Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Robbie Dennison for Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs Manchester City), 1st December 1996

I’ve a confession to make. Once I’ve made it, you may wish to never read another word that I have to say about football – and I think you would have every right. Here we go then: I don’t like football all that much.

There. I’ve said it.

I was going to take advantage of the fact that it was bound to be a quiet day at work today to sit down and contribute something useful to CUAS for the first time in months (well done to Lord B for keeping her going more or less single-handedly). I thought that perhaps I would write a piece highlighting my favourite Wolves XI from my time as a supporter. I could do a little pen-profile of each player, perhaps with a little photo (assuming that you can find a little photo of people like Andy Thompson or Robbie Dennison on google).

I started to think about it, and quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do it. I think I managed about 5 players (Mike Stowell, Thompson, John de Wolf, Robbie Keane and Steve Bull). Obviously I can name more players than that, but it just didn’t seem right putting Kevin Muscat into the side simply because I couldn’t think of another full-back. No. I’m just not enough of a fan to be able to do it. In fact, I’m not much of a fan at all.

I was born in Northampton, who have a football league team all of their own, so why do I support Wolverhampton Wanderers? I’ve been to the old Northampton county ground more times than I have been to Molineux. Actually, I’ve also been to Sixfields and the City Ground in Nottingham more times than I have been to Molineux. I’ve seen Wolves playing at Old Trafford as often as I have seen them playing at home. Hell. I’ve watched Venezia playing in Venice more times than I have watched Wolves playing in Wolverhampton, and I’ve been to the Bernabeu as often. Yes. I have seen Wolves playing at Molineux once in my whole life. Against Norwich. It was 2-2 (with two late Wolves goals as everyone was leaving).

I started supporting Wolves in 1987 when they were in the old 4th Division. Why? I decided I needed to support a team. Northampton would have been the logical choice, but as I had been living away from home at boarding school since the age of 7, I didn’t feel much of a bond with my home town, covered my eyes and blindly picked a side from the league tables. Although the team was edge of bankruptcy, these were golden days for Wolves. Steve Bull and Andy Mutch were rampaging their way through the division, seemingly scoring at will, and the great old club was at the start of a run of promotions that would see them stuck frustratingly one tier below the top flight, where they remain today. They were hardly a glamour pick, but I picked them and I’ve stuck with them since.

I don’t go to many games. I like watching football from time to time, and I try to take in a game whenever I’m abroad, but it’s not a regular thing. I’ve been to maybe 20 live games in my whole life. I’ve watched Wolves playing Nottingham Forest four or five times over the last ten years, and I’ve watched both Forest and Notts County (my local sides now) playing other teams, but live football is always expensive and is usually disappointing. I have Sky Sports, but I only occasionally put the Premiership on, and when I do, it’s usually as background to reading the paper. As a spectator sport, I find football comes a poor third to Rugby Union and to Cricket. Who have Wolves got today? No idea. On New Year’s Eve? Pass. Any idea of the league position? Not really. Top Scorer? Erm. The Romanian guy?

Pathetic isn’t it?

So I’m afraid to say that I’m something of a bluffer: I know something about the game, stuff that I have gleaned from my obsession with reading sports pages in newspapers and on websites, but I have no passion for the game.

So there you go. Thought you should probably know.

Is it possible to be dispassionately interested and opinionated in football? To religiously watch Match of the Day but not really give a damn who wins the league (whilst oddly also being able to state a preference for the result of each game)? To be really looking forward to the World Cup and to hope that England to win, but to also be really interested to find out how the African qualifiers get on, and to hope that the side who plays the best football wins, even if that won’t necessarily be England?

Is it normal to be so bloodless about football? Isn't it a game about passion and loyalties?

You tell me. I just feel like a fake.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Arjen Robben for Chelsea (v Arsenal), 18 December 2005

OK, folks, the predictions are completely up to date. It's very close for December and Charby is being hauled in overall as well....

I thought perhaps we'd have a random selection of matches across the festive period and then reconvene in the New Year? (in case anyone is away or anything).

Aston Villa 2-0 Everton
Charlton 0-2 Arsenal
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham
Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle
Buccaneers 2-0 West Brom
Portsmouth 2-1 West Ham
Sunderland 0-2 Bolton
Blackburn 2-0 Sunderland
Everton 1-1 Liverpool
West Ham 1-1 Chelsea
Birmingham 2-1 Wigan
Newcastle 2-0 Middlesbrough
Arsenal 1-2 Buccaneers

and we'll use El Tel's idea of festive wildcards:

Gillingham 0-1 Bristol City (the Robins)
MK Dons 2-1 Nottm Forest (the Trees)
Wolves (the Old Gold (frankincense and myrrh)) 2-0 Reading

Have a great Christmas and New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wayne Rooney for Manchester United (v Wigan Athletic), 14 December 2005

Predictions time again, folks.

Aston Villa 0-2 Buccaneers
Everton 1-0 Bolton
Fulham 2-1 Blackburn
Man City 2-0 Birmingham
Portsmouth 3-1 West Brom
West Ham 2-1 Newcastle
Wigan 2-1 Charlton
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 2-0 Spurs

and what about a completely random wild card of:

Sao Paolo 0-2 Liverpool (from the World Club Championship)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

James McFadden for Everton (v Manchester Utd), 11 December 2005

If you are anything like me, your matchday will have a set routine, from which deviation is uncomfortable and undesirable. Bearing in mind I have today largely wasted the chance of a nice relaxing Sunday on a five hour round trip to the Theatre of Dreams (oh, how the opposition fans laugh) I thought I may as well share with you my Manchester United matchday routine.

The first stop (which I sadly don't have a picture for) is ordinarily the McDonalds, halfway between the M1 and M6 on the A50 at Uttoxeter. Ideally placed on a roundabout, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch (dependent on kick off time) and an occasional petrol refuelling stop at the adjacent Esso garage.

The next stop is at Salford Quays, where a scally fella takes the princely sum of £5 to park us round the back of Fit City Ordsall sports centre for the duration of the match, and we then walk the 15 minutes or so to the ground.

Next stop is for a coffee round the back of the North Stand. (£2.50 for a f*cking latte. That's Rupert Murdoch, that is.)

Then, about half an hour before kick off, I present my lovely League Match Ticket Book here, at turnstile W16.

It's then the wonderful experience of 167 steps to my seat, somewhere on the flightpath into Manchester Airport. On the way I stop at the concourse to put £5 worth of best on the game (all shattered after 7 minutes by James McFadden in this instance) and head up to the seat - W104, row 33 seat 85.

That's my view of every home United game. (Not the back of someone's head, on the whole, they'd just stood up). Top tier of the Stretford End in the singing section (today's chant of the afternoon: "Feed the Scousers, Let The Know It's Christmas Time...").

It's not the ideal seats, clearly, and, as attendances and demand for tickets at Old Trafford wanes (which it has - you can still buy tickets for Wednesday's home league game to Wigan which would have been unheard of a few years back) the club are offering the chance for season ticket holders to move seats at the end of this season. As my mum sits in the North Stand (on the left as you look at this picture) I think we are going to agree on a location and move in the summer. I'll lose some of the Stretford End atmosphere, but get a better view of the other half of the pitch. And I get to sit with someone I know, rather than the mad skinheaded nutter who currently sits in front of me leading the singing and getting regularly ejected for not sitting down.

And there's the rather depressing scoreline. And a poxy rubbish scoreboard to boot.

What normally happens then is that we complain about United's performance for about half an hour, sit in traffic for half an hour, and then come home (via a stop at the Shell garage at Keele services as they have one of those nice Coffee Nation machines - especially good at 1am after a midweek game).

So there you have it - that's my matchday sorted. Anyone else got bizarre matchday rituals? (or want to laugh at United's ineptitude?)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bobby Zamora for West Ham (v Birmingham City), 5 December 2005

morning all. My head hurts after an unexpected booze session on a schoolnight, so just before I slink home to bed for the afternoon, here are this weeks predictions...

Birmingham 1-0 Fulham
Blackburn 2-1 West Ham
Bolton 2-0 Villa
Charlton 2-0 Sunderland
Chelsea 3-0 Wigan
Liverpool 2-0 Middlesbrough
Newcastle 1-1 Arsenal
West Brom 1-1 Man City
Buccaneers 1-0 Everton (where's your Europe gone, where's your Europe gone?)
Tottenham 2-0 Portsmouth

and from La Liga

Malaga 1-2 Real Madrid

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beto for Benfica (v Manchester Utd), 7 December 2005

So, Manchester United crash out of Europe before the knockout stages for the first time in a decade. Their 2-1 defeat at the Estadio de Luz against a weak and injury hit Benfica side meant they finished bottom of Group D, and so did not even have the consolation of UEFA Cup football.

There's no complaints from this corner: six games, one win, three goals scored is simply not good enough in 450 minutes of football. Especially in a group against a Benfica side struggling in their own league, a poor Lille side and a second rate Spanish team in Villareal.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is not a complete surprise. Whilst I fully expected United to win tonight, the decline (especially in Europe) has been going on for six years. No away win in Europe since November 2003 and a dearth of goals have seen United fail to get anywhere near winning the trophy since their success in Barcelona in 1999.

They simply aren't good enough a side any more, or, more interestingly, tactically unable to compete with European opposition. What this means for the manager is, I suppose, the key issue. Not only is his transfer kitty reduced by anything up to £15million but the reality is that the Glazers are increasingly unlikely to want the manager to remain at the helm after the end of this season. Probably the only thing that can save Fergie now is a Premiership title, but with the imperious form of Chelsea this seems unlikely.

Plus, changing the manager could go either way. A new boss could bring in players and galvanise the team into a better unit. Or, the whole thing could fall to pieces completely as it turned out it was Ferguson holding the whole shebang together. Who knows?

I'm not one for overreaction so you won't see me yelling for the manager to be sacked. I just think that it is further proof, were any needed, that United are a team in seemingly irreversible decline.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paul Gascoigne for England (v Scotland), 15 June 1996

Well, it's been another eventful twenty four hours in the life of this man.

Yesterday, he was sacked from his post as manager of non-league Kettering Town after just five weeks in the job. Owner Imran Ladak alleges that Gazza was "under the influence of alcohol" whilst in control of team affairs on 37 occasions, an allegation that Gascoigne denies. Gazza claims that he was never left alone to run team affairs due to interference from the chairman.

Later yesterday evening, the police confirmed they had arrested a 38 year old man in Liverpool after a member of the press alleged Gascoigne assaulted him after he attended a fund-raising event for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.

The Kettering chairman has urged Gazza to seek medical assistance for his ongoing alcohol problems.

Whichever side of this argument to believe, it is hard to see any future for Gascoigne in the game. Failed spells in China and as a coach at Boston United, coupled with this latest debacle have probably tainted his reputation in England for good. It is hard to see a chairman prepared to take a gamble on the former England international even if the allegations this time are unfounded.

Although I had half hoped for him to make a success of the job, I was never entirely sure he was cut out to be a manager. He is/was clearly an exceptional talent and there is certainly room in the game for players to learn from his experience and technique. But man management? Never quite saw it.

It's a shame, really. In the week football lost one of its greatest natural talents to alcoholism, despite claims by Gazza to the contrary it seems almost inevitable that we are going to lose another one the same way.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Steven Gerrard for Liverpool (v Sunderland), 30 November 2005

Ok, folks, the final Predictions table for November had an unlikely but clearly extremely talented and deserved winner.


1. Lord Bargain - 30 points
2. Alex - 29 points
3. El Tel - 27 points
4. Mike - 24 points
5. Swiss Toni - 23 points
6. Charby - 22 points
7. Weenie - 22 points
8. Dom - 19 points
9. Ben - 17 points
10. Rufus Fan - 13 points
11. Le Flash - 8 points

I've updated the overall table on the sidebar also. (This doesn;t include this weekends games).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (vs Portsmouth), 26 November 2005

Here we go then.....

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

and the wildcard this week:

Burton Albion 4-1 Burscough in the FA Cup.

One day Lord B might even update the table.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Michael McIndoe for Doncaster rovers (vs Aston villa), 29th November 2005

Purely because I'm not at home to laugh at all my Villa supporting mates & that Donny is the town of my birth...

Woahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hah haaaah!

Etc, ad infinitum...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

George Best for Manchester Utd (v Sheffield Utd), 2 October 1971

Friday saw the passing of one of the game's greats. A man generally regarded, irrespective of partisan bias as one of the most precocious talents ever to grace a football field. The decision was quickly made to honour Best with a minutes silence at every league game up and down the country played this weekend. Some decided to use the minute to applaud the great man.

So, thank you very much to the supporters of Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester City who decided to honour the passing of a true great with abuse and disrespect as they failed to observe the minutes silence.

I'd denounce this behaviour by anyone. If my fellow Manchester United supporters did the same thing, I'd write a piece here saying how objectionable and distasteful I find that action. And I hope all Leeds, Liverpool and City fans out there feel the same way.

So, thankyou to Kevin Blackwell, Rafa Benitez and Stuart Pearce for having the balls to come out and criticise (admittedly a minority of) their own fans. And perhaps, one day, clubs will decide to ban these pathetic excuses for human beings who haven't even the capacity for dignifying the memory of a true football legend.

Yes, it was a minority. But, as Kevin Blackwell rightly said, it is time to stand up to this cretinous minority. In the name of a civil society I'd love to go even further and kick these bastards out of the game for good.

Friday, November 25, 2005

George Best for Manchester Utd (vs Benfica), 29 May 1968

George Best 1946-2005

There will be plenty of stuff written about him over the next few days, and much of it won't be about football.

Let's do him the honour here of remembering him purely for his football.

The statistics won't do much to paint a picture, but here they are:

- Manchester Utd 1963-74 - 466 appearances, 178 goals
- Also played for: Stockport County, Cork Celtics, Dunstable Town, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Hibernian, San Jose Earthquakes, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions

He finally retired in 1983, aged 37.


- 37 Caps for Northern Ireland, 9 goals
- European Cup winner (1968)
- League Division 1 winner (1965,67)
- European Player of the Year (1968)

One of the greatest players the game has ever produced.


(there's a decent profile here)

Nathan Ellington for WBA (vs Everton), 19 November 2005

Here we go again then.

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

and wildcard, from the Vauxhall Masterfit Welsh Premier League (where else?):

T.N.S. 2-1 Haverfordwest

Monday, November 21, 2005

Marek Heinz for the Czech Republic (v Germany), 23 June 2004

OK, here's an interactive one for everyone...

I love football stadia. There is something about them that is just, well, magical. I can't really explain why, other than the simple fact that when you see one you know you are going to see a live game of football, but walking up the stairs and getting that first glimpse of the green of the pitch still makes me giddy like a child.

I thought we'd have a go and see how many of the 92 league grounds, in total, our readership has visited, and then see what are the best other grounds (Scottish, non-league, foreign) we can list. I reckon we can get quite a way through the 92, and quite exotic with the others as well.

This is my favourite stadium I think. OK, so it is new, and some have the view that new stadia are soulless but I just love the design and the colours of this.

This is the Jose Arvelade Stadium - home of Sporting Lisbon.

OK, so let's have a crack and see how we get on, eh? I'll kick us off.

  • Old Trafford
  • Goodison Park
  • Ewood Park
  • Villa Park
  • St Andrews
  • Vicarage Road
  • Turf Moor
  • Kenilworth Road
  • Ninian Park
  • Loftus Road
  • Gresty Road
  • City Ground
  • Ashton Gate
  • Brunton Park
  • Sixfields Stadium
  • Gigg Lane
  • Sincil Bank

and no longer with us

  • Roker Park (Sunderland)
  • Goldstone Ground (Brighton)
  • Springfield Park (Wigan)
  • Highfield Road (Coventry)
  • Filbert Street (Leicester)
  • Eastville Stadium (Bristol Rovers)

and abroad

  • de Kuip (Feyenoord)
  • Estadio de Luz (Benfica) - the new one
  • Gelredome (Vitesse Arnhem)
  • Sclessin Stadium (Standard Liege)
  • Jose Arvelade (Sporting Lisbon)
  • Amsterdam Arena (Ajax)
  • Philips Stadion (PSV Eindhoven)
  • Nou Camp (Barcelona)

and other UK

  • Shielfield Park (Berwick Rangers)
  • Millennium Stadium
  • Wembley

Come on then, folks - what can you add?

Michael Owen for Newcastle (v WBA), 30 October 2005

The final predictions table for October was as follows:

1. Ben - 53 points
2. Charby - 51 points
3. El Tel - 48 points
4. Mike - 42 points
5. Alex - 41 points
6. Lord B - 41 points
7. Swiss T - 40 points
8. Weenie - 38 points
9. Rufus - 34 points
10. Flash - 33 points
11. Dom - 24 points

We seem to have lost Tricky along the way as well.....

A big "hurrah" to Ben for (finally) stopping Charby from winning something (no offence, it's just that you have been winning *everything*....). November's updated later....

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kevin Nolan for Bolton (v Spurs), 7 November 2005

Good morning, pop pickers. Predictions and the Premiership are back this weekend....

and I am not suggesting anyone is taking this too seriously, but Weenie did email me her predictions for this weekend over a week ago as she knew she wouldn't be here. Dedication or what?

Charlton 0-1 Buccaneers
Chelsea 3-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-0 Portsmouth
Man City 1-1 Blackburn
Sunderland 2-1 Villa
West Brom 1-2 Everton
Wigan 1-3 Arsenal
Middlesbrough 2-1 Fulham
Tottenham 2-0 West Ham
Birmingham 2-0 Bolton

and special wild card

Celtic 2-1 Rangers

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Carlos Tévez for Argentina (vs Paraguay), 28 August 2004

Football has been included in every single Summer Olympics, with the exception of 1896 and 1932. Initially there was only a men’s tournament, but women’s football was added to the programme for the Atlanta games in 1996.

The first World Cup was not until 1930, but not wanting to overshadow FIFA’s new showpiece event, football was dropped from the Olympic programme for the 1932 games. It returned for the Berlin games in 1936, but by now professionalism was taking hold of football and the quality of the strictly amateur Olympic tournament was poor in comparison with the World Cup. This ruling played into the hands of state-sponsored teams from the Eastern Bloc, and between 1948 and 1980, 23 of the 27 medals were won by countries from behind the Iron Curtain (East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland…. All countries, you’ll notice, with a decent pedigree in the international game since the collapse of Communism). The rules were changed again in 1984 to allow teams from Africa, Asia and Oceania to enter fully professional sides, but teams from Europe and the Americas were not allowed to field any players who had previously appeared in a World Cup. This ruling meant that many European Countries played very young sides, and this idea caught on to the extent that in 1992 the rules were changed again to restrict sides to players under the age of 23 (although each team are allowed 3 overage players). These are the rules we still have today, and the Olympic Tournament is effectively now the Under-23 World Cup.

Great Britain have not appeared in the finals since 1960 (having been gold medal winners in 1908 and 1912), and have not even entered a team into the qualifying competition since the distinction between amateur and professional football was abolished by the British football associations. The main excuse for not entering a team these days though is that Britain is in the unique position of having 4 separate national Football Associations in the same country (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), all competing in international football. For some reason, it is thought that producing a single team for the Olympics may lead to calls for the UK's special four-team status to be abolished altogether.

Now that the 2012 Olympics have been awarded to London though, there has been renewed talk that there should be a Great Britain team entered. It seems that the Scottish FA still fear for their independence though, and they have released a statement saying that they will not allow Scottish players to take part in any Great Britain team. That would be a shame. The 2012 Olympics will be a great boost to sport in this country, and kids are apparently flocking to athletics clubs in the hope that they will be able to emulate Kelly Holmes on home soil in 7 years time. To have a Great Britain football team that does not feature a single Scottish player would be sad indeed.

Of course, the cynics amongst you will be quick to point out that Scotland wouldn’t have anyone good enough to be included in the side anyway….

Shame on you! England do not have a monopoly on all the great players that this country has produced. For every Bobby Charlton, there has been a Denis Law, a George Best, a Kenny Dalglish, a John Charles…. Surely there is every reason to believe that somewhere out there could be a teenager playing keepie-uppie, or having a kick about with his (or her) mates, and that this kid might be the one to score the winning goal for Great Britain in the Olympic Final in 2012?

I’d like to think so.


If the Olympic Games were next summer, who would be in your men’s Great Britain football team? Remember they have to be all under-23, although you are allowed 3 overage players.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Michael Owen for England (v Argentina), 12 November 2005

It's just bloody typical, isn't it?

I have spent years of my life watching pointless international friendly matches, where England labour with a useless system, make endless tactically inept substitutions and occasionally scrape a lucky win.

So on Saturday I decide to drive an hour to go and visit a pal of mine for the evening, and miss what one of my colleagues has today called" the best football match I have seen for a long time."


So, reflections please? We were good, apparently. Rooney was great, so I gather, and Motty nearly exploded as the third England goal went in. We can play a system with a holding midfielder ("Makaledley" as the Guardian have christened him today), we may have reserve full backs, reports of the end of Becks' career are premature and, shock horror, we might have the mental mettle to tackle a decent side.

anything to add?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Darren Fletcher for Manchester Utd (v Chelsea), 6 November 2005

No predictions this week. This is mainly becuase it is International Friendly Weekend, and predicting the results of friendly matches might as well involve a random number generator.

It is also partly becuase I am two weeks behind totting up the last lot - for anyone who doesnt partake in my ordinary real life blog this is largely becuase I agreed to sign up to the National Novel Writing Month escapade, which involves writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

This is taking up quite a bit of time as you may imagine, hence the paucity of biting football analysis (ahem) over here as well.

A few years back, through the Manchester FA, I went on the Referees Training Course and qualified to be an authorised football ref. At that time I had a cunning plan to write a book about my exploits on the playing fields of Lancashire, and, for the first time in the public domain, here's the first couple of chapters of my never-finished masterpiece entitled "The B*stard In The Black". It's really not that great, but in the spirit of all things novel-related, I thought I would share it with you.

Saturday 24 March 2001

And so it begins. Certificate framed, exams passed, registration card safely tucked away in the “important documents” section of the filing cabinet. The first step on a football road that will see me leading the teams out in the Maracana stadium in the World Cup Final. Or perhaps striding out followed by Real Madrid and Ajax in the European Super League decider in the Nou Camp. Well… have to start somewhere, surely?…

It is 3pm on a wet Saturday afternoon in March. Up and down the country thousands of players take their respective fields battling promotion, relegation and mid-table mediocrity. My referreing career begins not at the San Siro, not at Anfield, not even at Gresty Road, Crewe. I am standing in the rain on Bolton Street, Bury trying to find a free parking meter in the Saturday afternoon shopping mayhem. Having queued in a bus lane for twenty five minutes I eventually pull into a Pay and Display, deposit my sixty pence and make my way to Bury Sports.

Bury Sports is the Grace Brothers of sports equipment. Rapidly overtaken by brightly lit and massive out of town sports emporia, classifying sports equipment as Manchester United toasters and luminescent leiderhosen, it harks back to those heady days of my childhood when sports shops sold squash rackets and ping-pong balls. In fact, Bury Sports still sells all these things, stored meticulously in wooden drawers behind the long wooden counter. This, I am reliably informed, is the main stockist for referee kit and acoutrements in the North West, and, true to form, everything I request is instantly located and laid out on the counter for me. Shirt, shorts and socks. White turn overs or black and white stripes? My first referring decision. I plump for plain white, and wait for the angry reaction of supporters of the black and white stripes claiming bias. When none was forthcoming, I felt great comfort. Perhaps people will accept my decisions without argument? Perhaps I have an inherent decisive yet fair nature? Perhaps it is only socks and not twenty two beery big blokes?

I part with my seventy quid and walk up kitted up and ready for action. I am particularly pleased with my silver whistle, the famous Acme Thunderer, which I blow repeatedly in my living room all evening, much to the disgruntlement of my wife and nervously dispositioned cats…

Sunday 25 March 2001

Westbury Sports 4 – 3 Victoria
Close Park 6, Radcliffe

At 9.30am, the realisation dawns. This is it. I felt like a 17 year old who has scored top marks in the Driving Theory Test before waking up on the morning of their practical exam having never actually sat behind the wheel of a car before. I successfully negotiate the changing facilities and find the referees room, and notice with glee what looks like an excellent lock on the door. I change, double and triple check my pockets for the necessaries and make my way to the field. Nets checked (I congratulate myself on this as I am sure that was never mentioned during the training), and I then await the arrival of the away team. They eventually appear, swaggering up the touchline, fags in hand and take their place in their obviously cleverly worked out formation. The system they adopt seems to relate to the distance they have to walk, so there are lots of takers for strikers and left sided midfielders, and the last one out of the dressing room seems to be lumbered with playing right back, which necessitates a jog as I am now fed up with waiting.

Whistle goes, and a relatively eventful first half ends 4-1 to Westbury. I have also awarded my first penalty kick. Westbury’s number 7 skips past the full back on the edge of the penalty area down the right wing, and is blatantly tripped from behind as he prepares to cross. I immediately blow the whistle and award a penalty, to which I receive some grief from the defender who also rather comically places the ball outside the penalty area claiming it is a free kick. It takes the intervention of the defenders team mate shouting “Just give them the ball – it’s a f******g penalty, you daft b******d” for the shamed culprit to hand over the ball and watch in awe as his goalkeeping colleague pulls off a fine save low to his left.

The second half is more fraught, and I am guilty of not stopping the game and administering the odd talking to on several occasions for full-blooded challenges and the odd bout of verbal shenanigans. Victoria to their credit pull the score back to 4-3, and in the 88th minute their striker races through on goal and tumbles over sliding tackle from the defending player. The ball carries on in the same direction and so I conclude that no contact has been made with the ball, and award a second penalty kick. I am then the recipient of another verbal assault, rendered unnecessary by the keeper pulling off another fantastic save and me blowing the whistle as soon as the ball went out to stop the game.

Back in the changing room I benefit from the advice of two colleagues, both advocating the use of copious cautions and sendings off and vow to be stricter next week. So there. I bag my first match fee, stick the kit in the wash and vow never, never, never to put myself through that again….

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Paul Mitten for FC United of Manchester (v Nelson FC), 22 October 2005

Even though I am a season-ticket holder at the Buccaneers, with me having my beautiful daughter this weekend I wasn't able to get to the Glazerdome to see the Chelsea game.

So, instead, I thought I'd pay my £7 and make another away trip in the North West Counties League 2nd Division to see the "vigilante" United team in action for the second time this season. Going into the game, FC United were top of the league with a record of played 11, won 9, drawn 1 lost 1, for 41 against 11.

An average of about four and a half goals a game, a family atmosphere at the ground, a cuppa that doesn't cost you a fortune, seats, a good view, the ability to park within a couple of miles of the stadium, players who give a sh*t.....

Today we were up against Eccleshall FC (average crowd 70) who had moved the game (as all teams in this league have so far done to cater for the much larger crowds) and so 2,011 piled into nearby Stafford Rangers Marston Road ground for todays fixture. Of course, I took the nipper.

You can't argue with a Peter Rabbit fruit bar before kick-off, can you? And we were royally entertained for half an hour with Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits. You don't get that in the Premiership.

The FC away support. We were sitting in the posh seats. (Well, I say posh. They were seats.) An entertaining first half finished goal-less, the best chance falling to Eccleshall after a mix-up between FC's keeper and centre half.

And a great chant that went:

"Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to Timperley......"


"Rio - the man with no shame....." He gets the brunt of all the chanting at FC United games. And rightly so, the useless greedy corn-rowed b*stard.

This is the North West Counties League Division 2 current Manager of the Month - "super"Karl Marginson. Vegetable delivery man by weekday, manager of FC United by weekend.

Although at half time, FC appointed a new, younger manager.....

It's a love thang, apparently.

An entertaining game ended up goalless. Bloody typical after an average of four goals a game all season, and we had deliberately gone in search of goals after the real United's recent spectacular failure to be able to hit a cows arse with a banjo. Anyway, another great day out - if anyone hasn't been to this type of football for a while I would genuinely recommend it. Nice people, some competitive football and grounds, facilities, terracing and refreshments like football used to be.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Gaizka Mendieta for Middlesbrough (v Manchester Utd), 29 October 2005

...well at least I predicted a Boro win, eh? (oh, and for anyone who missed it, it was Kettering 1 Droylsden 0 in Gazza's first game in charge).

This weekend I shall mostly be at Stafford Rangers ground watching Eccleshall v FC United of Manchester. On Sunday I shall be hiding behind the sofa hoping to escape with a maybe three goal defeat.

Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland
Villa 0-1 Liverpool
Blackburn 1-1 Charlton
Fulham 2-1 Man City
Newcastle 2-0 Birmingham
Portsmouth 2-1 Wigan
West Ham 2-1 West Brom
Everton 1-1 Middlesbrough
Buccaneers 1-3 Chelsea
Bolton 2-1 Spurs

and from the FA Cup First Round:

Colchester 3-0 Leamington

(have you noticed, by the way, that the last three post titles have been goals scored against United? There's a theme developing, here.....)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Milenko Acimovic for Lille (v Manchester Utd), 2 November 2005

It's been a little while since I raised the issue of my own personal club, and with them hitting the news again this week, I thought it was perhaps time for a review of where we are so far this season.


Commentators have this slightly bizarre opinion of United that we have recently been genius and it's all just a matter of time before we click and give someone a walloping. This is utter, utter fallacy. United haven't actually been any good, other than a very odd game or two, since 2000. The second Juan Sebastian Veron was unveiled in the centre of our midfield, we have never recovered. I'm not blaming Veron specifically, but this whole idea that we have remained at the top of the pile since that time are frankly ludicrous.

Yes, we, slighly luckily, won the Premiership title in 2002/3. The season before we finished a distant third, the seasons after we finished a distant third both seasons. For a club that wasn't put of the top two since 1991, this represents quite a fall.

If you watch United on a regular basis, week in, week out, you will realise one truth. We are not very good anymore. We can't score goals. We can't defend. We are about as exciting as watching Midsomer Murders in slow motion.

And this season we are plumbing new depths of hopelessness. The 4-1 defeat, entirely deserved against Middlesbrough on Saturday was the final straw for long-serving captain and Ferguson mouthpiece Roy Keane. In an interview pulled by GMTV earlier this week, Keane is believed to have named and shamed several members of the current squad he felt were either playing by reputation, or not understanding the need to play with passion for the side.

Ask a United fan - Roy Keane is quite, quite correct.

I have no panacea to our problems. I don't think it is the manager, or the board, or the takeoever. I think teams have certainly caught up (and overtaken) us, but the biggest problem we face is that our current first team squad is simply not good enough. And, the so-called "big name" players on that teamsheet are largely underperforming.

Our starting line up against Middlesbrough on Saturday was one of the weakest I have seen for a long while. Our central midfield threesome of Darren Fletcher (promising but should be being gently bedded in), Paul Scholes (woefully off form) and Alan Smith (yet to convince anyone he is a holding midfielder).

The players that can escape general hostility at present are few and far between. Rooney and Ruud are working hard with zero service. Ronaldo will be genius when he learns that falling on his arse won't win a free kick every time.

The one player I will single out for abuse is £120,000 a week clown Rio Ferdinand. Was there ever a player who owes a club a decent set of performances over months and years having (i) dropped them in the doo-doo by forgetting to take a piss and sitting watching the season go down the toilet whilst pocketing £80,000 a week and (ii) stringing the same team along for months whilst deciding whether he'd settle for a mere 50% pay rise.

(Paul Scholes contract negotiations during this same period took one hour. He walked into the office, had his accountant check the deal, signed it and left.)

Rio needs to be very careful. If we had more than three fit defenders, he wouldn't be playing. England found a couple of better ones and had no hesitation in playing them instead. The main chant to be heard at FC United of Manchester games goes:

"We don't care about Rio
He don't care about me
All I care about, is watching FC"

Which says it all.

United are a team in irreversible decline. The squad isnt strong enough, teams are no longer afraid of them and the manager is, now we are in the Glazer era, on very shaky ground. Pity the poor bloke who ends up taking over from Ferguson as he is going to inherit an aging, increasingly complacent side who haven't shown any sign of winning a significant trophy (discounting beting Millwall in an FA Cup Final) since 2003.

I find it depressing yet at the same time mildy amusing. Oh, and we're now 1-0 down to Lille in the Champions League as well. On the basis we can't score more than about a goal a game, that's a draw at best, then.

Our next game? Chelsea this weekend. Want my advice? Stick your house on the Champions. And pick up two houses at 6pm on Sunday.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Jermaine Jenas for Spurs (v Manchester Utd), 22 October 2005

It's that time of the week again - live from Norwich, it's "Sale of the Century"!!!!.......

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

and perchance the topical wildcard of

Kettering 2-0 Droylsden

and read Swiss' piece on the World Cup below. It is ace.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Luiz Nazario de Lima Ronaldo for Brazil (vs Germany), 30th June 2002

What with all the excitement of England's glorious qualification for the FIFA World Cup, it's been kind of easy to overlook the other nations that will be making up the numbers in Germany next summer. I thought it might be nice to have a look at them, and perhaps make an instant value judgement of their chances of making an impact:

African Zone:
Ivory Coast

This is where the big news is - all the qualifiers here will be competing in their first World Cup, and there will be no Nigeria, no Cameroon and no South Africa (the hosts of the 2010 tournament). But then again, it's easy for us to think of this as surprising - Senegal were one of the surprise packages of the 2002 World Cup, and famously beat the holders France in the opening game of the tournament - but followers of African football would have been able to tell you that they were a decent side. They had been runners up in the African Cup of Nations in that same year. Tunisia are the current holders of the African Cup of Nations. Didier Drogba plays for the Ivory Coast, but otherwise they are apparently half-decent....

Asian Zone:
South Korea
Saudi Arabia

Very much the usual suspects here. Co-hosts of the 2002 tournament Japan will be hoping to build on their 1/4 final appearance in 2002... but I think all eyes will be on Korea: surprise semi-finalists in 2002. Will they be able to reach those heights again?

European Zone:
Serbia & Montenegro

Yawn. Good to see Serbia & Montenegro in there, and it will be great to see Andre Shevchenko grace the biggest stage of all with the Ukraine. Otherwise it's a little hard to get excited.

North, Central American & Carribean Zone:
Costa Rica

Mexico are 5th in the FIFA World Rankings, The USA are 6th and Costa Rica are 23rd... so they should all be worth watching in Germany....

South American Zone:

No real surprises here: these 4 sides finished comfortably at the top of the South American qualificiation group (which was won by Argentina)

There are also a few play-offs to determine the final qualifiers

Norway v Czech Republic
Spain v Slovakia
Switzerland v Turkey
Trinidad & Tobago v Bahrain
Uruguay v Australia

A few big names in here: Spain (8th in the FIFA rankings) have never won the World Cup, and seem to have made a habit of performing even worse than England. The Czech Republic are ranked 4th in the FIFA rankings & should come through against Norway (36th). Turkey (12th) were of course semi-finalists last time around... It will also be interesting to see if Australia (60th) can beat Uruguay (18th) in a repeat of the play-off for the 2002 tournament....

Whatever happens next summer, you can guarantee a couple of things:
  • England will be ranked amongst the favourites - regardless of how poorly they have performed in qualification
  • The BBC coverage will piss all over ITV's
  • those stupid George cross flags will be flapping from white vans across the nation
  • the nation will apparently be utterly convinced that this time we can really do it
  • we'll be knocked out disappointingly, probably in the 1/4 finals, and most likely on penalties
  • we'll probably secretly enjoy the tournament more after England's elimination
  • We'll all be glued to our TVs throughout.
Personally, I love watching the obscure games the best... the ones that certainly don't involve England, and probably involve two teams I have never, ever watched before.... I'd have been quite content if England hadn't made it, although I will admit that nothing matches the nail-biting tension of a backs-against-the-wall performance from our boys to ensure a lucky escape from the group stages.

Can't wait.


Incidentally, I watched the last World Cup final on the big screens of the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival... just after Rolf Harris had finished his set. I was sloshed on cheap red wine drunk from a 500ml mineral water bottle, and because there was no commentary, my memories of Ronaldo's goals are of me dancing with my friends to the cheerful samba rhythms being piped through the PA.

I've never enjoyed a game more.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chris Riggott for West Ham (v Middlesbrough), 23 October 2005


All predictions up to date (blows fanfare).

Charby leads overall but Ben now in front for October. It remains to see whether he'll follow his beloved Newcastle and piss this up the wall at the eleventh hour just as it looks as if he may win something, but I am sure he would "love it, just love it" to beat everyone else.

*points angrily at interviewer*

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Robert Pires for Arsenal (v Man City), 22 October 2005

*LB is weeping with uncontrollable laughter*

"I didn't expect his leg to go numb" says a bent-over-laughing Thierry Henry.

Robert Pires dances over the football, grazes it with his studs and City clear despite Thierry Henry ambling towards the penalty area....

cut to Match of the Day showing Gary Lineker's ridiculously lame penalty against Brazil to Motty yelling "He's totally fluffed it...."

At least Arsene Wenger saw it. His eyesight must be improving.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Collins John for Fulham (v Charlton), 17 October 2005

Predictions time again (though why any of us are bothering with Charby still involved I am not sure...)

Arsenal 2-0 Man City
Aston Villa 2-0 Wigan
Blackburn 1-0 Birmingham
Bolton 2-1 WBA
Fulham 1-2 Liverpool
Man Utd 1-1 Spurs
Portsmouth 2-1 Charlton
Everton 0-2 Chelsea
Newcastle 2-1 Sunderland
West Ham 0-1 Boro

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Djibril Cisse for France (v Switzerland), 8 October 2005

If any of you are short of a bob or two, I would suggest taking whatever money you do have, checking Charby's predictions, and placing your cash on whatever she suggests.

It's eerily right, eerily often.

Predictions updated to include the international fixtures (Charby got seven of the results exactly spot on) but not the most recent Premiership games. Will do them in due course.

*pants out of breath at trying to work all this out*

Hope this is OK.


Carol Vorderman

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kevin Little for Berwick Rangers (v Montrose), 1 October 2005

Ok, final predictions table for September is as follows:

1. Charby - 44 points
2. Rufus Fan - 41 points
3. El Tel - 40 points
4. Weenie - 39 points
5. Swiss Toni - 36 points
6. Mike - 34 points
7. Alex - 31 points
8. Lord B - 29 points
9. Dom - 27 points
10. Ben - 23 points
11. Tricky - 23 points
12. Flash - 21 points (this was your idea, mate!)

Congratulations to Charby who also leads the "cumulative" race. When I have twenty four hours free, I'll have a bash at those international fixtures...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lee Sharpe for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990

(not forgetting that night also:

Lee Sharpe for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990
Lee Sharpe for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990
Clayton Blackmore for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990
Mark Hughes for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990
Danny Wallace for Manchester Utd (v Arsenal), 28 November 1990)

Those were the days....

I will update the predictions tables soon, I promise. As some of you may know I have been on holiday (it is worth looking at that link if you want a quick peek at the largest bag of cheese based snacks you have ever seen) and since I got back I haven't had much time to have a look. And there's three weeks to do including the most ludicrous set of international fixtures so it will take me ages...

please bear with me!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Freddy Eastwood for Southend (vs Nottingham Forest), 9th October 2005

For some reason I thought there wouldn't be any Premiership fixtures this weekend, but apparently there are... so the predictions league rumbles on. I know we haven't had an update on the scores for a little while, but Lord B is back this weekend, and he can get it sorted. Could be some big changes though, eh?

Right. This weekend:

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

and this week's wildcard:

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Hartlepool

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jan Domarski for Poland (vs England), 17 October 1973

There's nothing better than the anticipation one feels on the morning of a big international fixture. The excitement starts to build over breakfast, and will reach fever pitch shortly before kick off, as the players come out for the national anthem. Never fails to bring a tear to my eye as I watch our brave boys puff their chests out and try to remember the words.

This evening England take on the mighty Poland for the sixteenth time. They have something of a reputation as being our nemesis in World Cup qualification campaigns - thanks to Tomaszewski 'The Clown' in 1973 - but in fact they have only managed to beat England on one occasion. Both sides have of course already qualified for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, but I'm sure the game won't be sterile and toothless.

Oh no.

There's professional pride at stake, after all. International fixtures like these hold a special place in the hearts of the players. They can forget about their humdrum day job in the Premiership and play their hardest to impress the manager and for a chance to strut their stuff on the biggest stage of all in the Summer. Expect lung-busting box-to-box running, full-blooded tackling and heart-on-sleeve committment. Expect despairing dives, goal-line clearances and spectacular goals. The Manager will expect nothing less. The nation expects nothing less. This is our national side.

It's unmissable.

But just in case you disagree. On BBC2 there's "How to Rescue a House" followed by "Rick Stein's French Odyssey". ITV has "Coronation Street" and "The Bill" followed by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in "The Runaway Bride". On Channel 4 it's "How Clean is Your House", "You Are What You Eat" and "Supernanny" and on 5 we have "Rattlesnake!" followed by Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in "Ghost".

Or you can just read a book. Or go to the dentist. Or watch paint dry....

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Frank Lampard for England (vs Austria), 7th October 2005

OK. So I didn't get to see a single kick of the game, and yet already I'm thinking this may have been 90 minutes of my life better spent.

How was it for you? Anyone care to give me the lowdown?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kenny Miller for Scotland (vs Norway), 7th September 2005

I don't know if Lord B is going to be able to find a few moments to interrupt his Canadian trip to update the predictions league.... but frankly, the show must go on regardless. We get a break from the tedium of the premiership this week and get to have a go at the tedium of international football instead......... just be sure to break out the FIFA world rankings to help you make your predictions - they're a foolproof guide and no mistake!

There's a lot of fixtures here, so we could see some real movers and shakers in the table....

Belgium 1-1 Spain
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 San Marino
Bulgaria 0-0 Hungary
Croatia 0-1 Sweden
Cyprus 1-2 Rep of Ireland
Czech Republic 1-2 Holland
Denmark 1-0 Greece
England 2-0 Austria
Finland 1-1 Romania
Georgia 3-1 Kazakhstan
Israel 2-0 Faroe Islands
Italy 2-0 Slovenia
Lithuania 0-2 Serbia & Montenegro
Northern Ireland 1-1 Wales
Norway 2-0 Moldova
Portugal 3-0 Liechtenstein
Russia 4-0 Luxembourg
Scotland 2-1 Belarus
Slovakia 2-1 Estonia
Switzerland 1-2 France
Ukraine 2-1 Albania

I discovered last week that I had accidentally booked an appointment at the opticians at the same time as England kick off against Austria.

Oh well. What can you do?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Geremi for Chelsea (vs Liverpool), 2nd October 2005

As a non-premiership supporter, I'm quite tickled to watch Man utd, Arsenal, et al floundering around in Chelsea's wake (& Charlton's).

Jose was on telly at the weekend saying his team deserves more respect from the media & the general public. Alright they've got pots of dosh but for how long have Man Utd had more money than everyone else?

So are they unbeatable?
Surely not?
Who is going to beat them then?
Here's their next 10 premiership fixtures...

Bolton (H)
Everton (A)
Blackburn (H)
Man Utd (A)
Newcastle (H)
Porstmouth (A)
Middlesborough (H)
Wigan (H)
Arsenal (A)
Fulham (H)

Ok, so there's tricky trips to Old Trafford & Highbury in there, but can even they beat them?
If they can't who can?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Michael Machin for Norton United (v FC United of Manchester), 24 September 2005

Predictions time again, ladies and gentlemen.

Blackburn 2-0 West Brom
Charlton 1-1 Tottenham
Fuham 0-1 Buccaneers
Portsmouth 1-1 Newcastle
Sunderland 2-1 West Ham
Arsenal 2-0 Birmingham
Aston Villa 2-1 Middlesbrough
Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea
Man City 0-0 Everton
Wigan 0-1 Bolton

and random Scottish wildcard

Berwick Rangers 2-0 Montrose

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Teddy Sheringham for England (v Holland), 18 June 1996

Another choice in our guest post series..... A man who I was lucky enough to see a few months ago in a stand-up Q&A session in Nottingham. And I even got to ask him a question about how he kept so calm several seconds before the picture below.....

Yorkshire Tricky - My Favourite Player Ever Is....................Stuart Pearce

When Lord Bargain asked me to do this piece I thought long and hard about all the players I'd seen (some live, some only by virtue of that magical box in the corner of my Lounge). A magnificent list of players was conjured up all of whom could quite easily be classed up there as some of the greatest players in the game. Platini, Maradona, Lineker, Van Basten, Gullit etc. etc. but while these were all marvell ous players they weren't people I was able to see week in, week out so my choice had to be someone who wore the sacred Garibaldi.

In that list you could include Nigel Clough, Neil Webb (first incarnation not the one that came back from Man U) Roy Keane, Des Walker (even with his own goals we still love him), Pierre Van Hooijdonk (spit), Stan Collymore (judas, money grabbing b*****d). Now while Stan was undoubtedly a great talent the way he left the club left a sour taste and how could I class him as my favourite ever player after the way we treated him on his first return to the City Ground for Liverpool? I've never seen a player receive such abuse form the crowd, and it was from everyone not just the usual vocal element, people were running down the steps to get as close to the player as possible before screaming at him. Eventually the bloke had to be taken off because he just couldn't deal with the treatment he was getting. So no, while he was definitely a great player and had the ability to become one of the greatest strikers this game had seen I could never class him as my favourite player.

Really after thinking about it there could only be one answer, Psycho. Stuart Pearce was without doubt one of the greatest players ever to pull on the Red shirt, and in this day of players running to the biggest cheque book his loyalty to the Reds should be used as an example to the young pros coming through of how you should behave towards the club and fans that pay your wages. One of my favourite quotes of his was when asked if he could ever manage Derby he said, no, he'd rather go on the dole, he knew how Forest fans felt about Derby and he could never betray tham like that. 100% Pure Tricky.

The man wasn't blessed with supreme football ability but his commitment to the cause made him outshine the rest of the team. If Forest were trailing he'd somehow manage to get the whole team to raise their game (probably because they were worried about what he'd do to them if they didn't give everything just as he always did).

I used to watch Forest from the old Trent End, back in the days when it was still a terrace (still the only true way to watch a match) so I always had to get there before 2 o'clock to ensure I could take my place in the centre section behind the goal. So I was always there to watch the team warm up, something Psycho never came out to take part in. Our first glimpse of our great captain would be at 5 to 3 when he'd come running out the tunnel towards the Trent End to a huge roar and the Psycho salute, he'd respond in kind screwing up his face, punching the air and screaming at us. 5 minutes into the game and the opposition right winger would know what he was up against after a typically crunching tackle from Psycho (this was normally enough to keep most of them quiet for the rest of the match) which would be greeted by loud cheers form the crowd. If we were given a free kick within 30 yards or so of goal the crowd would once more call for there hero to step up and swing his mighty left foot at the ball (most people were clever enough not to get in the way of any of Psycho's freekicks although I do recall Earl Barrett for Oldham being knocked to the ground at Wembley after foolishly/bravely getting his head in the way of one).

He scored with one of these at Old Trafford not long after that penalty miss at Italia 90, the Mancs had been abusing him since the start of the game and when that goal went in the travelling Trickies went wild, Psycho just stood there arms in the air with a look on his face that said 'Well thats shut you f***ers up".

He made up for his Italia 90 miss 6 years later against Spain at Wembley in the European championships and his response was amazing, the way he was punching the air and screaming at the crowd made you proud that you were a Tricky.

Unfortunately after a brief spell as Caretaker manager at Forest he was to leave us and continue his career at Newcastle, West Ham and Man. City but the response he got from the fans on the few times he played against us was amazing including a standing ovation from the whole crowd on his return with City and in an away game at Newcastle he made a point at the end of the match of going over to the Forest fans and throwing his shirt in the crowd.

Now in management he still behaves exactly as he did when he was a player (except for the tackles of course) and it is obvious the game still means so much to him. Hopefully one day he can return to the City Ground but not until we're a decent side again, I'd hate to see him fail as manager after all the wonderful times he gave us.

So for one last time stand up, lean on the shoulders of the person in front of you stretching as far forward as you can and punch the air screaming .....



A man who has been interviewed for the Forest managers job twice, and overlooked on both occasions. Bearing in mind the job he is doing at City, that doesn't look like a great decision, does it?

Previous choices:

Ben - Alan Shearer

Dom - Henrik Larsson

Lord Bargain - Andrei Kanchelskis

Jack Lester for Nottingham Forest (v Bristol City), 20 September 2005

I am sitting working in my office watching Jack Lester chatting up the two young girls on my reception desk.

He's smaller than I thought he was.

And they are giggling a lot so he is obviously having more success than I ever had.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Des Walker for Tottenham Hotspur (vs Nottingham Forest), 18 May 1991

There I was, minding my own business as I drove home from work, when I was savagely cut up by one of those massive BMW X5s. The driver didn't pay me any attention when I waved my hands half-heartedly at him, and proceeded to weave his way on through the traffic at high speed.

The registration of the car? DES3.

Yup. I have just been cut up by Des Walker.

From my experience, this kind of behaviour is fairly common from X5 drivers. I can't comment on what kind of a driver Mr. Walker is when he is behind the wheel of DES1 (an Audi TT) or DES2 (a new Mini Cooper). What I can confidently say though, having seen him disappearing into the distance on a road already choked with traffic, is that you will never beat Des Walker in rush hour.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tommy Miller for Sunderland (vs Middlesbrough), 25 September 2005

Most of the way through Match of the Day yesterday, I was feeling pretty smug. I'd made some tweaks to my Fantasy Football team on Friday afternoon, having been slightly worried about the goalscoring potential of my side. In came N'Zogbia, Danny Murphy & Darren Bent, and things looked good. Okay, so Bent & N'Zogbia didn't do anything much, but super Danny Murphy popped up with 2 goals, and together with Frank Lampard's brace, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

The players I dropped?

Djibril Cisse. Goal.
Tommy Miller. Goal.
Gaizka Mendieta. Goal.

Okay. I'm lying about the last one, and should have sold him weeks ago.... (just like I should have put Darren Bent in when I initially picked the team, but opted for Freddie Ljunberg instead after some agonising....) But the point remains: is there some kind of immutable law that states that when you make changes to your fantasy footie side, that the players you have dropped will inevitably start performing?


Oh, and well done to Sunderland for getting their first Premiership win in 22 games, stretching back to December 2002. Things might just be looking up.

Not for Everton mind you, who must be very much looking forward to the second leg of their UEFA cup game to try and salvage their season.... Only the 4 goals to pull back then. Should be a doddle.


Super Wolves!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rudi Skacel for Hearts (v Inverness Caledonian Thistle), 17 September 2005

OK, folks, predictions time again.........

Birmingham 0-1 Liverpool
Bolton 2-1 Portsmouth
Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa
Everton 1-1 Wigan
Buccaneers 1-0 Blackburn
Newcastle 2-0 Man City
WBA 1-1 Charlton
West Ham 2-2 Arsenal
Middlesbrough 2-0 Sunderland
Spurs 2-0 Fulham

and random Championship wildcard

Stoke 0-2 Wolves

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sol Campbell for Arsenal (v Everton), 19 September 2005

This man thinks that Premiership clubs have an obligation to entertain the fans.

"When somebody buys a ticket and spends £50, £60 or £70, it is not because he wants to be bored," said Wenger after his side's 2-0 win over Everton.

"It is because he wants to enjoy a football game. I feel we all have a responsibility to keep that going."

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has a completely different opinion. "Obligation is not a word in my footballing vocabulary," he stated. "In my vocabulary the words are: work, be professional, do your best, work with quality, commitment and enthusiasm and respect. That is what I promise.
I cannot promise I am going to win but with all those ingredients normally you succeed."

So who is right?

I can see Mourinho's point of view, and in a very narrow sense, he is quite correct. His job security, salary and reputation is built on results. Numbers of three points, cups and titles. The history books will show Chelsea winning the Premiership last season and, no doubt, further trophies over forthcoming years. They won't show hundreds of goals for and against and a second place finish.

Arsene Wenger has developed an Arsenal team brimming with positivity and attacking intent. They are a team of good ball players with pace, control and interchangeability designed to attack the opposition and score goals. Compare their flair in the final third of Henry, Bergkamp, Reyes, Ljungberg, Pires and Hleb to the more pragmatic Chelsea team including Drogba, Gudjohnsen, Essien, Lampard and Robben.

I don't think Chelsea are as boring or defensive as they are painted. Any team with Crespo, Cole, Wright-Phillips, Robben and Duff can't fail to provide attacking flair on occasion.

I can certainly think of two supposedly "big clubs" who are much more boring and negative in approach.

Rafa Benitez' Liverpool side are still evolving, and they remain in a period where they are securing their defence to make themselves difficult to beat before they fully concentrate on their attacking intent. Their tendency to play three central midfielders (Alonso, Sissoko, Gerrard) alongside, say Zenden and Luis Garcia with one striker has made them tougher to beat, but struggling for goals (one Premiership goal this season, and that from a free kick).

And then we have the worst culprits of all for negativity; a team who have had five shots on target in the last 270 minutes of football and who, it is reported today, are so upset with the management team's negative tactics that they have approached the reserve team manager to speak to the boss on their behalf about the situation.

Yes, my very own beloved Manchester United, for a decade the embodiment of attacking, exciting football have developed a hugely negative 4-5-1 formation designed to let very little through (which is working) but has resulted in less and less goals. Leaving one of Europe's best strikers ploughing a lone furrow, whilst shunting two of the world's best young players out wide is frustrating not only the fans, but the player as well.

For what it's worth, I agree with Arsene Wenger. Chelsea can win boringly all they like, but what Mourinho fails to take into account is the effect this approach has on the wider game as a whole. There were 62,000 unsold tickets for this weekends Premiership games. I'm not sure that is borne entirely of the cost of tickets or the predictability of the results, but more that paying £25 or more for a 0-0 draw isn't anyone's idea of value. Go to the cricket and get a day's play for £40. Take the kids to the zoo. Have a Leo Sayer with your mates in the town centre.

Of course I am not saying that football is dead, but if the likes of Mourinho and Ferguson continue with this defiance, more and more people will lose interest and that's not good for the game as a whole. So (and here's something I have never said before), hear hear to Arsene Wenger.

Gary Speed for Bolton (v Man City), Sunday 18 September 2005

Predictions league updated.

And after last weeks disaster, El Tel scored the highest ever weekly total (14 points including four correct scores)....! (apparently this did involve some scientific research and careful studying of form).

The girls lead the way - Charby, from Weenie from Rufus Fan. That tell you anything...?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Andrei Kanchelskis for Manchester Utd (v Man City), 10 November 1994

Third in our regular guest feature - except it's not technically a guest feature this week as it is my go....

Lord Bargain - My Favourite Player Ever Is........Andrei Kanchelskis

I could have made a case for any number of players here, I really could. Where to begin? For a start, there are a couple of non-United players I considered. Until his horrific motorbike accident, I always thought that Matt Jansen was destined to become an England fixture. He came within a couple of players of making the World Cup squad in 2002 and was a great little player. Indeed he came close to signing for United when he left Carlisle, and instead went to Palace and then on to Blackburn. Two footed little genius.

And then (as discussed here previously), the big-honked South Coast legend Matthew Le Tissier. Goals for which there are insufficient superlatives.

Anyway. The United list of players I considered was much longer. And not necessarily for talent alone, to be honest - but that's why we have favourite players, eh?!!! George Best, probably the most skilful player ever? Bryan Robson. Neil Webb. Denis Irwin. Mark Hughes. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. Gary Pallister. Ruud van Nistelrooy.

The third choice was Lee Sharpe. I always loved Sharpey in a way I never did for Giggs. He was less mazy and more direct, but I always felt more effective. Imagine if his wages hadn't disappeared down his throat and up his nose how many England caps he'd have won...

My close runner-up was, in my opinion, the pound-for-pound best signing in the history of English football, and a man who was the catalyst for all that we won in the 1990's. Unlike most United fans I am not referring to the arrogant Frenchman, but the red-hootered giant who joined United just after my all time favourite player. Signed for £550,000 in August 1991, Peter Schmeichel was the man who made it all possible. Countless saves, four goals (!) and simply never satisfactorily replaced.

And so we come to the little Russian legend. He arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk in 1991 and made his debut against Crystal Palace in May 1991 and was a fixture on the right wing of United's rigorous 4-4-2 formation for four years.

How to describe him? He was a little fella, but a more direct midfield player you would struggle to find. Full of energy and trickery, he was an old-fashioned winger in the truest sense of the word. Not only did he provide service for Brian McClair and Mark Hughes as the Championship came back to Old Trafford for the first time in over two decades, he was a formidable finisher himself - 36 goals in 158 United matches is a not bad return for a midfielder.

He won two Premiership titles in 1993 and 1994 as well as the FA Cup in 1994. One of my favourite memories of Kanchelskis was the goal he scored against Oldham Athletic in the semi final replay that year when he picked up the ball on the right wing and went on a mazy dribble across the pitch beating several men before angling an unstoppable left-footed drive from the left hand corner of the penalty area.

He also played in the side that came within a game of winning the first ever domestic Treble (League, FA Cup, League Cup) and was famously red carded in the League Cup final of 1994 when an Andy Townsend inspired Aston Villa beat United 3-1 at Wembley - Kanchelskis sent off that day for deliberately handling on the goal-line.

But this was the highlight of Andrei's United career and a night that will live long in the memory of United fans. Still smarting from their 5-1 defeat in the Manchester derby in September 1989 at Maine Road, United arrived at Old Trafford on November 10th 2004 to face the old enemy in the Premier League. In the derby games in between there had been five draws and United had won by an odd goal in three of the others.

But aKanchelskiss inspired United tore City apart that night. After an opening Eric Cantona goal, Kanchelskis hit two either side of half time. Mark Hughes added a fourth and with two minutes to go theRussiann broke free on the right wing and slotted United's fifth, completing the first hat-trick in a Manchester derby since Francis Lee in 1970. Was that the best ever United side that night? Schmeichel, Keane, Irwin, Bruce, Pallister, Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs, Cantona.

And then in 1995 (along with Paul Ince and Mark Hughes), Sir Alex sold Kanchelskis to Everton for £8million, amid rumours that he had accumulated substantial gambling debts at a series of Manchester casinos. And from there his career gradually deteriorated. He shone on occasion for the Toffees, and then a reasonable stint at Fiorentina before spells at Rangers, Manchester City, Southampton and in Qatar. He is still playing as a 36 year old today, for the Russian Premier League side FC Saturn based in the Moscow suburb of Ramenskoe. And of course he was replaced on the right hand side of United's midfield by that preening idiotic clothes horse from Leytenstone which means for most United fans he is lost in that comparison.

Wikipedia defines Kanchelskis as a "dynamic goal scoring winger with great pace" which sounds like a reasonable assessment to me. What a little player he was.


Previous choices:

Ben - Alan Shearer

Dom - Henrik Larsson

Friday, September 16, 2005

Florin Bratu for Dinamo Bucharest (Vs. Everton), 15th Septmber 2005

It must be a total pisser when your season full of hope & expectation is all but down the toilet halfway through September (Right, Forest fans?).

Poor old Everton fell pray to a thorough mauling at the hands of Dinamo Bucharest last night. I feel sorry for David Moyes who so far has worked wonders with the Toffees.
That's about as far as my sympathy will stretch, I'm afraid.

There's something about Everton that I've never liked.
They've traded on being a so-called big club for a long time whilst pottering around in mid-table most years, if not dubiously avoiding relegation.
Last year they were a revelation & I actually found myself hoping that they would clinch that last Champion's league spot as an example of how hard work & team spirit can still triumph amongst the megabucks brigade.

What a bloody waste of time that was, eh?
Out of the Champion's league at the first hurdle (albeit a very tricky Villareal shaped hurdle) & now out of Europe all together, barring a miracle.
Just think if it wasn't for Everton punching above their weight last season we could now all be enjoying the European exploits of everyone's new second team; Psycho's Man City.
Instead we've lost a team in Europe already, at this early stage.

Still at least the merseyside "giants" haven't been eclipsed by the likes of Bolton & Middlesboro' .



Anyone feeling sorry for Everton then, Weenie perhaps? (ahem)

Don't forget to do your predictions peeps, they're down there somewhere, now with added wild card for your delectation.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Geremi for Chelsea (v Sunderland), 10 September 2005

Predictions table updated. A load of absolutely cobblers scores this week on the whole.

And a wee small and giggly mention to El Tel who scored a majestic, er, one point for correctly predicting Chelsea would beat Sunderland. And to Flash who must be delighted he came up with this idea.


Marlon Harewood for West Ham United (v Aston Villa), 12 September 2005

Hello peeps. Time for this week's round of the predictions league then.

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

Off you go then (and I'm sure Lord B. will update the table at some point).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Brian McBride for the United States of America (vs Portugal), 5 June 2002

Terrible news. In the wake of the defeat by Northern Ireland, England have dropped 4 places and out of the top 10 in the FIFA world rankings, sitting shamefaced at 11. Northern Ireland in the meantime have moved up 15 places to 101st, Scotland are up 12 to 74th, and Wales move up a place to 82nd.

Here's the top 20 in full:

1. Brazil
2. Netherlands
3. Argentina
4. Czech Republic
5. Mexico
6. France
7. USA
8. Spain
9. Portugal
10. Sweden
11. England
12. Turkey
13. Italy
14. Denmark
15. Germany
16. Japan
17. Poland
18. Iran
19. Costa Rica
20. Greece
21. Republic of Ireland

Interesting. But how does it work?

Over to FIFA:

"Since its introduction, the FIFA/Coca-Cola Ranking has proved to be a reliable measure for comparing national A-teams..."

If you say so...

"Taken into consideration for the ranking are all international-A match results over a time span of the last eight years:

  • World Cup finals matches
  • World Cup preliminary matches
  • FIFA Confederations Cup matches
  • Continental championship final matches
  • Continental championship preliminary matches
  • Friendly matches"
Ok - I'm with you so far, but it can't be that simple, can it?

ah, no.....

"The ranking list is produced by a computer program which assigns a team points for every match, according to clearly defined criteria. The factors taken into consideration are:

  1. Winning, drawing and losing
  2. Number of goals
  3. Home or away match
  4. Importance of the match (multiplication factor)
  5. Regional strength (multiplication factor)

For each team only the seven best results per year are given full weighting. Results from the past are given progressively less weighting year by year until after eight years they are dropped completely. In this way current success is rated more highly than past results."

Ah... those tricky multiplication factors. I imagine Costa Rica must play a lot of important games then, yeah?

"The factors used are:

  • Friendly match x 1.00
  • Continental championship preliminary x 1.50
  • World Cup preliminary match x 1.50
  • Continental championship finals match x 1.75
  • FIFA Confederations Cup match x 1.75
  • World Cup finals match x 2.00

This means that qualifying matches are weighted 50% higher than friendlies, continental final round matches 75 % higher and matches during World Cup finals twice as much."

Right. Anything else we need to know?

"For 2005, the following weighting factors will apply:

  • UEFA x 1.00
  • CONMEBOL x 0.99
  • CAF x 0.96
  • CONCACAF x 0.94
  • AFC x 0.93
  • OFC x 0.93"
(I've summarised a bit, but you get the general idea)

And the result of all that effort?? A table that is essentially a load of old cobblers.

I bet the average fan could write out a list of who they thought would make the last 8 of the World Cup, and it would be more accurate.

Good old FIFA, though eh?

Steve McManaman for Real Madrid (v Valencia), 24 May 2000

Just in case anyone was being kept awake by the seven British players who have represented non-British clubs in the European Cup/Champions League final, they are:

Steve McManaman
Owen Hargreaves
Kevin Keegan
Steve Archibald
Chris Waddle
Paul Lambert
Laurie Cunningham

and the three Englishmen involved in £7million plus transfers but have never won an England cap are (as ST correctly pointed out):

Kevin Davies
Carl Cort
Dean Richards

Carl Cort? dear oh dear.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Henrik Larsson for Celtic (v Rangers), 29 April 2001

OK, here's second in our guest "My Favourite Player Ever..." guest slots. And an interesting point arises out of todays post. I would have bet some money that every football fan's favourite player ever would automatically be partisan - and would come from their own team. However....
Dom - My Favourite Player Ever Is................Henrik Larsson

When Bargain asked me to come up with a post about my favourite player I accepted immediately. I then had to stop & think - hang on who is my favourite player ever?

The answer came pretty quickly & could be seen as quite controversial (to Alex, & Yorkshire at least!), because my favourite player never played in the Garibaldi - he played in Green & White Hoops.

My favourite player is The Magnificent 7, The King of Kings, Henrik Larsson.

Don't get me wrong I have adored many Forest players over the years I've watched them, Webb, Roy, Bart-Williams, & Harewood just a few of my Favourite players, but Henrik was something else.

He arrived @ Paradise in 1997 for the princely sum of £750k & made his debut for the Bhoys in televised game against Hibs, which saw the Hibees win 2-1, over the season he established himself in the side & the goals started to come, helping Celtic stop Rangers win 10 in a row. Over the next couple of season he became Celtic's main goal threat, he then unfortunately broke his leg(rather nastily) in a European game in Lyon & was sidelined for the remainder of the 99/00 season, Rangers cruised to the title.

But there was to be a power-shift in Scottish football in the 00/01 season, with the arrival of Martin O'Neill (who I'd truly hoped would have got the Forest job instead of Pratt).
Larsson had recovered & had trained all summer, but no-one knew whether he would still be as good. They shouldn't have worried, Henrik came back better than ever.

O'Neill had instilled belief in the side, & Henrik simply destroyed all-comers on the pitch, personal highlights for me: his hat-trick in the first old firm clash of the season which Celtic won 6-2, his headers in the snow against Hearts, rounding the Kilmarnock keeper in the Scottish league cup final like it was the easiest thing in the world, & the one goal that I'll never forget, at Ibrox with Celtic already Champions, & 2-0 up thanks to Lubo "The Magician" Moravcik, Henrik scored from an impossible angle, his 50th goal of the season. I shouted the house down!. Celtic won the Treble & Henrik ended up scoring an incredible 53 goals that season.

The majority of the media & my mates would continually slate the Scottish League, & make claims that he wasn't that good because he didn't play in the Premier league, Henrik simply made a mockery of them all with his goal scoring exploits for Sweden & in Europe with Celtic. In the post match interview at Ewood Park(after Celtic knocked them out of the UEFA Cup)live on BBC Henrik said they did it to prove to the English press that they weren't shit. They proved it further by proceeding to knock out Liverpool & make the final where(in a truly heart-breaking football week for myself) they lost 3-2 to Mourinho's Porto in extra time. Henrik was the star again though, his two goals (both levelling the score at the time) further cementing his legendary status.

What I loved about Henrik was his ability to score from nothing, he always seemed to know where the back of the net was. For a short player he scored countless headers, on the ground he could turn defenders inside out & leave keepers dumbstruck, & although he'd be mercilessly hacked down every game he'd always get up without complaining & just get on with it. The sticking out of the Tongue celebration hilarious & whether he was sporting braids or a skinhead, it didn't matter who the opposition were Henrik would always score. That's why I have "Legend" 7 on the back of my Celtic top, & that's why Henrik Larsson is my Favourite Player Ever, "You are my Larsson, my Henrik Larsson.....


Thanks to Dom for that.

I'm going to do next weeks one - it's time we picked someone other than a striker I think....!

Friday, September 09, 2005

David Hunt for Northampton Town (vs Wycombe Wanderers), 2 September 2005

It may be too soon for many of you to be thinking about the mundanities of the Premiership when yesterday's wounds are still so fresh... but we do have our league table to worry about, so on with the show:

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

And the wild card this week:
Northampton 2-0 Bury

Ah, the wonderful forgetful bliss of league football.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Chris Sutton for Chelsea (v Manchester Utd), 3rd October 1999

Here's a couple of those funny football quiz questions for you to ponder on tomorrow when you are bored at work... These have kept me any my mate Paul entertained this afternoon....

There are three English footballers who have been involved in £7million plus transfers but have never won an England cap. Name them.

Name the seven British players that have played in European Cup/Champions League finals for non-British clubs.

We got all three English players and six of the seven European Cup ones - see how you get on...!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

David Healy for Northern Ireland (v England), 7 September 2005

Right. Sven is going to get the kicking for this, clearly. No question.

But I say, leave off the manager. The manager can select a squad, set them up and pick eleven players. And come on, which of you, really, wouldn't have picked England's starting line up tonight?

So, surely, it is now time to say "stop" and have a pop at the eleven in the white shirts?

Look at the array of talent on show tonight who did absolutely nothing for their international cap.

Rio Ferdinand - needs to remember why he's being paid £100,000 a week. You telling me a fit Jonathan Woodgate wouldn't seize his chance to be genius in the centre of our defence?

Ashley Cole - world's second best left back lets a Leeds United reserve ghost past him for the winner

Jamie Carragher - please

Frank Lampard - rubbish

Steven Gerrard - utter rubbish

Shaun Wright-Phillips - our best player and so instantly withdrawn for Joe "playground" Cole

Rooney - hissy fit

Owen - did he kick the ball?

Owen Hargreaves - why didn't he choose Canada? or Wales?

Bear in mind that Northern Ireland have a Plymouth Argyle left back, a Southampton reserve right-back, a right winger last seen scrabbling round for a club, a Hull City winger and a centre forward with an Emile Heskey scoring record (played 40, scored 4). And he was withdrawn for someone who plays for Luton Town for Christ's sake.

Time for these multi-millionaires to stand up and be counted. If you can't play your proper game against the world's 176th ranked team (or whatever the hell they are) then it's time for you to get stuffed and give your place to someone who gives a sh*t about their country.

Have a pop at Sven all you like, but it is time these selfish money-grabbing so-called role models remembered why they are being picked to represent their country...

Laurie Sanchez for Wimbledon (vs Liverpool), 14 May 1988

It's only a shame that Sven's inspirational decision to throw on Owen Hargreaves failed to save the game for England, eh?

Northern Ireland totally deserved that result, and frankly it's been a long time coming. England have shown nothing for months. Nothing. They got spanked by Denmark a couple of weeks ago, and Wales could easily have got something out of the game last Saturday. Still people believe England can pull a result out of the bag when it matters. Still people believe that England will be challenging for the World Cup in the summer. Use the evidence of your own eyes. Something is fundamentally wrong. These are good players (apparently), and they are embrassingly poor in the shirt that should matter the most to them.

Well done Northern Ireland, and let's hope this finally stings some improvement.... or at least some changes.

I knew I should have read that book.

Colin Murdock for Northern Ireland (v Austria), 14 October 2004

Right, apologies if this is controversial but this gets me so mad.

Why on earth have we had a minutes silence at an international World Cup qualifying match for Des Murdock, father of one of Northern Ireland's squad players?

"Sorry, ref, my daughter's best friend's gerbil has a dicky tummy, can we have a minute's silence please?"

It is absolutely ridiculous. I am very sorry that Colin Murdock's dad has died, I really am. But a minute's silence at a football match? Do me a favour.

Zinedine Zidane for France (vs England), 13 June 2004

Tonight, England take on Northern Ireland in Belfast for the first time in 18 years. The last time the two sides met it was in a qualifying game for the 1988 European Championships, and England cruised onwards to their humiliation in the Finals with a 0-2 win (goals courtesy of Gary Lineker and Bryan Robson). Something similar would do for England tonight, but their fans have got rather higher hopes for their side's chances in Germany in 2006 the 3 defeats and early elimination that they got in 1988.


Sorry. I just can't do this. I just can't bring myself to get excited about an international football game featuring England, particularly not one coached by Sven Goran Eriksson. Can you not just see the game mapping out in front of you? Even if they manage to win comfortably, it will somehow seem like a real struggle. The defence won't really be tested, although the goalkeeper may have to make on heart-stopping save at 0-0. The midfield will launch long balls towards the back-end of the box from just over the halfway line at their giant target-men (Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney). We will barely see a cross worthy of the name as both the English "wide players" will drift into the congested heart of the midfield. Someone will probably pick up a pointless booking. There will be several negative substitutions in the second half, with someone like Owen Hargreaves coming onto the pitch to no great effect and one of the more creative players being withdrawn. There will be few clear cut chances, and an England win will not completely manage to gloss over another disappointing game and the overall impression will be one of a side and a manager lacking in ideas.

'Twas ever thus.

I can only recall a couple of games I have really enjoyed: England v Germany in 1990 (in spite of the result). England v Holland in Euro 1996 (because of the result). I think that's probably it. Watching England has been a chore and frankly I'm tired of it, World Cup year or not.

Yes, I'm sure England will qualify fairly comfortably. Yes, I'm sure it will be hard not to get swept along in the build up to the tournament next summer. Apparently England are amongst the favourites. Do we really have the grounds to be optimistic though? England have some great players, for sure. Do you really think they are going to be deployed in a way that will make England consistently threatening to sides like Brazil? I just can't see it. We simply don't seem to have the tactical creativity and flexibility to enable us to break games open. When faced with either talented or determined opponents, we struggle to make openings. It will be boring, and it is likely to end in disappointment.

Sorry, but there you are. Watching Phil Neville and Owen Hargreaves hacking around the pitch kicking lumps out of anyone they can get near enough to is not my idea of the beautiful game. No, instead of that, I think I'm going to watch France v Ireland instead, mainly to see if Roy Keane and Patrick Viera can make it out of the tunnel in one piece, and to time how long it takes for Zinedine Zidane's 'knock' on his leg to receive its first "reducer".

Ah, how sweet it is to see the greatest creative talents in football 'neutralised' by cloggers.

Maybe I'll just read a book.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pauleta for Portugal (v Luxembourg), 3 September 2005

Predictions updated, and whilst we're not bad at predicting the outcome, we're not great at predicting the score. The results for anyone who didn't see them in full were:

France 3-0 Faroe Islands
Northern Ireland 2-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 1-1 Italy (!)
Wales 0-1 England
Sweden 3-0 Bulgaria
Armenia 0-1 Holland
Portugal 6-0 Luxembourg
Forest 1-2 Brentford (ahem)

Monday, September 05, 2005

David Beckham for England (vs Colombia), 26 June 1998

David Beckham is a preening clown.

He is a naricssistic buffoon with an unhealthy obsession with his own celebrity. He has a poisonous, talentless wife (who I was unsurprised to learn is apparently on a "lobster & champagne diet". Why she's on a diet at all is beyond me, but somehow I didn't see her being on the cabbage plan...). He will endorse any old tat for cash and will offer his opinion on anything (I saw him quoted on the Ashes today, and he didn't let his total lack of interest in the cricket get in the way of finding something to say about it).

Yes, yes. This much we know.

What about his worth as a footballer?

He's never been the quickest player, and he's never really been one to set off on a mazy dribble. He's certainly not very likely to ghost past a marker as though he wasn't there. He's not a great header of the ball,and he's not the best tackler.... what he does have though is the ability to pass the ball as though it has been laser guided and an ability with the dead ball that is almost second to none. From his station on the right-flank, Beckham at his best was able to feed a stream of quality ball to his forwards, to put ball after ball into the penalty area with enough whip on it to make it a defender's nightmare. On top of this ability, he had amazing stamina. I have never seen a single player work as hard as Beckham did against Greece in the final qualification game before the 2002 World Cup. Even before his free kick, it was as if he was taking on the whole Greek side single-handedly. It was an astonishing performance, and the single biggest reason that England qualified.

Sadly, Beckham was below his best for the tournament itself, a result of his infamous foot injury. At some point in the aftermath of that tournament though, Beckham got ideas above his station. He was transferred to Real Madrid, the biggest club side in the world, and somehow he began to believe all of his own publicity. He began to hanker after a berth in the centre of midfield; closer to the heart of the action; a position more fitting to his status as the captain of England. He stopped doing the things he was good at. To watch him playing for England was to see him constantly drifting into the centre from his position on the right. This Saturday we saw him playing in the deep-lying midfield player in a 4-5-1 formation - he played OK, but surely this was a case of Eriksson finding a formation that enabled him to keep Beckham in the side, rather than putting him in his best position or of putting the best available person into that position. With all due respect to Wales, against tougher opposition, surely he would be found out in that position? The image of Beckham jumping out of a tackle in the 2002 World Cup and Rivaldo heading off down the pitch to score is too fresh in my mind. If Sean Wright-Phillips is a better bet on the right side of the midfield, then surely Beckham must be dropped, captain or not.

So what next?

Forget about his commercial interests for a minute. Thinking purely about his football, do you think he's worth his place? Should he be captain? Where would you play him?

You've read my barely concealed plagiarism of the thoughts of many of England's sportswriters.... now tell me what you think.