Thursday, August 30, 2007

Momo Sissoko for Liverpool (v Sunderland), 25 August 2007

ah, there you are. Predictions ahoy!

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

and wildcards for the Manager of the Month winners:

Coventry 3-1 Preston
Leeds 2-0 Luton
Notts County 2-1 Morecambe

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United (v Bayern Munich), 26 May 1999

So, after 368 appearances and 127 goals, one of the Premierships most likeable football characters today announced his retirement.

Signed in 1996 (famously when the club were turned down by one Alan Shearer) for £1.5million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a relative unknown outside his native Norway where United scouts spotted his talent after he had scored 32 goals in 41 appearances for Molde.

He began his reciprocal love affair with the United faithful a mere six minutes into his debut when he came off the bench to equalize for United in a 2-2 draw with champions Blackburn Rovers. He scored 18 goals in this first season as United won the Premiership.

From there, his predatory instinct, tireless work and team ethic made him, I would suggest, United's most popular player in the post Cantona era. I think he's also one of those rare United players (certainly of recent years) that opposition fans begrudgingly respect. The lack of front page scandal or back page demands for exorbitant wages, coupled with his unquestioning acceptance that he was rarely a first team regular (although he started over 200 games for the club) endeared him not only to the United faithful but also football fans in general.

His highlights were many. Clearly, a way to surefire legendary status at any club is to score an injury time winner in the European Cup Final but many forget Solsjkaer's late winner against Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in that famous Treble season.

I also really admired his performances in the 2002-3 season where Ferguson stationed the Norwegian on the right hand side of midfield with the lone Ruud van Nistelrooy up front. Some eye-catching displays and 16 goals ensued that season.

My personal favourite Ole memory however is this ten minutes of brilliance as he came off the bench to net four times in ten minutes in an 8-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest. Superb.

And so, when I moved house to number 20 last year, how on earth could I resist painting my front door red with the "20" in pride of place?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Geovanni for Manchester City (v Manchester Utd), 19 August 2007

Hello troops.

No three points scores for the Dereham v Fakenham match last week, I am afraid - it ended up 12-0 to the home side. Creditable away draws for Debenham and Blue Cross, though....

Arsenal 2-0 Man City
Aston Villa 2-0 Fulham
Bolton 1-1 Reading
Chelsea 3-1 Portsmouth
Derby 2-1 Birmingham
Everton 0-0 Blackburn
Sunderland 0-2 Liverpool
West Ham 2-1 Wigan

Man Utd 1-0 Tottenham
Middlesbrough 1-2 Newcastle

and wildcards from the opening weekend of La Liga:

Real Madrid 3-2 Atletico Madrid
Mallorca 1-1 Levante
Valencia 2-0 Villarreal

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (v Liverpool), 19 August 2007

Proof if any were needed that Rafa appears to be cracking up under the pressure. Notwithstanding the fact that his new facial hair makes him look an awful lot like Max off of Max and Paddy, he has today gone off on one in a manner that makes Jose Mourinho look like a bastion of common sense.

First off, he had a right rant about the Gabriel Heinze situation as discussed here yesterday. Apparently, "....the league prefers to believe the word of someone who has made a mistake." That'll be the word of his current employers who have a contract for his services until 2009, will it?


He then has a pop at the Premier League over their fixture scheduling based on the fact Liverpool play at 12.45pm this Saturday for Sky. I tell you what, Rafa, you play at 3pm every Saturday and we'll have your £20million TV money/Fernando Torres back, shall we?

And then, in what must be one of the most bizarre outbursts of recent times, he says (and I quote): "...I want to ask the Premier League why it was so difficult for Liverpool to sign Javier Mascherano, when we had to wait a long time for the paperwork, but it was so easy for Carlos Tevez to join Manchester United?"

Is he completely deluded or living in a bubble? The transfer of Tevez to United has been going on for (what feels like) months via the High Court, a Premier League panel and even to FIFA. Easy for Tevez to join United? Do me a favour.

What on earth is he getting at? If he's trying to prove some sort of anti-Liverpool conspiracy by being (a) mad another club won't sell their contracted player to him (b) complaining about weird TV led kick-off times and (c) that the Tevez transfer was a cakewalk compared to his Argentinian compatriot, his ludicrous George Michael goatee is the least of his concerns....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gabriel Heinze for Argentina (v Mexico), 11 July 2007

Ha ha ha. Unsurprisingly, Gabriel Heinze has lost his attempt to force Manchester United to sell him to arch-rivals Liverpool. Who guessed? A panel found in favour of his current employers with whom he has two years remaining on a contract?


In the same way as United paid Rio Ferdinand nine months wages whilst he sat in the stands only to be held to ransom for a pay rise the second he returned to action, United fans have quickly turned against Heinze who the club stood by for a year after suffered cruciate ligament damage.

Clearly if the player doesn't want to play for the club, they're well rid. And clearly it's up to the club who they sell him to considering they hold his registration and he is contracted to them. In bygone days, he'd be shunted out to pasture in the reserves until his contract finished, but in the current climate of "player power", he'll no doubt engineer a move somewhere (increasingly looking like Lyon).

Don't you just wish sometimes you could force these idiots to waste years of their career by making them honour their contracts in the reserves? Van Hoojdonk, the de Boers and countless others...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Michael Chopra for Sunderland (v Tottenham Hotspur), 11 August 2007

Predictions time again.

The scores on the doors have been updated. The number in brackets is the actual number of points scored in a week (one for a correct outcome, three for a correct score). Where two people are level, the number of “correct scores” comes into play, otherwise the points are shared.


Clearly, newbies always welcome (as it's as easy to get top points in any given week as it is to get nil!)

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

Wildcards this week are from FA Cup Qualifying, mainly as I could clearly not pass up the chance to include two away teams called “Debenhams” and “Blue Cross”.

Heh heh heh.

Dereham Town 3-1 Fakenham Town
Felixstowe & Walton Utd 2-0 Debenham LC
Saffron Walden Town 3-0 Wootton Blue Cross

Monday, August 13, 2007

Carlton Palmer for England (v San Marino), 17 February 1994

Ah, here he is. Sheffield Wednesday and England legend, defender, midfielder, manager, pundit agent?

Do you see what he did, there?

Are you a busy millionaire who spends so much time managing their multinational business that it leaves you no time to find your ideal overseas pied-a-terre? If you are, this is just for you. For a fee and all the first-class travelling expenses you can cough up, a gangly ex Stockport County midfielder can do the research and travel for you!

I tell you what. If I had a few hundred grand I wanted to blow on a huge foreign villa, there are only a few people I'd entrust it to less. I saw what he did to Mansfield Town.

Anyway. If you have any gripe with any clumsy tackle or hapless bit of "skill" the abrasive, awkward midfielder (Wikipedia's definition, not mine) goofed, you can take it up with him directly considering his e-mail address and mobile phone number are on the internet. It's a bit like the Flirt Divert number, only for football...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rio Ferdinand for Leeds Utd (v Deportivo La Coruna), 4 April 2001

The CUAS Predictions League

Firstly, a big "hello" to everyone at the Guardian who is reading this blog.

Hello! *waves*

The reason I mention this is that despite having lifted ideas for articles and blogs from this site on more than one occasion (famously here), they have this season decided to launch their "PickTheScore" game. Decide for yourself if it sounds familiar:

Pick the Score, Guardian Unlimited's new online football game, is free to enter and incredibly easy to play. Simply log in each week and predict the results of upcoming Premier League matches.

Hmmm. Reminds me of something.....

You can play on your own, if you're into that kind of thing, or create a mini-league to go up against your best friends...

So, a league table of people playing against one another. Interesting.

Once you've registered, click on "enter your predictions" to choose your picks for upcoming Premier League matches. You get one point for a correct result, and three points for getting both the result and score right.

Good lord. Anyone think that sounds just a little bit too much like the game we've run here for, er, two seasons....?

Cheeky b*stards. (this is from the paper that has got the right hump that it's daily irreverent football e-mail The Fiver is now being, er, copied by the Times who are sending a daily irreverent football e-mail at 4pm...)

Anyway, the CUAS Predictions League hath returneth in the same incarnation as previously. One point for the correct result, three for the correct score. Wildcards aplenty, grand prix style scoring and El Tel is now Shane is the man to beat.

Without further ado:

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

and how will some of the promoted clubs fare in the big league?

Charlton 3-0 Scunthorpe
Luton 2-0 Hartlepool
Morecambe 1-1 Barnet

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Carlos Tevez for West Ham Utd (vs Manchester Utd), 13 May 2007

Right then. As everyone knows, I'm not really very good at this... but it's become a bit of a tradition around these parts.

So. Here we go then.

ST's CUAS Predictions for the 2007/8 Premier League Season

1. Man Utd **Champions**

They may be pissing off their season ticket holders with their stealthy price rises, but the Glazers are certainly letting SAF invest in the team.... Hargreaves in particular should be crucial in adding a bit of ballast to a very attack-heavy team. The signing of Tevez could also be a masterstroke (match fitness permitting). How the hell do you go about marking a front three of Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo? Mind you, am I the only one getting a bit bored of Ferguson’s feud with the BBC? Old Carlos is amusing enough, I suppose, but isn’t it a bit ridiculous that he’ll talk to that clown Gary Newbon at halftime in the Champions League, but won’t be interviewed by MotD?

One to watch: Michael Carrick. Two-footed, great passer of the ball and with something of an eye for goal...It should be interesting to see how he blossoms now he will be free of anchorman duties. Giggs and Scholes are also crucial.

Fantasy Football signing: blimey, take your pick. The defence will be tight and the forwards will be free scoring. I've gone for Patrice Evra myself.

2. Chelsea

Surprisingly frugal in the close season, and already looking like they might have an injury crisis on their hands... but you can hardly write them off. The same thing was true last year and they still managed to push Utd close. They do seem very reliant on Terry, Lampard and Drogba though, and with all three injured going into the start of the season, it should be interesting to see how they cope.

One to watch: Jose Mourinho. The special one looked on the edge of walking out a few times last season. He's apparently patched up his relationship with Abramovitch, but will he make the end of the season?

Fantasy Football signing
: Plenty of people will opt for Terry, Lampard or Drogba, but I always go for Petr Cech. His injury last season cost Chelsea the title.

3. Liverpool

The new owners are certainly splashing the cash in an attempt to bridge the 21 points difference between them and Manchester Utd. Will Torres, Babel, Benayoun et al make any difference? Nah, they'll still finish 3rd. Expect a lot of bleating about history and tradition – as if this should somehow actually count for something in a title race.

One to watch: The real question is not where Liverpool will finish in the league, but how long will Rafa's beard last before he realises it is a catastrophic mistake...

FF signing: One of the defenders. Torres will be pricey and won't score enough goals.

4. Tottenham

This is a big season for Martin Jol. Spurs have made steady progress in the last few years, but with Arsenal's apparent slump, this looks like being their big chance to break into the top 4. Jol has been given time and money. If he doesn't do it this year, what odds on the Tony Soprano-a-like wearing a concrete overcoat and sleeping with the fishes?

One to Watch:
Jermaine Defoe. If he doesn't get the hint and do one soon, he'll be getting a lot of splinters.

FF signing
: Berbatov or Bent are worth a look, although both will be expensive. Should be some value in the defenders though. I've gone for Michael Dawson.

5. Arsenal

Interesting times at the Emirates. Thierry Henry limped and sulked his way to 11 goals last season and on the face of it will be very hard to replace. In practice though, the team might actually thrive now they have to look elsewhere for their inspiration. Fabregas is developing into one of the best midfielders in the world and players like Hleb, Gallas, Rosicky, Eboue, Adebayor and the like have a lot of quality.

One to watch:
Arsene Wenger. It's a big season for the inscrutable one. Will his friend David Dein return with some new owners, or will this be the final stand of one of the Premier League's longest serving and most successful managers? Is it just me, or does he look a bit Belgian?

FF signing: Eboue has been playing on the wing in some pre-season friendlies. Could be worth a look as the defence is likely to be solid.

6. Everton

Everton under Moyes have seemed to lurch from good season to bad season and then back again. They did well last year, but I reckon they'll break the jinx this time around and push for Europe again this year. They've not signed much, but what they've signed looks like it could "do a job".

One to watch: Phil Jagielka. Where will he play? Full back? Centre Back? Midfield? Goal? Truly the MacGyver of footballers.

FF signing: Arteta. Lots of assists. Perhaps Cahill if he stays fit and plays as a second striker.

7. Blackburn

Blimey, doesn’t it seem like a long time since Sir Jack Walker and Alan Shearer were celebrating beating Man Utd to the title. Fifteen years, in fact, and they’ve been relegated since then too. Still, Mark Hughes seems to be doing a decent job, although they are quite dull, aren’t they? Still, I imagine they’ll be effective again this season, although quite how useful Roque Santa Cruz will be in the Premiership remains to be seen.

One to watch: Jason Roberts. He’s a funny sort of a player. He’s obviously extremely talented, but he’s promised much at a number of clubs before ultimately disappointing. He seems comfortable at Rovers, but with Santa Cruz joining the club and Benni McCarthy already there, he’s still got a lot to prove.

FF signing: David Bentley. The new Beckham?

8. Aston Villa

Martin O’Neill’s arrival last time seemed to be the most important thing to happen at Villa Park in years, and although his first season was one of steady rather than spectacular progress, perhaps we should expect more this year. Reo-Coker looks like a handy signing, but crucially O’Neill has now got his feet under the table… Mind you, I’m sure that the football will still be fairly functional with Harewood and John Carew forming a fairly muscular front two.

One to watch: Nigel Reo-Coker. After the season he’s just endured at West Ham, Reo-Coker has an awful lot to prove. If he’s left his Bentley at home, we should be fine.

FF signing: Gareth Barry. Solid points scorer with steady assists and the odd penalty. I’ve also got a soft spot for Olof Mellberg, for some reason.

9. Portsmouth

Surely they can’t do as well as they did last season? They’ve got a nightmare start with games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool in their first 6 games. Mind you, with David James, Sol Campbell and Linvoy Primus anchoring their defence again this year, who knows?

One to watch: David Nugent. He was by far and away the best striker in the Championship last season and scored on his full England debut… he’s clearly brave because he snubbed Roy Keane and a possible move to Sunderland, but is he going to cut it in the Premier League?

FF signing
: Matty Taylor. He did brilliantly last year, partly because he was still being classified as a defender and thus benefited from all those clean sheet points…. But he also scored some absolutely cracking goals.

10. Newcastle

Surely the biggest news for Newcastle is that they have finally got rid of Fat Freddie Shepherd and in Big Sam Allardyce, they might finally have a manager with the drive and ambition to take them somewhere. As opening statements go, releasing Titus Bramble in your first week in charge will take some beating. Good riddance and a clear sign of things to come? “Ron” Geremi is a great signing, as is Mark Viduka… and if Michael Owen stays fit then who knows where they could go? What’s going on between the chairman and Big Sam though? Where are the really big signings? Why is Dyer still there?

One to watch: Shay Given. Always the key for Newcastle when they had such a shaky defence… perhaps he’ll have a bit of protection now?

FF signing: Geremi. Class act. Took free kicks for Chelsea, so should be some points there.

11. Reading

Steve Coppell is a genius. They were almost everyone’s favourites for relegation last year and they nearly got into Europe. They’ve lost Steven Sidwell to Chelsea, and not signed much, so will they be able to pull off the same trick this year?

One to watch: Coppell. He’s the one who makes the difference here.

FF signing: Kevin Doyle. Proven goalscorer.

12. Bolton

Little Sam has a tough act to follow in Big Sam, that much is for sure. We’re told that the rather robust Bolton style is going to be replaced by a shorter passing game, but frankly I’ll believe that when I see it. Kevin Davies and a fast, fluid passing game does not compute. Surely the only way is down?

One to watch: Gary Speed. He’s 37 years old and has just become the first team coach as well as the midfield lynchpin. Surely his presence in the side is absolutely critical for Sammy Lee getting his message across? How much longer can he keep going.

FF signing:
Nicolas Anelka. If Bolton score many goals, surely many of them will come from here. Plus, you never know, he might end up back at Arsenal.

13. West Ham

I’m sure Alan Curbishley will just be delighted to put last season behind him, but surely things won’t be as bad this year? The signings of Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljunberg will surely help, but perhaps the biggest bonus of all is the return of Dean Ashton from injury. No Tevez this time though…. But surely they won’t need a miracle this term?

One to watch: Craig Bellamy. He’s quick and talented and sure to score goals. Mind you, he’ll be worth watching just to see how quickly he blows up and goes after one of his team mates with a golf club. If Kieron Dyer ever signs, it might be worth watching Lee Bowyer too… ding ding… round 2.

FF signing
: Dean Ashton. The new Teddy Sheringham.

14. Middlesbrough

This is a big season for Gareth Southgate. He’s lost Viduka and is under pressure to sell Yakubu. How will he cope without the heaviest striking partnership in the league? Jonathan Woodgate has just been named as the worst signing in the history of the Spanish League (which seems harsh) but is clearly a critical figure for the club. Sadly, he’s injured again. I predict a difficult season.

One to watch: Gaizka Mendieta. Wasn’t this guy one of the best players in Europe? What the hell happened? Where is he? Why can’t he keep people like Lee Cattermole out of the side?

FF signing
: Stewart Downing. Does he really want to be at Boro? Will he be an even better pick if he moves to somewhere like Spurs?

15. Sunderland

Or “Roy Keane’s Sunderland” as everyone refers to them. Of the promoted sides, they are comfortably the favourites to avoid the drop. Whether they can or not probably depends as much on the manager as it does on the players.

One to watch
: Roy Keane. He’s confounded almost everyone with how he has carried himself as a manager, but how will he cope if his team struggles? He’s tried to sign a number of players and failed in pre-season and is the £9m signing of a Scottish goalkeeper an act of genius or of desperation? Time will tell. If he loses it, I imagine he will lose it big time.

FF signing
: Kieron Richardson. He’s clearly a tit, but he is a decent player and will surely score a few goals.

16. Man City

A potential England manager is replaced by a former England manager and a new owner who is under investigation for corruption and human rights abuses. Somehow that seems about par for the course with City. Eriksson has splashed the cash, but it seems likely that most of the players haven’t even met the manager yet, never mind any of their colleagues. It could be a long season.

One to watch
: Sven. Secretaries beware.

FF signing
. Perhaps worth taking a punt on Bianchi. Italian strikers have a dreadful record in English football, but this guy got 18 in Serie A last year… so you never know, right?

17. Fulham

This is Laurie Sanchez’s big chance in the Premier League, and he gave up the Northern Ireland job to make the most of it. Still, his signings should make him feel right at home: Baird, Davies, Hughes and Healey were all members of the Norn Iron side that beat Spain. They only avoided relegation by a single point last season, and I imagine it could be more of the same again this time around.

One to watch: David Healy. Phenomenally successful for Northern Ireland but often starting off the bench with struggling Leeds. How will he take to the Premiership? The answer will be critical to Fulham’s chances.

FF signing: Jimmy Bullard. Not quite back from injury yet, but is capable of scoring a lot of goals from midfield. As he was out for most of last season, he should also be relatively cheap.

18. Birmingham

Steve Bruce did really well to get Birmingham out of the maelstrom of the Championship last year, and rumour has it he was inches from getting the boot at Christmas… but he hung on and his side came back strongly to clinch automatic promotion. What are their chances this year? Where are the signings? Where will the goals come from? A struggle ahead, I think.

One to watch
: Gary McSheffrey. Once upon a time, the youngest player to appear in the Premier League (for Coventry, in 1999 and aged 16). He’s scored goals in the Championship and is a former England U-21 international. Can he make the step up?

FF signing. Hmm. Maik Taylor and Franck Quedrue are probably the best of a bad bunch, but you wouldn’t want to be relying on any clean sheet points. Forssell has done well in the past, I suppose.

19. Wigan

Wigan narrowly avoided relegation last year and the signing of Titus Bramble hardly fills me with any confidence that they’ll be able to avoid the drop again this year. Paul Jewell is another tough act to follow… and is Chris Hutchings really the man to do it?

One to watch: Titus Bramble. Once touted as an England defender in waiting, now just openly laughed at for his physique and his tendency to drop at least one bollock every single game. Perhaps the politest thing to say is that he has a lot to prove.

FF signing
. Jason Koumas. Wigan’s most creative player by a mile and a genuine talent. Should get plenty of assists and is a decent outside bet to be the club’s top scorer too.

20. Derby

Hmm. I think this is going to be a long hard slog.

One to Watch: Billy Davies. Seems a bit combustible and threatened to walk out immediately after the play-off victory last season. Who knows what he’ll do when his side start losing? Of the players, Lee Holmes is the one that is tipped for the top.

FF signing: Robert Earnshaw is unpredictable, but has scored goals at this level before.


To be honest though, your guess is as good as mine. One thing's for sure... I bet the Championship is a closer race! Could this finally be the year of the Old Gold? Super Freddie Eastwood for Golden Boot? Or 7th as usual?

Monday, August 06, 2007

David Platt for England (v Belgium), 26 June 1990

With the start of the English season just around the corner, I thought it an opportune moment to continue our journey through the lexicon of football with the latest instalment in the always excellent series...

The A-Z of Football

I is for Infiltration (

I've only done this a couple of times, but like I suspect a lot of fans who have lived away from their team's ground, I've attended games in the "wrong" part of the ground.

As a Newcastle fan, getting tickets to away games can sometimes prove tricky, and so, on two occasions, I've been forced to go undercover in order to watch my team play in the flesh.

Given my age, it's perhaps inevitable that my two instances of infiltration have come following the advent of all-seater stadia and as such the relative loss of atmosphere which follows left me feeling slightly safer than I might have been in days of terraces. As an indication that such deception was possible, I was once accompanied on to the Gallowgate terrace, in Newcastle's first season in the premiership by my Manchester United supporting cousin. As Man Utd took the lead in front of us his arms went up in celebration, only for the realisation that should he express his jubilation, an entire stand of disgruntled Geordies would be expressing their displeasure through the medium of punching (myself included - survival of the fittest and all that), so he quickly turned his cheer into a groan and clutched his head in mock anguish. Happily for me, Newcastle equalised though an Andy Cole header, and with honours even family harmony (and my cousin's skull) remained intact.

Obviously, this experience showed me that it was possible to stand amongst the enemy and survive. So, several years later as a student I took the opportunity to visit the cultural haven that is Coventry and their delightful Highfield Road ground. I've never been to a stadium with a worse atmosphere (and I've been to Highbury several times). The only chant which the Coventry fans mustered all afternoon was printed in the programme.

The game itself was typical Newcastle. Behind after Dion Dublin had cunningly hidden behind Shay Given, only to nip round and roll the ball into the net once the Irishman through it down to kick it forward, Newcastle had fought back only to go behind again, setting the stage for Robert Lee to hammer a thirty yard equaliser with minutes to go. Surprising my natural desire to leap up and punch the air I sat, head in hands, grinning like a Cheshire cat. However, such was the apathy of the home fans that several other clandestine Geordies had no such compunction about hiding their true colours - and seemed to suffer no ill affects either.

Encouraged by this, I arranged for a group of friends to attend a match between Newcastle and Leicester at Filbert Street a couple of years later. Unfortunately we only managed to get three away tickets between seven of us. So I phoned up the Leicester ticket office, and employing my complete lack of a Geordie accent to great effect secured four seats in the home end. Anticipating a similarly dowdy atmosphere to the Coventry game, off we headed to the game.

Suffice to say that the Leicester atmosphere was slightly more partisan than their west midlands counterparts, and for the good of our health the four of us followed the example set by my cousin and became vocal Leicester fans, although typically for Newcastle we were forced to celebrate a Leicester goal before hiding our relief as Newcastle equalised, before making our way back to the car avoiding the punch up which occurred outside the ground illustrating the fate which might have befallen us had we not been sufficiently adept at suppressing our allegiance.

I is for...Intelligence (El Tel)

Ok, just run with me for a little while here. my point is to suggest that football - at many levels - is regularly a platform for the kind of sublime, artful and socially outrageous intelligence that one tends to associate with the work of Nobel prize-winning scientists. Indeed, my aim is to draw a
parallel between, say, Stephen Hawking and Wayne Rooney.

In recent times, one textbook theory of intelligence - that of 'Multiple Intelligences' (Gardner, 1983) - has come to be associated with a whole mish-mash of skills and abilities that in years gone by would not have registered as evidence of 'intelligence'. In particular, there is 'bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence' - associated with learning and understanding through physical activity. Often, dance will be held up as a good example of this - after all, dance is not of such a low cultural order as something like football - much easier and more desirable to hold up a
Darcy Bussell than a Wayne Rooney. Also, we might refer to 'visuo-spatial intelligence' - associated with understanding the relationships between objects. In this case, a common example is the individual who can speedily complete a very large jigsaw puzzle - a much more accessible image than the manager who can render impotent an opposition's attacking formation that features dangerous flare players on each wing. All of which is well and good, but still, a bit dry.

Now, imagine - as I experienced as a youngster - being captivated by Peter Beardsley seeing shooting opportunities and unlikely dribbles that no-one else could see, or as a youngish adult, marvelling at defence-splitting passes from the twilight career of Nigel Clough. All of which is still a bit high profile. However, the same shots, passes and defensive equivalents, I recall as clearly from street football, schools football and informal 5-a-side knockabouts. Whilst oafish lumps would lazily interpret many of these abilities and moments as being down to 'ball-skills', there is
rarely the acknowledgement that some of these abilities say not so much of the feet, but about the eyes and the mind - seeing, suggesting and processing possibilities and impossibilities with lightning dexterity - and often not recognising this of themselves.

The stereotype of the thick footballer has rarely made sense to me, and why - because it is when the footballer is being a footballer that he is at his least thick. It's when the player leaves the pitch that it all goes pear-shaped, tits-up or Craig Bellamy. No, as culturally distasteful as it
might seem, in the language of football. I is for Intelligence.

I is for....Injury time -

You might think the phrase “what’s that for,” used repeatedly, is confined to childhood, when you would both provoke adoration and irritation in your parents by pointing at buttons, buses, sheep and feathers, then rolling out your well-practiced method of interrogation.

In adulthood, no one really likes to use the phrase as it suggests a lack of understanding, a slowness to grasp facts or even as far as rank, Goody-esque, stupidity. Except in one kind of place. At one particular time. Football ground. 90th minute. Throughout the land - “what’s that for?” though not said now with innocence, but incredulity.

All it takes is some mush on a touchline to hold up a big number ‘4’ to create howls of derision. Usually though from one end only, it’s quite the Dada-ist supporter that whistles intensely when his team are chasing a 2-1 deficit in the 92nd minute. However, on the other side of it, whether you’re holding on or seemingly cruising, anything over 2 will always cause the ol’ sphincter (where every supporter packs their inherent pessimism) to jiggle. Perhaps supporters would be less annoyed with the display if they took the Las Vegas boxing approach to number display. “6 minutes?!?! For fu… oh…well…heeeelllllo my pretty. No, I think that’s just about right.” For as we know all British football supporters have the mating instinct of a rakish toff.

Maybe not, but I’m sure most of that constituency wouldn’t exactly balk at the idea of bringing in intellectually unambitious girlies to wield the boards. Either that or force Tony Bloggs of, oh I don’t know, Deal, to pack a blonde wig in with the spare flags and his pencil sharpener. Over distance we’d never know. Mmm, think there might be some balking at that.

Of course, this is only the case in the games where a fourth official has been appointed. Tends to be down amongst us non-leaguers that we only get to see them in the FA competitions, although sometimes we might get a groundsman to raise up a token ‘1’ painted onto the side of a bin. Actually that’s not true (and shame on you if you considered it a possibility) but I have seen club manager’s hold up the appropriate number sub board on instruction from the ref, although this in itself is clear tokenism. We can manage most of the season, and even the big leagues never used to bother.

Isn’t there something to be said for the guessing game, when you have no idea how long the man in black will let your agony last? Yes, it hurts, but pain has to be intense, for pleasure to follow suit. If you know it’s three minutes, you will gradually dissolve towards calmness. However, with no idea, you relief will erupt in one pure, if soggy, ejaculation (soggy thanks to the involuntary grolly that flies out of your face with your “YEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHH”, of course). So, let this be my call, to bring back the days of injury time that is the refs to know and ours not-to-find-out-until-it’s-finished. Ignorance, as you’ll remember, is bliss. Well, eventually, after 2/3/4 minutes of ignorance being a bit more like a cheese grater against your weather-beaten nips.

Some people, fearing entrenchment in the car park probably, bypass all this by leaving after 85 minutes. I remember once, in my days of watching Southampton, I was at a game at the Dell (1st April 1989, I fool you not) and Saints hadn’t won in 20 games and were dicing with relegation. At home to a similarly troubled Newcastle, it was 0-0 until the dying moments when Saints were awarded a penalty. For reasons lost in the mists of time, and the demolition of that beautiful little ground, Mr Reliability (from the spot, anyway) Matthew Le Tissier was not on the field, and Neil Ruddock stepped up. He was fairly lithe in them days, but still, his placing of the ball on the spot didn’t exactly calm the nerves. Just as Razor started his run up, some arse started edging his way down our row to leave. He just cleared me in the last seat prior to the gangway as Razor welted it past the keeper, in doing so setting in motion Southampton’ pull to safety, and Newcastle’s drop into the second tier. It was the season that ended with Michael Thomas almost charged into the Anfield Road end after scoring a last minute second goal for Arsenal.

It was also almost a season when some guy committed only to the cause of being home in time for Little & Large, and not a 1,800 minute wait for 3 points, went barrelling down some steps in the West Stand at the Dingly. At my hands. He didn’t, despite the fact that I was only 11, and thus wasn’t totally sure of right or wrong then.

Now an adult, I realise it would certainly have been the responsible thing to do.

I is for…..Italy 1990 (Lord Bargain)

As we galloped towards the letter “I”, in my brain, and as a Manchester United fan I was (of course) inextricably drawn to writing about “injury time”. Has there been a more longstanding joke during the course of the Premiership than the notion that referees add enough time for United to score? Or how, of course, our most famous triumph occurred after the ninetieth minute…

But, as a result of being tardy with my piece I was beaten to that topic by the mighty Skif. A fair cop, guv’nor.

I remember running into the street at the outcome of a football match twice in my life. The first was into a quiet Portishead close after Norman Whiteside’s curling effort had won the 1985 FA Cup. The second was on a balmy July night in the summer of 1990.

Although I vaguely remember some of the 1986 tournament in Mexico (Gary Lineker’s bandaged wrist being raised after his hat-trick against Poland), the first World Cup that I remember with any conviction is the 1990 tournament in Italy. From the opening day as Francois Omam Biyick’s header squirmed under the body of Andres Pumpido in the Argentinian goal, the tournament is the one I have the best recollection of.

England’s preparation for the tournament was mixed. After a considerable unbeaten run, an Enzo Francescoli inspired Uruguay side beat Bobby Robson’s England 2-1 at Wembley in May. Then, the last pre-tournament warm-up game was an unmitigated catastrophe as a Steve Bull goal scraped a 1-1 draw against Tunisia.

By the time England lined up against the Republic of Ireland in Cagliari in June 11th, there had already been some great moments. We’d seen the emergence of Salvatore Schillachi and Tomas Skuhravy. We’d seen two great Lothar Matthaus goals against Yugoslavia. Earlier that day we’d seen the upset of the tournament so far as the minnows of Costa Rica beat Scotland 1-0.

England’s game, by contrast, was a pretty tepid affair. An early Gary Lineker goal failed to ignite England and Kevin Sheedy fired Ireland level half way through the second half. In the other group game a late Egypt equaliser denied the Dutch an opening day win.

A goalless draw with Holland failed to inspire the England faithful and Bobby Robson’s team went into the last game with Egypt needing something from the game. An inspired/lucky change of formation (fielding Mark Wright in a sweeper role) galvanised England and Wright’s goal was the deciding moment in a 1-0 win over Egypt. England were through.

In the round of 16, England were to face Belgium who had finished second in their group ahead of South Korea and precious winners Uruguay. The game itself was tight and Enzo Scifo came nearest to a winner in normal time with a fierce 30 yard drive that came back off Peter Shilton’s right hand post. The match was trickling towards the dreaded penalty shootout when England won a free kick forty yards from goal. Paul Gascoigne walked over to the ball and, bereft of other ideas shaped to shoot. John Barnes urged otherwise and told Gazza to loft the ball into the danger area. As the ball looped into the penalty area, substitute David Platt let the ball drop over his right shoulder and hooked the ball past the despairing dive of Michael Preud’homme for a 119th minute winner and resulted in Bobby Robson’s memorable touchline dance.

The last 16 round produced some other memorable moments, including Roger Milla’s brace for Cameroon against Columbia, the notorious Frank Rijkaard/Rudi Voller spitting incident and Ireland’s great penalty shootout victory against the Romanians.

So then to Naples for a World Cup quarter final for the rights to meet West Germany who had defeated Czechoslovakia 1-0 earlier in the day. England controlled the first half and deservedly went in 1-0 up at half time courtesy of a David Platt header. Then, a four minute Cameroon double turned the game on its head as firstly an Emmanuel Kunde penalty and a Eugene Ekeke strike put the Africans into a 2-1 lead.

With time running out, England were awarded an 83rd minute penalty which Gary Lineker coolly converted. As the first half of extra time was drawing to a close, Lineker was played through and fouled by a combination of defender and goalkeeper. The number 10 got up and dispatched the penalty and England held on for a 3-2 victory.

I ran into the street. Well. We were in the semi-finals of the World Cup….

Of course the semi-final is best left alone, I guess. England play well, Paul Parker’s deflection loops over an ageing Peter Shilton, Chris Waddle hits the inside of a post, Psycho’s penalty hits Bodo Illgner’s legs and Waddle’s spot-kick can still be seen heading out of our solar system.

And as for the final… Well.

So, great tournament it was not, but it’s the nearest we have come (and may I suggest will come) to winning that little gold trophy in my lifetime and the goals and personalities of that tournament remain the most iconic. And the USA were rubbish....

I is for…. International Management (Swiss Toni)

International management? Hardest game in the world.

Now, clearly I’m not talking about your Sven Goran Erikssons, your Graham Taylors or your Steve McClarens. They have a pretty difficult job, I agree, but it is one of the highest profile and prestigious jobs in the world, they do all seem to have a liking for the spotlight and were all pretty reasonably recompensed for their troubles, so I’m sure not sure that anyone should feel all that sorry for them.

No, I’m talking about real international football management. The kind where you slave away for hours and hours for no tangible reward. The kind where you spend all hours fretting over lists of players and staying up late into the night poring over tactics and permutations of different formations. The kind where even if you win everything that there is to win, there is precious little reward and absolutely no recognition.

Well, when I say “real international football management”, I actually mean nothing of the sort; I mean virtual international football management, the kind that you play on a computer.

I’ve been playing “Championship Manager” and “Football Manager” in their various incarnations for more than a decade now, and although I have been phenomenally successful (except when managing Wolves), becoming an international manager is still the holy of holies.

In all those years, I have only really ever tasted real success at international level once. Under their inspirational young manager, Swiss Antonio, Roma had won everything European football could offer over and over again. When the Italian FA came calling, who was I to refuse? The national team was in a parlous state and qualification for the next European Championships was looking doubtful. Enter the new manager, and enter too a new crop of players… joining established but underachieving internationals like Francesco Totti, Antonio Cassano and Fabio Cannavaro were Italian-Brazilian Robson Ponte and Italian-Argentinian Julio Arca. The team were encouraged to play a more attacking game with quicker, slicker short passing… and the results soon followed. Qualification for the finals of the European Championships was achieved, and the tournament was then thrillingly won, in spite of a long-term injury to Totti. The world cup campaign that followed saw more of the same, and the Antonio’s team marched on to the final, where they took on the might of Brazil and were only narrowly beaten (which frankly was my best result after several reboots… damn but they were a good team. I don’t like to cheat, but this was ridiculous). This disappointment was soon worked off when the team came back to Europe, where they extended their tenure as European Champions for another 4 years (without cheating), during the course of which Ponte overhauled Christian Vieri as his country’s top scorer, all the while playing in an attacking-midfield role.

Happy days.

The Italian FA were naturally delighted, and Swiss Antonio was something of a legend throughout Italy… but the game had begun to pall for the young manager and he disappeared (well, he upgraded his computer and had to start all over again). But damn, in those few short years, Swiss Antonio had achieved a whole lot more than Steve McClaren ever will, and for a whole lot less money too.

Actually, my favourite ever Championship Manager moment came when I was the manager of Barnet and had, over the course of a number of years, taken them all the way up to the top division. Spearheading this advance had been a striker I had signed when the team had been playing in the old Fourth Division called Paul Brazier. He cost me buttons, but scored at least 20 goals every season through all of those promotions, and finally, at the age of 33 received his first England call-up. I was properly choked up and as proud as proud could be. A computer manager had just called up one of my virtual players to a simulated international team, and I was dancing around the room. Wolves hardly ever have that effect on me in the real world.

Have you read the papers recently? Sheffield Utd are taking the Premier League to the High Court to try and reverse their relegation; West Ham have been splashing the cash and having already signed Craig Bellamy, are apparently keen to sign Kieron Dyer; Manchester Utd have been trying (and trying) to sign Carlos Tevez, only to find out that there is a lot of dispute over who really owns his registration; the new owner of Manchester City is a former Thai prime minister being investigated for human rights abuses and whose first move is to appoint Sven Goran Eriksson as manager. You couldn’t make some of this stuff up.

Computer football is just so much more realistic.

I is for....intelligence (Ben)

Last time out, my subject was Alan Hansen, whom I lauded as a giant of punditry largely (it has to be said) by virtue of the diminutive stature of his competition. If you had to put your finger on what it is that makes so many of Hansen’s fellow pundits so excruciating to listen to, you’d ultimately have to say it’s because footballers are by their very nature, well, a bit thick.

Ex-pros – so the thinking goes – make for good pundits because they know football from the inside, and thereby complement commentators and presenters whose experience of the beautiful game comes only from looking on from the sidelines. Pundits can help you understand the tactics, the mind games, the physical exertion, the levels of skill, what it means to win or lose.

The problem is, of course, that most footballers lack the ability to string a simple sentence together, which negates the value and usefulness of any insight they might be able to contribute. How expressive you can be with your feet bears absolutely no relation to how expressive you can be with your tongue.

It would be wrong, admittedly, to tar all footballers with the same brush. After all, Barry Horne and David Weatherall both have Chemistry degrees; former Watford defender Steve Palmer has an MSc in Computing; Arjan de Zeeuw, who has a degree in Medical Science, was recently signed up by a fellow graduate, Coventry manager Iain Dowie. Our very own Steve Harper has a degree from the Open University; with Shay Given blocking his path to the first team, he at least found something constructive to do with his time. And Eric Cantona is a lover of the arts, and a philosopher well-respected enough for his views on good and evil to be considered alongside those of Thomas Aquinas.

However, these are pretty much the exceptions who prove the rule. Cantona’s intelligence was one of the things that marked him out as different, special. And for every football-playing graduate comfortable with polysyllabic words, there are twenty slackjawed Wayne Rooneys erming their way through interviews, their brows furrowing as they dribble their way through sentences like they’re dribbling through a tightly-packed defence.

But, lest we forget, footballers are paid exorbitant amounts not to be articulate but to play football and win matches, hopefully entertaining the paying spectators in the process. To paraphrase that reliable voice of reason Paul Calf, why does everyone say David Beckham’s a brilliant footballer but a bit stupid? After all, no-one says, “That Stephen Hawking – he’s a bit shit at football. Stuck him on the wing and he did nowt for 90 minutes.”

So it’s unfair to mock players for not being the brightest stars in God’s sky. Generally, they don’t choose to inflict their thoughts on us; rather, they are pursued, pressured and prompted into speech, expected to perform with microphones constantly thrust under their noses. Even those hopelessly inarticulate players who go on to a career in punditry only do so because the opportunity is there, offered to them on a plate by a media hungry to get closer to the action and desperate to fill up allotted time slots and sports pages with supposedly authoritative voices. Yes, BBC and ITV, you read that right – I’m blaming YOU for Ian Wright, Andy Townsend, Robbie Earle and Garth Crooks…


I would mention that I have won the World Cup twice on Championship Manager, once as France and once as England (I know!)

I'm just sayin'.

Coming soon: The return of the Predictions League....

David Unsworth for Wigan (vs Sheffield Utd), 13 May 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ryan Giggs for Manchester Utd (vs Chelsea), 5th August 2007

Given that we've just sat through the Community Shield and a new season is already upon us, I thought it was probably about time that we picked over the bones of my predictions for last season.

1. Chelsea [actual position: 2nd]

I said: "Boring boring boring. I’d love them to be astonishingly shit, but I can’t see them finishing anywhere but first. They’ve just gone and bought bloody Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko."

Hmm. Actually they had a really difficult season (by their standards) and still nearly one. Ballack and Shevchenko possibly overrated..... by me and by Jose Mourinho anyway.

2. Liverpool [actual position: 3rd]

I said: "Getting better year on year under Benitez and looks to have added sensibly this time."

True enough, but another good run in the Champions League and slow progress in the league. was right about Craig Bellamy getting into trouble too! FORE!

3. Man Utd [actual position: 1st]

I said: "I thought they were rubbish last year, and yet they still somehow managed to finish strongly in second place. They look a striker short, but they’ll have Heinze, Solskjaer and Scholes back this season and Michael Carrick and (possibly) Owen Hargreaves are surely a much better bet than the Djemba-Djembas, Klebersons and Darren Fletchers of this world, aren’t they?"

... and I picked them to finish 3rd?

I'll get my coat.

4. Arsenal [actual position: 4th]

I said: "Ooooh. Get them in their posh new stadium. Twice the capacity of Highbury, but at what cost? £260m of debt and only one signing thus far (albeit a good one). They’ve still got Thierry Henry, mind you, and he’ll be enough to see them land a top 4 place."

Well, right about 4th... but they did it mostly without Henry.

5. Tottenham [actual position: 5th]

I said: "Martin Jol has done a great job here, hasn’t he? Unlucky to be beaten to that last European Cup slot last season and with a side packed with decent players".

obvious, but true. I was right about Defoe stewing on the bench too. With the signing of Darren Bent, why exactly is he still there?

6. Blackburn [actual position: 10th]

I said: "Ok. So now I’m going to start guessing. If the top 5 pick themselves, then I think it’s fair to say that the next 15 places are more or less entirely up for grabs."

So true.

I also said: "No Bellamy, but with players like McCarthy, Reid, Bentley, Pedersen and Roberts, should give most sides a good game. Solid defence too."

Perhaps I was a bit optimistic, but they did okay and I expect the same this year too.

7. Bolton [actual position: 7th]

I said: "If Big Sam can stop crying about the England job and the loss of Dietmar Hamann, then they’ll probably be alright in that not-very-pretty-but-undeniably-effective way."

Ha. Just ignore what I said about Nolan and Stelios being their main goalscorers, and I look like a genius with this one. Newcastle would be happy if Sam delivers this for them in 2007/8 won't they?

8. Everton [actual position: 6th]

I said: "Will no doubt be intensely dull to watch"


9. West Ham [actual position: 15th]

I said: "Just how much will Alan Pardew rue England’s friendly with Greece? Thanks to his collison with the colossal bulk of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Dean Ashton will be out of action until November, and with him surely goes West Ham’s Plan ‘A’. Can ‘Marvellous’ Marlon Harewood cover for Ashton’s absence by continuing his barely believable Premiership goalscoring record? Surely not?"

I was right, but I certainly never saw their season coming.

10. Aston Villa [actual position: 11th]

I said: "Two words: Martin O’Neill. Post match interviews should get a whole lot more interesting, anyway. Surely not hard to improve on last year’s flirtation with relegation."

Well, we're still waiting. They were dull last year, albeit much improved. It should be interesting to see if O'Neill has moved them forwards much this year.

I also said: "Watch out for: The signing of a big lump to play up front for a more direct style of play."

John Carew anyone?

11. Newcastle [actual position: 13th]

I said: "Watch out for: Glenn Roeder to be under early pressure from idiot chairman Fat Freddie Shepherd."

Roeder went eventually, and finally fat Freddie has followed him out the door. Surely better things ahead?

12. Portsmouth [actual position: 9th]

I said: "I’m not sure that Harry Redknapp knows what to do with all that money. It shouldn’t be hard to improve on last year’s near relegation, but any defence containing David James, Sol Campbell and Glenn Johnson is going to have its comedy moments, isn’t it?"

Well, wrong on almost every count. They had a great season and their defence was magnificent.

13. Charlton [actual position: 19th]

I said: "On the face of it, Ian Dowie has an impossible job: how can he ever match up to Curbs?"


14. Wigan [actual position: 17th]

I said: "A great first season in the Premiership, but they surely can’t do that again"

No, they couldn't.

15. Man City [actual position: 14th]

I said: "I’m bored now. Dull side. Won’t do much."


16. Middlesborough [actual position: 12th]

I said: ....nothing of interest at all. But look at them. Can you blame me?

17. Sheffield Utd [actual position: 18th]

I said: "I have a confession: I quite like Neil Warnock and I look forward to seeing what kind of a swathe he can cut in the Premiership. The Blades have been one of the best sides in the Championship for the last five years, and it will be interesting to see how players like Michael Tonge and Phil Jagielka cut the mustard. I’d like them to stay up. I’m not sure they will, but I’d like them too."

So nearly right.....

18. Fulham [actual position: 16th]

I said: "Struggle – especially if they don’t persuade Steed Malbranque that he’d really like to stay another season."

Well, Malbranque left and they're still hanging on in there.

19. Reading [actual position: 8th]

I said: "Another side who have been good in the Championship for a number of years and who I would be delighted to see make a decent fist of the Premiership. As a Wolves fan, I’ll be very interested to see how Seol does, but if he’s their biggest signing, then I think they’ll struggle."

Wrong. They were brilliant and Coppell was justifiably manager of the season too. Seol did a job for them too...

20. Watford [actual position: 20th]

I said: "Whipping boys, surely?"

All too predictable.


If I get half an hour at work in the next week, I'll try and whip up my totally unscientific thoughts on this year's league too.


The actual premiership table:

1 Man Utd
2 Chelsea
3 Liverpool
4 Arsenal
5 Tottenham
6 Everton
7 Bolton
8 Reading
9 Portsmouth
10 Blackburn
11 Aston Villa
12 Middlesbro'
13 Newcastle
14 Man City
15 West Ham
16 Fulham
17 Wigan
18 Sheff Utd
19 Charlton
20 Watford