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Friday, June 21, 2013

Soccer versus Religion

Soccer players often thank The Lord for their performances on the field. Especially in Southern Europe and South America (Brazil) there’s a growing number of players expressing their faith, for example when they enter or leave the pitch, and certainly when they score. But religion is not always a blessing. Sometimes it can minimize or even end a career.

Sundays in the seventies

In Great Britain, league soccer is normally played on a Saturday. It was not until 1974 that the English League started with some games on Sunday – from 1981 onwards it became a weekly phenomenon. In 1974 Swindon Town goalie Jimmy Allan was the first to refuse to play on Sundays for religious reasons. This refusal kept him out of the first team for three seasons. Luton Town captain during the seventies Alan West (nowadays a pastor at a local church in Luton) also once declined playing against Leyton Orient on a Sunday, because he would miss Sunday mass. He wasn’t picked for that match, and after that he occasionally did play on Sundays. Because in his opinion it was his job, just like nurses and policemen work on Sundays. So West kept playing at Luton and also had a wonderful time in the American NASL, with the Minnesota Kicks.

Taribo West

One of Newcastle United stars from the eighties, Gavin Peacock, also had difficulties with playing on Sundays and later became a Christian minister. Nigerian Taribo West had his own church for the homeless in Milan, dating from the time he played at Internazionale Milan. He preached at his church on Sundays, so his English club Derby County accepted he would not turn up for some Sunday matches. His next club, Germany's 1. FC Kaiserslautern were less understanding and sacked West for choosing a mass in Milan over a training. Brazilian Paulo Sergio became a minister after his soccer career. And Diego Maradona even has his own religion, the Iglesia Maradoniana in Buenos Aires. In this church, Christmas and Eastern are not as important as October 30th, Maradona’s birthday.

Dutch players

Folkert Velten
In the Netherlands not playing on a Sunday as a professional can cause problems. As the Dutch Eredivisie plays on Saturdays and Sundays randomly. Most clubs wouldn’t want a player that refuses to play on Sundays, a lot of players declined offers because they feared having to choose between faith and club. Exceptions were Jaan de Graf and Folkert Velten. Winger Jaan de Graaf (1955), born in Spakenburg, signed a contract with AZ’67 of Alkmaar in 1978. He lasted only two seasons (44 league matches, 17 goals), and after a one year stint with Go Ahead Eagles, De Graaf returned to his old amateur club, IJsselmeervogels. During those three years De Graaf never played on a Sunday. Folkert Velten (1964) was more successful. Even though he also never played on Sundays, he still is the all time topscorer of his club Heracles Almelo with 156 goals. Although he never played or scored at the highest level, he was vastly popular during his playing days.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Peter Knowles
Back in the sixties, Peter Knowles was a very promising soccer player at Wolverhampton Wanderers. From 1963 until 1969, Knowles played 166 matches and scored 58 goals. During that summer of ’69 Knowles had a contract with Kansas City Spurs. There he became a Jehova’s Witness. Soccer lost its meaning for Knowles, and after nine matches into the 1969-70 season he retired, just 24 years old. Again, back in the Netherlands, ADO Den Haag defender Joop Korevaar also was a Jehovah’s Witness. It didn’t harm his club career, he spent fourteen successful years at the club. He wasn’t available for the national team though, because that conflicted with his beliefs.



Seventh Day Adventists Church

Argentinian goalkeeper Carlos Roa played for his country at the World Cup 1998 and had a great career in Argentina (Racing Club, Lanus) and Spain (Real Mallorca). As a Seventh Day Adventist, he suddenly took a religious retreat in 1999. As he believed the world would end in the year 2000, at first he didn’t want to renew his contract at Mallorca. At the end of the 2000-01 season (the world kept turning) he returned in goal for Mallorca and later for Albacete.
Zimbabwean team AmaZulu (champions of 2003) refused to play against Motor Action in 2004 because the game was scheduled on a Saturday-afternoon, which was against the believes of owner Delma Lupepe, business tycoon and a Seventh Day Adventist. The Zimbabwean F.A. didn't want to make an exception and fined AmaZulu for not playing. A disturbed Lupepe left the club, AmaZulu lost their sugardaddy and was relegated the next year and collapsed soon after.

Erroll Bennett

The most remarkable solution in a conflict between religion and soccer occurred in Tahiti, in 1977. During the seventies Erroll Bennett (born May 7, 1950) was by far the best player on the island. He did play six months at Paris Saint Germain in 1972, but returned as he couldn’t cope with the French style of play. Bennett led Tahiti into the final of the Oceania Cup in 1973 (losing 2-0 to New Zealand) and was topscorer of that tournament. 
By 1977, Bennett was in a league of his own at his club Central Sport. Almost every year Central Sport won the league, with Bennett scoring an average of two goals every league game. 

Latter-Day Saint

Erroll Bennett (right) with his son Naea Bennett,
also a  prolific  goalscorer
As a amateur, Bennett worked as a policeman on the island. Then he and his wife had a meeting with bishop Lysis Terooatea and both felt the need to be baptized. Bennett, at 27 in tghe best years of his soccer career, wanted to be a Latter-Day Saint more than anything. Which meant he had to stop playing soccer, because Mormons had other things to do than play soccer on a Sunday. Everybody, including his father, advised against it, as Bennett was loved by all Tahitians for his soccer skills and his friendly, relaxed attitude. One week later, the Tahitian F.A. had a important meeting. Bennett had been asked to wait with his announcement to retire until this meeting. With the fear of losing their most talented soccer player of all time, the Tahitian F.A. decided that from now on the national league would be played on Saturdays, instead of Sundays.
This decision meant Bennett could continue to play soccer, and at the end of his career was crowned league top scorer a record eleven times. Bennett was known and respected throughout the whole of Oceania. And even if opponents in Fiji, Vanuatu or anywhere else in the Pacific knew that they had a much better chance of winning an international friendly tournament without Bennett playing, only a few times they weren't willing to skip all matches on Sundays.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

World Cup Winners that failed to impress


Winning the World Cup is the one most glorious moment for a soccer playing country. For four years you get to carry the title of World Champion. It is also a big responsibility. You have to prove that you’re the best, and other countries try to get your scalp. Here are the winners that weren’t really up for the task, collecting too few points from their matches in the following four years.  Starting with the mediocre and going downhill from there.

Rules: Only official international matches, matches against for example Rest of the World XI are not considered. Two point for a win, one point for a draw. Period: straight after the World Cup win, until the day before the start of the next World Cup.

9. Brazil (2002)

Brazil was a very convincing World Champion at the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea, winning all seven matches. Before the next World Cup in Germany in 2006, they played 55 international matches. Taking 74 points from these matches isn’t bad at all, although ten other World Champions did perform better.
Successes:  winning the Copa America 2004 and the Confederations Cup 2005.
Disappointments: failing to get to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in 2003, losing against Cameroon.
Other information: Brazil was inviting to the Gold Cup 2003, but sent an Under-23 team. The matches were valued as full internationals, and Brazil lost twice to Mexico.

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Brazil 2002-2006
55
28
18
9
74:36
110-45
67,27%

8. Brazil (1962)

In 1962 Brazil was crowned World Champion for the second time. They indeed were the best team but compared to 1958 it wasn’t that spectacular. The whole tournament in Chile of course was a bit boring (and ugly, for example the Chile – Italy match). Building up to 1966 Brazil got better, but especially 1963 was a nightmare.
Successes: Undefeated in 1965 (10 matches).
Disappointments: fourth place at the Copa America 1963, losing three matches. Also losing 5-1 to Belgium (1963), 3-0 to Italy (1963) and 1-0 to the Netherlands (1963).

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Brazil 1962-1966
44
25
9
10
59:29
95-55
67,04%

7. Italia (2006)

At the World Cup in Germany 2006 Italy weren’t one of the favorites. They had some luck against Australia, beat Germany in extra-time and claimed the title after a penalty shoot-out against France.
During their four years they ran out of luck, but still managed to win more than half of their games.
Successes: Unbeaten during the Qualification Stage for the World Cup 2010.
Disappointments: Only reached the quarter-finals at the European Championship 2008, early exit during the Confederations Cup 2009 (losing to Egypt 1-0!)

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Italy 2006-2010
47
24
14
9
62:32
69-45
65,95%

6. Argentina (1978)


After the World Cup 1974, Argentina under Coach Luis Cesar Menotti built a new team with home-based players (Mario Kempes being the exception to that rule) and did win the World Cup in 1978. Afterwards, most of the players left for Spain (Bertoni) or England (Ardiles, Tarantini) and later Italy, and played just a few matches for the national team. For instance, Kempes only played six games for Argentina between 1978 and 1982.
Successes: Undefeated as of May 16, 1980, until October 28, 1981 (10 matches)
Disappointments: Not getting into the semifinals at the Copa America 1979 and losing matches against West Germany, Yugoslavia, England and Poland.

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Argentina 1978-1982
29
12
11
6
35:23
47-32
60,34%

5. Uruguay (1950)

Uruguay brought Brazil to tears at the Maracana Stadium in 1950, claiming their second world title in their second attempt. For nearly two years after that game, Uruguay didn’t play any international matches.
Successes: third at the Pan American Championship 1952, behind Brazil and Chile, third at the Copa America 1953.
Disappointments: Playing only sixteen matches in four years is hardly doing the FIFA a favor, and losing 1-4 against Paraguay in 1954.

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Uruguay 1950-1954
16
8
3
5
19:13
45-26
59,37%

4. Italia (1982)

Italy shocked the world at the World Cup 1982. First they eliminated Argentina’s Diego Maradona (Claudio Gentile fouled the Argentinian star 23 times), then they played a great game against crowd favorite Brazil.
After winning that World Cup, Italy had a poor four year reign.
Successes: None really.
Disappointments: only fourth (4th!) place in the qualifying group for Euro 84, behind Rumania, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. And losing matches against Switzerland (1982) and Norway (1985).

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Italy 1982-1986
29
12
8
9
32:26
34-28
55,17%

PS: All the World Champions so far at least had a positive balance in their four years reign. The worst three couldn’t even accomplish that.

3. West Germany (1954)

West Germany provided the biggest upset in World Cup history, taking the title in 1954 from the superior Hungarians. They did the right thing at the right time, but after that failed to make any impression in the years leading up to the World Cup 1958.
Successes: None. Most of their eleven wins were against second rate opponents.
Biggest disappointments: Losing against Belgium (1954), France (1954), the Netherlands (1956), Switzerland (1956) and even the Republic of Ireland (1956).

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
West Germany 1954-1958
26
11
1
14
23:29
41-45
44,23%

2. Argentina (1986)

Diego Maradona won the World Cup 1986 singlehandedly. From his team only Jorge Burruchaga and Jorge Valdano were good enough players, the others only worked hard to let Maradona shine. So it came to no one as a surprise that Argentina had a hard time displaying themselves as a true world champion. They failed. With Maradona (17 points from 19 matches), and without him (18 points from 20 matches).
Successes: third place at the Copa America 1989.
Disappointments: fourth place at the Copa America 1987 (at home!), losing both matches (against the Soviet Union and Germany) at the Four Nations Cup in 1988 in Germany, only third place at the Bicentennial Gold Cup 1988 (losing 4-1 to Australia!)

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Argentina 1986-1990
39
9
16
14
34:44
35-43
43,58%

1. Uruguay (1930)

Uruguay’s national team that won the first World Cup in 1930, was basically the same that took the gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928. So after the 1930 victory, part of this successful generation said goodbye to the national team. At the same time, the Uruguay F.A. was very disappointed that only a few (weaker) European countries travelled to Montevideo for the World Cup 1930. The F.A. returned the favor and decided not to defend the title in Italy in 1934. The national team was practically dissolved, as it played only six matches in those four in-between years. Combined with the farewell of their best players, Uruguay only won their friendly match against Argentina on May 18, 1932, losing the other four (two times against Brazil, two times against Argentina). That makes Uruguay 1930 by far the most disappointing world champion of all time.

Country
P
W
D
L
Points
Goals
Percentage
Uruguay 1930-1934
5
1
0
4
2:8
4-10
20%







Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ferencvaros (Hungary), 1931-32


At the start of the 1931-32 season in Hungary, Ferencvaros was very anxious to get their first title since 1928. That doesn’t seem a long time, but the club was used to winning trophies, collecting eleven titles since the start of the league in 1901. This season the combination of experience and talented young players was unstoppable, as Ferencvaros won all their 22 league-matches.


Beating Uruguay

Supporters of Ferencvaros hadn’t much to cheer about, after their club won the league and the cup in 1928, ánd the prestigious Mitropa Cup (7-1, 3-5 against Rapid Wien) five months later. Ferencvaros (also known as ’Fradi’) lost the 1929 league by one point to Hungaria Budapest, a year later Ujpest was two points ahead. Ujpest (also winner of the Mitropa Cup in 1929) looked like they were becoming a class of their own, also clinching the 1931 title. Ferencvaros only managed third spot, six points behind.
In fact, the only success in three years time came in a friendly match in Uruguay. On July 21, 1929 Ferencvaros played against the double Olympic Champion Uruguay (1924, 1928) at the Montevideo stadium and won 3-2 (Jozsef Takács scored two goals, the other was scored by Mor Rázsó). One year later Uruguay would be crowned the first world champion ever.

Youngster György Sarosi

Looking at the Ferencvaros-squad that won the Mitropa Cup in 1928, nine of them were still active at the club in 1931: goalkeeper Ignác Amsel, the brothers Géza Takács I and József Takács II, Antal Lyka, Márton Bukovi, Elemér Berkessy, József Turay, Ferenc Szedlacsik and Vilmos Kohut. Talented new players were goalie József Háda, Gyula Lázar, Géza Toldi and perhaps Fradi’s best ever player: György Sarosi. At the start of the season still only 18 years old, Sarosi had already played seven league-matches in the famous green and white. This season he was a regular, playing in a rather defensive role. It shows how versatile the skilled Sarosi was, as in later years he would become a prolific goalscorer, scoring more than 430 official goals during his career.

Géza Toldi taking a shot

Easy victories

The point was, Ferencvaros didn’t need Sarosi upfront. With József Takács and Géza Toldi, accompanied by Ferenc Szedlacsik and Vilmos Kohut, their attacking force terrified defenders. In the first three matches of the season Fradi won 7-2, 7-1 and 6-1. Just to make clear what their ambitions were. It wasn’t until match No. 9 against big shot Ujpest that things got a bit hectic. Only Géza Toldi managed a goal, giving Ferencvaros an important 1-0 victory. The first half of the season ended early December with another big win, 6-1 against Somogy. Takács scored three, bringing his tally to an amazing 26 goals in just eleven games.
After a three months break Ferencvaros still was on a roll. Most games were won easily (Somogy was trashed 10-1), only three times the margin was just two goals. Two of them occured at the end of the season, Ferencvaros already being the champion.
This is what the final table looked like on June 12, 1932:

Club
Games
Won
Draw
Lost
Points
Goals
Ferencvaros
22
22
0
0
44
105 - 18
Ujpest
22
16
4
2
36
67 - 32
Hungária FC
22
16
3
3
35
62 - 24
Bocskai
22
11
4
7
26
43 - 46
III. ker. Budapest
22
11
2
9
24
37 - 44
Budai 11
22
8
3
11
19
31 - 43
Somogy
22
7
2
13
16
23 - 52
Attila
22
5
5
12
15
23 - 40
Kispest
22
4
6
12
14
29 - 54
Nemzeti
22
5
4
13
14
27 - 52
Vasas Budapest
22
5
3
14
13
41 - 69
Sabaria
22
3
2
17
8
17 - 31

József Takács II

The strength of Ferencvaros in this season, is shown in the 22 victories, but also in the fact that the club scored 105 goals, with all clubs together scoring 505 (= 21%). And of course Jozsef Takács topped the scorerslist with 42 goals, way ahead of Laszlo Cseh II (Hungária FC) with 26 goals.


The Squad

Ferencvaros only used sixteen players during the whole season, five of them were ever-present:

Player
Year of birth
Matches
Goals
Ignác Amsel (Goalkeeper)
1899
10
0
József Háda (Goalkeeper)
1911
12
0
Géza Takács I
1899
22
0
Lajos Korányi
1907
18
0
Lajos Papp
1906
4
0
Márton Bukovi
1903
1
0
Antal Lyka II
1908
22
1
György Sarosi
1912
19
4
Gyula Lázár
1911
22
1
Mihály Táncos (Rumania)
1905
22
4
József Takács II
1904
22
42
József Turay
1905
16
10
Ferenc Szedlacsik (Czechoslovakia)
1898
13
8
Vilmos Kohut
1906
21
9
Géza Toldi
1909
16
25
Elemér Berkessy
1905
1
0

Mihály Táncos
Winning the league was the only title of the season for Ferencvaros. The team also reached the cup final on June 6, against Hungária FC. It ended 1-1, with Kohut scoring the goal for Ferecvaros, with Hungária’s star player Pal Titkos replying. Three months later, the replay saw Hungária win 4-3. Again Titkos was important with two goals, Szabo and Baratky adding the other two. Toldi, Turay and Táncos got on the scoresheet for Ferencvaros.

In the meanwhile, Ferencvaros also played in the Mitropa Cup. They had no chance against Juventus in the quarter-finals, losing 4-0 away on June 29, 1932. Four days later, Ferencvaros surprisingly got an 2-0 lead at home (two penalties from Sarosi within 18 minutes), but Juventus soon levelled the score. It ended 3-3 with another Sarosi-penalty. Ferencvaros simply were no match for Juventus’ trio from Argentina: Renato Cesarini, Raimundo Orsi and Luis Felipe Monti.


Top Goalscorers

Still, it was a remarkable season with remarkable players. For example, looking at the all-time Topscorerslist of the Hungarian league (from 1901 until now), players from this Ferencvaros-team occupy number 10 (Géza Toldi, 271 goals), number 6 (György Sarosi, 351 goals) ánd number 4 (Jozsef Takács II, 360 goals).