Tuesday, February 21, 2017

21 February 2008 - Gazza's Days Get Darker

On 21 February 2008, former England star midfielder Paul Gascoigne's tragic battle with alcoholism and depression resulted in his compulsory admission to a mental hospital for treatment. Unfortunately for all involved, it did little good and he continues to struggle with his problems.

Gascoigne, popularly known as "Gazza," enjoyed a remarkable career that started in 1985 with Newcastle and included spells at Tottenham (1988-92), Lazio (1992-95), and Rangers (1995-98), among others. Meanwhile, he was capped 57 times by England between 1988 and 1998, including a standout performance in the 1990 World Cup that sparked "Gazzamania" back in England.

But throughout, he struggled in his personal life with addiction and other issues, including depression and bipolar disorder. His problems grew worse after his retirement in 2004, followed by a short and unsuccessful spell as manager of Kettering Town that ended with his sacking in 2005 after only 39 days in charge. He claimed later that he was drinking up to four bottles of whisky and vodka per day.

In February 2008, police were called to the Newcastle hotel where he was staying while recovering from a hip operation. After he threatened to harm himself, he was taken into custody and compelled to enter a mental health facility. But by the end of the year, he was again deep into his alcoholism, reportedly drinking up to 30 cans of beer per day.

After promising signs of recovery in 2009, Gascoigne again relapsed in 2010, culminating in two separate October arrests for drunk driving and possession of cocaine. A series of rehab attempts and relapses followed, most recently by his January 2017 entrance into a new rehab program. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

20 February 1971 - The Mighty Finn

On 20 February 1971, Finnish striker/midfielder Jari Litmanen was born in the city of Lahti. He went on to become the national team's all-time leading scorer, playing for them in four different decades.

He began his professional career in 1987 and spent time with Finnish clubs Reipas (1987-90), HJK (1991), and MyPa (1992) before joining Ajax, where he rose to international prominence. Between 1992 and 1999, he scored 135 goals in 253 appearances or Ajax, winning four league titles and the 1995 Champions League final (he finished as the tournament's second-highest scorer, with 6 goals).

After leaving Ajax, he one and a half relatively quiet seasons with Barcelona, then joined Liverpool in January 2001. In his first season there, he collected four trophies--the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the FA Cup, and the League Cup--then won a fifth--the Community Shield--at the start of the next season.

He returned to Ajax in 2002 and won another league title in 2004, then moved again to a series of clubs that included Lahti (2004, 2008-10), Hansa Rostock (2004-05), Malmö (2005-07), and Fulham (2007-08) before moving to his final club, HJK, in 2011 at the age of 40 (he retired later that year). Along the way, he made 137 appearances for Finland from 1989 to 210, scoring a record 32 goals.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

19 February 2009 - They Were Just Saving Their Strength For Later

On 19 February 2009, Estudiantes got their Copa Libertadores campaign off to an inauspicious beginning, losing 3-0 to Cruzeiro in the group stage. They later rallied, however, and ended up getting their revenge in the final.

The Argentinians nearly missed out on the tournament altogether after losing to Sporting Cristal 2-1 in the first leg of their qualification round. But they won the second leg 1-0 and advanced thanks to their away goal.

Their first match of the group stage was away to Cruzeiro, played before a crowd of almost 34,000 at the Mineirão. There, after holding the hosts to a scoreless draw in the first half, they conceded a 63rd-minute penalty which was converted by Cruzeiro left back Fernandinho. That goal opened the floodgates, as substitute striker Kleber scored twice more in the next ten minutes, first beating the keeper from a tight angle with a low ball to the far post (69'), then getting the ball past him in a one-on-one (72') to finish the match at 3-0.

Estudiantes won the rematch 4-0 in La Plata and advanced to the knockout rounds as group runners-up behind Cruzeiro. They beat Libertad, Defensor Sporting, and Nacional to reach the final, where they again faced Cruzeiro and won 2-1 on aggregate to claim their fourth Copa Libertadores title (their first since 1970).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

18 February 1882 - The Luck Of The Irish Was Not With Them This Day

On 18 February 1882, Ireland set a record in their first international. Unfortunately, it was a record loss, as they fell to England 13-0.

The Irish FA had been founded two years earlier, making them the world's fourth oldest football association after England, Scotland, and Wales. For their inaugural match against England in Belfast, they pulled a team together primarily from two teams, Knock FC, who provided five players, and Cliftonville, who provided four. Their other two players came from Avoniel FC and Distillery, whose Samuel Johnston was only 15 years and 154 days old at the time.

England's team was more diverse, including players from seven different teams. But one team, Aston Villa, delivered nine of their thirteen goals, with five from Howard Vaughton (pictured) and four from Arthur Brown, both making their England debut. The other goals came from Charles Bambridge (Swifts FC), Henry Cursham (Notts County and Old Corinthians), and a couple from James Brown (Blackburn Rovers).

The match remains England's record victory and Ireland's (now Northern Ireland) record defeat.

Friday, February 17, 2017

17 February 2011 - Viva La Rewahlution!

On 17 February 2011, American journalist Grant Wahl announced his candidacy for FIFA President, running on a platform of transparency and a pledge to clean up the global football authority.

When Wahl made his announcement, FIFA and incumbent president Sepp Blatter were the focus of extensive criticism in the wake of alleged bribery scandals and the controversial decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite concerns about the weather and the country's need to develop an extensive infrastructure in a relatively short period of time. The two leading candidates for president were Blatter, running for his fourth consecutive term, and Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA Executive Committee member.

Wahl, a writer for Sports Illustrated, announced his intention to run on the Sports Illustrated website. He assured readers that his candidacy was serious and promised reforms including the use of goal-line technology and the public release of all of FIFA's internal documents. All he needed to become an official candidate was a nomination from any one of FIFA's 208 member associations.

Although his campaign received a tremendous amount of popular support (he got 95% of the vote in an online poll and garnered a swell of encouragement among both celebrities and grassroots supporters), he was unable to convince any association to nominate him. While several members told him they would support him if nominated (votes were taken by secret ballot), they declined to submit his name, because the nomination process was public and they feared reprisals from FIFA.

In April, shortly before the close of the deadline for nominations, Wahl ended his candidacy. Bin Hammam similarly suspended his own campaign, leaving the unopposed Blatter to win his fourth term.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

16 February 1899 - Iceland's Oldest And Most Successful Club

On 16 February 1899, Icelandic club Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur were founded. The country's oldest club, they have since gone on to become its most successful club as well, with a record 26 league titles.

Known as "KR," they play in black and white striped shirts, reportedly adopted from Newcastle. They won their first title in 1912, then won it again in 1919. A relative dry spell followed before they picked up another title in 1926, but they dominated the league afterward, winning six of the next eight.

KR fell off a bit in the latter half of the twentieth century, failing to win a single title in the Seventies or Eighties, and winning only one--the 1999 championship--in the Nineties. But that sparked another run of success that led to their record 256th title in 2014. It was followed the next year by a record 14th Icelandic Cup.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

15 February 1937 - Happy Birthday, Mr. Feyenoord

On 15 February 1937, Feyenoord legend and 1970 European Cup winner Coen Moulijn was born in Rotterdam.

A quick and agile left-winger, compatriot Johan Cruyff once praised Moulijn, saying "Coen mastered one movement better than anyone: threatening to pass his opponent through the center, and then speeding past him on the other side. He was an exceptionally talented football player. A typical product of the Dutch school." He began his professional career at neighboring Xerxes, but moved to Feyenoord after one season and spent the remainder of his career there, making over 500 appearances between 1955 and 1972. Along the way, he helped guide the team to five league titles and two Dutch Cups.

But he reached the pinnacle of his career in 1970 when Feyenoord won the European Cup over Celtic, 2-1. Throughout the tournament, Moulijn provided pinpoint service to his teammates Ove Kindvall and Ruud Geels, allowing them to finish as the competition's second and third-highest scorers that season, respectively.

After his retirement in 1972, he remained in Rotterdam and stayed involved with the club. Feyenoord later called him their greatest player and erected a statue of him outside the stadium in 2009. He passed away in January 2011 at the age of 73.