Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Soccer clubs honoring people outside soccer

We all know soccer clubs named after famous explorers (Vaso da Gama, Brazil) or ancient Greek heroes (Ajax, Netherlands). French heroine Joan of Arc (in French Jeanne d’Arc) even has two: one in Senegal and one in Réunion. Next are five soccer clubs from five different continents, named after an English knight, an Italian inventor, an Argentine boxer, a Bolivian pilot and a South African liberty fighter.

Sir Henry Percy (England, 1364 – 1403)

Henry Percy was an English knight who fought many battles for King Richard II in Scotland, France and Ireland. At the end of the fourteenth century, the Percy family supported the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke, who dethroned Richard II and rewarded Henry Percy with as much land he could wish for.  Also, that support didn’t last long and by 1403 Percy rebelled against King Henry IV and clashed with him at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Percy was killed by an arrow as he raised his visor to grasp some air.

In 1882 Hotspur FC was founded, honoring Henry Percy. Percy was called ‘Harry Hotspur” by his Scottish opponents, for his eagerness to attack and for his impulsive nature. Two years later the soccer club was renamed Tottenham Hotspur.

Guglielmo Marconi (Italy, 1874 – 1937)

Guglielmo Marconi was born in the Italian city of Bologna. He was a scientist, who invented the wireless telegraph in 1896. This made him one of the men responsible for the creation of the radio. Marconi was a successful businessman, who for example founded the The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company in Britain. In 1909 Marconi received the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Soccer in Australia was mainly promoted by immigrants from Europe. Back in 1956, Italian immigrants in Sydney’s western suburb Fairfield, were doing just that. They decide to give an Italian ring to their club, and opted for Guglielmo Marconi. So their club was named Marconi Fairfield. They presumed Marconi would also appeal to Australians, as he invented an instrument that could connect people (and cultures), so much needed in multicultural Australia. The club was nationally successful from the seventies until the nineties with four league championships, but was left out of the new national A-league in 2004. Marconi Fairfield, somewhere along the way renamed Marconi Stalions, now play their soccer in the New South Wales League.

Luis Ángel Firpo (Argentina, 1894 – 1960)

Luis Ángel Firpo started his boxing career in 1917, in Buenos Aires. It took him until 1921 to get really successful. After winning some fifteen bouts in a row, Firpo was the first boxer from South America to play for the world title. He challenged Jack Dempsey on September 14, 1923 in New York. It proved to be one of the most exiting fights ever. Firpo was knocked down by Dempsey seven times in the first round, but also brought the world champion down twice. The second time Dempsey even sailed through the ring ropes, hitting a typewriter with his head. Despite this accident, Dempsey was back in the ring on time to continue the fight. In the second round Dempsey finally knocked out Firpo.
Just one week before the famous Firpo – Dempsey fight, a soccer club was formed in Usulután, El Salvador. It was named Tecún Umán, but after the heroic performance of Firpo, the club decided to rename the club CD Luis Ángel Firpo. The club has won seven championships, the first in 1989.

Jorge Wilstermann (1910 – 1936)

As a young boy, Jorge Wilstermann took an interest in aviation. His dad was working as a mechanic at Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, and Jorge became Bolivia’s first civilian aviator. He had his own plane and was commercially very successful. Still, in those years flying was always something of a risk. When flying from his native town Cochabamba to Oruro, just 120 kilometers south west, all went wrong and Wilstermann died in the crash.

In 1949, workers from the airport founded a soccer club. They named it Club Deportivo LAB (Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano). Four years later, on February 6, 1953, this name was changed into Jorge Wilstermann. The club has won the Bolivian championship ten times since 1958.  

Steve Biko (South Africa, 1946 -1977)

Steve Biko was a founding member of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) in 1969, giving new energy to the anti-apartheid movement in the seventies. From 1973 onwards, Biko was restricted by the South African government to stay in his own home area. Biko continued his political work, and sometimes didn’t bother about his restriction. For example in August 1977, when he drove to Cape Town to meet members of other liberation movements. On the way back, he was stopped at a road block by the police, and arrested. As he had violated his ban, he faced indefinite detention under South African law. One month later, Biko died in his cell, due to a combination of brain damage caused by his interrogators and bad medical care.
In 1978, the year after Steve Biko’s death, a newly founded soccer club in Gambia was named after him. Slowly this club, Steve Biko FC, moved up the ranks in Gambian soccer, and finally won promotion to the highest level in 1988. The club won its first national championship in 2013

Friday, May 2, 2014

Too late at the World Cup

Alfredo di Stefano. George Best. Ryan Giggs. George Weah. Great players that never played at the World Cup. But there are others who were just as unlucky. They did reach the World Cup, but not in time. They were veterans already, hoping for a final miracle. It didn’t happen. Here are six former world class players that made it to the World Cup a little too late.

Majed Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)

116 caps, 71 goals
Born: November 1, 1959
World Cup: 1994 (35 years old)
Minutes played: 2 matches, 90 minutes (45 minutes each)

Voted the best Saudi Arabian footballer of all time, Majed Abdullah was one the best soccer players in Asia during the eighties. He was especially successful with the national team of Saudi Arabia, winning the Asian Cup in 1984 and 1988. In the final against China in 1984 Abdullah scored the second goal in their 2-0 victory. Four years later he scored the winning goal in the semifinal against Iran (1-0). The final against South Korea ended 0-0, but Saudi Arabia won after penalties, Abdullah scoring the third. He was also voted Asian’s Player of the Year in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
Looking at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia didn’t qualify in 1982, 1986 or 1990. Abdullah played seventeen of these qualifying matches, scoring five goals. During the 1994 campaign Abdullah played three matches: against Malaysia (3-0, 2 goals), Kuwait (2-0, 1 goal) and Japan (0-0). Especially at the end of his career he suffered from a lot of injuries. At the World Cup finals in the United States in 1994 he captained his team against the Netherlands, played reasonably well in the first half after which he was substituted. Abdullah didn’t play against Morocco and his 45 minutes against Belgium were mediocre. He wasn’t picked for the next round, when Saudi Arabia was beaten by Sweden 1-3 and was knocked out of the tournament.

Denis Law (Scotland)

55 caps, 30 goals
Born: February 24, 1940
World Cup: 1974 (age 34 years)
Minutes played: 1 match, 90 minutes.

Denis Law couldn't beat Zaire's goalkeeper Kazadi Mwamba
Denis Law of course is one the greatest footballers of the sixties. As a young boy he moved from Aberdeen to England, to nearby Huddersfield Town. He was capped for Scotland the first time in 1958, and after stints at Manchester City and Italian club AC Torino, he was transferred to Manchester United in 1962. He was European Footballer of the Year in 1964, league champion in 1965 and 1967, but missed the European Cupfinal in 1968 through injury. With the national team, Law failed to qualify in 1962, 1966 and 1970. For the 1974 World Cup, Law played only the two matches against toughest rival Czechoslovakia. But finally Scotland topped their group and had great expectations of the World Cup in West Germany. Law played in the first match against Zaire (2-0 victory), but was dropped for the next matches against Brazil and Yugoslavia. In 2006, Law took a trip down memory lane for The Scotsman:  “I didn't think my exclusion was merited as I felt I'd played well enough against the Africans to keep my place, or at least to play a part in the Brazil game. But I accepted it, and I have some good memories from that time. Law's 55 caps was a Scottish record, his 30 international goals still is. Kenny Dalglish got his 56th cap in 1978 and equaled but never surpassed Law’s 30 goals in 1984.

Carlos Pavón (Honduras)

101 caps, 57 goals
Born: October 9, 1973
World Cup: 2010 (36 years old)
Minutes played: 1 match, 60 minutes

Carlos Pavón was eight years old when Honduras made it to the World Cup for the first time. Players like Gilberto Yearwood, Anthoney Costly and Roberto Figueroa put Honduras on the map. Ten years later, Pavón started a career that would outshine all of them. He played for years in Honduras, but also in Mexico (seven seasons), Spain (one season), Italy (two seasons) Colombia (one season) and the United States (one season). With the national team, Pavon failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006, playing 28 matches and scoring 18 goals. During the 2002 campaign the lethal striker managed to score ten goals, but was kept out of the tournament by Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA. For the 2010 tournament Pavón made a final attempt. He played nine matches, scoring seven goals. In the meanwhile he was already the top goal scorer of his country with 57 goals.

The final tournament in South Africa proved to be a big disappointment for veteran Pavón. While he was hoping to top his career with a great performance at the world stage, Pavón was substituted in the 60th minute of the first game against Chile. He didn’t get another chance and Honduras failed to make an impression scoring no goals in three matches.

Kevin Keegan (England)

63 caps, 21 goals
Born: February 14, 1951
World Cup: 1982 (age 31 years)
Minutes played: 1 match, 26 minutes as a substitute

The failure of England not qualifying for the 1974 and 1978 World Cup was certainly the biggest disappointment for Kevin Keegan in his career. Especially 1978 would have been great, as he was crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1978 and 1979 for his performances at Liverpool FC and Hamburger SV. After 1980, he was still a good player. He proved it at Southampton in the 1981-82 season, which he ended as top goal scorer with 26 league goals and winning the Player of the Year Award. So Keegan could become a World Cup hero after all, as England managed to beat Hungary in the qualification group for Spain 1982.
But he didn’t, as he suffered from a chronic back injury just prior to the World Cup. He even consulted a German doctor he knew from his time in Hamburg. Still, it was not enough to get him injury free at the start of the World Cup.  So England played the first round without him. Keegan did eventually play in England’s second match of the second round against Spain, coming on as a substitute for Tony Woodcock. He had one hard to miss chance, but headed the ball wide. It was Keegan’s 63th cap, and his very last.

Theophilus ‘Doctor’ Khumalo (South Africa)

50 caps, 9 goals
Born: June 26, 1967
World Cup: 1998 (30 years)
Minutes played: 1 match, 23 minutes as a substitute.

Midfielder Theophilus ‘Doctor’ Khumalo made a name for himself at South African club Kaizer Chiefs. He was vital in their league winning campaigns in 1989, 1991 and 1992. Those were his best playing years, just before South Africa was allowed to rejoin the FIFA family in 1992. Khumalo of course was picked for the very first official international game, against Cameroon. South Africa won 1-0 and Khumalo scored the only goal, a penalty. In 1996 Khumalo was an important part of the team that surprisingly won the Africa Cup, playing in five of six matches, only missing the match against Egypt when South Africa was already qualified for the quarter finals. By 1998, when South Africa got to the World Cup for the very first time, thirty year old Khumalo was past his best. So the 'doctor' of course was in the squad, but only played 23 minutes as a substitute in the last match. Without making any kind of fuzz, which is a bit sad for such a player.

Allan Simonsen (Denmark)

55 caps, 20 goals
Born: December 15, 1952
World Cup: 1986 (34 years old)
Minutes played: 1 match, 20 minutes as a substitute

Denmark was a small soccer country since the early fifties. So it wasn’t a big surprise they mostly failed at qualifying for the World Cup. But during the seventies their chances slowly improved. At Borussia Mönchengladbach Henning Jensen and Allan Simonsen were making headlines, a few years later Sören Lerby and Frank Arnesen did the same at Ajax. Simonsen had tremendous pace which suited the play of Mönchengladbach very well. He was at his peak in 1977, when he won the European Footballer Award. In 1982, while at Barcelona, he became the first player ever to score in the final of all three European Cups (Champions Cup, Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup).
In 1986, Simonsen was already a few seasons back home with his first club, Vejle BK, but was still playing for the national team.  He only played 45 minutes during the qualification rounds for Mexico, but was picked for the 22 squad anyway. The tournament itself went very well for first timers Denmark. They won their first two matches and were already through to the last sixteen before the match against West Germany. Coach Sepp Piontek gave 34-year old Simonsen 20 minutes as a substitute against the country that made him a star in the first place. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Close Rivals in European Cup Finals

John Wark (Ipswich Town) shoots
The semi finals in the European Champions League have Atletico Madrid playing Chelsea, while Real Madrid meets Bayern Munich. So there is a change that for the first time in 59 years of European Cups both finalists are from the same city. Here’s a countdown of the ten finals with the least travelling distances between them.

At 10: the 1981 UEFA Cup final between Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town and Dutch side AZ’67. Ipswich Town won the Cup, thanks to John Wark (Scotland) and Dutchmen Frans Thijssen and Arnold Mühren. By air the distance between Ipswich and Alkmaar is 253.38 kilometres.

Real Zaragoza after winning the Cup
The 1964 Inter Cities Fairs Cup was between two Spanish sides, Real Zaragoza and Valencia. Valencia had won the two previous finals, but this time lost 2-1 to Real  Zaragoza. Distance between Valencia and Zaragoza:  246.40 kilometres.

A very exciting UEFA Cup-final was held in Rotterdam, in 2002. Feyenoord was lucky they could play this match at home against Borussia Dortmund. Pierre van Hooijdonk was decisive with two goals, while Dortmunds Jürgen Kohler was sent off after just half an hour. Feyenoord-coach Bert van Marwijk later coached Borussia Dortmund. This match stands at number 8, with a distance between the two cities of just 210.76 kilometres.

Juventus from Turin had already won the UEFA Cup three times when they met another Italian club in the 1995 Final. While Juventus’ Roberto Baggio was expected to be the big star, it was Dino Baggio (no family) who scored the winner at home (1-0) as well as the equalizer in Turin (1-1). The distance between Parma and Turin is a mere 210.35 kilometres.
Eintracht Frankfurt with Fred Schaub right behind the Cup

German clubs were dominant in the UEFA Cup in the early eighties. It only led to one all-German final, when Borussia Mönchengladbach met Eintracht Frankfurt in 1980. They both had a mediocre Bundesliga-season. After a 3-2 loss away, Eintracht Frankfurt clinched the Cup, thanks to goal by unknown Fred Schaub, who died in a car crash in 2003. The 6th shortest distance is between Mönchengladbach and Frankfurt, 197.88 kilometres.

Allan Mullery scoring for Spurs
During the late sixties and early seventies, English clubs won the Inter Cities Fairs / UEFA Cup six times in a row. In 1972, Wolverhampton Wanderers clashed with Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs were the favorite and did win the Cup, wining 2-1 in London and managing a 1-1 draw away from home. Number 5 in this ranking, with a distance between London and Wolverhampton of 182.26 kilometres.

Cup Winners’ Cup-holder Ajax faced the Dutch oriented KV Mechelen from Belgium in the Cup Winners' Cup final in 1988 for the number 4 of this list. While Danny Blind gets a red card, Dutchman Piet den Boer scores the all-important 1-0 for his club KV Mechelen. The distance between Amsterdam and Mechelen is only 152.40 kilometres.

Wolfgang Kleff (M'Gladbach) denying a Twente attacker
The Champions League Final in 2003 is between Italian clubs Juventus from Turin and AC Milan. Both teams fail to score and only five penalties out of ten were successful. AC Milan wins, scoring three penalties. This is number 3, with a distance between Turin and Milan of 125.51 kilometres.

Number 2 might be a surprise, because this match is not between clubs from the same country. Back in 1975, Dutch club FC Twente got into the final of the UEFA Cup where they met Borussia Mönchengladbach. After a decent 0-0 in the away match, FC Twente lost at home 1-5 with Jupp Heynckes scoring three goals. Enschede and Mönchengladbach are only 119.99 kilometres apart.

The number 1 is from Portugal. FC Porto and unfancied SC Braga got into the UEFA Cup-final in 2011. Big brother Porto did win it, but only by a single goal from their Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. The distance between the two Portuguese cities is only 46.11 kilometres.

Looking at the longest distance between two finalists, this is the Top 5

Club vs club
CSKA Moscow celebrating
CSKA Moscow – Sporting Lisbon
3.910.27 kilometres
Dinamo Kiev – Atletico Madrid
2.865.75 kilometres
 Dinamo Tiblissi – Carl Zeiss Jena
2.722.69 kilometres
Glasgow Rangers – Dinamo Moscow
2.578.78 kilometres
Galatasaray* - Arsenal
2.503.57 kilometres