The maiden Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, which London hosted in 1908, had been a short, experimental event ended by two anticlimactic games: the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over Sweden in the battle for bronze and Great Britain’s defeat of Denmark by the same scoreline in the final.
Few, however, predicted that the conclusion to the second edition of the competition, 100 years ago to this Wednesday, would be anything less than thrilling. After all, the Dutch had thumped Finland 9-0 in the play-off for third place in Solna earlier in the day, and two exceptionally prolific attacks were set for a shoot-out in Stockholm.
Denmark had beaten Norway 7-0 and the Netherlands 4-1 to reach the decider, and such was the luxury of riches at their disposal that the magnificent Tist Nielsen - who holds the third-best goals-to-games ratio in international football history, counting players to have made 20 or more appearances, having struck 52 times in 38 games - was left on the bench, despite having scored one and set up two others in the semi-finals. Instead, the Scandinavians’ spearhead comprised Anthon Olsen, Wolle Wolfhagen and Sophus Nielsen, who was renowned for hitting ten goals in a 17-1 rout of France in 1908 - an international record that was not surpassed until Australia’s Archie Thompson netted 13 in a 31-0 defeat of America Samoa 93 years later.
Great Britain, for their part, had overwhelmed Hungary 7-0 and Finland 4-0 to set up a repeat of the 1908 final. Harold Walden had, incredibly, posted ten of their 11 goals, and his partner up front was no less a figure than Vivian Woodward, who had averaged more than a goal per game for his country.
The pre-match consensus proved correct, as the action quickly swung from end to end. Goals from Walden and Gordon Hoare had the Brits 2-0 up, and though Olsen halved the deficit on 27 minutes, an injury to Charles Buchwald, in the pre-substitution days, forced the Danes to play the remainder of the contest at a numerical disadvantage. Great Britain swiftly capitalised. In the space of three minutes just before the interval, Hoare, with his second of the game, and Arthur Berry sent them into a 4-1 lead.
The stars of the second half were Denmark goalkeeper Sophus Hansen and his opposite No1 Ronald Brebner, who kept the scores as they were until Olsen’s late consolation reduced the victory to 4-2.
The gold, silver and bronze medals may have gone to the same three teams as they had four years earlier, but there was nothing mundane about the 90 minutes in the Swedish capital - the 25,000 in attendance, a mighty crowd for a sport still in its infancy, would have attested to that.