Thursday, December 22, 2011

Luis Suarez for Liverpool (v Queens Park Rangers), 10 December 2011

It's been a good week for racism in football. Luis Suarez has been banned by eight matches and fined £40,000 for racially abusing Patrice Evra whilst Chelsea and England captain John Terry faces a racially aggravated public order charge for allegedly abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand in a match in October.

Both men could be guilty or both could be innocent. I suspect there are lots of people who would like to see Terry found guilty of his charge - not least because he epitomises almost everything that is wrong with paying chavs millions of pounds a year for kicking a ball about -although he is innocent until proven guilty and the courts will decide his fate.

What is extremely unpalatable is the way in which both clubs - particularly Liverpool - have reacted to these claims. Let's not forget that Suarez has already been found guilty by an independent tribunal which means (appeal pending, of course) that he has been found guilty of using racist/abusive language during a match.

Imagine you'd been found guilty of racist/abusive behaviour towards one of your colleagues at work. Do you imagine that your boss and all your colleagues would turn up for work the following day wearing t-shirts with your name on as a show of support? Do you expect your company would have made a statement condoning the decision and questioning the integrity of the person who made the allegations?

Of course they wouldn't. Let's face it - you would be lucky to keep your job at all. There are lots of companies that would march you to the front door with your belongings and sack you immediately for gross misconduct. They would also release a statement saying that racist behaviour cannot be tolerated and that these sorts of harsh measures have to be taken in order to eliminate this problem.

And that is why it's been a good week for racism in football. It's all very well for the FA and other bodies to hand down serious punishments for racist behaviour - and potentially the courts in Terry's case - but if the employers such as Liverpool continue to defend the actions of their players it shows that the clubs really don't care about taking racism seriously.

The Guardian hits the nail on the head when talking about the decision by the Liverpool team and management to wear t-shirts supporting their striker before Wednesday's match at Wigan: "This was a high-profile international found guilty of racist abuse 24 hours earlier and, raging with a sense of injustice or not, as Liverpool clearly are, they were inappropriate gestures at this stage of an already damaging saga".

In many ways Terry's case is similar in that it shows how different a footballer is treated in his situation than the rest of us. Again, say you had been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence having allegedly shouted racist abuse at someone in your office or in the streets. You'd subsequently been charged and have to appear in court next year.

Do you think your employers would jump to your defence? Do you think they'd continue to let you be the spokesperson for your organisation (or indeed your country) as Terry is as club as national captain?

Of course they wouldn't. What would happen is that you would be suspended from your job immediately the allegations were made. If found innocent you'd be reinstated immediately and if found guilty you'd be lucky to last the day before receiving your P45.

Again, Chelsea have failed to take the issue seriously and just one sentence from Andre Villas-Boas shows why: "We know exactly his human values and personality, so we will support him whatever happens."

Chelsea will support John Terry whatever happens. That means that if he is found guilty of this offence and is proved to be a horrible racist then his employers will support him. Is that taking a stance in kicking racism out of football? Of course it isn't. And this is why the FA and FIFA are wasting their time trying to kick racism out of football. If the clubs are prepared to support and defend racist behaviour, then it won't ever stop.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Karl Henry for Wolves (vs Charlton), 28th March 2008

I've received an early Christmas present.

Much to my wife's delight, our kitchen calendar next year will be the Official Wolverhampton Wanderers FC Calendar for 2012.

I don't know what it's like in your house, but in ours, the kitchen calendar is the source of all knowledge: if it's not in the calendar, then it's not happening.  For the next twelve months, we will be planning and mapping out our lives next to photos of some real Old Gold heroes.  As a sort-of closet Gooner, this will no doubt pain my wife.  Also, our strip no doubt clashes with the daffodil yellow we've apparently painted our kitchen with.....

Of course, the big risk with a calendar like this is that you could get to October and spend all month reliving your bitterness about the fact that you're going to be looking at a picture of a Kevin Doyle who actually left the club in the January transfer window.... but I suppose that's a risk you're just going to have to take.

Things already aren't looking all that great for January's poster boy: Roger Johnson was our big summer signing, but he's just been dropped from the side in favour of a 36 year old Jody Craddock (who hasn't been given a page this year at all, but as a club legend should probably get one every year, right?  Steve Bull should probably always be in there somewhere too.  Maybe John de Wolf too.  Andy Mutch, perhaps?  Robbie Dennison? Mick Stowell?  Bugger the current lot, let's stick to the classics).

Do you think that the players at clubs across the country reach nervously for their copies of the official club calendar as soon as it's printed to see if they've been included?  If you've been left out, then what does that say about your future at the club?  Or if you're desperate to leave, what if you've been put on December?  Is that the equivalent of issuing a "hands off!" statement to other clubs in Football Manager? 

Do manager's insist on copy approval?  Maybe they should.  ("Karl Henry for November?  If he's still playing for us then, then we really will be fucked!")

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sócrates for Brazil (vs USSR), 14th June 1982

Farewell then to Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira.  Better known throughout the world simply as Sócrates, captain of perhaps the best side not to win the World Cup.  60 caps and 20 goals for Brazil; drinker; smoker; political activist; humanitarian; surely one of the greatest, coolest players to grace the game.

Check out this goal from the 1982 World Cup match against the USSR.

When asked which of Pele or Maradona was the greater player, Sócrates simply replied, "who cares?"... which is of course the correct answer.

A very, very cool guy, and also the owner of what must surely be the greatest beard football has ever seen.

1954 - 2011.


His namesake had a pretty handy beard too, it must be said.  It wasn't the only thing they had in common: both died from complication arising from food poisoning.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Darren Ambrose for Crystal Palace (v Manchester United), 30 November 2011

101 Great Goals #58 - Darren Ambrose

Gary Neville called it the best goal he had ever seen an opposition player score at Old Trafford. It's a bold claim, but Darren Ambrose's strike that helped knock Manchester United out of the Carling Cup was an absolute belter.

And here at Cheer Up Alan Shearer we're delighted to bring you this superb goal with some rare Alan Partridge commentary. Truly a beautiful moment...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gary Speed for Wales (against Moldova), 12th October 1994

Before I say anything else, let me just make it clear that I think that Gary Speed’s death yesterday, at the age of 42, is unquestionably tragic; an awful, shocking piece of news. It’s difficult for me to imagine a circumstance so terrible that hanging myself seemed the best option, and I hope I never experience anything remotely approaching it. At the moment it seems pointless to speculate on the circumstances surrounding Speed’s death. For me, it’s enough to know that another human being reached the point where he took his own life. Horrible.

Gary Speed was an excellent footballer: you don’t make 840 domestic appearances (including a once-record 535 Premier League games) or win 85 caps for your country without having some talent. Listening to the hysterical coverage over the media yesterday in the wake of the news of his death, however, and you’d imagine that he was one of the most remarkable people ever to live. Mark Pougatch was anchoring BBC Radio Five Live’s coverage, and his reaction was typically overblown: he remarked that he had never, in the whole of his broadcasting career, which includes presenting current affairs programmes, covered a story so remarkable. I can understand why friends and colleagues of Speed – people like Robbie Savage and Shay Given – would be stunned by the news of the sudden death of someone close to them. But everyone else? Was it really a stop all the clocks moment?

If – and it’s apparently by no means certain – Speed was suffering from depression, then we can hope that this news serves to help spread understanding and awareness of an awful condition that can strike anyone, no matter how famous, wealthy or happy they may superficially appear to be. There have already been a number of high profile footballers who have suffered from depression in recent years: coincidentally, Stan Collymore wrote movingly about his own experiences of the illness on Saturday, at more or less the same time as Speed was appearing on the BBCs Football Focus programme, talking brightly of his plans for a future. Less then 24 hours later, Gary Speed was dead and that future - his future - died with him.

It’s only a couple of years too since the German International goalkeeper, Robert Enke  killed himself in 2009 at the age of 32 after battling with depression for six years. It’s an awful, often invisible condition, that strikes without warning and without discrimination and that we understand so poorly.

Speed’s death was sad; the tragedy of a life snuffed out too soon. A tragedy for sure, but also the kind of tragedy that happens every day. Every death is a tragedy in its own way: every soldier or civilian blown up in Afghanistan, even those who don’t receive a funeral procession through Royal Wooton Bassett, every child in the third world who dies of a treatable illness, every cancer victim, every road traffic accident, those Russian sailors not rescued by Prince William… but not every passing will be marked by minutes of silence or of applause, or by tearful fans tying scarves to the gates of football clubs or by special phone-in programmes on the radio. Gary Speed was clearly a much loved and respected man, but it should not lessen the tragedy of his death on Sunday to acknowledge that he was just another human being in a long list whose lives ended too soon. In the UK alone, the statistics tell us that 15 other people took their own lives on the very same day that Speed took his (more than 6,000 each year in the UK and rising). The fact that those other suicides may be less marked does not make them less significant. Crying more loudly doesn’t make the tragedy any greater or the loss any more deeply felt by the bereaved.

Football is a strange sport: it is resolutely hard-nosed and yet also incorrigibly sentimental. The death of such a well-respected football man, especially at such an age and in such circumstances, was always likely to provoke an outpouring of emotion around the country, especially at those clubs where Speed played or in the country he represented with such distinction, both as player and latterly as manager. What has surprised me, however, is the apparent depth of our emotional incontinence, the sudden outpouring of feeling and an apparently nationwide desire to wallow - and judging by the radio this evening, we're still wallowing -  in what seems like a disproportionate level of grief. A tragedy, yes….but a cause of nationwide mourning and gnashing of teeth?  According to the media - and we are led by the coverage of events like this in the media to set the tone - then yes, it is.

I can’t help but wonder, if that other famous recent football suicide, Justin Fashanu, had been found dead in that Shoreditch lockup in 2011 and not in 1998, would he have got the same sort of reaction?

Gary Speed, human being. 1969-2011. R.I.P.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lukas Podolski for Germany (vs England), 27th June 2010

Well, I never thought I'd see the day when I saw a major sporting organising body displaying levels of incompetence to match the likes of FIFA or the FA.  It looks as though the RFU, the body governing English rugby union may just about take the biscuit.

Let's take a moment to remember that rugby fans - myself included - like to assume the high ground in any conversation with football fans: the players and the fans are better behaved, the referee is treated with respect and his decisions are final... blah blah blah.  Oh, how those chickens have come home to roost now.  Amidst the debris of a failed World Cup campaign, recriminations and resignations are flying around, confidential reports are being leaked left, right and centre.  The players, as well as being awful on the pitch, apparently behaved atrociously off it as well, harassing hotel employees, drinking and dwarf tossing, abusing major sponsors, jumping off public ferries.... you name it, the England rugby team appear to have done it, all whilst keeping the main eye on their sponsorship opportunities.

Lest we get too carried away with our schadenfreude, however there are a couple of things that I think we can learn from this:

1) English rugby can surely sink no lower than this.  Those confidential reports should never have been leaked (called "Twickileaks", obviously) and are a catastrophic breach of trust with the players.  That said, now that the truth is out there, there is absolutely no hiding away from the fact that changes need to be made; changes to coaches, playing staff and to the bureaucracy behind the scenes.  How much would you give for something similar to happen to English football?  Would you like to read the candid, anonymous views of the players and coaching staff on the 2010 World Cup debacle?  Wouldn't you really like to know what the players think of John Terry as a captain or of Fabio Cappello as a coach? I know I would.  We've lived with decades of disappointment -- remember that England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 - maybe something like this would make that fundamental change that could make us winners again.

2) I'm not sure that England's football players would be as eloquent in a written report on a World Cup campaign as some of their rugby playing counterparts.  The rugby players use words like "philosophy", "lacklustre" and "blueprint".  I wonder if Wayne Rooney knows what a blueprint is; a poster from Picasso's Periodo Azul, perhaps?  Even if they could string a written sentence together, would your average England international footballer be able to step away from the bland even in an anonymous report?

I can remember English cricket hitting rock bottom when we struggled in a test series against Zimbabwe.  We're now the number one Test playing side in the world, and that hasn't happened by accident, but by rigorous player selection and coaching and through meticulous planning.  Martin Johnson ultimately failed in his role as coach of England rugby at least partly because of his loyalty to old hands like Jonny Wilkinson and Lewis Moody; great servants of England rugby who had simply reached the end of the line.  Hmmm.   As Euro 2012 approaches, it's hard not to draw similar conclusions about players like John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.  Let's hope the football team doesn't make the same mistakes as the rugby team, and that we're not reading the usual sob stories in the players' latest round of autobiographies next Autumn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

John Terry for England (vs Hungary), 30th May 2006

I listened to a bit of John Terry's press conference today on the news.

It made me wonder why they bothered with them.  Seriously, when was the last time that you heard something interesting at a football press conference from a player (or, indeed, from anyone)?

To be fair to Terry, the questions that most people wanted to ask him were related to the racism row that is the subject to a police investigation, so he can hardly be blamed for not wanting to comment on that, and I suppose he was pretty brave to front up at all when he didn't have to..... but even so, what he did say was a long stream of fairly meaningless platitudes.  I'm so proud to play for my country...blah blah... game's changed since I was a kid... blah blah... jumpers for goalposts... the boys are playing so well... blah blah... no one is undroppable...

What's the point?  If the players aren't going to say anything at all insightful or interesting, then why bother?

When actors are interviewed, they're almost always plugging something, and there's a mandatory bit in every interview where they tell us about how this is such a great movie and how happy they were to work with their co-stars and the director.  Fine.  That's part of the package and is why they agree to be interviewed anyway.  Even so, am I wrong in thinking that actors still manage to be more interesting than footballers in a similar situation?  Now that I think of it, did John Terry even talk much about the Sweden game that he is promoting?

Musicians are even better value, many not being afraid to fire their mouths off as they promote their latest album... although, to be fair, manufactured boy bands apart, they're expected to misbehave and stirring up a controversy is hardly likely to harm their record sales.

So what is it about footballers?  Why are they so anodyne?

Well, the press itself is obviously in large part responsible: the moment a footballer steps out of line, then the media is more than happy to climb onto their moral high-horses and lambast them with the full-force of their righteousness.  These players earn hundreds of thousands of pounds each week, and apparently that fact makes them fair game.  John Terry himself knows this better than almost any other current footballer, so is it any surprise that he's cautious never to step out of line when there is a microphone or a journalist anywhere near his face.

That's not the only reason though.  I think there's a much simpler explanation: footballers are simply not clever enough or interesting enough to keep an insatiable media satisfied.  That's not necessarily a reflection of the stupidity of the average footballer.... although you do have to ask why John Terry keeps on getting caught out by the media, time after time, when he knows they're watching him and will crucify him at every possible opportunity, and I do wonder about whether he has the wit to answer a simple question in an interesting way.... It's not even particularly an observation about how one-dimensional most footballer's lives seem to be, although they do some awfully dull people: they play football, they display a spectacular lack of judgement and taste in how they spend their riches and they don't read books.

No, I think it might just be a reflection of how voracious our football media is.  There is no one, no matter how smart or interesting, who could be smart enough or interesting enough to be able to feed these wolves for long if they came under their spotlight.  John Terry said absolutely nothing interesting in his press conference today, and it was still dissected in minute detail by the press: it will be the lead story on the back pages tomorrow, and Radio 5 Live has just spent the last hour debating his non-comments in almost forensic detail.

Can you imagine how they'd react if he said something even mildly interesting?

Poor lamb.  It's almost enough to make me feel a bit sorry for him.


...and then I remembered what a charmless, unpleasant individual he is and how much he gets paid for how little, and realised that a mildly uncomfortable half hour spouting practiced platitudes at the press really is money for old rope.  He doesn't get paid extra for selling papers, does he?  Why should he bother being interesting?

As captain of our national football team, he represents this country, you know....although looking around, maybe that's about right.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ugo Ehiogu for England (vs Spain), 28th February 2001

I originally published this post here back in November 2009, talking about the crusade to try to shame all Premier League clubs into attaching a poppy to their playing shirts, but the current furore around FIFA's refusal to make an exception and allow the English football team to display the same emblem on their shirts in this week's international match against Spain is essentially the same argument being repeated again.  The reaction to this "refusal" (actually a refusal to break a rule that applies to ALL emblems - a more commercially motivated version of what we might call the Jon Snow defence) has been widespread, including the Prime Minister and Prince William as well as the luminaries and reknowned patriots of the English Defence League.

It is an entirely predictable outrage, and we have the same tired old reaction around the poppy every year with tedious regularity... and in fact, the outrage itself really proves FIFA's point that the poppy clearly IS a political symbol.

The FA might have now reached a compromise with FIFA that enables the team to wear poppies on black armbands, but the whole incident does nobody any credit and certainly does not indicate to me any greater respect for Our Brave Troops.

Anyway, here's my rant again.  Still sadly apt.  I fully expect more tiresome and predictable criticism of Jon Snow for his refusal to bow to "poppy fascism" and wear one as he reads the news.  You can set your watch by it.

Anyway.  Here's the 2009 post.


There's a bit in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" where Captain Black runs something he calls the "Glorious Loyalty Oath Campaign", where everyone in the squadron finds themselves forced to sign oaths pledging their loyalty in order to get absolutely anything or everything:

"Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that "The Star-Spangled Banner," one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again"

Of course, anyone refusing to sign one of these oaths is immediately branded as somehow being disloyal to their country, to their flag and to their cause:

"Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to.

Captain Black's rival, Major Major, is actively prevented from signing any of these oaths, even if he wanted to:

"What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?"
"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don't see him signing any of our loyalty oaths."
"You aren't letting him sign any."
"Of course not," Captain Black explained. "That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade".

Thus does Joseph Heller neatly skewer empty patriotism.

I was reminded of this when reading about the Daily Mail's latest campaign to try and get every Premier League football club to display a poppy on their matchday shirts during November.

[did you notice that most Premier League clubs - but not all - had poppies in place on the shirts last weekend, in the last round of fixtures before Remembrance Day 2011? In the Blackburn v Chelsea game, the home side had poppies and the away side did not... although there was a wreath and a solemn silence and apparently that was enough to avoid comment.  Perhaps people were saving all their anger for the International game?]

As a result of their bullying, there are now only three of the twenty clubs holding out: Liverpool, Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers [Bolton ended up wearing poppies in 2009, and as you'll notice from the picture of Super Kev above, taken last weekend, they didn't bother putting up a fight at all this year]. As a spokesman for Manchester Utd not unreasonably said:

"We don’t think it’s particularly necessary. We sell poppies around the ground and all our officials wear them and we work with Armed Forces charities in a lot of other ways throughout the year."

Not good enough, apparently, and the Mail is continuing to try to bully them into changing their minds. Obviously, their readers are full of considered opinions on the subject. Here's lazzruss:

"Yes Yes Yes!!! It is beyond my capacity to put into words how this 'government' has ruined our once Great Britain by sytematically [sic] attacking our spiritual and historical heritage and culture and we have had enough! Banning poppies is the final insult to our nation as this shows a complete disregard and contempt for our Glorious Dead who gave everything including their very lives for the sake of the future of our Nation and every football team owes them their success and privileges - to display a simple poppy proudly on their shirts should be a moral imperative for anyone who loves our Country and what we (not the inept and shameful Labour Government) stand for."

Let's leave aside the fact that the majority of the players in the Premier League aren't even English, eh? Why let that get in the way of a good rant about WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?

Um, perhaps it's a statement of the obvious, but if you try to force people to wear a poppy, aren't you restricting our freedom to choose not to wear one? Isn't that the same freedom that "Our Glorious Dead' (note the capitalisation) fought for? Like it or not, that's the same freedom that allows a student to get so paralytically drunk that he urinated on a war memorial in Sheffield. Not very nice, for sure, but surely more a story about binge drinking than it is about any calculated disrespect for the dead, whatever the Daily Mail try to make of the story (flogging too good for him, naturally).

This "Poppy fascism" seems to be everywhere at the moment. Apparently the BBC are under pressure because the dancers on "Strictly..." weren't wearing poppies last week. All of the judges were, but none of the dancers. Not good enough, apparently, as everyone on the X-Factor was wearing one.... The BBC initially (and not very bravely) hid behind "Health & Safety issues" as the reason why the dancers weren't wearing poppies, but have now apparently changed their minds in the face of all this public outrage. 

Where does this oneupmanship and assumed moral authority stop? Why are we only displaying our poppies for a couple of weeks of November? Does that mean we're being disrespectful and unpatriotic for the other 50 weeks of the year? Should we all be dyeing our hair red and tattooing poppies onto our cheeks so we can be displaying our gratitude and support for the sacrifices made on our behalf every single day of the year?

Of course, you can trust the good old Guardian for an alternative view, and Marina Hyde today has a good rant about this "phony poppy apoplexy":

"So on Saturday, know that every late challenge, every sending-off, will be in the memory of those who fell in battle. Then accept the fact that media campaigns to foreground the poppies that are not being worn, as opposed to the ones that are, serve not as a memorial to the sacrifices made on our behalf, but as a reminder of our hard-wired one‑upmanship and infinite capacity to find ways to divide ourselves."

The commentators are even more strident:

"Forced wearing of the poppy to commemorate a fight against tyranny? Britain seems to get sillier and sillier, and more and more irrelevant every week."

It seems that the spirit of Captain Black is alive and well and still busily hunting out people who won't sign his loyalty oaths.

"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?"

Think on that if you leave your house without a poppy this November.


Two years on, and the same tired old arguments and outrage are very much in evidence again.  Depressing, don't you think?  Perhaps we should be spending our weekends on a pilgrimage to the Cenotaph via Royal Wooton Bassett instead of watching a game of football?

Enjoy those armbands on the England side on Saturday, and let's think again on Marina Hyde's words from her 2009 article:

"So on Saturday, know that every late challenge, every sending-off, will be in the memory of those who fell in battle". 

Paul Hayward writes something similar in this year's Guardian:

"You either buy a poppy or you don't, you either wear it or you don't. You can buy one in October if you like, though you shouldn't have to, and if you are occasionally seen without one it doesn't make you a bad person. Because surely the whole strength behind the poppy's symbolism is that it is the most understated of statements. It is a quiet, gentle reminder, not a shouted command. Above all, as a gesture it is personal and private, and ought not to be forced to go public".

If we follow the logic of the poppy fascists further, if it's disrespectful to our brave troops not to wear a poppy, is it not also disrespectful if we don't play a full-strength side and if John Terry doesn't start? An insult to the memory of their sacrifices?  As LB said last night in the pub, what would our reaction be if the game on Saturday was against Argentina and they insisted on wearing a memorial to their Falklands dead?

Quite how this annual farce shows any respect for the people who have sacrificed their lives fighting for their countries is beyond me.


As a reminder of how quickly football can change, the first game of Sven Goran Eriksson's reign as England manager was against Spain in February 2001.  A Spanish side including Iker Casillas, Raul and Pep Guardiola lost 3-0 to goals by Nick Barmby, Emile Heskey and Ugo Ehiogu.  The start of the side hailed as a "Golden Generation".

England's line-up that night?

James, Phil Neville, Powell, Butt, Ferdinand, Campbell, Beckham, Scholes, Andy Cole, Owen, Barmby.
Subs: Gary Neville, Martyn, Brown, Ehiogu, Phillips, Sheringham, Fowler, Heskey, Lampard, Carragher, Wright, Ball, McCann.

Spain are, of course, now World and European champions.  England, meanwhile, have won chuff all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Edison Arantes do Nascimento for Brazil (vs Sweden), 28th June 1958

I think this might very well be the greatest advert in the whole, wide world.

Looking good, Luis.  Looking good. Still got it, for sure.  But only -- ONLY -- because you have no visible grey hairs.  Learn from him: to the shops!  No time to spare!  Just For Men is the answer!

Like I say, the best advert in the world.

Oh no, wait a minute... I'd almost forgotten about this one.

 [sorry for the terrible quality, but it's all I could find....]

Pele, many people's vote for the greatest player the world has ever seen, dubbed by Peter Serafinowicz (of all people), bravely fronting up to a potentially very embarrassing issue for men of a certain age.

Well, I say bravely....

"Talk to your doctor.  I would.  But I don't need to.  Because I am Pele!  The greatest footballer who ever lived.  Clearly I haven't actually experienced any kind of erectile dysfunction myself.  Me! Edison Arantes do Nascimento.  The greatest player to kick a ball.  The very thought! But in the unlikely event that I somehow did have problems down there, I'd be down the doctor like a shot to get me some little blue pills.... but like I said, I'm fine.  Nothing to see here.  No... EVERYTHING to see here.  I've got it going on in my pants, for sure.  Yes sir.  But if you have problems, you should go.  Now.  In no way am I just saying these things for the money.  No way."


Friday, November 04, 2011

Ryujiro Ueda for Fagiano Okayama (v Yokohama FC), 30 October 2011

You may recall that a month or so ago we shared a video of what was generally believed to be the longest headed goal in the history of football. Jonas Samuelson had scored this header from his own half in a Norwegian league match, leading to a well-deserved fifteen minutes of fame.

Well, he must be livid. Barely a month after his world record breaking exploits someone has only gone and bettered it. You'd be livid, wouldn't you? Doing something that no-one in nearly 150 years of football has done before only for some upstart J-League player to come along four weeks later and do the same.

Anyway, here's Ryujido Ueda's effort for Fagiano Okayama in the J-League last weekend. Arguably it's a better goal as he has to actually beat the keeper (who doesn't cover himself in glory) rather than Samuelson who nodded his into an empty net....

Monday, October 31, 2011

Gareth Bale for Tottenham Hotspur (vs QPR), 30th October 2011

I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like Neil Warnock.  After yesterday's 3-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, Warnock had this to say in his post-match press interview:

"I found myself clapping when the third goal went in it was such a fantastic goal by Bale. It’s a pity he’s not English."

Neil Warnock is hardly immune from the usual post-match criticisms of referees and opposition players, but in a world of bland, nothing statements and unseen controversies, it's nice to see someone in football tell it how it is, even if that means saying something nice about one of your opponents.

Well played Gareth Bale and well done Neil Warnock.

It's a shame Lionel Messi isn't English too, by the way.....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jordan Rhodes for Huddersfield Town (v Scunthorpe Utd), 25 October 2011

As Swisslet correctly pointed out here, blanket and hysterical coverage of the Premier League pretty much dominates the media these days, and so the achievements of lesser known clubs often go unheralded.

Last night, Huddersfield Town drew 2-2 with Scunthorpe. It's a result that would have barely registered with anyone outside Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, but it marked Huddersfield's 40th unbeaten league match. That's right. The Terriers, under the management of Lee Clark, haven't lost in the league since they were beaten 4-1 by Southampton on 28th December last year. Unsurprisingly, it's smashed the previous club record.

Clark's side sit second in League One and look good for promotion to the Championship under the 38 year old rookie manager. So, perhaps we could have less coverage about Carlos Tevez suing his manager and Mario Balotelli buying a trampoline and more on the superb achievements of less fashionable clubs?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rafael Van der Vaart for Tottenham Hotspur (vs Blackburn Rovers), 23rd October 2011

I spent a couple of hours in the car on Sunday afternoon driving home after a weekend away.  I was feeling a little bit jaded, so to keep myself entertained, I had the radio tuned into BBC Radio Five Live to while away the time and to keep my brain engaged. 

I like Five Live.  There's a good mix of news and sport, and I vastly prefer their more informal style of broadcasting to that to be found on Radio 4.  Sure, there are bits of it that annoy me (Steve Claridge), but on the whole it's a good listen (shifting seamlessly to outstanding whenever Danny Baker is on). 

Just recently though, I've noticed a distinct change in the tenor of the sports programming.  Football has always formed a bedrock of the station's coverage: until recently, this was the one national radio station where you could hear coverage of almost every big Premier League game.... but you also got pretty good coverage from the other leagues around England and Scotland.  The theme tune to sports report on a Saturday afternoon, with James Alexander Gordon reading out the classified results.... it's all a cherished part of our shared national heritage, and it's one of the great things about the BBC that all of this is still intact.

That's not the problem.

What's starting to annoy me is that there seems to have been a shift into a more hysterical style of reporting, particularly about football.  The top division of the English league has always been covered in depth, of course, but it seems that now that coverage is not so much focused on reporting what happened at the games as feeding the myth of the English Premier League as being BIGGER and BETTER and MORE IMPORTANT than anything else.  The BBC now seem to play a full part in pumping up these players as the new Gods of our society, and when they inevitably fall short of the holy status that we've given them, the BBC now hosts seemingly endless discussions with experts to pick apart quite how badly we've been let down as a nation by these players.  Before the last England game I listened to long panel conversations about why Wayne Rooney's personal life wouldn't affect the way he played... and then after the game, more panel discussions about why he in fact he should never have played in the first place and should now be omitted from Capello's squad for the Summer, when clearly he won't be.  Frank Lampard was past it, and then he wasn't.... the source of these circular, self-fuelling discussions is seemingly bottomless.  Have your say; text us what you think; message us on twitter.... even the most brainless, one-eyed idiot is now qualified to get involved.

By the time I got into my car on Sunday, the Manchester derby was over, but the full, in-depth analysis of events and what they meant was yet to come.  The game between QPR and Chelsea was broken up by a half-time interview with Sir Alex Ferguson, and the game between Blackburn and Spurs seemed to be barely reported at all except to fuel the fire of the sub-plot as to whether 100 or so fans demonsrating after the game could get Steve Kean sacked.  Mark Pougatch, anchoring the programme, seemed dazed; he was simply unable to comprehend the magnitude of that result at Old Trafford and said so, repeatedly.  No matter how many City players and officials queued up to be interviewed saying that it was just a game and was only worth 3 points and didn't win them anything, Pougatch only seemed interested in speculating whether this was the end of a dynasty and a passing of the baton across Manchester.

Lots of other things happened on Sunday in the sporting world: a rider was killed in the Moto GP, New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup.... in the two hours I was listening, neither of these two things were mentioned at all.  According to Five Live, it was football or bust. Not just any football either, but only a selective reading of the day's games.  We had lots from Old Trafford, of course, together with the commentary from QPR.  We heard about Rangers and Celtic... but without a single mention of Motherwell, who are currently 2nd in the SPL, and inconveniently still above Celtic in the league. Not a bloody word.  They are simply not on the agenda as it's all about the Big Two.

Seriously, I like football, but there's enough hysterical coverage on Sky to last any sane person a lifetime.... please not the BBC too.  In the end, I was saved from my mounting annoyance by my arrival home.  I wasn't at all sorry to be leaving Mark Pougatch and his disbelief at the Manchester Utd result in the car.

Imagine my delight when I switched the radio on this morning to discover that Pougatch was presenting Five Live Breakfast, and that he apparently still couldn't believe the result at Old Trafford.....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

David Silva for Spain (vs Scotland), 11th October 2011

"Who is the coach of the World and European Champions?"

If you are asked that question in a pub quiz, then you're going to be reasonably confident of getting the answer right.  No?

Vincente Del Bosque.



....That's what he used to be called, anyway, when he was a humble commoner.  As of February this year, thanks to the King of Spain (a football fan and very much the man who puts the "Real" into Real Madrid), he's now apparently officially known as the Ilustrísimo Señor Don Vicente del Bosque y González, Marqués de Del Bosque.

Wow.  That's quite a title.... (and, to be honest, much though I'm sure he's an outstanding manager, don't you reckon you might have been able to win at least a couple of those titles with the players that he had at Madrid and has with Spain?)

The only other man I can think of in football with an actual, honest-to-goodness title (beyond a knighthood, anyway) is the Lord of the Manor at Frodsham, Jibberish Seaside.  As the Queen is apparently an Arsenal fan (as if she didn't have enough problems), perhaps we should expect a dukedom for Tony Adams in the New Year's Honours list? A baronetcy for Ray Parlour, perhaps? Viscount Perry Groves of Bow?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gary Lineker for England (vs Republic of Ireland), 26th March 1985

Forgive me, but I haven't watched Match of the Day for a few weeks.  Imagine my surprise when I turned on the BBC's coverage of the Spain vs Scotland game during the week to find that Gary Lineker looked somehow different.

At first, I wasn't really sure what it was, and then - when I looked a bit more closely - I realised that there appeared to be something on his face.  I wasn't quite sure what it was at first, but on reflection, I believe that it may have been a beard.... something I believe that the 50 year-old has been trying to grow since his Leicester City debut in the 1978/79 season.

I can't think of any other explanation for the sudden appearance of this growth.... unless perhaps it's professional envy of the new pundit on the block....

Surely it's not a mid-life crisis?

Whatever the reason for it, I imagine that it probably looks a whole lot more impressive in high definition and AMAZING in 3-D.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Kyle Walker (for Tottenham Hotspur) v Arsenal, 2 October 2011

Look, I told you we were going to persist with this 'hatred of Barry Davies' nonsense. Don't say you weren't warned...

You may want to see here first.

Mr & Mrs Davies – Part 2: At the Beach

Maureen: “What a lovely day.”

Barry: “yes, you join us on this lovely Sunday afternoon with the sun blazing high in the bright blue sky. The temperature is noticeably hotter than it has been over recent days, I was walking past here yesterday and it certainly wasn’t this warm.”

Maureen: “Can you put me some sun tan lotion on my back?”

Barry: “Oh no. Oh no. I can’t believe that decision. Factor 8 when it should clearly be Factor 4. I remember in 1972 when the lotion was chosen with much more care than in is in the modern world. Terrible. Terrible.”

Maureen: “Ah, look at that little lad over there.”

[Barry looks at the boy playing with his bucket and spade for eight minutes]

Barry: “Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooof! Marvellous! Marvellous!”

Monday, October 03, 2011

Chris Burke for Birmingham City (v Nottingham Forest), 2 October 2011

Steve McLaren, 30 August, 2011: "What happens over the next few days will decide whether we can win promotion or not. Absolutely it will, without a shadow of a doubt. What we do now, over the next few days, will determine whether we are good enough to challenge or whether we are scrapping to get into the play-offs. I don't want that. So, I will be making it quite clear what we need. Deliver it or it is going to be a long season.

"We have been saying it for long enough. You [the press] say that Billy Davies was saying it for two years previously, I don't know about that. But I can see it. Over the next few days, we will see the ambition of this club. That is the key thing we will see. We need to go the extra step now."

Just five weeks later, the former England manager has resigned from his position at the City Ground, with chairman Nigel Doughty also set to step down at the end of the season after a decade at the helm.

Davies and McLaren may be very different types of manager but their complains about Forest are eerily similar. Both have voiced their concerns about the lack of investment in the team and both believe that the ambition of the club falls some way short of their own. Davies took Forest to the play-offs twice and was then sacked - presumably the board were fed up with his constant griping - whereas McLaren has now walked just 111 days into his tenure citing the very same problems.

I rate McLaren and I do not blame him one bit from walking away from a club who clearly promised him the earth before delivering next to nothing. To lose one manager may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. Ex-Forest legends Garry Birtles and Kenny Burns also agree that McLaren was perfectly within his rights to walk.

It looks to me that the Forest board has fundamentally no idea what they are doing and I'm not even a supporter. For lifelong fans seeing the same grumbles and same issues continue to rear their heads must be unbelievably frustrating.

Forest are clearly never going to emulate the success of the Clough era. But, they could be a solid mid-table Premier League side if anyone at board level actually believed that was possible. Until they do, perhaps they should employ a boss for whom Championship survival and a balanced budget would constitute success and then everyone's ambitions would be aligned?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mario Gomez for Bayern Munich (v Manchester City), 27 September 2011

From the Daily Star, Tuesday 26 September, 2011:

"Roberto Mancini has told his sulking striker Carlos Tevez that he can still have a big future at Manchester City.

"Mancini insists Tevez will be involved against the German giants and believes last season’s top scorer still has a role to play this season. The City boss said: “Carlos is a fantastic player... There is no problem with Carlos. He is an important player for this club and he will be involved against Bayern Munich.”

Well, Tevez was supposed to be involved against Bayern Munich, before deciding he didn't feel like it and refusing to come on as a sub for the club.

Mancini after the match, around 14 hours later: "If one player earns a lot of money, play for Manchester City in the Champions League and has this behaviour, for me he can't play. Never.

"Afterwards I wanted to put Carlos Tevez on the pitch, he refused to go on the pitch. For me it is a bad situation."

Just as they looked as they might have the skill and spirit necessary to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League, the wheels come off at Manchester City. Dzeko storms off the pitch when substituted and Tevez refuses to come on as a sub. Being named as a substitute and then refusing to come onto the pitch is absolutely unforgivable behaviour for a footballer, surely?

In spite of his obvious desire to leave the club, Tevez continues to be paid handsomely and is under contract to his employers. And people wonder why football may be losing touch with the common man, who wouldn't last five minutes if they refused to do their job when asked.

It's happened before, of course (Pierre van Hooijdonk went on strike at Nottingham Forest) and no doubt it will happen again. What next for Tevez, though? A season in City's reserves? An apology and reinstatement to the squad? Or should everyone club together, buy out his contract and hold his registration so he can't play for anyone?

Footballers are idiots. Who knew?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jone Samuelsen for Odd Grenland (v Tromso), 25 September 2011

101 Great Goals #71 - Jone Samuelsen

It's injury time and Tromso have pushed all their players forward in search of an equaliser in their Norwegian league match against Odd Grenland. Then, Grenland's Jone Samuelsen seals the win with what is believed to be the longest-range header in football history....


Friday, September 23, 2011

Nani (for Manchester United) v Chelsea, 18 September 2011

We promise we won't mention it again after day. Well, not much, anyway.

(thank to Matty for the picture)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fernando Torres for Chelsea (v Manchester United), 18 September 2011

I was going to write a carefully crafted piece about whether it is possible for footballers to lose their mojo. I was going to make reference to people like Gaizka Mendieta and Michael Ricketts to determine whether mediocre players just have one great season (Ricketts) or whether once great players (Mendieta, Torres) simply lose their mojo and never get it back.

All sorts of psychological analysis was planned, and I was going to invite comments on the difficult man management task facing Andre Villas-Boas after his £50 million striker's nightmare at Old Trafford.

And then, I found a link to Sky's FanZone commentary of the miss. Much more suited to the tone of our website, I think (and it appears Peter Kay is doing the United commentary...)

It's 6 minutes 45 seconds in.

"Is this a Carry On movie....?!!!!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sylvain Ebanks-Blake for Wolves (vs Northampton), 23rd August 2011

As a Wolves fan, how could I not be drawn to the story of how the club badge mysteriously appeared in the sky above the Black Country.

As Metro reported:

'It was amazing,' an onlooker said of the wolf-shaped gap in the cumulus. It was one of those days where it was partly overcast and partly sunny. Someone just looked up and there it was - hovering about the houses. We all saw it and just stood there in amazement'. One supporter suggested the appearance of the Wolves club badge has a deeper meaning than just a single moment of good fortune. 'It clearly shows someone up there loves Wolves,' he said. 'As if last year's miraculous last-day escape from relegation wasn't enough, this surely shows it's not just mere mortals who love the black and gold.' He added, with a hint of relish: 'I've never seen a throstle or a Baggie Bird depicted up above.'

Yes, that's right.  Conclusive proof that God is a Wolves fan because you never see the emblems of West Bromwich Albion displayed in cloud formations.

Brilliant.  Although it must be said that God's probably not setting His sights very high if "narrowly avoiding relegation" is His plan for His chosen club.

He truly does move in mysterious ways.

[thanks to GJ for pointing the story out to me]

Monday, September 12, 2011

Javier Hernandez for Manchester United (v Bolton Wanderers), 10 September 2011

Emma Davies on Twitter: "For all the ill-informed haters ... Kevin spoke to Tom Cleverly [sic] on the phone earlier. He would never intentionally hurt anyone."

Name football's dirty players. Paul Scholes, perhaps. Midfield hardmen like Lee Bowyer and Joey Barton. Football's hard-tackling cheats are idiots, aren't they? They aren't loveable 34 year olds praised for their attitude and commitment who, after 15 years in footie, finally got the reward of an England cap late in their career...

Kevin Davies' tackle on Manchester United's Tom Cleverley this weekend was no worse than hundreds of other tackles seen in English football, even if the midfielder will be out of action for a month or so. And, Mrs Kevin Davies is probably right that the Bolton striker would 'never intentionally hurt anyone'.

It is worth remembering the facts, though. Loveable, committed, 'role model for young players' Kevin Davies has committed more fouls in the Premier League than any other player for seven out of the last eight seasons. He'd have a full eight year record also had he not been pipped to the post by another lumbering striker (John Carew) a couple of years ago.

The Cleverley tackle is not an isolated incident. Davies is the dirtiest player in the twenty year history of the Premier League. Bar none.

Now, I don't mind the Bolton captain; an opinion that I suspect is shared by a lot of football fans. I do wonder, though, whether if someone else held that unenviable record - perhaps a Barton, a Gerrard, a Fletcher or a Savage - that there wouldn't be a day go by without a reminder of that statistic. Davies, meanwhile, wouldn't probably get on a list of the top ten footballers in England in a pub debate.

He must have good PR - but we know the truth.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Scott Parker for West Ham (vs Chelsea), 11th September 2010

Did you see that remarkable stat this week that, before the game against Wales, Scott Parker had won seven caps for England under three different managers over the course of 8 years whilst playing for five different clubs?

Nothing like consistency of selection, eh?

Since his debut against Denmark in 2003, the following players have been capped in (broadly) midfield:

Alan Thompson (1 cap)
Shaun Wright-Phillips (36 caps)
Stewart Downing (29 caps)
Kieran Richardson (8 caps)
Theo Walcott (18 caps)
Aaron Lennon (19 caps)
Joey Barton (1 cap)
David Bentley (7 caps)
Ashley Young (17 caps)
Gabby Agbonglahor (3 caps)
James Milner (19 caps)
Tom Huddlestone (3 caps)
Adam Johnson (8 caps)
Jack Wilshere (5 caps)

Now, of those, the most capped are basically wingers: Wright-Phillips, Downing, Walcott, Lennon, Young, Milner.  As are Thompson, Richardson, Bentley, Agbonglahor and Johnson.  Competing for the same central midfield slot in the team as Parker were players like Barton (1 cap), Huddlestone (3 caps) and Wilshere (5 caps).

So why wasn't Scott Parker making the team more often?

Oh yes:

Steven Gerrard (89 caps)
Frank Lampard (88 caps)
Gareth Barry (48 caps)

With that much stability in midfield, we must have been amazing over the last 8 years, eh?


To be fair, Parker probably hasn't helped himself with his choice of clubs, particularly when he left Charlton for the Chelsea bench.... but after a brilliant season last year in a struggling West Ham team (he was voted the Football Writers' player of the year and was on the shortlist of 6 for the PFA award), it looked like the now nearly 31 year old Parker's moment had come again when he was picked in the team to play Bulgaria at the start of September.  Result: a good 3-0 win and talk of how England were rebuilding and it was the dawn of a new era.

Our midfield for this week's game against Wales?  Barry and Lampard.  And that was only probably only because Steven Gerrard is injured.  Or, charitably, Parker is now suddenly such a key player for the national team that he was being rested for the Montenegro game because he on a yellow card and risked suspension.  Hmm.  If that's true, then you wouldn't blame Parker for marvelling at the sudden change in his international fortunes.

What's the saying?  If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

Hmm.  Actually, with that in mind, maybe we should just ditch Parker too.

Tom Cleverley anyone?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Walid Soliman for Al-Ahly (v Kima Aswan), 7 September 2011

I don't suppose the last 32 stage of the Egyptian Cup generally generates all that much international interest. Other than the fact that this season's tournament had been significantly delayed (due to the popular uprising in the country), this season's competition looked to be nothing particularly special.

Then, along came Amir Sayoud. Al-Ahly were cruising at 4-0 up and heading for the last 16 when Sayoud stepped up to take this spot-kick. What resulted was, well, see for yourself....

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Mikel Arteta for Everton (v Blackburn Rovers), 27 August 2011

Players Names Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary: Part 9

Transfer Deadline Day Special

Overheard whilst listening to Radio 5 Live as the transfer window shut. The panel were discussing Jermain Jenas' loan move to Aston Villa and Arsenal's late capture of Mikel Arteta from Everton.

"The Venga bus has signed someone called Arsehatter?"


"Did he just say that Jesus had been confirmed?"

(Incidentally, we were wondering whether Jesus was the only person in history that wouldn't actually need to be confirmed, being the Son of God and all. I'd like to see Jesus turn up in the midfield at a Midlands club, though. Oh,sorry, he already has:)

Friday, September 02, 2011

Junior Lewis for Hendon (v Leyton Orient), 25 November 1997

The relationship between ex-England boss Peter Taylor and journeyman midfielder Junior Lewis has long been a source of great hilarity on this site.

Here, for example, we reflected on Lewis joining Taylor at Bradford back in 2008 (the 8th (videprinter: EIGHTH) time the pair have worked together.

Here, Ian analyses Lewis' close relationship with Taylor, perhaps even alleging that there may be more to their relationship than meets the eye...

And, even The Times picked up on our story and the bizarre relationship between the two men.

Well, this week I notice that Peter Taylor has a new job: as manager of the Bahrain national side. It can surely only be a matter of time before Junior (currently coaching at Hendon) gets the call to head out to Manama...?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Scott Parker for West Ham (vs Liverpool), 27th January 2011

How transfer deadline day came to pass.....

Premier League Executive#1: This is DISASTROUS: we’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already hit the deathly hallows. There’s no European games this week, no Premier League games for two weeks and - WORST OF ALL – England are playing a qualifier.

Premier League Executive#2: Shit. England are playing? We’re haemorrhaging fans! We’re THE GREATEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD. We can’t afford to have coverage in the media drop below absolute saturation level. 5Live are actually going to be talking about world conflict if we’re not careful. THIS WILL NOT STAND. What can we do?

Premier League Executive#1: Hmm. We need something that will keep people’s attention in this arid time for football; something that will make them sit up and talk FOOTBALL; something that will flood the newspapers and airwaves with pointless chatter, opinion and ill-informed speculation from overweight ex-pros and failed managers….

Premier League Executive#2: Like in the summer when the endless, empty, football-less hours are filled with made-up transfer rumours?

Premier League Executive#1: YES. Only crammed into a smaller period to make all of the inane babble come together into a focused crescendo of climactic excitement brought about by an artificial deadline. BIGGER AND BETTER.

Premier League Executive#2: You mean….?

Premier League Executive#1: YES. TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY. We could artificially and pointlessly force teams into panic purchases. Imagine the excitement!

Premier League Executive#2: [gasps] We could interview Harry Redknapp LIVE from the window of his car at the Tottenham training ground!

Premier League Executive#1: Think of the product sponsorship opportunities. How many fax machines could we sell off the back of this?

Premier League Executive#2: We’d have rolling coverage on all media outlets for DAYS. WE NEED THIS COVERAGE MORE THAN WE NEED OXYGEN. WITHOUT IT WE WILL SURELY WITHER AND DIE. Fuck La Liga. We need a BIGGER and BETTER transfer deadline day.

Premier League Executive#1: It’s what Sky Sports News was created for. GET ME JIM WHITE ON THE PHONE. NOW!

Jim White: …. LOUD NOISES! We’ve just heard from Andy in Barnet who has a friend who works in Heathrow who has texted him to say that he’s just seen Andres Iniesta in a Brighton shirt on his way towards the South Coast wearing a kiss me quick hat……

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ashley Young for Manchester United (v Arsenal), 28 August 2011

OK, so he's six foot six tall, has won 75 caps for one of the world's leading sides and is a (relative) bargain at £7.6 million. But is Per Mertesacker really the answer to Arsenal's woes?

Sunday saw their defence totally outclassed by Manchester United and so I'm not sure a slow, lumbering centre half would have been all that much help. Clearly Wenger needs reinforcements and the Gunners aren't going to win a title with Johan Djorou and Laurent Koscielny at the back. Mertesacker, though? Surely he'd have been better off with Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba or Phil Jagielka? (although all three are lumping great old fashioned defenders, to be fair).

I can see the financial advantages of spending £1.8 on the South Korean captain - Arsenal should recoup that on shirt sales in Seoul within a fortnight or so - but I'm less convinced that Mertesacker is the missing piece of the Arsenal jigsaw.

(And, while we're on the subject of Arsenal, why hasn't Wenger got shot of Arshavin, yet? I haven't seen a player so disinterested since, well, Tomas Rosicky....)

By the close of the transfer window we should have a better idea of whether Arsenal are genuine title contenders or whether they're about to be usurped by the likes of Stoke City, Newcastle United and Sunderland. It could go either way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kevin Doyle for Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs Fulham), 21st August 2011

If you'll forgive the indulgence, I would just like to take a moment to salute the genius of the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Mr. Michael Joseph McCarthy. In the wake of his team's 2-0 victory over Fulham on Sunday, Wolves were briefly sat at the top of the Premier League table. Not that Big Mick was allowing anyone to get carried away with that. When asked his reaction to the club's league position, McCarthy wasn't messing about:

"My reaction: bothered. I'll tell you what I don't like: we start bottom every year, don't we? By alphabetical order. It's nice to be top after two games"

Way to go Mick: rage against the injustice of ordering the table alphabetically before the season starts!

There was some speculation that Fulham's performance was affected by their early-season (June!) involvement in the Europa League. True to form, Mick made it pretty clear that it wasn't really on his 'to do' list for Wolves to qualify for Europe:

"If we ever get anywhere near the Europa League, I'll be horrified. If it's through fair play, I'll even go out and kick a few opponents to make sure we don't qualify..."

Love him or hate him, Big Mick is an antidote to some of the anodyne crap that gets spouted in post-match interviews, isn't he? Here are a few corkers:

"I was feeling as sick as the proverbial donkey."

"Anyone who uses the word 'quintessentially' in a half time talk is talking crap."

"We've got the drug testers here today. They shouldn't be going to see the players. They should go to see the officials instead."

"I'd rather be favourites for Premiership relegation than favourites to win the play-offs"

...and my two favourites:

"'Matt Jarvis for England'? Yes, I heard those chants. It’s when they sing ‘Mick McCarthy is a big-nose wanker’ that I don’t hear the crowd.

[on being asked what he thought of the own-goal Wolves conceded in the 60th second of their game against Reading in 2009] "Fucking abysmal, that was what I fucking thought of it. C'mon, let's get to it, I'm trying my best here. What did I make of it? I thought it was the best bit of fucking football I've seen in a long time. Do me a favour. It was a crap start to a game. There you have it, can you print all that? Fucking rubbish, absolute tosh. Drivel. Shite. Bullshit. That's what I thought of it. Did that help? I'm quite pleased, apart from the fact that's given them the poxy result, I'm fucking livid about it – of course I am. So, there you have it."  Listen to this one in all of its glory here.

He's a legend.

With the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has dropped his astonishingly childish campaign of silence against the BBC, I'm devastated that Mike Phelan will no longer be dazzling me with his wit and insight after United games.   I suppose I'll have to make do with Mick.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Riccardo Montolivo for Italy (v Spain), 10 August 2011

Now then. You don't need us to tell you that the FIFA World Rankings are a load of old toilet. Indeed, we were saying the same thing six years ago (this excellent piece by Swisslet explains how the ranking system works - it is the same today except only four years of results are taken into account, not eight).

Whilst there may be complicated mathematical rationale for arriving at the rankings, you only have to look at them and have a vague knowledge of international football to know that they're clearly cobblers.

For example, the reigning World and European champions, Spain, are no longer considered the best side in the world, mainly because they lost a pointless friendly in Italy earlier this month. Instead, we're supposed to believe that an (admittedly good) Holland side are the best team, despite losing to Spain in the last World Cup Final.

And, even more hilariously, England are, apparently, the fourth best side in the world. Fourth! We couldn't beat Switzerland, need some good results to even qualify for Euro 2012 and yet we're considered a better side than Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, France....

Uruguay - World Cup semi finalists and Copa America champions are behind England. How does that work?

And, Haiti are now above Wales. Now, I'm not the world's leading expert on the Haitian football team, but I reckon Wales could have them, you know....

What an utter waste of time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anderson for Manchester Utd (v Tottenham Hotspur), 22 August 2011

Footballers Names Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary: Part 8

Snorts of laughter come from the adjacent room.

"Really? They call him 'The Gayer'?"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Luis Suarez for Liverpool (vs Arsenal), 20th August 2011

It usually doesn't do to scrutinise my pre-season predictions too closely.... and barely two weeks into the season, I'm already wondering whether Yossi Benayoun really is going to be the fulcrum at Chelsea..... but I did say this about Arsenal:

"I can't see him being sacked, but what are the odds on Wenger walking out at some point this year?"

Now, we all know that the media like a good crisis, and they've certainly been doing their best to put the pressure Wenger on after a poor start that has seen Arsenal gather a single point and no goals from two games. 

Every bar room expert knows that Wenger needed to sign a strong goalkeeper, a dominant centrehalf, a midfield ballwinner in the mould of Patrick Viera and a goalscorer to play up front with the ever-injury-prone Robin van Persie.  What do they get? A 19 year old defender,  a 17 year old winger and an apparently very volatile Ivorian striker.  How typically Wenger those signings are.  Worse yet is the loss of skipper and heartbeat of the side, Cesc Fabregas, to Barcelona and the likely departure of Samir Nasri to a rival Premier League team.

You hardly need to be an expert to sense the upheaval going on at the Emirates, and it hasn't taken the press long to gleefully get their classic "club in crisis" headlines out.

It's early days though, isn't it?  Even though the Fabregas and Nasri have been expected to leave for some time, most of those same critics reporting on the turmoil in North London were still predicting that Arsenal would finish in the top 4 in the Premier League.  Yes, they do probably need to make some signings in the next couple of weeks before the transfer window closes, but there is still time and, although it's not really Wenger's style to splash the cash around near deadline day, who's to say that a couple of well-judged signings might make all the difference to Arsenal's season?

Arsenal's next few games are critical: the second-leg of the Champions League qualifier with Udinese, then a trip to Old Trafford in the league for a Super Sunday fixture on 28th August....then a home game against Swansea before bogey side Bolton at the Emirates and then Spurs away on 2nd October. 

Is it too soon to say that Arsenal's season could effectively be over by October?

It's a cliche AND a statement of the obvious, but these really are a make or break few weeks for Arsenal.  I doubt they'll ever sack him, but maybe, just maybe, Wenger will decide that enough is enough before the leaves have come off the trees.

Interesting times.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Robbie Keane for the Republic of Ireland (vs Scotland), 29th May 2011

The transfer of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal to Barcelona may have dragged on, but surely not even the most ardent Arsenal fan begrudges him his move back to his hometown club; the team he has supported all of his life.

Even though he was clearly delighted to be joining his new club, Fabregas was classy enough to pay tribute to the club he was leaving behind:

"I was just a servant and spent eight years there when I gave absolutely everything.  It didn't show in the cabinet, I only won one FA Cup really, and this is the biggest regret I will have in my career, probably, not to be able to lift a trophy as Arsenal captain. I will always be an Arsenal fan because what they have done for me is unbelievable and I will never forget it."

Compare and contrast with the transfers of Robert David "Ballbag" Keane, who joined the LA Galaxy for £3.5m this week:

This week: "I have always wanted to come and play in MLS so it's the perfect combination for me and a dream come true"

20 August 1999: "It has always been my dream to play in the Premiership and I'm over the moon to be joining Coventry."

31 July 2000: "It's every kid's dream come true. I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of joining a world-famous club like Inter."

14 May 2007: "They say five clubs and all that, but I am very settled here [at Spurs] and am really enjoying it."

28 July 2008: "I've been a Liverpool fan all my life, going back to when I was a kid growing up in Dublin, and I always had a Liverpool shirt on my back. To be sitting here today in a Liverpool tracksuit is a dream come true."

6 February 2009: "I'm delighted to be back [at Spurs]. This is a club that's dear to my heart."

1 February 2010: "I am a Celtic fan and did not have to ask much about it. I always wanted to play for Celtic and it works for all parties."

31 January 2011: "I'm ready to help West Ham stay up. I feel I have plenty left to offer at the highest level for at least the next four or five years."