Football’s Leap Year Moments: From Cantona’s Debut to Watford’s Upset Victory

Football's Leap Year Moments From Cantona's Debut to Watford's Upset Victory

The 29th of February, known as Leap Day, is a date that appears on our calendars once every four years. This is due to the fact that Leap Year contains an additional day, which is added to the month of February. This is done to keep the Gregorian calendar year in sync with the Earth’s rotation around the Sun.

As 2024 is another Leap Year, it’s an ideal time to take a look back at some of the most remarkable events that have taken place in football on Feb. 29. This includes significant moments dating back to the year the Premier League and Champions League were introduced.

In 1992, Eric Cantona scored his first goal in English football for Leeds United against Luton Town. Cantona had recently signed for Leeds from French side Nimes and made an immediate impact, providing an assist as well in a 2-0 victory. He later went on to help Leeds win the final English First Division title before the league rebranded as the Premier League.

In 2000, Ferran Torres was born on Feb. 29, which technically makes him only seven years old today, assuming he has only celebrated his birthday every four years since. Torres shares his birthday with other professional footballers like Taylor Twellman and Benedikt Höwedes. On the same day Torres was born, Bayern Munich defeated Real Madrid 4-2 in the Champions League group stage.

Leap Day in 2004 saw Harry Kewell score for Liverpool against his former club Leeds United. Kewell’s goal came in a 2-2 draw at Elland Road. Kewell continued his “Leap Year” success by scoring for Australia on Feb. 29, 2012, in a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia.

In 2008, Javier Mascherano completed his permanent move to Liverpool from West Ham. The transfer had been delayed due to legal complications surrounding third-party ownership. The deal was eventually ratified, and shortly afterward, third-party ownership was banned by FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League.

In 2012, the U.S. men’s national team recorded a famous 1-0 win over Italy in an international friendly. Clint Dempsey scored the decisive goal, and the U.S. defense, led by captain Carlos Bocanegra, sealed the deal in Genoa. On the same day, Stuart Pearce lost his first and only game as England manager, with Netherlands defeating England 3-2.

Gianni Infantino, the successor to Sepp Blatter, marked his first day as FIFA president on Leap Day in 2016. He organized a star-studded kickaround outside FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, with former players like Luis Figo, Robert Pires, Michel Salgado, Clarence Seedorf, and Deco participating.

In 2020, Premier League fixtures were played on Feb. 29 for the first time since 2004. The most memorable game was Watford’s surprising 3-0 win over Liverpool, who were on a run of 18 straight league wins. Ismaïla Sarr became the first player to score two goals on Leap Day, and later in the day, Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso matched that feat with a brace of his own in a 2-2 draw against AFC Bournemouth.

Despite being a rare date, Feb. 29 has witnessed some extraordinary football moments throughout history. From memorable goals to significant transfers and international victories, the day has played host to some of the most notable incidents in football.