs
were struggling at the wrong end of the table in 1998 but on this day
they went some way to securing their survival thanks to a 3-1 win at
Crystal Palace. Jürgen Klinsmann bagged the third goal.

Gross was sacked soon after and former Arsenal boss George
Graham brought in but the White Hart Lane faithful could never
forgive or forget his Gunners past and he was given the heave-ho in
2001. His replacement was Spurs hero Glenn Hoddle who left his
previous job at Southampton on this day to take over at Tottenham.
Never one to keep quiet, Saints chairman Rupert Lowe was not best
pleased about Hoddle’s defection. He said: ‘I was disappointed that
Glenn had chosen to turn his back on the club that gave him the
opportunity to resume his career in top-flight management and on
a squad which he had welded into an exciting team.’

March 27 – Garth Crooks Megamix

LIKE Garth Crooks trying to choose a metaphor to use in a post-match interview question, we just couldn’t decide which story from football’s dark and murky past to bring you today, so we thought we’d squeeze them all in.

We’ll start by remembering that bastion of football management heroic failure Bryan Robson. In 1997 Robbo achieved the unlikely feat of guiding Middlesbrough to both the League and FA Cup finals in the same season. They lost both, and were relegated for good measure to compound a season of real misery for Boro’s long-suffering fans.

But had they won one of those finals, would it have been a unique achievement of winning a cup and getting relegated in the same season? Well, no. Norwich lifted the Milk Cup in 1985 and were then relegated at the end of the season. The only other team to win silverware and get relegated is Reading. Today in 1988 61,470 fans saw Division Two Reading beat Division One Luton Town 4-1 at Wembley in the long-forgotten Simod Cup Final. Sadly for the Royals, relegation soon followed and they were not even allowed to defend the Cup, as it was only open to sides in the top two divisions.

Speaking of cups, (another seamless link) until Portsmouth came along last season, the last non-big four club to win the FA Cup was Everton in 1995 when a Paul Rideout goal was enough to see off Manchester United. The man who masterminded Everton’s march to their first trophy since 1987 was Joe Royle, a scouser who had previously served the club with distinction as a player. But on this day in 1997 the dream was over and Royle left the club by mutual consent. He claimed it was because he was prevented from buying additional players (including Tore Andre Flo) but the run of six League defeats in a row (equalling a club record) probably didn’t help.

More managerial madness on this day in 1999 when Kevin Keegan took charge of England for the first time in a Euro 2000 qualifier against Poland at Wembley. KK had got the job on a temporary basis after Glenn Hoddle’s infamous comments about disabled people came out and he was forced to resign. A Paul Scholes hat-trick ensured Keegan was off to a winning start and he soon took the job on permanently.

Another international boss also presided over his first match in charge of his new team on this day in 2002. When Craig Brown finally stepped down as Scotland boss in 2002 after nearly a decade in the job, the Scottish FA decided to follow England’s lead and ‘go foreign’ for the first time in their history. Perhaps just to upset the English, they plumped for a German and signed up Berti Vogts. The Scottish team he inherited was not in a good way and in his first match Vogt’s team was humbled 5-0 away to France. After the match Vogts resorted to Keegan-esque mindless optimism. “I am very optimistic,” he said. “In the defending part, we did well and now we have a lot of alternatives for the squad list.” Hmmm.

The whole world is now in, well, a whole world of financial strife as people up and down the land start re-using tea bags and piling on yet more jumpers rather than turn the heating up. But in 2002 everything was still rosy: the value of your house was going up by several million pounds each day, and everyone thought those boys in the city were really top stuff. Except in the Football League, where just about every club was in financial difficulty because today in 2002 ITV Digital went into administration. The ill-fated digital broadcaster had shelled out £315 million in 2000 to buy the rights to all Football League matches. It soon became clear that they had vastly overpaid. For example, a First Division match between Nottingham Forest and Bradford City in 2001, the rights for which cost £1.2m, attracted just 1,000 viewers. It would have been cheaper for ITV Digital to have driven each viewer to the ground by taxi, put them up in a five-star hotel and given them £500 spending money. That and a catalogue of other errors meant the end for the service.

And finally… the shirt worn by Pele in the 1970 World Cup Final went on sale at Christie’s auction house in London today in 2002. It sold for an eye-watering £157,000, beating the £91,750 record which Geoff Hurst’s shirt from the 1966 final had fetched in 2000. “I was absolutely stunned,’ auctioneer David Convery said afterwards. “We had an indication the evening before that it might beat the world record. But we were still thinking about £80,000.”

We’ll leave you with some footage of Pele scoring in the 4-1 win over Italy, but if you really want more, have a look here to see what else happened on this football day.

March 26 – Becks’ Century

THE media image of England boss Fabio Capello is that of a strict disciplinarian who makes the players wear suits to dinner and bans them from frivolities like video games and mobile phones. His tenuous grasp of English means we as fans never really know what he is thinking, especially because the media tend to refrain from asking him any really difficult questions in case he doesn’t understand.

So we are left to conclude he is a humourless perfectionist who rules with an iron fist. But here at OTFD we think there is a more fiendish side to him, a mischievous side, akin to that of his lookalike Tommy Cooper.

But why do we think this dear reader? Is it because of this? Is it because he attempted to call up Ledley ‘knee made of crepe paper’ King the other day? Well partly yes, but mainly because of his handling of David Beckham since he took over as England boss.

He had barely had time to find his office and get his ‘I Love Italy’ mug in the kitchen cupboard at Soho Square before hacks were asking him whether he intended to select Becks who was stuck on 99 caps for his country.

Wily old Capello kept everyone guessing but when he announced his first England squad in February 2008, there was no room for Goldenballs. “I know there has been a lot of discussion about David Beckham,” Capello said on the FA’s Web site at the time. “The reason that David is not in the squad is because he has not had any real match practice since playing in November.”

Pundits did what pundits do and pontificated pointlessly that for Herr Beckham ze international career was over and that serious Fab was hardly likely to pick someone playing in the MLS.

But then, that was what they all said when Steve McClaren left him out of his first squad, and we all know what happened after that.

When it came to Capello’s second squad announcement, he decided he had had enough of stringing Beckham and the nation along, and picked him for a friendly with France. Becks duly picked up his long-awaited 100th cap on this day at the Stade de France as England lost 1-0 to a Frank Ribery penalty.

But rather than keep everyone guessing until the final minute, Capello had announced before the match that Becks would play. “I couldn’t make him come all the way from the USA and not play him,” the boss said.

Becks was understandably delighted in becoming the fifth player to reach a century of England caps, after Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Peter Shilton. “Obviously I am very honoured. When I started playing I never dreamt I’d get to 100.

“It is any footballer’s dream to play for your country, let alone get to 100 caps, and I want to carry on. I am very stubborn and want to carry on for as many years as possible. I proved my fitness and that was the biggest thing. It was better than I thought it would be.”

Since that day Becks has gone on to equal Bobby Moore‘s record for an outfield player of 108 caps and you really wouldn’t bet against him making it all the way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, especially if he keeps tearing it up in Serie A with Milan.

Elsewhere on this day, a Roman and a countryman of Capello was showing the better side of his character at Upton Park. We’ll leave you with a clip of probably Becks’ finest performance in an England shirt. Until tomorrow friends…

March 25 – It’s All Over for Kenneth

ENGLAND’S World Cup win in ’66 brought with it many iconic moments, whether it was the Russian Linesman, Nobby dancing or Bobby Moore being carried on his team-mate’s shoulders.

Arguably most famous of all though, were the words that the BBC commentator that day uttered as Geoff Hurst blasted home his hat-trick goal.

Kenneth Wolstenholme, the man who came up with the most famous piece of sporting commentary ever, died today in 2002.

Wolstenholme began his career as a journalist in Manchester, before joining the RAF where he would fly 100 missions over Germany. You can’t really imagine Motty doing the same can you?

Once Ken had helped put Hitler and the Nazi’s in their place he joined the BBC and began to notch up a reputation as the main man for the growing medium of television commentary.

Wolstenholme commentated on Match of the Day’s first ever game in 1964 and covered every FA Cup Final between 1949 and 1971, as well as notching up all manner of European and World Cup finals.

But it was Wolstenholme’s performance on that sunny day at Wembley in 1966 that he will forever be remembered for:

“And here comes Hurst, he’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over! …It is now! ”

This became the most famous passage of football commentary ever and still looms large over the nation’s collective imagination. Wolstenholme received only £60 for his work that day and four years later was ousted by the Beeb to make way for David Coleman.

Wolstenholme never really forgave the BBC for cutting him down in his prime, but showed that good old British stiff upper lip and took it in his stride:

“It was clear they didn’t want me any more and I was a bit miffed about that,” he said. “But you get nowhere by carrying a chip on your shoulder.”

As football became more and more integral to the television schedules Wolstenholme lamented the modern day coverage.

“They overdo it and all the commentators seem to have been told to change to the same style. It bores me. They don’t seem to realise that while silence in radio is death – in television it can be golden,” he said.

He was also not a fan of his most famous phrase being pinched for the title of the Gary Lineker and David Gower quiz show ‘They Think It’s All Over’, threatening to sue, as he said: “I am pretty proud of that phrase and it annoys me to see others pinching it and living off it.”

Kenneth’s last gig was presenting Channel Four’s excellent Italian coverage, but when he passed away in a Torquay hospital at the ripe old age of 81.

Listen out for another cracking piece of Wolstenholme commentary below, showing that less is often more.

We’ll be back for more retro footy action tomorrow, but until then check out another story from today involving a remarkable effort from lower league fans and also follow us on Twitter here.

March 24 – Like Lambs to the Slaughter

CREATIVE missiles are usually the plaything of continental fans, whether it’s a pigs head being flung at Luis Figo or scooters being flung around the stadium by Inter Milan fans.

Today however, in 2008 Irish side Ballymena United came up with a novel way vent their frustrations when a leg of lamb was thrown on the pitch.

Ballymena were taking on Lisburn Distillery in a bad-tempered Irish Premier League match that really kicked off when Nathan McConnell scored an equaliser for Distillery in the ninth minute of added-on time.

The referee had sent off two United players, and to further wind up the home crowd had denied them a penalty and red card for Distillery goalkeeper Philip Matthews.

The game finished 2-2 and ugly scenes followed the final whistle, with players brawling and the crowd getting their weapons ready.

In addition to the some poor housewife’s Sunday joint of lamb, a chair found it’s way onto the pitch, as did a number of bottles.

Referee Mark Courtney and his assistants had to wait on the pitch for almost 15 minutes after the final whistle as they waited for police vehicles to surround the pitch.

The players, meanwhile, continued to jostle in the tunnel, as the whole event turned into farce.

“It doesn’t portray a good image of the game in Northern Ireland,” understated IFA chief executive Howard Well.

Next up to vent their spleen was animal welfare charity USPCA who were still fuming from a recent incident that saw a horse’s head left outside the home of a hockey player in Cookstown, Godfather style.

Check out some action from the game below and see if you can spot anyone that’s smuggled a mutton-shaped missile let us know. There was a lot more integrity in another story from today which you can read here, so have a gander and join us tomorrow for more of the same.

March 23 – Cole Tapped Up

TAPPING up. It surely goes on all the time in one form or another (“It has been going on since the beginning of time. Everybody knows it is going on.” Alan Hansen), and in your author’s humble opinion, is often quite a sensible thing. After all, there really is no point in a club putting together a bid and going after a player only to discover when they finally get permission to speak to him, that he has no desire or intention to move there anyway.

But, in their finite wisdom, the Premier League overlords have deemed such behaviour illegal. In practice, very few people have ever been caught, let alone punished for the offence, but there is one example in recent history.

Today in 2005 Ashley Cole, Chelsea FC and Jose Mourinho were all charged by the Premier League for breaching their rules on tapping up. It all centered over a meeting between Mourinho, Peter Kenyon, Cole his agent Jonathan Barnett and so-called ‘super agent’ Pini Zahavi in January 2005.

In his autobiography Cole claims nothing untoward happened and that his meeting with Zahavi simply overlapped with a meeting between Zahavi and the Chelsea manager.

“We talked about general football stuff before Mourinho asked how life was with me. Life’s good, I told him. ‘And are you happy at Arsenal?’ he asked. This was not an unusual question in my book. Friends and family had been asking the same thing for weeks and Mr Mourinho had just walked in on a meeting with Pini Zahavi. It wouldn’t take the most perceptive of people to get nosey on that one.

“‘No, I’m unhappy but it’s a long story,’ I told him. He asked if it was because of Arsène Wenger. I told him it wasn’t; the boss was brilliant, I had a very good relationship with him and my unhappiness was with other people. I could tell he was itching to ask more, but, at that point, Jonathan stood up and said: ‘We had better be going. Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.’

“I can only speak about what was said and not said while I was in the room, and in those 15–20 minutes, the chit-chat never strayed anywhere near what could be considered an approach by Chelsea. Not once was there anything mentioned about figures, transfers, further meetings or even leaving Arsenal.”

The Premier League, for one, were not buying that, and come June, Cole, Chelsea and Mourinho were all slapped with fines they could easily afford: Chelsea £300,000, Mourinho £200,000 and Cole £100,000.

So as Cole contended it was merely a chance meeting, a civil chat and not an attempt by him to engineer a move to Chelsea, or an attempt by the Blues to tap-up Ashley. A year later, Cole left his boyhood club Arsenal to join, low and behold, Chelsea! Well, there’s a surprise. That one came right out of the blue.

Given the huge weekly packet he is now on at Stamford Bridge you’ve got to wonder if Cashley really needs to be selling stories to OK! magazine for a few extra pennies. Apparently he does. Check out which brilliantly-named woman was making waves in the ladies game on this day right here.

March 22 – ‘Honest’ John Passes Away

FOR decades Liverpool was the most successful and stable clubs in the country, or even the world. It was run along conservative lines with much made of the so-called ‘Liverpool way’ which meant getting on with it and above all not airing any dirty linen in public.

In recent years things have been a bit different with power struggles, endless rows played out in the papers and unseemly fallings out among the main players. It was enough to make you think Brookside had in fact not been cancelled, but simply renamed Liverpool FC and moved out of the close to Anfield.

Today we are honouring one of the men who started it all. Long before Benitez, Hicks, Gillett and Parry, and many years before Bill Shankly ever came on the scene, Liverpool owes its existence to two men: John Houlding and John McKenna, who passed away on this day in 1936.

As we have told you before, the club was only started in 1892 after former Anfield tenants Everton had a dispute over the rent with the owner Houlding, and hot-footed it across Stanley Park to Goodison.

Houlding then decided to start his own team and he employed his good friend ‘Honest’ John McKenna to help him. Thereafter McKenna became, to all intents and purposes, the first ever manager of Liverpool FC and his first job was to find some players – all the current Liverpool-based footballers were already employed by Everton.

To solve this he travelled to Glasgow and signed up 13 Scotsman to form his new side. They were called the Team of the Macs, for obvious reasons when you who they were: Duncan McLean, James McBride, Malcolm McVean, Hugh McQueen, Matt McQueen, John McCartney, Bill McOwen and Joe McQue were all in the first team, with not an Englishman in sight – so some things were ever thus.

On September 1, 1892 the newly formed club were due to play their first ever match. The Liverpool Echo reported: “The old Anfield ground will be occupied by the newly organized club known as ‘Liverpool Association’, and claim for it that no better game be witnessed on any other plots in the neighborhood.” That was an early dig at cross-town neighbours Everton who were also playing the same night, against Bolton at Goodison.

Bravado or not, the prediction was correct as McKenna began his managerial career with a dream 7-1 win over Rotherham Town.

McKenna was also busy behind the scenes and wrote to the Football League seeking admittance for the new team. They were denied entry and instead entered the Lancashire League, which they won at the first time of asking to gain promotion to the Football League proper in 1893.

The club recovered from the blip of relegation of 1895 and began to flourish under McKenna’s all-encompassing management, which included building a new stand for the fans.

He was also active in the wider game and served as Football League President for some 26 years.

By the time he died in 1936 he had served Liverpool Football Club for 40 years and had been one of the major driving forces behind getting the club off the ground. Quite simply, without him Liverpool FC would not exist.

Like John Houlding, his friend and business partner before him, his coffin was carried through the city by three Liverpool players and three Everton players, a commemorative plaque to him remains in the foyer in Anfield.

Liverpool would not even have had a Football League to enter had it not been for this man and his visionary ideas, so check that out, and allay any Monday morning blues with a visit to us for another thrilling installment of football history.