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