Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pal Dardai for Hungary (v England), 30 May 2006

So, I spent my Tuesday evening with 56,000 or so others at Old Trafford to see England's World Cup back-up Plans H through Q. The mighty Hungarians were the visitors for England's penultimate warm-up game prior to the start of the World Cup.

Some National Anthems:

a big flag at the Stretford End.....

Some observations from watching the match. Some of these you may agree with, some not....

Owen Hargreaves is the answer to no footballing question whatsoever. Shame, really, seeing as he is ostensibly a good player but has done (as I can gather) the grand total of "sod all" in his 30 or so England appearances.

I am worried about Michael Owen. I know he is playing himself back into full fitness but he doesnt look that great to me.

Our defence on top form loooks pretty solid.

Half way through the first half, the guy sitting next to me called Joe Cole a "greedy little c*nt" loudly, and then apologised for his language. I told him not to worry as it was the most accurate thing I have ever heard. It's like watching an eleven year old who knows he is miles better than his classmates.

Beckham's dead ball delivering ability is key.

Peter Crouch is in every single sense of the term a brilliant Plan B but in no sense whatsoever anyones Plan A. He is also the lankiest streak of p*ss on the planet (and this comes from someone who is nearly as tall as he is) - his trackie bottoms don't anyway fit. He looks like Melman the giraffe off of Madagascar.

And our penalty taking genius remains intact - Frank Lampard the latest casualty....

Overall, I thought England did pretty well. Patient, solid in defence and composed. When we play at an attacking tempo we look a match for anyone, although for long periods of the second half I still thought we failed to retain possession of the ball for long enough. Beckham dropped deeper and deeper into that nonsense "quarterback" role rather than the team keeping their shape and moving the ball about.

Anyway, notwithstanding these criticisms, I thought we did OK. If we find a penalty taker, that is.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Teddy Sheringham for Manchester United (v Bayern Munich), 26 May 1999

Seven years ago, this very evening, I was experiencing the most incredible moment of my life.

Standing in the top tier of the Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona on the evening of May 26th 1999 I cried my eyes out as I embraced a series of total strangers. This was shortly after Edward Paul Sheringham had scuffed a right-footed shot into the bottom corner of Oliver Kahn's net in the 90th minute of the Champions League final to draw Manchester United level against the superior Bayern Munich side.

Less then three minutes later, super-sub and forever United legend Ole Gunnar Solksjaer poked Sheringham's flick-on into the roof of the net to win the 45th European Cup in the most dramatic of ways.

Walking through Norway, Solksjaer's homeland, on this seventh anniversary today brought all those memories flooding back. I spent that whole day in Barcelona - bumping into Terry Venables, seeing Arsene Wenger having luch with Ruud Gullit, meeting tens of thousands of United fans on the pilgramage to the Final. My first glimpse of the Nou Camp pitch as I walked up the steps to my seat. Looking at my brother several rows in front of me after eighty minutes and him turning round to me and simply shaking his head. The relief as the woodwork saved United twice in the second period of the game.

And then the euphoria of the goals. It was the first goal - Sheringham's equalizer - that created the most emotion. I think that is becuase the distance from "losing" to "not losing" is greater than the distance from "not losing" to "winning", if that makes any sense at all. The fact that we had rescued the game in injury time was at the core of the emotion - the second goal was almost somehow a bonus. We had done enough by scoring the first one.

The celebrations ran long into that night, and it is a day in my life I will never, ever forget. Even though I was there, I can still hear Clive Tyldesley's "...and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has won it for Manchester United....!!!" whenever I see footage or pictures of that game. I paid £500 for my ticket for the match. After ninety minutes I was reconciling this against fact that I had seen my team in the European Cup Final. Today, it seems like the biggest bargain of my life.

Anyone else have any memories of that night?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gary Lineker for England (v Cameroon), 1 July 1990

The continuing adventures of nonsense aging Jack Of All Trades commentator.......

Mr & Mrs Davies - Part 3

At BBC Television Centre

Maureen: "What are we doing here today? The BBC are announcing their commentary line-up for the World Cup, yes?"

Barry: "Yes, you join us here in the majestic setting of the BBC Television Centre on this muggy Thursday afternoon. It's the eighth time that the BBC have covered the World Cup, and I have been here on every one of those occasions. Over there we can see the sheepskin coat of long time rival John Motson and over by the coffee in the corner is young upstart Guy Mowbray".

Maureen: "So is everyone here there, do you think?"

Barry: "Oh no. Oh no. They are about to start and nowhere can I see Conor McNamara. Nowhere at all. What a dreadful mistake. It is like 1962 all over again when David Coleman got stuck on the Victoria line and missed the first knockout round announcement. Frankly that ridiculous decision could decide the whole outcome."

Maureen: "Shhh. They are about to start."

Barry: (whispering) "..and here walks ex England striker Gary Lineker to the front of the room, closely followed by Adrian Chiles and that Scottish bird from the darts..."

Maureen: "Listen. John Motson. Jonathan Pearce. Alan Hansen. Mark Lawrenson. Simon Brotherton. Steve Wilson. John Roder. Ian Gwyn Hughes. Lee Dixon. Gavin Peacock. Garth Crooks. Ray Stubbs. Oh hold on, Gary is finished, that must be the end...."

Barry looks at the front of the room for eight minutes nineteen seconds saying absolutely nothing.

"oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooof. Terrible choice. Terrible choice."

(you're right. It had no mileage to start with which is why I binned it in August. I just hate the balding twit. You don't hear Motty or Clive Tyldesley commentating on the gymnastics or the ice dancing, do you?)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thierry Henry for Arsenal (v Wigan Athletic), 7 May 2006

Hasn't Arsene Wenger broken the number one rule of football management?

I thought that no one individual was ever bigger than a football club?

Persuading Thierry Henry to stay at Arsenal is more important than winning the Champions League, apparently.

Isn't the success of the club in trophy terms more important than the contract and future of an individual player? Would you expect to hear Clough or Paisley or Ferguson or Mourinho telling the press that they would rather keep their star player than win the European Cup? Not in a million years....

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Samuel Eto'o for Barcelona (vs Arsenal), May 17 2006

No happy ending this year then...
but not for want of trying.

Poor old Arsenal gave it a damn good shot. They started like they were on fire & were unlucky not to be leading within 2 minutes. What was looking like being a thrilling display between two great footballing sides all changed when Jens Lehmann brought down Eto'o on the edge of the box & promptly & correctly saw red. The game changed instantly.
Sol Campbell scored a with giant header & Arsenal were ahead.
From then on Arsenal were like steel. All 10 players gave everything & the back four in particular were immense. It looked like it was goona be a case of the old school Gunners; Rock solid at the back & ready to sing the old 1-0 to the Arsenal song.
They were undone in five minutes as Barca turned the game on it's head.
And that was that.

Does it not speak volumes for the strength of the Premiership that Arsenal had such a massive campaign following Liverpool's amazing triumph last year?

Now football is done until the wonder that is the World Cup is upon us, right?
It's play off time. For likes of Barnsley, Swansea, Grimsby town & my own beloved Leeds United there is an enormous amount still to play for.
I have always been a strong advocate of the play offs. I believe that it keeps the season alive for so many more clubs than it would without them. On top of that, the play off final for the last premiership place is often a fantastic game, worthy of it's place in the grandest stadium on offer.
How do I feel?
I'm bricking it! Obviously the prize for winning is huge, especially for a club such as Leeds who surely not many would argue are a big, big club who belong in the top flight.
On Sunday I shall probably go through at least one packet of cigarettes, a few pints & any remaining fingernails will no doubt be gone by the final whistle.
Defeat is unthinkable & yet perfectly realistic.
I am hoping & praying that I can go into work on Monday morning wearing my colours & shouting out that were back.
Watford fans aside, cross your fingers for us, won't you?

Thierry Henry for Arsenal (vs Real Madrid), 21st February 2006

Well, perhaps not fishing exactly.... but neither Lord B or I will have the pleasure of watching the European Cup Final this evening..... Instead we're going to be at the Marcus Garvey Centre in Nottingham watching Morning Runner, who should be onstage at about the same time as Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho et al are going through the climactic phases of the game in Paris.

So sorry, but no incisive match reviews or biting analysis here.

....same as usual then.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Peter Crouch for Southampton (v Portsmouth), 29 January 2005

Very funny man David Mitchell's take on how Sven arrived at his unexpected World Cup squad:

"....I think he put "footballer" into Google......"

heh heh heh.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Steven Gerrard for Liverpool (v West Ham United), 13 May 2006

The Official Inaugural Cheer Up Alan Shearer Premiership Predictions League Results

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, for the long-awaited results of the first CUAS predictions league. It was a close-run contest, and thanks to everyone for taking the time week in, week out, to gleefully roll a dice, put your finger in the air and guess some random results.

Without further ado, in reverse order:

13. Adamant - 5
12. Adem - 19
11. Flash - 144
10. Dom - 178
9. Sarah - 210
8. Mike - 226
7. Alex - 232
6. Ben - 240
5. Weenie - 264
4. Charby - 292
3. El Tel - 299

1= Swiss T - 304
1= Lord B - 304

....and if I apply the "five points for correctly predicting a team in the FA Cup Final" bonus, I seem to have scored an additional 5 points (for predicting Liverpool) and so the end results are:

2. Swiss T - 304
1. Lord B - 309

I will accept that the fact that we two write the blog that at least we are here every week and so I guess it is a modicum of talent mixed with a large "we remembered to do it every week" that gave us those results....

So, me, Swiss, Tel and Charby go into the Champions League, Weenie and Ben go into the UEFA Cup, Alex into the Inter-Toto and a special mention to Flash who, considering he invented this game, would ordinarily slip ignominiously into Division One.....

Anyway, thanks again one and all, and the World Cup Predictions League will be here from the first week of June.

*pops bottle of champers*

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brian McBride for the USA (vs Panama), 8th June 2005

(details on other forthcoming CUAS features are here)

It's not a World Cup without a Panini sticker album, is it?

I've been doing one every tournament since 1982, and I'm not going to let the fact that I am 32 years old get in the way of adding Germany 2006 to the list.

One of the key problems facing the older collector is that access to the thriving playground swapsies markets is no longer practical. Sure you have more money to buy stickers, but finishing off albums becomes more problematic without some hard bartering. At the last World Cup, I got around this tricky issue by persuading most of my mates and many of my colleagues at work to start their own collections. Album finished. Job done.

I thought that this year I would try something different..... how about we have a online swapsies forum right here?

I'm not quite sure how this is going to work. Maybe once a week, I'll stick a post up here, and we can try and have a bit of a bartering session in the comments? I'm happy to act as intermediary for addresses and so on if that's necessary?

Shall we give it a go?

Here's my current list of swapsies:

170 - Argentinian foily badge (are these still worth two?)
277 - Ferydoon Zandi (Iran)
357 - Brian McBride (USA)
357 - Brian McBride (USA)
370 - Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic)
393 - Ronaldinho (Brazil)

Any offers?

**update** would this be considered cheating?

Kieron Richardson for Manchester United (v Charlton Athletic), 7 May 2006

I am mindful that the content of CUAS (predictions aside) has been a bit variable over recent months, and so over the next few weeks we will be launching a number of ongoing features which I hope will be interesting and for which I am enlisting your help.

First up will be a World Cup Predictions League, starting on 7th June. If you woudl like to play, can you drop me an e-mail to my address in my Lord Bargain profile before the end of May and I will add you to the list. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you have been playing Premiership predictions this season! What I may do depending on numbers is split everyone into little groups like the World Cup itself and have a knockout tournament - more details nearer the time.

Also returning will be our regular tribute to great players. Rather than contributors eulogising about their "favourite player" (which restricts everyone's contribution to one player only), it will return as "players I love....." which will enable us to use multiple contributions from individuals. Again, if anyone would like to write some regular pieces about players new and old that they like (they don't have to be great players - you just have to love them!) then drop me an e-mail.

Finally, and I make no bones about this, I have borrowed a feature from the music blog of one of our regular CUAS readers. You may or may not know that Ben from "Black And White And Read All Over" also has a great music blog here. Over recent months, guest writers have been discussing "The A to Z of Music" with short pieces about any subject matter they like as long as it fits with that week's letter of the alphabet.

With Ben's permission, The A to Z of Football will begin here over the next few weeks. It would be great if we could have as many people contribute as possible - either every week or as the time and inclination takes you. What does the letter "a" mean to you in footballing terms? Arsene Wenger? Anfield? Arthur Albiston? Albanian corners sailing over David Seaman's head? Ashton Gate? The choice is always yours (although I bag Abel Xavier for "x"......)

So, please drop me an e-mail via the Lord B profile and let's see if we can get loads of people involved in some of these new features, eh? You know you want to.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Aaron Lennon for Tottenham Hotspur (v Bolton), 30 April 2006

So, with the World Cup thirty-two days away, Sven Goran Eriksson has today named the 23 players he hopes will take England to Berlin on 9th July.

Whilst the core of the squad is as expected, Sven has taken something of an unusual gamble by leaving out a number of players widely expected to make the cut and including some untried youngsters. Quite unlike the normal loyal, boring Sven, I suppose.

The biggest surprise is the inclusion of Arsenal reserve striker Theo Walcott who, at the age of 17, has yet to make a senior appearance anywhere outside the second tier of English football. If he comes on and proves to be brilliant, it will clearly look like a stroke of genius, but when you consider that Eriksson has left out Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent (18 goals this season), it is not surprising that eyebrows will be raised. Of course Eriksson also promoted Wayne Rooney to the senior England side at the same age, and he takes Walcott with Arsene Wenger's endorsement.

Robinson, James and Green are the keepers (I am with Henry Winter on this one - "taking three goalkeepers to a World Cup is like taking an extra large box of condoms on holiday...")

Defenders are (unsurprisingly), Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Campbell, Carragher, Bridge and Cole.

The midfield comes from Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Jenas, Carrick and Joe Cole, with surprising call-ups for Hargreaves, Lennon and Downing. I actually think these are not bad selections to be honest - Lennon is the form player and Downing will offer us a true left-footed option on the left hand side. I also find it interesting that Shaun Wright-Phillips has been omitted after his £20m move to Chelsea - I bet he would have been in the squad if he had played 30+ games for Manchester City this season. Perhaps other "star" players may take heed of his omission.

Up front, we could end up surprisingly short. Rooney and Owen are not 100% fit and so that leaves us with Peter Crouch (go back 18 months in a time machine and tell your mates he'd be our first choice at the World Cup and see how seriously they take you) and a 17 year old with no Premiership or European experience.

That leaves out both Defoe and Bent, as well as Ledley King, Wright-Phillips and other fringe players like Kieron Richardson, Luke Young, Wes Brown and Phil Neville. Stand-by players are Scott Carson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Young and Andy Johnson.

So, there we go. Let's hope that the inclusion of an unexpected striker might end up being the genius touch we need - think Pele in 1958, Schillaci in 1990......

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rio Ferdinand for Manchester Utd (vs Wigan), 14th December 2005

Did I really just see the physio run onto the pitch and give Rio Ferdinand a couple of Jaffa Cakes?

What the hell is that all about? As if these players aren't pampered enough! Did he 'forget' to have his lunch or something?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gareth Hutchison for Berwick Rangers (v Stenhousemuir), 3 May 2006

I lived in Newcastle from the ages of 6 to 11. It was during this time that I started to get interested in football. My first game was at Roker Park where I saw Sunderland hold West Brom to a 0-0 draw. As my mum and dad were both United fans, I grew up a United fan, although I wanted to adopt another side to support as well.

Our local news in those days was "Look North" with bespectacled North East legend Mike Neville...

...and they used to cover Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United. Except for one day, when they did a feature about the most unusual club in the North East of England - indeed a club so unusual that despite it's location in the North East of England, it played in the Scottish League.

And so, from that day forward, I became a fan of Berwick Rangers FC.

For the last twenty years, Berwick have bumbled about in the bottom leagues of Scottish football. On the odd occasion, they have been promoted but are invariably relegated the following season. Their honours list reads as follows:

Second Division Champions 1978/9

Yes, that's it. Their most famous moment came in 1967 when they caused one of the greatest upsets in British football by beating the mighty Glasgow Rangers 1-0 in the Scottish Cup. 13,365 saw that game that day, whereas now their crowd tends to be somewhere between 200 and 400.

Theirs is always the second result I look for. I have a Berwick Rangers tie, and I owned a replica shirt for a spell also (they play in a hideous gold and black striped affair). I have been to Shielfield Park once also (in about 1994). The away fans that day turned up in a minibus...

The reason I mention this odd obsession today is that it has been one of the clubs most exciting seasons since they were elected to the League in 1951. They have been in the top three of the Third Division all season, and went into the last game of the regular campaign in second place on goal difference alone. Despite the whole town turning out to see them beat Queens Park 1-0 (1,015 people), the league leaders Cowdenbeath beat Elgin 2-1 to secure the Division Three title on account of their superior goal difference.

Any other season, a second place finish would have been enough to see them promoted to the Second Division. Except this one. The Scottish League have changed the promotion and relegation arrangements this season so only one club are automatically promoted and relegated. The second bottom team from Division 2 goes into a playoff with the teams that finish second, third and fourth in Division Three for the right to play in Division Two next season.

Berwick played the third placed team, Stenhousemuir, in the first leg on Wednesday night and won 1-0. Today, in front of 913 spectators at Shielfield Park, Berwick held Stenhousemuir to a 0-0 draw and therefore go into the play off two-legged final against Alloa Athletic.

This time next week we could be in the Second Division. Come on you Borderers!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Jose Antonio Reyes for Arsenal (vs Man City), 5th May 2006

So. The final weekend of the Premiership season. The title has long since been won and the relegation places have already been determined, but it’ll still be a nailbiter round these parts.

All to play for as ST, Charby, Lord B and El Tel all duke it out at the top of the table and look to be the first to fall over the finish line and collapse from relief and exhaustion.

Whatever happens, at least it will all be over, anyway.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Wigan
Aston Villa 1 - 0 Sunderland
Blackburn 2 – 1 Manchester City
Bolton 2 – 1 Birmingham
Everton 1 – 1 West Brom
Fulham 2 – 0 Middlebrough
Manchester Utd 2 – 0 Charlton
Newcastle 1 – 2 Chelsea
Portsmouth 0 – 1 Liverpool
West Ham 1 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur

And some playoff wildcards:

Preston NE 2 – 1 Leeds (on Monday)
Watford 2 - 2 Crystal Palace (on Tuesday)

World Cup Predictions League anyone?



Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Joe Cole for Chelsea (v Manchester United), 29 April 2006

So, the predictions league heads into the final weekend of fixtures with the possible season winner a four-horse race.

If only any of the major European leagues were as close, eh?

Nine points separate Swiss Toni at the top and Charby in fourth place, and so it promises to be a close run affair. Although I am the only person to score a bonus 5 points for naming an FA Cup finalist and so, as this hasn't been added yet, I am technically in the lead I guess....

Predictions up on Friday and results sometime next week.....

*bites nails*