Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Robbie Dennison for Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs Manchester City), 1st December 1996

I’ve a confession to make. Once I’ve made it, you may wish to never read another word that I have to say about football – and I think you would have every right. Here we go then: I don’t like football all that much.

There. I’ve said it.

I was going to take advantage of the fact that it was bound to be a quiet day at work today to sit down and contribute something useful to CUAS for the first time in months (well done to Lord B for keeping her going more or less single-handedly). I thought that perhaps I would write a piece highlighting my favourite Wolves XI from my time as a supporter. I could do a little pen-profile of each player, perhaps with a little photo (assuming that you can find a little photo of people like Andy Thompson or Robbie Dennison on google).

I started to think about it, and quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do it. I think I managed about 5 players (Mike Stowell, Thompson, John de Wolf, Robbie Keane and Steve Bull). Obviously I can name more players than that, but it just didn’t seem right putting Kevin Muscat into the side simply because I couldn’t think of another full-back. No. I’m just not enough of a fan to be able to do it. In fact, I’m not much of a fan at all.

I was born in Northampton, who have a football league team all of their own, so why do I support Wolverhampton Wanderers? I’ve been to the old Northampton county ground more times than I have been to Molineux. Actually, I’ve also been to Sixfields and the City Ground in Nottingham more times than I have been to Molineux. I’ve seen Wolves playing at Old Trafford as often as I have seen them playing at home. Hell. I’ve watched Venezia playing in Venice more times than I have watched Wolves playing in Wolverhampton, and I’ve been to the Bernabeu as often. Yes. I have seen Wolves playing at Molineux once in my whole life. Against Norwich. It was 2-2 (with two late Wolves goals as everyone was leaving).

I started supporting Wolves in 1987 when they were in the old 4th Division. Why? I decided I needed to support a team. Northampton would have been the logical choice, but as I had been living away from home at boarding school since the age of 7, I didn’t feel much of a bond with my home town, covered my eyes and blindly picked a side from the league tables. Although the team was edge of bankruptcy, these were golden days for Wolves. Steve Bull and Andy Mutch were rampaging their way through the division, seemingly scoring at will, and the great old club was at the start of a run of promotions that would see them stuck frustratingly one tier below the top flight, where they remain today. They were hardly a glamour pick, but I picked them and I’ve stuck with them since.

I don’t go to many games. I like watching football from time to time, and I try to take in a game whenever I’m abroad, but it’s not a regular thing. I’ve been to maybe 20 live games in my whole life. I’ve watched Wolves playing Nottingham Forest four or five times over the last ten years, and I’ve watched both Forest and Notts County (my local sides now) playing other teams, but live football is always expensive and is usually disappointing. I have Sky Sports, but I only occasionally put the Premiership on, and when I do, it’s usually as background to reading the paper. As a spectator sport, I find football comes a poor third to Rugby Union and to Cricket. Who have Wolves got today? No idea. On New Year’s Eve? Pass. Any idea of the league position? Not really. Top Scorer? Erm. The Romanian guy?

Pathetic isn’t it?

So I’m afraid to say that I’m something of a bluffer: I know something about the game, stuff that I have gleaned from my obsession with reading sports pages in newspapers and on websites, but I have no passion for the game.

So there you go. Thought you should probably know.

Is it possible to be dispassionately interested and opinionated in football? To religiously watch Match of the Day but not really give a damn who wins the league (whilst oddly also being able to state a preference for the result of each game)? To be really looking forward to the World Cup and to hope that England to win, but to also be really interested to find out how the African qualifiers get on, and to hope that the side who plays the best football wins, even if that won’t necessarily be England?

Is it normal to be so bloodless about football? Isn't it a game about passion and loyalties?

You tell me. I just feel like a fake.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Arjen Robben for Chelsea (v Arsenal), 18 December 2005

OK, folks, the predictions are completely up to date. It's very close for December and Charby is being hauled in overall as well....

I thought perhaps we'd have a random selection of matches across the festive period and then reconvene in the New Year? (in case anyone is away or anything).

Aston Villa 2-0 Everton
Charlton 0-2 Arsenal
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham
Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle
Buccaneers 2-0 West Brom
Portsmouth 2-1 West Ham
Sunderland 0-2 Bolton
Blackburn 2-0 Sunderland
Everton 1-1 Liverpool
West Ham 1-1 Chelsea
Birmingham 2-1 Wigan
Newcastle 2-0 Middlesbrough
Arsenal 1-2 Buccaneers

and we'll use El Tel's idea of festive wildcards:

Gillingham 0-1 Bristol City (the Robins)
MK Dons 2-1 Nottm Forest (the Trees)
Wolves (the Old Gold (frankincense and myrrh)) 2-0 Reading

Have a great Christmas and New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wayne Rooney for Manchester United (v Wigan Athletic), 14 December 2005

Predictions time again, folks.

Aston Villa 0-2 Buccaneers
Everton 1-0 Bolton
Fulham 2-1 Blackburn
Man City 2-0 Birmingham
Portsmouth 3-1 West Brom
West Ham 2-1 Newcastle
Wigan 2-1 Charlton
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 2-0 Spurs

and what about a completely random wild card of:

Sao Paolo 0-2 Liverpool (from the World Club Championship)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

James McFadden for Everton (v Manchester Utd), 11 December 2005

If you are anything like me, your matchday will have a set routine, from which deviation is uncomfortable and undesirable. Bearing in mind I have today largely wasted the chance of a nice relaxing Sunday on a five hour round trip to the Theatre of Dreams (oh, how the opposition fans laugh) I thought I may as well share with you my Manchester United matchday routine.

The first stop (which I sadly don't have a picture for) is ordinarily the McDonalds, halfway between the M1 and M6 on the A50 at Uttoxeter. Ideally placed on a roundabout, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch (dependent on kick off time) and an occasional petrol refuelling stop at the adjacent Esso garage.

The next stop is at Salford Quays, where a scally fella takes the princely sum of £5 to park us round the back of Fit City Ordsall sports centre for the duration of the match, and we then walk the 15 minutes or so to the ground.

Next stop is for a coffee round the back of the North Stand. (£2.50 for a f*cking latte. That's Rupert Murdoch, that is.)

Then, about half an hour before kick off, I present my lovely League Match Ticket Book here, at turnstile W16.

It's then the wonderful experience of 167 steps to my seat, somewhere on the flightpath into Manchester Airport. On the way I stop at the concourse to put £5 worth of best on the game (all shattered after 7 minutes by James McFadden in this instance) and head up to the seat - W104, row 33 seat 85.

That's my view of every home United game. (Not the back of someone's head, on the whole, they'd just stood up). Top tier of the Stretford End in the singing section (today's chant of the afternoon: "Feed the Scousers, Let The Know It's Christmas Time...").

It's not the ideal seats, clearly, and, as attendances and demand for tickets at Old Trafford wanes (which it has - you can still buy tickets for Wednesday's home league game to Wigan which would have been unheard of a few years back) the club are offering the chance for season ticket holders to move seats at the end of this season. As my mum sits in the North Stand (on the left as you look at this picture) I think we are going to agree on a location and move in the summer. I'll lose some of the Stretford End atmosphere, but get a better view of the other half of the pitch. And I get to sit with someone I know, rather than the mad skinheaded nutter who currently sits in front of me leading the singing and getting regularly ejected for not sitting down.

And there's the rather depressing scoreline. And a poxy rubbish scoreboard to boot.

What normally happens then is that we complain about United's performance for about half an hour, sit in traffic for half an hour, and then come home (via a stop at the Shell garage at Keele services as they have one of those nice Coffee Nation machines - especially good at 1am after a midweek game).

So there you have it - that's my matchday sorted. Anyone else got bizarre matchday rituals? (or want to laugh at United's ineptitude?)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bobby Zamora for West Ham (v Birmingham City), 5 December 2005

morning all. My head hurts after an unexpected booze session on a schoolnight, so just before I slink home to bed for the afternoon, here are this weeks predictions...

Birmingham 1-0 Fulham
Blackburn 2-1 West Ham
Bolton 2-0 Villa
Charlton 2-0 Sunderland
Chelsea 3-0 Wigan
Liverpool 2-0 Middlesbrough
Newcastle 1-1 Arsenal
West Brom 1-1 Man City
Buccaneers 1-0 Everton (where's your Europe gone, where's your Europe gone?)
Tottenham 2-0 Portsmouth

and from La Liga

Malaga 1-2 Real Madrid

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beto for Benfica (v Manchester Utd), 7 December 2005

So, Manchester United crash out of Europe before the knockout stages for the first time in a decade. Their 2-1 defeat at the Estadio de Luz against a weak and injury hit Benfica side meant they finished bottom of Group D, and so did not even have the consolation of UEFA Cup football.

There's no complaints from this corner: six games, one win, three goals scored is simply not good enough in 450 minutes of football. Especially in a group against a Benfica side struggling in their own league, a poor Lille side and a second rate Spanish team in Villareal.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is not a complete surprise. Whilst I fully expected United to win tonight, the decline (especially in Europe) has been going on for six years. No away win in Europe since November 2003 and a dearth of goals have seen United fail to get anywhere near winning the trophy since their success in Barcelona in 1999.

They simply aren't good enough a side any more, or, more interestingly, tactically unable to compete with European opposition. What this means for the manager is, I suppose, the key issue. Not only is his transfer kitty reduced by anything up to £15million but the reality is that the Glazers are increasingly unlikely to want the manager to remain at the helm after the end of this season. Probably the only thing that can save Fergie now is a Premiership title, but with the imperious form of Chelsea this seems unlikely.

Plus, changing the manager could go either way. A new boss could bring in players and galvanise the team into a better unit. Or, the whole thing could fall to pieces completely as it turned out it was Ferguson holding the whole shebang together. Who knows?

I'm not one for overreaction so you won't see me yelling for the manager to be sacked. I just think that it is further proof, were any needed, that United are a team in seemingly irreversible decline.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paul Gascoigne for England (v Scotland), 15 June 1996

Well, it's been another eventful twenty four hours in the life of this man.

Yesterday, he was sacked from his post as manager of non-league Kettering Town after just five weeks in the job. Owner Imran Ladak alleges that Gazza was "under the influence of alcohol" whilst in control of team affairs on 37 occasions, an allegation that Gascoigne denies. Gazza claims that he was never left alone to run team affairs due to interference from the chairman.

Later yesterday evening, the police confirmed they had arrested a 38 year old man in Liverpool after a member of the press alleged Gascoigne assaulted him after he attended a fund-raising event for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.

The Kettering chairman has urged Gazza to seek medical assistance for his ongoing alcohol problems.

Whichever side of this argument to believe, it is hard to see any future for Gascoigne in the game. Failed spells in China and as a coach at Boston United, coupled with this latest debacle have probably tainted his reputation in England for good. It is hard to see a chairman prepared to take a gamble on the former England international even if the allegations this time are unfounded.

Although I had half hoped for him to make a success of the job, I was never entirely sure he was cut out to be a manager. He is/was clearly an exceptional talent and there is certainly room in the game for players to learn from his experience and technique. But man management? Never quite saw it.

It's a shame, really. In the week football lost one of its greatest natural talents to alcoholism, despite claims by Gazza to the contrary it seems almost inevitable that we are going to lose another one the same way.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Steven Gerrard for Liverpool (v Sunderland), 30 November 2005

Ok, folks, the final Predictions table for November had an unlikely but clearly extremely talented and deserved winner.


1. Lord Bargain - 30 points
2. Alex - 29 points
3. El Tel - 27 points
4. Mike - 24 points
5. Swiss Toni - 23 points
6. Charby - 22 points
7. Weenie - 22 points
8. Dom - 19 points
9. Ben - 17 points
10. Rufus Fan - 13 points
11. Le Flash - 8 points

I've updated the overall table on the sidebar also. (This doesn;t include this weekends games).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (vs Portsmouth), 26 November 2005

Here we go then.....

Blackburn 0-0 Everton
Bolton 0-2 Arsenal
Chelsea 3-1 Middlesbrough
Liverpool 2-0 Wigan
Man Utd 3-0 Portsmouth
Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
Tottenham 4-1 Sunderland
West Brom 0-1 Fulham
Charlton 2-2 Man City
Birmingham 0-1 West Ham

and the wildcard this week:

Burton Albion 4-1 Burscough in the FA Cup.

One day Lord B might even update the table.....