Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester Utd (v Birmingham City), 29 September 2007

Considering that the nice folks at the Guardian have long used this site as inspiration, I took the step a couple of weeks ago of saving them the trouble to search and actually sent them links to my ongoing opposition to Manchester United's "automatic cup ticket scheme" which resulted in the return of my season ticket last week.

I note that Paul Wilson has either seen my piece or found out about this nonsensical scheme from another source and written an excellent article about it here.

This follows a piece in the Times a couple of weeks ago which I had to write to the editor to correct as it stated that "....United season tickets now include admission to Cup games..." (absolutely untrue) to which I received a very polite response from the journalist involved confirming that yes, I was absolutely right (his original piece said as much and his point was rather lost by the sub-editor abridging his article to fit the space they had).

The Hon Beverley Hughes, MP for Stretford has also written to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport and asked them to get involved also.

I doubt if this will do any good in the long run, and my season ticket has already gone back, but if the negative publicity makes other clubs think twice about treating their fans as a bottomless pit of money and football finally realises that ticket prices are getting to unsustainable levels, it'll be all worthwhile.

Paul Wilson's article is excellent and makes some really good points. Now then. What can we get them to discuss next...?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Michael Mifsud for Coventry City (v Manchester Utd), 26 September 2007

Hello all. Predictions time again....

(I will update the table in due course. Manflu/exhaustion are this weeks excuses....)

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

and how about some wildcards from next weeks Champions League?

Stuttgart 1-2 Barcelona
Celtic 0-1 AC Milan
Lazio 1-1 Real Madrid

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kenny Miller for Derby County (v Newcastle Utd), 17 September 2007

Hello all. You can laugh along or cry miserably about the demise of the Special One here. Lasted less time than Sammy Lee? Surely some mistake?

Anyway, must get on. Something about a wedding this weekend. I know, I know. On a weekend with fixtures and *everything*.....

Anyway, Stephen Ireland, eh? Heh heh heh heh heh. What a cock.

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

and wildcards from the Women's World Cup:

Germany Women 3-1 N Korea Women
USA Women 2-1 England Women

Andriy Shevchenko for Chelsea (vs Rosenborg), 18th September 2007

Say what you like about Jose Mourinho, but he certainly gave the Premier League a bit of much needed colour. Apart from anything else, he's the only manager I can think of that has managed to get a rise out of the otherwise preternaturally calm and composed Arsene Wenger. For that alone, we should surely salute him.

I don't know quite what Roman Abramovich thought he was doing by hounding out the best decision he ever made, but I imagine it's something he can find out at his leisure as Avram Grant puts Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack straight into the side....

I don't imagine Jose will be out of work for very long, but in them meantime, here's a selection of some of the quotes (brazenly stolen from Wikipedia) that made us love him in the first place.

"Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one."

"There are only two ways for me to leave Chelsea. One way is in June 2010 when I finish my contract and if the club doesn't give me a new one. It is the end of my contract and I am out. The second way is for Chelsea to sack me. The way of the manager leaving the club by deciding to walk away, no chance! I will never do this to Chelsea supporters."

"We have top players and, sorry if I'm arrogant, we have a top manager."

"If I wanted to have an easy job...I would have stayed at Porto - beautiful blue chair, the UEFA Champions League trophy, God, and after God, me."

"If he helped me out in training we would be bottom of the league and if I had to work in his world of big business, we would be bankrupt." - on Chelsea F.C. owner Roman Abramovich (I guess now we'll see, eh?)

"I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea." - on Arsène Wenger

"Look, we're not entertaining? I don't care; we win."

"Young players are a little bit like melons. Only when you open and taste the melon are you 100 percent sure that the melon is good.Sometimes you have beautiful melons but they don't taste very good and some other melons are a bit ugly and when you open them, the taste is fantastic."

"Omelette, eggs. No eggs, no omelettes. It depends on the quality of the eggs. In the supermarket you have eggs, class one, class two, class three. Some are more expensive than others, and some give you better omelettes. When the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem"

Come back soon Jose. We'll miss you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Michael Owen for Newcastle Utd (v Wigan Athletic), 2 September 2007

So after all the excitement of the international break, England's world-beating heroes return to Premiership action. Ooooh We beat the mighty Israeli's and a transitional Russian side. Give us the trophy now....

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

and wildcards from the Swedish Allsvenskan:

IFK Goteburg 2-1 IF Elfsborg
Halmstads BK 1-1 AIK
Malmo FF 2-0 Orebro SK

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

James McFadden for Scotland (v France), 12 September 2007

I wonder why it is that I am really chuffed for the Scots for turning over one of the world's best international sides and am smiling broadly when I see them atop a group containing the world champions, runners up and quarter finalists, when the reverse wouldn't happen in a million years.

What makes the English generally pleased for success for the other home nations (and Ireland) whereas the rest of Great Britain (on the whole) wants nothing more to see England suffer and struggle?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester Utd (v Fulham), 22 March 2003

[Predictions are here.]

Thanks to all for the kind comments of support on the ongoing United ticket fiasco.

This policy has attracted a great amount of support and interest all over the interwebs - so far I have seen commentary and discussion about it here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here (thanks to ST for the links, apologies if I have missed anyone.)

It is an issue that seems to cross partisan divides and to that effect, if any of you can generate some coverage or encourage debate about this issue with your respective online commentators, I'd be really grateful. It's a fight that will continue (in the courts as well as with fan groups) and if defeated, it might make other clubs think twice about applying the same level of "loyalty tax" (great term, Paul).

I've also written to the local MP to ask for her support. Fat chance I'll get it, of course, but there you go.

One point I would make is that I have seen comments asking why I renewed my season ticket in the light of this policy. The answer is twofold. Firstly, I had 48 hours notice that I had to renew, and I made a snap decision without properly considering the implications. Furthermore, I had made the decision between July and now that I would not be renewing my season ticket in light of this policy for the 2008/9 season (as people I know will confirm). This Roma issue has just brought the issue to an earlier head than I anticipated.

Secondly, I knew from MUST that battlelines against this scheme had already been drawn and that they were supporting one or more court cases questioning the legality of the policy. Were these to be successful of course, I could continue as before which would have been (just about) acceptable.

Finally, I would also mention that there has always been a facility for fans to buy their own seats for cup matches. Before this season you got a week or so to buy your own seat, and then if you chose not to, the ticket went on general sale. It's only this season it has been compulsory to buy the seat.

Again, thanks for the support and, spread the word.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Zat Knight for Aston Villa (v Chelsea), 2 September 2007

Irrespective of your team affiliation, I'd encourage you to spend a couple of minutes and read a story about the sad state of the English game (and football in general) here.

See? Horrendous.

And now for some "finger in the air" bizarre international predictions:

Croatia 3-0 Estonia
England 2-0 Israel
Italy 1-1 France
Latvia 1-1 Northern Ireland
Portugal 2-1 Poland
Scotland 2-1 Lithuania
Serbia 3-1 Finland
Slovakia 1-2 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-0 Denmark
Wales 0-3 Germany

and if they weren't wild enough we'll go to the Blue Square Leagues:

Crawley Town 2-0 Droyslden
Kettering 1-0 Boston Utd
Hayes & Yeading 2-2 Basingstoke

(I will update the scores in due course...)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bryan Robson for Manchester Utd (v Brighton and Hove Albion), 25 May 1983

Today, my love affair with my football club, officially, and sadly, ended.

I, and thousands of others have been fighting with Manchester United for several weeks now over their "automatic cup tickets scheme". In short, the club were refusing to release season tickets to fans unless they agreed to purchase a ticket for every home cup game this season.

I received an e-mail today telling me that the club had tried, unsuccessfully, to debit my account with £38 for the home tie against Roma on Tuesday 2 October. The e-mail said:

"In the event of a card or payment being declined: (i) a ticket will not be issued, (ii) where the season ticket holder is a One Year Only Season Ticket holder, such season ticket holder may lose their priority position on any season ticket waiting list, and (iii) the season ticket holder will be liable to pay any resulting bank or other similar charge incurred by the Club. In addition, if a card or payment is declined on two or more occasions (whether during a single season or over the course of more than one season) the Club shall have the right to: (i) terminate the season ticket holder’s participation in the Season Ticket Holders Home Cup Ticket Scheme; (ii) withdraw the season ticket holder’s season ticket with immediate effect and/or; (iii) terminate any other arrangements that the season ticket holder has with the Club."

I called the ticket office today and a young fella answered the phone. I gave him my membership number and when he asked as to the nature of my call I bet him a pound I wouldn't be the first person he had dealt with with my query.

"You don't want to buy a ticket for the Roma game, do you?" he said.

I can't go to the game. And so, unless I pay £38 for a game I can't attend, my season ticket will be withdrawn. And so, I told him that I won't be buying a ticket, and that I'll wait for my refund to come through as I hand my season ticket back.

I don't know how this has happened. I am about the staunchest and most committed football fan I know. I go, I watch, I inwardly digest. I can tell you pretty much every United player for the last 20 years, scores in Cup finals for decades. I can tell you who scored for Berwick Rangers on Saturday and who Macclesfield Town's manager is.

And yet, today, I have had to disassociate myself with a football club who I have loved for longer than I got to love my father. Despite 15 years of pretty loyal attendance, some amazing highs, standing in the p*ssing rain on dark winter away days and home losses to Crystal Palace, Manchester United has been woven into the fabric of my life more than any relationship, job or pet. And today, my loyalty and unwavering support has been cast aside in the pursuit of nothing more than a quick buck.

It's not even the finances, although for thousands of fans I imagine it is. Creeping season ticket prices have been a cause of concern for a few years now, but this is more fundamental. It's the moment you realise that it's ceased to become about the football and that you are merely a way of the business maximising its income. The club doesn't care about its loyal supporters any more and is prepared to trade them in in search of corporate hospitality and casual tourists who are prepared to pay overinflated prices.

Perhaps I should have seen it coming, or people will say that we deserved it. And maybe they are right. But that doesn't mean that I can't be angry and, let's not beat about the bush, really quite upset about the fact I have effectively been dumped by a lover I have had for twenty five years.

And for those fans out there currently basking in the joy of foreign investment and a team full of international players, this is a cautionary tale. Yes, you - fans of Liverpool and Chelsea and Villa and West Ham and Manchester City, it may all seem like great fun now, but wait until your club screws you for every last penny and disenfranchises you too.

And what happens then? Those true fans up and down the country who have walked away from their respective clubs - those who are the soul of the game - are gone. When the bubble bursts who is left? Drunk City traders on a jolly and casual supporters?

It might seem overdramatic, but I can't believe after all this time it's got to this point. And the worst part of it all is that I am sure there are hundreds and thousands like me feeling just the same.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Emile Heskey for England (v Malta), 3 June 2000

So, after 39 months in the international wilderness, England's struggling Euro 2008 campaign took an increasingly desperate left turn yesterday when all-round hapless lunatic Emile Heskey (left) was recalled to the England squad.

Coupled with an injury list that reads like a "who's who" of international underperformance and disappointment, England head into a crucial set of matches with their most halfwitted coach since the Turnip and a side that most second rate international nations should see off with no bother.

How has this happened? Coach wise (as I have always said), Eriksson was competent. I think the revisionist view on Sven will end up being pretty favourable, considering the sows ears he had to work with to make his silk purse. Was his choice of Vassell, Heskey or Defoe any worse than the current options? I'm not sure. McLaren, however, appears to believe that grinning inanely and treating his international players like schoolkids (Carragher, Bentley, Beckham, even) is the way forward.

And then there's the players. Despite England having one or two international standard players (Rooney? Gerrard?) this is probably the worst set of English top flight players since the early 1990s. Despite the Premiership being the richest (and supposedly best) league in the world, the dearth of English talent is immense. 9% of the Premiership's goals this season have been scored by English strikers, and, with the greatest of respect, I can't see Cameron Jerome (2), Michael Chopra (2), Matt Derbyshire or Victor Anichebe (who has chosen to represent Nigeria anyway) troubling major international defences (Heskey and Darren Bent are the others).

When an injury to Kieron Dyer is portrayed as a huge blow to England's chances, you know something serious is up. And you know what? Something serious is up. England are in real trouble that even a fully fit first choice XI would struggle to remedy. And this weekend's second choice and second rate selection leave me with no confidence at all.