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.