Sunday, November 29, 2020

Valuable brave unusual legendary Maradona

Maradona

Maradona

He is the unlucky one, who made his national team debut at the age of 16, but at 17 he was not included in the squad in the World Cup, where their team became the champion - he was not taken to the 1978 FIFA World Cup because of his young age. 

He is the technical one, who is hard to stop on the field and who 23 times was subjected to a foul in the match - the Italians, the future champions of 1982 FIFA World Cup, only in this way were they able to stop him. 

He is the valuable one, who twice was the most expensive transfer in the world - his transfer to Barcelona in 1982 and to Napoli in 1984 were both a record fee for the time. 

He is the brave one, who dared to move from Barcelona, the second team in the UEFA club rankings, to 83rd-ranked Napoli - and he twice won the Serie A champion title and the 1989 UEFA Cup with such a team. 

He is the perfect one, who was dribbled 90 times and earned 53 free kicks for his team during the World Cup - the 1986 FIFA World Cup was his tournament. 

He is the talented one, who gave 3 assists in a World Cup match - they defeated the South Koreans in the 1986 FIFA World Cup start thanks to his accurate passes. 

He is the unusual one, who was both loved and hated - could the English love him who scored against them a goal with his hand at the 1986 FIFA World Cup? 

He is the magical one, who scored "The Goal of the Century" - in the match against England at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, he received the ball in his own half, with 11 touches ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past five English outfield players and goalkeeper, and slotted the ball into the net. 

He is the geniuses one, who helped their team to become world champion, where they were not the clear favorites - Argentina won only 1 of 7 matches on the eve of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. 

He is a skillful one, who though not exactly a forward, but managed to become the top scorer in Serie A - he was top scorer in Italy in the 1987/88 season with 15 goals. 

He is also the ordinary one, who has experienced the bitterness of such defeats as 1-5 and even 0-5, despite all his extraordinary abilities - he could not prevent the heaviest losses of Napoli to Werder Bremen in 1989 and Sevilla to Real Madrid in 1993. 

He is an irresponsible one, who was twice convicted of doping - first in 1991-1992, and then in 1994-1995, he was banned from playing football for more than a year. 

And he is the legendary one, who was voted the best player of the 20th century and of all time in various polls... 

Life goes on. 
Records are also updated. 

In 2017, he who has 115 goals, left the lead in Napoli's top goalscorers list for all-time - first Slovakia's Marek Hamsik overtook him, then Belgium's Dries Mertens overtook both of them. 

In 2018, he had to give up the captaincy record in the World Cup - he was overtaken by Mexican Rafael Marquez, who has been the captain of his team in 17 matches in the World Cup. 

And now he has lost his life... 

But his fame and popularity are eternal... 

He is the one who manages to be in the spotlight with every behavior... 

He is just Diego Armando Maradona! 

By Rasim Movsumzadeh

Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia

Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia


Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia

Liverpool FC and Expedia, one of the world's largest full-service travel sites, have set off on a multi-year agreement that will position the travel platform as a principal partner of the club, landing on the shirt sleeve of both men's and women's team kit.

The Expedia sleeve patch was debuted on the Reds' strip during the Premier League clash with Everton at Goodison Park last Saturday (17 October).


As Liverpool FC's official travel companion, Expedia will create emotionally-driven campaigns through access to players, matchday visibility and branded content.

Communication will focus on empowering fans to discover, book and enjoy the journey as well as the destination, maximising their experience for when football and travel will return to normal.

Matt Scammell, commercial director at Liverpool FC, said: "I see a great synergy between the club and Expedia; as organisations we both understand the value of the right support, whether that means not having to worry about travel arrangements or knowing the 12th man is behind you every step of the way.

"I'm delighted to embark on this journey with Expedia and looking forward to the relationship benefiting our global fanbase when we can all experience the freedom of football and travel once again."

Adam Jay, president and co-lead, marketing at Expedia Group, said: "We are thrilled that Expedia is now the official travel companion of Liverpool FC.

"When we can all freely experience the joy of travel again, we look forward to being the perfect travel companion for the Reds and their fans around the world, ensuring that wherever they are, they will never walk alone."

The Expedia shirt-sleeve patch will be available free of charge from December to all fans who have already purchased an official 2020-21 Liverpool FC shirt in store and online.

Supporters purchasing new shirts will be able to add the Expedia patch to their shirt at point of purchase from December, too.

Full details will follow on Liverpoolfc.com.

Hong Kong Women's Football League Kicks Off

Hong Kong Women's Football

Hong Kong Women's Football

The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) announced that the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League will kick off soon. It is organized by HKFA, with The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust as the major partner and subvented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. 

The 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League will commence with 8 teams playing First Division and 7 teams playing Second Division for league matches and then will compete for the championship of FA Cup. HKFA hosted an online press conference for the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League for the first time and invited Mr. Pui Kwan Kay, Chairman of HKFA to cheer for women's football. 

Chairman Mr Pui has been keen on promoting women’s football, “in recent years, we have all seen the passion, participation and enthusiasm from women’s football players and coaches. Many of our players seize the opportunities to participate in international matches and join overseas leagues, so that they could upgrade their skill and quality to a higher level. 

Moreover, there has been more attention and support from Hong Kong fans and media towards women’s football. I hope that everyone will continue to follow the latest news about women's football and encourage women’s football coaches and players.” 

At the online press conference, our association introduced the playing format of the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women’s Football League. The league will be conducted in two stages: the first stage would be league matches, in which both First Division and Second Division will be played under a double round-robin. A play-off match will follow in order to determine the promotion and relegation of teams. 

The team ranked last in the First Division will play a knockout match against the champion of the Second Division, to compete for the place of First Division for next season. The second stage will be FA Cup, in which all teams will be divided into two groups in the group stage to compete for a place in the knockout stage. The top four teams of each group will enter the knockout stage and the teams will play under a single knockout for the FA Cup. 8 teams participating in this year's Jockey Club Women's Football League (First Division): 

Chelsea FC Soccer School (HK) Citizen

Happy Valley
HKFC
Kitchee
MLFA
Sha Tin
Tai Po

7 teams participating in this year’s Jockey Club Women's Football League (Second Division): 

Double Flower
Hang Yick Women Football Club
Heng Wah Football Club
WSE
HKWFC
Wong Tai Sin
Wai Fat

They have been excited about the coming matches and expressed appreciation for their clubs which have been focused on the development of young players. The interviewed players include Lindsay Steward (HKFC), Mak Ho Li Lydia (Tai Po), Kam Karina Ka Wing (MLFA), Leung Wai Nga (Kitchee), Fung Chun Ling (Chelsea FC Soccer School (HK)), Chan Wing Sze (Shatin), Yiu Hei Man (Happy Valley) and Cheung Wai Ki (Citizen). In view of the current public health situation, participating teams must follow the medical guideline of our association and relevant guideline from the government. Players, coaches, and other staff must take their temperature to ensure their temperature is normal and submit their health declaration forms before entering the stadium. 

The participating teams and participants must maintain good personal hygiene, appropriate social distance, and follow the regulations and measures set by the government and Leisure and Cultural Services Department. 

HKFA will continue to monitor the situation closely and review the arrangement from time to time. For more details of the match, please refer to the HKFA website: https://www.hkfa.com/ch/load_page/433

Friday, November 27, 2020

In sun and shadow Maradona leaves the field

DIEGO'S WAKE SUMMED UP THE MAN AND HIS NATION

"Argentina would not let the old god die, for there is no one and nothing that can replace him." 

- David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round.

Singing and dancing, tantrums and tear gas - the day after Diego Maradona died was the perfect metaphor.

A raucous day in Buenos Aires left no one in any doubt how much the man meant to a country forever caught in a tango of pain and passion.

Fans go wild.
Picture from Clarin.com

Wakes are not sombre affairs in Catholic countries. I have been to Irish ones lasting a week where you could be forgiven for thinking a party was in progress. 

The government had announced three days of mourning in honour of the nation's greatest son but when it came time to hand the coffin over respectfully to his family for burial, the people did not want to let their Diego go. 

Don't cry for me, Argentina? No, please rage against the dying of the light, he seemed to be shouting from the other side. 

Riot police and an armed escort were needed to take the coffin to the tranquillity of a humble interment in front of no more than 30 people, where the national hero was calmly laid to rest beside his parents.

The Bella Vista garden, 35 km out of Buenos Aires, will surely now become a global shrine, Argentina's very own Graceland. 

That is another football pilgrimage to make. I have been on three, tracing Johan Cruyff's roots near Ajax's old De Meer stadium, finding George Best's family house in East Belfast and locating Matthias Sindelaar's grave in elegant Vienna. I even popped into the hotel in Bogota where Bobby Moore was arrested for stealing a bracelet. Sacred sites matter to any faith.

As I type, Argentina is still drowning in the news of Diego's demise, with polémicas (arguments) raging over the medical attention in his final days and the government's handling of the wake. Social distancing in a pandemic went to pot of course as the crowds surged in for a once in a lifetime event.

Then there is the inevitable family scrap over the pieces, even though Maradona promised to donate his riches to good causes only days before his death. When somebody dies the fallout is rarely pretty or smooth but when it is a king, the stages of grief are just magnified and spread widely.

Maradona

For now his native country is still dazed and confused, trying to mark a life like no other. Football is often dubbed a religion but to South American nations it matters more than in most places and having grown up in parallel to their nations, it has taken on a particularly patriotic character.

I would like to think my own country, the inventor of football and home of the richest league, is the epicentre, but England cannot hold a candle to the utter fervour stoked when a South American team has a big match. 

Unlike the USA, Latin nations look out to the world, but have shorter histories, fewer heroes, fewer legends and less stature on the global stage, unless the World Cup is on. Unlike Asian nations, their economies and standards of living are not advancing rapidly either.

So they fall back on their football to ease their sorrow and no one lived a life of private grief and football passion like Diego Maradona did.

Against Latin America's eternal trail of tears, which Maradona increasingly referenced in his later years in high-profile meetings with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Pope Francis, sport is the best balm and reason to be cheerful.

He donned the Robin Hood cape in his autobiography "El Diego," explaining his life as one long struggle against Goliath, but he skirted around his self-destructive habits. Nevertheless, Argentinians are content to consider him the people's champion, in the same way they overlook the faults of Che Guevara or Eva Peron.

In short, football just matters more over there and Maradona was Argentine football's king.

The pibe from the barrios was a Latin American idol like no other. "Victim, knight, defiant rebel, foul-mouthed aggressor - only Diego Maradona could claim to be all four in one statement," wrote Jimmy Burns in his biography, Hand of God.

Maradona excused his infamous punch by attributing it to the viveza (craftiness) he said Latin Americans innately possessed. There is some truth in this and in his belief that the fair play of English footballers allowed him to dance through them in '86 for his 'goal of the century', where more cynical cultures would have scythed him down.

The Diego and the Maradona, a double-life of professional triumph and private tragedy is a nice encapsulation of the dichotomy of man (body and soul), but some superstars - Pele and Lionel Messi spring to mind, have not gone down the George Best route. Not every angel has a dirty face.

The young Maradona was a prodigy who wowed the 1979 World Youth Championship in Japan and dazzled for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors long ago, showing no signs of the character flaws with which we so readily tag him now. His dark side seemed to emerge as he struggled with fame through bad luck and circumstance, rather than personal design or nature.

 

While feted as a saviour in impoverished Naples, he was also soon surrounded by the worst crowd - the Giuliano clan of the Camorra made a beeline for him and embedded him in their grasp in the same sickening way Pablo Escobar polluted Colombian football a decade later.

But although he was known for falling into a mire of drink, drugs, sex and organised crime at Napoli, Maradona had gone off the rails already at Barcelona, indulging in cocaine and wilder than wild night life, which he explained as youthful partying. 

Was it the pressure of being a 22 year-old at a superclub with the world at your feet, the failure of family to rein him in or his employers' lack of duty of care? He had been pumped with performance-enhancing drugs since his youth by coaches worried about his small frame so was no stranger to stimulants.

The infamous tackle by Andoni Goikoetxea meant he needed an outsized left boot and cortisone jabs for the rest of his career and the often brutal tackling he took as a ball magician may have pushed him towards painkillers of any sort. The 1984 Copa del Rey brawl with Athletic Bilbao, his last time in a Barça shirt, was merely emblematic of the war on the pitch he always found himself hurled into.

The huge entourage of worshippers he acquired in Italy and Argentina may have been a respite for him after the on-field battles but in the end proved at least as damaging as comforting. Surrounded by an army of yes men and women and without a Roman to whisper in his ear 'Remember thou art mortal', Maradona slipped.

His rollercoaster life has certainly supercharged a nation's emotions but in which direction it is not clear. Can football ever be more than a placebo when it comes to real problems?

"The Maradona country lights up an illusion one day and the next day brings shame upon itself," wrote Fernando Gonzalez, editor of Clarin, in response to today's riots. Gonzalez went on to say the proper way to honour their idol is to eliminate the nation's inequality.

Maradona has joined Che and Evita as the third great Argentine icon, like them, flawed and destructive, adored and idolised forever.

The man of the people brought joy to millions but cut a deeply melancholic figure for years, palpably assailed by his demons and suffering acute physical pain, interspersed with childish joy, Latin warmth and humour extended to those close to him. 

Maradona

His love of the game never left him and beyond his immediate family, remained his true oxygen. He died employed in football and former teammate Ossie Ardiles believed it was the lack of football action during lockdown which was responsible for his speedy demise.

A football-mad nation is now left to contemplate the body of their saviour and where it leaves them as a people.

Chilean writer Eduardo Galeano wrote in his classic 'Football in Sun and Shadow' of the irreplaceable man:

"When Maradona was finally thrown out of the '94 World Cup, football lost its most strident rebel...uncontrollable when he speaks, but much more so when he plays...Maradona was the best of the best...By night he slept with his arms around the ball and by day he performed miracles with it."

The king really is dead now, but long live Argentina and football.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Fifa World Rankings November 2020

Fifa World Rankings November 2020

Fifa World Rankings

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2020 were published on November 27 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

There is not so much change in the top 20 positions from October. Belgium who finished third at the World Cup 2018 in Russia are still top followed by champions France who defeated them in the semis, Brazil, England, Portugal, and Spain.

The full top ten is Belgium, France, Brazil, England, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Italy.

Senegal are the top African team in 20th place. England remains in 4th. Wales are 18th with the USA in 22nd spot. Australia are in 41st place; Japan are in 27th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are 38th in the list. Scotland are 48th. The Republic of Ireland occupies 42nd place, Northern Ireland are 45th.

1 Belgium
2 France
3 Brazil
4 England
5 Portugal
6 Spain
7 Argentina
8 Uruguay
9 Mexico
10 Italy
11 Croatia
12 Denmark
13 Germany
14 The Netherlands
15 Colombia
16 Switzerland
17 Chile
18 Wales
19 Poland
20 Senegal

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

© Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

MARADONA, THE KING OF FOOTBALL, LEAVES THE FIELD

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

Diego Armando Maradona 1960-2020

Even the brightest stars burn out at last.

The world football family is in deep mourning tonight as its most talented yet most wayward son, Diego Maradona, has passed away.

Although 60 years is far too soon to leave the planet, in truth nobody can be that surprised Maradona has died young. The legend's health has been a worry for years with visible ill-health, frequent hospitalisations and rehab stays familiar news.

He outlived another legend blessed with talent but cursed with fame, George Best, by a year. One only hopes he enjoyed his 60th birthday at the end of last month but three days later he was in hospital with a subdural hematoma. 

In recent years Maradona has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, obesity, internal bleeding in the stomach and brain and finally heart disease. It was as if the devil had cursed the fairest of them all. 

It was officially a heart attack which took him in the end but that heart must have been beating like a hamster's for so many years it is a wonder he ever made it to six decades. Maradona's high-octane, rollercoaster ride of a career in Serie A between 1984 and 1991 would have expired lesser souls.

There is something reassuring about the fact he finished his life a football man, as manager of Gimnasia in his native Argentina, 44 years after he made his debut for Argentinos Juniors just before his 16th birthday. Whatever the missiles which came his way, often self-directed, he stayed loyal to his true love of football.

Gimnasia was the eighth club he had coached, Boca Juniors, where he ended his playing career in 1997, the sixth club jersey he donned, but he will be forever associated with the azzurro of Napoli and the albiceleste of his nation.

As a national icon he had to become Argentina manager at some point and arrived at South Africa 2010 with the aura of his playing days still around him. 

But the team were thrashed 4-0 by Germany in the quarter finals and Maradona was not to join Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo in winning the greatest prize as both player and coach, a feat subsequently matched by Didier Deschamps.

His national team career ended in ignominy at USA '94 when he tested positive for ephedrine, but it was only the latest unsurprising chapter in the tale of the angel with the dirty face.

On the pitch, Maradona had been sinned against more than he ever sinned, a target for rugged and often vicious fouling throughout his golden years. That he played as long as he did and still won trophies is a testament to his physical prowess and technical brilliance.

The mid to late eighties were forever his heyday. A devastating display of individual brilliance at Mexico '86 for Argentina was matched by a similar adventure in Naples, where he hauled the great but stricken southern city of Italy to its first national title in 1987 and repeated the feat in 1990.

While he reached the summit of Mount Olympus in winning the 1986 World Cup apparently single-handedly and became a demi-god at Napoli, his descent into oblivion during his halcyon days brought him a notoriety as public as his divine ball skills. He lived a chiaroscuro life as a champion.

The little Argentinian was a household name beyond football fans thanks to the global media's exposition of his myriad vulnerabilities and outspoken and increasingly political character, but his on-field brilliance went far beyond his off-field excesses and tantrums and will outlast any tut-tutting about his failings.

A low centre of gravity in a 5'5" (1.65m) frame gave him mobility, a stocky body with tree trunk legs, a legacy of his native American genes, the strength and speed, and growing up in a dirt-poor barrio of Buenos Aires without running water or electricity a fighting spirit and hunger to thrive.

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

Kicking an orange or rolled-up rags amid the grotty shacks of Villa Fiorito was the start of his footballing career, a route which took him to the very top, perhaps the highest peak any player could reach. 

As it is often noted, Lionel Messi, the most credible heir to his mantle as the greatest, has failed to win the World Cup at four attempts, while Pele, the greatest rival to his crown in the history books, won it three times to Maradona's once, but did it with the help of the world's best team.

To say he had turned into a gigantic folk hero in both Argentina and Naples would be a massive understatement. The adoration of the No.10 was akin to a pre-modern worship of a divine being, the iconography of posters and murals a proof of modern sainthood.

He had Italian roots, but his semi-destitute origins had chimed perfectly with Neapolitans' experience of being ignored and insulted by the wealthy north of Italy. Yet in leading Napoli to triumph over Juve and Milan, Maradona had become more messiah than Robin Hood. 

A passionate city in the shadow of a volcano erupted in ecstasy. A local tried to wake the dead in the city cemetery by scrawling graffiti which read, "You don't know what you are missing!"

Ask anyone who was in Naples in those magical years and they will wax lyrical. San Gennaro, the city's patron saint whose blood magically liquifies or coagulates on his feast day, had a rival miracle worker. 

Around that time I was visiting nearby Pompeii where with no hint of humour, the tour guide compared the Romans' religious worship 2,000 years ago to the adulation of a certain someone in Naples.

In affecting and enlivening the world beyond the football field, Maradona was the most important player of all time.

When trying to assess the stature of Maradona, one also has to remember the South American cultural trope of the Pibe, the street urchin, whose viveza criolla, native craftiness, is the key to his survival.

Maradona was the Pibe D'Oro, the golden street urchin, who embodied the dreams of the millions.

What remains vivid as his story ends is simply his golden talent, unmatched skill and mastery of the ball.

Was it the actual hand of God at work? Diego laughed at the suggestion his joke was anything more.

But was he greatest footballer of all time? Probably.

Jimmy Burns' 1996 biography of Maradona: Maradona: The Hand of God for a fuller picture.

(c) Sean O'Conor and Soccerphile

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Liverpool Football Club celebrate the opening of the new AXA Training Centre

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre on Tuesday (17th November), 722 days since construction began

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre

The landmark occasion was commemorated by the installation of a steel time capsule at the new facility, containing artefacts related to club’s rich history and some of the experiences and people who have made it what it is today. It is hoped that the time capsule will be opened in 50 years with the aim of showing future LFC players, colleagues, and the local community the breadth and strength of the team who have created the success behind the LFC badge and offer supporters an insight into what the club is like in the present day.

The capsule was placed outside of the visitors’ entrance to the facility and is marked by a special plaque set in granite paving.

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre on Tuesday (17th November), 722 days since construction began.

The opening of the AXA Training Centre marks a new chapter in the club's illustrious history. Designed by architects KSS, with input from key Liverpool FC personnel, the club’s vision has been brought to fruition by civil engineering contractors, McLaughlin & Harvey.

The new 9,200 square meter AXA Training Centre creates a combined first team and U23 Academy facility, each of which has their own identity. It boasts three full-size pitches, goalkeeping, and warm-up areas, and indoor facilities fit for Premier League Champions: including two gyms, a full-size sports hall, pool, hydrotherapy complex and specialist sports rehabilitation suites. It also includes dedicated TV studios, press conference facilities and office accommodation.

Commenting on the opening of the AXA Training Centre, Andy Hughes, Managing Director, Liverpool Football Club said: “We started this project over two years ago, marking a significant milestone in the history of this great football club.

Liverpool Football Club.

"After saying a fond farewell to Melwood last week, we are excited to be starting a new era at the club, bringing our First Team and Academy operations and facilities together on one site for the first time in history.

"There have been so many people involved in making this great project happen - it is impossible to thank them all as individuals. Our First Team manager - Jürgen Klopp, Sporting Director - Michael Edwards, and Academy Director - Alex Inglethorpe have been instrumental in turning plans into a reality. We must also thank Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and local residents for their continued support throughout the delivery of this extended project."

"Whilst we would have liked to have celebrated this historic moment together - ensuring public health, safety and wellbeing is our number one priority."

Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool FC First Team manager commented: "Today is a really special day for the team- it has been a long time coming. There has been a lot of steps, meetings with architects, designers, everybody!

"The facility is great and whoever has the chance to visit will be impressed. It is a wonderful building - you have everything you need now and for the future. It’s pretty much perfect!"

Ulrike Decoene, Chief Communications, Brand and Corporate Responsibility for AXA Group added: “I am very proud about this new chapter in AXA’s partnership with the legendary Liverpool Football Club marked by the official opening of the team’s new training ground.

"So far, the results generated by our partnership with LFC are extremely positive, both in terms of brand awareness but also employees’ pride and engagement. The time capsule with the AXA training kit will convey to future generations the common vision and values this partnership was built upon."

Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Economic Development said: “We are delighted that LFC has chosen Kirkby as the location for this wonderful new training facility. We are also pleased that in addition to these remarkable new facilities, the Club has also invested - with us – to also improve the sporting facilities available to our local community. The upgraded community pitches and new Pavilion are already been extensively used and not just by youth teams but also veterans and ladies too – something we really want to build upon.

"For local people, football is simply part of their DNA. Knowsley is the birthplace of three European Cup-winning captains. So, having Liverpool Football Club training here in Kirkby is a huge thing for local people. We wish the Club every success in these fantastic new surroundings."

Where are they now? Real Madrid’s starting XI the day a tearful Zinedine Zidane played his last match at the Santiago Bernabe

Real Madrid's Starting XI the Day Zidane Said Goodbye

The French master played his final match at the Bernabeu fourteen years ago on May 7th, 2006. That Real Madrid side is remembered for its plethora of stars… but where are they all today? May 7th, 2006 proved an emotional day for Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid fans alike, with the Frenchman legend playing his final game in front of the home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu before retiring after that summer's World Cup.

Substituted in the dying moments of Real Madrid's 3-3 draw with Villarreal, Zidane got on the scoresheet that night and was treated to repeated standing ovations and crowd affection following the final whistle.

Fans and players alike knew Zidane was unique, a special player, and gave him the send-off he deserved. "Mid-00s Real Madrid" screams galactico and star power, so let's take a look back at the side who played around him that day.

Where are they now?

Iker Casillas

Iker Casillas

Another all-time great of the game, San Iker (Saint Iker) captained Real Madrid until 2015 and would go on to lead Spain to an unprecedented World Cup (2010) and European Championship double (2008 & 2012). In May of 2019, a heart attack brought his time on the pitch to an abrupt end and he has now retired. 

Míchel Salgado

Míchel Salgado


The man described by Liverpool and Real Madrid legend Steve McManaman as "the hardest person in the world" and "a genuine psychopath, even in training" manned the right wing at the Santiago Bernabeu for a decade before leaving the capital in 2009 to finish his career in England with Blackburn Rovers. His post-playing career has seen him run football schools, assistant coaching and hold boardroom roles.

Sergio Ramos

Whatever happened to him? No idea…

Álvaro Mejía

Álvaro Mejía

One of the few lesser-known names in the team, youth academy product Mejia is now 38 and still playing with Qatari side Al Shahaniya Sports Club, where he's been playing since 2014. He spent time playing in France, Turkey and Greece along the way.

Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos


Perhaps the greatest left-back of all time, Roberto Carlos stayed for just one more season after Zidane's departure before leaving himself, initiating the breakup of the so-called galacticos team of the mid-00s. The Brazilian became somewhat of a journeyman after leaving the Bernabeu, spending time with Fenerbahçe, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala, and Delhi Dynamos. He went on to coach the latter two, as well as taking charge at Sivasspor and Akhisar Belediyespor. He's now returned as an Ambassador at Real Madrid.

David Beckham

David Beckham


The stars keep on coming. Beckham also stayed one more season at Real Madrid, leaving alongside Roberto Carlos in 2007. The Englishman - who assisted Zidane's goal in that game against Villarreal - went on to play for LA Galaxy, AC Milan, and PSG. He has since moved into football ownership and is the most high-profile face of the consortium behind MLS expansion side Inter Miami.

Pablo García

Pablo García


Uruguayan midfielder Pablo García was loaned out by Real Madrid to RC Celta and to Real Murcia in successive seasons before being released by the capital city club in the summer of 2008. It was at that point that he joined Greek side PAOK, where he enjoyed some of the best years of his career. He's currently a youth coach at the Greek club.

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane


What can we say here? The Frenchman returned home to Real Madrid as an assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013. A stint in charge of the club's reserve side preceded taking over the first team in 2016 and what has followed has been nothing short of incredible. One LaLiga title, three Champions Leagues, and two Spanish Super Cups, European Super Cups, and World Club Cups apiece. Leg-end.

Júlio Baptista

Júlio Baptista


The talented Brazilian forward went on to play at Arsenal, Malaga, Roma, Cruzeiro, and Orlando City before retiring following a single appearance for CFR Cluj in Romania in 2018. Fondly remembered across Spain as one of the greatest LaLiga imports of the early 21st century, he's now a LaLiga Ambassador.

Robinho


Robinho


The mercurial Brazilian is still playing and is currently with Istanbul Başakşehir in Turkey.
Robinho helped Real Madrid to back -to-back LaLiga titles in 2006/07 and 2007/08 before making a big-money move to Manchester City in the summer of 2008 and continuing his career in England, Italy, Brazil, China, and then Turkey.

Raúl


Raúl


Raúl remains one of the club's all-time great players. After leaving Los Blancos four years later with 228 LaLiga goals in 550 games between 1994 and 2010, he went on to play at Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga before winding down his career with Al Sadd in Qatar and New York Cosmos in the USA. Currently the head coach of the club's reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla.

Coach: Juan Ramón López Caro

Juan Ramón López Caro


Always an uneasy choice among the club's fans as coach, Lopez Caro was replaced by Fabio Capello later that summer. He continued coaching in Spain with Racing Santander, Levante UD and RC Celta, and also went on to coach Spain's U21 side. More recently his career has taken him abroad, coaching in Romania, Saudi Arabia, Oman and China.

© Soccerphile.com

LFC bid fond farewell to Melwood Training Ground

LFC bid fond farewell to Melwood Training Ground

Melwood

Liverpool FC has bid a fond farewell to its historic Melwood Training Ground and officially handed the site over to its new owner, transformation group, Torus. Torus, a leading housebuilder and social landlord, acquired the club's Melwood Training Ground site in West Derby back in August 2019. During the disposal process, Torus was identified as the best socially responsible housing developer to take over the site. 

The growth and regeneration group currently manages around 40,000 homes across the north west, creating sustainable and thriving communities through investing financially and socially into its neighbourhoods. Melwood has been the club’s training base for over seventy years. It was transformed into a top-class training facility in the 1950s by Bill Shankly, where players would meet and change for training at Anfield and then board the team bus for the short trip to Melwood. 

In January 2001, the club started work on the Millennium Pavilion, a modern facility for players and coaches, with further developments and investment year on year to ensure the facilities and equipment within remain the best possible and making the training ground what it is today Following the club’s departure of the site, Torus intend to redevelop the current site into a modern, multi-generational housing complex that will meet the current and future needs of local residents by building a variety of house types on the site, which will be available via affordable rented and homeownership options, such as Shared Ownership with an emphasis on meeting the needs of older and vulnerable people. 

 On the handover of the facility, Andy Hughes, Managing Director, Liverpool Football Club said: "When the famous sliding gate closes for the last time, it will mark the ending of an era for the club. "It’s been over two years since we started this journey and we'd like to thank everyone who has been involved, particularly local residents in West Derby for their patience during this process.

"It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to Melwood - our training base for the last seventy years. However, it will always be engrained in the rich tapestry of the club. "For many, it will be strange not to use this familiar word when referring to the first team base, but the new AXA Training Centre is world-class and will soon start to create many more chapters of success." 

Liverpool

Ian Callaghan, former LFC player with the most appearances: “The name ‘Melwood’ has become equally synonymous with Liverpool Football Club as that of Anfield. This fact alone says so much about the contribution the training ground has made to the club’s development over the past seven decades, during which time Melwood became the very 'nerve centre' of the first team. "It evokes such fond memories for all the former players who have passed through its doors but also for the fans. Whilst it’s a bittersweet day for the club, we will always look back on Melwood with fondness and respect."

On the future of Melwood, Chris Bowen, Managing Director of Torus Developments, said: "Today indeed marks a new era for Melwood, one which goes beyond football and an era we’re excited to lead.

The legacy of this great site is important to us and that partly drove our ambition to be involved in the project. "Research and community consultation carried out so far show there is a clear need for homes which meet specific needs in the area, such as homes for older people, more affordable housing options for those looking to get on the property ladder and even homes for those looking to downsize.

"We are still working with our architects, Corstorphine + Wright, to finalise the design of the site and are pleased to be able to present a proposal today for the next phase of public consultation leading up to a planning application early in 2021. We will be looking to repurpose the existing building to provide a long-lasting legacy as a community hub and link with a range of charities to provide housing, care and support services on the site. It is our intention to conserve as much green space as possible and also incorporate innovative, green technologies to create a modern development that will make the future of Melwood as ground-breaking as its history."

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trump & Football's Final Score

SOCCER'S CURIOUS COURSE UNDER THE 45TH POTUS

Like a red-carded footballer, President Donald Trump has been given his marching orders.

Although as we speak he is still refusing to leave the field, by January 2021 Trump will have exhausted any appeal to VAR and accepted the referee's decision, however cruel it seemed, was final after all.

The 45th President of the United States could never be described as a soccer fan of course and America, for so long a glaring gap in the football-loving jigsaw of the world, still has not got the bug as big as it should have done.

But the world's most lucrative sport has far-reaching tentacles so it did not escape the reach of the world's most powerful man over the past four years.

A young Trump
A young Trump kitted out for soccer

Soccer and Trump overlapped when it suited them, a marriage of convenience with any such union's elations and irritations.

Trump was far from a soccer-hater or soccerphobe. With a German grandfather, Scottish mother, and Slovenian wife, he was always likely to have crossed paths with the game or at least not looked upon it as something alien or un-American.

Indeed, he played football at secondary school from 1959-1964, as a team photo of the future president at the New York Military Academy proves.

He confirmed this early familiarity with football in a bizarre and unscheduled encounter 28 years ago with British TV presenters Saint & Greavsie (see below), who were in the Big Apple for a World Cup preview and were recognised by chance by one of his employees, who then invited them up Trump Tower to meet the big man.

Fast forward to 2020 and his 14-year-old son Barron is an Arsenal fan (not sure how that happened given their travails this past decade), ensuring a foothold for football in the Presidential household.

While President, Trump dipped in and out of soccer matters and his reign was punctuated by some big events in American soccer history as the sport maintained its upward growth across the pond.

While America missed out on Russia 2018, football scored a double whammy of promotion during Trump's tenure when the USA won the 2019 Women's World Cup as well as the hosting rights to the men's 2026 World Cup.

The Women's World Cup win in Paris confirmed the preeminence of football as a female sport. The US women so dominate the field they have accrued the same aura of invincibility Brazil used to enjoy in the men's game.

Out of the eight Women's World Cups held so far, they have bagged four of them, reached five finals and three semi-finals.

The 2018 final attracted an average of 15 million TV viewers in the United States, more than the 2018 men's World Cup final, which drew 11 million stateside.

There surely would have been more US tellies tuned to France had FIFA not scheduled the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and CONMEBOL Copa America for the same day and had the kick-off time not been 8am Sunday in California.

But if the president felt some of the glory of the victorious team might have rubbed off on him he was sorely mistaken.

Megan Rapinoe, the US women's skipper, was quick to position herself as hostile to the incumbent of the White House, audaciously defying the president in public.

Women's World Cup

Rapinoe's slating of Trump on live TV, appeals for equal pay with male footballers, and high-profile media appearances saw her become a household name and an outstanding sports personality.
Her famous outburst - "I'm not going to the f-ing White House" - was a forthright line in the sand, to which the President himself felt compelled to reply, via his preferred medium of Twitter of course:

"Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag," Trump typed indignantly.

Even if it was not about the sport per se, the US President was talking about football, which never used to happen.

If the round-ball game is the American sport of the future and is already dominant among women and Hispanics, then the LGBT Rapinoe's challenge to the President's MAGA ideology, disseminated widely, was truly symbolic of the nation's cultural schisms and shifting demographics.

Meanwhile the US men's national team players continued flying under the radar. During the Trump presidency, they calamitously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, their first absence on the biggest stage since Mexico '86.

The Jurgen Klinsmann era ended in the same month Trump was elected, and returning head coach Bruce Arena could not stop the slide as the US were eliminated by Trinidad & Tobago and ended up a dismal fifth in their final qualifying group.

In truth the squad was weaker than in previous tournaments and the rise of Christian Pulisic as a genuinely top talent was mirrored by the eclipse of talisman Clint Dempsey and a palpable lack of quality in all areas.

Tears at missing out on Russia were tempered however with news in 2018 that the US would co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, an event which will hopefully cement soccer as a universally accepted part of the American professional sports landscape, going far beyond where USA '94 went. A long run for the hosts then would work wonders with the wider public, hitherto mildly curious, blasé, or hostile.

Trump spied the PR potential of a US victory in the 2026 vote so weighed in before the FIFA Congress in Zurich, making implied threats against countries who were thinking of backing Morocco:

"It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against a US bid," he tweeted. "Why should we be supporting these countries if they don't support us (including at the United Nations)?"

So football came in useful again as a conduit to air his views. Before long, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was in Washington for a photo op with Trump, who seemed delighted to share the global limelight.

It was not about a love of the game. The idea of the US hosting the world's biggest party was merely lapped up by the showman obsessed with his ratings.

Ten American cities will have matches in 2026, one more than in 1994, but sadly this time there will be none in the major city that is Chicago, which withdrew after refusing to agree to FIFA's notorious tax-free demands.

The US men won the 2017 Gold Cup final but lost the 2019 one to old rivals Mexico, a clash ever more poignant because of the President's fiery rhetoric about the US border.

The fact football is a global sport is normally a huge ace in its favour, but we should consider it a godsend that the US president did not exploit its geopolitical potential over such a tense issue.

Before a CONCACAF Cup clash in 2015, Mexican TV took some of Trump's words and threw them back at him delightfully in a video, although the pro-Trump Fox network then used them to big up America instead, playing along with the divisive narrative.

In the 2016 Copa America, the anti-Latino propaganda coming from the Republican candidate did not go unnoticed further south of the border.

Argentine TV responded by jocularly replaying images of Leo Messi and others arriving for the summer's Copa America in the States to a soundtrack of Trump's warnings about undesirable Hispanics crossing the US border.

As regards Major League Soccer, the mean attendance was broadly similar at the end of his presidency to when he took office - 21,305 v 21,695, but with an uneven spread. Atlanta United were the best-supported team in 2019 with an average of 52,510 fans yet at the other end Chicago Fire could only draw 12,324.

The league grew during the Trump presidency by six teams - Atlanta, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Miami and Nashville, with four more on tap - Austin, Charlotte, Sacramento and at long last, St Louis, the American city with the richest footballing heritage.

And so MLS' future looks bright, the US women are world champs and the nation will host the next but one men's World Cup. As Trump leaves town, football overall is growing healthily in America.

Trump showed no deep interest beyond high school but since the world loved soccer it came to him. His son Barron loves football, plays in DC United's youth system, invited Wayne Rooney to the White House and was pictured in a full Arsenal kit!

The future looks bright and spherical.

And so to mark his exit from the Oval Office, here are some highlights of the 45th President's encounters with the Beautiful Game:

When it comes to Donald Trump and football however, it is hard to top a most surreal meeting between the then New York property tycoon and former players Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John in 1992:


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Fixture Release of 2020-21 First Division, Second Division and Third Division League

Fixture Release in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) announced that the matches of 2020-21 First Division, Second Division, and Third Division League will be kicking off from 15 November onwards. The fixtures of the first week of First Division, Second Division, and Third Division League are now released and the rest of the fixtures of these divisions could be viewed on the HKFA website in due course. 

1st Division: 
HK Fixtures

2nd Division 
HK Fixtures
3rd Division
HK Fixtures
© Soccerphile.com

Liverpool Football Club has welcomed Cadbury to the Reds family as its first Official Global Chocolate Partner

Liverpool Football Club welcomes Cadbury


The three-year deal will see the world's leading chocolate brand apply its 'Glass and a Half in Everyone' generosity ethos to its work with the club, with Cadbury giving back to LFC fans and the local community.

To launch the partnership, Cadbury has gifted 50, 000 limited edition Champions Dairy Milk Bars to a wide selection of Reds fans, thanking them for their continued support during the extraordinary 2019-20 Premier League season.

Embracing its focus on 'generosity', Cadbury will also be supporting LFC Foundation's Virtual Employability Programme (VEP) - raising money to assist with the continued operation of the initiative through the sale of limited edition LFC Champions Dairy Milk bars.

Launched in May 2020, LFC Foundation's employability support service was created in response to the Covid-19 outbreak and aims to help people across the Liverpool City Region who have been made redundant or are at risk due to the impact of the pandemic.

Made possible through the kindness and generosity of volunteers, the programme provides participants with constructive CV and cover letter support, mock interview practise and exclusive job role insight in order to enhance their employment prospects during this time of uncertainty.

Staff from across the Cadbury business will join LFC employees and fan volunteers in providing support to future VEP cohorts.

Reds legend, John Barnes, recently called in to surprise a lifelong Liverpool fan who generously gives up his time to volunteer with the VEP. As a thank you for his commitment to the programme, John presented Ian with a special Cadbury hamper, including his very own LFC Champions Dairy Milk Bar.

The Limited edition LFC Champions Bars will be available for fans to buy in official club stores, with all proceeds going to LFC Foundation in support of the Virtual Employability Programme. Fans can purchase their own Champions Bar

Matt Scammell, Commercial Director at Liverpool FC said: "LFC and Cadbury are both passionate about the importance of community, so this is a great opportunity to build on those common values and help those whose employment has been impacted by the pandemic into new roles.

"Cadbury has a long history of generosity and we're excited to be partnering with them, celebrating traditions and culture whilst uniting people in a new way."

Samantha Greenwood, Global Brand Director at Cadbury, added: "We are very proud to be working with Liverpool FC in this way. It is a brand that truly embodies the Cadbury mentality of working together to help others. The Virtual Employability Programme will make a huge difference to the people of Liverpool whose jobs and prospects have been impacted by the pandemic. By supporting this, we hope we can do our part to help the economic recovery of the area and the UK as a whole."

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Hong Kong Football Association will let fans in again for matches from this Saturday

Hong Kong Football Association will let fans in again

Hong Kong Football Association will let fans in again


The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has successfully restarted matches despite the pandemic from this late September. Since then, many fans expressed their eagerness to attend the stadiums to watch the matches. HKFA understands the needs of our fans and has been closely communicating with the government.

We have been providing different solutions in order to let fans in while in compliance with public health safety. After rounds of discussions, HKFA announced that we could let fans in again for matches starting from 7 November (this Saturday). According to the recommendations given by the government, the stands will be opened, and the maximum number of seats occupied would be less than 75% of the stadium capacity and no more than 4 consecutive seats in the same row could be occupied.

The first match that will be reopened for the public will be a group match of the Sapling Cup, which will be held at 3pm on 7 November (this Saturday) at Yuen Long Stadium, with RCFC vs Kwoon Chung Southern. And the second match will be held at Mong Kok Stadium at 5:30pm on the same day with Happy Valley vs Eastern Long Lions.

For the matches starting from 7 November (this Saturday), the tickets will be available for purchase on the match day at the ticket office of the stadium. The ticket price will be $80 and the concession ticket price will be $30 (only a limited amount of concession tickets will be available). Tickets will be available for purchase from 90 minutes before the match kick-off and until the start of the second half of the match.

HKFA follows the guideline and suggestions from the government and our Medical Committee in implementing the safety and hygiene measures at the stadiums accordingly. While entering the stadiums, fans need to do temperature checks and submit health declaration forms and wear masks properly inside the stadium. In addition, eating will be prohibited yet drinking in cups and paper containers will be allowed. In order to maintain personal hygiene, disposable cups will not be provided in the stadiums. Our Association will review and announce the hygiene measurement according to the latest development of the situation from time to time.

Nobody thought that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium

Nobody thought that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium

Who am I?

In our hometown and stadium

I'm the football team from Ağdam (Aghdam), which took second place in the Azerbaijan SSR league in 1969 and was named Qarabağ (Karabakh) in honour of the region (including Nagorno-Karabakh) it represents.

The team that has changed its name several times, and finally, after serious efforts, was renamed Qarabağ in 1988. During the Soviet era, Khankendi team, whose team was mainly made up of Armenians, was also called Qarabağ. The Soviet KGB did not want the Azerbaijani team to play under the same name...

My name is Qarabağ Ağdam FK, which has had the status of a "refugee team" since 1993.

In 2017, the popular German Kicker magazine names the article about our participation in the UEFA Champions League as "Heroes without homeland".

Who am I?

I'm Jamaladdin, Yashar, Sattar, Elshad, Mammad, Tabriz, Zaur, Mehman, other Elshad, Mushfig, Aslan and Elfariz.

I'm the player who played the last match on May 12, 1993 at the unforgettable Imarat Stadium in Ağdam.

That game against Turan Tovuz was the first match of the semifinal stage of the 1993 Azerbaijan Cup.

***

1993. The war with Armenians was intensified in Qarabağ region.

It is dangerous to train, to prepare for the matches in Ağdam, the city is under missile attack every day.

It is difficult and honorable to bear the name Qarabağ in these painful days.

We have been living in Mingachevir, another Azerbaijan city for about a year.

The distance from there to Ağdam is a little more than 100 km.

During football days, we come to Imarat Stadium and play.

AFFA does not force us, it is the will of the club's management and players.

The enemy is trying to break our spirit.

But let them see that Ağdam is alive.

Realizing the importance of the match against Turan Tovuz for us at the Azerbaijan Cup, we arrived in Ağdam a day earlier.

Even before our arrival, the city had fired missiles.

We are already accustomed to such events.

We spent the night at the hotel.

Every minute, every moment is dangerous.

We have taken the risk.

***

Today is Wednesday.

As we say there is football weather.

We are in purple shirts and Turan Tovuz in blue.

Our eyes are on the fans.

Although most of the populations of Ağdam have moved to safe areas, according to the referee's report, there are 8,000 fans - civilians and military.

That inspires us a lot.

Our main goal is to reach the final, win the trophy and make them happy.

...After the collapse of the USSR in the end of 1991, the political and military situation in and around Nagorno-Karabakh became even tenser.

After the Khojaly Genocide in February 1992, the situation became even more difficult.

Armenians were already firing missiles at Ağdam.

The first season of the national league of independent Azerbaijan was held in 1992.

At that time, participation of the Qarabağ FK in the league was in question.

Even at the first training camp, there was no squad of 11 players to be formed.

With the help of sponsors, it was possible to assemble the team.

Even Mushfig Huseynov, who played for the Smena-Saturn of St. Petersburg in early 1992, returned from Russia...

By the way, Ağdam champagne factory and the winery of the region support the team financially at the difficult period.

We also get our salaries and bonuses on time.

***

The match begins.

Our key players are in the squad.

Only forward Mahir Aliyev is not playing due to injury...

We wonder if they will not fire a missile.

The referee of the match is Rustam Rahimov, a pupil of the legendary Tofik Bakhramov. Three times during the Soviet era, he was included in the list of "10 best referees of the year".

Rustam Rahimov writes in "This is my destiny", his autobiographical book: "Imarat - I feel bad when I think of the stadium in Ağdam. I was lucky to manage the last match of Qarabağ FK at that stadium. As part of this event, I also walked around the city. At that moment it never occurred to me that this was my last meeting with Ağdam. In those years, the situation here was very complicated. Armenian militants regularly fired on Ağdam. The "Grad" shells fell not far from the stadium or even to the stadium itself..."

...Let's go back to 1992.

On May 16, we had to play against Kapaz Ganja.

Then Agdam was shelled so much that the match was postponed.

We played against Kapaz Ganja on June 24, in Ağdam.

We cried when Allahverdi Bagirov, a former player and coach of Qarabağ FK, died in the battle.

In the same game against Kapaz Ganja before the start whistle while we were commemorating his soul with a moment of silence they threw "Grad".

The shell hit near the stadium.

But none of the players moved...

...Before 1992, we sometimes went to Shusha to have a rest after the games.

The peaks of Shusha mountains are covered with fog... (These words are from Azerbaijani patriotic folk song about Shusha)

Ah, Shusha...

By the way, we had a player Rizvan Valiyev from Shusha.

He had just joined the team and was training.

When he was returning to Shusha in January 1992, a helicopter carrying civilians was shot down by enemies, and he was killed.

***

The match takes place in an interesting and intense sports environment.

The fact that our opponent, like us, is among the leaders of the league shows their strength.

Earlier, Turan Tovuz took the 3rd place and Qarabağ FK the 4th place in the first season of the league in 1992.

Before the match against Turan Tovuz, we met with Khazar Sumgayit in Ağdam.

During the match, a "Grad" shell fell about fifty meters from the stadium and opposing players ran away and hid under an old plane tree.

Then we continued the match after a short break.

Thankfully, all the opponents are coming; no one refuses to play in Ağdam.

The militaries who come to our matches also jokingly tell our opponents not to be afraid, to play and that they agreed with the enemy and they wouldn't fire during football...

Once a shell hit the field before our home match.

Thankfully, the stadium staff quickly restored the pitch.

Yashar Huseynov, Sattar Aliyev, Mammad Mammadov, Elshad Khudadatov, Mushfig Huseynov, Vugar Jafarov, Zakir Mehraliyev are originally from Ağdam from our squad of 1993.

When the matches end, we are quickly going back to home to see if something has happened.

The houses of Sattar Aliyev and Elshad Khudadatov are in disrepair.

Yashar Huseynov built a new house for himself; he could not stay there for a day…

One of the "Grad" shells fired at Ağdam hit the house of our teammate Vugar Jafarov, nicknamed "Jiguli".

His parents died.

But he does not play against Turan Tovuz.

***

It is a break in the match against Turan Tovuz.

By the way, during the break of the match against Inshaatchi Baku, a missile fired landed near the stadium.

Although it was normal for us, but the opponent players were worried.

We encouraged and explained that every home match is like this.

The break lasted more than 15 minutes.

But we continued the match.

As soon as the match ended, the opponent players left Ağdam by bus, without even taking a shower.

...Let's go back to the Soviet era.

Andrei Kanchelskis, who played for Manchester United, Everton, Fiorentina and Rangers, could have his military service in the Soviet-era in the Nagorno-Karabakh.

He told Novaya Gazeta: "An officer and an ensign came to me at the famous suburban base of Dynamo Kyiv in Koncha-Zaspa: "Conscript Kanchelskis, get ready, let's go." They took me to the military unit. After two months of military training, I thought I could say goodbye to football. Moreover, at the height of the war, they announced that we were going to Nagorno-Karabakh and gave us all the necessary uniforms, including helmets, armor and special iron guards for the knees.

I was saved by the legendary Valery Lobanovsky. At that time he was not in Ukraine, in the Soviet Union in general, and his assistants were not given access to the necessary generals. When Lobanovsky returned, I was pulled out of the swamp."

***

We wonder if they'll drop the bomb.

The match continues with our advantage.

The next attack...

After passing from the right wing to the penalty area of opponents the ball returning from the defender was scored a goal with a powerful shot by our playmaker Yashar Huseynov.

Goal!

Thus, we are ahead in the score.

You can't imagine how happy the spectators are…

Years later, Yashar will say: "I would not want this to be the last goal in Imarat stadium."

Eh, Imarat...

German Huseynov writes in his book "Azizbeyov Street, 57": "The history of the Imarat dates back to the end of the XVIII century. Khurshidbanu Natavan used to live here. One of the racetracks of the Qarabağ khans was also located here. Later, the central stadium of Ağdam was built on the site of the racecourse. Everyone called the stadium "Imarat". The family grave of Qarabağ khans is located in a part of the large territory of the Imarat. There were graves of Panahali khan, Mehdigulu khan, Sarjali khan, Mehrali bey, Natavan, her children and other family members. Research has confirmed that the history of this cemetery is much older. Tombstones with Caucasian Albanian inscriptions and signs were found here."

In the late 1980's, the organization of the Khari-bulbul international music festival introduced Ağdam and Imarat also to the world...

Vahid Gazi writes in his book "City of Ghosts": "60 ensembles from all over the world came to the festival in 1989. The most interesting were the Mexicans. The kids thought they were Brazilians and called them Zico's compatriots."

The stadium has a very beautiful view.

The four sides are surrounded by khan plane trees, 30-40 meters high and several centuries old.

The shade of the trees falls directly on the field.

The same good words can be said about the grass cover.

It's like a carpet.

Words cannot describe the atmosphere at the stadium.

When the opposing team arrives in Ağdam, it is as if they fall behind in score.

When we appear on the pitch, we feel 1-0 ahead.

Back in 1988, the stadium officially had a capacity of 1,540 spectators, but 3-4 times more people came to the games.

The book "Good luck, Qarabağ", published in 1991, contains the following information: "Every game of the team is attended by 100-120 fans from the village of Khidirli."

Can you imagine, from one village...

In 1989, a three-storeyed base was built for us near the stadium.

The number of seats at the stands was also increased.

***

Turan Tovuz does not want to lose.

We also intend to score more goals.

But the attacks do not work.

Mammad Mammadov, who entered the pitch at the 75th minute in our team and Rufat Guliyev and Vali Huseynov from opponent, received yellow cards.

Someone could ask why we footballers don't go fight for our homeland.

...We were also ready to fight in the war.

We appealed to National Hero "Fred Asif", who settled at the base in the stadium with his battalion, to join the militaries.

He did not agree.

"If I knew that we would win the war with 18 players, we would take you all. Now we need you more on the pitch than in the trenches. At least the soldiers, who come back out of the posts, watch your game and rest for an hour and a half. You also fight for Ağdam and Qarabağ. You do a great job playing football under "Grad" attacks."

The late Allahverdi Bagirov also said these words.

Yes, we are trying to prove through football that Qarabağ has always been the land of Azerbaijan.

***

Despite our efforts, the score does not change until the final whistle of the referee.

We won.

Qarabağ FK - Turan Tovuz 1-0.

The fans say goodbye to us with applause.

We must leave Ağdam.

We return to Mingachevir again.

Nobody could think that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium.

We thought we would win the trophy and bring it to Ağdam.

There is no luck.

It was so hard to remember.

Whoever said it well said: "After leaving Imarat, Qarabağ FK does not play a home match, it always plays away."

After May 12, we play one of our remaining home matches in Mingachevir and then there both home matches do not take place due to the non-arrival of opponents and we win technical victories.

On July 23, 1993, Ağdam was occupied by the Armenian army.

Despite all the difficulties, we win both the Azerbaijan Cup and the league competition

But the first champion title is not a joy, but a consolation.

How to rejoice without Ağdam, which was occupied only a few days ago?

If it had not been for the refugee period, Qarabağ FK would probably have been champions for ten years in a row.

We had a very strong team.

The majority of the squad was a candidate for the Azerbaijan national team: goalkeepers Jamaladdin and Namig, defenders Elshad, Zaur and Aslan, midfielders Mehman and Tabriz, forwards Mushfig and Mahir...

Our captain Sattar Aliyev says in an interview: "I wish to participate with my team in the European Cups in Ağdam."

But since Azerbaijan was not a member of UEFA in 1993, we cannot participate in the European Cups.

There are many difficult years ahead without a hometown.

But that is another story.

***

Who am I?

Let me introduce myself.

Aslan Karimov, who played 79 matches for the Azerbaijan national team in 1994-2008 and then became an assistant of the national team's head coach Berti Vogts.

Zaur Garayev, Elshad Ahmadov, Tabriz Hasanov, Jamaladdin Aliyev, who wore the national team uniform for several games in 1992-1995, as well as Mushfig Huseynov, who is now the assistant coach of Qarabağ FK.

Elshad Khudadatov, who won the Soviet Union "Cup of Hope" with the Azerbaijan youth national team in 1982.

Mammad Mammadov, who is the only player from that team currently living abroad (Ukraine).

Captain Sattar Aliyev nicknamed "Englishman", Yashar Huseynov, Mehman Alishanov, and Elfariz Isayev...

I'm a football veteran living with the hope again to play in the Imarat, which was destroyed and turned into ruins during the occupation and which will be rebuilt in the near future.

by Rasim Movsumzadeh