This Month in Football History – December
We look back at the most memorable happenings in the month of December in world of Football
December 3, 1906 – The Rise and Fall of an Italian Super Club
On December 3, 1906, a contingency that included a group of former Juventus players and future Italian manager, Vittorio Pozzo founded AC Torino. It became one of the most successful and tragic clubs in Italian Football history.
Torino won their first league title in 1928, but became Italy’s dominant team in the 1940s with a team known as Il Grande Torino. They won five Scudettos in the decade, including four straight from 1946 to 1949. Their run of incredible success ended in tragedy, as a plane crash in May 1949 killed 18 players and several club officials, journalists and members of the crew.
The crash sent Torino into a decline and they have spent the majority of the intervening years moving between Serie A and Serie B, though they did win another league title in 1976. In 2005, the Italian football association expelled Torino from the league for financial reasons, but they returned later that year as Torino FC.
December 4, 1933 – Arsenal beats the The Wunderteam
On this day, Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal did, what at that time was close to unthinkable – beat the Austrian Wunderteam with a scoreline reading 4-2.
Guided by manager Hugo Meisl and Captain Matthias Sindelar (pictured), Austria were one of Europe’s most dominant teams of the 1930s, earning the nickname “Wunderteam.” They rattled off a 14-game unbeaten streak in 1931-32, including Scotland (5-0), Germany (6-0, 5-0), and Hungary (8-2). They also won the 1932 Central European International Cup with a 4-2 victory over Italy in the final.
Meanwhile, Arsenal was enjoying a good spell in the English domestic scene, having recently won the 1930 FA Cup and the 1931 and 1933 league titles.
Chapman was friends with Meisl, prompting the ‘friendly’. But the Football Association rules prohibited English clubs from playing international sides, so Austria arrived at Highbury for the match, thinly disguised as FC Vienna. The Times called it a “thrilling match,” with Arsenal taking a 3-1 lead before the teams swapped late goals to finish the day 4-2.
December 6, 1930 – Something was wrong at Thames
On December 6, 1930, Thames AFC set a Football League record when only 469 people showed up for their Third Division South match against visiting Luton Town.
Thames had been founded just 2 years back and had a big ground, The West Ham Stadium with a capacity of 120,000. The problem with the club was that it had to compete for a fan-base against more established London clubs like including West Ham United, Millwall, Charlton, and Orient.
Despite poor support, Thames fared well, finishing in third place in the Southern League Eastern Division in 1930 to earn election to the Third Division South. There however, they struggled, winning only three matches and drawing two out of their first 16 to sit dead last in the table when Luton came to town.
Although only 469 people attended, they witnessed a rare sight as Thames eked out a 1-0 victory.
December 10, 1997 – Pauper in the League of Champions
On December 10, 1997, MFK Košice lost 0-1 to Feyenoord, thus becoming the first ever team to bow out of the Champions League with zero points.
sReigning champions of Slovakia’s top flight, Košice reached the group stage by beating Icelandic club ÍA 4-0 on aggregate in the first qualifying round, then defeating Spartak Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round. In doing so, they were the first Slovakian club to make it to the group stage.
That is where the fairytale ends. They failed to even score in the first legs opening the tournament with a 3-goal loss to Manchester United, followed by a 2-0 loss to Feyenoord, then a 1-goal loss to eventual finalists, Juventus. They improved in the rematch with Juve, but still fell 3-2, then lost again to Manchester United 3-0. They were already guaranteed to finish at the bottom of the group regardless of the results in their last match against Feyenoord, who were also mathematically eliminated from the competition.
December 16, 1989 – Impact Sub
On December 16, 1989, Barnsley substitute Ian Banks received a red card. Problem was he was just getting ready to get on the pitch, when he received the card.
As the midfielder warmed up on the touchline waiting to be waved on, he berated the nearby linesman for not raising his flag on the Bournemouth goal. No one actually knows what he uttered, but they were strong enough to earn him a straight red card. It was the quickest ejection for a substitute in Football League history.
December 19, 2009 – Barcelona on cloud number 6
On December 19, 2009, Barcelona won a record sixth trophy for the calendar year, using an extra-time goal to beat Estudiantes in the FIFA Club World Cup.
That year, Barcelona had already won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Champions League, matching Liverpool’s haul of 5 trophies in 2001. The Champions League victory qualified them for the Club World Cup, which included the champions of 5 other confederations and UAE’s Al-Ahli, who qualified as hosts.
December 27, 1915 – Manchester United and Liverpool unite
On December 27, 1915, the FA issued lifetime bans against seven Manchester United and Liverpool players for participating in a match-fixing scheme the previous season.
The match in question was played on April 2, 1915, near the end of the season. United were in 18th place, only one point clear of relegation, while Liverpool were sitting comfortably in 13th, not in danger of relegation but out of contention for any silverware. United won 2-0, thanks in part to a missed Liverpool penalty.
Rumours started immediately about a fix, prompting the FA to investigate. They determined that seven players – Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West from United; Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul from Liverpool – had combined to determine the outcome. The motivation was financial, with all seven players placing bets on United to win. But the two points helped United’s survival, as they finished 1 point above the relegation zone. West vehemently denied any involvement, even suing the FA, unsuccessfully, for libel.
December 30, 2009 – No country for Englishmen
On December 30, 2009, Arsenal won at Portsmouth 1-4, in a match where neither side’s starting XI included an Englishman. It was the first time that had happened in the English top flight.
While not necessarily uncommon for Arsenal at the time, it was an unusual development for Pompey, who were forced by injury to start Bosnian keeper Asmir Begović in place of their regular keeper, England’s David James. The most represented nation on the pitch that day was France, with a total of 7 (5 for Arsenal and 2 for Portsmouth). Two more players – Portsmouth’s Hassan Yebda and Nadir Belhadj – were born in France, though both play internationally for Algeria. The remaining players were from Bosnia, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Israel, South Africa, Scotland, Ghana, Spain, Belgium, Wales, Cameroon, Russia and Croatia.