Sunday, January 21, 2018

21 January 2012 - Deuce With A Triple

On 21 January 2012, Clint Dempsey became the first American to score a hat-trick in the Premier League, lifting Fulham to a 5-2 win over Newcastle.

A striker/midfielder, Dempsey--nicknamed "Deuce"--was in his sixth year with the London club, having joined them in January 2007 in a deal worth a reported £2M. He quickly established himself as a regular in the starting eleven, making over forty appearances in each of the next five seasons.

Midway through the 2011-12 season, Fulham were struggling in the bottom half of the table while Newcastle were challenging for a European spot. Newcastle won the first meeting 2-1 at St. James' Park back in August. So the odds were stacked against Fulham in the return fixture at Craven Cottage.

The match went according to form in the first half, with the visitors going up 0-1 after a Fulham error led to a 43rd-minute goal from Newcastle midfielder Danny Guthrie. But the hosts roared back in the second half, drawing level with a penalty kick from Danny Murphy in the 52nd minute, then going ahead with a pair of Dempsey goals (59', 65'). Another Fulham penalty, scored by Bobby Zamora in the 68th minute, stretched the lead to 4-1.

Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa closed the gap to 4-2 in the 85th minute, but Dempsey completed his hat-trick four minutes later to restore the three-goal lead and end the day at 5-2.

Dempsey went on to score a career high 23 goals in all competitions that season before moving to Tottenham in August 2012 for a reported fee of around £6M.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

20 January 1974 - A Match Made In Heaven

On 20 January 1974, English teams played league football on a Sunday for the first time.

The FA, along with several clubs and players, had expressed support for Sunday matches earlier in the season, hoping that the move would help improve declining attendances, but they faced a couple of substantial obstacles. The Sunday Observances Act, for one, barred the selling of tickets on Sundays. In addition, many in the public opposed Sunday football on religious grounds.

But by January 1974, attendances continued to decline, driven in part by a ban on floodlights that stemmed from the worldwide energy crisis, prompting the FA to approve the playing of four third-round FA Cup matches on Sunday, 6 January. In order to get around the Sunday Observances Act, the clubs sold programs, which were used instead of tickets to gain access to the games.

Those FA Cup matches drew large crowds, convincing the Football League to move forward as well using the same admission-by-program scheme. While some clubs--including all First Division clubs--declined to participate, citing religious reasons, that first league Sunday hosted a total of twelve matches, three each in Divisions Two and Three and six in Division Four. Nine of those games reported their biggest crowds of the season.

The first Sunday league goal was scored by Millwall's Brian Clark in their 1-0 win over Fulham. 

Despite the success of Sunday games, opposition remained strong and it took several more years before Sunday football became a regular feature in the league.

Friday, January 19, 2018

19 January 2010 - The Margin For Error Was Apparently Very, Very Small

On 19 January 2010, Olympiacos sacked Brazilian legend Zico only four months into his two-year contract as manager.

After starring as a playmaker for Flamengo and Brazil in the 1970s and '80s, Zico moved into management with Kashima Antlers in 1999. But he established his credentials as the manager of Japan from 2002 to 2006, winning the 2004 Asian Cup and guiding them through an impressive qualification campaign for the 2006 World Cup. He stepped down after a poor showing at the tournament itself, however.

Then came a brief but successful spell at Fenerbahçe from 2006 to 2008, followed by even shorter stints at Bunyadkor (2008) and CSKA Moscow (2009) before he moved to Olymipacos in September 2009.

At the time, only two games into the season, the team was in fourth place. Under Zico, they rose to the top of the table by the end of September and mostly remained there for the rest of the year on the strength of an undefeated run that saw them win eight of Zico's first ten games. But a loss in his eleventh, away to Aris Salonika, followed by another at home to AEK Athens, proved too much for club president Socrates Kokkalis. Even though Olympiacos got a win and a draw in their next two games, he moved to terminate Zico's contract.

Olympiacos went on to finish the season in second place, while Zico took some time off before managing Iraq from 2011 to 2012.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

18 January 2012 - Xamax Crosses The Line

On 18 January 2012, the Swiss Football League expelled Neuchâtel Xamax for financial irregularities, ending the reign of Bulat Chagaev, one of football's most bizarre owners.

Founded in 1970 from the merger of FC Xamax and FC Cantonal Neuchâtel, the club won the Swiss league title in 1987 and 1988, but declined shortly afterward. In 2006, they were relegated for the first time in club history. Although they returned to the top flight in 2007, they continued to struggle.

Chagaev, a Russian businessman, took over as the club's new owner in May 2011 and promised a cash infusion to return Xamax to their former greatness. Signs soon appeared, however, to suggest that his control would not be smooth, starting when the club filed a lawsuit to stop an investigation into the source of Chagaev's wealth.

The situation grew stranger at the start of the 2011-12 Super League season, with Chagaev going through three different managers in the span of a month and firing staff and players immediately after bad losses. During the season, the SFL imposed an eight-point penalty on the club for "irregularities" in player payments.

The last straw came in January 2012. Suspecting Chagaev of forging a financial security document, they revoked the club's license and suspended them from the league. The club folded later that month. Shortly afterward, a new club--free of Chagaev's influence--formed under the name Neuchâtel Xamax 1912 and entered the Swiss league's fifth tier for the 2012-13 season. They have since been promoted to the second tier where they currently sit 10 points clear at the top of the table.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

17 January 1920 - A Good Day To Stay At Home

On 17 January 1920, the home teams went undefeated in all 20 matches in England's Football League, as well as the day's two FA Cup games.

At the time, the Football League consisted of only two divisions (though a separate Southern League existed, with two divisions of of its own). While each division consisted of 22 teams, two games were not played, so there were only 20 games total across both divisions.

The results in Division One consisted of eight wins and two draws, including 21st-place Oldham Athletic's 1-0 upset victory of second-place Newcastle. The largest margins were Manchester City's 4-1 win over Arsenal and league-leader West Brom's 5-2 win over Blackburn.

In Division Two, there were nine wins and only one draw, a 1-1 result between Bury and Nottingham Forest, while Lincoln City's 4-0 win over Wolves set the day's largest margin of victory.

There were also two first-round FA Cup matches played that day, with Bradford City beating Portsmouth 2-0 and West Stanley beating Gillingham 3-1.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

16 January 2010 - Messi's Milestone

On 16 January 2010, Lionel Messi scored his 100th goal for Barcelona, becoming the youngest person in club history to hit that milestone.

The goal came in a home league match against Sevilla. The two teams had already met twice that month in the Copa del Rey Round of 16, with Sevilla advancing on away goals after drawing 2-2 on aggregate. In the second leg, which Barcelona won 1-0, Sevilla goalkeeper Andrés Palop repeatedly frustrated Messi, denying him in several one-on-one attempts and preventing him from scoring.

In the league match on 16 January, Palop got off to another good start, keeping the game scoreless through the first half. But shortly after the start of the second half, Barcelona took the lead with a 49th-minute own goal from center back Julien Escudé. A chip from Barça striker Pedro doubled their lead in the 70th minute.

Then Messi struck. In the 84th minute, he scored his record 100th club goal from just outside the six-yard box. At 22 years, six months, and 22 days old, he was the youngest player in club history to score a century. But he didn't stop there, adding another in the first minute of stoppage time to extend the final score to 4-0.

Now eight years later, he has a current total of 611 goals.

Monday, January 15, 2018

15 January 1981 - El Hadji Starts His Pilgrimage

On 15 January 1981, Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf was born in Dakar. A talented but controversial player, he has spent time with several different clubs across France, England, and Scotland.

He began his professional career with Sochaux in 1998, followed by quick moves to Rennes (1999-2000), and Lens (2000-02). At the latter, he scored 18 goals in 54 league appearances, which--combined with a strong showing for Senegal at the 2002 World Cup in which he helped the team to a quarterfinal berth--attracted the interest of Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier, who signed him that summer for £10 million.

Diouf failed to recapture his previous form and his time at Anfield was overshadowed by a March 2003 UEFA Cup incident in which he spat at a Celtic supporter. At the end of the 2003-04 season--in which Diouf failed to score a single goal--Liverpool sent him on loan to Bolton. There, he began scoring goals again and Bolton made the move permanent in 2005.

After four seasons with Bolton, he moved again, spending time with Sunderland (2008-09) and Blackburn Rovers (2009-11). But his scoring touch deserted him again and he spent the last half of the 2010-11 season on loan in Scotland with Rangers. All along the way, he developed a reputation for being hotheaded, with frequent bookings.

He moved back to England in the summer of 2011 to play for Doncaster Rovers, then joined Leeds United in 2012 after Doncaster's season ended in relegation. He last played for Malaysian club Sabah FA before retiring in 2015.