Don’t Shoot The Messenger: A Rough Week For Journalists.

3 02 2011

 

You’ve ruined it. All of you.

 

During the last ten days, I have watched various football-related stories ‘break’ on everyone’s new favourite news-stream. Watching Sky Sports News lag around forty-five minutes behind Twitter at the best of times on transfer deadline day confirmed that we don’t need Georgie any more. We don’t even need Jim White. Regional journalists, club spokespeople, even better-informed-than-average fans will tell us all we need to know, seconds after it happens, right in the palms of our hands, on a twenty-four hour basis. What a glorious age of technology in which we reside.

 

 

It was going so well. Then something strange occurred. The intelligence-devoid bubbles of idiocy rose to the top of our news fountain more than ever before. The journalists, the oracles we all follow to consume our nuggets of round-ball-related information in real time, dared to give an opinion on what was going on in their field of expertise. Greeting these opinions were not well-informed arguments from the Twitter-dwelling public. Greeting these opinions, and in some cases facts, were abuse, hatred and vitriol on quite an astounding level.

 

 

Let us begin on a relatively inoffensive level. Ian Prior, Sports Editor at The Guardian, had the gusto to say a ‘big, and I mean big’ exclusive was to break in three hours time on his newspaper’s website. In the midst of the transfer window, this news sent us all into meltdown. Has Fergie retired? Has Torres walked out? Has Ronaldo finally greased his bonnet into premature baldness? No. Inter kinda want to buy Gareth Bale in summer. So do Real Madrid. Sort of. Sigh.

 

 

Well. We were furious. How dare he not throw exclusives of earth-shaking consequences down our necks?! The abuse railed against Mr Prior. Many had a dig in a relatively good natured way. “We’re all off to subscribe to The Times” we cried at an increasingly regretful Prior. Alas, the idiot parade soon arrived at the party. The “UNFOLLOW PRIOR” campaign followed. The comments section of the story in question swiftly filled with hate, many going beyond the usual ‘f**k off’s to extend to threats against Mr Prior himself. All for posting a rather vague-transfer story on his own site in a transfer window full of vague transfer stories.

 

 

Dan Levene, writer for the Chronicle newspapers in West London, might suggest Ian Prior got fairly lucky. You could say Prior may have been the author of his own small social-media downfall by building up hype for his own personal and professional gain, only to see it backfire. Levene, however, just happened to be caught in the middle (well, the blue side of the middle) during an actual real, bona fide transfer between two clubs that don’t really like each other when the dregs of Twitter leeched themselves to his personal feed.

 

 

Now, let us be clear for a second. Levene did, after taking days of abuse from more than a few Liverpool supporters for suggesting that Fernando Torres would actually move to Stamford Bridge, make a joke focusing on an age-old ‘Scouse stereotype’. “I’m trending in Liverpool.” he said. “I hope I locked the house before leaving home!”. Offensive to some, amusing to others, think of it what you will. Levene himself would, probably, take back what was a flippant Twitter comment if he knew what was coming. What followed was a volley of abuse delving into the ridiculous and sickening. Threats of assault, death, sexual assault of his wife, the lot. Tony Barret, Merseyside correspondent of The Times, and no doubt himself the receiver of some harsh words during his time, spread Levene’s account to his followers, stoking the fires, whilst ingeniously calling Levene a “knobhead”. Maybe that could be the type of wordplay hidden behind the sturdy Murdoch paywall…

 

 

There were not so many death threats for Matt Law of the Daily Express when he suggested here that Cesc Fabregas, as many have stated in the last week, is a focus of criticism for his behaviour towards officials in recent times. Law’s piece is not an opinion article, merely a mix of facts and conjecture from others based around Fabregas’ behaviour. In fact, the article mainly focuses on words from the Arsenal captain himself, posted on Arsenal’s very own website.

 

 

You can probably write the rest by now. Law was accused of running a ‘witch-hunt’ against Fabregas. He only posted such an article because Fabregas wasn’t English, some suggested, despite Law posted a mirroring article regarding Wayne Rooney’s behaviour not six months previous. Some other witty soul simply posted ‘moron’ at him over and over, until Law (probably) threw his Blackberry on the floor of a Starbucks and went off to kick Gunnersaurus in the unmentionables.

 

 

The common denominator between most ridiculous overreactions leveled at journalists for, well, being journalists is this: the overreactions all come from fans of football clubs, angry at words thrown against their football clubs. There’s no rhyme or reason, no logic; just idiotic tribal behaviour descending into violence of both a verbal and, more worryingly, a physically threatening nature. The worst part of it all is, these buffoons who threaten the honour of a journalist’s wife for making a silly jibe that’s been made umpteen times on BBC3 previously actually all bother to waste their time in subscribing to these people in which they abuse. How utterly deplorable has our football public become when, not only do they stoop to such lows, but actively seek out and follow these people in hope they might upset them, just so they can release the dogs?

 

 

Twitter has become a wonderful place for football fans. Never before have supporters been able to immerse themselves in the presence of so many experts and learn so much from so many different plains of football knowledge. Maybe we have been spoilt for too long, and such is human nature, we want more, and what we receive must be perfect in line with our own views. However, a continuation of such rabid vitriol against those who attempt to provide us with an inside view of the game will only end this relationship altogether, and we shall miss it when it’s gone. Back to Jim White it is…





Viva Anti-Football! Observations On A Blue Backlash.

6 01 2011

 

“I prefer one point and being booed than no points and being applauded off the pitch. We wanted to win, but sometimes the other team plays better than you and if that happens then you must not lose.”

 

Roberto Mancini.

 


Manchester City can’t do anything right, can they? When thoroughly beaten by Arsenal at the City of Manchester Stadium earlier this season, they were roundly mocked as an all-money-no-trousers, Harlem Globetrotter-esque cabaret act, destined to bring the fashionable players in to consume the readies and go home to a mantelpiece devoid of any silverware.

 
Imagine a certain Mr Mancini earlier this week. Sat alone in his gold-encrusted palace at the Carrington training ground, he plots and schemes for the Emirates. Surely if his team suffered such embarrassment at the hands of his upcoming opponents last time around, a sturdy defensive performance would silence his doubters?

 
Would it ‘eck. ‘ANTI-FOOTBALL!’ is the cry from many this morning, after City played 90 minutes of fairly robust but relatively unattractive football in holding Arsenal to a goalless draw in North London the previous evening. ‘BORING, BORING CITY!’ the Arsenal contingent cry, frustrated at a team that came to the Emirates fully prepared to hold onto the point they had when they arrived, rather than gain two more in the process of the actual football match itself.

 
Mancini must be pulling his hair out. We all enjoy attractive football, but is a defending masterclass against anybody really something to be so ashamed of?

 
Firstly, to park the bus, you need a bus. Chelsea barely attacked at the Emirates (partly through a a complete lack of proficiency at doing so as opposed to any genius-like tactical plan), but nobody cared because Chelsea’s bus resembled a crushed 1950s Routemaster with few of its windows remaining, and Arsenal ambled through it with ease. City, however, brought a big, shiny Greyhound to the Emirates, planted it, and it stood firm. It’s a defence that has been shuffled around on many an occasion this season, with Aleksandar Kolorov, Jerome Boateng and Joleon Lescott without a place in the starting line-up at the Emirates despite packing in the performances during the first-half of the campaign. For a backline to remain so sturdy in the face of such instability, should some deal of credit not be due to the players and the manager alike?

 
In addition, it is easy to slate a team for killing a game. But to the same degree, Arsenal also failed to bring it to life. It has become a cliche to dismiss Arsenal’s attractive attacking football as lacking in an end product, but sometimes cliches can ring true. Apart from a vicious early battering where the woodwork stood rattled on a couple of occasions, the second half saw Arsenal reduced to shots from long-range, albeit these included a couple of stunning ones. Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany kept Robin Van Persie quiet, Theo Walcott found himself running into a wall of Zabaleta, whilst Samir Nasri struggled to drag himself into the game from the left. Arsene Wenger’s introduction of Arshavin and Bendtner proved fruitless, and whilst Arsenal’s movement of the ball deserves its plaudits, their final efforts did not. City’s ‘negative’ tactics have been the focus of attention, but it could be argued there was a rare lack of quality in Arsenal’s positive gameplan.

 
It should also be acknowledged that the game may have played out a little differently if two major pieces in Mancini’s attacking jigsaw would have been present. Much-maligned striker Mario Balotelli tapped in a hat-trick only a week previous, whilst David Silva has been a shining light for Mancini throughout the season until now. Whilst sympathy for the mob of mega moneybags may be short on the ground if they claim to be lacking in cover for certain positions, the presence of either of these players instead of the hapless Jo may have lit up North London to a greater extent than the display did last night. Carlos Tevez, meanwhile, covered an immense amount of ground in tracking back and chasing long balls in their absence, negating the notion of ‘negative’ football being inherent in at least one member of the City side.

 
In conclusion, goals are great. We enjoy two teams doggedly battering each other like two punch-drunk heavyweights. But in a league so competitive; when the Champions League means so much financially and when the investment in your club has been so large, points mean a whole lot more than goals and entertaining the public. This factor multiplies extensively on the road, away from home. Roberto Mancini attacked Arsenal before, and got his fingers burnt. He learnt, he defended, he got one more point than he did previously. Manchester City should not be attacked for this; they should be applauded.





Josh McEachran: Observations On A First Start.

24 11 2010

 

“I think Josh McEachran can play every game. He showed his quality. He was good defensively, won a lot of tackles. And, obviously, with the ball he’s fantastic”

Carlo Ancelotti – November 24th 2010.

Every talented young footballer suffers from over-hyping at one point of his career or another. When that player is seventeen and making starts for Premier League champions Chelsea in the Champions League, that extended hype is exaggerated further. Last night, Josh McEachran made his first full appearance at Stamford Bridge, and put in a performance that left manager Carlo Ancelotti glowing after the most difficult fortnight of his tenure in West London.

McEachran has been at the club since the age of seven, and despite his slight build and youthful appearance, a strong head was displayed in captaining England’s Under-17 side to the European Championship earlier this year. Left-footed, he is at home in the centre of midfield, yet can play on the left, and he has gradually been integrated into Ancelotti’s first XI during the current season, making substitute appearances against Manchester City in the Premier League and Newcastle United in the Carling Cup amongst others.

On Tuesday night, against Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina, McEachran was originally  deployed in a deeper role than he would be used to, holding the midfield. Some may see this as a more relaxed position against a weaker opponent, this being his debut appearance; others may see Ramires filling in the McEachran-esque role ahead of him, relegating the youngster into a deeper position.

During the opening period of the game, in which Chelsea inherited a surprising 1-0 deficit, McEachran’s movement of the ball (whilst not terrible), seemed restricted by his deeper role. Six or seven cross-field balls were misplaced, and more worryingly, other shorter passes were off-target in his own half.

Whilst all this occurred in an all-round disappointing first-half performance from Chelsea, McEachran’s place in the puzzle seemed a little jumbled, and as part of a re-shuffle at half-time that saw Salamon Kalou brought into the mix in place of Gael Kakuta, McEachran was shifted alongside Ramires in search of goals.

 

In his more typical central/left position, McEachran’s display improved exponentially. Until substituted to a standing ovation in the 91st minute, 38 of his 42 passes were completed. The four missing can be pinpointed to three crosses from the left, where he would regularly sling balls into the box as Chelsea searched for a winner, and one long range clearance from deep in his own half. Taking away these excusable passes, every single one of McEachran’s passes connected, with all but five taking place in the opposition’s half, and practically all moving forward or across into the channels to provoke attacks.

 

Again, this change in persona from half-to-half did run through the entire Chelsea side, but the shift in positioning and its ensuing results are a credit to both McEachran in raising his game to the task, and Ancelotti in his management of the youngster. His ‘influence’ on the game (calculated by the TotalFootball iPhone app, where all this data is collated from), is shown below:

Whilst this data is collated through a number of factors perhaps somewhat irrelevant to the above point, McEachran’s dwarfing of players such as Didier Drogba, and perhaps more importantly, Ramires, goes some way to suggesting what Ancelotti’s describes above; that McEachran is ready to play whenever called upon, in what has been a difficult period for the Premier League champions.





Thanks, But No Thanks: Why An NFL Franchise In London Is A Bad Idea.

8 11 2010

 

“I think the next step will be multiple games (in Europe). And if that’s successful then I think the idea of a franchise here is realistic.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – October 31st 2010.

A lot has changed in the last four years for a fan of American Football in the UK. We have shifted from gazing, bug-eyed, at Channel 5 in the early hours of a Monday morning at a game thousands of miles away, all the way to hosting four of our very-own regular season match-ups, welcoming future Superbowl Champions and MVPs to future hall-of-famers onto Wembley’s hallowed turf. What began in 2007 as a novelty is now an annual celebration of the UK’s love affair with the sport, and the reputation of the UK’s own fans in terms of commitment and knowledge of the game has grown exponentially worldwide.

 
As with any successful business venture, the man at the helm of all of this seems eager to capitalise, and further the spread of the NFL brand outside of the US. The idea of multiple games in Europe has been mooted since the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers fixture in 2008, and would seem a certainty for next year had it not been for the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiration causing a probable lack of an NFL season at all in 2011. After seemingly rubber-stamping the multiple games in the future in recent interviews, Goodell has begun to entertain the idea of an entire franchise in the UK. Somewhat unthinkable four years ago, the notion has left fans in this country split on several issues surrounding an expansion franchise in their own back yard, with the line drawn between consuming all the football we can as a nation, and what would be best for the future of the game in this country and indeed the sport itself in the US. What may surprise Commissioner Goodell is that a large amount of comments from fans via Internet streams and television in this country stray towards being opposed to the idea, and there are several good reasons for this.

 
Firstly, any new team, anywhere in the world, in any sport, needs new fans. The vast majority of NFL fans in this country already align themselves with a team, for possible sentimental reasons if not geographical ones. If the league is expanded to incorporate a London franchise instead of a current team shifting location over the pond, the willingness of fans in the UK to automatically shift their support to their ‘home’ team will be severely tested. Incorporated within this issue stands the fact that, of the 85,000 regulars at Wembley Stadium in the last four years, a fair proportion have no sense of belonging to the identity and moniker of ‘London’ at all. Many travel from other areas of Western Europe, many from other areas of the UK, and not only may these NFL fans not find the desire to support a franchise in London, but may actually see the London team as a ‘rival’ to the teams they have supported all along. Roger Goodell may have underestimated two major factors: the fact that a large amount of European NFL are fanatics of their US teams already, and despite the UK being a smaller landmass than the homeland of the sport, local rivalries still apply as much as they do in the US. The idea of a London franchise being fanatically supported by all of Europe seems optimistic at best.

 
Even if a London franchise is able to gain a fan-base on its introduction to the NFL, a more difficult challenge would also lie ahead to maintain such a fan-base, once the novelty of regular live football in this country dies away. Compare the case to that of Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League. Promoted to the top-flight in 2005, their inaugural home game against reigning champions Chelsea sold out the JJB Stadium, a venue largely intended for rugby league in a town obsessed with the sport. Since the novelty of playing at the highest level has worn off in recent years in a town that cares little for football, their attendances have dwindled, leaving the stadium flooded with empty seats on an average Saturday. A similar scenario for a London-based franchise would be disastrous in terms of the image of the game in this country and the financial stability of the franchise itself. London is currently proud of its recent history in selling out regular season games at Wembley and creating an atmosphere that players enjoy playing in whilst looking and sounding good on television in the US. A half-filled stadium, similar to that seen in Toronto for the struggling Buffalo Bills recently, would make a mockery of the hard work UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood and all fans in the UK have indulged in to build the reputation of the game overseas.

 
Whilst speaking of financial implications for the franchise, there is also a notion Goodell must consider the financial implications for the fans in this country themselves. Tickets for each Wembley game range from £55 to thousands of pounds for the box seats, leaving fans far more out of pocket than the majority of soccer matches would in this country. Many fans are even questioning whether they can muster the financial resources to attend a second game within a season at Wembley, therefore the idea of eight home games in four months, combined with travel from all over the country/continent, seems an unfathomable one. A franchise continuing in spite of this may leave fans disillusioned with the idea, leaving stadiums unfilled, the team unsupported and, in turn, the franchise unsuccessful.

 
Finally, on a slightly more sentimental note, NFL fans in the UK have their own tradition in watching American Football. The tradition is a world apart from the US, but is a tradition all the same. We don’t go to games, we don’t go to tailgates, and we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving around a triple-header. But we do gather on a Sunday night for nine hours of football, we do stay up until 5am to watch our teams and then go to work on a Monday morning, and we enjoy the exoticism of supporting and watching teams in cities many of us have never, and may never, visit. The International Series has become a welcome part of this tradition in recent years, and has been overwhelmingly accepted by fans in this country as a way to become further in touch with the sport itself. A franchise of our own, however, may be a step too far. Under-supported and devalued, it may even serve as a detriment to the traditions that we currently indulge in, taking away our cosy Sunday nights of football and replacing it with what may be just a pale imitation of the real thing seen across the water.

 
Keep bringing us regular season games, Mr Goodell. In fact, you can even bring two. If you feel that way inclined, you are certainly welcome to even bring us a Superbowl. But as far as a franchise goes, I would personally appreciate the offer, yet say thanks, but no thanks.





Welcome to Transfer Deadline Day™ 2010. Sponsored by Sky Sports News.

31 08 2010

‘MASSIVE news coming in from Stoke, where Eidur Gudjohnsen has arrived for a medical’.

Except its not that massive at all, is it Jim? I was relatively interested when Eidur Gudjohnsen joined Barcelona from Chelsea. After watching his career take a small dip in Spain, I was reasonably amused when he joined Monaco, but the breaking story itself was nothing to write home about. Due to their rivalrous nature to my own blue boys of West London, his loan to Tottenham may have cast my eyes over towards Sky Sports News for a little while. So by this point, a loan deal to Stoke City at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon is not really that ‘massive’ for anyone, Stoke fans and even Gudjohnsen himself included. It’s relatively ‘un-massive’. Minute, if you will. Its barely even news.

But such is life at Sky Sports Towers. Not content with bastardising the fixture list to create feasts of football on ‘random Sundays’ throughout the calendar, Rupert and pals have managed to conjure up an entire day in the football calendar single-handedly, where nobody even plays football. One, pre-2006, that nobody could really care less about. It’s Transfer Deadline Day.

Look at it. The alliteration, the dramatic use of ‘deadline’, the way it rolls off the tongue. Sky Sports News was practically invented for this day. The countdown began in July, and it all came to a glorious climax with a shot of Big Ben chiming at 6pm this evening. Up to this point, Sky Sports has pulled out all the stops to make this the biggest sporting media event of the summer. Jim White has spent most of the day shouting at me, bellowing such non-descript anecdotes as “it’s been high drama, all in high definition”, whilst Ed Chamberlain meekly sits alongside him, the Robin to White’s Batman. Whilst the yellow ticker moved into overdrive, Sky Sports’ equivalent of Christmas temporary staff stood awkwardly outside every Premier League training ground in the country, clutching to any rumour that should be thrown their way.

However, unless I was watching in the wrong definition, there seemed to be little of White’s promised high drama. Up until 2pm, we were left gripping to Marcus Bent’s loan to Wolves from Birmingham City as the deal of the day. Surely Wolves should have had the grace to at least provide us with a permanent deal for our buck? This isn’t Freeview any more, Mr McCarthy.

Sunderland then proceeded to tick one of the key transfer window boxes, in signing a World Cup superstar in Asamoah Gyan, who they hope will be more Bergkamp than Diouf in the grand schemes of hasty, post-tournament transfers. Alexander Hleb and Gudjohnsen moved about again, the Robinho saga came to a predictable end, and Liverpool booted Emiliano Insua off for a year and replaced him with Paul Konchesky, cutting some of their youngsters in the process. The day wouldn’t be complete without Harry Redknapp wheeling and dealing, so Spurs provided the only drama of the day in throwing a few million at Rafael Van der Vaart with a few minutes to spare. As the afore-mentioned timepiece ticked towards six, we were all left feeling a little underwhelmed by a day that has failed to produce in recent times.

So did we learn anything? The ‘biggest done deals’, as the BBC describes them, are listed below:

Jean Beausejour [Club America – Birmingham] Undisclosed

Marcus Bent [Birmingham – Wolves] Loan

DJ Campbell [Leicester – Blackpool] Undisclosed

Tom Cleverley [Manchester United – Wigan] Loan

Franco Di Santo [Chelsea – Wigan] Undisclosed

Eidur Gudjohnsen [Monaco – Stoke] Loan

Asamoah Gyan [Rennes – Sunderland] £13m

Alexander Hleb [Barcelona – Birmingham] Loan

Emiliano Insua [Liverpool – Galatasaray] Loan

Paul Konchesky [Fulham – Liverpool] Player exchange

Robinho [Manchester City – AC Milan] Undisclosed

Gylfi Sigurdsson [Reading – Hoffenheim] £6m

Joseph Yobo [Everton – Fenerbahce] Loan

Out of those deals, six of the thirteen are loan deals, and none of these loans are enough to get excited about by any standards. In a world of transfers for mega-bucks, only one of those deals is for more than ten million pounds, and most would say the price of Gyan has been over-inflated by his performance in the World Cup. The transfers of Hleb, Insua, Konchesky, Gudjohnsen and Robinho were predictable for weeks up until today. At the end of Transfer Deadline Day, the footballing public have been surprised and excited by precisely nothing.

For this, however, we only have ourselves to blame. We knew this was going to happen. Firstly, the tightening of purses in world football means that everybody apart from Manchester City and the Spanish big-boys are being more frugal in the transfer market than in previous years. Secondly, anybody that does spend an enormous amount of money on a player will probably do it in good time, rather than relying on a rusty fax machine at two minutes to six. Finally, and most importantly, before Sky Sports turned FIFA’s 2002 ruling into a media circus in the latter part of the decade, the end of the transfer window has always been a bit underwhelming. We fondly remember ‘the Robinho incident’, but this stemmed from the rarity of two of the Premier League’s silliest spenders going head-to-head to purchase a player from the world’s silliest spender. Such a rollercoaster transfer was a one-off, the likes of which will rarely be seen again, on the day of the deadline at least.

However, Murdoch and the like can sleep easy. We’ll all tune in again in January. Ready to consume the ridiculous rumours, the shifty supporters who gather at Stoke, the inevitable awkward interview with ‘Arry in the car park, and the roaring White who will again guide us through the day with all the subtlety of a Spitfire. A harmless festival of fun, or an unnecessary distraction for players, managers, chairpersons and fans alike? You decide. But don’t expect high-defined, high drama in any of it. Save that for the football.





Premier League Review: The Good, The Bad, and the Barton.

24 08 2010

The second week of the Premier League brought us the other two promoted sides having their day in the sun, Chelsea continuing to score goal after goal without conceding no matter how poorly they play, and Kevin MacDonald discovering the very definition of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’. United stumbled, Arsenal revelled and Manchester City finally showed us what all the money can do. Let us observe the good, the bad, and the ugly…

THE GOOD.

Gareth Bale’s volley. A week after tearing Micah Richards apart over and over at White Hart Lane, the Welsh wonder completed a brace at the Britannia Stadium. If one goal was lucky in being hammered off Bale’s chest and into the net, his second made up for it with gusto. A glorious left-foot volley hit on the turn, the Welshman staked an early claim for one of the goals of the season. It even included a vital feature of any classic goal, clattering the woodwork on its way in. Think Tony Yeboah, Roberto Di Matteo…

Baggies boinging again. After a torrid day out at Stamford Bridge last weekend, Roberto Di Matteo’s men came back with a bang at home to Sunderland. After only gaining international clearance to play in Saturday’s game on Friday evening, Peter Odemwingie scored a late winner on his debut to send The Hawthorns wild. Such was the importance of Albion’s first victory of the season, the club have even released a DVD to celebrate the occasion. Coming soon to a bargain bin near you…

THE BAD.

– Attendances. Do we just not like going to football anymore? Wigan’s first game in the Premier League in 2005 was a remarkable sell-out in a rugby town. The visitors in that game, Chelsea, visited again on Saturday evening, where more than half the ground remained empty. Even the loyal supporters of Newcastle United left 12,000 seats unfilled for their first home game back in the top flight. After Villa Park looked sparse last weekend, and the continual struggle to sell tickets at Old Trafford, the trend for ticket sales in the Premier League continues to be a worrying one.

Refereeing. Again. This time at Craven Cottage, as Peter Walton attempted to win some sort of award for the most horrendous decisions ever seen in one half. Whilst the first period of play passed without any relative incident, Walton’s indiscretions in the second half were numerous. Dimitar Berbatov found himself incredulous at being punished for a completely phantom handball, whilst Fulham were denied the stonewall-est of stonewall penalties when Nemanja Vidic hauled down Bobby Zamora in the box. Damien Duff deflected the ball onto his own arm for a soft penalty at the other end, but Fulham were again denied when the arm was the other shoulder, with furious protests again being waved away by Walton in the United box after the ball struck John O’Shea’s arm. This is all before we mention that Duff had already been booked before his ‘deliberate handball’, which probably means he should have been sent off for the incident. For half an hour on Sunday, Peter Walton couldn’t even get his mistakes right.

THE UGLY.

– Joey Barton is not a Nazi sympathiser. But, when you are Joey Barton, and you go anywhere your top lip in celebration, it’s probably best to avoid raising your arm in the air at the same time. Just saying…





A Weekend In The Life of a Bundesliga Virgin.

23 08 2010
I have never been completely ignorant of the Bundesliga. It has always been there or thereabouts in my football consciousness, but never at the forefront. The Premier League saturates my television screen daily. I spent my youth watching Football Italia on Channel 4, whilst La Liga has become ever more prominent in the UK over the past ten years through Sky Sports’ frequent coverage, coupled with the national side and Barcelona winning everything under the sun. Despite it being consistent in quality and support, a British football fan could be excused for putting the Bundesliga on the back-burner.

Until now. Germany’s success in the 2010 World Cup, coupled with ESPN’s comprehensive (not to mention, excellent) coverage leaves little excuse for the ignorance of a league riddled with positives. This season, I have decided to devote a large portion of my footballing attentions to the Fatherland, and throughout the first weekend of the top division, there were numerous examples of all that is good and great about German football. Here are my original observations after my initial dip into the waters of the Bundesliga.

Noise and Colour.

After a weekend where even St James’ Park was left with 12,000 empty seats upon their return to the Premier League, the sheer numbers that attend games all around the Bundesliga are extremely impressive. No league in Europe has a higher average attendance than the top tier in German football, and indeed, only the Indian Premier League and the NFL, in sport as a whole, can top the Bundesliga in terms of crowd volume. Full stadia means volume of a different kind, with the crowds in Munich, Dortmund and Hamburg at this weekend’s televised games creating an outstanding atmosphere, with only the Westfalenstadion falling silent after Leverkusen’s early dominance. However, these grounds do not only sound good. They look good. Flag and scarf-waving unlike anything seen in the Premier League paint stadiums around Germany vividly in team colours. The 24,000 strong Südtribüne stand at the south end of the Westfalenstadion hosts the largest terraced standing area in Europe, something many British fans would give their right arm for. The Allianz Arena takes that extra step and adds colour to the outside of the stadium as well, with the stadium lit to honour whichever Munich side happens to play at home. The sights and sounds of the Bundesliga generate a desire to be a part of the game; to be one of those standing in ‘The Opera House’ of German football in Dortmund, to drink in the indoor beer-halls of the Allianz or be part of the sea of blue in the Volksparkstadion. This kind of jealousy does not smack me to anywhere near a similar level whilst watching an empty DW Stadium, or one of those quieter nights at the Nou Camp where Barcelona hammer a lesser side. I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest the atmosphere in Germany not only rivals, but betters any seen in the rest of the major European leagues.

Stars of the Future.

Every football fanatic has an elitist locked within them. Whether it rears its ugly head at the surface, with the man in the pub waxing lyrical about the latest Moldovan 15-year-old superstar set to take over the world, or lies buried within the classier and less vocal pundit, most enjoy the notion of discovering a footballing prospect unknown to most. Whilst I wouldn’t be so bold to suggest that anybody starting a game in the Bundesliga is an ‘unknown’ in world football by any means, there is certainly a degree of mystery to the odd youngster in German football, and this can add an enjoyable feature to viewing the division. This summer Thomas Müller lit up the World Cup, and continued this form on Friday in the Allianz, whilst Eljero Elia showed flashes of brilliance during the tournament and in Saturday’s clash with Schalke. Despite the arrivals of old-timers Michael Ballack and Raul to the division, the Bundesliga remains relatively young with respect to the average age of its players, and the chance to discover young talents long before international tournaments presents itself en masse to the objective Bundesliga viewer. Whilst this is true of any league, an outside viewer of German football can follow young talents without the over-exposure and hype of national media, something which the British press, and in turn British fans, are frequently guilty of.

Football Made To Be Enjoyed.

I’m not going to lie. I get fairly passionate about football. Even angry at times. During each Premier League game, I can pretty much guarantee I want one team to win, for one reason or another, and often those reasons are tainted with negativity and bitterness. Therefore, the 270 minutes of Bundesliga I watched at the weekend were pure, unbiased, bliss. I could sit back and enjoy the football itself, cheering each goal, observing each player, like a real football fanatic should. The football itself was pacy, in a similar vein to the national side’s performances, and entertaining as a whole. The game in Munich switched back-and-forth, and always remained competitive, where as Hamburg’s flowing football got the result it deserved against Schalke. However, the individual results and performances mattered little to me, since I have no ties to either of the sides. From an outsider’s point of view, the Bundesliga provides an enormously exciting prospect for a season’s viewing: the ability (and rarity) to enjoy football at face-value.

Football remains eleven men against eleven at any level, on any stage, in any country. The Bundesliga has the same rules, similar ideals and a similar style to any other league in Europe. However, the subtle nuances of every league make football so dynamic, and in turn, enjoyable on so many different levels. The elements listed above will probably not be shared by football fans within Germany itself, and German football fans may even feel the same whilst watching the English Premier League. Such is the beauty of a game seen through so many eyes, from so many different viewpoints that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. I will certainly enjoy the Bundesliga in my own way in the coming months.





Premier League Review: Great Expectations.

16 08 2010

Here we are again. The opening weekend of the Premier League season passed with a pleasantly mixed-bag of shocks and inevitabilities throughout. Chelsea end the weekend top of the table, whilst West Brom end the weekend bottom. Didier Drogba tops the scoring charts. On the face of it, little has changed. But, as we see below, not everything was so predictable…

“I didn’t see that coming…”.

Blackpool’s 4-0 win at Wigan. A coupon-buster across the country, Ian Holloway’s men took advantage of a horrendous Latics defensive performance, in addition to Marlon Harewood remembering how to, well, be a striker, to stun the Premier League and top the table for a couple of hours. The Tangerines go to the Emirates next weekend two points ahead of the North Londoners, and will hope not to follow the path of fellow early-season successes Burnley and Hull in failing to capitalise on their moment in the spotlight.

– The goal of the weekend coming from Wolves, of all places. Molineux didn’t exactly grab the largest share of attractive football last season, but Dave Jones’ extravagant free-kick against Stoke will be one of the better moments seen in Wolverhampton this campaign. Flicking the ball up to yourself, then proceeding to volley the ball home from twenty-five yards during a direct free-kick is definitely something to try at home, kids…

– Everton toothless in attack. Everton began last season poorly, with injuries littering the squad. This season, with Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha fit, in addition to Jermaine Beckford transferring in to bolster the striking line-up, Everton looked set to start the season with a bang against a typically average Blackburn Rovers. It wasn’t to be, with the eighty minutes following Tim Howard’s early blunder were not exactly filled with striking opportunities, despite midfield domination. Wolves visit to Goodison Park next weekend could provide the perfect antedote.

Joe Cole’s two-footed karate lunge at Laurent Koscielny, earning him a red card on his Premier League debut at Anfield. He’s just not that sort of player…

“Same ****, different season…”

– Stamford Bridge, the home of goals. Chelsea have now scored twenty-eight goals without conceding at home, and the train kept a-rolling against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening. In the same vein, Didier Drogba continued last season’s goalscoring exploits with a well-earned hat-trick, and Florent Malouda continued the kind of form that made him one of the players of the last campaign.

– Goalkeeping howlers. After a World Cup of extraordinary cock-ups courtesy of goalkeepers from across the planet, this weekend such hilarity was brought to the Premier League. Tim Howard dropped the ball at Nikola Kalinic’s feet for the only goal of the game at Ewood Park, whilst Chris Kirkland made numerous attempts at making everyone forget about Robert Green being England’s least confident custodian right now. Until, of course, Robert Green’s weak punch brought about Aston Villa’s first goal at Villa Park. Even the certified ‘Best Goalkeeper In The Premier League (TM)‘, Pepe Reina, gifted Arsenal a point through punching the ball into his own net late on at Anfield. Thank goodness for Joe Hart, eh? And I’m not even going to mention Manuel Alumunia…

– City are probably still not good enough to win the league. A damning assessment after one game away to last year’s fourth-placed side, for sure. However, the problems City need to overcome looked numerous on Saturday lunchtime. Tevez’s role as a ‘false nine’ ended with him being, well, a ‘real nine’, and he became City’s only out going forward, and the only player on the field for City who looked like scoring at all. Jerome Boeteng will surely enter the side upon full fitness, with Micah Richards being torn to pieces by Gareth Bale, whilst the Barry/De Jong/Toure partnership in midfield does not seem to have entered full flow in the slightest. City have spent the pennies, and Milner and Balotelli are yet to arrive, but they will need to improve on Saturday’s rusty performance to get anywhere near the title any time soon.

– Joe Cole’s two-footed karate lunge at Laurent Koscielny, earning him a red card on his Premier League debut at Anfield. Because, sometimes, he IS that sort of player…





Chelsea Season Preview: The View From A Blue.

10 08 2010

Chelsea begin the 2010/11 season with few additions to their double-winning squad of last season. Out of Stamford Bridge go Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Belletti, Michael Ballack and Deco amongst a never-ending list of youngsters, with only Yossi Benayoun coming into the side amidst work-permit issues with midfield target Ramires. Despite this, most bookmakers would have Chelsea as favourites for the title, even in the face of their recent Community Shield defeat to major rivals Manchester United.

As a Chelsea obsessive myself, I sometimes find it hard to be objective in writing about the team that I support. In this brief preview of the season, I’ll aim to avoid being too protective over some and too damning to others, and provide a well-balanced outlook of the season ahead, and what and who all fellow Blues should look out for.

Players Who Must Improve

Nicolas Anelka

Whilst not having a ‘poor’ outing last term, Nicolas Anelka spent the latter part of the season relatively anonymous to most. Scoring ten less goals than his previous top-scoring campaign (despite the fact Didier Drogba spent two months at the African Cup of Nations), Anelka struggled to fit in to the single-striker system employed by Carlo Ancelotti. When playing the role himself, Anelka went for up to two months without scoring, yet also looked unhappy supporting Drogba in a wide role upon his return. With a single-year extension to his current deal in place, this will probably be Anelka’s final year at the club. He will feel aided by the lack of purchases in the striker department by Ancelotti, but after a difficult summer, Anelka will need to start the season with a more positive outlook to help Chelsea to a second consecutive title.

Yuri Zhirkov

After becoming the most expensive Russian footballer of all time in joining Chelsea last summer, Yuri Zhirkov endured a difficult first season. Frequently injured for much of the pre-Christmas period, Zhirkov struggled to make an impact in the first-team, finding himself caught between a left-back position dominated by Ashley Cole, and a left-wing position that Florent Malouda had excelled in. Despite a memorable (and blood-stained) performance against Bolton in April that helped Chelsea win their fourth title, fans from West London will expect more this season for their £18 million expenditure this season, and Zhirkov will see usurping a shaky Cole from his left-back role as his best route back into the first eleven.

Players To Be Excited About

Daniel Sturridge

Now 20, this season could be the start of something special for Daniel Sturridge in SW1. He has continued to improve on a steady curve until now, excelling at youth level for Manchester City before impressing in cup football for Chelsea last season, before netting his first league goal last April. With Nicolas Anelka seemingly reaching the end of his career at the Bridge, Sturridge will see 2010/11 as a chance to grasp a regular first-team opportunity for Chelsea. With the older guard from previous seasons moving on, Carlo Ancelotti’s faith in younger members of the squad will aid Sturridge’s development in this transitional year, and he will see more playing time because of it. After seasons of relative inactivity in Manchester, Sturridge will hopefully have the hunger to perform this season, when given the chance.

Gael Kakuta

After his controversial entry to the club, Gael Kakuta found himself propelled further into the spotlight than the average 18-year-old should at the beginning of last season. Whilst only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes for his club during the course of the campaign, Kakuta went on win the Golden Player award this summer after his series of electrifying performances for France in the Under-19 European Championships. Now 19, Kakuta falls within the age limit for the Premier League’s new squad rulings, leaving him free to play a part in Chelsea’s upcoming season at Carlo Ancelotti’s calling. Whilst fans should not expect big things early on, Kakuta remains one of the league’s brightest young talents, with a natural flair and incredible pace, and the Frenchman will certainly build a buzz around Stamford Bridge whenever he is chosen to appear in the coming months.

Players Who Will Win Chelsea The League

Michael Essien

How Chelsea won a title without Michael Essien for the majority of last season baffles me to this day. Essien is a personal favourite in the side for myself, with so many strings to his bow that he might require a replacement bow sometime soon. His ability to come forward and strike a ball, combined with his exceptional vision in threading passes to Malouda and Kalou/Anelka aid Chelsea in breaking down sides, whilst his vicious (yet fair) tackling ability and awareness to intercept key passes stop oppositions defensively. All this whilst entering the peak of his career, whilst fresh from a summer without a World Cup, will leave Essien in exceptional condition to lead Chelsea in the coming months.

Branislav Ivanovic

Ivanovic’s contribution at right-back for a large part of last season goes largely under-appreciated, but in reality his services did wonders for Chelsea’s title bid. Overlapping wide players, he provided an excellent service to Didier Drogba and others with six assists all in all for a player not famed for his attacking play. At the back, he covered for a seemingly irreplaceable Jose Bosingwa with aplomb. In the coming season, on Bosingwa’s return and with Carvalho’s departure, Ivanovic may find himself partnering John Terry in the centre of defence, due to Alex’s fitness being a consistent worry. This partnership could make or break Chelsea’s season, but after last season’s successes, I would never write off Branislav Ivanovic making a significant contribution to Chelsea’s title aspirations again.

Players Who Could Lose Chelsea The League.

Ashley Cole

Whilst, on the right day, Ashley Cole remains one of the world’s better left-backs, he currently carries with him an entire wardrobe of reasons why this season could prove disastrous for both himself and, in turn, his club. Firstly, he appears unsettled, with rumours of an escape to Real Madrid fuelling the usually silent Ancelotti to vehemently deny any such move will take place. Secondly, Cole’s tumultuous personal life needs no introduction, and in recent times Cole’s extra-curricular shenanigans have continued, more than ever, to fuel the front pages of the red-tops. Finally, Cole endured a busy yet disappointing summer with the much-maligned England side, and his torturous performance in the Community Shield showed Cole lacking in awareness and pace, two of his best assets. With Yuri Zhirkov looking to impress, and Patrick Van Aanholt coming on in leaps and bounds, Ashley Cole will need to look over his shoulder if his performances begin to slip in the coming season.

John Terry

It is difficult to write about John Terry without stating the obvious. Not since David Beckham in the late-90s has every action of an English footballer, both on and off the field, been so under the spotlight. Firstly, some facts can’t be ignored. Chelsea kept eighteen clean sheets last season, all of which with John Terry at the helm. His performances post-you-know-what dipped, yes, but his qualities still shone at Old Trafford and Anfield late in the season. My concern, this season, is the age of Terry, coupled with just how much abuse he can take in the face of his private life and the afore-mentioned England campaign. If anyone is suited to battle on through, it is Terry, but with the departure of Ricardo Carvalho, he will need to learn to partner one of Alex, Jeffrey Bruma and Branislav Ivanovic in a solid partnership to avoid the mishaps of the latter part of last season, to lead Chelsea to a fourth title as captain. Without him, his defensive partners may not have the experience to win trophies alone.

Overall, I believe Chelsea’s success this season depends on their rivals more than themselves. Chelsea have the right squad to continue where last season left off, and will, in all likelihood, perform to a similar standard. My worry, as a Chelsea supporter, lies in Manchester United improving beyond such a standard, Arsenal’s squad improvements moving them back into the picture, and even Manchester City putting together a squad that will take another six points off Chelsea in the coming months. If their rivals do not improve on last year’s displays, however, I believe the title will be coming to Stamford Bridge once again in May.





Five Reasons Why We Should All Attend Non-League Day.

3 08 2010

On September 4th 2010, due to international fixtures, there will be no games in either the Premier League or the Championship. With the fans of forty-four teams left empty-handed throughout the land at 3pm, James Doe has called on fans of all teams in the top two tiers to pay their local team a visit as part of Non-League Day. This has been done through an excellent social networking campaign which grows by the day.  I shall be partaking in Maidenhead, supporting the away side, as my home-town team of Bromley take on the locals, and there are five good reasons why everybody reading should do the same. Go along to your team that is. Don’t all come to Maidenhead. There’s probably not room.

1) Football Can Be Fun Again.

When I go to Stamford Bridge, I get angry. Perhaps not as angry as those at Upton Park or Anfield, but the pressure of supporting a well-supported team and the embarrassment that will result on Monday morning if we get cuffed by Hull on Sunday evening will inevitably burst me a blood vessel one day. Non-League fans care about their side, and I wouldn’t suggest that they don’t. But the opportunity to watch a game from wherever you want, standing up, perhaps even mixing with opposition fans, promotes a more light-heartened, and dare I say it, fun, footballing experience. This is something we should all embrace. Football is a game, and games were made to be enjoyed. On Non-League Day, a local team will help you remember this.

2) Beer. In Some Places, Whilst Watching The Game.

I don’t mean to paint all football fans as Stella-swilling lager louts. However, I think many would agree that the feeling of being able to have a pint by the side of a football pitch on a sunny September afternoon does appeal a tiny bit. However, it must be considered that in the last twelve months I have been subjected to machine-poured Heineken for four quid at Stamford Bridge, Fosters with a lid on it for £3.50 at Reading and bottled Carling at Dean Court, all of which must be chugged in twelve minutes at half-time whilst holding a pie hotter than the surface of the sun. The thought of a pint of freshly-poured lager at a reasonably priced bar during the actual game appeals somewhat more now, no? I bet the pies are cheaper too.

3) The Personal Touch.

If you venture below the Conference at Non-League level, you’ll find everyone, but everyone, has a story to tell you about one of the twenty-two men on the pitch. My next-door-neighbour-but-one used to play full-back for Bromley FC in the mid-90s, and every person who accompanied me to a game would usually find this out within minutes of entering the ground and reading the programme, if they hadn’t already on the bus on the way there. This was usually followed by a ‘G’wan Andy!’ every time he went anywhere near the ball, as if the personal support of the ten-year-old down the road would improve his usually below-par performances. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in this, and I’m sure not much has changed today. Embracing football at such a level will immerse you, not only in the fans and the culture, but in the players themselves, and that’s something you don’t get in your average soulless Championship bowl.

4) Doing It For The Kids.

In connection with the previous point, the effect such an exposure to the lower leagues will have on a football-loving youngster is stronger than anything you will gain from the Premier League. A youngster’s first experience of catching a wayward shot and actually touching the match-ball will live in infamy in their own tiny minds. The experience of seeing your next-door neighbour play in front of hundreds of people will spur them on to practice and make it onto the torn-up hallowed turf one day themselves. Seeing their idols in the Premier League will make your children look to the stars, but seeing a Non-League football pull into the car-park in a Vauxhall Corsa will ground them into realising that being a footballer requires hard-work and mastering the simple stuff. All this can be achieved whilst you have your pint during the game…

5) Every Little Helps.

On a serious note, with so many clubs in the Football League moving into administration, every football club in the land needs the help of their supporters to stay afloat. Non-League Day provides us all with a chance to have a trial run at your local club, and if what you see takes your fancy, to go along more and aid your local team’s survival. Every programme, pie, or scarf bought helps, and what better place to start than September 4th.