Obama’s a Hammer, yo-yo clubs and the best team name ever

Obama’s Hammer blow for McCain...“The beautiful game is democracy in action and reflects American ideals and values like teamwork and diversity.”

So says the campaign website Soccer Fans For Obama. There is a dearth of posts on the site. There aren’t even any comments from West Ham United fans. Obama was a 10,000-1 shot for the manager’s job at Upton Park and is an Irons fan – according to The Sun – in part because of the enthusiastic advocacy of the Hammers by relatives in Kent.

Obama may be to bowling what Simon Cowell is to modesty but journalists watching him kickabout before one of his daughter’s games reckon he’s got nifty feet. Mind you, in this picture he looks reluctant to give it some welly. Still, John McCain is probably a gridiron man and Sarah Palin’s a hockey mom so maybe, come election day, soccer fans will lump for Obama.

If the election’s tight, could exiled Hammers with a vote swing it?

 "We lost 3-1?... at home to Bolton?!" 

Italy won a European final this year – and nobody noticed...It was the kind of result I’d love to hear James Alexander Gordon read out: “Croats in Serbia 0, South Tyrol 1.”

The South Tyrol football team may be full of players who speak German and Ladin (a minor Romance language) but the lads from this northern Italian province know how to keep a clean sheet. That 1-0 win secured Europaeda 2008 – the first ever “soccer tournament for the autochthonous, national minorities in Europe” held this June in Switzerland – for South Tyrol.

Spare a thought for Denmark’s North Frisians, who lost 46-1 to the ‘Roma in Hungary’ and blew their ethnic local derby, getting stomped 19-1 by ‘Germans in Denmark’. With score-lines like that, Setanta should buy the rights for the next Europaeda.

Now that’s what I call a yo-yo club...Barry Town, Manchester City and Nurnberg share one dire, statistical niche: they have all been relegated the season after winning the title.

City trailblazed this extreme form of football yo-yoing by winning the league in 1931 and going down in 1932 but it is so popular in Scandinavia that the indispensable www.rsssf.com has dubbed this phenomenon Nordic nonsense. Four Swedish clubs, three apiece from Denmark and Norway have all done this. Few relinquished the aura of title-winners as quickly as UDIB in Guinea-Bissau. The reigning champs were relegated after failing to turn up for the first two matches of the 2004 season.

By far the greatest team name...Five English teams have won the title in their first season after being promoted to the top flight. They are Liverpool (1906), Everton (1932), Spurs (1951), Ipswich (1962) and Nottingham Forest (1978). In Trinidad and Tobago, newly promoted Joe Public won the 2006 title. Joe Public, for me, is by far the best football team name in the world. Ever.

Lausanne-Sports is a more prosaic club name. But the Swiss side have one unique claim to fame: they have won promotion and the championship in the same season.

In 1931/32, the Swiss league system was almost as confusing as the Rubik’s cube. Instead of one top flight, Switzerland had Group A and Group B, both consisting of nine teams. The winners of A and B automatically qualified for a final round while the runners-up played each other to compete in that round. Bizarrely, Lausanne-Sports qualified for the final round as winners of the league below Group A and B. The four then played a traditional group. Lausanne and Zurich, level with four points, played off in a final which Lausanne won 5-2 to become champions.

This gloriously convoluted system didn’t last. By 1933/34, attempts to pioneer football rhomboids and hexagons had been replaced with the safe, dull, but simple pyramid.

 Joe Public (Red) in action vs New England Revolution 

And finally…Lionel Messi has been voted the best player in the UEFA Champions League this season by readers of Marca and Gazzetta. The surprise inclusion on the list is Juve’s starlet Giovinco who came eighth. His teammate Alessandro Del Piero came fourth, some feat for a player who has been written off every season since his cruciate knee ligaments were ruined in 1998.

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