Friday, November 24, 2017

24 November 1979 - Best Comes Back To Britain

On 24 November 1979, George Best returned to the UK from his American exile to play briefly for Hibernian and scored on his debut.

He became one of the most famous footballers in the world while playing for Manchester United, winning, among other things, the 1968 Ballon d'Or. But his inability to resist women and alcohol caused problems for him at Old Trafford, resulting in a series of retirements from the club, the last of which came in January 1974.

Afterward, he turned out for a handful of clubs, including Stockport County (1975) and Cork Celtic (1975-76), before splitting time between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Fulham from 1976 to 1978. When he left Fulham in 1978, he remained in the US, playing for LA and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

But in the fall of 1979, Hibernian manager Tom Hart lured Best back to Britain. At the time, Hibs were at the bottom of the Scottish First Division table and were lucky to draw 5,000 people to a match. Hart figured correctly that Best, despite having lost much of his ability, was still a big enough name to bring in the crowds and agreed to pay him £2,500 per match at a time when most of the team's other players were making less than a tenth of that amount.

Best's first appearance, though, was in an away match against St. Mirren, where a crowd of 13,798 watched him score the visitors' only goal in a 2-1 result. In his home debut the following week, more than 20,000 filled the stands. He didn't score, but helped Hibs claim their first win since August. It was only a brief respite, as they were relegated at the end of the season.

He played only 17 games for Hibernian across two seasons, scoring a total of three goals, before returning to the US to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He continued to move around over the next few years before his final retirement in 1984, but never played professionally in the UK again.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

23 November 1960 - It Was A Terrific Run While It Lasted

On 23 November 1960, Real Madrid were eliminated from the European Cup for the first time in history. By rivals Barcelona.

Real Madrid had won all five previous tournaments starting with the 1954-55 edition. Barcelona, meanwhile, had, to that point, participated only once, getting eliminated by Real Madrid in the semi-finals the previous season. They did earn a measure of revenge over Madrid by winning La Liga that spring (Madrid finished as runners-up), but were still eager to knock Madrid off their European perch.

They met in the first round, with Real Madrid hosting the first leg on 9 November. There, a penalty from Luis Suárez in the 88th minute earned Barcelona a 2-2 draw with the 5-time defending champions.

Two weeks later, the teams met at Camp Nou for the second leg where Barcelona took a two-goal lead deep into the second half after getting goals from Martí Vergés (33') and Evaristo de Marcedo (81'). Madrid forward Canário scored in the 87th minute to set up a tense finish, but it was the visitors' only goal of the day and they fell 4-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona eventually reached the final, but lost there to Benfica, 3-2. They finally won it in 1992 and have since lifted the trophy three more times. Real Madrid, meanwhile, won it again in 1966 and have since extended their collection of European Cups/Champions League trophies to nine.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

22 November 1967 - Make Your Own "Irish Famine" Joke

On 22 November 1967, Ireland beat Czechoslovakia in a European qualifier. It was their last win for almost five years.

Played in Prague, the match was the last one in the qualifying group, with only the top finisher advancing to the quarterfinals. Ireland were already eliminated but were hoping to play the role of spoiler for the hosts, who started the day one point behind group leader Spain (the Spanish had already completed all of their matches).

The Czechs took the lead in the 57th minute courtesy of an own goal from Irish center back John Dempsey, but Ray Treacy pulled the visitors level in the 65th minute. Then, with four minutes of normal time remaining, striker Turlough O'Connor scored the match winner. The win lifted Ireland off the bottom of their group table into third and kept Czechoslovakia in second behind Spain.

It turned out to be Ireland's last taste of victory for quite a while. They went winless in their next twenty games, including their qualification campaigns for the 1970 World Cup and Euro '72, before finally beating Iran 2-1 in a friendly on 18 June 1972. They did not win another competitive match until they defeated France 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on 15 November 1972.

Monday, November 20, 2017

20 November 1957 - Ajax Goes European

On 20 November 1957, Ajax made their first European Cup appearance, beating East Germany's SC Wismut in the Round of 16. They later went on to win the competition four times, including three straight titles from 1971 to 1973.

Ajax failed to qualify for the first two European Cups, but made it into the 1957-58 tournament by winning the Eredivisie the previous season. They were one of seven teams, including defending champions Real Madrid, to receive a bye in the first round, placing them directly into the Round of 16.

There, they faced East German champions SC Wismut, who had advanced out of the preliminary round with a coin toss after their playoff match against Gwardia Warsaw was halted after 100 minutes when the floodlights failed.

Wismut hosted the first leg and promptly fell behind to the visitors after a goal from winger Piet van der Kuil in the fifth minute. Wim Bleijenberg doubled the lead eleven minutes later, then van der Kuil struck again in the 64th minute. Wismut got a consolation goal in the 86th minute to set the final margin at 1-3 for Ajax.

Ajax won the second leg 1-0 one week later to advance to the quarterfinals where they fell to Hungarian side Vasas 2-6 on aggregate. Afterward, they became one of the most successful teams in European competition, winning the European Cup in 1971, 1972, and 1973, then again in 1995 (after it had been renamed the Champions League). They also finished as runners-up in 1969 and 1996.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

18 November 2011 - An Apology Is Better Than Nothing (But Not By Much)

On 18 November 2011, Sepp Blatter apologized for remarks he made earlier in the week about racism in football. It was the latest in a series of events over the course of a difficult year for the FIFA president.

No stranger to controversy, Blatter had previously provoked strong reactions for several statements, including his opinion that women's football would be more popular if the players wore tight shorts and his description of Cristiano Ronaldo's contract situation as a form of slavery. During his 2010 campaign for re-election to his FIFA post, he fell under intense scrutiny for allegations of corruption throughout the organization.

Then, in mid-November 2011, he addressed the problem of racism in football by suggesting that the players resolve any on-field incidents with a post-match handshake. The comment immediately drew harsh criticism from a wide variety of sources, most notably from Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who called the comment "so condescending it's almost laughable." Many people called for Blatter's resignation.

The pressure led to his eventual apology. He did not deliver it in person, however, but instead submitted a written statement that was read by FIFA official Tokyo Sexwale. The statement read: "When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations. It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn't envisage such a reaction."

Despite continued calls for his resignation, Blatter refused, saying that such a step was "not compatible with [his] fighting spirit." He finally resigned in 2015 after a widespread corruption scandal and is currently serving a six-year FIFA suspension that will last until 2022.

Friday, November 17, 2017

17 November 1993 - A Bulgarian Brace Beats Les Bleus

On 17 November 1993, a very late goal helped Bulgaria upset France in a World Cup qualifier in Paris to earn their place in the tournament and eliminate the hosts.

It was the last match of their qualification group. Sweden had already secured the top spot, leaving only one more ticket to the World Cup up for grabs. France started the day in second, one point ahead of third-place Bulgaria, and needed only a draw to advance.

Even though Bulgaria won the first meeting in Sofia, 2-0, Les Bleus looked like the more likely team to get the needed result, especially once they took a 1-0 lead with a 31st-minute goal from Eric Cantona. The visitors quickly answered with a strike from Emil Kostadinov (pictured) six minutes later, but the match remained level at 1-1 until deep in the second half.

Then, in the last few seconds of the 90th minute, Kostadinov struck again, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from close range. The final score of 1-2 switched the two teams in the table, putting Bulgaria in the World Cup and leaving France out.

The Bulgarians went on to make their best-ever World Cup showing, reaching the semifinals before falling to Italy, then finishing fourth after a loss to Sweden in the third-place match.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

16 November 1974 - All Hail The Ginger Prince

On 16 November 1974, former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was born in Salford. He went on to make over 700 appearances for the club.

He joined United as a youth player in 1991, then joined the first team for the 1993-94 season, but did not appear in a competitive match until the following season. By September 1995, he had become a regular fixture in the starting XI, helping them to a league and FA Cup Double.

More honors followed, including a staggering nine additional league titles, two more FA Cups, and two Champions League trophies. Along the way, he built a reputation as one of the best midfielders of his generation, earning plaudits from opposing players and coaches such as Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who has called Scholes the best midfielder he's seen in the past 20 years.

Scholes earned his first cap for England in 1997 and made a total of 66 appearances before his international retirement in 2004.

He retired from United in May 2011 and took up a coaching role with the club, but was later convinced to change his mind at the urging of manager Alex Ferguson and returned to the pitch in January 2012. He retired for good in 2013 with a career total of 718 appearances across all competitions.