Saturday, October 25, 2008

English Special - Liverpool And Chelsea's Early History

Ahead of Liverpool's visit of Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon, Alan Dawson looks at a corresponding fixture from 103 years ago, and explains it's relevance to the two teams today...

Liverpool and Chelsea have accrued countless talking points thanks to their recent encounters in both domestic competition and the Champions League.

The most notable of which was the 2005 Semi Final in Europe where a Luis Garcia 'phantom goal' separated the two sides and had then-manager Jose Mourinho seething by the touchline and lambasting each and every officiator for chalking a goal on the scoreboard when no ball had seemingly crossed the line.

What the cocky press-savvy Portuguese coach failed to publicly notice though was that his goalkeeper Petr Cech had impeded Liverpool forward Milan Baros prior to Garcia's effort and should the goal not have stood then the Reds could have claimed for a penalty, and the Blues may have had to finish the tie with a goal, and a man, down.

Opposition fans like to play a game of poke the lion when they visit Stamford Bridge. Chants of: ''Sh*t fans, no history!" bellow out the mouths of the visiting support, but what constitutes history? Trophies? Don't be daft. The answer is notable events.

Sheffield FC for instance (not to be confused with Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday) are the world's oldest club to still be playing Association Football. Have they won a major trophy though? Ha! Jog on. Of course they haven't. But what they have given football has been recognised by FIFA when the club were awarded the FIFA Order of Merit in 2004; one of only two clubs to have ever received the highest honour to be dished out by the world's governing body for football. The other side being Real Madrid. Do these two facts contribute significantly to Sheffield FC's interesting history? Of course they do.

In a similar vein, despite only accumulating four major trophies in the pre-Premier League era: an old league title in 1955; a League Cup in 1965; an FA Cup in 1970; and a Uefa Cup Winners Cup in 1971, Chelsea do indeed possess history that spans back five score and three years ago.

In a west London hotel in 1904 a chap that answered to the name H R Mears had just bought Stamford Bridge Athletic Grounds with the intention of forming a formidable football club that could be housed there. With the help of John Tait Robinson the pair spent a monkey (£500) investing in the team that included goalkeeper Billy 'Fatty' Foulke; a nifty £50 signing from Sheffield United who was appropriately given the moniker due to his corpulent 306 pound weight.

Despite the rotund nature of the Blues' new captain, Foulke was described back in the day like thus: "As fine a specimen of manhood as ever stepped onto the field. In spite of his bulk he possesses all the agility of a cat, combined with the playfulness of a kitten."

That summer the Pensioners were refused entry to the Southern League, but instead were accepted into Division Two, and their first game was away to Stockport County on the 2nd of September in 1905: they lost 1-0.

The next match was the first ever held at Stamford Bridge. A scheduled friendly against north west club Liverpool who were duly trounced 4-0 two days after the Blues' Stockport trip on the 4th of the same month. Despite the loss the Reds still went on to have a successful season claiming the league title, and nearly winning the FA Cup.

Some things change, some things stay the same... if you were pressed to think for someone that could weigh 22 stone now you would presumably never assume it were the glovesman guarding goal, but the pie-loving gym-dodger in row A.

Liverpool though are again making the trip down south to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The stadium may have been completely rejuvenated over the years, but the home support will be hoping for a repeat scoreline from the corresponding fixture 103 years ago.

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Calcio Comedy: Pele & Maradona In Birthday Punch-Up

Legends face off: Brazil star Pelé and Argentina's Diego Maradona
Footballing legends Pele and Diego Maradona were involved in an explosive fist-fight last night during a special party to celebrate the Brazilian’s 68th birthday.

Pele has had a long and bitter feud with Argentine hero Maradona, who has always accused the Brazilian of being part of the ‘devil’ family of FIFA.

The dispute hit a real low in 2000 when FIFA conducted an internet fan poll to elect the ‘Player of the Century’. Maradona won the poll but then FIFA altered the way in which the winner was chosen, and opted to give the prize to Pele. Maradona protested and eventually both players were presented with an award, with El Pibe d’Oro claiming that his rival’s trophy was worthless.

Last night the most explosive scene in this volatile soap-opera was played out as the pair actively engaged in a fully blown fist-fight during Pele’s 68th birthday celebrations.

O Rei, who is currently in Europe on a Viagra promotional tour, threw a lavish party in his mansion in Zurich, Switzerland. The 300 listed guests read out like a who’s who of the footballing, political and celebrity world. Outgoing American President George Bush and UK PM Gordon Brown were both present, as were movie director Steven Spielberg, singer Elton John, and of course FIFA top-dogs Sepp Blatter, Joao Havelange and Jack Warner.

Some major football figures were also chosen to represent some of the most prestigious countries. Dino Zoff (Italy), Michel Platini (France) and Hong Myung-Bo (South Korea) were just some of these.

The party all seemed to be going well, with Elton John and Celine Dion providing the music, Spielberg and Tom Cruise playing out a scene from their upcoming film, and Blatter performing some Swiss stand-up comedy on stage.

Then, like any dramatic Spielberg Hollywood disaster-thriller, the evening started to descend into something of a horror show. First of all English Representative Paul Gascoigne consumed a little too much alcohol and began smashing up Pele’s Grand Piano. He was eventually ejected by security, but not before he had thrown a cocktail of vodka, whisky and Grappa over ex-German midfielder Lotthar Matthaus, who he blamed for his infamous Italia ’90 semi final yellow card.

Matthaus responded by declaring that “all Englishmen were drunks”, which caused a stir between some of the German and English guests.

At 2200 local time, Blatter then called for everyone’s attention in order to issue a birthday toast to Pele, stating: “Ladies and gentleman, let us all raise our glasses to the greatest player in the history…

While Blatter was at mid-sentence, suddenly a most unexpected guest burst into the ballroom. It was none other than Pele’s arch-nemesis Diego Maradona, who had gate-crashed the fun, having been humiliatingly snubbed when the invites were sent out.

Maradona stubbed out his Cuban cigar into Pele's expensive Persian rug and immediately launched himself into a tirade: “Greatest player in the history? Haha…Greatest player in the history of what?

“Pele, you are the biggest myth there has ever been. You are not even close to being the greatest ever player in your own country. Were you better than Zico, Garrincha, Rivelino, Ronaldo? Only FIFA and all the dirty people behind you proclaim you as the best ever.

“The real people know that I am the greatest and this is all that matters. I am the real deal, you are a fraud and a sell-out.”

Pele then responded in kind. “Diego, please tell me, what drugs have you been taking tonight?

“You are a cheat and a bad role model. You are a bad example to young children. Now get out of my house and stop embarrassing me in front of these distinguished people.”

Maradona squared up to Pele, before American boxing promoter Don King stepped in and proposed that the pair have a three-round fight, with the winner officially being declared as 'The Greatest'. The South Americans reluctantly accepted, and former Ecuadorian official Byron Moreno was called to referee the bout.

Maradona dominated the first two rounds, and shook Pele with a couple of stinging left hooks, dancing around the Brazilian, who was unable to match the Argentine’s workrate.

At the beginning of round three Maradona dropped Pele with a beautiful uppercut that brought back memories of the 1986 ‘Hand of God’. However, in an astonishing decision, referee Moreno deemed the punch as illegal, and disqualified Maradona who, like Gascoigne before him, was ejected by security and put on a plane back to Georgia, where he will be playing in an exhibition match. The party then continued without him.

A video of this amazing fight, including the knockdown, appeared on Youtube late last night, although it was removed soon after. However, a new, heavily edited video was this morning posted on the official FIFA website, which mysteriously shows Pele actually flooring Maradona before having his arms raised by Blatter and Moreno.

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Beckham Speaks!

After a week of dodging journalists' questions, England's David Beckham has finally confirmed that he is in loan talks with AC Milan but pledged himself to Los Angeles, saying he will be back for the next MLS season. He wrote to his own personal website...

After ducking journalists’ questions all week, Los Angeles Galaxy superstar David Beckham finally talked. In a way. On his personal website,, he posted a “Q&A” that confirmed his prospective loan to Italian side AC Milan and explained his motivations. He also pledged himself to continuing his career with the Galaxy.

“One of the reasons I want to train and play in Milan for a few months is the fact that MLS season doesn't run as long as the European season and my body is programmed to actually not have that amount of time off,” he said. “During the off season, I'm hoping to go to Milan to train and play with them.”

It is known that Beckham is desperate to be a part of the England squad at the 2010 World Cup. England manager Fabio Capello has told him that he must be in shape and in form during the winter, when there are big qualifiers, if he is to be on the team. Capello reportedly urged Beckham to join Milan, where Capello previously coached.

“AC Milan is one of the biggest clubs in the world,” he said. “I've a great chance to go there, keep fit and play with some of the best players in the world. They've got Kaka, Ronaldinho, Seedorf and also a player with one of the best records in football, in Maldini.”

Many observers, however, have conjectured that this move might become permanent, and that Beckham was using the loan as a first step to a complete transfer back to Europe. But the former Real Madrid and Manchester United midfielder rejected this.

“[Playing for Milan] also gives me a chance to keep my fitness up and also carry that on for when I come back to the Galaxy and for the MLS season,” he said. “I'm still very committed to being a Galaxy player. I came to the Galaxy to win trophies and I want to do that.”

He has a ways to go to get to that point. The Galaxy missed the playoffs this season for the third straight season, and the second straight since Beckham’s arrival in 2007.

“It's been slightly disappointing on the Galaxy side because we haven't made the playoffs again,” he said. “We haven't had much stability in the team. We now have Bruce Arena as manager, he knows the league, he knows the players. We have to push forward here now we are a big club, one of the biggest clubs in the MLS. Now it's important that we move on from here, forget the disappointment of the last two to three seasons and step up to the challenge.”

The interview made no mention about the length of the loan. According to new FIFA rules, Beckham supposedly cannot go on a short-term loan, but would have to move only during registration periods. This would mean he would miss the first two-to-three months of the MLS season.

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