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.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Xabi Alonso for Liverpool (v Newcastle Utd), 20 September 2006

Predictions in the house, kidz. Totals updated also!

(last weeks wildcard results were: Sevilla 3-2 Betis, Halmstads 1-1 Helsingborgs, PSV 2-1 Feyenoord.)

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

and taking a road trip north of the border:

Celtic 1-0 Rangers
Hibs 2-0 Falkirk
Aberdeen 1-0 Hearts

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rory Patterson for FC United of Manchester (v Silsden), 16 September 2006

For those of you who think non-league football (specifically the North West Counties League Division One) is full of talentless pot-bellied cloggers, have a gander at this. As good as anything you will see in the Premiership this season.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Paul Scharner for Wigan Athletic (v Everton), 16 September 2006

This makes for interesting reading. Apparently, a majority of Premiership clubs (already presumably as rich as they have ever been) charge kids who want to be their mascot on a matchday.

The worst club appears to be Fulham who charge between £300 and a whopping £995 depending on the opposition.

Spurs have eleven mascots for each home game - one for each player - and these pay between £95 and £295 each depending on the opposition.

Portsmouth charge £300 and Bolton £400 although apparently they do offer some free places during the season. Bless.

Unsurprisingly, Chelsea charge £176.50. Although I imagine that's actually cheaper than buying a kid a ticket for the match.

Charlton charge between £60 and £250 and Aston Villa charge £175.

The clubs justify this cost on the basis that the mascot scheme normally includes a package (replica shirt etc) but why not let's big up the teams that don't charge - step forward:

Manchester City
Manchester United

Another example of greedy football clubs chasing every last penny...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tiago for Lyon (v Real Madrid), 13 September 2006

Predictions again folks. I am updating the ongoing scores, by the way (I like our new scoring system. It makes everything a bit more exciting....)

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

shall we hop over to the Continent this week?

Sevilla 2-1 Real Betis
Halmstads 1-1 Helsingborgs
PSV 2-1 Feyernoord

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lee Naylor for Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs Coventry), 16 April 2005

Look. No disrespect to the lad, but there's just something *weird* about watching Lee Naylor playing Champions League football....

How did that happen?

What's next? John de Wolf turning up as a spokesman for the bean farmers' cooperative of Ulan Bator at the United Nations conference on Pulse and Lentil farming in Extreme Climates?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ashley Cole for Arsenal (vs Manchester City), 25 September 2004

Who the hell is Ashley Cole trying to fool? Himself?

"The club made Thierry feel wanted and special, wooing him, wining and dining him, speaking in public about how much they want him to stay, going on a deliberate charm offensive," he said. "But me? I didn't have one dinner, one meeting or one phone call from anyone. That's not sour grapes, it's just a sad truth. The truth is that the Gunners had done nothing all season to hold on to me.

"My worst fears were confirmed when, as Thierry and I sat in the centre circle after the final whistle, his name was sung from the rooftops while my contribution was recognised by a deafening silence. As his chants faded away we waited for mine. And we waited. And there was nothing. 'They're not bothered about me', I said, resigned to the fact. It was like I was the invisible man."

Hold on: who the hell is this Thierry Henry guy? Surely not Arsenal's record goalscorer, the man who has scored 215 goals in 239 appearances? Why on earth might he be considered more valuable than some short-arsed left-back who missed almost all of last season and then played every game for England in the World Cup?

Every time I hear Ashley Cole whingeing about how poorly treated he was by Arsenal, it's everything I can do to stop myself vomiting. Poor Ashley was promised £60,000 per week by the Arsenal board, who then reneged and offered him a measley £55,000 per week. It's not about the money, you understand, it's about the principle. They never wanted to keep him. They questioned his commitment to the club.

Really? How dare they? Surely you are not the same Ashley Cole who was caught tarting himself out to Chelsea in June 2005? The same Ashley Cole who has shown absolutely no respect for his contract with Arsenal and has actively sought a transfer? Why on earth would they dare to question his commitment to the cause after that?

And does he really, truly believe that he will be well received by the Arsenal fans when he makes his first trip to the Emirates Stadium with Chelsea? Does he really think he has been the blameless victim in all of this?

Poor little millionaire.

He makes me sick.

No one comes out smelling of roses after this whole sordid affair. Not Arsenal (who are paying Gallas more than they refused to pay Cole), not Chelsea and certainly not Ashley Cole himself.

This whole sorry saga represents everything that is bad about football.

Oh hang on, perhaps it's just symptomatic of a sick game.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

David Healy for Northern Ireland (vs Spain), 6th September 2006

Predictions time again folks.

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

And this week’s wildcards – all the teams round our way:

Derby 2-2 Sunderland
Yeovil 0-2 Nottingham Forest
Notts County 2-1 Accrington Stanley
Mansfield 1-2 Hereford

I'd say good luck, but I wouldn't mean it....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Norman Whiteside for Manchester United (v Everton), 18 May 1985

Seeing as this feature seemed to get buried during the World Cup, now we are in the less frenzied league season, I thought I would begin it again. Enjoy (again)...


Well, it's finally here. I am delighted to begin our brand new fortnightly series with the personal thoughts of long-suffering football fans as we plough through the alphabet in our A-Z of Football.

Thanks to everyone for their contributions, and I hope we can pick others up along the way. Without further ado, here's some conjecture on two Scotsman, two pundits, a Chilean, a centre half, three strikers and a pair of buttocks. That's what this great game is all about.

A is for......

...... Alex Ferguson – Lord B

Well, there wasn’t really anywhere else I could start, was there? Since his arrival in 1986, and his near departure in 1990, Sir Alex has become one of the most successful managers in British footballing history, and in terms of trophies, United’s all time most successful.

Most people dislike Ferguson whilst grudgingly accepting his success, and I fall largely into that category. The one thing that separates Fergie from your average punter, however, is his ability to make odd/difficult decisions that the more mortals amongst us find perplexing, but that ultimately turn out for the best.

Look at the transfer record. He has shipped out any number of players supposedly in the prime of their careers and in virtually every instance this decision has been vindicated. Ince. Hughes. Kanchelskis. Butt. Sharpe. Even Keane’s departure saw a newly unshackled United go on a fantastic run of results. The exception that proves this rule is the unexpected sale of Jaap Stam although the future of Ruud van Nistelrooy should provide an interesting topic of conjecture also.

Whilst in charge if United he has guided them to one European Cup, a European Cup Winners Cup, 8 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, a European Super Cup and 5 Charity Shields.

Irreplaceable? No. Perfect? Not nearly. An impossible person to follow into the job? Almost certainly.

........ Clarence Acuna - Ben

Though not the finest player we’ve ever had at St James’ Park, Chilean midfielder Clarence Acuna was at least a real 110%er – more than could be said for most of our foreign imports, and many of the homegrown players too. He arrived in October 2000, established himself in the first team and scored some handy goals. Three years later, having fallen out of favour, he was allowed to leave, apparently so he could look after his sick mother.

But it’s not for his abilities as a footballer or a nurse that he’s remembered. It isn’t even for his name, which conjures up visions of him as a pipe-smoking moustachioed lothario from the 1930s: “Me? Clarence Acuna? In a lady’s boudoir? With my reputation?”

No, what springs to mind when his name is mentioned – and what makes that last vision impossible to sustain – is his phenomenal ugliness. It’s hard to pinpoint quite what it is about him that’s wrong, but his facial features are squashed together so that he seems to have a head as squat as his 5’7” stature. It’s no surprise that when you put his name into Google, the first page listed is on the Ugly Footballers site.

At least the Big Man Upstairs blessed him with footballing talent to compensate, though, eh? Just like Ronaldo, Gianfranco Zola, Nwankwo Kanu, er, Francis Jeffers, Phil Neville, Luke Chadwick… But then there are great players whose faces aren’t so upsettingly unpleasant – so does that mean Clarence sits at home bemoaning his luck and sticking pins into dolls of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Jamie Redknapp?

.....Added Time – Paul

We all know the score. You're at Old Trafford, clinging on to a 2-1 lead as the clock ticks down and as the ninety minutes expires, up steps the forth official and holds up the board to signal the amount of injury time to be played. The whole ground holds it's breath (except Fergie, who keeps cheing his gum because he already knows what's coming):

20 minutes.

Surely some mistake? Then the fourth official holds up another board which says: "Unless Man Utd score, in which case we can go for a cup of tea"

I realise I'm over exaggerating slightly, but you can guarantee that if your team are doing the business against Man Utd then Fergie will have intimidated the referee to allow his team every possible opportunity to get a goal, and if that means playing on and on into the night, so be it.

...........Tony Adams – Swiss Toni

It used to be true that you knew exactly where you stood with Tony Adams: he was the talented but no-nonsense stopper who captained a boring but successful Arsenal side and sometimes played for England. He was ugly and ungainly. He was a donkey. You knew where you stood with Tony Adams.

And then it all changed.

It all started when he admitted that he was an alcoholic. Before I knew what was happening, Tony Adams had stopped drinking and had turned into some kind of poetry-reading, piano playing Renaissance man. Worse still: the archetypal English stopper had been replaced by some sort of free-spirited libero. I was horrified to see a rejuvenated Adams serenely sailing across the halfway line with hair flowing and the ball at his feet. He would glide into the penalty area and would calmly place the ball beyond the mesmerised goalkeeper.

It was a remarkable transformation, but it was also a terrible betrayal of our history and our heritage. I thought we lived in a world of simple truths, a world where centre-halves knew their place: to kick strikers into the air and the ball into row Z. If I could no longer hold onto those simple truths, then I didn’t know what the hell to believe.

I don’t suppose he’ll be opening a pub anytime soon either.

..........Ron Atkinson - Mike

Bejewelled, huge-headed and orange-skinned, Big Ron was a class act. He was one of the game’s last real characters. He was the kind of man we would all want to be if we were a football manager-turned-pundit…


Until Big Ron made a racist comment about Marcel Desailly which was broadcast when he thought his mic was switched off.

I read an interview with him about 6 months later. Although still remorseful, sadly, he also tried to excuse himself. He suggested that when he had said “some schools would call Desailly a lazy fucking nigger”, the “some schools” bit referred to a particular person who he had worked with in the past. It wasn’t his racism, he argued, it was this other chap’s. In the article, Ron also wondered why it’s ok for gangsta rappers to use the word “nigger” when he can’t.

Oh dear.

This incident was a shock and a matter of great disappointment for me. I had loved Atkinson’s co-commentary. His “Big-Ronisms” were legendary and I used to discuss them with my students in my A Level English Language class. Whether he invented them or not, he certainly brought many new expressions to the public consciousness. I particularly enjoyed “he’s given that the eyebrows” to describe a flick-on and “Scholes has gone for the Hollywood ball” to describe an over-ambitious pass. According to my projections, if he’d carried on co-commentating for another ten years, he would have become the most prolific wordsmith since Shakespeare. Indeed, like Shakespeare, he even turned verbs into nouns, as in “that’s a great arrive at the far post” (although the “far post” was always the “second stick” to Ron). Ron was quick to pick up on poor ball control, too, once claiming that a player (can’t remember who, but it was probably Heskey) could “trap the ball further than I go on holiday.”

My feelings about him are mixed. In many ways, Ron Atkinson represents my feelings about the game in general: happy memories combined with disappointment, disgust and the feeling that I’ve been cheated and let down.

.......Andy Gray - Paul A

I consider myself to be a fan of football rather than a football fan. There is perhaps a subtle difference between the two. For example I would generally rather watch my team (West Ham) loose a great game than see them grind out a lucky and undeserved victory (a view that I held right up to Steven Gerrard's last minute goal in the Cup!). As a sometimes casual observer of the game, there are many things which
guarantee to ruin my enjoyment of a match and the one that comes top of the list is usually preceded by Richard Keys saying "so its over to our commentary team of Martin Tyler and ANDY GRAY".

I don't know how tough it can be to make a living as a "summariser" but given the generally appalling standards across the board, I assume it must be something of an intellectual challenge. Over the last decade, Andy Gray has raised the bar of commentary gibberish to a level that looked unsurpassable until the recent arrival on the scene of Graeme "he must be blackmailing the BBC'c head of Sport" Le Saux. Even the best efforts of Chris Kamara, David Pleat, Trevor Francis and Ian Wright have been unable to wrest the crown from Andy's head. In the interests of fairness, it has to be said however, that if anyone were ever stupid enough to allow Ian Wright anything more than his current 3 moronic comments per broadcast, Andy could find himself as yesterday's man!

I can only believe that Sky pay Andy by the word (with a premium for filling their "Scottish" quota) but have not included in his contract that repeating the same word or phrase over and over does not count. Andy does at least let his long suffering public have advance warning of impending "wisdom" by prefacing with "you don't need me to tell you......" before going in excruciating detail through whatever it was we didn't need to have pointed out to us. I don't know the details of
Andy's education but if degrees were offered in hindsight or the bloody obvious, never would a double first have been so rightfully awarded.

With all the technology at Sky's fingertips, can they please allow us the "Real" Fanzone which offers the same commentary but with dear old Andy blissfully muted and the old maxim of "less is more" well and truly fulfilled!

Searching on the web for Andy Gray related articles, i came across a biog on the "Celebrity Speakers" site. Whilst i could go through and list all of the supposed "strengths" that Mr. Gray brings as an after-dinner speaker i will content myself with this. Under the "Language" section, we are told that "He presents in English" could have fooled me.

.......arse - Sarah

Or more to the point, Souleymane Oulare's arse!

Who? You may well say...

Stoke City had been wallowing in the 2nd Division (now 1st Division, previously 3rd Division) since they moved into their new stadium in 1998. In a bid to avoid the continuing rot an ex Belgian footballer of the year, striker Souleymane Oulare, was brought in during the 2002 January transfer window. Alas, within days of his arrival and before he'd had a chance to feature in a first team game, he was rushed to hospital with what turned out to be a blood clot in his lungs. He was out for the whole season.

In his absence, Stoke somehow managed to improve sufficiently to find themselves in a playoff semi final against arch rivals Cardiff, where they found themselves entering the second leg at Ninian Park 2-1 down (agg). The recently recovered Oulare was brought on as a super sub and a 90th minute strike from Stoke forced the game into extra time – 5 minutes after the Cardiff PA had asked the celebrating Bluebirds to stay off the pitch for the home side’s lap of honour (snigger).

In the 115th minute Stoke were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, which was taken by Super James O’Connor. The Cardiff goalie read exactly where the ball was headed and was in place to easily stop the shot. Fortunately for Stoke, their Guinean striker also happened to be in place and, as the ball rounded the Cardiff wall, it fortuitously headed directly to his arse and was deflected into the net to provide the winning goal.

Stoke went on to easily win the final two weeks later and clambered back to the 1st Division (now Championship, previously 2nd Division), where they’ve been wallowing ever since. Oulare never played for Stoke again, but his backside has remained a club legend.


Thanks to Mike, Swiss Toni, Sarah, Paul, Ben and Paul A for their contributions.

If you would like to send me a "B is for...." I would love to receive it (I know some of you have already). I'll publish this every other Monday (or so) until we get to "Z"....