Sunday, February 03, 2008

Matthew Jansen for Blackburn Rovers (v Tottenham Hotspur), 24 February 2002

Ah, so here we are again. My apologies for the delay in this - I spent ages trying to get a little interview with my choice (to no avail). Anyway....

The A-Z Of Football

J is for.....James Taylor (greatest hits) - (Skif)

When you think of James Taylor, you might think of one of folk rock’s more agreeable troubadours [see left. Apparently "You're So Vain was written about him - Ed]. When I think of James Taylor, I think of a chant: “Suuuuuuper, Super Jim, Super Jimmy Tayyyyy-lor!”

Every club has their legends, whether this is for performances on the field, or simply a demeanour that warrants them a cult status. Despite being only about to enter our tenth season as a club, we at Havant & Waterlooville have already got quite a few. Paul Wood (chant: “Woody, Woody” to tune of ‘Tom Hark’) for a start, an ex-pro at Sheffield United and Brighton, for belying his advancing years dancing round full-backs half his age. Then there was Tim Hambley, the ‘cockney midfield genius’, who once celebrated a teammates goal on a particularly wet afternoon by picking up and welting a sopping divot at one of our fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if the coat worn that day remains unwashed and in a giant frame above said fans fireplace.

Tim (chant: “Oh Timmy Timmy…” to the tune of Chicory Tip’s ‘Son Of My Father’) once missed from two inches out in front of a literally empty goal at Ilkeston Town, when he could more easily have let the ball continue to bobble towards the net, but instead performed an implausible trick shot off the post and away towards the half-way line. Despite this, Timmy is arguably the ultimate Hawk cult hero thus far.

James Taylor, now he gets in to the legend bracket for a very simple reason. Not a tricksy player of pedigree like Woody, nor a box-to-box heroic, defence-splitting pass-master with a winning smile like Tim. However he is both our record appearance maker, and top goalscorer, by some considerable margin. 138 goals in 254 appearances (plus 41 as a sub), thus deserving of due reverence, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, as supporters, we need a hook for the stats, something to cement them into a permanent nostalgic memorial. Nobody says, ‘ahh, do you remember when Jim scored a load of goals that season’. There needs to be a moment. Thankfully, Jim was able to deliver that, and for ‘that’ we ignore the fact that now in opposition we can, ‘all of a sudden’, ahem, be alive to his endless whining and willingness to go down easy in the box. We’ll also ignore his two goals for Basingstoke Town back in January that consigned us to defeat.

So, what is the ultimate a player can do to enter eternally into the affections of notoriously fickle football supporters then? Flipping a solid bird in the direction of a set of opposition supporters who can only deal in negative, rather than supportive, singing? We might say we can’t condone it. Through a giggle as poorly disguised as a hungover Mexican wrestler struggling to tie his mask around his knee. Perhaps it needs to be more than just a mid-digit raised so firmly the fist beneath shakes like a pneumatic drill. Buying a round for supporters in the bar after a game, of course, does get you brownie points. Thanks again for that pint, Timmy.

How about this though. You’re at home to your rivals. Lets call them Weymouth. You’re 2-0 down at thirty-five minutes. The away support is singing: “Can we play you every week?” A gloom descends over the West Leigh Park regulars. Then.

44th minute. CRASH! Ball drops over Jamie O’Rourke from Chris Ferrett’s cross and Taylor welts it home. 1-2.

68th minute. BANG! Timmy heads the ball on and Jim scoops out a half-volley. 2-2.

78th minute. WHUP! Jimmy finishes off Neil Davis and Jamie O’Rourke’s move, claiming yet another matchball (he nabbed eight during his six years with us, and one of those was a four-goal trilogy). The Bartons Road End terrace rocked like it never had, as though battered by a hurricane. 3-2. “Can we play you every week” by way of delayed mirror riposte. Rivals sent home to Dorset with their tails packed beneath the scarves that had been grumpily removed from the back seat windows and stored in the car boot.

So, like I say, Jimmy had his moment.

*Memory of Weymouth game (16th March 2002) jogged by Rich Self’s excellent match report.

J is for... Junior Lewis (Ian)

Junior Lewis (b. Wembley, October 1973) is the most inept player ever to feature in the English top flight by some considerable margin, even allowing for George Weah's "cousin" at Southampton.

I first encountered him playing in the conference for Dover Athletic. Their manager at the time was about to be poached by England for the Under 21s. He was, even at this level of comedy football, outclassed. He left Dover for the backwaters of Hendon, but was plucked from obscurity by Gillingham (manager: P. Taylor) in 1999.

Gillingham's Brian Moore's Head claims that "the team played better with [Lewis] in the side", which can only be explained by the truism that it's harder to play against ten men. They describe him, more accurately, as "never looking comfortable on the ball", and note that his goals against Oxford and Scunthorpe were, kindly, dubious.

From there he made the leap to the giddy heights of the premiership with Leicester (manager: P. Taylor). Leicester were, consequently, relegated, and Junior scored his only Leicester goal against his former charges in a 2-0 win over Gillingham. After their relegation and appalling start to the following season, Taylor had been sacked.

So it was no surprise that Leicester decided to offload some of their squad, and Lewis was farmed out to Brighton on loan (manager: P. Taylor), who sent him back once Taylor resigned, and Junior was farmed out on loan to Swindon, until Hull City appointed a new manager (one P. Taylor) and Lewis was off to the North.

And just this month, Taylor has been appointed manager of non-league Stevenage Borough. My money's on Junior Lewis joining up with Titus Bramble's brother and the excellently named John Nutter at Broadhall Way before the year is out.

Has any other player played for so many different clubs under the same manager? Steve McClaren's only redeeming feature is that he is unlikely to call Lewis up to the England squad. That's why Peter Taylor should never be allowed to manage England. One question remains though: Did Peter Taylor visit Wembley in January 1973, or is there any other explanation for his faith in Junior?

J is for..........Jossy's Giants (Paul)

"Glipton Jossy's Giants, Football's Just a branch of science, Head the ball now, Jossy's scored, [Dum Dum] Jossy's Giants"

As I'm sure many of you recall, Jossy's Giants was a kids TV show written by commentating legend Sid Waddell, which chartered the progress of a kids football team who were massive underachievers (the Glipton Grasshoppers - who sported a pretty awful orange kit), whose fortunes were transformed by the help of ex-pro Jossy Blair who brought regime change to the team in terms of training, fitness, and kit (black and white stripes - the colours nature intended) whilst also boosting team morale (a bit like Arsene Wenger when he first arrived at Arsenal, but without the black and white stripes).

The team itself was packed full of stereotypes: flash striker (check), dependable midfielder (check), gangly keeper (check), token female supporter (check), and I suspect if I watched it today I might cringe.

However, when I watched it first time round, I was young, a Geordie (like Jossy) and a massive lover of football (some things never change), and so a programme about kids, featuring a Geordie which included football was my idea of televisual heaven. It also highlighted the dangers of gambling, as Jossy's love of the horses invariable saw his tattered betting slip blowing across the street at the end of each episode, a lesson studiously ignored by countless footballers.

For the theme tune alone, it remains a rightly revered classic of the children's televisual genre, in my head anyway.

J is for....Judas (Ben)

Football always was far more than “just” a game. But now, increasingly and inevitably, it finds itself at the centre of political initiatives founded on the premise that sport in general can be instrumental in bringing about positive social change. Sport, so the theory goes, can help to bring people together, to create a cohesive community. Indeed it can – but perhaps what the policy-makers are forgetting is that, in football at least, that community is always strongly defined (or defines itself) in opposition to an Other.

After all, football is all about tribal allegiances and rivalries, solidarity and difference, sympathy and antipathy – like it or loathe it, that’s what gives it its edge, its dynamic. Wearing a shirt is an assertion not only of your own affiliation to a particular team but also, by implication, of your opposition to others. Chants belted out with gusto from the stands and terraces are almost as often vitriol vented at other teams as they are encouragement for the fans’ own. And nothing unites an already partisan crowd in hatred quite like a Judas.

Some players leave clubs with dignity intact, their efforts and achievements having endeared them to the supporters to such an extent that they’re weighed down with goodwill on their departure. But others slink off with nary a thought for those who used to pay their wages and cheer them on week in week out, lured by the footballing equivalent of thirty pieces of silver and often foolishly sounding off about the club they’ve just left. The results are predictable.

Witness the glee with which I and my fellow Newcastle fans greeted Jermaine Jenas’s abysmal display with chants of “3-1 to the fishbowl” at St James’s Park last month – he won’t be living down his comments any time soon. But that didn’t compare to the treatment dished out to Gazza on his return to the North East with Spurs, when Mars Bars with bits of razor blade embedded in them were allegedly lobbed onto the pitch by an unsavoury element of our crowd unable to draw the line.

Jenas’s Spurs colleague Jermain Defoe is something of a serial Judas, having left Charlton for West Ham under a cloud as a youngster and then jumped the sinking Hammers ship in 2003, famously submitting a transfer request the day after his side had succumbed to relegation. No wonder Upton Park always reserves him a very special welcome.

And then there are the players who’ve committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of supporters – walking out on them to sign up for their bitterest rivals. Do hate figures come much larger than Sol Campbell when he plays at White Hart Lane, even now that he’s no longer lining up for Arsenal? Figo, the darling of Barcelona, joining Real Madrid caused similar ructions. Truly, Hell hath no fury like a football fan scorned.

So, politicians take heed: such moves may have united fans, but only in a solidarity of hatred. There was no bridge-building between rival factions. Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn, then, is that looking to football to help heal social divisions and create community may be like pouring water on a chip pan fire.

J is for .... Jumpers for Goalposts (Swiss Toni)

The reason that football is the biggest and most popular game in the world is simple: even if you have nothing you can still play it. Unlike many other sports, you don't need any equipment before you can play. All you need is a ball, or something that you can use as a ball, and you're away. Other players are great, of course, but when it comes down to it, you don't even really need them. All you need is a "ball" and a bit of imagination. I doubt there can be many people in the world who haven't dribbled something in front of them...a pebble, a tin can, a ball of paper, whatever... and pretended that they were about to score the winning goal in the FA Cup Final or the World Cup Final or some other crucial footballing occasion. It must be one of the great shared human experiences: there's the dribble, the shot and then the wheeling celebration as your "ball" hits the back of the imaginary net.

At its very heart, football is all about this pure expression of joy.

From there, it's a short step to having a proper game. You still don't need any expensive gear, just a couple of mates and somewhere to shoot at... this might be a proper goal, but it could equally be the side of a house, the front of a garage, some bollards in a car park, between two bags.... anything. You simply use what you have to hand and you've got a game.

Whether you are playing at Wembley, the Nou Camp or in your local park, football is essentially the same, simple, brilliant game.

For all that football at the highest level is dominated by big business and is played by pampered multi-millionaires, the core of the game is and always will be sustained by those untold millions having informal kickabouts in the park or out on the street.

I think Ron Manager said it best:

"All skills learnt in the park? You know, small boys? Jumpers for goalposts? Mmm? Ha! Secretly rolling the ball in dog's muck and getting your friend to head it? Hmm? Enduring image, isn't it? Enduring smell. Rush goalie. Two at the back, three in the middle, four up front, one's gone home for his tea. Beans on toast? Possibly, don't quote me on that. Marvellous."

Football, isn't it? Marvellous.

J is for....Jansen (LB)

I have a favourite player of the Premiership era. And he doesn’t belong to my own club. Indeed, he is probably most famous for turning down the chance to join them…

Matthew Brooke Jansen broke into the Carlisle United first team aged 18 and immediately caught the attention of higher division scouts. He turned down a £1million move to Manchester United in 1998 preferring to join Crystal Palace and a year later joined Premiership Blackburn Rovers for £4.1million.

He scored 44 goals in 153 Blackburn appearances, was the Championship top scorer in 2000/1 and scored in the 2002 League Cup Final as Rovers beat Spurs 2-1.

I don’t know what I liked the most about Jansen. Supremely talented, he was skilful and effective, but not flamboyant and inconsistent like some of his peers. He was a prolific goalscorer without being a poacher – a Yorke rather than a Cole, if you like.

He was also the very-nearly man of England’s 2002 World Cup campaign. Struggling to fill the “problem” position on England’s left wing, Sven-Goran Eriksson turned to Jansen as a surprise call-up for the England squad to play Paraguay in a friendly in April 2002. A stomach upset meant Jansen missed that match and, reluctant to take an uncapped player untried at international level (a methodology spectacularly eschewed by the selection of Theo Walcott in 2006), Eriksson left Jansen out of his squad. I remain utterly convinced that a good performance in that friendly and Jansen would have been on the plane to Japan.

Indeed, and bizarrely, his omission from that squad not only cost him his football career but also nearly his life. Instead of joining the England squad in the Far East, Jansen spent the summer holidaying in Rome where a motorcycle accident left the striker in a coma for four days fighting for his life. He spent months in hospital and, whilst he regained something approaching full fitness, he never fully recovered mentally from the accident. He attempted to kick-start his career back at Blackburn, on loan at Coventry City and latterly with Bolton Wanderers but, despite time with an American sports psychiatrist, he never fully recovered.

He was 24 at the time of the accident. Despite a good few seasons, we were prevented from seeing the floppy-haired striker in the prime of his career where I am convinced he would have won England caps and gone on to represent one of the very big English clubs. His sweet left foot, talent and the style with which he played would have made him a household name.

I was lucky enough to see Jansen in action at Ewood Park during his pomp where the home crowd absolutely adored him. If had had signed for United, not fallen ill on the eve of an England game or flown to Japan in 2002, it could all have been so very different. Instead, we get to celebrate the career of one of the most talented players that nearly but never quite made it big.

J is for.....Johnny Metgod (Shane)

Memory - a funny thing. Looking back at my football-loving childhood self, I can’t quite recall when or why I fell for Nottingham Forest. In fact, Nottingham Forest equalled romance (a feeling since diminished). To this day, I have a lot of time – in fact, I often make it for them - for Roy Keane, Stuart Pearce, Nigel Clough, and co., who made up the Forest that I so admired. Beyond the aforementioned, there were less conspicuous additions to that era’s squad - Webb, Walker, Woan, Starbuck, Crosby, and Carr, to name but… six. One more though, stays with me. Through a haze of 21 years, I see Johnny Metgod and a free kick against West Ham in 1986.

I still recall the television set that I was watching as the late night highlights programme – with commentary from Brian Moore - broadcast Nottingham Forest versus West Ham. The Metgod goal - stunning – not only for the continually rising trajectory of the ball, as it hit the top centre of Phil Parkes’ net, but for so much else - the proud hairlessness, the arm-wagging celebration, and the profound embarrassing-uncleness of everything that I could see in this odd-looking odd-sounding Dutchman – Metgod – pronounced Met-hod. He was so European, he was so Forest, he was so romance. And that, it seemed, was that.

I have no other recollection of him - despite his playing over 100 games for the club. In fact, until a moment ago, his move to Spurs had completely fallen beneath my radar. In fact, other than thirty seconds of one match at the City Ground, Metgod did not register for me - he was never there, he was gone. Yet despite this, even now as a free kick is awarded – 20 to 35 yards from goal, dead centre – I‘m back in 1986, and there’s a strange man with a naff celebration showcasing the ultimate in unstoppable free-kicks, and my mum is shouting to me to turn off the TV as it’s school tomorrow. Some things stick – J is for one very particular moment in the life of Johnny Metgod.

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

I should point fans of Sid Waddell's genius football show here. Proper telly, that.

6 comments:

Marcus said...

Wasn't this guy featured in one episode of Jossie's Giants?

http://fakekev.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Matt Jaansen was fantastic. I agree, such a loss to the game.

That fake Kevin Keegan site is brilliant!

skif said...

"My money's on Junior Lewis joining up with Titus Bramble's brother and the excellently named John Nutter at Broadhall Way before the year is out."

I am happy to report that Peter Taylor's first signing at Stevanage was indeed Junior Lewis.

Prior to that he'd been turning out for Edgware Town in the Isthmian (Ryman) League Division One North, three leagues below the Conference.

Given this sixth signing, I'm with your suggested explanations.

Shane said...

For the memory of the Jossy's Giants theme tune, I thank you. As for the Sid Waddell detail - I didn't know that. There was an excellent interview with Waddell in the Observer a few weeks ago:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/sport/story/0,,2233202,00.html

Paul said...

Not sure why, but I always thought "You're so vain" was about Warren Beatty...

Was Junior Lewis ever really good in an early incarnation of Championship Manager which Peter Taylor became addicted to?

SwissToni said...

great post and good to have the A-Z back, even if it now means I'm under pressure to think up my "k".

On the subject of "You're So Vain", it's variously alleged to be about James Taylor, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson and even Cat Stevens.....

Junior Lewis? You couldn't make that shit up.

ST