Saturday, December 29, 2007

Phil O'Donnell for Motherwell (v Kilmarnock), 24 November 2007

In these days where football is lauded as being more athletic, faster and more physically challenging than ever, the most serious and tragic repercussion of this is the number of player deaths.

Today saw the untimely and premature death of Motherwell captain and Scotland international Phil O'Donnell at the end of his clubs' 5-3 win over Dundee United.

2007 has, by my reckoning and according to this Wikipedia article, been the worst year in history for football player deaths and the 2000s the worst decade. A Brazilian, Cristiano Junior, the Zambian Chaswe Nsofwa, the young Spanish international Antonio Puerta and now O'Donnell have died during matches this year. This is on top of incidents such as Clive Clarke's collapse during the Forest v Leicester cup tie earlier this year.

Whilst the cause of this latest tragedy is as yet unknown, heart failure has accounted for the vast majority of similar cases (the exceptions being two Colombian players killed by being hit by bolts of lightning within three days of one another in 2004 ). Assuming medicine in football and general player care is better than it's ever been, is it the changing nature of the game that's responsible for this increase in fatalities?

Of course, days like this reinforce the fact that it's simply a stupid game of twenty two people kicking a ball about. The thoughts of everyone in the game should be with the Scotsman's family and friends tonight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Carlos Tevez for Manchester United (v Liverpool), 16 December 2007

Er, just to say that there won't be any predictions here until the New Year due to it being Christmas and there being 4.3 gazillion fixtures between now and then.

Right-o. Excellent.

Let's hope Fabio wasn't watching Grand Slam Sunday, eh? (Grand Slam? Were there four major international tournaments in football on the same weekend just gone, then? I must have missed that....) Both games were cagey, kick-and-rush low-quality rubbish with two goals and practically zero skill. Contrast to the Eredivisie game a couple of weeks ago that was a brilliant Feyenoord 2-2 Ajax draw with goals, a red card, plenty of enthusiasm and no small level of talent.

Dutch football v English football? I'll take Roda Kerkrade every day (Raymond Attaveld off of Everton off of the early 90's is their manager, by the way. Ray Attaveld! I know!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fabio Capello for Italy (vs England), 14 November 1973

It's a bit early, I know but..... Predictions anyone?

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

wildcards from some of Fabio Capello's old clubs

Lazio 1-1 Juventus
Torino 0-1 AS Roma
Real Madrid 2-1 Osasuna

(yes, I admit it.... I'm away from a computer for the next few days and wanted to get my predictions in early!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Djibril Cisse for Marseille (v Besiktas), 18 September 2007

Gabriel Clarke off of ITV was running through the line-ups for tonight's Marseille v Liverpool match. In the kitchen, my wife was pottering around making the dinner.

"Did he just say there was a player called Jibberish Seaside?"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Arturo Lupoli for Italy (v Czech Republic), 8 July 2018

I'm excited today as I have done something I have only ever done twice before in eleven years of playing the Championship Manager series; I have won the World Cup.

After years as manager of AC Milan including two Champions League titles, I was invited to take over the reins of the Italian national side. Consecutive 3-0 friendly wins put the side in good form for the tournament, and then I sprung a surprise by selecting an uncapped keeper for the opening match.

The form in the group stage was poor - a 0-0 draw against Spain was followed by a narrow 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia. A draw was enough in the final game and a 0-0 stalemate with the Ivory Coast secured qualification.

A confident 3-1 win over a talented French side and a straightforward 3-1 victory over the Uruguayans led to a semi-final showdown with Colombia. The first half was a cat and mouse affair and the sides went in 0-0 at the interval. However, a change in attacking focus and a team growing in belief brushed aside the South Americans in the second half recording a one-sided 4-0 victory with two goals from Antonino Lazzari.

The other semi-final saw the Czech Republic beat England on penalties (art imitating life) and so an all European final would decide the fate of the 2018 World Cup. I stuck with my trusted "first choice" eleven that had served me so well.

1. Paolo Ferri (Messina)
2. Antonio Barbieri (AC Milan)
3. Gaetano Oliva (Juventus) - captain
4. Guiseppe Palermo (Juventus)
5. Guiseppe Maffei (Manchester City)
6. Matteo Messina (Arsenal)
7. Paolo Milani (Middlesbrough)
8. Antonino Lazzari (Atalanta)
9. Michele Catalano (Arsenal)
10. Massimiliano Bruno (Brescia)
11. Arturo Lupoli (Newcastle Utd)

18. Christian Corvino (Lazio) for 7. Milani
19. Davide Catalano (Juventus) for 10. Bruno
20. Gennaro Franceschini (Atalanta) for 11. Lupoli

For an hour, it was a close affair with Italy slightly on top. On 63 minutes, Arturo Lupoli ran onto Catalano's excellent through ball, rounded Petr Cech and put Italy ahead. In an attempt to close out a win, I threw on three subs with ten minutes to go, but an injury time from Czech winger Petr Zavadil sent the tie into extra time. Neither side could find a winner and 1-1 was how it ended.

A nail-biting penalty shootout saw both teams score their first effort, before an amazing seven consecutive misses. It was left to Arsenal midfielder Michele Catalano to sidefoot an effort past Cech and to secure a 2-1 shootout win for the Italians, and a fifth World title.

The Italian FA were quick and lavish in their praise for me, as I joined the hall of fame of legendary Italian managers. And all that with only one of my "own" Milan players and half a starting eleven playing their football in the Premier League. That how it's going to be in a decade, you think....?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Matthew Amoah for NAC Breda (v Ajax), 2 December 2007

[What a lovely fella Joey Barton is...]

Predictions time, compadres...

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

and lets have a jaunt to the brilliant Eredivisie:

Excelsior 1-3 NAC
Vitesse 1-1 FC Twente
Heerenveen 2-1 FC Groningen

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Joey Barton for Manchester City (v Tottenham Hotspur), 18 April 2003

Over the past few years, Scouse idiot Joey Barton has had more than his fair share of tabloid press. In at attempt to try and launch some sort of charm offensive, the Newcastle United (and, lest we forget, England midfielder) agreed an interview with the toothless Gabby Logan on yesterday's "Inside Sport".

Barton has long been a perfect example to those who think that footballers are all overpaid layabouts with more money than sense. There have been other examples (Ashley Young's pre-match rituals are the most recent antics to hit the headlines) but there can't have been a more consistent idiot in the history of the Premier League.
Off the top of one's head, let's see. The stubbing out of a cigar in a team-mate's face. Being sent home of a pre-season tour for hitting a fifteen year old boy before a fight with his team-mate in a hotel bar. Breaking a pedestrian's leg in a car accident. Flashing his arse to a section of the Everton faithful after an away game. Arrest and an impending court case for ABH against a team-mate in a training session. Three cousins and one brother in prison on assorted assault, GBH and murder counts.
Nice fella, this one.
Eschewing a golden opportunity to present himself as a likeable scally, regretful and penitent, he spent the whole interview defending his actions and portraying himself as a victim of circumstance and of press focus. On more than one occasion, he could be heard complaining about the fact that the press pick on him over certain incidents which perhaps they wouldn't with other players. "I know it's becuase of my reputation", he says, without accepting in the slightest that his catalogue of immature and inane behaviour is exactly the thing that has generated this reputation in the first place.
Rather than presenting himself as a victim - an easy target for the tabloids - he could easily have started to rebuild or alter his well-earned reputation by being conciliatory, taking responsibility for his mistakes and being remorseful about them.
Instead, he defended himself and seems to be in some sort of delusional denial that he's ever done anything wrong. He's prepared to go to prison to defend the allegations that he assualted team-mate Ousmane Dabo, he did hit the 15 year old but it was all in self-defence, he bit Richard Dunne after Dunne tried to make him apologise to the boy and whilst the boys father was punching him. All completely innocent scenarios blown out of proportion by the tabloid press.
I didn't like Barton before, and I certainly don't like him now. I understand he is receiving counselling from Tony Adams' institute about his behaviour, but a leopard rarely changes his spots. Whatever he might claim, through a series of moronic and violent acts he has built a reputation for being a troublemaker, and if this weeks attack on his own home support is anything to go by, he isn't likely to change any time soon.
I know that the reality is that no-one in football really cares about morals, especially if you're a half decent player. As with a lot of professions, though, it is the actions of a small minority that cultivate the opinion of the profession as a whole. Being in financial services, I know this to be true more than most! In footballing terms, Barton can count himself as the chief protagonist in that minority. Why he can't learn from his mistakes, apologise for his idiocy and move on is beyond me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sulley Muntari for Portsmouth (v Birmingham City), 24 November 2007

The story goes that Harry Redknapp arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday night after watching the Rangers game in Stuttgart. He was told "you're wanted!" and apparently said "What, by England?" Er, no, Harry...

Aston Villa 1-1 Arsenal
Blackburn 2-1 Newcastle
Chelsea 2-0 West Ham
Portsmouth 1-1 Everton
Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough
Sunderland 2-0 Derby
Wigan 1-0 Man City
Liverpool 2-0 Bolton
Tottenham 3-0 Birmingham
Man United 2-0 Fulham

and why not some wildcards from the FA Cup?

Notts County 2-0 Havant and Waterlooville
Torquay 1-2 Brighton
Mansfield Town 2-0 Harrogate Railway

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lee Bowyer for West Ham (v Derby County), 10 November 2007

"If Derby County hadn't been promoted via the play-offs last season, Billy Davies would still be manager."


Friday, November 23, 2007

Frank Lampard for England (vs Croatia), 21 November 2007

The Premier League? Best league in the world mate.

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


Celtic 3-1 Aberdeen
Weymouth 1-1 York
West Brom 2-1 Wolverhampton
I'm not sure my heart's in this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ivica Olic for Croatia (v England), 21 November 2007

You will note that my predictions for the qualifiers for Euro 2008 were ultimately all correct barring one glaring mistake.

If this is the best league in the world, the "golden generation" with a raft of players considered the world's finest, defeats to Croatia and Russia and draws against Israel and Macedonia are simply not good enough.

Too many foreign players, injuries and suspensions - the whole gamut of excuses will be rolled out. These are all red herrings. There are two reasons we haven't qualified. Firstly, the blame needs to squarely rest with the manager whose climbdowns, tactical misadventure and inconsistency have failed to get a decent set of players out of, let's face it, an easy group.

Secondly, some of the senior players need to look at themselves in the mirror and wonder if they really performed to anywhere near their talent throughout any of this campaign. Gerrard, Lampard, Robinson, Bridge, Beckham, Joe Cole have all been way under par in an England shirt over the last eighteen months. As Simon Aldred from Cherry Ghost succinctly put it (an evening better spent, I reckon) - "...there is no better sport than watching eleven dejected millionaires get rained on...."

All this hubris about the quality of the Premier League and it's English stars needs to end now. On the basis that Greece, Poland, Croatia and Romania have qualified - hell, even Finland came nearer to qualification than England - it's time for the manager to go and for someone with a half decent knowledge of international football to take over. And it might help for a dose of reality to be administered to everyone within the English game. We are (and have been for eighteen months) sh*t. I just wish we knew we were.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Omer Golan for Israel (v Russia), 17 November 2007

So, the width of a post rescued England's chances of qualification for Euro 2008, and a dodgy free-kick decision did for Scotland's. Looking at the rest of the qualifying groups, though, it's a case if the usual suspects on the plane to Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Poland - consistent in qualifying but invariably disappointing in tournaments - sealed their place in Euro 2008 with a win over Belgium. They will be joined from Group A by Portugal as long as they don't lose to Finland on Wednesday night. There is a complicated situation where Serbia could still go through, but bank on the Portuguese to be there in the summer.

Italy's last gasp win at Hampden mean the World Champions qualify along with the French.

Thanks to a change in the rules, reigning champions Greece had to qualify this time around and, somewhat appropriately, I think, they will get the opportunity to retain their title having won Group C. Norway were all set to join them, but a 2-1 home defeat to Turkey on Saturday puts the Turks in pole position and they will go through if they beat Bosnia in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic and Germany had long qualified from Group D.

Despite their defeat to Macedonia, Croatia have qualified from Group E with England all set to join them should they avoid defeat on Wednesday night.

Spain's 3-0 defeat of Sweden secured their birth and they will be joined by the Swedes unless they lose to Latvia and Northern Ireland beat Spain in Gran Canaria.

Romania and Holland qualify from Group G at the expense of Bulgaria.

Interestingly, England's stumbling campaign could work to their advantage in the seeding of the tournament. The top seeds in Decembers draw will be three of the tournaments weaker teams (current holders Greece and hosts Austria and Switzerland) as well as the country with the best qualifying coefficient for this tournament and the 2006 World Cup. England are therefore likely to be in the second group of seeds and with some luck this could result in an easier draw. We'll no doubt still go out heroically in the quarter-finals, though. Probably on penalties.

Likely qualifiers:

Austria (hosts), Switzerland (hosts), Poland, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, England, Spain, Sweden, Romania and Holland

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Roman Pavluchenko for Russia (v England), 17 October 2007

[Should foreign refs take charge of domestic football?]
[The MyFootballClub debate]

Are we finally going to get rid of that bumbling ginger idiot this weekend? Come on Russia, do us all a favour....

Bulgaria 1-2 Romania
FYR Macedonia 0-2 Croatia
Greece 3-0 Malta
Israel 0-1 Russia
Northern Ireland 1-2 Denmark
Norway 2-1 Turkey
Poland 2-0 Belgium
Scotland 1-0 Italy
Spain 2-0 Sweden
Wales 1-2 Republic of Ireland

and some wildcards from teams from the fair county of Essex:

Dagenham and Redbridge 1-2 Bradford
Grays Athletic 2-0 Farsley Celtic
Braintree Town 2-1 Bognor Regis Town

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Raphael Nade for Ebbsfleet Utd (v Altrincham), 20 October 2007

We have touched on this subject before, but today MyFootballClub agreed to buy a controlling stake in Blue Square Premier side Ebbsfleet United.

You probably know the premise - an annual membership fee of £35 gets you a stake in a club and input on all major decisions affecting the club and the team.

I know there are those readers who have signed up to this venture, and earlier today ST asked me whether he thought CUAS should get involved at the start, or whether I thought the idea preposterous.

Let me answer that very simply: I think this whole escapade is utterly ridiculous.

Your £35 gets you, for example, a vote on team selection and tactics. The head coach (former Republic of Ireland international Liam Daish, by the way) will make notes on form and fitness, but it's ultimately the members that decide the starting XI.

Brilliant. Let armchair punters with no idea whatsoever decide who plays. Anyone know who plays at right-back for Ebbsfleet United? Or, indeed, who their reserve right-back is? No, thought not. How, then, is one supposed to make any sort of informed decision about who to pick bar the coaching staff who work with them on a daily basis?

Suppose, for example, Ebbsfleet tie up a deal to sign Lee Sharpe which is approved by the members. With no disrespect to the fella, he's probably not that fit these days and a shadow of the once great winger he was (some would say that was true at any point after he left Man United.) If he's on the selection list for 53,000 ignorant punters to pick from, he'll get picked, won't he? Even if the incumbent left winger is a 19 year old genius in the making.

Malcolm Bigcock. He'll get a game every week for one reason alone.

And what happens when they are 2-0 down at half time? Is there a text-based vote? "Text the name of the player you want replaced to 81193".

And then there's the second season. 53,000 people paid their £35 in ignorance of which club was chosen. Ebbsfleet were unveiled today, they fail to improve on their 9th place in the Blue Square Premier and it rolls around to next August. The novelty wears off, a few thousand can't be bothered, a few thousand more don't like the choice of club. Bang goes the income - and then what?

The website says it will "inspire players - having the backing of tens of thousands of members will be the ultimate motivation." Until of course you play a blinder one week and are dropped the next because a few thousand people in Chicago or Aberystwyth fancy the other player in your position because the internet tells them so. Not that inspiring then, eh?

Well, Ebbsfleet fans, I feel for you. Having your club poached from under your nose in nothing more than a giant publicity stunt, and your team chosen by people whose sole experience of this sort of thing is taking Rushden and Diamonds to the Premiership on Championship Manager must be galling.

I just don't get it. A head coach and coaching staff taking training on a day to day basis whilst completely unqualified and ignorant people get to decide the starting XI just because they paid for the club. If I were coming up with a blueprint for a successful club, Hearts and Chelsea wouldn't be the first two I'd pick.....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dennis Rommedahl for Ajax (v Feyenoord), 11 November 2007

It was "Klassieker" weekend in Holland this weekend, with the league's top two sides going head to head in the country's most fiercely contested derby match.
A spirited Feyenoord side dominated the first half and Gio van Bronckhorst's 27th minute goal separated the sides at half time.
Ajax coach Adrie Koster made two changes at the interval, removing Luis Suarez and the apparently infinitely ineffective Albert Luque and the substitutes changed the game. Ex-Charlton winger Dennis Rommedahl side-footed a brilliant equaliser on 52 minutes, and Swiss teenager Siem de Jong sneaked a left foot shot in the far corner on 67 minutes after some woeful Feyenoord defending.
Despite looking down and out, the home side equalised with sixteen minutes remaining when ex-Rangers striker Michael Mols stumbled in the box and despite fierce Ajax protestations, a penalty was awarded. Marten Stekelenburg kept out Theo Lucius' spot-kick but Jonathan de Guzman was on hand to poke in the rebound. Ajax lost George Ogararu to injury shortly after having made their permitted three substitutions but held on for a 2-2 draw.
What interested me about this game is that the Dutch FA had made a bold decision to appoint a Belgian referee, Franck de Bleeckere for the match rather than using one of their own officials. A Dutch official would have understood the nature of the derby atmosphere and the individual traits of players they come into regular contact with, but is an impartial foreigner likely to provide a more objective and laws-driven environment? Other than the erroneous penalty award, De Bleeckere did well, I thought - his zero tolerance for technical transgressions was apparent early (a booking for simulation and one for deliberate handball in each penalty box) and he was authoritative throughout.
I'm largely in favour of allowing good quality referees to administer games outside their own country - indeed when Pierluigi Collina reached the retirement age for Italian refs there was some conjecture that me may continue his career in England (as our retirement age is higher.) I'm not arguing that the standard of refereeing abroad is better - but for a Premiership title decider on the last day of the season, why not consider a top European ref as an impartial and experienced option? In this day of foreign players and managers it seems a bit inconsistent that we can't do the same with our officials.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Luke Young for Middlesbrough (v Tottenham Hotspur), 3 November 2007

So, it's that time of the week again. I feel like Leeds United - majestic in the first season of this game, and a slow and ineluctable decline since. Shane's Chelsea-like consistency is reminiscent of Mourinho's 2004 side....

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

and wildcards from the FA Cup First Round:

Crewe 1-1 Milton Keynes Dons
Morecambe 1-2 Port Vale
Wycombe 2-1 Swindon

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pontus Wernbloom for IFK Goteborg (v Trelleborg FF), 28 October 2007

Trying to standardise the world football calendar might seem like a great idea in principle, but try selling that idea to the Scandinavians whose leagues, on account of their impending winter, are now either concluded or well on the way.

It's been a really interesting season in Scandinavian football, actually, with the established order struggling and some new faces in the upper echelons of the leagues.

Norway's biggest club, Rosenborg Trondheim, have had a contrasting season. Despite Champions League qualification and subsequent excellent results against both Chelsea and Valencia, an unacceptable fifth place league finish (meaning no European qualification) cost coach Knut Toerem his job. The toppling of Rosenborg as the main power in Norwegian football was unexpected, particularly considering they have been as dominant a club as any European league has seen in the last two decades, winning fifteen of the last seventeen league titles.

Their demise opened up a chance of glory for another of Norway's sides, and it was last years runners-up SK Brann who grapsed the chance of the Tippeligaen title for their first Championship since 1963. Stabaek finished second - the best finish in the clubs long history - and Viking secured the "bronze" spot from Lillestrom.

As well as for Rosenborg, it was a disappointing season for 2005 champions Valerenga who ended up in seventh spot, a full eighteen points off the top.

The Finnish league was more predictable, however, with Tampere United comfortably retaining the Veikkausliiga title by eight points from their nearest rivals FC Haka (coincidentally, Tampere lost in the third Champions League qualifying round to Rosenborg). Haka improved on last season's third place finish to qualify for the UEFA Cup and last years second place side HJK Helsinki had a poor season and finished seventh. 29 year old Braizilan sttriker Rafael was the league's top goalscorer having spent most of his career in Finland.

A nailbiting end to the Swedish season saw the title race go down to the wire with three clubs - IFK Goteborg, Kalmar FF and Djurgardens in with a chance entering the final day. A surprise 1-0 home defeat by relegated Brommapojkarna ended Djurgardens hopes, although ultimately even a win wouldn't have been enough. Kalmar did their bit beating AIK 2-0 but they were denied a fairytale first ever league title by one point as Goteborg's two first half goals handed them the title for the first time since 1996.

Swedish football is one of the more interesting European leagues - indeed since Goteborg's dominance between 1990 and 1996, seven different sides have won the Allvenskan title. Halmstads (twice), AIK, Helsingborgs, Hammarby, Djurgardens (twice), Malmo and IF Elfsborg have lifted the trophy in the last decade.

It's also one of the more closely contested with only fourteen points separating the top 8 sides, and with the top league to be extended from 14 to 16 clubs in 2008 it will make for an interesting season. Whether we are entering another period of IFK Goteborg dominance, I am not sure - a disappointing year for Henrik Larsson's Helsingborg ended with a ominous 9-0 thumping of a competent Halmstads side and so perhaps signals their intent for next season.

Champions - IFK Goteborg
UEFA Cup: Djurgardens, Kalmar
Intertoto Cup - Elfsborg

Champions - SK Brann
UEFA Cup - Stabaek, Viking
Intertoto Cup - Lillestrom

Champions - Tampere United
UEFA Cup - FC Haka
Intertoto Cup - TPS

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Alex Russell for Northampton Town (vs Oldham Athletic), 27 October 2007

Hello. That time of the week again... you know, the one where we all make comically bad guesses at the weekend's Premier League scores.

Or is that just me?

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

and some wildcards from the East Midlands:

Colchester 0-1 Leicester
Northampton 2-1 Southend
Nottm Forest 1-0 Tranmere
Mansfield 0-1 Macclesfield,

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

John Arne Riise for Loverpool (v Manchester Utd), 12 August 2001

So, what's this, then?

Hmm. That name looks familiar, and an address in Liverpool?

Aah! It must be that lovable left-footed Norwegian rogue John-Arne Riise.

But hold on a moment. That looks a bit like the payslip I get showing my meagre earnings at the end of every month. This surely, you know, can't be, can it?

Good Lord. It appears it *is* John's payslip, albeit from about a year ago. £120,000 a month isn't too bad, although I'm a bit concerned as to the club's fortunes at that time if his "points bonus" is only a measly £250. Still, the Champions League increase is handy, isn't it?

He's paid by BACS. That's probably sensible - he's struggle getting the used notes into the back of his Bentley, I'd imagine.

I'd be intrigued to see Kieron Dyer or Darren Anderton's payslips, if only to see the figure in the "statutory sick pay" box....

Anyway, good old John trousered a cool £82,413 in September. All for kicking a ball round a park in Merseyside. Nice work, if you can get it...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jose Manuel Rey for Venezuela (v Ecuador), 13 October 2007

101 Great Goals #27 - Jose Manuel Rey

Time for one of these again, I think. From the South American World Cup qualifiers a couple of weeks back, quite what defender Jose Manuel Rey thought he was doing even attempting a crack at goal from just inside the opposition half, Lord only knows. However, crack it he did, and in the process he registered one of the all-time direct free-kick goals. Absolutely potty.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink for Cardiff (vs Wolverhampton Wanderers), 24 October 2007

Predictions time again folks....

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

Wildcards from FA Cup Qualifying, R4:

AFC Hornchurch 1-0 Team Bath
Folkestone Invicta 0-2 Billericay
Ware 2-1 Tonbridge Angels

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Steve Claridge for Leicester (vs Middlesbrough), 16 April 1997

As I've said here several times before, I quite often find watching football on the telly boring. Usually this has little to do with the teams involved or the quality of the game itself. Rather it has everything to do with the fact that I have the attention span of an adolescent gnat. On the day of a big game, I will devour all of the pre-match previews in the newspaper, I'll watch the build up and the predictions and then happily watch the first few minutes with great concentration, but before too long, my mind will start to wander; I'll start idly flicking through a newspaper, I'll browse the internet, I'll get up and make a cup of tea, I'll wonder what I'm having for my dinner.... in short, I'll do almost anything but get lost in the narrative of the game unfolding in front of me. Sometimes the game is good enough to snap me out of this pattern and will simply demand my attention, but more often than not, I find myself dipping in and out of games.

The radio is completely different though. I love listening to football commentary on the radio. We have radios scattered throughout the house, from the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom, but every single one of them is tuned into Five Live. This is principally because I prefer talk radio to the inanities of Radio One when I get up in the morning, but I can't yet face Radio Four for what I see as its pompous tone and (more importantly) its lack of serious sports coverage. Five Live is much brighter and has a lighter touch and more sport than you can shake a stick at. Although I'll sometimes tune into Zane Lowe when I'm cooking my tea in the evening, more often than not I'll be tuned into a slightly scratchy medium wave signal and listening to Alan Green and Mike Ingham covering a game. My short attention span matters less when listening to a game on the radio: the commentators are working in a very different medium to their counterparts on television. Where the best TV commentators know when to let the pictures speak for themselves, radio commentary has to paint the picture for their listeners. In television, less is more. In radio, the reverse is true. When football is on the telly, I feel as though I have to be actually watching to pick up on the ebb and flow of a game. Not so on radio. My mind can wander all it likes whilst I'm listening to a game on the radio, but I can somehow still absorb the details of the game from the commentary as it plays out in the background. I can more easily enjoy a game passively on the radio.

There's a cultural difference too: football coverage on Sky seems to be contractually obliged to tell us how every game is the best game until the next game and to constantly harp on about what's coming up in "The Best League In The World" (tm). This is not a philosophy that Five Live subscribes to, and Alan Green in particular is especially quick to point out that he is finding any particular game turgid. Perhaps Green does it to a fault, but I quite like the honesty and find it far more convincing that Sky's brainwashing. Martin Tyler and Andy Gray are perfectly acceptable commentators (far more so than the sadly fading John Motson, anyway), but Ingham, Green, Jonathan Pierce and John Murray are frequently excellent as the main commentators, often ably backed up by an array of usually interesting and informative co-commentators. Who knew that Stan Collymore and Steve Claridge could provide such insightful and informed analysis? Certainly more informative and interesting than the likes of Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, anyway. They also cover lower league football well, with Mark Clemmitt apparently have an even more encyclopaedic knowledge of the football league than Jeff Stelling.

The other good thing about football on the radio? You get all of the games in one place and they're all free. No need for that subscription to Setanta here.... although if you want to hear Alex Ferguson or Sam Allardyce interviewed, you'll have to go elsewhere as they won't talk to the BBC (courtesy of Alan Green's big mouth and their own easily bruised egos and staggering abilities to bear a grudge)

The BBC have been getting a lot of criticism recently about how they spend our money. There's no question that they don't always get things right or that they do lots of things wrong....but in my opinion Five Live is one thing that they get more or less spot on. I

It's certainly not perfect --- I could do without Lovejoy and Spoony on 606 for starters, but perhaps that's another story.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Robin van Persie for Arsenal (v Sunderland), 7 October 2007

Well, saves us all a trip to Switzerland and Austria, doesn't it?

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

well, lets go to Switzerland, seeing as England aren't....

Lucerne 1-1 St Gallen
Basle 2-1 Young Boys
FC Thun 0-1 FC Zurich

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Wayne Rooney for England (v Estonia), 13 October 2007

Despite it's "rugby football" name, this place does not concern itself with matters of the oval ball. Indeed, rugby is one of the few sports I can't get that excited about, save for those few matches in which I can be nationalistic and partisan about the result. From the photo you will notice that last night was one of those such nights - bear in mind this was supposed to be someone's wedding reception...

Many appreciate rugby's nuances and tactics, but I can't get that excited about a disciplined and controlled team performance. I know that rugby has its moments of individual brilliance, but I find England's progress towards the World Cup Final akin to that of the Greece team in Euro 2004. Whilst one can begrudgingly admire the team ethic and tactics, that method is far less successful in football. Football is much more defined by individual brilliance and tactics - a last-ditch tackle, exquisite pass, brilliant save or wondergoal. That's not to say that rugby is bereft of such moments - but these moments are generally few and far between in an eighty minute match rather than football in which moments of great play can be much more commonplace.

It's clearly possible to like both, and I don't want to turn this into a football versus rugby debate. The reason I mention it at all is for a tiny moment in last night's semi-final that superbly defined the difference between the two sports and the manner and spirit in which they are contested.

Less than ninety seconds into the match, a long punt into the corner was chased back by French full back Damien Traille. In a split second he misjudged the bounce of the ball, and an opportunist Josh Lewsey pounced on the loose ball and forced himself over the line for a try.

A score. Within the first two minutes of the World Cup Semi-Final. A priceless and ultimately critical 5-0 lead.

Rather than his football counterparts, who would have wheeled around towards their supporters in a manner of unbridled chest-thumping superiority (no doubt with their shirts over their heads) Lewsey did something entirely different. Immediately, he turned to the French player, prostrate on the ground in dismay at his error, bent down and almost imperceptibly patted him on the head.

Blink, and you'd have missed it, but there in that gesture was my absolute highlight of the entire Rugby World Cup tournament. A small moment of grace which acknowledges that our opponents are human and fallible and that without them there wouldn't be much of a game. There by the grace of God go I.

It reminded me of the famous moment at the end of the epic Ashes test at Edgbaston in 2005. On that sunny Sunday morning, the Australian last wicket pairing of Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz had amazingly put themselves in a position where they were moving inexorably towards a match winning partnership. Then, in the nick of time, Kasprowicz gloved (via the bat first, as it turned out) a Steve Harmison delivery to wicket-keeper Geraint Jones to give England a two run victory in one of the closest Test matches in history.

Winning such an incredible match by the tiniest of margins sent the England fans into a frenzy. But, in the same manner as Lewsey, England's talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff didn't immediately over-celebrate the victory, whooping and hollering. Instead, he turned to the stranded Brett Lee at the other end of the pitch and offered the Australian batsman some words of comfort.

In relative terms, I suppose it would have been like the England football side winning a World Cup semi-final on penalty kicks and Wayne Rooney's first reaction being to commiserate the opposition goalkeeper. Just wouldn't happen, would it?

I'm not holding rugby and cricket as majestic examples of the great spirit in which sport is played. This lazy and oversimplistic attitude is used by some and it is clearly flawed. Both sports have problems with indiscipline, scandal and cheating. The difference is clear however - the appreciation of your opponents as a crucial part of the game (and ultimately of your own success) has largely disappeared from football. I know that this is a reason that some have turned their back on football as they prefer the more gentlemanly and fair-spirited way in which other sports are played. I can't get that excited about rugby (ask me at 9pm next Saturday, though), but football could learn some valuable lessons from it, that much is certain.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Michael Owen for England (v Russia), 12 September 2007

It's silly random international fixture predictions time again, folks....

Belarus 2-0 Luxembourg
Belgium 1-1 Finland
Croatia 2-0 Israel
Denmark 1-1 Spain
England 3-0 Estonia
Moldova 0-2 Turkey
Rep of Ireland 1-2 Germany
Romania 2-1 Holland
Scotland 1-1 Ukraine
Slovenia 2-1 Albania

and wildcards from FA Cup qualifying:

Bromley 2-1 Dartford
Nuneaton 4-0 Stamford
West Auckland Town 1-3 Bamber Bridge

Welcoming the New Zealanders to the FA Cup, there....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Geoff Hurst for England (v West Germany), 30 July 1966

For over forty years, the football world has debated whether Geoff Hurst's second and England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final should have stood.

It's probably one of the most famous events in England's football history - the shot rebounding from the cross bar down onto the goal-line and back into play.

Famously, the linesman Tofik Bakhramov (actually from Azerbaijan where his statue stands proudly outside the national stadium) gave the goal and England went on to win 4-2.

In terms of whether it was a goal, this from Simon Barnes is the best and most convincing argument I have yet to read - the footage certainly supports this argument...

"Look at the still picture of the moment. Not at the ball crossing the line, at the forward in attendance. Of course it was a goal. Roger Hunt was there, perfectly positioned to put away the rebound, but he didn't do anything of the kind. He turned away to celebrate. Instantly, spontaneously, instinctively. It would have been a tap-in, but he turned it down. A goal-scorer only refuses a goal when he knows, knows in the very deepest parts of his being, that the goal has already been scored...."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Alfonso Alves for Heerenveen (v Heracles), 7 October 2007

It's not been the best season for Brazilian international striker Alfonso Alves thus far. That was until yesterday....

After helping Malmo win the Swedish league in 2004 and finishing as the league's top scorer for two seasons in a row, Alves headed south to Dutch side Heerenveen in 2006 for a club record €4.5 million. He made an amazing impact in his first season scoring 34 goals in 31 games, missed out to Francesco Totti by one point for the European Golden Boot and made his debut for Brazil.

Scouts from across Europe sat up and took notice, and this summer saw an intense amount of speculation as to Alves' next club. Middlesbrough was his most likely destination but by the end of the transfer window he remained at the Dutch club. This speculation led to a falling out with Heerenveen and he was left out of the first five games of the season. He made his peace with the club and returned for the second half of the 2-0 defeat to Feyenoord last weekend.

And then came this Sundays' home game against struggling Heracles. Desperately needing to add to their tally of five points from six games, Heerenveen boss Gertjan Verbeek recalled the Brazilian striker to the starting line-up.

That was a decision that ended up being vindicated in record-breaking style. Alves broke the Eredivisie scoring record by bagging seven goals in a 9-0 home victory. His hat-trick came in nine first-half minutes, and the remaining four goals in nine second-half minutes. He was then withdrawn with ten minutes remaining (even though Heerenveen had already made all three permitted substitutions) to a huge ovation. Manager Verbeek called the performance "extraordinary".

What it all means is that Alves is still likely to move on in the January transfer window, as long as the dispute between the player and Heerenveen is resolved (the player feels the club priced him too highly). Whilst his return wasn't enough to salvage the club's UEFA Cup campaign (an astonishing two leg tie against Helsingborgs saw Heerenveen throw away a 5-3 first-leg lead by losing 5-1 in Sweden), his goalscoring exploits will be crucial to Heerenveen's pursuit of a European league position this season.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Birgit Prinz for Germany (v Brazil), 30 September 2007

Hello there. Predictions time again (although considering that Shane's runaway lead continues, I'm not sure why the rest of us are bothering. Mumble mumble....)

Just two Saturday Premiership games this week. Match of the Day should be interesting...

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

and considering they are football's #1 nation right now....

Rangers 2-0 Hibernian
Aberdeen 2-1 St Mirren
Gretna 1-4 Celtic

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Albert Luque for Ajax (v VVV-Venlo), 30 September 2007

I was sitting at home on Saturday afternoon pretty bored. I'd spent two hours of my life that I won't get back enduring the interminable "Atonement" earlier in the day, and noticed that there was a live 5.15pm Premiership game. I flicked on the Sky box. Only to discover, of course, it was on Setanta.

Half absent-mindedly, I went to the Setanta website to determine whether it was going to be worth subscribing to their service. It's £9.99 a month, and I noticed they had two Man United games this month. A fiver each, I thought (there is no contract with Setanta and so you can ancel at any time.)

I pondered this whilst sipping a cup of tea and listening to Jeff Stelling for a while, and began clicking through the Setanta site to see what else I'd potentially get for my tenner. At first, it wasn't really all that inspiring. "Live SPL!" it shrieked, which appears to be (other than it's Premier League matches) it's biggest draw. In principle, that sounds OK, until you realise that St Mirren v Motherwell might not actually be the most intriguing game in the football calendar (no disrespect to either team, by the way).

There was some golf coverage, and some random other events (the Australian Rugby League Grand Final which, to be fair, didn't even raise the interest of the Australian living in my household).

And then I noticed they were showing a live game from Le Championnat.

Now, the French league is not my favourite. But, as many will gauge from this site, I am a fan of continental football in general. Oddly, perhaps, not so much the Italian game (I find it a bit insipid) but I do watch the Spanish stuff on Sky. At any given minute I can also pretty much tell you who is top of any of the European leagues (you should see the Swedish league this season, by the way. Nine points separate the top 8 teams after 23 games. Brilliant). I can tell you results from the last round of games, goalscorers, that sort of thing.

The Spanish league gets the most publicity, mainly due to one David Beckham but also due to Sky's relative high priority for it. It's a good league, don't get me wrong. Me, though - I like the Northern European leagues where the football is cheap to attend, simple and competitive.

Live French football, I thought. That might be OK. And then I noticed that Setanta also show live Bundesliga football. Now you're talking, I thought. I've been to a Bundesliga game - it's rough and tumble and a bit like the English game without so much of the talent. I could certainly watch some of that.

And then I noticed one more thing which made me pick up the phone and call there and then. Now, faced with two live games between 5pm Saturday and Sunday, 99.8% of Setanta's new customers, I imagine, were ringing for Birmingham City v Manchester United. Clearly I watched that game (it was worse that "Atonement" for entertainment, although Cristiano Ronaldo and Keira Knightley's facial expressions bear some pouting, pensive resemblance) but I rang for the live Eredivisie match between Ajax and VVV-Venlo on Sunday lunchtime.

Live Dutch football in my living room. Bloody brilliant.

If there is a mile between the top and bottom of the Premier League in terms of class, there is the distance between Amsterdam and Pluto between the top and bottom of the Eredivisie. Venlo, promoted via the Dutch play-offs last season were torn to shreds by a really average Ajax side who never got out of reverse, never mind any forward gear. Venlo took the lead on 4 minutes, and all that did was wake some of Ajax's players from the dead. One of the most incompetent and comedy goalkeeping displays I have ever seen ensued and Ajax ran out 6-1 winners without even breaking into a jog. Albert Luque scored twice, for Lord's sake Yep, that's how easy it was.

This weekend on Setanta, as well as Arsenal v Sunderland (meh), we have Schalke v Karlsruhe, Sporting Lisbon v Guimaraes, Vitesse Arnhem v Feyenoord, Bayern Munich v Nurnberg, Bordeaux v Lyon and Borussia Dortmund v Bochum. Not all live, but all in full.

It's my new favourite channel. Tenner a month? Bargain.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Carlos Tevez for Manchester United (v Chelsea), 23 September 2007

And so, after reading his excellent article again, I e-mailed Paul Wilson at the Guardian today to thank him for his piece. And, very nicely, he e-mailed me back, and told me he appreciated my feedback. He also mentioned how a small number of United fans had contacted him to berate his piece, but that he knew that there were many disaffected fans out there opposed to the policy.

"Gone are the days, at Old Trafford in any case, when supporters could regard cup games as optional extras. Now you either undertake to pay for every game of the season, at considerable extra cost when United can play half a dozen Champions League ties as well as whatever comes along in the domestic knockouts, or risk losing your season-ticket entitlement to someone with deeper pockets."

I also today note this piece, written by opinionated Five Live eejit Alan Green. Pillock he may be, but his point is (I believe) a good one.

"You see, a new scheme is in operation that suggests the Glazers could hardly care less about United supporters. If you're fortunate enough to have a season ticket, you are now FORCED to buy a seat at all home cup ties. It doesn't matter if you don't want to or if you're on holiday or if you're in prison, you MUST buy a ticket or your season ticket will be revoked.

This is some distance from the situation that pertains at some other clubs where a season ticket 'entitles' you to buy a cup ticket for your regular seat. There is no compulsion.

And, not unreasonably, many United fans are absolutely livid. The principle itself stinks. And what of those people - many of the club's supporters are unfairly castigated because they happen to live a long distance away from Old Trafford - who chose to put up with the 'forced sale' but refused to pay the additional, sometimes considerable, expense of actually attending? Hence, the empty seats.

It gets worse. I chuckled last year hearing Sir Alex Ferguson say, after United won the Carling Cup, how he'd always respected the competition. No, Alex, that 'respect' isn't always reflected in your team selections.

The competition clearly ranks fourth in your priorities, as it should. But how does making 11 changes from the Chelsea game and putting in an awful performance, losing at home to a team from the Championship, square with doing your duty to fans that have had little option but to pay for a ticket to a game many didn't want to see?

Fergie was "flabbergasted". I doubt that was the first word on the lips of disgusted United supporters."

I am glad this is now getting the press it deserves. And not because I am a whining United fan that probably should have seen it coming, but because of the resigned inevitability shown by fans of many many other clubs who can see their own owners moving inextricably towards the same sort of money-making scheme.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester Utd (v Birmingham City), 29 September 2007

Considering that the nice folks at the Guardian have long used this site as inspiration, I took the step a couple of weeks ago of saving them the trouble to search and actually sent them links to my ongoing opposition to Manchester United's "automatic cup ticket scheme" which resulted in the return of my season ticket last week.

I note that Paul Wilson has either seen my piece or found out about this nonsensical scheme from another source and written an excellent article about it here.

This follows a piece in the Times a couple of weeks ago which I had to write to the editor to correct as it stated that "....United season tickets now include admission to Cup games..." (absolutely untrue) to which I received a very polite response from the journalist involved confirming that yes, I was absolutely right (his original piece said as much and his point was rather lost by the sub-editor abridging his article to fit the space they had).

The Hon Beverley Hughes, MP for Stretford has also written to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport and asked them to get involved also.

I doubt if this will do any good in the long run, and my season ticket has already gone back, but if the negative publicity makes other clubs think twice about treating their fans as a bottomless pit of money and football finally realises that ticket prices are getting to unsustainable levels, it'll be all worthwhile.

Paul Wilson's article is excellent and makes some really good points. Now then. What can we get them to discuss next...?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Michael Mifsud for Coventry City (v Manchester Utd), 26 September 2007

Hello all. Predictions time again....

(I will update the table in due course. Manflu/exhaustion are this weeks excuses....)

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

and how about some wildcards from next weeks Champions League?

Stuttgart 1-2 Barcelona
Celtic 0-1 AC Milan
Lazio 1-1 Real Madrid

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kenny Miller for Derby County (v Newcastle Utd), 17 September 2007

Hello all. You can laugh along or cry miserably about the demise of the Special One here. Lasted less time than Sammy Lee? Surely some mistake?

Anyway, must get on. Something about a wedding this weekend. I know, I know. On a weekend with fixtures and *everything*.....

Anyway, Stephen Ireland, eh? Heh heh heh heh heh. What a cock.

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

and wildcards from the Women's World Cup:

Germany Women 3-1 N Korea Women
USA Women 2-1 England Women

Andriy Shevchenko for Chelsea (vs Rosenborg), 18th September 2007

Say what you like about Jose Mourinho, but he certainly gave the Premier League a bit of much needed colour. Apart from anything else, he's the only manager I can think of that has managed to get a rise out of the otherwise preternaturally calm and composed Arsene Wenger. For that alone, we should surely salute him.

I don't know quite what Roman Abramovich thought he was doing by hounding out the best decision he ever made, but I imagine it's something he can find out at his leisure as Avram Grant puts Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack straight into the side....

I don't imagine Jose will be out of work for very long, but in them meantime, here's a selection of some of the quotes (brazenly stolen from Wikipedia) that made us love him in the first place.

"Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one."

"There are only two ways for me to leave Chelsea. One way is in June 2010 when I finish my contract and if the club doesn't give me a new one. It is the end of my contract and I am out. The second way is for Chelsea to sack me. The way of the manager leaving the club by deciding to walk away, no chance! I will never do this to Chelsea supporters."

"We have top players and, sorry if I'm arrogant, we have a top manager."

"If I wanted to have an easy job...I would have stayed at Porto - beautiful blue chair, the UEFA Champions League trophy, God, and after God, me."

"If he helped me out in training we would be bottom of the league and if I had to work in his world of big business, we would be bankrupt." - on Chelsea F.C. owner Roman Abramovich (I guess now we'll see, eh?)

"I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea." - on Arsène Wenger

"Look, we're not entertaining? I don't care; we win."

"Young players are a little bit like melons. Only when you open and taste the melon are you 100 percent sure that the melon is good.Sometimes you have beautiful melons but they don't taste very good and some other melons are a bit ugly and when you open them, the taste is fantastic."

"Omelette, eggs. No eggs, no omelettes. It depends on the quality of the eggs. In the supermarket you have eggs, class one, class two, class three. Some are more expensive than others, and some give you better omelettes. When the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem"

Come back soon Jose. We'll miss you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Michael Owen for Newcastle Utd (v Wigan Athletic), 2 September 2007

So after all the excitement of the international break, England's world-beating heroes return to Premiership action. Ooooh We beat the mighty Israeli's and a transitional Russian side. Give us the trophy now....

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

and wildcards from the Swedish Allsvenskan:

IFK Goteburg 2-1 IF Elfsborg
Halmstads BK 1-1 AIK
Malmo FF 2-0 Orebro SK

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

James McFadden for Scotland (v France), 12 September 2007

I wonder why it is that I am really chuffed for the Scots for turning over one of the world's best international sides and am smiling broadly when I see them atop a group containing the world champions, runners up and quarter finalists, when the reverse wouldn't happen in a million years.

What makes the English generally pleased for success for the other home nations (and Ireland) whereas the rest of Great Britain (on the whole) wants nothing more to see England suffer and struggle?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester Utd (v Fulham), 22 March 2003

[Predictions are here.]

Thanks to all for the kind comments of support on the ongoing United ticket fiasco.

This policy has attracted a great amount of support and interest all over the interwebs - so far I have seen commentary and discussion about it here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here (thanks to ST for the links, apologies if I have missed anyone.)

It is an issue that seems to cross partisan divides and to that effect, if any of you can generate some coverage or encourage debate about this issue with your respective online commentators, I'd be really grateful. It's a fight that will continue (in the courts as well as with fan groups) and if defeated, it might make other clubs think twice about applying the same level of "loyalty tax" (great term, Paul).

I've also written to the local MP to ask for her support. Fat chance I'll get it, of course, but there you go.

One point I would make is that I have seen comments asking why I renewed my season ticket in the light of this policy. The answer is twofold. Firstly, I had 48 hours notice that I had to renew, and I made a snap decision without properly considering the implications. Furthermore, I had made the decision between July and now that I would not be renewing my season ticket in light of this policy for the 2008/9 season (as people I know will confirm). This Roma issue has just brought the issue to an earlier head than I anticipated.

Secondly, I knew from MUST that battlelines against this scheme had already been drawn and that they were supporting one or more court cases questioning the legality of the policy. Were these to be successful of course, I could continue as before which would have been (just about) acceptable.

Finally, I would also mention that there has always been a facility for fans to buy their own seats for cup matches. Before this season you got a week or so to buy your own seat, and then if you chose not to, the ticket went on general sale. It's only this season it has been compulsory to buy the seat.

Again, thanks for the support and, spread the word.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Zat Knight for Aston Villa (v Chelsea), 2 September 2007

Irrespective of your team affiliation, I'd encourage you to spend a couple of minutes and read a story about the sad state of the English game (and football in general) here.

See? Horrendous.

And now for some "finger in the air" bizarre international predictions:

Croatia 3-0 Estonia
England 2-0 Israel
Italy 1-1 France
Latvia 1-1 Northern Ireland
Portugal 2-1 Poland
Scotland 2-1 Lithuania
Serbia 3-1 Finland
Slovakia 1-2 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-0 Denmark
Wales 0-3 Germany

and if they weren't wild enough we'll go to the Blue Square Leagues:

Crawley Town 2-0 Droyslden
Kettering 1-0 Boston Utd
Hayes & Yeading 2-2 Basingstoke

(I will update the scores in due course...)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bryan Robson for Manchester Utd (v Brighton and Hove Albion), 25 May 1983

Today, my love affair with my football club, officially, and sadly, ended.

I, and thousands of others have been fighting with Manchester United for several weeks now over their "automatic cup tickets scheme". In short, the club were refusing to release season tickets to fans unless they agreed to purchase a ticket for every home cup game this season.

I received an e-mail today telling me that the club had tried, unsuccessfully, to debit my account with £38 for the home tie against Roma on Tuesday 2 October. The e-mail said:

"In the event of a card or payment being declined: (i) a ticket will not be issued, (ii) where the season ticket holder is a One Year Only Season Ticket holder, such season ticket holder may lose their priority position on any season ticket waiting list, and (iii) the season ticket holder will be liable to pay any resulting bank or other similar charge incurred by the Club. In addition, if a card or payment is declined on two or more occasions (whether during a single season or over the course of more than one season) the Club shall have the right to: (i) terminate the season ticket holder’s participation in the Season Ticket Holders Home Cup Ticket Scheme; (ii) withdraw the season ticket holder’s season ticket with immediate effect and/or; (iii) terminate any other arrangements that the season ticket holder has with the Club."

I called the ticket office today and a young fella answered the phone. I gave him my membership number and when he asked as to the nature of my call I bet him a pound I wouldn't be the first person he had dealt with with my query.

"You don't want to buy a ticket for the Roma game, do you?" he said.

I can't go to the game. And so, unless I pay £38 for a game I can't attend, my season ticket will be withdrawn. And so, I told him that I won't be buying a ticket, and that I'll wait for my refund to come through as I hand my season ticket back.

I don't know how this has happened. I am about the staunchest and most committed football fan I know. I go, I watch, I inwardly digest. I can tell you pretty much every United player for the last 20 years, scores in Cup finals for decades. I can tell you who scored for Berwick Rangers on Saturday and who Macclesfield Town's manager is.

And yet, today, I have had to disassociate myself with a football club who I have loved for longer than I got to love my father. Despite 15 years of pretty loyal attendance, some amazing highs, standing in the p*ssing rain on dark winter away days and home losses to Crystal Palace, Manchester United has been woven into the fabric of my life more than any relationship, job or pet. And today, my loyalty and unwavering support has been cast aside in the pursuit of nothing more than a quick buck.

It's not even the finances, although for thousands of fans I imagine it is. Creeping season ticket prices have been a cause of concern for a few years now, but this is more fundamental. It's the moment you realise that it's ceased to become about the football and that you are merely a way of the business maximising its income. The club doesn't care about its loyal supporters any more and is prepared to trade them in in search of corporate hospitality and casual tourists who are prepared to pay overinflated prices.

Perhaps I should have seen it coming, or people will say that we deserved it. And maybe they are right. But that doesn't mean that I can't be angry and, let's not beat about the bush, really quite upset about the fact I have effectively been dumped by a lover I have had for twenty five years.

And for those fans out there currently basking in the joy of foreign investment and a team full of international players, this is a cautionary tale. Yes, you - fans of Liverpool and Chelsea and Villa and West Ham and Manchester City, it may all seem like great fun now, but wait until your club screws you for every last penny and disenfranchises you too.

And what happens then? Those true fans up and down the country who have walked away from their respective clubs - those who are the soul of the game - are gone. When the bubble bursts who is left? Drunk City traders on a jolly and casual supporters?

It might seem overdramatic, but I can't believe after all this time it's got to this point. And the worst part of it all is that I am sure there are hundreds and thousands like me feeling just the same.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Emile Heskey for England (v Malta), 3 June 2000

So, after 39 months in the international wilderness, England's struggling Euro 2008 campaign took an increasingly desperate left turn yesterday when all-round hapless lunatic Emile Heskey (left) was recalled to the England squad.

Coupled with an injury list that reads like a "who's who" of international underperformance and disappointment, England head into a crucial set of matches with their most halfwitted coach since the Turnip and a side that most second rate international nations should see off with no bother.

How has this happened? Coach wise (as I have always said), Eriksson was competent. I think the revisionist view on Sven will end up being pretty favourable, considering the sows ears he had to work with to make his silk purse. Was his choice of Vassell, Heskey or Defoe any worse than the current options? I'm not sure. McLaren, however, appears to believe that grinning inanely and treating his international players like schoolkids (Carragher, Bentley, Beckham, even) is the way forward.

And then there's the players. Despite England having one or two international standard players (Rooney? Gerrard?) this is probably the worst set of English top flight players since the early 1990s. Despite the Premiership being the richest (and supposedly best) league in the world, the dearth of English talent is immense. 9% of the Premiership's goals this season have been scored by English strikers, and, with the greatest of respect, I can't see Cameron Jerome (2), Michael Chopra (2), Matt Derbyshire or Victor Anichebe (who has chosen to represent Nigeria anyway) troubling major international defences (Heskey and Darren Bent are the others).

When an injury to Kieron Dyer is portrayed as a huge blow to England's chances, you know something serious is up. And you know what? Something serious is up. England are in real trouble that even a fully fit first choice XI would struggle to remedy. And this weekend's second choice and second rate selection leave me with no confidence at all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Momo Sissoko for Liverpool (v Sunderland), 25 August 2007

ah, there you are. Predictions ahoy!

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

and wildcards for the Manager of the Month winners:

Coventry 3-1 Preston
Leeds 2-0 Luton
Notts County 2-1 Morecambe

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United (v Bayern Munich), 26 May 1999

So, after 368 appearances and 127 goals, one of the Premierships most likeable football characters today announced his retirement.

Signed in 1996 (famously when the club were turned down by one Alan Shearer) for £1.5million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a relative unknown outside his native Norway where United scouts spotted his talent after he had scored 32 goals in 41 appearances for Molde.

He began his reciprocal love affair with the United faithful a mere six minutes into his debut when he came off the bench to equalize for United in a 2-2 draw with champions Blackburn Rovers. He scored 18 goals in this first season as United won the Premiership.

From there, his predatory instinct, tireless work and team ethic made him, I would suggest, United's most popular player in the post Cantona era. I think he's also one of those rare United players (certainly of recent years) that opposition fans begrudgingly respect. The lack of front page scandal or back page demands for exorbitant wages, coupled with his unquestioning acceptance that he was rarely a first team regular (although he started over 200 games for the club) endeared him not only to the United faithful but also football fans in general.

His highlights were many. Clearly, a way to surefire legendary status at any club is to score an injury time winner in the European Cup Final but many forget Solsjkaer's late winner against Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in that famous Treble season.

I also really admired his performances in the 2002-3 season where Ferguson stationed the Norwegian on the right hand side of midfield with the lone Ruud van Nistelrooy up front. Some eye-catching displays and 16 goals ensued that season.

My personal favourite Ole memory however is this ten minutes of brilliance as he came off the bench to net four times in ten minutes in an 8-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest. Superb.

And so, when I moved house to number 20 last year, how on earth could I resist painting my front door red with the "20" in pride of place?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Geovanni for Manchester City (v Manchester Utd), 19 August 2007

Hello troops.

No three points scores for the Dereham v Fakenham match last week, I am afraid - it ended up 12-0 to the home side. Creditable away draws for Debenham and Blue Cross, though....

Arsenal 2-0 Man City
Aston Villa 2-0 Fulham
Bolton 1-1 Reading
Chelsea 3-1 Portsmouth
Derby 2-1 Birmingham
Everton 0-0 Blackburn
Sunderland 0-2 Liverpool
West Ham 2-1 Wigan

Man Utd 1-0 Tottenham
Middlesbrough 1-2 Newcastle

and wildcards from the opening weekend of La Liga:

Real Madrid 3-2 Atletico Madrid
Mallorca 1-1 Levante
Valencia 2-0 Villarreal

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (v Liverpool), 19 August 2007

Proof if any were needed that Rafa appears to be cracking up under the pressure. Notwithstanding the fact that his new facial hair makes him look an awful lot like Max off of Max and Paddy, he has today gone off on one in a manner that makes Jose Mourinho look like a bastion of common sense.

First off, he had a right rant about the Gabriel Heinze situation as discussed here yesterday. Apparently, "....the league prefers to believe the word of someone who has made a mistake." That'll be the word of his current employers who have a contract for his services until 2009, will it?


He then has a pop at the Premier League over their fixture scheduling based on the fact Liverpool play at 12.45pm this Saturday for Sky. I tell you what, Rafa, you play at 3pm every Saturday and we'll have your £20million TV money/Fernando Torres back, shall we?

And then, in what must be one of the most bizarre outbursts of recent times, he says (and I quote): "...I want to ask the Premier League why it was so difficult for Liverpool to sign Javier Mascherano, when we had to wait a long time for the paperwork, but it was so easy for Carlos Tevez to join Manchester United?"

Is he completely deluded or living in a bubble? The transfer of Tevez to United has been going on for (what feels like) months via the High Court, a Premier League panel and even to FIFA. Easy for Tevez to join United? Do me a favour.

What on earth is he getting at? If he's trying to prove some sort of anti-Liverpool conspiracy by being (a) mad another club won't sell their contracted player to him (b) complaining about weird TV led kick-off times and (c) that the Tevez transfer was a cakewalk compared to his Argentinian compatriot, his ludicrous George Michael goatee is the least of his concerns....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gabriel Heinze for Argentina (v Mexico), 11 July 2007

Ha ha ha. Unsurprisingly, Gabriel Heinze has lost his attempt to force Manchester United to sell him to arch-rivals Liverpool. Who guessed? A panel found in favour of his current employers with whom he has two years remaining on a contract?


In the same way as United paid Rio Ferdinand nine months wages whilst he sat in the stands only to be held to ransom for a pay rise the second he returned to action, United fans have quickly turned against Heinze who the club stood by for a year after suffered cruciate ligament damage.

Clearly if the player doesn't want to play for the club, they're well rid. And clearly it's up to the club who they sell him to considering they hold his registration and he is contracted to them. In bygone days, he'd be shunted out to pasture in the reserves until his contract finished, but in the current climate of "player power", he'll no doubt engineer a move somewhere (increasingly looking like Lyon).

Don't you just wish sometimes you could force these idiots to waste years of their career by making them honour their contracts in the reserves? Van Hoojdonk, the de Boers and countless others...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Michael Chopra for Sunderland (v Tottenham Hotspur), 11 August 2007

Predictions time again.

The scores on the doors have been updated. The number in brackets is the actual number of points scored in a week (one for a correct outcome, three for a correct score). Where two people are level, the number of “correct scores” comes into play, otherwise the points are shared.


Clearly, newbies always welcome (as it's as easy to get top points in any given week as it is to get nil!)

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

Wildcards this week are from FA Cup Qualifying, mainly as I could clearly not pass up the chance to include two away teams called “Debenhams” and “Blue Cross”.

Heh heh heh.

Dereham Town 3-1 Fakenham Town
Felixstowe & Walton Utd 2-0 Debenham LC
Saffron Walden Town 3-0 Wootton Blue Cross

Monday, August 13, 2007

Carlton Palmer for England (v San Marino), 17 February 1994

Ah, here he is. Sheffield Wednesday and England legend, defender, midfielder, manager, pundit agent?

Do you see what he did, there?

Are you a busy millionaire who spends so much time managing their multinational business that it leaves you no time to find your ideal overseas pied-a-terre? If you are, this is just for you. For a fee and all the first-class travelling expenses you can cough up, a gangly ex Stockport County midfielder can do the research and travel for you!

I tell you what. If I had a few hundred grand I wanted to blow on a huge foreign villa, there are only a few people I'd entrust it to less. I saw what he did to Mansfield Town.

Anyway. If you have any gripe with any clumsy tackle or hapless bit of "skill" the abrasive, awkward midfielder (Wikipedia's definition, not mine) goofed, you can take it up with him directly considering his e-mail address and mobile phone number are on the internet. It's a bit like the Flirt Divert number, only for football...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rio Ferdinand for Leeds Utd (v Deportivo La Coruna), 4 April 2001

The CUAS Predictions League

Firstly, a big "hello" to everyone at the Guardian who is reading this blog.

Hello! *waves*

The reason I mention this is that despite having lifted ideas for articles and blogs from this site on more than one occasion (famously here), they have this season decided to launch their "PickTheScore" game. Decide for yourself if it sounds familiar:

Pick the Score, Guardian Unlimited's new online football game, is free to enter and incredibly easy to play. Simply log in each week and predict the results of upcoming Premier League matches.

Hmmm. Reminds me of something.....

You can play on your own, if you're into that kind of thing, or create a mini-league to go up against your best friends...

So, a league table of people playing against one another. Interesting.

Once you've registered, click on "enter your predictions" to choose your picks for upcoming Premier League matches. You get one point for a correct result, and three points for getting both the result and score right.

Good lord. Anyone think that sounds just a little bit too much like the game we've run here for, er, two seasons....?

Cheeky b*stards. (this is from the paper that has got the right hump that it's daily irreverent football e-mail The Fiver is now being, er, copied by the Times who are sending a daily irreverent football e-mail at 4pm...)

Anyway, the CUAS Predictions League hath returneth in the same incarnation as previously. One point for the correct result, three for the correct score. Wildcards aplenty, grand prix style scoring and El Tel is now Shane is the man to beat.

Without further ado:

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

and how will some of the promoted clubs fare in the big league?

Charlton 3-0 Scunthorpe
Luton 2-0 Hartlepool
Morecambe 1-1 Barnet

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Carlos Tevez for West Ham Utd (vs Manchester Utd), 13 May 2007

Right then. As everyone knows, I'm not really very good at this... but it's become a bit of a tradition around these parts.

So. Here we go then.

ST's CUAS Predictions for the 2007/8 Premier League Season

1. Man Utd **Champions**

They may be pissing off their season ticket holders with their stealthy price rises, but the Glazers are certainly letting SAF invest in the team.... Hargreaves in particular should be crucial in adding a bit of ballast to a very attack-heavy team. The signing of Tevez could also be a masterstroke (match fitness permitting). How the hell do you go about marking a front three of Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo? Mind you, am I the only one getting a bit bored of Ferguson’s feud with the BBC? Old Carlos is amusing enough, I suppose, but isn’t it a bit ridiculous that he’ll talk to that clown Gary Newbon at halftime in the Champions League, but won’t be interviewed by MotD?

One to watch: Michael Carrick. Two-footed, great passer of the ball and with something of an eye for goal...It should be interesting to see how he blossoms now he will be free of anchorman duties. Giggs and Scholes are also crucial.

Fantasy Football signing: blimey, take your pick. The defence will be tight and the forwards will be free scoring. I've gone for Patrice Evra myself.

2. Chelsea

Surprisingly frugal in the close season, and already looking like they might have an injury crisis on their hands... but you can hardly write them off. The same thing was true last year and they still managed to push Utd close. They do seem very reliant on Terry, Lampard and Drogba though, and with all three injured going into the start of the season, it should be interesting to see how they cope.

One to watch: Jose Mourinho. The special one looked on the edge of walking out a few times last season. He's apparently patched up his relationship with Abramovitch, but will he make the end of the season?

Fantasy Football signing
: Plenty of people will opt for Terry, Lampard or Drogba, but I always go for Petr Cech. His injury last season cost Chelsea the title.

3. Liverpool

The new owners are certainly splashing the cash in an attempt to bridge the 21 points difference between them and Manchester Utd. Will Torres, Babel, Benayoun et al make any difference? Nah, they'll still finish 3rd. Expect a lot of bleating about history and tradition – as if this should somehow actually count for something in a title race.

One to watch: The real question is not where Liverpool will finish in the league, but how long will Rafa's beard last before he realises it is a catastrophic mistake...

FF signing: One of the defenders. Torres will be pricey and won't score enough goals.

4. Tottenham

This is a big season for Martin Jol. Spurs have made steady progress in the last few years, but with Arsenal's apparent slump, this looks like being their big chance to break into the top 4. Jol has been given time and money. If he doesn't do it this year, what odds on the Tony Soprano-a-like wearing a concrete overcoat and sleeping with the fishes?

One to Watch:
Jermaine Defoe. If he doesn't get the hint and do one soon, he'll be getting a lot of splinters.

FF signing
: Berbatov or Bent are worth a look, although both will be expensive. Should be some value in the defenders though. I've gone for Michael Dawson.

5. Arsenal

Interesting times at the Emirates. Thierry Henry limped and sulked his way to 11 goals last season and on the face of it will be very hard to replace. In practice though, the team might actually thrive now they have to look elsewhere for their inspiration. Fabregas is developing into one of the best midfielders in the world and players like Hleb, Gallas, Rosicky, Eboue, Adebayor and the like have a lot of quality.

One to watch:
Arsene Wenger. It's a big season for the inscrutable one. Will his friend David Dein return with some new owners, or will this be the final stand of one of the Premier League's longest serving and most successful managers? Is it just me, or does he look a bit Belgian?

FF signing: Eboue has been playing on the wing in some pre-season friendlies. Could be worth a look as the defence is likely to be solid.

6. Everton

Everton under Moyes have seemed to lurch from good season to bad season and then back again. They did well last year, but I reckon they'll break the jinx this time around and push for Europe again this year. They've not signed much, but what they've signed looks like it could "do a job".

One to watch: Phil Jagielka. Where will he play? Full back? Centre Back? Midfield? Goal? Truly the MacGyver of footballers.

FF signing: Arteta. Lots of assists. Perhaps Cahill if he stays fit and plays as a second striker.

7. Blackburn

Blimey, doesn’t it seem like a long time since Sir Jack Walker and Alan Shearer were celebrating beating Man Utd to the title. Fifteen years, in fact, and they’ve been relegated since then too. Still, Mark Hughes seems to be doing a decent job, although they are quite dull, aren’t they? Still, I imagine they’ll be effective again this season, although quite how useful Roque Santa Cruz will be in the Premiership remains to be seen.

One to watch: Jason Roberts. He’s a funny sort of a player. He’s obviously extremely talented, but he’s promised much at a number of clubs before ultimately disappointing. He seems comfortable at Rovers, but with Santa Cruz joining the club and Benni McCarthy already there, he’s still got a lot to prove.

FF signing: David Bentley. The new Beckham?

8. Aston Villa

Martin O’Neill’s arrival last time seemed to be the most important thing to happen at Villa Park in years, and although his first season was one of steady rather than spectacular progress, perhaps we should expect more this year. Reo-Coker looks like a handy signing, but crucially O’Neill has now got his feet under the table… Mind you, I’m sure that the football will still be fairly functional with Harewood and John Carew forming a fairly muscular front two.

One to watch: Nigel Reo-Coker. After the season he’s just endured at West Ham, Reo-Coker has an awful lot to prove. If he’s left his Bentley at home, we should be fine.

FF signing: Gareth Barry. Solid points scorer with steady assists and the odd penalty. I’ve also got a soft spot for Olof Mellberg, for some reason.

9. Portsmouth

Surely they can’t do as well as they did last season? They’ve got a nightmare start with games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool in their first 6 games. Mind you, with David James, Sol Campbell and Linvoy Primus anchoring their defence again this year, who knows?

One to watch: David Nugent. He was by far and away the best striker in the Championship last season and scored on his full England debut… he’s clearly brave because he snubbed Roy Keane and a possible move to Sunderland, but is he going to cut it in the Premier League?

FF signing
: Matty Taylor. He did brilliantly last year, partly because he was still being classified as a defender and thus benefited from all those clean sheet points…. But he also scored some absolutely cracking goals.

10. Newcastle

Surely the biggest news for Newcastle is that they have finally got rid of Fat Freddie Shepherd and in Big Sam Allardyce, they might finally have a manager with the drive and ambition to take them somewhere. As opening statements go, releasing Titus Bramble in your first week in charge will take some beating. Good riddance and a clear sign of things to come? “Ron” Geremi is a great signing, as is Mark Viduka… and if Michael Owen stays fit then who knows where they could go? What’s going on between the chairman and Big Sam though? Where are the really big signings? Why is Dyer still there?

One to watch: Shay Given. Always the key for Newcastle when they had such a shaky defence… perhaps he’ll have a bit of protection now?

FF signing: Geremi. Class act. Took free kicks for Chelsea, so should be some points there.

11. Reading

Steve Coppell is a genius. They were almost everyone’s favourites for relegation last year and they nearly got into Europe. They’ve lost Steven Sidwell to Chelsea, and not signed much, so will they be able to pull off the same trick this year?

One to watch: Coppell. He’s the one who makes the difference here.

FF signing: Kevin Doyle. Proven goalscorer.

12. Bolton

Little Sam has a tough act to follow in Big Sam, that much is for sure. We’re told that the rather robust Bolton style is going to be replaced by a shorter passing game, but frankly I’ll believe that when I see it. Kevin Davies and a fast, fluid passing game does not compute. Surely the only way is down?

One to watch: Gary Speed. He’s 37 years old and has just become the first team coach as well as the midfield lynchpin. Surely his presence in the side is absolutely critical for Sammy Lee getting his message across? How much longer can he keep going.

FF signing:
Nicolas Anelka. If Bolton score many goals, surely many of them will come from here. Plus, you never know, he might end up back at Arsenal.

13. West Ham

I’m sure Alan Curbishley will just be delighted to put last season behind him, but surely things won’t be as bad this year? The signings of Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljunberg will surely help, but perhaps the biggest bonus of all is the return of Dean Ashton from injury. No Tevez this time though…. But surely they won’t need a miracle this term?

One to watch: Craig Bellamy. He’s quick and talented and sure to score goals. Mind you, he’ll be worth watching just to see how quickly he blows up and goes after one of his team mates with a golf club. If Kieron Dyer ever signs, it might be worth watching Lee Bowyer too… ding ding… round 2.

FF signing
: Dean Ashton. The new Teddy Sheringham.

14. Middlesbrough

This is a big season for Gareth Southgate. He’s lost Viduka and is under pressure to sell Yakubu. How will he cope without the heaviest striking partnership in the league? Jonathan Woodgate has just been named as the worst signing in the history of the Spanish League (which seems harsh) but is clearly a critical figure for the club. Sadly, he’s injured again. I predict a difficult season.

One to watch: Gaizka Mendieta. Wasn’t this guy one of the best players in Europe? What the hell happened? Where is he? Why can’t he keep people like Lee Cattermole out of the side?

FF signing
: Stewart Downing. Does he really want to be at Boro? Will he be an even better pick if he moves to somewhere like Spurs?

15. Sunderland

Or “Roy Keane’s Sunderland” as everyone refers to them. Of the promoted sides, they are comfortably the favourites to avoid the drop. Whether they can or not probably depends as much on the manager as it does on the players.

One to watch
: Roy Keane. He’s confounded almost everyone with how he has carried himself as a manager, but how will he cope if his team struggles? He’s tried to sign a number of players and failed in pre-season and is the £9m signing of a Scottish goalkeeper an act of genius or of desperation? Time will tell. If he loses it, I imagine he will lose it big time.

FF signing
: Kieron Richardson. He’s clearly a tit, but he is a decent player and will surely score a few goals.

16. Man City

A potential England manager is replaced by a former England manager and a new owner who is under investigation for corruption and human rights abuses. Somehow that seems about par for the course with City. Eriksson has splashed the cash, but it seems likely that most of the players haven’t even met the manager yet, never mind any of their colleagues. It could be a long season.

One to watch
: Sven. Secretaries beware.

FF signing
. Perhaps worth taking a punt on Bianchi. Italian strikers have a dreadful record in English football, but this guy got 18 in Serie A last year… so you never know, right?

17. Fulham

This is Laurie Sanchez’s big chance in the Premier League, and he gave up the Northern Ireland job to make the most of it. Still, his signings should make him feel right at home: Baird, Davies, Hughes and Healey were all members of the Norn Iron side that beat Spain. They only avoided relegation by a single point last season, and I imagine it could be more of the same again this time around.

One to watch: David Healy. Phenomenally successful for Northern Ireland but often starting off the bench with struggling Leeds. How will he take to the Premiership? The answer will be critical to Fulham’s chances.

FF signing: Jimmy Bullard. Not quite back from injury yet, but is capable of scoring a lot of goals from midfield. As he was out for most of last season, he should also be relatively cheap.

18. Birmingham

Steve Bruce did really well to get Birmingham out of the maelstrom of the Championship last year, and rumour has it he was inches from getting the boot at Christmas… but he hung on and his side came back strongly to clinch automatic promotion. What are their chances this year? Where are the signings? Where will the goals come from? A struggle ahead, I think.

One to watch
: Gary McSheffrey. Once upon a time, the youngest player to appear in the Premier League (for Coventry, in 1999 and aged 16). He’s scored goals in the Championship and is a former England U-21 international. Can he make the step up?

FF signing. Hmm. Maik Taylor and Franck Quedrue are probably the best of a bad bunch, but you wouldn’t want to be relying on any clean sheet points. Forssell has done well in the past, I suppose.

19. Wigan

Wigan narrowly avoided relegation last year and the signing of Titus Bramble hardly fills me with any confidence that they’ll be able to avoid the drop again this year. Paul Jewell is another tough act to follow… and is Chris Hutchings really the man to do it?

One to watch: Titus Bramble. Once touted as an England defender in waiting, now just openly laughed at for his physique and his tendency to drop at least one bollock every single game. Perhaps the politest thing to say is that he has a lot to prove.

FF signing
. Jason Koumas. Wigan’s most creative player by a mile and a genuine talent. Should get plenty of assists and is a decent outside bet to be the club’s top scorer too.

20. Derby

Hmm. I think this is going to be a long hard slog.

One to Watch: Billy Davies. Seems a bit combustible and threatened to walk out immediately after the play-off victory last season. Who knows what he’ll do when his side start losing? Of the players, Lee Holmes is the one that is tipped for the top.

FF signing: Robert Earnshaw is unpredictable, but has scored goals at this level before.


To be honest though, your guess is as good as mine. One thing's for sure... I bet the Championship is a closer race! Could this finally be the year of the Old Gold? Super Freddie Eastwood for Golden Boot? Or 7th as usual?