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.