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.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Alan Shearer for Newcastle United (v Wimbledon), 21 August 2005

I am delighted to launch a new "guest post" feature today. Every week, a guest contributor will get to regale the readership with stories and rationale for their favourite ever footballer. Recent or old, partisan or otherwise, cult hero or genius; anyone is eligible.

And where better to start on this particular blog than...

Ben - My Favourite Footballer Ever Is.......................Alan Shearer

My favourite ever player? As predictable as they come, I’m afraid.

As a schoolboy playing for Wallsend Boys Club, Alan Shearer was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity of a trial with his beloved Newcastle Utd. Unfortunately, our staff famously elected to stick him between the sticks for half the game, and that was that. He pitched up at Southampton, where as a 17-year-old he scored a hat-trick against Arsenal on his debut. It was a mistake that was to cost us £15m to rectify.

July 1996, and the dust was settling on the European Championships. England had gone agonisingly close to the Final, defeated by the old enemy Germany on penalties. Shearer, who the previous season had fired unfashionable but wealthy Blackburn to the title, ended up as the tournament’s top scorer with five, his nearest rivals managing only three.

As for us Newcastle fans, we had just experienced one of the most thrilling seasons in our history, but ultimately one that ended in spectacular and traumatic failure as Keegan’s Entertainers squandered a 15 point lead to gift the title to Man Utd. We had spent the close season licking our wounds, consoling ourselves with the knowledge that in Les Ferdinand, Faustino Asprilla, Peter Beardsley and David Ginola we had more than enough firepower to challenge again the following season.

The only person who didn’t feel the same way, it seems, was the manager, who smashed the club record to poach Shearer from under Alex Ferguson’s big red nose. (He wouldn’t have gone to Old Trafford anyway, his antipathy of Man Utd being just another of his admirable attributes.) Cue scenes of absolute euphoria. We loved it, just loved it. He scored his first Toon goal against Wimbledon in August that year and went on to hit 28 in 40 games in his first season on Tyneside.

September 2005, and he’s still here. His hair may have thinned, and his pace disappeared, but given the right service he still has an unerring eye for goal. Things haven’t quite gone to plan during the ten seasons since he signed, his trophy haul consisting of just that solitary championship medal won while at Blackburn. A player of his talent and ability deserves so much more. That summer he could have gone anywhere he wanted. He could have named his club. Regardless of the enormity of his wage packet, to choose Newcastle in the first place and then to remain loyal to his boyhood heroes for that length of time signifies a major self-sacrifice, one for which we can’t be grateful enough. Where would we be without him?

Of course, Shearer has his critics. The vast majority of those are opposition fans who dislike his aggressive and physical approach. Even at the age of 35, the player once labelled “Mary Poppins” by Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall makes sure his marker knows he’s been in a game. Admittedly he does bend the rules on occasion, but often he’s more sinned against than sinning and his reputation unfairly precedes him.

There are however a few dissenting Toon fans who feel that Shearer’s ego has got out of all proportion – that he’s selfish and manipulative, pulling strings behind the scenes (he played a key part in Gullit’s dismissal, for instance) and wielding far too much power and authority for someone who is, ultimately, just another member of the playing staff. “No-one should be bigger than the club”, as the saying goes.

Nonsense. How can sticking around through thick and – more often – thin for ten years without ever getting his hands on a piece of silverware possibly be selfish? Of the fact that Shearer loves the club there can be no doubt, but he’s not bigger than it. Compare him to some of the multi-million pound wasters who’ve come and gone in the time he’s been at the club and whose exorbitant wages we’ve paid. They were selfish. And to the thugs and front-page headline-makers of recent years, some of whom remain at the club. By contrast, Shearer is a consummate professional, someone who has helped to hold things together as we’ve lurched from crisis to crisis.

But of course it’s for his on-pitch exploits that he’ll be most fondly remembered when he hangs up his boots at the end of the season. By that time he’ll hopefully have surpassed Jackie Milburn’s club record goal tally of 200 – only six to go. Of that phenomenal 194 goal haul, a few stand out. The blistering free-kick against Leicester in February 1997, the second goal of a hat-trick which saw us recover from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in the final minute. Another to seal a 2-0 extra time victory over Spurs and a second consecutive FA Cup Final in April 1999. The superb volley against Aston Villa in November 2001 during a 3-0 win that put us top of the league. The even better volley that nearly broke the net when we sent Abramovich’s Chelsea back down the A1 tail between their legs in April 2004. There really is no better sight than that of our number nine wheeling away from goal, his arm aloft in celebration.

But my personal highlight of Shearer’s Newcastle career? When, in the closing stages of the 4-3 win over Man Utd in September 2001, he wound up Roy Keane so much that the Irishman swung a punch at him. Shearer saw it coming and ducked out of the way, and Keane saw red. The icing on the cake, as they say.

The events of the last few days have ensured that, wherever Shearer ends up at the end of the season, his legacy will hopefully live on. As Michael Owen was paraded in front of the thousands of overjoyed supporters still scarcely able to comprehend the news of his arrival, the man who was by all accounts most instrumental in securing Owen’s services must have been transported back to the rabid reception he was afforded ten summers ago. In Owen, Shearer has helped to recruit one of the few players who might possibly be able to live up to his own standards. Like Shearer, he might be regarded as dull off the pitch but he’s a talismanic figure on it.

The king is dead, long live the king! Except the king isn’t dead just yet…


Thanks to Alex for kicking us off. I did like his covering e-mail to this piece which said "And please don't take the anti-Man Utd sentiments personally - they come with the territory..."

This from someone contributing to a blog named in semi-offensive terms about the player in question....!

Next week, Dom will be in the hotseat. I am looking forward to that. Jason Lee? Andrea Silenzi? Barry "coffee cup" Roche? Salvatore Matrecano?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wayne Rooney for England (v Denmark), 17 August 2005

Righto, folks. The predictions league is reset and open for business. Anyone who wishes to join in, please be our guest....

Here's this weeks matches:

France 5-0 Faroe Islands
Northern Ireland 0-1 Azerbaijan
Scotland 0-2 Italy
Wales 0-2 England
Sweden 2-1 Bulgaria
Armenia 1-3 Holland
Portugal 5-0 Luxembourg

and wild card

Nottingham Forest 1-2 Brentford

And what's this? Sven deciding to change his formation to get Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard into the centre of midfield and get a couple of pacy skilful players into the side? How many years late?

Alvaro Recoba for Inter Milan (v Sampdoria), 9 January 2005

Don't you just hate it when other people steal your ideas or knowledge and don't give you credit?

The excellent Guardian football website has a weekly feature called "The Knowledge" where readers can contribute football related questions (often odd in content) for fellow readers and the Guardain to answer.

Last week, a reader had asked:

"From a betting odds perspective, what is the most unlikely thing to have happened in football?"

Now then, I thought I knew the answer to this and here is a copy of the email I sent to the Guardian on Wed 24 August.

I am sure that there were punters who matched the maximum price (999-1) on Betfair on January 9 2005.

Inter Milan were 2-0 down at home to Sampdoria as they entered injury time at the San Siro, and I am sure I remember reading that there were a couple of punters who backed them for the win at 999-1 on Betfair.

Obefemi Martins, Alvaro Recoba and Christian Vieri then proceeded to score for Inter in injury time to secure an unbelievable 3-2 victory and those lucky punters walked away with 999 times their stake.

As this is the maximum price on Betfair, surely this must be the most unlikely bet ever to come off?

A good answer, I thought.

And then, I see this article on this weeks Knowledge:

Back in January, Internazionale trailed Sampdoria 2-0 with two minutes left of their Serie A clash. "With maximum odds of 1000 against (the equivalent of 999-1) available, the price was snapped up by a Berkshire man," says company spokesman, Tony Calvin. "Then Obafami Martins scored in the 88th minute, before Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba won the game for Inter in injury-time. The punter had scooped almost a grand for his £1 staked.

Huh? almost exactly word for word what I had e-mailed to them with absolutely zero credit whatsoever. I demand an apology! Compensation! Credit for my obvious genius football knowledge.....! (the full piece is here)