December 30, 2007

College Basketball Rankings, December 30, 2007. AP Poll.

Filed under: NCAA Men's Basketball — admin @ 1:44 pm


The A.P. Poll is from 5 AM, this morning.  The school’s logos are sized progressively smaller, as the rankings go from # 1, to # 25.  I last did this map 5 weeks ago, on November 23rd.  
The North Carolina Tar Heels stay at # 1, and the Memphis Tigers, the Kansas Jayhawks, and the UCLA Bruins still are in the top 5.   Gone from the top 25, since November 23rd, are Louisville, Oregon, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Southern Illinois, Syracuse, Virginia, and Florida.

I will try to do a couple more of these maps, up to March Madness, and then I will make a map of all 65 schools that make it to the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

December 28, 2007

Football Clubs of the West Midlands.

Filed under: England's Regions — admin @ 6:21 am


The kits of each club on the map are proportionally sized, to reflect their 2006-07 average attendance figures.

Average attendance.  / Percent change in gate figures this season. /  Current placement in the table:

8. Aston Villa: 36,214 average attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+ 9.3 %).  Aston Villa are in 8th place, in the Premier League (the 1st Level).   15. Derby County: 25,945 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+ 32.7 %).  Derby are in last place, in the Premier League.   21. Leicester City: 23,206 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (-11.2 %).  Leicester are in 18th place, in the League Championship (the 2nd Level).   24. Birmingham City: 22,274 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+ 15.8 %).  Birmingham are in 14th, in the Premier League.  

27. Wolverhampton Wanderers: 21,968 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+ 9.7 %).  Wolves are in 8th place, in the 2nd Level.   28. Nottingham Forest: 20,617 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (- 5.3 %).  Forest are in 2nd place, in League One (the 3rd Level).   29. West Bromwich Albion: 20,472 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+ 1.7 %).  WBA are in 1st place, in the 2nd Level.   30. Coventry City: 20,342 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (-6.3 %).  Coventry are in 16th place, the 2nd Level.   

36. Stoke City: 15,749 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (-10.0 %).  Stoke are in 3rd place, in the 2nd Level.   62. Walsall: 5,716 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Up (+5.8 %).  Walsall are in 7th place, in the 3rd Level).   73. Notts County: 4,974 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (-13.6 %).  Notts Co. are in 18th place, in League Two (the 4th Level).   77. Port Vale: 4,725 avg. attendance, last season.  This season: Down (-1.1 %).  Port Vale are in last place, in the 3rd Level.

December 26, 2007

Football Clubs of South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and surrounding area.

Filed under: England's Regions — admin @ 4:55 pm


With the exception of Doncaster and Barnsley, the clubs on this map are currently in varying degrees of doldrums.  Leeds has turned the corner, and will probably get back to the 2nd Level by season’s end.  But how far Leeds United has fallen, since playing in the Champions League Semi-Final in 2001, can be seen simply by the small size of their kit on the map.  This is a club with an historically huge fan base, and as recently as 2001, they drew 39,000 per game.  Leeds sits third in the 3rd division, on Boxing Day.   The two Sheffield clubs look like they’ll be spending another season in the second tier, so their fans will be assured of displaying their mutual loathing twice next season.  Sheffield United are in 11th, in the 2nd division; Sheffield Wednesday are just above the drop zone there, in 21st place.   Bradford has the unwanted distinction of currently leading the 4th Level in attendance (13,500), after being relegated last season, then slashing ticket prices.  Bradford City sits 15th, in the 4th division. 

Now that I think about it, Huddersfield isn’t really doing that bad, but I’m sure their respectably sized fan base feels that a club of their (medium) size and history (3 National Titles, and 1 FA Cup, all between 1922-26) deserves to be in a higher level than League One (3rd Level).  Huddersfield Town sit 12th, in the 3rd division.    Barnsley have spent 66 seasons at the Second Level, more than any other club.  Barnsley sit 12th, in the 2nd division.   Doncaster has went from non-league to the upper half of the 3rd Level, in 5 seasons.  Plus, they have a nice new ground, The Keepmoat Stadium.  Doncaster Rovers sit in the playoff places, at 6th, in the 3rd division.   Rotherham was in the second tier 3 years ago, but financial difficulties have dropped them to the 4th Level.  Rotherham United sit in the playoff places, at 5th, in the 4th division. 

I included the two clubs in northern Derbyshire and northern Nottinghamshire, because of their proximity to South Yorkshire.  Chesterfield was relegated to the 4th Level last season, but could bounce back.  Chesterfield sit in the playoff places, at 5th, in the 4th division.    Mansfield might be relegated out of the League.  Mansfield Town sit second from last (23rd), in the 4th division.

As with my last posting, this map shows the 2006-07 average attendances by the size of the clubs’ kit.  The larger the club’s average gate, the larger the kit is on the map.

2006-07 Average attendance.  (Clubs listed numerically in ranking, within the context of the entire 92-club English Football League).  

12. Sheffield United: 30,512 average attendance.   18. Sheffield Wednesday:  23,638.  25. Leeds United: 21,613.   42. Barnsley: 12,773.   45. Huddersfield Town: 10,573.   48. Bradford City: 8,694.   51. Doncaster Rovers: 7,746.   76. Rotherham United: 4,673.   81. Chesterfield: 4,235.    84. Mansfield Town: 3,176. 

This is the anniversary of the fire at the Valley Parade ground, in Bradford, in 1985, in which 56 were killed.  See this article, on the Pitch Invasion site.


December 24, 2007

Football Clubs of Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and Merseyside.

Filed under: England's Regions — admin @ 11:18 pm


The Manchester/Lancashire/Liverpool area is crammed full of storied football clubs.  This map shows a generalized kit design of the football clubs of this region, proportionally sized to reflect their 2006-07 average attendance. [Clubs shown on the map are listed below, by average attendance, in numerical order within the context of all 92 clubs in the English Football League (2006-07 Season).] 

1. Manchester United: 75,826 average attendance.   4. Liverpool: 43,561.   6. Manchester City: 39,997.   7. Everton: 36,739.   19. Bolton Wanderers: 23,606.   26. Blackburn Rovers: 21,275.   33. Wigan Athletic: 18,159.   38. Preston North End: 14,430.   44. Burnley: 11,956.   54. Tranmere Rovers: 6,930.   55. Blackpool: 6,877.   56. Oldham Athletic: 6,334.   72. Stockport County: 5,514.   85. Rochdale: 2,898.   87. Bury: 2,588.   91. Accrington Stanley: 2,260.               

For this season (2007-08), another club would be added to the map.  Morecambe FC (“the Shrimps”) were promoted to the 4th Division (League Two), last spring.  {Wikipedia profile, here.}   {kit(tens), here}    It’s their first-ever season in the League.  I indicated where Morecambe is, on the map.  It’s the dot north of Blackpool.  Morecambe’s average gate this season, so far,  is 3,386.  If they keep up their form (8-6-5: 30 pts.), they’ll stay up.  Go Shrimps !

December 23, 2007

Manchester City FC, part 1 (1880-1956).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 7:11 pm

Historical Football Kits, Manchester City page.

In 1879, Anna Connell, daughter of St. Mark’s Church rector Arthur Connell, formed a social association for young men, in Manchester.  After the success of their cricket team, a football club was formed the following year, 1880.  It was named St. Mark’s (West Gorton) FC.  In 1887, the club changed it’s name to Ardwick AFC, and they moved into their new grounds, Hyde Road.  The grounds’ first seating area was built in 1888, for 1,000 spectators.   But the swift rise in popularity of the club would result in numerous upgrades in the facility, and by 1904, Hyde Road could accomodate 40,000.

Ardwick FC  joined the Football Alliance in 1891.  They joined the Football League in 1892, in the newly created Second Division.  After financial troubles, the club was re-formed, in 1894, as Manchester City FC.  They adopted Cambridge Blue (sky blue), and white as their colors.  Five years later, in 1899, Manchester City won the Second Division, and were promoted to the First Division.  Though they finished in 7th place there in 1900, they were relegated back to the second tier in 1902.  They bounced right back to the top flight in 1903, and almost won the national Title in 1904, finishing in 2nd place.  They did, however, win the 1904 FA Cup, beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0, in front of 61,000 at the old Crystal Palace.  This was the first time the Final featured two clubs from Lancashire.  City’s best player, captain Billy Meredith, scored the goal in the 23rd minute.  machester_city_1904_fa_cup.gif

The club stayed competitive the following two seasons, with 3rd and 5th place finishes.  But a scandal erupted in 1906, when the League penalized 17 Manchester City players and 3 club officials for financial irregularities.  The club had been found to be paying players a higher wage than was allowed.  All the players were suspended for 18 months, and banned from the club. 

The scandal was a huge blow to the club, made worse by the fact that several of the players (including Meredith) ended up on cross-town rivals Manchester United.       City were relegated in 1910.  But they won the Second Division in 1911, and returned to the top tier.  In 1915, at the onset of the Great War (now known as World War I), Manchester City finished in 5th place.  After the war, Manchester finished 7th in 1920, and in 2nd place in 1921.  There was a fire at their Hyde Road grounds in November, 1920, which destroyed most of the main stand.  The club began planning for a new stadium.  In 1923, Manchester City moved into their new ground, Maine Road, in the Moss Side district of urban Manchester.  Maine Road was the second largest stadium in the country, with a capacity of 84,000.   Center-back Sam Cowan debuted for Manchester City in 1924.  He would make 406 appearances for the club (from 1924-35)  {See Sam Cowan bio, here}.  But the new ground failed to energize the club, and Manchester City were relegated in 1926.

That season the club had a good FA Cup run, though.  They made it to the 1926 FA Cup Final, once again playing Bolton.  This time, the Wanderers won, one-nil.  It was a bad spring for Manchester City: losing the Cup, and being sent down. mancity1926.gif

Two years later (1928), Manchester City gained promotion back to the First Division.  They finished in 3rd place in 1930, but slipped to 8th place in ’31, and 14th place in ’32.  That year Wilfred Wild became manager {see Wilf Wild bio, here}.  In 1933, the club had another bad season in the league (16th place), but their cup form was good enough to get them to the FA Cup Final.   However, they were defeated handily by a strong Everton side, three goals to nil.   The next season (1934) saw a vast improvement in league form, with a 4th place  finish.  And Manchester City returned to the FA Cup Final (1934), where they faced Portsmouth.  The pitch at Wembley was muddy, and parts of the match were played in a thunderstorm.  Portsmouth forward Septimus Rutherford scored in the 26th minute,  to the consternation of Manchester City’s 19-year old goalkeeper Arthur Swift.  At half-time, City’s forward Fred Tilson famously told Swift “you don’t need to worry, I’ll plonk two in next half.”  Tilson kept his word, scoring a brace: one in the 73rd minute, and the winner in the 87th minute.  At the final whistle, Swift promptly fainted, in relief.  {See this article on Manchester City’s 1934 FA Cup victory.}manchester_city_1904-26-33-34_fa_cups.gif 

[The four kits above: copyright Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk), and used by permission.]
Historical Football

In 1935, Manchester City finished in 4th place, but slipped to 9th place in 1936.  The following season (1936-37), City won only 2 of it’s first 10 matches, and seemed headed for mid-table obscurity again.  But Fred Tilson came back from injury, and the squad went on a 22 game unbeaten run, from Boxing Day (Dec. 26.) to the end of the season.  In March, Eric Brook (Manchester City’s all-time leading scorer; {see his bio, here}) had a hat-trick, as City beat Liverpool.  On 10 April, they beat giants Arsenal (who won 5 league titles in the 1930′s) 2-0.  A fortnight later, they clinched the league crown with a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday.  So in the spring of 1937, Manchester City FC were Champions of England for the first time.  The following season they were relegated. 

Manchester City has the unwanted distinction of being the only reigning champions in English football history to be relegated.  The 1938 squad is also the only team to have been relegated from the English First Division while leading the league in scoring, or with a positive goal difference (of +3).  Manager Wilfred Wild was not sacked, though.  The next year (1939), City finished 5th, in the Second Division, on the eve of World War II.

Wild decided to step down when league play was resumed after the War, in August, 1946.  That season (1946-47), with former player Sam Cowan as manager, Manchester City won the Second Division, and were promoted.  Cowan decided to step down, and retire.  The new manager was Jock Thomson, who lasted 3 seasons.  He is best remembered for bringing in German goalkeeper Bert Trautman, in 1949.  Initially, it was an extremely unpopular move, as Trautman had fought for the Germans in WWII.  But the goalie spent 15 seasons at City, and was crucial to the club’s later Cup success.  {See this ESPN article about Bert Trautman.}  Thomson was sacked when City were relegated, once again, in 1950. . bert_trautman2.gif

Les McDowell took over as manager that year, and led Manchester City back to the First Division the next season.   McDowell had played for City from 1937-48.  In 1954, influenced by the innovative Hungarian national team, he started tinkering with Manchester City’s formation.  Wing backs were deployed,  with a deep-lying central forward playing behind the strikers.  The ball would be kept on the ground, and attacks were built up in a slow, deliberate way. This would counteract the stodgy W-M formation, with long booming kicks (ie, “Route 1″ football), that was the absolute norm in the British game.  In 1953, at Wembley, the Hungarians had demolished the English national team 6-3.  With their fluid formation,  the “Mighty Magyars” ran circles around the England squad, passing and setting up attacks at will.  The style the Hungarians used was a precursor to the Dutch “total football” of the late ’60′s/early ’70′s.  But in the mid 1950′s, few English coaches at the club level were willing to take the leap and employ it.  

In July, 1954, McDowell had the Manchester City squad in 2 weeks early, to learn the new system.  The new formation became known as “the Revie Plan,” for the deep center-forward, Don Revie.  In the 1954-55 season, the plan was met with harsh criticism from the fans at Maine Road.  And early on, 3 big losses, giving up 5 or more goals with the with the new formation, didn’t help.  But as the season wore on, City began getting results.  The team would finish in 7th place, an improvement of 10 places from the season before.  And their cup run that season took them all the way to the 1955 FA Cup Final.  However, Manchester City lost to Newcastle United, 1-3. manchester_city50s_cups.gif

[The two kits above, copyright Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk), and used by permission.]

The following season (1955-56), Manchester City improved 3 places, to 4th in the league.  And they made it back to the FA Cup Final (1956), facing Birmingham City.   Striker Joe Hayes scored for Manchester City in the 3rd minute, from a Don Revie back-heel pass.  But Birmingham equalised in the 15th minute, with a goal by Noel Dyson.  Manchester City’s methodical passing game began to tire out the Brummie squad, and just after the hour mark, City scored twice in three minutes.  In the 65th minute, Jack Dyson scored.  In the 68th minute, Dyson fed a pass to Bobby Johnstone, who scored to give City a 2-goal lead.  But Trautman had to repel a late Birmingham onslaught.  The keeper injured his neck when saving what looked like a sure goal, colliding with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy.  In an era of no substitutions, Trautman played on, though in obvious agony.  The 3-1 score held up, and Manchester City had won it’s third FA Cup.  An X-ray 3 days later revealed that Trautman had broken his neck in the match, and had risked his life remaining on the pitch.   bert_trautman_save_56cup.gif  **{Click here, to see newreel footage of Manchester City’s 1956 FA Cup victory.}**                                        {See this article on the match.} manchester_city56cup.gif

End, Part 1.

Thanks to: (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk);  Sven A. Hanssen’s excellent Manchester City FC Supporter’s Homepage (;  (mancityprogrammes[dot]co[dot]uk);  Chirk Colliers AFC site (chirkaaafc[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (fa-cupfinals[dot]co[dot]uk);  BBC.   

December 21, 2007

UEFA Cup 2007-08, Knockout Round: Final 32 Clubs.

Filed under: UEFA Cup / Europa League — admin @ 6:55 am


UEFA Cup 2007-08, Knockout Round.  Qualifiers. (Winner of Group listed first.)

Group A.  Qualified:  Everton,  Nurnberg,  Zenit St. Petersburg.                   Eliminated: Larisa,  AZ Alkmaar.

Group B.  QualifiedAtletico Madrid,  Panathinaikos,  Aberdeen.         Eliminated: Copenhagen,  Lokomotiv Moscow.

Group C.  Qualified:  Villareal,  Fiorentina,  AEK Athens.                          Eliminated: Mlada Boleslav,  Elfsborg.

Group D.  Qualified:  Hamburg,  FK Basel,  Brann.                                           Eliminated: Dinamo Zagreb,  Rennes.

Group E.  Qualified:  Bayer Leverkusen,  Spartak Moscow,  Zurich.                Eliminated:  Sparta Prague,  Toulouse.

Group F.  Qualified:  Bayern Munich,  Sporting Braga,  Bolton.                Eliminated:  Aris Thessaloniki,  Red Star Belgrade.

Group G.  Qualified:  Getafe,  Tottenham,  Anderlect.                                           Eliminated: AaB Aalborg,  Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Group H. Qualified: Bordeaux,  Helsingborgs,  Galatasaray.                                   Eliminated:  Panionios,  Austria Vienna.

Teams from Champions League.  (Finished 3rd in their groups there, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup Knockout Round.)  Benfica,  Marseille,  PSV Eindhoven,  Rangers,  Rosenborg,  Slavia Prague,  Sporting Lisbon,  Werder Bremen.

Interesting note:  the 9 teams with the lowest average attendance in the Group Stage were all eliminated.  But Slavia Prague, with a miniscule 4,700 average gate in the Czech league, advanced to this competition with a 3rd-place finish in the Champions League Group Stage. 

Here are the matchups for the Knockout Round:oofa_matchups.gif 

December 19, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 4 (1986 to 2007).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 5:34 pm



Alex Ferguson’s first few seasons as manager of Manchester United were not successful, and he was on the verge of being sacked in early 1990.  But a good Cup run kept him from getting the hook.  United went on to win the 1990 FA Cup, over Crystal Palace, in the replay, with Lee Martin scoring the lone goal.  During this period, their goals came primarily from Brian McClair, who was the first player since George Best to score 20 goals in a season for the club (McClair netted 24 in the League in ’88). 

The club finished in 13th place in 1990.  They started heading in the right direction though, with finishes of 6th place, in ’91, and then 2nd place, in ’92.  But a late season slump saw them lose the Title to rivals Leeds United.  There was some consolation in winning their first League Cup that year, though.  They beat Nottingham Forest 1-0, with McClair scoring.  The club aquired striker Eric Cantona from Leeds in November 1992, much to the dismay of Yorkshire fans, but the mercurial Frenchman had butted heads with management there.  Actually, Cantona had butted heads with a lot of people, and had come to England to resurrect his career.  Cantona energized Manchester United, racking up goals, and providing opportunities for the rest of the team.  He formed a formidible partnership with forward Mark Hughes.  **{ See video highlights of Eric Cantona.  The Long version, hereThe one goal that sums up Eric Cantona, here.}**  The squad also featured Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel (who some say was Ferguson’s greatest discovery); defenders Dennis Irwin, Steve Bruce, and Gary Pallister; midfielder Paul Ince; as well as the young midfield prodigy Ryan Giggs.  Manchester United won the Title that season (1992-93), their first League crown since 1967.  92-93_man_u.gif

A 17-year old David Beckham made his debut for the club that season.  That summer, Roy Keane joined the club, from Nottingham Forest, for a then-record 3.75 million pound fee.   Ferguson pegged Keane to replace long-serving field general Bryan Robson, who was nearing the end of his career.  Notable players who would make their debuts for Manchester United in the next couple years included fullback Gary Neville, in 1992; defensive midfielder Nicky Butt, in 1993; unassuming midfield wizard Paul Scholes, in 1994; and fullback Phil Neville, in 1994.  Together with Keane, Giggs, and Beckham, these players would form the core of Ferguson’s championship-winning squads for years to come.   As with legendary manager Matt Busby, Ferguson would build his dynasty on a foundation of home-grown talent and youth.  **{See video highlights of : David Beckham, hereRyan Giggs, hereRoy Keane, here.  Paul Scholes, here.}**man_u_new_crop2.gif

1992-93 season had been the inaugural season for the Premier League.  In a few years, it would be as if Manchester United owned the new league.  They repeated as champions the next year (1994).  They were pipped by surprise Blackburn Rovers on the final day, in 1995, but then won back-to-back Titles in ’96 and ’97.   They finished second to Arsenal in ’98, and then won the Title three straight years: 1999, 2000, and 2001.  They finished third in 2002, but bounced back to re-claim the crown in 2003.  That made it 8 championships in 11 years, an unprecedented feat in English football history.  During this period, Manchester United also made it to 4 FA Cup Finals, winning 3.  In 1994, they beat Chelsea 4-0, with Cantona scoring twice from the penalty spot, and Mark Hughes and Brian McClair also tallying.  The next year (’95), they lost the Cup Final to Everton, 0-1, but the following year (’96), the club won their 9th FA Cup, beating Liverpool 1-0, with Cantona winning it in the 85th minute.  They won their 10th FA Cup in 1999, beating Newcastle 2-0, with Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes scoring.

1999 was Manchester United’s greatest season.  After winning the League, and  the FA Cup, they made it to the European Cup Final, at the Nou Camp, in Barcelona, Spain.  Their opponent was Bayern Munich, the biggest club in Germany.  An early goal by Bayern’s Mario Basler seemed to be about to hold up, as stoppage-time began.  German fans had already begun celebrating, lighting flares.  Manchester United won a corner, and Teddy Sheringham re-directed a Ryan Giggs mis-hit into the net to even the score.  About 2 minutes later, as time was almost up, another corner as won by the Red Devils.  David Beckham arced the ball in, which was head-flicked by Sheringham right into the path of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in front of the goal.  The Norwegian instinctively stabbed the ball into the net.  In virtually the last play of the game, Manchester United had won it.  It was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of cup football.  Manchester United had won the Treble.  **{See the highlights of Manchester United’s 1999 European Cup victory, here.}   {See a tribute to the 1999 Treble.}**  

By this time, Manchester United had become one of the biggest sports clubs on the planet.  The club began ambitious plans to expand Old Trafford.  The stadium reached a 68,000 all-seating capacity in 2000.  And in 2006-07, the upper-tier quadrants were filled in, making the present capacity 76,000.  (Further plans for expansion are being hampered by railway tracks, and residential housing, behind the South Stand.)




Manchester United was the object of a successful takeover bid, by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer, in 2005 {see this article}.  The club failed to win the Title for a 3-year spell, from 2004-06.  But they won the FA Cup, in 2004, beating Milwall 3-1, with goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy (twice), and Christiano Ronaldo; and the League Cup, in 2006.  By this time, Alex Ferguson had re-built the squad.  Wayne Rooney (the best young player in England); and Christiano Ronaldo (the Portuguese phenom who was voted FIFA 3rd best Footballer of the Year for 2007) led the squad to their 16th League Title in 2007. 

Alex Ferguson had planned on retiring in 2002.  He doesn’t talk about that too much these days, but he is getting on in years (he will be 66 on New Year’s Eve).  He has recently said that the current squad, bolstered by new additions like Argentine sensation Carlos Tevez, midfielder Owen Hargreaves, and the young Portuguese winger Nani, is the best he has ever assembled.

Frequently Asked Question: Why are Manchester United called “the Red Devils” ? {Click, for answer.}

Thanks to: Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk): the 5 older kits on the chart are copyright Historical Football kits, and used by kind permission:;  Colours Of Football (colours-of-football[dot]com): the newer kits on the chart are from this fine site;  BBC (bbc[dot]co[dot]uk);  Man. United Zone (manutszone[dot]com);  Bob’s 1970-71 Footballers (bob7071[dot]co[dot]uk). 

December 18, 2007

UEFA Champions League Map, 2007-08 Knockout Round.

Filed under: UEFA Champions League — admin @ 7:22 am


It’s down to the last 16 in the Champions League.  The only real surprises are Olympiacos and Fenerbahce.  The draw for the match-ups will take place on Friday, December 21 {for more information, click here}.   The final will take place in May, next year, at Luzhniki Stadium, in Moscow.  Thankfully, they will be replacing the plastic pitch there with real grass.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the small list of qualifiers (with national flags), on the map, and for the chart of the top scorers.

December 17, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 3 (1959 to 1986).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:48 am


In 1958-59, the first season after the Munich Air Disaster, Manchester United produced a surprise finish of second place, with Bobby Charlton scoring 29 goals, and the team netting 103.  Huge crowds showed up at Old Trafford, in the wake of the tragedy, and the team must have fed off the moral support.   The following season (1959-’60), Dennis Viollet scored a team record 32 goals, and the club finished in 7th place.  A new addition the next season was a hard-tackling full-back named Norbert “Nobby” Stiles, a local product {see his bio, here}.  The club had another 7th place finish in 1961, but United plummeted to 15th place in 1962.  That summer, the club signed Scottish forward Denis Law from the Italian club, Torino, for a then-record 115,000 pounds.          **{See this Denis Law highlights reel}** (Trust me, it’s so good, you’ll play it twice.)denis_law.gif

Law was a prolific scorer, but he didn’t get many opportunities until Paddy Crerand arrived, from Celtic, in February 1963.  Man. United, whose poor form had left them in a relegation battle in the League, did so well in their FA Cup run that they made it to the FA Cup Final.  Their opponent, Leicester City, were heavy favorites, but Manchester United beat them, 3-1.  United’s goals were scored by David Herd (twice), and Denis Law.  **{See highlights of the 1963 FA Cup Final.}**  They were Cup champions, yet they finished 19th in the League.  Home attendance was poor: their 33,400 league average was the club’s lowest in the post-war era.

In 1961, Manchester United’s scouting network had found a gem in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by the name of George Best.  **{See video tribute to George Best, here.}**george_best.gif  

Best debuted in September, 1963, and the much-improved club, with the “holy trinity ” of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, and the 17-year old Best, rocketed up the table, to 2nd place.  Losing twice to Liverpool that season was decisive, as Manchester finished just 4 points behind their Merseyside rivals.  The following season (1964-65), Manchester United battled Leeds United for the crown.  The two clubs ended up tied, and Man. U. pipped Leeds on goal average.  It was Manchester United’s 6th League Title.  Denis Law scored 28 goals that season, and was named European Footballer of the Year (for 1964).  For Matt Busby, the Title meant another chance at his holy grail, the European Cup.  But Manchester were beaten in that competition the next spring by Benfica, of Portugal.  They sputtered in the League that year (1966), as well, finishing 4th.

The club bounced back in the 1966-67 season.  They won their seventh League Title, and were back in the European Cup.  This time they went all the way to the final, in May, 1968.  It was their good fortune that the final was held in England, at Wembley Stadium.  Again, they faced Benfica.  Bobby Charlton scored in the 53rd minute, but Graca equalised in the 75th minute, and the game went into extra time.  George Best scored in the 93rd minute, with a fine individual effort; 19-year old Brian Kidd headed in a third goal one minute later; and Charlton added the fourth soon after.  Manchester United were, finally, Champions of Europe.  They became the first English club to do so.  Matt Busby had at last realized his dream.  He was knighted soon after.  **{See highlights of Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup victory.}**busbys_grail2.gif

United finished second in the League that year.  1968 produced the club’s highest league attendance to date: they averaged 57,500.  But by the next season, the squad seemed to have run out of steam.  They finished in 11th place.  Matt Busby retired as manager, staying on at the club as director.  The club then finished in 8th place for 3 straight seasons (1970, ’71, and ’72), before a slide down to 18th place, in 1973.  It got worse, as the club was relegated in 1974, on a goal scored by ex-United star Denis Law, who had returned to his former club Manchester City. Law executed a backheel flick to score it.  **{See it, here.}**

Manchester United only spent one season in the Second Division, though.  By this time, all the stars of the latter Busby era were gone.  The squad, now managed by Tommy Docherty, featured Stuart Pearson at striker, and a young Steve Coppell at right wing.  The club roared to a 3rd place finish, and made it to the FA Cup Final.  Heavy favorites, they lost to second-division Southampton, 0-1.  The next year (1977), they dropped to 6th in the League, but won the FA Cup, over Liverpool, 2-1.  Goals were scored by Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhof. 

For the next decade, although they would make it to the FA Cup Final 3 times, Manchester United would frustrate their fans by failing to win the League Title.  The closest they would come was 2nd place, in 1980, and 3rd place, in 1982 and ’83.  The club lost the 1979 FA Cup Final 1-3, to Arsenal.  Four years later (1983), under manager Ron Atkinson, they won the FA Cup, in the replay, 4-0, over Brighton.  Goals were scored by Bryan Robson (twice), Norman Whiteside, and Arnold Muhren.   And Manchester United won their 6th FA Cup two years later, in 1985, with a 1-0 win over Everton.  Norman Whiteside scored the winner in extra-time, with a sublime curling shot **{see it here}**.  Key players from this period also included Mark Hughes, Paul McGrath, and Gordon Strachan. 

But the club had not won the League Title since 1967.  This title-drought would eventually reach 25 seasons, the club’s second longest period without a league crown.  For a club as huge as Manchester United, this was simply unacceptable.  And so, after a terrible start to the 1986-87 season, with the club in the relegation zone, Atkinson was sacked.  His successor was a 44-year old, who had recently led Aberdeen to back-to-back Scottish League Titles, named Alex Ferguson.

End, Part 3.

Thanks to: (telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk);  (Empire-uk[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (manutdzon[dot]com).

December 15, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 2 (1940 to 1959).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:08 am


Matt Busby’s playing career was spent at Manchester City (226 appearances), and Liverpool (118 appearances), from 1928-40.  He enlisted in the King’s Liverpool Regiment during WW II, and was an Army instructor at Sandhurst Military Academy when Manchester United informed him of their managerial vacancy.  League play resumed in the late summer of 1946, and fans, hungry for entertainment after the War, flocked to the stadia.  Due to the extensive damage the Luftwaffe had visited upon Old Trafford, United had to play their matches at Maine Road for three seasons. 
Busby did not make wholesale changes with the squad, but several players were re-positioned.  His first move was to make former West Bromwich Albion player Jimmy Murphy the assistant manager.  Busby had met him during the War, and he saw in Murphy the ideal right-hand man.  He also began phasing in young 16 and 17-year olds into the squad.  It was this youth policy that led to the later squads being called “the Busby Babes.”  Busby also put together a group of forwards that would be called “the famous five.” These were Jimmy Delaney, Stan Pearson, Jack Rowley, Charlie Mitten, and Johnny Morris.  United started out strong in the 1946-47 season.  They eventually finished second to Liverpool.  The following season (1947-48), they were runners-up again, to Arsenal.  Their 1947-48 FA Cup run was hindered by the need to find alternate venues (like Everton’s Goodison Park, Huddersfield Town’s Leeds Road, and Aston Villa’s Villa Park), but the team overcame these obstacles.  Busby’s mix of established veterans and young local lads went on to win the 1948 FA Cup, 4-2, over Blackpool, at Wembley. man_u_48fa.gif

Goals were scored by striker Jack Rowley (twice), forward Stan Pearson, and winger John Anderson.  “The News of the World” called the match ’Wembley’s finest.’  It was Manchester United’s first major honor since 1911.  In 1949, Manchester United finished second in the League for the third straight season, behind Portsmouth.  The rebuilt Old Trafford opened in August, 1949.  The return to their home grounds failed to energize the team, though, and they dropped to 4th place. 

Manchester United were back as runners-up in 1951, behind Tottenham.  This was their third 2nd-place finish in four seasons.  The youngsters in the squad began to emerge, notably Roger Byrne and Jackie Blanchflower.  Byrne scored 7 goals in the final 6 games of the 1951-52 season, and Manchester United won their first League Title in 51 years.  But the club had a poor follow-up season, and finished 8th.  Attendance dropped 12%.  Busby acquired Tommy Taylor from Barnsley, for the then-record fee of  29,999 pounds.  That season, 16-year old Duncan Edwards debuted for the club, the youngest player to ever play in the First Division, at the time. 


Finishes of 4th and 5th places followed, in 1954 and ’55.  But by the summer of 1955, the young squad had gelled, with Eddie Colman, David Pegg, and Mark Jones, all products of Busby’s youth academy, as regular starters.  The team started the 1955-56 season poorly, winning only 3 of the first 8 games.  But the young squad found their confidence, and lost only 4 more the rest of the way.  They had pretty much sewed it up by Christmas, and they clinched it at Old Trafford on April 7, 1956, when 62,000 fans watched them beat second-place Blackpool.  Busby’s team played swift attacking football, with an abilty to clamp down defensively, then spring for a counter-attack.  The team, with an average age of just 22, scored 102 goals that season.  Dennis Viollet, Manchester-born, led the squad with 20 goals in this his first full season.  United were repeat winners of the League the next season (1957), and almost won the Double:  they lost the 1957 FA Cup Final to Aston Villa.  Their goalkeeper, Ray Wood, was injured during the game, and in an era of no substitutions, United was forced to use Blanchflower in goal.  They lost 1-2 {see highlights in this newsreel footage}. 

Busby now had his sights set on what to him was the the ultimate prize: the newly created European Cup.  This competition (the forerunner to today’s UEFA Champions League) was started in 1955-56, after the concept was proposed by the editor of French sporting magazine “L’Equipe,” Gabriel Hanot.  Real Madrid would go on to win the first 5 European Cups.  And it was Real who knocked out Manchester United in the 1956-57 competition.  After United breezed through to their second straight domestic Title, in 1957, Busby left no doubts to observers that what he wanted most was the crown of Europe. 9goals_at_highbury2.gif

Their 1957-58 European campaign led them to Yugoslavia, where they faced Red Star Belgrade, on February 5, 1958.  After a 3-3 draw (which assured them passage to the next round), the team set out for their flight home.  The plane stopped in Munich, Germany, to refuel, but when it tried to take off again, ice and snow on the runway prevented the plane from reaching speed.  The plane crashed, but before it burst into flames, goalkeeper Harry Gregg managed to pull the unconscious Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet out to safety.  23 passengers died in what has come to be known as the Munich Air Disaster: 8 Manchester United players, 3 MUFC staff members, and 12 other passengers.  The 8 players who died were: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Billy Whelan.  Manager Busby almost perished as well.  He spent over 2 months in the hospital, and was even given last rites at one point.

Amid rumours of the club being forced to fold, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took over the team while Busby convalesced.  In spite of the tragedy, and the decimation it did to their squad, a makeshift Manchester United made it to the FA Cup Final that year.  They lost to Bolton Wanderers, 0-2.  The club finished 8th in the League.  UEFA offered to allow Manchester United to compete in the 1958-59 European Cup, along with English champion Wolverhampton.  It would be in tribute to the dead at Munich.  But the English FA refused.  The next season, amazingly, Busby was able to field a squad that competed for the Title.  They came up short, though, finishing in second place, to repeat winners Wolves.  Matt Busby was now faced with rebuilding Manchester United, again.

{see this video tribute to the victims of the Munich Air Disaster}.

End, Part 2.

Thanks to: “Inside United” magazine (manutd[dot]com);  (manutdzone[dot]com); (redcafe[dot]net);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (empire-uk[dot]com).

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