Tuesday, November 21, 2006

David Beckham for England (v Greece), 6 October 2001

Predictions will be updated in due course....

OK, folks, time for another instalment in our season-long gallop through the alphabet to determine what football means to us all.

The A-Z of Football

D is for 'Direct Free-Kick' (El Tel)

It's Manchester, it's mid-afternoon on Saturday 6th October, 2001, and I'm on my way to meet Girlfriend (as was). I've just got time for a minor diversion. I step into a rough as hell pub, just off Piccadilly Gardens. I want to know what the England score is - the match should be about to
finish. Big men drink big drinks. The atmosphere is very tense. I look up. England are losing 2-1. Steven Gerrard fires a volley that is easily saved by the Greek keeper. Unbelievable - England are about to fail to progress to the 2002 World Cup Finals. It's well into injury time. Might
be a good idea to step out of the pub now. I'm sensing that reactions at the whistle could be ugly, as are the bar - they look edgy. A whistle, a chance, a direct free-kick. Hearts are in mouths. Shouts come up for Beckham - 'Go on, son', 'Do not fuck this up', 'Come on my lad'. The number
7 places the ball on the turf, takes four paces back, looks up, focuses,
chooses his spot.

And. He. Scores. The place erupts.

'Yeeeeessssssssssssssss'. I'm swept up into the arms of a man whose forearms are as wide as my thighs. From about 6 inches, this twenty-five stone meathead is screaming 'You beautyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy' in my direction.

It's loud and it's smelly, but I don't mind - this is fucking fantastic. A few more moments of sheer delirium and I'm released from the clutches of my fellow man. At times like these, all supporters are equal - it's just that some happen to be more moist and acrid than others. I depart the pub on a high and move towards Oldham Street with a spring in my step.

I meet girlfriend, she comments that I'm looking well. 'Must be love' I say.

The direct free-kick - gorgeous.

D is for diving (Ben)

As inevitable as a moment of supreme arrogance from Graham Poll, a display of graceless twattishness from El Hadji Diouf and a touchline ban for Neil Warnock is that period of the season when diving becomes the hot topic.

Commentators refer sarcastically to “amateur dramatics”, but that does the perpetrators something of a disservice – after all, if there’s such a thing as a professional foul, then some players deserve to be referred to as professionals when it comes to their theatrical talents too.

Not wanting to fuel Chelsea’s persecution complex, but they harbour several such professionals in their ranks. Didier Drogba even brazenly admitted diving last year, the retraction of his comments and the subsequent excuses unconvincing in the extreme. Arjen Robben is equally fond of a tumble, and the “clash” between himself and Liverpool’s Jose Reina which left the Dutchman writhing around on the turf clutching his face would have been laughable if it wasn’t so cynical. And then there was Cristiano Ronaldo in England’s World Cup quarter-final, crashing to the deck every time an opponent came near him.

But here lies the root of the problem. If the tabloids and their incandescent columnists are to be believed, diving – or, to give it its more pretentious name, “simulation” – is something akin to a disease which has been carried into the country by Johnny Foreigner. That’s why Ronaldo was made the scapegoat for England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup – even though that exit had nothing to do with his persistent cheating and diving and everything to do with Wayne Rooney’s temper and impetuosity and our chronic inability to take penalties.

Diving, it’s implied, is an affront to our British sense of decency, honesty and fair play. But, of course, that’s a load of nonsense. Alongside Drogba and Robben Chelsea have the two Coles Ashley and Joe, both established England internationals and both regular proponents of the Fosby Flop. Only two weeks ago Everton’s England striker Andy Johnson took a dive to win a penalty against Sheffield Utd. Our very own Steven Taylor feigned injury against Man Utd to avoid giving away a penalty for blatant handball, and more famously (and ludicrously) went down as if hit by a sniper when blocking a goalbound shot with his arm in the infamous April 2005 defeat at home to Villa.

We can talk all we like about how disgraceful diving is, how play-acting is ruining the game – but the fact is that we have to stop condoning it as and when it suits us. Diving is not cheating in one instance, and “playing the game” or “being canny” in another; it is cheating full stop. It IS eradicable.

But, given the vast sums that hang on every top level match, the likelihood of managers and players being unanimous in their condemnation of diving when there are vital points and prizes at stake is slim indeed.

D is for The Dell, doggers and Brian Deane - (Skif )

This entry was originally going to be just about doggers, meaning ugly, unpretentious, combative defenders and midfielders. I’ve always loved this term, but it appears not to have truly entered the day-to-day footy vocab, as an internet search for examples and, perhaps a little etymology, throws up very little, although Owen Hargreaves was recently referred to as such in the Sun it appears (to my mind not entirely correctly).

One thing I did find out though is that a ‘dogger’ is one who applies the ancient ‘bulldogging’ technique in bullfighting, Thessalonian fighters even captured applying the move in Greek sculpture. In current US practice, the ‘dogger will leap from his steed onto the bull, and twist its head, using the horns, down and sideways to achieve a ‘fall’. I don’t remember Brian Kilcline, leviathan dogger from yer 1980’s, ever trying that, but then I think I’d rather go in for a 50/50 with a bull, it’s mouth bubbling with saliva, than with ‘Killer’.

Sadly, ever since Stan Collymore mentioned in passing that his keenness on a bit of outdoor action is probably more keenly felt away from the football field, the term has shifted and, as such, saying things like, well like “Brian Kilcline: leviathan dogger” will probably see you quickly served with a writ. See you in court, then.

My most treasured dogger memories pre-date my association with Havant & Waterlooville. Between the ages of 8 and 19, my spiritual football home was The Dell, a beautiful little ground, and home briefly to such elementary talents as Terry Hurlock and Neil Ruddock, both of whom had prior association with Millwall. And it showed.

I feel very privileged that I knew The Dell before the Taylor report put the kybosh on it and, although my feelings for Southampton have long since died away after discovering my real love, watching from the Milton End terrace was pretty special, something which has not, could not, be recreated in the New Delli’s plastic bowl. I remember one Friday night match, just before Christmas, against Notts County (yes, a top-flight league game, youngsters) in the final season before the Premiership kicked in. A 1-1 draw in the end, but I remember it more for it being the night I became fully aware of the partisan ways of the football supporter. Neil Ruddock was tunnelled for a head-butt and the Milton End, in front of whom it took place, went into furious uproar. I was stood there, aged 13, and able to see that it was as plain as the nose splattered across the County player’s face, that Razor was either guilty, or very guilty.

I also once saw Vincent Jones (possibly the king of doggers) strut his stuff at the Dingly, for Sheffield United. One of his major contributions to the day’s entertainment was to spend the warm up repeatedly trying to welt a football at the marching brass band’s tuba player, an endeavour in which he was ultimately to prove successful. Think it was his debut too as the scrum for his autograph as he got off the team-coach was pretty hectic, so much so that after I had obtained his scrawl, the arm with which I carried my autograph book was thrust up in the air by a fellow desperate collector. The book’s skyward progress was soon impeded, by one of Brian Deane’s eyeballs. Thus I ran.

It wasn’t just the utilitarian types that I remember though. Although I only went to The Dell about 15 times in my decade as a follower, I was lucky enough to witness a teenage Alan Shearer; several great Le Tissier goals (didn’t need to be a regular for that); a Brian Clough managed Nottingham Forest side and the great gargoyle himself, John Burridge, probably the ultimate in goalkeeping doggers.

The new regulations and the need to expand eventually put paid to The Dell, while the influx of money, and foreign artisans, into the Premiership mean that yer classic, hard-case, top-flight dogger is a thing of the past. Both will be sadly missed.

I actually saw what I have been led to believe was the last competitive game at the Dell, but it didn’t involve Saints. It was the 2001 Hampshire Senior Cup final between Andover and, you’ve guessed it, Havant & ‘Ville.

Sunrise, sunset.

D is for Davies (Lord Bargain)

I know I have been here before on this site, but I have always hated Barry Davies. I know this is a bit like having a go at cute kittens playing with wool, but he is a prize idiot.

Thankfully, he has retired from football commentary. Although the same cannot be said for all the other sports which suffer from Barry’s patronising musings. I have heard him commentate at Wimbledon, on ice-dancing, on obscure Olympic events. The BBC applaud his wide ranging skill and general sporting knowledge. I say “jack of all trades, master of none”.

When was the last time you heard Motty commentating on pursuit cycling? Or badminton? Quite right. Never. Motty is a proper one sport commentator. He knows his football and he sticks to it.

Davies? No such luck. How can he be authoritative about football when his next pay cheque might be coming for doing the parallel bars at the UK Gymnastic Trials or, God help us, commentating on the Armistice Day commemorations?

The problem with Barry Davies is that he applies his (and I use the word very loosely) “style” to everything he does. As I see it, this style involves:

1. Setting the scene by using language that makes it sound like you’re watching a 1950s police drama.

2. Patronising every mistake, foul or infringement by using words like “quite unnecessary”.

3. Spending five minutes saying nothing because you think the viewer respects you for doing that (when actually what they want is commentary which is what you are being paid for)

4. After the five minutes of silence, making a noise that sounds like you’ve just been walloped in the gonads.It’s the noise that angers me the most. Yelling “oooooooooooooooooooooof” when something of importance happens. Making a career out of the noises Paul Whitehouse makes as the “suits you” character is frankly preposterous.

I actually like the new breed of commentators – Jonathan Pearce, Simon Brotherton et al and so the days of having to listen to Barry Davies telling us it was much more exciting in the 1960s, waiting for a triple salchow and then exhaling a noise like Thomas the Tank Engine are, mercifully, behind us.

D is for Directors (Paul)

In any A-Z of football, it's a sad reflection of the modern game that at least one letter should be devoted to the money men. To that end, D is for Directors, the faceless (or not so faceless) people in suits who actually run the football clubs we hold dear.

It is they who make the key decisions, approve contract negotiations, control ticket prices and generally run the clubs. If you get a good board of directors (and with them a good chairman) then you can be satisfied that your club is unlikely to appear in the news for the wrong reasons, and that your club will, in all probability, enjoy a reasonably successful period on the pitch.

However, if you get a crap board, and in particular a chairman who thinks he knows everything there is to know about football, and seeks to proffer his views to anyone who will listen (e.g. Sky Sports news) then you can guarantee that your club will be regarded with contempt because the leadership at the top is rotten.

Thankfully for football, the list of chairmen who are widely known (and therefore reviled) is thankfully short, but for fans of one of those clubs whose chairmen like the sound of their own voice, every utterance is inevitably met with a groan and a burning wish that the pillock in charge would shut up.

As a Newcastle fan, the words "Freddie Shepherd says..." make my heart sink more than watching Titus Bramble try and deal with a long ball over the top as an opposing striker bears down on him.

D is for Defenders (Swiss Toni)

Football’s marquee players always seem to be the glamour boys, those flash harries whose tendency to drift in and out of games is sometimes counter-balanced by the odd moment of absolute genius and the occasional wonder-goal. The Italians would call them ‘fantasita’ players – your Thierry Henrys, your Ronaldinhos, your Francesco Tottis. They’re all very well, I suppose, but, in common with the Italians, I prefer to salute the more bread-and-butter heroes at the other end of the pitch. They may not look as good in a pony tail or a head band and they may be less likely to get that L’Oreal modelling contract, but defenders are the rock upon which football is founded.

Imagine, if you will, a game without defenders (Newcastle fans and players of any of the FIFA series of video games may find this easier than most). Every game would have the kind of scoreline that requires clarification on the vidiprinter.

Manchester United 8 (eight) – Arsenal 6 (six)
Watford 9 (nine) – Bolton Wanderers 7 (seven)
And so on…

It sounds brilliant in principle, but it would be a complete disaster. One of the great glories of football is that a goal is still a valuable currency; it still means something. In a game like basketball, it’s considered odd if a team doesn’t score after every attack, but in football, we still celebrate the clean sheet. If you keep a clean sheet, you can’t be beaten. It’s a simple truth for a simple game. A hard-fought 1-0 victory is worth every bit as much as a 4-0 walkover, and is in some ways so much more satisfying.

And who do we have to thank for this marvel? Defenders of course (and goalkeepers, but they’re a bit further down the alphabet). Those ugly, shaven-headed, broken-nosed lumps at the back. Your Jaap Staams and your Steve Bruces, your Tony Adams and your Terry Butchers. They might have slightly less ball control and vision than their more illustrious colleagues, but they are the heartbeat of every successful side. Chelsea might be garlanded with jewels like Shevchenko, Ballack, Lampard and Robben, but it’s John Terry who drives them forward with his sheer refusal to be beaten.

Is it any coincidence that, in the main, the sides with the prettiest defenders are the ones that concede the most goals? I don’t think so….

It’s the ‘Catanaccio’, the bolted door defence that makes football special. Goals are precious, and have to be earned - defenders are there to make sure that they are.

.............................................................................

I have said it before, but I love this feature. Can I have a supply of "E"s please? (heh heh) And if you haven't contributed before, it would be great if you would.

8 comments:

Sportingo said...

Greetings!

This is a very interesting blog with an abvious knowledge of sport behind it. Would you be interested in publishing any of your articles?

michelle@sportingo.com

Ben said...

Two contributions celebrating the ugly and unsung and yet no reference to Claude Makalele, surely the most sung unsung player around...

Lord B: Here here. Davies is a grade A prat. That said, Motty didn't do himself justice during the World Cup. Brotherton and Wilson were the best, for my money. (Incidentally, what possessed the BBC to give the golf anchor role to Gary Lineker? Can't he stick to the one sport too?)

Jonny said...

This is a cracking feature and is the perfect distraction from work (football, in fact ALL sports sites are banned where I work, so a copy, paste and a hotmail email to myself does the job).

By the way, I couldn't agree more about Defenders.

- now retired (at least until I find a team down here) centre-half!

El Tel said...

Re defenders - yes. Playing as a young kid, I realised that by utterly frustrating opponents by ensuring that they didn't get through on goal (or were scuppered when they did), that the chances of their starting to have a go at one another were soon increased. Generally, when this happened, heads would drop and I knew that the game was there for the winning. And now, 20 or so years later, I still feel and experience the same. In terms of 'intelligent football', quality defending is at least as good and graceful as quality attacking.

Skif - 'elementary talents' - like it.

SwissToni said...

My reflection on defenders has made me realise what I hate about Rio Ferdinand (on the pitch, I could go on forever about what I hate about him off the pitch...). In theory he should be a brilliant player, and sometimes he is. A well-timed interception, an insightful reading of the game and an economy of effort combined with enough ability on the ball to glide forwards and play a killer pass.

Sadly, the reality of Rio's game is that he thinks he is all of the above and doesn't always seem to pay as much attention as he might to the nuts and bolts of the defender's art. He's a good player, don't get me wrong, but if you needed someone to fight with in the trenches when your back was against the wall, you're going to pick John Terry aren't you?

It's for similar reasons that I think that Stuart Pearce was twice the player that Ashley Cole is (again, excluding Cashley's off the pitch activities).

Oh, and

- I watched Beckham scoring that free kick having just finished a 100 hour week at work. I watched him score and then went straight to bed.

- diving is cheating, but I can't see how any measure against it could ever hope to be consistently applied. It would be nice to think that referees should just reverse free kicks if they think that someone is making a meal of it, but I can't see it working in practice.

- I love it when a player is described as having 'a bit of dog in him' because it just seems to be so wonderfully descriptive. Hard to explain, but you know exactly what it means.

- Barry Davies? Twat. Definitely. I hate him so much and couldn't agree with you more. The worst of the lot of them.

- Directors: you really have got to get rid of fat freddie. He makes newcastle a laughing-stock. Well, him and Titus Bramble anyway.

Great feature this.

ST

ST

Lord Bargain said...

I was actually at that England game, and it was the second most emotional "hug a complete stranger moment" I have ever experienced at a footie match (as a Man Utd fan, no prizes for the first).

I do completely agree with ST's "defenders" argument also (although AC Milan have in recent years had fit and stylish defenders and have been pretty successful - Maldini (the new face of H&M (at least in Germany)), Nesta etc).

The more I think about Barry Davies, the more I hate him. More "Mr & Mrs Davies", anyone?

no?

Skif - when we get to "L" I shall write a dissertation about MAtt Le Tissier's top 10 goals, all of which were pure genius.

The Saints also had Glenn Cockerill of course, a dogger if ever there was one....

Paul - you are right about chairmen. Look at the (relative) success of the clubs that you couldnt name the chairmen if you tried - Charlton, Everton, Blackburn and those who the chairmen is obviously a fan/not an eejit - Wigan, Liverpool, Portsmouth.

skif said...

Glenn Cockerill. Aye, that was my era, sat alongside the wonderful Jimmy Case (dogger and artist all in one) in midfield.

Ol' Glenn probably best known for having his jaw shattered by a Paul Davis right hook and now working his managerial magic at Woking. I think Jimmy Case, after a brief spell as Bashley gaffer, appears on Saints FM, or something.

By all means take Le Tissier for 'L'. Glad you warned me, as my planning ahead has only got me to 'K'. Actually now that I think of it, it has to be Dave Leworthy for L, so we're cool!

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