Friday, December 29, 2006

Guiseppe Biava for Palermo (v Reggina), 10 September 2006

It wouldn't be a cliche-ridden football website without some sort of retrospective on the months past, would it?



The CUAS Review of 2006

Well. Where shall we start? Perchance a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous?

Team of the Year

Buffon, Sagnol, Lahm, Cannavaro, Thuram, Figo, Ribery, Gattuso, Zidane, Klose, Torres.

OK, so not strictly permitted, but hey. They're my rules.

Person Least Likely To Send Ben Thatcher A Christmas Card

Pedro Mendes. Oh come on, you must remember this.

Image of 2006

Best Goal Scored In Training Perhaps Not This Year But Still Deserves Some Admiration

Paolo di Canio. You can see an unbelievable volleyed rabona here.

Roll Call - 2006

Premiership - Chelsea
Championship - Reading
League One - Southend Utd
League Two - Carlisle Utd
Conference - Accrington Stanley
Scottish Premier - Celtic
Scottish First - St Mirren
Scottish Second - Gretna
Scottish Third - Cowdenbeath
FA Cup - Liverpool
League Cup - Manchester Utd
Football League Trophy - Swansea City
Scottish FA Cup - Hearts
Scottish League Cup - Celtic
Champions League - Barcelona
UEFA Cup - Sevilla
World Cup - Italy

Goal of the Year

Despite Matt Taylor and Didier Drogba's valiant attempts, and certainly excluding Javier Mascherano's effort for Argentina in the World Cup (oooh! twenty backwards passes!) my Goal of the Year goes to Palermo's Guiseppe Biava for this outrageous flying backheel scissor kick. Absolutely amazing.

The Coldest I Have Ever Been At A Football Match Ever

3rd March 2006. A Friday evening at the de Goffert Stadium, Nijmegen. I genuinely thought I might die of frostbite in the company of NEC and AZ Alkmaar. Or be buried alive in the snow surrounding the ground on the way out.

(photographic evidence of this here)

Underperforming Flop Letdown XI

Robinson, Neville, Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Hargreaves, Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard, Cole, Crouch.

oh come on. It could hardly have been anyone else, could it?

Managers Who Aren't In The Job They Were In At The Start Of 2006 But Who Suddenly Look Actually Quite Good In The Light Of Their Replacements

Alan Curbishley
Sven Goran Eriksson
Alex McLeish

Best German Football TV Presenter Met In A Pub In Cologne

This is Gisbert Baltes who bought me and my good friend Sarah some kolsch during the Spain v France match at this summers' World Cup. A very, very nice man.

Oh My Word! You Have So Much Larger An Opinion Of Yourself And Your Varying Talents (Such As They Are) Than Anyone Else

Rio Ferdinand.

Not content with his "hilarious" TV wind-up show (read all about it here), he proceeded to release his autobiography with the tag line "The Most Talked about footballer Of His Generation".

What a load of old b*llocks.

World Cup, and you f***ed it up, World Cup, and you f***ed it up....

Graham "Three Cards" Poll.

Ha ha ha.

Post Match Interview Of The Year

"This is just amazing. F***ing hell, I just can't believe it. It is a brilliant experience and a great feeling to have kept us in the Cup."

A young Micah Richards shocks Garth Crooks into "pretending to be his Dad mode" after his last minute equaliser kept Manchester City in the FA Cup.

Most Unfortunate Moment For The Big Screen At The Cologne Fanfest To Go Off During The England v Ecuador World Cup Match

Hows about this one?

Player of the Year

OK, so he did a reasonable job in Juventus' defence (for all the good that did), had three or four useful games at the World Cup before failing to plug an increasingly shambolic Real Madrid defence. So, Fabio Cannavaro, close but no cigar.

Similarly, I can't possibly go for Didier Drogba. He may (finally) be showing what he is capable of, but until he quits the histrionics and the diving, he'll never be anyone's idea of Player of the Year.

Who else? Candidates from Barcelona's Champions League triumph have been let down by their form since or their World Cup showing (Ronaldinho, Xavi, Messi), Henry was sublime until Big Games came along (and then got the hump) and Cristiano Ronaldo has proved that Ferguson's your manager of choice post World Cup based vitriol but still a bit tetchy and selfish for my liking.

So, in a vaguely partisan way but also in an overdue "lifetime achievement" type way, I think it's time to salute one of our own. A little fella who has been, I would argue, England's consistently best player over the past ten years. Unassuming, tough, talented, skilful, undemonstrative, magical and with great vision. A guy who (with the exception of his sometimes mistimed tackling) is a great role model for young footballers. A man who Zinedine Zidane claimed was the best English footballer of his generation. Indeed a man who, had he been given Zidane's role in his international line-up, may have been able to have a similar impact.

Yep, my Player of the Year is Paul Scholes.

Any other highlights of 2006 that deserve a mention?...

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nigel Reo-Coker for West Ham (v Manchester Utd), 16 December 2006

Interesting stuff here about Joey Barton's mates in the England camp and the man who got three red cards.

Last predictions of the year - will be back for FA Cup Third Round weekend...

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

and as it's winter we'll go for the various Robins this week:

Cheltenham 1-2 Bristol City
Macclesfield 1-2 Swindon

Have a great Christmas, all, and thanks for continuing to pop by!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stephen O'Donnell for Clyde (v Dundee), 16 September 2006

This is ex Scotland international Andy McLaren. Until today, he played up front for Scottish league side Dundee. Today, he has had his contract terminated by "mutual consent".

"Why?" you may cry. Personal reasons? Offer from another club?


Andy McLaren was sent off three times in the same game last Saturday.

His first red card came for kicking out at Clyde defender Eddie Malone. Then he received a second red card for punching Michael McGowan as he was leaving the pitch. Not content with a brace of reds, he then received a third red card for directing a volley of abuse at referee Dougie McDonald.

Whilst clearly a tad naughty, there is a little bit of me that likes the idea of "well, if I am going to be sent off, I may as well do it in style". Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Joey Barton for Manchester City (vs Fulham), 18 November 2006

Predictions are here

I can’t get my head round that; England did nothing in that World Cup, so why were they bringing books out? ‘We got beat in the quarter-finals. I played like shit. Here’s my book.’ Who wants to read that? I don’t. I watched the World Cup and that wasn’t a team. It seemed to be individuals playing for themselves.

Joey Barton has never struck me as the shiniest pebble on the beach, but is that not the most incisive piece of analysis of England's World Cup squad that you've read? It's good that we're not the only people who think that they're a bunch of spoiled, greedy, grasping complacent tossers then*

I'm sure Fat Frank, $tevie G, Cashley and the rest of them will be welcoming him into the squad with open arms (my tip? Just keep him away from the cigars....).

* yes, I believe this is the same Joey Barton that held Manchester City to ransom over his new contract.

Matthew Taylor for Portsmouth (v Everton), 9 December 2006

It is with great pride that I can today announce that this website is now the number one Google search result for:

"I Hate Didier Drogba".

*beams with pride*

Anyway. predictions ahoy....

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

and a couple of wildcards featuring managerless (rudderless) clubs:

Hull 2-0 Cardiff
Port Vale 2-0 Brentford

and a bonus two points if anyone can guess the correct first goalscorer in Sunday's Rangers v Celtic Old Firm game at Ibrox....

Maciej Zurawski

(Can I also request for the final time any outstanding contributions for "E" on the A-Z of Football from anyone who hasn't thus far? Email them to me via my profile above. Ta very much.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Steven Pressley for Heart of Midlothian (v Celtic), 1 January 2006

Is there a more principled and better role model for footballers in the UK right now than Steven Pressley?

The ex-Hearts captain - the "cement" that stuck the club together (according to Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov) has this week been released from the club.

His crime? In late October with Hearts second in the Scottish Premier League, Romanov declared that if the side didn't beat Dunfermline Athletic the following day he would put the whole team up for sale. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

After this statement, Pressley (flanked by team-mates and fellow internationals Craig Gordon and Paul Hartley) stated "I have tried, along with the coaching staff and certain colleagues, to implement the correct values and disciplines, but it has become an impossible task. There is only so much a coaching staff, a captain and certain colleagues can do without the full backing, direction and coherence of the manager and those running the football club.

"While, publicly, I have expressed the need for unity, behind the scenes I have made my concerns abundantly clear. The last two years have been very testing for the players . . . morale, understandably, is not good and there is significant unrest in the dressing room."

Since that statement, he has been stripped of the captaincy, dropped and this week released from the club altogether.

In these days of money-chasing self-publicising footballers, to hear a principled and decent man stand up for himself and, crucially, his team-mates against a moneyed bully was refreshing and ought to be applauded. If only there were more like him in the game, eh?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jonathan de Guzman for Feyenoord (v Heerenveen), 3 December 2006

Perhaps we should eschew the boring Premiership and all go and watch the Dutch Eredivisie instead.

The results of the wildcard matches in last weeks predictions league were (videprinter brackets and letters ahoy):

Az Alkmaar 5 - 0 Excelsior
Ajax 6 - 0 Willem II
Feyenoord 4 - 3 Heerenveen

An average of six goals per game. That's more like it. Heh heh heh.

This weeks selection for your perusal:

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

and from the FIFA World Club Championship (any more pointless tournament on the calendar?)
Auckland City 0-2 Al Ahly Cairo
Jeonbuk Motors 1-1 Club America

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Matt Tubbs for Salisbury City (v Nottingham Forest), 3 December 2006

I don't know whether it is just me, but when I was watching Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan draw the magic balls for the FA Cup third round draw, I couldn't seem to get even remotely excited about it.

I know a lot has been made about the "magic of the Cup" having been lost in recent years, particularly with bigger clubs playing second-string sides against lower level opposition. It wasn't even so much that, more that I couldn't bring myself to get excited about anything other than one or two of the matches.

OK, so maybe it was an unlucky draw. It seemed like most of the ties were drawn between two teams of a similar stature or league standing (Preston v Sunderland, Southend v Barnsley, Everton v Blackburn, Portsmouth v Wigan, QPR v Luton etc etc etc) or that the minnows left in the draw got landed with teams which would have raised more groans of disappointment than cheers in their club bars (with the exception of Macclesfield Town).

So, of course Liverpool v Arsenal is the tie everyone is singling out, although more intriguing may be Newcastle's visit to Birmingham or Tottenham's visit to Cardiff. Winless Macclesfield will no doubt take the hopes of every underdog with them before getting tonked by Chelsea's C team.

Anyway, of the 32 games scheduled for that weekend, I can't recall a year where I care less about the outcome of so many of the ties. Shame, really.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Michael Ballack for Chelsea (v Bolton Wanderers), 29 November 2006

OK, predictions updated. Bear in mind that anything is possible - I was previously leading but have scored 5 points in the last month whereas Swiss has scored 27 in the last three weeks. A long way to go....

Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham
Blackburn 2-0 Fulham
Middlesbrough 1-2 Man Utd
Portsmouth 1-1 Aston Villa
Reading 2-1 Bolton
Sheff Utd 2-1 Charlton
Wigan 0-1 Liverpool
Everton 1-0 West Ham
Man City 2-0 Watford

and we shall go Dutch this week:

AZ 2-0 Excelsior
Ajax 3-0 Willem II
Feyenoord 2-1 Heerenveen

Can I invite further contributions for "E" for the A-Z of football please? Ta. Email them to me if you'd be so kind....

Monday, November 27, 2006

Louis Saha for Manchester Utd (v Chelsea), 26 November 2006

So, the Premiership's two contenders (sorry Bolton fans, I don't think you'll win it) met yesterday at Old Trafford and, at the risk of being cliched, it was a game of two halves.

When the final whistle blew, the bottom line was that you couldn't so much as put a cigarette paper between the two sides. United dominated and controlled the first half and Chelsea the second. Mourinho was right (as he increasingly rarely is) by claiming that it was a better result for Chelsea than United. The fact remains that United have played Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool at home (one win, one draw, one defeat) wheareas Chelsea have those games to come.

I also thought that the respective substitutes benches told a tale. If United suffer an injury or suspension to, say, Ronaldo, Rooney or Saha, we are going to be pretty knackered. Yesterdays bench - your options against the Champions - Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Mikael Silvestre and Darren Fletcher. Chelsea brought on both Arjen Robben and Joe Cole.

So, a fair result. I know we have talked about Chelsea before, but Peter Kenyon's assertion that Chelsea are on course to be "the biggest club in the world" ought to be treated with the derision it deserves. Sure, in ten years they may have the biggest income or turnover (or however Deloitte and Touche measure these things) but that is absolutely nothing to do with being a big club. Being a big club involves having a history, a tradition, a style. I could name lots and lots of "bigger" clubs than Chelsea off the top of my head. How about Liverpool. Everton. Aston Villa. Nottingham Forest (Chelsea have 25,000 turn up in the third division? I sincerely doubt it). Rangers. Wolves (three league titles also) but with a significant history.

The biggest club in the world? Do me a favour. They're not the biggest club in London. Watching Chelsea yesterday, it occurred to me that they are the football equivalent of watching Pete Sampras. They are mercilessly efficient and clinical, technically brilliant, should be lauded for their success but you watch the crowds flock to watch Andre Agassi on the adjacent court. I'm not suggesting United are the Agassi (a case for Arsenal, surely) but we are maybe the Boris Becker. Initially loathed, successful on occasion and increasingly likeable in the later years.

And, finally, I hate Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole. Drogba is everything about football I despise - for a big burly fella he does find himself lying on the pitch a lot of the time. And, of course, play is stopped, the physio and stretcher is brought on and then he miraculously recovers. He is tetchy, petty and looking for trouble. Considering this season he has proved that he is a talented player, he is doing himself no favours.

And Ashley Cole? Dear oh dear. I did enjoy calling him a "w*nker"and his wife a "Geordie slag" for forty five minutes, though....

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Seol Ki-Hyeon for Reading (vs Charlton), 18th November 2006

Wothca. Predictions time again peeps.

Aston Villa 1-1 Middlesbrough
Bolton 1-1 Arsenal
Charlton 1-2 Everton
Fulham 1-1 Reading
Liverpool 2-1 Man City
West Ham 2-1 Sheff Utd
Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea
Newcastle 0-1 Portsmouth
Tottenham 2-1 Wigan


Dunfermline 0-2 Aberdeen
Nottingham Forest 3-1 Millwall
Grimsby 2-1 Accrington Stanley
Grays Athletic 3-2 Altrincham

and, er....

the single that will be at number #27 in the UK singles chart announced on Sunday.

George Michael & Mutya - "This is Not Real Love"

... and I know it looks bad, but you shouldn't judge a pitch until both sides have batted once. There's a long way to go yet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Alan Shearer for Newcastle United (v Arsenal), 18 December 2001

Heh heh heh.

If you do a Google search for "Alan Shearer", we appear on the first page of options.

Immediately behind Alan Shearer's reference page on the International Movie Database website.

Sorry, that just amused me....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

David Beckham for England (v Greece), 6 October 2001

Predictions will be updated in due course....

OK, folks, time for another instalment in our season-long gallop through the alphabet to determine what football means to us all.

The A-Z of Football

D is for 'Direct Free-Kick' (El Tel)

It's Manchester, it's mid-afternoon on Saturday 6th October, 2001, and I'm on my way to meet Girlfriend (as was). I've just got time for a minor diversion. I step into a rough as hell pub, just off Piccadilly Gardens. I want to know what the England score is - the match should be about to
finish. Big men drink big drinks. The atmosphere is very tense. I look up. England are losing 2-1. Steven Gerrard fires a volley that is easily saved by the Greek keeper. Unbelievable - England are about to fail to progress to the 2002 World Cup Finals. It's well into injury time. Might
be a good idea to step out of the pub now. I'm sensing that reactions at the whistle could be ugly, as are the bar - they look edgy. A whistle, a chance, a direct free-kick. Hearts are in mouths. Shouts come up for Beckham - 'Go on, son', 'Do not fuck this up', 'Come on my lad'. The number
7 places the ball on the turf, takes four paces back, looks up, focuses,
chooses his spot.

And. He. Scores. The place erupts.

'Yeeeeessssssssssssssss'. I'm swept up into the arms of a man whose forearms are as wide as my thighs. From about 6 inches, this twenty-five stone meathead is screaming 'You beautyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy' in my direction.

It's loud and it's smelly, but I don't mind - this is fucking fantastic. A few more moments of sheer delirium and I'm released from the clutches of my fellow man. At times like these, all supporters are equal - it's just that some happen to be more moist and acrid than others. I depart the pub on a high and move towards Oldham Street with a spring in my step.

I meet girlfriend, she comments that I'm looking well. 'Must be love' I say.

The direct free-kick - gorgeous.

D is for diving (Ben)

As inevitable as a moment of supreme arrogance from Graham Poll, a display of graceless twattishness from El Hadji Diouf and a touchline ban for Neil Warnock is that period of the season when diving becomes the hot topic.

Commentators refer sarcastically to “amateur dramatics”, but that does the perpetrators something of a disservice – after all, if there’s such a thing as a professional foul, then some players deserve to be referred to as professionals when it comes to their theatrical talents too.

Not wanting to fuel Chelsea’s persecution complex, but they harbour several such professionals in their ranks. Didier Drogba even brazenly admitted diving last year, the retraction of his comments and the subsequent excuses unconvincing in the extreme. Arjen Robben is equally fond of a tumble, and the “clash” between himself and Liverpool’s Jose Reina which left the Dutchman writhing around on the turf clutching his face would have been laughable if it wasn’t so cynical. And then there was Cristiano Ronaldo in England’s World Cup quarter-final, crashing to the deck every time an opponent came near him.

But here lies the root of the problem. If the tabloids and their incandescent columnists are to be believed, diving – or, to give it its more pretentious name, “simulation” – is something akin to a disease which has been carried into the country by Johnny Foreigner. That’s why Ronaldo was made the scapegoat for England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup – even though that exit had nothing to do with his persistent cheating and diving and everything to do with Wayne Rooney’s temper and impetuosity and our chronic inability to take penalties.

Diving, it’s implied, is an affront to our British sense of decency, honesty and fair play. But, of course, that’s a load of nonsense. Alongside Drogba and Robben Chelsea have the two Coles Ashley and Joe, both established England internationals and both regular proponents of the Fosby Flop. Only two weeks ago Everton’s England striker Andy Johnson took a dive to win a penalty against Sheffield Utd. Our very own Steven Taylor feigned injury against Man Utd to avoid giving away a penalty for blatant handball, and more famously (and ludicrously) went down as if hit by a sniper when blocking a goalbound shot with his arm in the infamous April 2005 defeat at home to Villa.

We can talk all we like about how disgraceful diving is, how play-acting is ruining the game – but the fact is that we have to stop condoning it as and when it suits us. Diving is not cheating in one instance, and “playing the game” or “being canny” in another; it is cheating full stop. It IS eradicable.

But, given the vast sums that hang on every top level match, the likelihood of managers and players being unanimous in their condemnation of diving when there are vital points and prizes at stake is slim indeed.

D is for The Dell, doggers and Brian Deane - (Skif )

This entry was originally going to be just about doggers, meaning ugly, unpretentious, combative defenders and midfielders. I’ve always loved this term, but it appears not to have truly entered the day-to-day footy vocab, as an internet search for examples and, perhaps a little etymology, throws up very little, although Owen Hargreaves was recently referred to as such in the Sun it appears (to my mind not entirely correctly).

One thing I did find out though is that a ‘dogger’ is one who applies the ancient ‘bulldogging’ technique in bullfighting, Thessalonian fighters even captured applying the move in Greek sculpture. In current US practice, the ‘dogger will leap from his steed onto the bull, and twist its head, using the horns, down and sideways to achieve a ‘fall’. I don’t remember Brian Kilcline, leviathan dogger from yer 1980’s, ever trying that, but then I think I’d rather go in for a 50/50 with a bull, it’s mouth bubbling with saliva, than with ‘Killer’.

Sadly, ever since Stan Collymore mentioned in passing that his keenness on a bit of outdoor action is probably more keenly felt away from the football field, the term has shifted and, as such, saying things like, well like “Brian Kilcline: leviathan dogger” will probably see you quickly served with a writ. See you in court, then.

My most treasured dogger memories pre-date my association with Havant & Waterlooville. Between the ages of 8 and 19, my spiritual football home was The Dell, a beautiful little ground, and home briefly to such elementary talents as Terry Hurlock and Neil Ruddock, both of whom had prior association with Millwall. And it showed.

I feel very privileged that I knew The Dell before the Taylor report put the kybosh on it and, although my feelings for Southampton have long since died away after discovering my real love, watching from the Milton End terrace was pretty special, something which has not, could not, be recreated in the New Delli’s plastic bowl. I remember one Friday night match, just before Christmas, against Notts County (yes, a top-flight league game, youngsters) in the final season before the Premiership kicked in. A 1-1 draw in the end, but I remember it more for it being the night I became fully aware of the partisan ways of the football supporter. Neil Ruddock was tunnelled for a head-butt and the Milton End, in front of whom it took place, went into furious uproar. I was stood there, aged 13, and able to see that it was as plain as the nose splattered across the County player’s face, that Razor was either guilty, or very guilty.

I also once saw Vincent Jones (possibly the king of doggers) strut his stuff at the Dingly, for Sheffield United. One of his major contributions to the day’s entertainment was to spend the warm up repeatedly trying to welt a football at the marching brass band’s tuba player, an endeavour in which he was ultimately to prove successful. Think it was his debut too as the scrum for his autograph as he got off the team-coach was pretty hectic, so much so that after I had obtained his scrawl, the arm with which I carried my autograph book was thrust up in the air by a fellow desperate collector. The book’s skyward progress was soon impeded, by one of Brian Deane’s eyeballs. Thus I ran.

It wasn’t just the utilitarian types that I remember though. Although I only went to The Dell about 15 times in my decade as a follower, I was lucky enough to witness a teenage Alan Shearer; several great Le Tissier goals (didn’t need to be a regular for that); a Brian Clough managed Nottingham Forest side and the great gargoyle himself, John Burridge, probably the ultimate in goalkeeping doggers.

The new regulations and the need to expand eventually put paid to The Dell, while the influx of money, and foreign artisans, into the Premiership mean that yer classic, hard-case, top-flight dogger is a thing of the past. Both will be sadly missed.

I actually saw what I have been led to believe was the last competitive game at the Dell, but it didn’t involve Saints. It was the 2001 Hampshire Senior Cup final between Andover and, you’ve guessed it, Havant & ‘Ville.

Sunrise, sunset.

D is for Davies (Lord Bargain)

I know I have been here before on this site, but I have always hated Barry Davies. I know this is a bit like having a go at cute kittens playing with wool, but he is a prize idiot.

Thankfully, he has retired from football commentary. Although the same cannot be said for all the other sports which suffer from Barry’s patronising musings. I have heard him commentate at Wimbledon, on ice-dancing, on obscure Olympic events. The BBC applaud his wide ranging skill and general sporting knowledge. I say “jack of all trades, master of none”.

When was the last time you heard Motty commentating on pursuit cycling? Or badminton? Quite right. Never. Motty is a proper one sport commentator. He knows his football and he sticks to it.

Davies? No such luck. How can he be authoritative about football when his next pay cheque might be coming for doing the parallel bars at the UK Gymnastic Trials or, God help us, commentating on the Armistice Day commemorations?

The problem with Barry Davies is that he applies his (and I use the word very loosely) “style” to everything he does. As I see it, this style involves:

1. Setting the scene by using language that makes it sound like you’re watching a 1950s police drama.

2. Patronising every mistake, foul or infringement by using words like “quite unnecessary”.

3. Spending five minutes saying nothing because you think the viewer respects you for doing that (when actually what they want is commentary which is what you are being paid for)

4. After the five minutes of silence, making a noise that sounds like you’ve just been walloped in the gonads.It’s the noise that angers me the most. Yelling “oooooooooooooooooooooof” when something of importance happens. Making a career out of the noises Paul Whitehouse makes as the “suits you” character is frankly preposterous.

I actually like the new breed of commentators – Jonathan Pearce, Simon Brotherton et al and so the days of having to listen to Barry Davies telling us it was much more exciting in the 1960s, waiting for a triple salchow and then exhaling a noise like Thomas the Tank Engine are, mercifully, behind us.

D is for Directors (Paul)

In any A-Z of football, it's a sad reflection of the modern game that at least one letter should be devoted to the money men. To that end, D is for Directors, the faceless (or not so faceless) people in suits who actually run the football clubs we hold dear.

It is they who make the key decisions, approve contract negotiations, control ticket prices and generally run the clubs. If you get a good board of directors (and with them a good chairman) then you can be satisfied that your club is unlikely to appear in the news for the wrong reasons, and that your club will, in all probability, enjoy a reasonably successful period on the pitch.

However, if you get a crap board, and in particular a chairman who thinks he knows everything there is to know about football, and seeks to proffer his views to anyone who will listen (e.g. Sky Sports news) then you can guarantee that your club will be regarded with contempt because the leadership at the top is rotten.

Thankfully for football, the list of chairmen who are widely known (and therefore reviled) is thankfully short, but for fans of one of those clubs whose chairmen like the sound of their own voice, every utterance is inevitably met with a groan and a burning wish that the pillock in charge would shut up.

As a Newcastle fan, the words "Freddie Shepherd says..." make my heart sink more than watching Titus Bramble try and deal with a long ball over the top as an opposing striker bears down on him.

D is for Defenders (Swiss Toni)

Football’s marquee players always seem to be the glamour boys, those flash harries whose tendency to drift in and out of games is sometimes counter-balanced by the odd moment of absolute genius and the occasional wonder-goal. The Italians would call them ‘fantasita’ players – your Thierry Henrys, your Ronaldinhos, your Francesco Tottis. They’re all very well, I suppose, but, in common with the Italians, I prefer to salute the more bread-and-butter heroes at the other end of the pitch. They may not look as good in a pony tail or a head band and they may be less likely to get that L’Oreal modelling contract, but defenders are the rock upon which football is founded.

Imagine, if you will, a game without defenders (Newcastle fans and players of any of the FIFA series of video games may find this easier than most). Every game would have the kind of scoreline that requires clarification on the vidiprinter.

Manchester United 8 (eight) – Arsenal 6 (six)
Watford 9 (nine) – Bolton Wanderers 7 (seven)
And so on…

It sounds brilliant in principle, but it would be a complete disaster. One of the great glories of football is that a goal is still a valuable currency; it still means something. In a game like basketball, it’s considered odd if a team doesn’t score after every attack, but in football, we still celebrate the clean sheet. If you keep a clean sheet, you can’t be beaten. It’s a simple truth for a simple game. A hard-fought 1-0 victory is worth every bit as much as a 4-0 walkover, and is in some ways so much more satisfying.

And who do we have to thank for this marvel? Defenders of course (and goalkeepers, but they’re a bit further down the alphabet). Those ugly, shaven-headed, broken-nosed lumps at the back. Your Jaap Staams and your Steve Bruces, your Tony Adams and your Terry Butchers. They might have slightly less ball control and vision than their more illustrious colleagues, but they are the heartbeat of every successful side. Chelsea might be garlanded with jewels like Shevchenko, Ballack, Lampard and Robben, but it’s John Terry who drives them forward with his sheer refusal to be beaten.

Is it any coincidence that, in the main, the sides with the prettiest defenders are the ones that concede the most goals? I don’t think so….

It’s the ‘Catanaccio’, the bolted door defence that makes football special. Goals are precious, and have to be earned - defenders are there to make sure that they are.


I have said it before, but I love this feature. Can I have a supply of "E"s please? (heh heh) And if you haven't contributed before, it would be great if you would.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

William Gallas for Arsenal (vs Liverpool), 12th November 2006

Predictions time again folks:

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


Gravesend 1-2 Oxford Utd
Hearts 0-1 Rangers

England 22-18 S.Africa (oval ball. I don't care what you think. They're always more interesting games than their football equivalent, even if they are nearly as rubbish at the moment. And Andy Robinson is quite an interesting parallel with Second-Choice Steve.)

and.... next to be eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing. It's gotta be Peter Schmeichel, innit?

(in case you are in the least bit interested, someone called Nikitta was eliminated from X-Factor last weekend)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (v Aston Villa), 8 November 2006

We had a bit of a chinwag a while back about why we hated Chelsea.

It's not getting any easier to love them, is it? Good old Ashley Cole has been sent out on their behalf this week, complaining that the ref victimised them in their defeat to Tottenham on Sunday. "When I was at Arsenal and we started to win things, the referees started to question our discipline and give us yellow cards. I have come to Chelsea and it's exactly the same. It's definitely to do with the team that's winning most. "

Oh, get stuffed you money-grabbing little tosser. Dear oh dear. Chelsea's complaining and inability to take defeat gracefully is becoming somewhat tiresome.

For a great and wholly unfair anti-Chelsea rant, have a look at Simon Hattenstone's article in the Guardian this week. Excellent.

Anyway, enough of the self-obsessed, whining no-gooders. Here are some predictions instead.

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

and some wildcards from the first round of the FA Cup...

Kettering 1-3 Oldham
Newport County 0-2 Swansea
Weymouth 1-0 Bury

and after the success of last weeks non-footballing wildcard, this weeks is "who will be eliminated from X-Factor on Saturday night?"

The MacDonald Brothers

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Trevor Cherry for Leeds United (v Liverpool), 10 August 1974

A while back I mentioned I had decided to read some interesting football books, and the first choice had been a good one.

I have just finished this astonishing work.

I am not sure where to start. The Guardian's Richard Williams describes it thus: "Amazing. I can't imagine there's ever been a more extraordinary football novel in any language".

That pretty much sums it up. It is a fictional account (if based on facts) of Brian Howard Clough's forty-four days in charge of Leeds United in the early 1970's. Whether you liked Cloughie or Leeds, it is a sensational read and I would urge anyone out there to give it a try. You really won't be disappointed.

Sports Book of the Year. Fact.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Yemi Odubade for Oxford Utd (vs Cambridge Utd), 20th October 2006

Sorry, late again. I'm not trying to increase my chances of winning by doing this, and even if I was, it doesn't bloody work!


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


Forest 2-1 Brentford
Boston Utd 1-1 Notts County
Oxford Utd 3-1 Aldershot
Celtic 2-1 Hearts


England 19 - 32 New Zealand

Friday, October 27, 2006

Colin Larkin for Chesterfield (vs West Ham), 24th October 2006

Sorry it's a bit late this week, but here are this week's predictions.

Arsenal 2-0 Everton
Bolton 1-3 Man Utd
Fulham 1-1 Wigan
Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa
Newcastle 1-0 Charlton
Portsmouth 2-0 Reading
Sheff Utd 0-3 Chelsea
Watford 1-2 Tottenham
West Ham 0-1 Blackburn

Wildcards from FA Qualifying:

Brackley 0-2 Havant and W
Dagenham & Redbridge 1-2 Oxford Utd
Exeter 1-2 AFC Wimbledon
Grays Athletic 3-1 Bromley

Good luck. Personally I think I've got a better chance in the Euro Millions rollover, but there you go. Just don't copy my predictions!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Didier Drogba for Chelsea (v Barcelona), 18 October 2006

I was chatting to my boss, a Chelsea fan, last week. He used to go regularly, had the shirt, followed the club since he was a boy.

His biggest gripe? He hates the way that everyone hates Chelsea.

When Mourinho took over, I'm not sure anyone (other than for partial historical/rivalry reasons) hated Chelsea. Now, everyone does. What happened in the meantime?

Clearly, the Special One himself is largely to blame. From being an honest breath of fresh air to the Premiership, his outbursts and paranoia have got steadily worse and more ill-advised, culminating with his most recent attack on the efforts of the Berkshire Ambulance Service in responding to Petr Cech's injury at Reading last week. He can't seem to stop himself any more.

Why else do we hate them? Successful teams always suffer from jealousy and "automatic" dislike (as a United fan we have experienced this for years) but with Chelsea it goes above and beyond that. Their players started off being impressive and, on the whole, well-behaved, but now we have the histrionics of Drogba and Robben and the crude challenging of Essien and Boularouz. They signed Ashley Cole, possibly currently the least popular player around. Peter Kenyon talks about them as a "business" and about "margins" and "markets". Their endless cash pot has completely skewed the transfer market in Europe.

So, why do you hate Chelsea? Or maybe you don't?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kevin Phillips for West Bromwich Albion (vs Ipswich), 14th October 2006

Prediction time again people.

Let's be having you.

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

And wildcards.

Weymouth 0-2 Rushden & Diamonds
Roma 2-1 Chievo
Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona

And the original classico:

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Monday, October 16, 2006

Marco Grandin for Italy (v Czech Republic), 25 June 2018

Well, it's back. I love this feature and this week we plod on through the alphabet to hear about what the wonderful letter "C" means to our crew.

The A-Z Of Football

C is for.........Cloughie (El Tel)

Brian Clough (1935 - 2004) - a 'character' of the game? No - Brian Clough - so much more than a character of the game. At a time long before the term 'sports psychologist' was common in professional sporting parlance, Clough Senior evidenced a simple, elegant guile (with the occasional clip round the ear) that was enough to lead Nottingham Forest to European glory.

Sure, there was money behind the success, but not to the (present day) extent that can eclipse the developmental work that is necessary to justify the word 'glory'.

As a youngster, I claimed that I supported Sunderland - the local(ish) team, though it was Clough's Forest that secretly captured my footballing heart. Aside from admiring the solidity of the likes of Des Walker, Stuart Pearce and Roy Keane, and the creativity of Neil Webb, David Platt and Clough Junior, Brian Clough's crisp analysis of the game and of life itself, always
made for entertaining and inspiring listening. But Clough's was not a tale of all-round romance.

In the latter stages of his managerial career, the suggestion of his receiving a bung or two, the acknowledgement of a drink problem, and the demise of Forest, all cast a shadow over Clough's achievements and over his finer qualities. But despite this, public affection for Ol' Big Head never waned. Right until the end, Clough's unique voice continued to win over audiences.

With son Nigel, in a joint interview for the BBC - ahead of Clough Junior's Burton Albion taking on Hartlepool in the FA Cup - a tired and ailing Cloughie showed that his rich candid shine remained intact. Asked by the interviewer, if he would take a place in Burton's starting line-up, Clough Junior chose to not answer. At which point Dad bluntly asserted: 'He's not - but he should be'. Nigel rolled his eyes, smiled, and there ended the interview.

For many years to come, the wit and wisdom of Cloughie will continue to entertain and teach in a way that is timeless and succinct. In such a fashion, Roy Keane recently shared Clough's advice, prior to the Irishman making his Forest debut. The old man's words:

'You get the ball, you pass it to a red shirt, you move'. And in my view, that's a team philosophy, and all that football need be about.

When it comes to football, C is for Cloughie.

C is for.......Cantona (United 113)

1966 was a good year for English football... Cantona was born

In 1992 after arriving for a £1 Million pound transfer fee, Dion Dublin broke his leg in only the third game of the season. United had just missed out on signing Alan Shearer from Southampton and popular forward Mark Robbins had just been sold to Norwich. Defeats by Sheffield United, Everton, Wimbledon and Aston Villa in the first third of the season had left a mood of pessimism around Old Trafford.

On Thursday 26th November, Martin Edwards the United chairman received a call from Bill Fotherby the Leeds United's financial director enquiring to the availablity of United's left back Denis Irwin. Edward passed this on to Fergusson who replied in the negative, but on a whim enquired about the availablity of Leeds's striker Eric Cantona. Suprisingly Leeds agreed and the next day Cantona and Fergusson met at a holday inn in Manchester. One and a half hours later, Cantona was a united player. Fee- £1.2 Million

Many described the transfer as a panic buy including former liverpool star Emlyn Hughes. There was also concern about Cantona's temperament. "If he's got a temper, wait until he's seen my temper!" joked Ferguson.

Cantona set the Premiership alight until 1997 when he retired. There was always controversy, the drop kick on Matthew Simmons a Crystal Palace fan got Cantona a 6 month ban from football.

144 appearance were made for United and led the team single handed to the double twice. Cantona's training methods and dedication were an inspiration to many of the games best players over the next 10 years including David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.

He is the best player ever to play in the premiership. Many will debate this and say that Thierry Henry is the best player... What have Arsenal acheived with Henry playing? Do you notice the Nike adverts with Henry in? Who is also in them, 9 years after retirement?

You do have to feel sorry for Dion Dublin, who did return from his broken loeg, but was shortly sold to Coventry....

C is for…...chants (Skif)

How does one show their love for their club?

The scarf, of course, is always popular and a little more traditional, graceful at any age. Indeed, it is probably most useful when older so as to keep whatever body-warmth is left from seeping out over your collar. That’s a little passive though, as I guess is wearing a shirt. Some might say anyone over 12 doing this should be treated with great suspicion. I stopped wearing replicas when I got a bit fat, as sports jerseys painted over more rotund physiques are never a pretty sight. However, since dropping a few stone, I am back in the old-enough-to-know-better team-shirt wearing fraternity. A comedian once asked me whether those of us that wear replicas, do so in the hope that one day we might get a game. I imagine there are some who imagine that this is a very real possibility for non-league supporters such as myself. If so, I’m still waiting to be called off the terraces.

One way you can contribute, and give the players a lift, of course, is to vocally let them know you are there and with them. The lone voice is often one of criticism, stuff like “get it sorted”, “that’s shit” or “get up you fanny.” It probably drags this slightly off topic to tell you that I heard that last shout directed at a Barrow defender. It came from the Barrow goalkeeper.

Like ‘keepers, supporters like the opportunity to have a good moan, but also to use the media of shout or communal chant to pour scorn on, or wind up, the opposition and their supporters. One of the better efforts I’ve heard was directed at followers of former Conference side Dartford: “Where were you when you were good?” Ouch.

Chants can often be pretty oblique unless you’re involved with the club in question. I’ve heard a chant amongst Alfreton supporters that suggested someone or other was a freeloader and, apparently, “he eats his sandwiches.” I also once heard someone try to start the chant “He’s got a minestrone basin on his head.” Lesson? Chants can be baffling. I’m sure those who witness me and my fellow Havant & Waterlooville supporters in celebratory mood when we bang out Showaddywaddy’s “Under The Moon Of Love” would agree. Although to be honest, none of us are quite sure how that started either.

Now I’m a quiet sort of chap, but I’ve started chants. It is a special feeling, when people follow your vocal lead, although I imagine that is more impressive if you’re sat in the Kop, than if you’re marshalling a hardcore of about 30 on a damp Tuesday night in Folkestone. Mind you, the fewer the numbers, the louder you have to be, and there’s no point going in half-heartedly, it’s gotta come from the bottom of the lungs if you want to rouse anybody into lining up their larynxes in harmony with you. Also, to be honest, I’ve never ever experimented with ‘new material’ for fear of it falling flat. I rely on the tried and tested. It’s just as good though, in terms of what you’re trying to achieve with a chant anyway.

There are many different reasons why one is impelled to start a chant. You may be running through your starting XI’s names one-by-one as you wait for kick off; your side may have gone a goal down early on, and you want to show you still believe, or you may be trying to temporarily halt some in-bickering behind the goal (done that one once or twice.)

I must admit I’m not quite the starter motor I was before I quit drinking. On an away day beano back in the day, with four hours of pub-crawl in your bloodstream, your choral stamina can withstand anything. Nowadays, it has to come with adrenaline. When a goal is scored, or when you’re team is pressurising the opposition and a corner, free-kick or throw-in is won. You suck it up and bark it out.

So, what is at the heart of the chant? You chant because you want to buy into that sense of community, and also because you’re desperate for the rush of victory. You wish to contribute to that, and you want the same of the players, for them to want it as much as you. I tell you what too, I’m still a bit girlish when it comes to to the mutual appreciation society after the game too, the players applauding the singing end of the ground every week, and us applauding back.

If they’ve earnt it.

C is for......Championship Manager (Lord Bargain)

My relationship with Championship Manager is stronger than my relationship with Real Football. I have witnessed more matches, experienced more heartache, complained about more players and been excited by more signings playing the game than I ever will in my lifetime of watching football.

I first bought Championship Manager in 1996. In those days, it was a simple game where you bought players, picked a team and sent them out. A decent 4-4-2, some decent close-season free signings and you were pretty much guaranteed a high league finish.

I have followed pretty much all the incarnations of the game ever since. Championship Manager 3 was the only one I never really got on with, despite winning the UEFA Cup as Wigan Athletic during my tenure at Springfield Park. It was too difficult, and the only time I have ever taken up a 5-3-2 wingback system in an attempt to succeed in the game.

My favourite version was the one in and around 2000-2001 where they reverted to a similar look to the previous versions, albeit with the ability to play more leagues simultaneously.

When the games split in 2005, I mad a choice to ditch the Championship Manager series in favour of the apparently better Football Manager. The CM game may have taken the name, but crucially the Football Manager game took the player database which, certainly for me, was far more about the appeal of the game than fancy graphics.

My honours list with clubs as diverse as Manchester United, AZ Alkmaar, Roma, Burnley, Wigan, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Wolves, Southport, Hellas Verona, PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City and Nottingham Forest is extremely lengthy. Reaching the European Cup Final in eight consecutive seasons, winning promotion from 4th to 1st divisions in consecutive seasons. Turning Kenny Lunt into an integral part of a successful top division midfield.

I have also managed to win the World Cup twice. Firstly as France, which players of the older versions of the game will know was always the first place you went for decent signings as almost all their players were genius. The second time was with England, and I won (I think) the 2018 World Cup. My friend Paul may confirm this, as I believe we both cheered loudly on coming from behind in the semi-final….

My single biggest success was when I took over FC Espinho when they were 10th in the Portuguese second division. After a couple of seasons I finished third and scraped promotion. Despite the board expecting a long hard relegation threatened season, we finished about half way. And the same the following year, even though the transfer budget was about £1million and the average crowd about 8000.

Then, the following year, I tweaked the formation into a narrow 4-1-3-2 and we started winning games. Lots of games. Going into the run-in we were top of the league, above the giants of Sporting, Porto and Benfica (bear in mind this is the league that has been won by no-one other than those three since 1946, bar that shock Boavista success in 2001).

The last game of the season saw me on top of the league on goal difference from Benfica. All I needed to do was win. I clicked on the fixture list and realised my last game was away at the Estadio de Luz. My heart sank.

The match day arrived and I played my strongest XI, the side that had brought me this far. Despite going behind, Espinho fought back to win 2-1 and won the Portuguese Liga Title as well as automatic qualification to the Champions League.


Cited in divorce cases, impossibly addictive and genius in its simplicity. Utter genius.

C is for.….corners (Swiss Toni)

Whenever England go out of a major tournament on penalties, it’s never very long before we hear anguished cries about how this is no way to settle such important games, it’s a lottery, it encourages defensive play… and so on, and so forth. It’s always the same, but the simple fact is that no one ever seems to come up with a truly viable alternative for settling a stalemate, and so the shootout is very much still with us. As long as it remains, England will never win another tournament.

There must be another way.

Personally, I think that when a game finishes as a draw after extra time, it should be settled on corners: the side that has won the most corners over the course of the game should be declared the winners. I know it sounds ridiculous, but just think about it for a minute: think about all those moments in the game when a defender chases down a ball heading out over the goal line and desperately shanks it to the touchline in an attempt to avoid a corner. That’s always an exciting little moment in any game, so just think how much extra frisson there could be if there was the chance that the corner saved could have a profound impact on the result of the match.

For some reason, the corner is held up as being a dangerous attacking opportunity. No sooner has the ball gone out of play than the big men are lumbering up from the back and the commentators are working themselves up into a frenzy in anticipation of the goal that must surely follow… but it’s cobblers. How often do corners really lead to goals? Well, it’s funny you should ask that, because I happen to have this season’s premiership statistics at my elbow:

13 goals from 733 corners. That’s more than 56 corners required per goal (although Arsene Wenger obviously considers this a vulgar and obvious way to score a goal – Arsenal have had 60 corners so far this season without scoring. Aston Villa are far more pragmatic – a third of all their goals this season have come from corners).

The simple fact is that13 premiership clubs have failed to score from a corner at all this season. Corners are rubbish – let’s give them a purpose.

Besides, if we have to watch Peter Crouch and Frank Lampard shanking the ball off a defender and away from the goal for the umpteenth time in a game, it might as well count for something, eh?

C is for.....Cardiff (Paul)

No, not the bluebirds of Cardiff City, but rather the Millennium Stadium. A national stadium, completed on time and on budget which is a magnificent arena in which to watch sport (imagine that...)

If I'd written this five years ago, Cardiff wouldn't have had a look in, but once Wembley descended into farce, and the FA were forced to take the later stages of its premier cup competition down the M4, Cardiff has taken it's place in the nation's footballing consciousness.

For me, personally, it was a glorious day when I was able to see Newcastle United fans thronging the streets of Cardiff, and kicking cheap plastic footballs against the walls of Cardiff castle as thousands of Geordies availed themselves of the local pubs and commented on the amusing name for the police (heddlu, since you ask).

Given the inclement weather, I had hoped that the roof would be closed, to really show what the acoustics of the stadium could do - I'd back thirty thousand geordies to give a stadium of welsh male voice choirs a run for their money any day of the week.

Unfortunately, the roof was kept open, despite the rain lashing down and Newcastle, having capitulated horribly in the UEFA Cup days before, with a team divided by poor man management (thanks Graeme), promptly turned up and played like arse.

However, despite the football (and as a veteran of two FA Cup finals in the late 1990's I've long accepted that Newcastle never win games like this) the day out was a real delight, made all the more special by the city which played host to us.

The FA Cup will eventually return to Wembley - a location seemingly picked on a whim by somebody who doesn't like travelling football fans (although granted the M4 isn't much better), and trips to Cardiff will become a thing of the past, but I'll always treasure my day in Cardiff, and the excellent job it did of displaying how a sporting stadium should be done.

C is for....Conversations about Football (Paul A)

I struggle with fan-dom. It's not something that comes naturally to me and I have to be honest and say that I really do not understand those fans who believe football (or any other sport for that matter) to be a life and death matter. I also struggle with the incessant need of some sports fans to show their true greatness as a "fan" through recall of endless facts and figures. This comes from both having a sieve for a memory and for really only caring about watching a good game of footie (i.e not an England match) and being entertained. Despite these points though, one thing I love about football is the ability to just chat to people about the game, and to have it as a common reference point. I have been lucky enough to travel to many different parts of the world and often, I have done so alone. Almost wherever I have gone, there has been someone to strike up a conversation with about the footie or a bar in the middle of nowhere showing the Premiership to go to. Some of my good friends now are people with whom my first words were probably football related in these circumstances. I am grateful for that even if the price to pay was the humiliation of admitting that I have spent 25 years of my life following the ups and, mostly, downs of the Hammers!

C is for......Cardiff Scum (Andy)

Of course, I'm sure that the vast majority of Cardiff City supporters are perfectly decent, honest, law-abiding citizens; but they aren't the ones I want to write about here.

Most of you will probably remember the shocking scenes that marred Cardiff's victory over Leeds Utd in the FA Cup, back in January 2002. Scenes which were no doubt incited by Sam Hamman's stroll behind the Leeds Goal (in front of the Leeds fans) accompanied by his
minder, (who turned out to be a renowned football hooligan).

Well, just one week prior to that game my friend Dave and I had made the short trip over the bridge to watch my team, Bristol City in a league one encounter. Given the intense rivalry between the two clubs, I knew that this was always going to be a risky trip to take, however the police had made special arrangements with the football league for this match with the fans'
safety in mind.

All 2200 Bristol City fans that made the trip were forced to go on official coaches, which left our home ground Ashton Gate on the morning of the game and met with a convoy of police cars and motorbikes on the outskirts of Cardiff. They would whiz us to and from the ground, thus inimising the risk of an ambush.

We arrived safely at the ground, and Dave & I made our way up the crumbling steps of the terraced away-end to the top corner of our section, separated from the Cardiff contingent by two fences and a two-metre gap. By the time the game kicked off the atmosphere was intense, with both sets of fans chanting abuse at each other, and making visual threats through the fences. The other corner of the away-end joined onto another Cardiff stand, and we could see that the real fighters were over there (from their skin-heads, lacrosse shirts and burberry caps). That group spent the entire game throwing coins, pies and cups of tea over the fence.

At halftime, it was 0-0. It has to be said that the football had seemed fairly irrelevant up to that point. The chanting and general missile dodging continued throughout the interval.

Two minutes into the second half, Graham Kavanagh shouldered Cardiff into the lead from two yards and the Cardiff fans went mental. There's always something haunting about the sheer volume of the opposing fans' cheers when conceding a goal away from home, and I got that sinking feeling.

For ten minutes we were pummelled with chants from every direction, not to mention the occasional cup of urine. Then came one of my all-time greatest five-minute periods in a football match, in which we scored three goals! By the time the third goal went in I had ended up about fifteen metres forwards of where I started. God only knows what happened to the people at the front. At some point in my tumble, my false front teeth, (which were originally knocked out aged twelve playing footy with a tennis-ball in a school playground, when I was thrown face-first into a wall), fell out of my mouth. Somehow, I managed to catch them and put them in my pocket for safekeeping.

The gap in my teeth though no doubt contributed to me slipping into the mindset of a yob for the rest of the match. I distinctly remember shouting "Kavanagh, Wank Wank Wank!" at the top of my voice when he skied a free kick towards the end. I also remember throwing some evil, open-mouthed grimaces in the direction of the Cardiff fans, who were just a few metres away
through the fences. I suppose I was lucky I didn't end up with a coin wedged into the gap.

All of this is very out of character for me, of course. I was just so caught up in the moment and the atmosphere that I slipped into that role. Plus, I was confident that the fences would hold and that we'd get whisked out of Cardiff safely with our police escort, so I could get away with it.

The match finished 1-3 and City fans chanted "Ooo arrr, it's a massacre" at the final whistle. Cardiff fans quickly replied: "Outside, it's a massacre" and ran to the exits in their droves. We were held back for about 30 minutes, and could hear some ominous roars from outside of the ground. I finally found Dave again, and slipped my teeth back into my mouth. Almost instantly, I returned to my more restrained, sensible, pre-morbid personality. At this point the reality of the situation hit me, and I shat my pants.

The fifty-metre stroll to the coach quickly turned into a sprint. Twenty metres to our right, there was a row of riot police linking their shields together to hold back literally hundreds of Cardiff fans, who were charging at them and trying to break through the barrier. Others were throwing rocks, many of which landed near my feet, and one smashed the back window of one of the coaches as we ran passed it.

We decided to run between the coaches and up the other side, and just as we approached our coach a group of five City fans ran around the corner of another coach towards us, and shouted "Leg it!" as they passed. For a few seconds, I was convinced that a heavily armed mob of Cardiff fans was about to appear from around the same corner. I have never been so scared in my 21
years of going to football games.

Thankfully they never appeared and with great relief we made it to our coach. We were among the last people to get there and were greeted by lots of concerned faces, and one guy holding a cloth to his bloody head, who must have been hit by a rock. The very next person to arrive on the coach had just been punched in the head by a Cardiff fan, some of whom must have made
it through the barrier or approached from the other side.

After a nervous wait where no one seemed to know what was going on outside, we finally started moving and joined the convoy of coaches on an express route out of the City. We were jeered from the pavements all the way out of Cardiff and many stones were thrown at the windows but they held firm, and we made it safely onto the M4. I have never been so pleased to see the
Severn Crossing.

The sheer scale of the aggression we faced after that game was pretty horrifying. OK, you could say we asked for it, after all we were chanting anti-Welsh chants throughout the game, and some of our fans were making threatening or aggressive gestures through the fence (ahem). However, surely that's all seen as acceptable in the context of a football match, especially
a local derby against bitter rivals?

I for one believe that it will be a travesty if Cardiff win promotion to the premiership this season. Perhaps more to the point though, I'd be gutted, because I'm hoping to go back to Ninian Park next season for a championship clash (after Bristol City pip Forest to the league one title). After all, that afternoon might have featured my most frightened moment as a football follower, but for that five minute period in the second half alone, it will also go down as being one of my greatest.


Interesting stuff, paricularly as I or United 113's contribution could have been C is for...Chelsea telling a similar story to Andy's from the 1994 FA Cup Final...

Brilliant. Contributions from all for "D" please!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stewart Imlach for Nottingham Forest (v Manchester United), 22nd February 1958

[Predictions are here.]

I made a conscious decision recently to read more football books. Not your average rubbish Cole/Gerrard/Terry/Rooney autobiography, but some interesting books about individuals, eras or teams.

I am going to have trouble finding anything as good as the first one I picked.

"My Father And Other Working-Class Football Heroes" by Gary Imlach tells the story of his father Stewart's career. Whilst ostensibly a biography of his dad, it is more interesting for the way it paints a picture of the game during the 1950s and 1960s. Maximum wages, going to the World Cup with no team manager, life outside football in the 50s all come under the spotlight.

It is an emotional and brilliant read, even if you have never heard of Stewart Imlach or are no supporter of the teams he represented (Bury, Derby, Forest, Coventry, Crystal Palace).

In fact, I'd say it was the second best football book I have ever read (after Tony Cascarino's autobiography which is bloody brilliant.)

Indeed, Gary Imlach's book won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2005 which, I think, was probably richly deserved. Well worth a read.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gary Caldwell for Scotland (v France), 7 October 2006

Hello troops. After our European adventures we are back into the humdrum of domestic footie this week....

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

and some wildcards of teams I have a wee soft spot for:

Scunthorpe 3-0 Brighton (both)
Macclesfield 0-1 Bury (come on you Shakers!)
Albion 1-1 Berwick (the mighty Borderers)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gary Neville for Croatia (vs England), 11th October 2006

I'm sorry, but you have to laugh, don't you?

At least he has a good career waiting for him if he decides to hang up his gloves, eh?

Don't it make you feel good?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Robin van Persie for Arsenal (v Charlton Athletic), 30 September 2006

Predictions time again.

Perhaps we should have a gaze at where we are so far - the Grand Prix scoring system seems to be keeping it pretty close thus far. For reference, Paul A won last week's 10 points with a score of 13 (three correct scored and four correct results) - that is a bit lower than normal as most weeks a score of 15 or so wins.

The wildcard FA Cup results were:

AFC Wimbledon 3-0 Oxhey Jets
Folkestone 1-1 Welling
Hastings United 1-1 Met Police
Trafford 2-0 Glossop

OK, it's a completely random "finger in the air" European adventure, this week....

Croatia 4-0 Andorra
Cyprus 0-1 Republic of Ireland
Denmark 2-0 Northern Ireland
England 2-1 Macedonia
Greece 1-1 Norway
Italy 1-0 Ukraine
Scotland 1-3 France
Serbia 1-0 Belgium
Slovenia 3-0 Luxembourg
Sweden 2-0 Spain
Wales 1-2 Slovakia


Germany 3-0 Georgia
Kuwait 0-4 Brazil

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

David Beckham for England (v Finland), 24 March 2001

I have been thinking about this for a while now, and my opinion on the matter hasn't altered one bit.

David Beckham has been bloody harshly treated by Steve McClaren.

There. I've said it.

I'm not talking now about his celebrity status, or his daft wife, or his off-field activity. I am talking solely about his contribution to the England cause.

Yes, his form for England over recent months has been patchy at best. Yes, he is no longer a fixture for his club side and all of a sudden has some genuine competition for the right sided midfield role at international level. Yes, McClaren had different ideas about the way he wanted England to play, using Steven Gerrard in that position.

But of all his many faults, the things that I admired David Beckham the most for were his honour and his loyalty to the England cause. He has 94 England caps and during that time developed a reputation as someone that would give blood and sweat to the England cause. To consign someone like that to the dustbin of international football history (which McClaren has surely done) seems to me insensitive and unnecessary.

Yes, his form has dipped. But a fit David Beckham is surely an asset to a 23 man England squad. You really telling me that Kieron Richardson, Michael Carrick or Phil Neville are better options from the bench than Beckham? Youth will get you so far, but look at France as a great example of a nation that realised it needed the presence of its seasoned, experienced professionals (some of whose form was worse than Beckham's). They went all the way to the World Cup Final.

I also don't think McClaren's "I prefer Gerrard. and Lennon. and Wright-Phillips. and Pennant. and I have asked Tony Daley to come out of international retirement" attitude towards the situation was particularly well-advised either.

I'm not sure I thought I would ever say it, but I feel really, really sorry for Beckham. McClaren could have got away with not starting him, but I think it was extremely unwise to cast him adrift in this manner.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lee Blackshaw for Glossop North End (vs Silsden), 19th September 2006

Predictions time again people.

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

And wildcards from FA cup qualifying…

AFC Wimbledon 3-1 Oxhey Jets
Folkestone Invicta 1-2 Welling
Hastings Town 2-2 Metropolitan Police
Trafford 1-3 Glossop North End

Frankly your guess is as good as mine, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

David Beckham for Manchester United (v Wimbledon), 18 August 1996

Well, it's that time folks. Time for the assembled masses to explain to the world what the wonderful game of football means to them via the means of alphabetic consecutivity.


The A-Z of Football

B is for..... Boogers (Paul A)

Its time ladies and gents for a short trip down amnesia lane. Its 1995, Klinsmann has signed for Spurs and sets the Premiership alight. Sky money is starting to wash through the league, the Bosman case approaches a conclusion, foreign stars see the chance to earn a shedload of cash in the most exciting league in the world and rocketing prices for domestic players are putting managers off homegrown talent.

Into this footballing maelstrom steps England's favourite chancer and sometime football manager, Harry "Arry" Redknapp with a couple of quid in his wallet and no f*cking idea what he's going to do with it!

Traditional wisom has it that before buying a player, a manager or scout will actually watch them play and see if their skills will fit into the existing club structure, needs and wants. Undaunted by traditional narrow thinking like this, Harry opts for a night in with the TV. On the strength of putting the wrong tape in the video, 'Arry ends up writing a cheque for £1 million for someone called Marco Boogers!!!

The potted history of Marco Boogers spectacular Hammers career goes thus. Signs in 1995 and plays the grand total of 83 minutes for the club. Gets sent off 90 seconds into this second game for a "sickening" tackle on Gary Neville (and they label him a failure!). Disapears from sight and is found in a mobile home on a Dutch caravan site with 2 pencils up his nose, his pants on his head and a letter from his doctor declaring him "mentally unfit" to play football. Leaves the club!
'Arry's genius for mixing football management and comedy is the stuff of dreams and cannot be understated. His comedy foreign legion of such illustrious names as Raducioiu, Margas, Dani, Camara and Song have entertained the footballing world and it is gratifying to see the process
continue a pace at his new club, Portsmouth with the likes of Westerveld and Benjani. But, good readers, lets us not forget that it was "Mad" Marco Boogers who set the good ship Redknapp off on its rudderless voyage of foreign discovery.

I am always disappointed that Marco Boogers never seems to be at the top of the "worst signings in the Premiership" tree, although I must concede that the names of Brolin and Taibi represent the pinnacle of the art.

However, I feel that Marco Boogers deserves his place in Premiership history. The worst signing, maybe. The maddest person (this side of Duncan Ferguson) ever to lace a pair of football boots, yes....surely??

B is for.....the BBC (Paul)

7pm, Sunday 9th of July 2006. Football fans across Britain tuned in to watch the World Cup Final live on terrestrial television.

Of those who tuned in, does anybody know anyone who did anything other than watch it on the BBC?

Whilst it was shown by both ITV and BBC, there is only ever one choice for the discerning football fan - the Beeb.

To be blunt, they simply do football better. For a start, no commercial breaks mean you at least get some analysis and a build up which isn't ruined by adverts for cars, beer or body spray.

The BBC may have its flaws (Mark Lawrensen, Gary Linekar's smug delivery, John Motson clearly losing the plot, and the less said about Ian Wright the better), but consider the alternative: Steve Rider's bland delivery, the Kasabian cover of Heroes, Fat Sam Allardyce whinging about how he should be England manager, Gareth Southgate, Clive sodding Tyldesley.

Skinner and Baddiel once made a joke about showing something nobody would ever have seen, before putting on a clip of ITV's World Cup coverage. Only it's not a joke. It's true. Nobody watches ITV if they have a choice because, when it comes to showing live football, they always have been, and will always be, the poor relation.

The sad thing is that because the BBC have long since realised this, they get away with it, safe in the knowledge that it is much better than the alternative.

B is for...Peter Beardsley (Ben)

Like Clarence Acuna, my subject last time round, Peter Beardsley is a former Newcastle Utd player. Like Acuna, Beardsley must have cracked a fair few mirrors in his time, looking as he does something like Quasimodo with an Ann Widdecombe bowl cut. (All of which makes rumours he had an affair with a not unattractive local newsreader rather less plausible.)

But, like Ronaldinho, he could certainly play the beautiful game beautifully. I could never tire of seeing that trademark shimmy, sidestep and shot.

I was only nine when Beardsley left his hometown club for Liverpool in 1987, my only (very) vague memory being the phenomenal goal he scored against Brighton in 1984 in Kevin Keegan’s last match for the club to round off our return to the First Division in style.

But that move to Merseyside wasn’t to be the last we saw of Beardsley in a black and white shirt. Eyebrows were raised when, having returned to once again to the top flight, Keegan (now manager) opted to sell the two previous season’s top scorers David Kelly and Gavin Peacock. Even more surprising was Keegan’s decision to replace them with his former team-mate, who came back to Tyneside from Everton for £1.5m.

But if it was a gamble, it certainly paid off. The evergreen forward was instrumental in Andy Cole’s record-breaking goal haul in that first season back in the big time while also banging in a fair few himself as we earned the nickname the Entertainers. He formed a similarly lethal partnership with Les Ferdinand, one which came so close to firing us to the Premiership title in 1995-6, before taking up a more withdrawn but no less significant role following Alan Shearer’s arrival that summer.

That was to be his last season with us before a move to Bolton.

Of course I could wax lyrical about some of his goals and his brilliant twinkletoes footwork to create chances for others, but the moment I remember best of his second spell as a player on Tyneside didn’t come on the pitch.

Beardsley used to drop his children off at the school over the road from mine every morning, and inevitably found himself plagued by excitable autograph-hungry kids. So he struck a deal with our school: if he came into assembly one morning, everyone would stop pestering him. The morning came around, he was introduced by the headmaster and walked onstage – and got a standing ovation which must have lasted for a good couple of minutes before eventually dying down. Never able to close his mouth at the best of times, he was gobsmacked.

B is for......Brooking (Mike)

The word “avuncular” was invented for Trevor Brooking. He exudes warmth and humility and always seems very composed. People say he’s a bit dull. I disagree. As a pundit, I always found his faint East London twang rather soothing, particularly in comparison to Motty’s effervescence.

I don’t remember too much about Uncle Trev’s playing days. In fact, my only strong recollection is of him standing on the touchline waiting to come on in the 1982 World Cup. He was recovering from an injury, as was Kevin Keegan, and Ron Greenwood brought them both on at the same time. I can still picture them both, standing there on the touchline, like Cannon and Ball in tight shorts.

A very brief biography of his career: he played the game “cerebrally” according to Wikipedia, which probably means he passed the ball well and did everything at his own laid-back pace. He only ever played for West Ham and had just under 50 games for England. He became a pundit and very rarely said anything stupid (which is perhaps why people found him dull: who wants a pundit who talks sense?). Uncle Trevor became Sir Uncle Trevor in 2004 for his work in sports administration with organisations such as Sport England.

The main reason why he’s my entry for B, though, is because of his success as caretaker manager of West Ham. Brooking’s brief reign as manager was hugely successful: probably a surprise to many people. I always thought he’d be a bit Sven-like as manager: dispassionate and unable to motivate. He didn’t seem the kind of chap that would be able to make tough decisions or give the hairdryer treatment. However, there are rumours from his Sport England days that he wasn’t always Mr Nice Guy.

His managerial record is brilliant: won 9, drew 3, lost 1. I know that 13 games isn’t much to go on, but his record definitely speaks of great potential. When he was interviewed after matches, particularly when West Ham were looking down the barrel of relegation, I was impressed with his dignity and honesty. On the touchline he was passionate and involved. He was respected by players and had real presence. I think it’s a great shame he’s not interested in being a manager.

If only Uncle Trev had decided to become a manager, he might have been on the England shortlist himself rather than on the selection committee. And he might have made a better job of choosing players than he did choosing a manager...

B is for....Blake, 60 - (Skif)

Welling United 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1, 04/01/03

I guess what this entry is really about how one tries to determine ‘my favourite goal’.

Considering it probably should be something that made you shed a few layers of living skin in excitement, it will probably have to be a goal scored by your team of choice. If choice ever came into it, of course.

Then does it count if you’ve not seen it live in person, although when you’re a non-league follower like myself, this is rather a moot point.

Whenever I think of this question, I always automatically picture tricksy, but lightweight, midfielder Dean Blake crashing in a shot from about 30 yards out, at Welling United. I was stood right behind the flight and for a bit of it slo-mo progress it looked as though it would sail over. Which itself brings that hit of adrenaline that comes when you think you may have to take evasive, or defensive, action (I have been known to head the ball back onto a field of play, but usually it has to bounce first and not have the rapidity of an Exocet). Then there’s that extra and more vivid burst when the ball flattens its trajectory and squeezes between keepers hand and he near post.

So that’s my knee-jerk, but once I’ve had that, I always think, perhaps the context of the match situation should play a part. Perhaps centre-back Gareth Hall crashing one in from 25 yards off the underside of the bar to beat Stafford Rangers at home 2-1. That was September 1st 2001. After the final whistle that almost immediately followed, we trooped into our club bar to watch England play Germany in Munich. Quite a good day then. On the same lines, David Platt’s goal against Belgium in 1990 would rank up there. The twelve year old me jumped over several occasional tables after that one.

Perhaps the seasonal situation is the key, in which case Jamie O’Rourke scoring against Grantham to keep us in the Southern League Premier Division at the end of a fraught first season in it in 2000. Or maybe it’s about the individual, in which case veteran and legend of the non-league scene, Dave Leworthy, scoring twice in a minute to win us a game at home to Tiverton Town in what was, almost, his last on-field appearance at senior level (but more about that when we get to ‘L’).

Then again, maybe we have to contextualise the opposition. In which case, Warren Haughton scoring twice to keep us in with a shout in our game in the first round proper of the FA Cup at Dagenham & Redbridge in 2002 would come into the equation, mainly I guess for his frenzied celebrations in front of our higher than usual, as you might expect, away support. How a player celebrates may be where it’s at. Not the baby-rocking bullshit so much, but maybe badge-kissing does it for you, or when a player barrels headfirst into the vocal hardcore behind the goal like a masked Mexican wrestler off the top turn-buckle.

Rivlary, though, that’s bound to be important. In which case, I’d go for our record goalscorer Jimmy Taylor, scoring the final goal of his hat-trick in a 3-2 home win over the despised Weymouth, after trailing 2-0 and having to hear “can we play you every week” coming from the away end. Technically not a great goal, as many of those described haven’t been, but with West Leigh Park’s Bartons Road End rocking like it never has before or since, it is possibly overqualified in the favourite goal stakes.

However, when I just typed the words ‘my favourite goal’, my mind immediately pictures Dean Blake’s finish, possibly because it took my breath away. Whether or not that was mainly due to me believing I was about to be hit in the face by it, I guess we’ll never know.

B is for......Banana (United 113)

The first inflatable banana appeared at Maine Road in 1987. A City fan called Frank Newton borrowed the banana from a friend and dressed it in a City shirt and drew a face on it, before long the inflatable bananacraze had began and Maine Road was full of them.

At the time City had a player called Imre Varadi playing for them who became known as "Imre Banana". Inflatable bananas started appearing all over the place, possibly the best use of blow up food items was by the Grimsby Town supporters who started taking inflatable fish with them to the grounds. Bury fans started taking inflatable black puddings to their games. Arsenal struggled a little trying to have inflatable cannons but life was easier for West Ham supporters who went with inflatable hammers.

By 1990, police were strating to confiscate the fruit from supporters at turnstiles and clubs had started banning them as people were complaining they couldn't see properly. There was even a suggestion that the inflatable bananas were racist.

I think we all agree it was a fun time for british football so shortly after the tragedy at Heysel.

B is for.......Stephen George Bull (Swiss Toni)

306 goals in 561 appearances. 52 goals in a single season (1987/88). 18 hat-tricks. 13 England caps and 4 goals (including one against Czechoslovakia that was voted the 37th best England goal ever). Not a bad return from a £65,000 purchase from your biggest rivals, eh?

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that almost all of Bull’s career was spent outside of the top division; that he never really proved himself at the highest level; that he was just a shaven-headed thug of limited talent….

Perhaps you’re right.

You know what though? I don’t give a monkey’s what you think. I’m a Wolves fan and Steve Bull is my hero. Darren Clarke may have just overtaken Zara Phillips as the favourite to win the 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, but I’ll be casting my vote the same way as I have every year since 1988.

I heard a story about Steve Bull the other day that just seemed to sum the man up: at the end of every season, fans are able to bid to play in a charity match against some of the legends of their club. One guy got the opportunity to play at Molineux and was delighted to find himself at the first corner with the responsibility of marking his hero. Apparently Bull was charming and made a real point of shaking the hand of his nervous marker and wishing him all the best as they waited for the corner to be taken. As the ball was launched into the box, Bull elbowed this guy in the face and banged the ball into the back of the net. 1-0.


B is for.....Beckham From The Half Way Line (Lord Bargain)

18th August 1996 was a sunny afternoon. People went around their normal Saturday business as the start of another Premiership season got under way. I don't remember specifically what I was doing that day, but I do remember this.

About 4.30pm that afternoon, word began to get around from the radio that Manchester United's young right midfielder, David Beckham, had scored a wonder goal. "Better than Pele" they said. "Apparently, he has scored from the half way line".

It was one of those occasions where everyone wanted to stay up for "Match of the Day" in order to see this wondergoal for themselves.

And there it was. Indeed, Beckham had lobbed Neil Sullivan from the half way line, and thus a footballing icon was born.

Having watched this back, and notwithstanding everything that has happened to loveable little David (as he was then), this remains an underrated and exceptional goal. People have tried long range efforts since, but very few have succeeded and those that did (Xabi Alonso's recently) involved a goalkeeping error. This goal was pure and simple control, vision (see the keeper off his line) and execution (a perfectly weighted chip). Pele is celebrated for trying something similar, and he never hit the target!

It was pretty much the start of Beckham's disproportionate "skill to stardom" ascent and I like this goal as it also provides one of the iconic pictures of Beckham as a limited but talented footballer - the arms aloft and smile to the fans.

As Motty said "absolutely phenomenal".


So there we go. I love this feature - fruit, strikers, a clothes-horse, a caravan, some non-league, a TV network and a Nice Man. Thanks to Swiss Toni, Ben, Paul, Skif, United 113, Paul A and Mike for their brilliant contributions.

Can I invite submissions for "C" please? Ta.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

El-Hadji Diouf for Liverpool (v Sheffield United), 21 January 2003

After watching the Portsmouth v Bolton game last night I was glad I have never had to either play on an opposing side or be a fan near the pitchside when El-Hadji Diouf was involved. He epitomises so much I hate in football - his attitude, histrionics, temper and general demeanour make you want to punch his lights out.

Musing on this, I wondered if we could arrive at a Football Cocks Eleven. Not dirty players, not cheating players. In fact, no real criteria at all other than the fact that a given player seems like a complete tool.

Shall I start with an XI and we'll tweak it as necessary?

The Football Cocks Eleven

Jens Lehmann
Kieron Dyer Graeme Le Saux
Rio Ferdinand
Danny Mills
Ashley Cole
Lee Bowyer
Robbie Savage
El-Hadji Diouf
Jermaine Pennant Paul Ince (c)
Craig Bellamy
Nicolas Anelka Didier Drogba

sub: Cristiano Ronaldo (I can't quite find him as big a cock as those other four midfielders)

manager: Graeme Souness (I'd have Mick McCarthy, personally)

chairman: Sam Hammam

any advance?


The specific criteria here is not that players are cheating and dirty, necessarily (hence the absence of the Portuguese), just that they seem like a cock. I appreciate that it's not the most tangible criteria ever, but you know what I mean. Alan Shearer might be a dirty so and so that elbowed his way through an entire career, but I am not sure he is a cock in the way that, say, Bowyer is, is he?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chen Tao for Shenyang Ginde (v Liaoning FC), 9 September 2006

Now then fellas, this has got to hurt....

from the Beijing News:

"Shenyang Ginde player Liu Jianye will miss the rest of the domestic Chinese Super League season after suffering a split scrotum during a club match, local media reported on Monday.
The 19-year-old midfielder's injury was sustained after Xiamen Lanshi defender Meng Yao kicked him after 15 minutes of Sunday's game. Liu's injury would require an operation and at least 10 stitches, the newspaper said."

It makes me wince just thinking about it.