Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Matthew Upson for Birmingham City (vs Plymouth Argyle), 2nd December 2006

I thought the transfer window closing was supposed to be exciting?

Has it really ever been anything but excruciatingly dull?

Matthew Upson to West Ham?
Gareth Williams to Watford?
Jon Macken to Derby?
Wayne Henderson to Preston?
Michael Duberry to Reading?

Seriously? Is that as good as it gets? All that endless paper talk, all that speculation... and all we have to get excited about is Matthew Upson?


Maybe I should stay up to see if Javier Mascherano completes his loan move to Liverpool?

*stifles yawn*

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Jermaine Pennant for Liverpool (v Chelsea), 20 January 2007

Did you know that Neil Warnock is an anagram of Colin Wanker?


Every day is a schoolday, people.

FA Cup predictions this week. Whoop de doo.

Birmingham 2-1 Reading
Bristol City 1-1 Middlesbrough
Crystal Palace 2-0 Preston
Fulham 2-0 Stoke
Luton 0-1 Blackburn
Man Utd 3-1 Portsmouth
West Ham 2-0 Watford
Arsenal 2-0 Bolton
Chelsea 2-0 Nottingham Forest
Wolves 2-1 West Brom

and wildcards from the return of the Bundesliga:

Hertha Berlin 2-0 Wolfsburg
Werder Bremen 3-0 Hannover 96

Right. I'm off to watch "Skins" to see if that kid off of About a Boy really is any good as a wild teenager....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

James Milner for Newcastle Utd (v West Ham Utd), 20 January 2007

I know I have touched on this matter before but the issue of referees being "demoted" to lower leagues has reared its head again this week.

Histrionic, generally useless idiot Uriah Rennie faces demotion from the Premiership after allowing James Milner's goal for Newcastle United to stand at the weekend despite Scott Parker being in an offside position right in front of the goalkeeper.

Ignoring the fact for one moment that Uriah Rennie is the worst senior referee I have ever seen (at the risk of having a Jade Goody moment, I am convinced that his elevation to the Premiership is not solely down to his refereeing credentials - I have always thought positive discrimination was a bit of an oxymoron) I find the whole notion of "relegating" referees to lower leagues bizarre.

If I was a Premiership footballer, and was utterly rubbish in one game or did something dreadful, there is a quite strong likelihood that I might be dropped for a couple of games. What wouldn't happen is that I'd be sent on loan to Luton or Plymouth or Colchester for a spell. Which is, let's face it, exactly what happens to demoted refs.

Plus, what sort of message does it send to Championship clubs that a referee deemed too incompetent to take charge of a top flight match is suddenly appointed to their game?

I understand the need for a pyramid system of referees in terms of promotion. Just because I have my refereeing qualifications and have officiated some Sunday League matches does not mean I could be let loose on the Premiership this weekend (although I reckon I'd do a job). It's clearly important for referees to gain experience in the same way that we all work our way up the career ladder (or at least used to before the futile pointlessness of it all kicked in).

But once they have reached the required standard then suspend them if you must (is it supposed to be a punishment?) or admit that referees make mistakes, as do players and managers, and let them get on with the job. Let's not (literally) send them to Coventry.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Alan Shearer for Newcastle Utd (v Everton), 1 December 2002

It was about quarter past midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning and we were stranded on Long Acre near Covent Garden. The West End of London was buzzing with Saturday evening revellers and having just finished a fantastic meal at Belgo, the four of us were searching in vain for a black cab to take us back to her hotel.

In the distance, Swiss Toni spotted the faint orange light of a London taxi. On the pavement in front of us were another group with a girl who spotted the same cab at almost exactly the same time.

Majestically, like Alan Shearer in his pomp, Swiss's walk developed into a jog and he headed in the direction of the taxi, right arm aloft as if the net at the Gallowgate End had just rippled with another Shearer goal. Practically elbowing the girl aside (another trait made famous by Shearer on Tyneside) he galloped in the style of that legendary number 9 until the taxi pulled over. To groans from the disappointed girl we piled into the back of the cab and headed for the hotel.

See? Two years of an Alan Shearer monikered website *did* turn out to have it's uses. I tell you, the man himself would have been so proud....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Arjen Robben for Chelsea (v Wigan Athletic), 13 January 2007

"A transfer budget of only one meeeeeelion dollars....?"

Heh heh heh.

Predictions time again, troops.

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

And for wildcards this week, two points per correct first goalscorer in the two Sunday Premiership games (Wigan v Everton and Arsenal v Man Utd).

I'll go for Kevin "Zinedine" Kilbane and Wayne Rooney.

(contributions for "F"'s please for the A-Z of Football. E-mail them to me please. Ta very much).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Andy Bishop for Bury (v Chester City), 2 December 2006

The great Becks debate is here.

Somewhere in this football ground there is a seat with my name on it. Nearby there is a seat with Swiss Toni's name on it.

In 2002, Bury FC were days away from going under. The club offered, for a donation of at least £10 to put donors names on the seats of their Gigg Lane ground. Enough money was raised to save the club, and, after a torrid few years, the smallest club in the League are back on an even keel.

I used to live in the town, and so I have a fond affiliation with the club that started or kick-started the careers of Dean Kiely, David Johnson, Paddy Kenny and David Nugent, amongst many others. Neil Warnock took the club to the heady heights of the First Division in the early 1990s, although recently they have been floundering in the bottom half of League Two.

Anyway, there is an excellent article here about Bury and, specifically, the FA's harsh decision to expel them from this season's FA Cup which cost them a financially lucrative tie with Championship side Ipswich Town.

My stag weekend included their home game with Luton Town in 2000. I saw them lose to Bournemouth in the play-offs in 2003 (a game which Jeff Winter refereed and spent the half hour before kick-off signing autographs with the fans. I have never liked the permatanned idiot since). I have seen Manchester United beat them in a friendly to help raise money (it was a sell-out).

They are a great little club with a very promising young manager and always the second result I look for at ten to five on a Saturday afternoon. They certainly didn't deserve the punishment meted out by the FA, that's for sure.

And someone please buy David Nugent from Preston as Bury have a 20% sell-on clause! That'll keep them going for *months*....

(thanks also to Skif for the photo of Gigg Lane. Bizarrely, I did a Google image search and his photo came up! Thanks mate!)

Friday, January 12, 2007

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

Predictions are here.

So that's it then. A 31 year old English footballer has decided to more or less end his serious football career by moving to LA Galaxy to play MLS. Apparently it's a move that is motivated by the challenge and not by the money.... although the deal is worth £128m over 5 years, which works out at something like £3000 per hour.

It's hard not to be cynical about Beckham as a person. He seems to be so in love with his own celebrity that it's difficult not to think that this move is motivated by Hollywood, by some kind of warped notion that somehow he belongs in Beverley Hills and should have a gated mansion next to his good friend Tom Cruise.

But what does this move say about Beckham the footballer? He may never have been a truly great player, but he was certainly the best English footballer for a number of years, and I have never seen one player put in such a remarkable performance as he did for England at Old Trafford against Greece in 2001. Doesn't this move signal a total lack of ambition? A lack of passion for the game? He's only 31 years old and he hasn't won anything significant for nearly 5 years. His move to Real Madrid may have played to his ego by allowing him to play in the same team as Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and the other Galacticos, but surely he has unfulfilled ambitions? Does he not want to prove Steve McClaren wrong and force his way back into the England squad? Does he not want to demonstrate his worth as a player? To rage against the dying of the light as the shining light in a smaller team that punches far above its weight?

No. Apparently he turned down many offers to play in Italy and in England and elsewhere across Europe, but it was never going to happen was it? To a player as status and image conscious as Beckham, the only way to go from Real Madrid was down, so he's opted out of the slow decline and has just removed himself from the equation entirely by going somewhere that he is going to be the unquestioned star of the show, but somewhere the football is only going to be a minor distraction. He was never going to be turning out for Bolton and putting crosses in for Kevin Davies was he?

I wish him all the best with his latest move, of course. It will be interesting to see if he reverts back to his favoured number 7 shirt - the shirt that he used to covet because of what it represented as a Manchester United player, to follow in the footsteps of players like Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson - or if he elects to continue with the number 23 that he wore in Madrid. I would argue that if he chooses 7, then he's gone for the football. If he chooses 23 - a number more famous in the USA than anywhere else in the world - then he has gone for the celebrity and for the money.

So long and thanks for all the fish, Becks.


*** update ***

Check out this very interesting article seeking to debunk how much DB's contract is actually worth....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Julio Baptista for Arsenal (v Liverpool), 9 January 2007

The latest instalment in the excellent A-Z of Football feature is here. Everything from evening kick-offs and engines to exaggeration and escalators.

Predictions for this week, troops:

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

and it's the latest round of the FA Carlsberg Trophy!

Gravesend 2-0 AFC Wimbledon
Tamworth 1-0 Altrincham

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Barry Horne for Everton (v Wimbledon), 9 May 1994

Apologies for the delay, but my favourite current Web feature is back. The CUAS massive tell us what football means to them, alphabetically...

The A-Z Of Football

E is for Evening kick offs - (Skif)

Football is better under lights. Fact. It’s there in the evidence.

One of Subbuteo’s more successful accessories was the set of floodlights they produced. Not crappy trim-on-the-top-of-the-stand lights neither. Not the ones I had anyway. Proper gert fuck-off Eastern European big black brick action. Oh yeah. Every Thursday evening after Scouts; always Slavia Prague away. Just me?

Also where would the away day traveller be without the big bastard floodlights. Sod the intricate cartographic reference prior to the game. Tradition dictates rolling off the train in to a pub, then out again between 2 and 3, looking through bleary eyes for the four tall grey things that will lead you to the ground. Or possibly a goods yard.

Then there are the pundits and players always going on about the brilliance of the ‘European nights’. Frankly, the European bit isn’t the important bit. It’s about the immersing yourself under several layers of clothing. Who says you can’t wear a replica top over a vest, 3 t-shirts and a cricket woolly? Also, it’s about the only time in your footballing life where tea is chosen voluntarily over beer. European nights though? Pah. It might as well be Totnes & Dartington SC as Real Madrid. Ok, that’s definitely just me. I am telling you though; it’s the drippy nose and the breath condensation that make it.

Of course, the floodlit game is always at risk from the power failure but, and I think Fantasy Football League showed this, supporters will always take it in possibly misplaced good humour. Lights go out – up goes a “Rrrraaayyyy.” Your team can be leading 4-0 with half an hour to go, and such an event could cause all the good work to come to nought in an eventual abandonment, but no, the football supporter will react as though their Uncle Geoff has just made an inadvertent knob-gag while delivering the Christmas grace.

I’ve been quite lucky. In all the games I’ve seen (about 450 all told) I’ve never witnessed an abandonment, for any reason. Not for weather, lights out or anything more tragic either I’m glad to say. I’ve been at a couple of games where we’ve had to hang around a bit, once for an ambulance after defender Shaun Gale’s right arm collided with the pitch with an almighty snap in a pre-season friendly at Selsey for one. Another was when the lights went out during an early December home league game against Tamworth. Thankfully there was “an electrician in the house”, and we were able to complete the game. As we were losing 2-0 at the point of the fuse blow, a dance of darkness from our support might have been the ticket. Us lot shuffling about on the terraces for 20 minutes and blowing into our gloves probably didn’t help either way. No Far-East betting syndicates or Rhodesian-born goalkeepers were thought to be involved.

I do enjoy an evening game though, particularly away games. Travelling from Havant to Stafford on a Tuesday night in January once was probably the furthest, Kings Lynn the longest (time wise – stupid lack of East Anglian motorways), but if you win (and we won and drew those respectively) the trip back is always fun. Sure, your buoyancy will eventually flag and you may fall asleep, but lose and you’ll be squeezing the eye-lids to compel yourself into kippage before you’ve even left the car park. Losing 3-1 away to Chippenham, and spending 45 minutes next to a local with a drum, made that trip back feel a whole lot longer than it actually was, I can tell you.

Soon I am moving to London from Liverpool and thus, finally, will now be in the area where Havant & Waterlooville will play a fair amount of their midweek Conference South away games. However my new job will require working one evening a week.

I am typing this last line with my nose, my two hands being tied up with praying that it won’t be a Tuesday.

E is for Exaggeration - (El Tel)

"He was a mile offside", "That was the worst foul that I've seen in a long time", "We've had some shocking referees this season, but that takes the biscuit", "We're by far the greatest team.". I could go on.

Football, impartiality, logic, reason - words that are, in impassioned footballing reportage, uncomfortable bedfellows. Reason is to football, what Barry Davies is to... actually, let's not go there.

As a kid, I remember puzzling over the bizarre outrage that would spew from ordinarily sane men - it was always men - whenever a team was down on its luck - or simply being Hartlepool, as was the case for some in the north east of England. Whether dodging the urinary flow of the Sea of Drunk Geordies or Rowdy Mackems, floating with afternoon idlers around the Brewery
Field of Spennymoor United (as was), or simply watching Match of the Day at home, there was always a comment or two of unmitigated bullshit only seconds away.

To this day, the collective psychology that enables hundreds and thousands of fans to pour scorn upon referees and opponents, when their own team is simply being outplayed, remains a mystery. Maybe its something to do with identity, or ego, or social pressure, or some peculiar inflection of human perception that only becomes manifest when bad singers amass around a
game that has evolved from pig's bladder knockabout. I do not know. But this exaggeration, is it bad?

What would football be without exaggeration, without heartfelt sheer nonsense, without regular robbery? It would be fair and honourable and reasonable, and yet at the same time utterly cold, clinical, and so very unattractive. Can you imagine such a game? A game that might feature, say, the 'progressive' goal-line technology? Foul stuff. Perhaps we would witness cries of "The technologist is a wanker - cheat, cheat, cheat!" and so on.

No, I'm afraid that wouldn't do. As odd as exaggeration remains, I hold it dear to my heart. In recent times, the most entertaining forms of exaggeration that I've been privy to have been from Middlesbrough fans. I nod, I listen, I smile, and I think 'But you're supporting Middlesbrough!'

To me, this exaggeration business shall remain as much a part of football as the adrenaline rush of providing the perfect through-ball, striking the crispest volley, and balking at the culinary horrors that count as modern day 'refreshments'.

In football, E is for Exaggeration, but that's probably because it's the cousin of Emotion.

E is for Escalators - (Lord Bargain)

In the early 1990's, my missus was a Toffee. Thankfully, she wasn't actually a Scouser, rather her affiliation with the blue Merseysiders was borne from her brother; also an Everton fan. And so, on occasion, we would go and watch a match.

In principle, of course, going to watch football with your other half is a Good Thing. However, bear in mind that the time in which we were going was during the darkest moments of the clubs recent history.

For example, you will no doubt remember the 1993/4 season where they only retained their top-flight status in the last ten minutes or so of the season, mainly thanks to the theatrical penalty-box antics of ex Arsenal winger Anders Limpar.

Those were the days of Barry Horne and John Ebbrell. Of Ian Snodin and Gary Ablett.

Ordinarily, we would sit with the "hardcore" home support in the Gwladys Street end of the ground. However, one night we decided to have a change of scenery.

It was 20 September 1994 and Everton had been pitted against Portsmouth in the second round of the Coca-Cola Cup. We weren't back at Uni for another couple of weeks and so we decided to go along to the match. Unfortunately, mainly due to the awful weather, only 14,340 other hardy souls decided to join us.

We collected our tickets and passed through the turnstile into the ground, and then I was faced with something that until last year I had never seen at a football ground before or since.

There was an escalator.

Now then, I have taken a lift to my seat before now. And I have climbed an inordinate number of stairs to get to my position (the climb to my old seat in the Stretford End was about 140 steps) but, until March 2006 at the Amsterdam Arena I had never taken an escalator before. It just seems so, well, bourgeois.

So, I suppose respect is due to Everton for at least taking their long-suffering fans to their seat in comfort. Needless to say they lost the Cup match 3-2 (despite a wonder goal from one Vincent Samways) in one of the most desperate home performances I had ever seen. At least I was taken to my seat in style, though.

E is for Easy - (Paul)

Most of you will have seen Soccer AM on SKY at some point. No doubt many of you remember last year's World of Wrestling inspired Easy chant, which courtesy of messers Lovejoy and Chamberlain found its way on to the terraces all across the country.

It's the chant where fans (normally just after their team has scored) clap their hands together above their heads, keeping their arms straight, and decry the opposition that has been served up before them.

I absolutely detest this chant.

This isn't to say that I dislike singing - far from it. I'd much rather we lived in a world (and attended football matches) where everyone would sing their support for their team. I relish the wit of the terraces, and delight in all aspects of that, including an element of ridiculing the opposition - be it for the rubbish nature of their ground, their team, or their support.

However, I really hate the "Easy" chant. It's straight armed clap which makes everyone look like a deranged seal appealing for a fish, not to mention the condescending nature of the chant, and the deplorable smugness which seems to accompany it.

I can't really explain why this chant, and this chant alone really annoys me, but it does. For me it is the Chelsea of the chant world - inspired by mass marketing, charmless and beloved of smug Londoners.

E is for Engine - (Swiss Toni)

For a sport not normally associated with philology, football is a rather surpising hotbed for some of the most imaginative uses of language in the English speaking world. Graeme Le Saux may have spent his career being accused of homosexuality simply because he read (or claimed to read) the Guardian, but footballers and football pundits have proved time and time again that they are the most amazingly cunning linguists. The prime exponent of this linguistic creativity is of course Ron Atkinson (dealth with here). In big Ron's world, tackles are invariably described as "reducers" unless the tackler has "gone in a bit milky", long balls are variously "reachers" or "hollywood balls" depending on the player and circumstances involved (one man's 'reacher' is invariably David Beckham's 'hollywood').

It's a gloriously varied and many textured world of subtle nuances. Just think of the number of words that are used to describe players and to illustrate their playing styles: midfielders can be gliding artists or hard-tackling enforcers; defenders can be cultured or they can be cloggers; strikers play in the hole or lead the line... They are phrases that may have become cliches, but as descriptions they are hard to beat. Every player may be unique, but football is uniquely equipped with the language and the terms of reference to describe them.

My own personal favourite football-ism is "engine", as in "he's got a good engine". On the face of it, this is a phrase that could be applied to any player with apparently boundless energy and industry. In practice though, it is only ever used when talking about a midfielder - not just any midfielder either, but a tireless box-to-box runner. An artist is for some reason very unlikely to have a good engine. Perhaps it is impossible to both glide elegantly across the turf and to show the sweat and industry necessary to cover the miles. This is functional language at its very best: it's a phrase that is almost completely meaningless, and yet it economically paints such a clear picture that you know exactly what it means. Any fan will know that a player thus described is extremely unlikely to have long, flowing hair. We're talking a crew cut, stubble and lots of sweat. This is a no-nonsense player, probably full of hustle and bustle. We're talking about Ivan Gattusso here, not Francesco Totti.

Perhaps this is the real reason why David Beckham's career has stalled. He styles himself as an artist, but one of his greatest attributes is his engine. He'll never be an enforcer, but he could perhaps have been the perfect fusion of the artist and the box-to-box runner... if only his head hadn't been turned by the glamour of the galactico.... he refuses to see himself as a "water carrier" for anyone else, as if this was something to be disdained (in fact it derives from the term "porteur d'eau" used in cycling to describe the main function of a domestique - a role considered to be vital to the functioning of the team). As a result of this disdain, Beckham is perhaps less of a player than he might have been, and England were certainly less of a team. Owen Hargreaves has no such delusions of grandeur about his role.

E is for enjoyment - (Ben)

I can probably count the number of Newcastle games I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching on one hand.

But then that’s hardly surprising. Being a football fan is not about enjoyment. It’s not a pleasurable pastime. It’s not about sitting back, crossing your arms and savouring the entertainment as you might a film.

On the contrary, it’s about being perched on the edge of your seat. It’s about a creeping nausea in the pit of your stomach. It’s about always fearing the worst. It’s about gnawing your fingernails down until your fingers are bloodied stumps. It’s about having your nerves strung out and played by a virtuoso guitarist. It’s about being helpless, entirely at the mercy of the endeavours (or otherwise) of others for 90 minutes. Your happiness, fragile and brittle, is in the hands of eleven men – none of whom you know personally, few (if any) of whom share or even understand the sort of connection you have to the club. Might as well give the Chuckle Brothers a chandelier to hang.

The enjoyment only really comes afterwards when, the final whistle having set the result in stone, you can finally relax and bask in the glow of a handsome win. If you’re lucky. If not, that same whistle heralds a tidal wave of despair and a cavalcade of what ifs.

There is a solution, of course: do everything you possibly can to prevent yourself from being sucked into developing an attachment to any particular team. As a neutral, I gather, you can take in matches dispassionately as a form of spectacle and entertainment – and, not having any concern in the final outcome, you can enjoy them.

But where’s the fun in that?


Brilliant, yet again. Can I invite contributions for the "F" please? (email them to my profile above). And if you haven't contributed before, please don't be shy. It's easy! easy! easy! (sorry, Paul).

Friday, January 05, 2007

David Edgar for Newcastle Utd (v Manchester Utd), 1 January 2007

Happy New Year!

For those of you who thought the business of predicting the outcomes of football matches was a scientific one, please bear in mind this fact. Paul's last set of predictions read "2-0 to the home team for every game" and that was good enough to come third in the last round of matches....

ahem. Tables are updated, anyhow.

FA Cup time again...

Birmingham 2-1 Newcastle
Chelsea 3-0 Macclesfield
Doncaster 1-1 Bolton
Liverpool 1-0 Arsenal
Nottm Forest 1-1 Charlton
Portsmouth 2-0 Wigan
Tamworth 0-2 Norwich
Cardiff 0-2 Tottenham
Man Utd 2-1 Aston Villa
Sheff Wed 2-1 Man City

and wildcards from the Scottish equivalent:

Berwick 1-2 Falkirk
Stranraer 0-2 Hearts