Saturday, February 17, 2007

One More River - DoctorShoot

by DoctorShoot

Back street Aussie Rules.

Here the rules are god given, and the oaks and maples struggle for life in the valley clay soils of parched Victorian country Bendigo. They remember me and watch in silence as I climb the hill toward the forest of eucalypts which growl darkly against the morning sky of my youth. The paddock where I kicked a football seems to slope more acutely than I remember.

Long weedy grass clumps and tussocks grow where a hundred thousand voices roared as I soared above the pack to grab the mark of the century. I fired long punts and wobbly drop kicks at galahs that swung in shrieking pink and grey fits from sagging telegraph lines. I fired stab passes at my sisters who came with messages from my mother about dinner getting cold. They dodged or batted the ball away in annoyance. I bounced the ball and ran fiercely around my little brother who represented all defenders and non red and white players on earth. His laughter as he tried to lay a hand on me still rings as the forest trees rub together in the warm evening wind. The forest seems to suffer the drought more easily than the lonely maples and oaks.

I had wanted to wear skin tight skimpy shorts like the men did. I was unaware in my innocence of their bulging meanings below bright jumpers with numbers. I tore the sleeves from my best jumper and paid the price, but for three beautiful hours I ruled an empty paddock like Royce Hart, underpants knotted at the side to look like home shorts.

The citadels of glory were distant hopes for us, the country lads destined for hay carting and shallow marriage pools. Certain girls seemed to be attracted to the forwards, and some to rugged defenders. Some girls played with us for a while but dropped away as games grew more fierce and physical. They only flirted then.

I wander further up the slope away from the paddocks, into the tall dry weeds, and sit at the edge of the eucalypts. Their smell crackles through me tinged with wattle.

I have just returned from Uluru in Australia’s heart, where red morning suns crack through damp earth, releasing the children of Mutitjulu like swarming bees around a red leather balloon. They play football in mobs laughing and diving and creating new edges in ancient ways. I wanted to play with them but they are too fast and inventive. At their age I kicked end to end with a couple of mates. How stable and constrained we were compared to these red dust scamps with their twisting, bundling, melting, black scramble. They break apart squealing and colliding again, colliding each other into the dust.

From up here the old maples look distant, sagging beneath their transplanted expectations and Uluru now only a hazy memory. The rules are made but who are they for? It’s a question of culture the one hundred thousand throats shriek.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Carling Cup final is at 7 AM on a Sunday - louisquatorze

By Abby Waysdorf aka louisquatorze

Football, or soccer as I term it to friends and colleagues to make sure they know what I’m talking about, is taking over my sleep. Sleep used to be all-important to this particular college student (university student, as I understand Brits say), but ever since June my weekends have been taken over by trips to a pub a neighborhood and two buses over, or if I’m lucky an 8 AM wakeup to catch Arsenal on my apartment’s recently installed digital cable, which I got specifically for Fox Soccer Channel.

Sundays are a problem, as one of the two buses that go to my preferred pub doesn’t run. If the game isn’t on FSC, my best bet is convincing a friend of mine, nominally Liverpool-supporting thanks to a boyfriend during a study-abroad trip to London, to come out with me. She has a car. She’s great to go with but often unreliable, and while enthusiastic doesn’t quite share my passion. Yet. I’m working on it.

Not that I'm exactly a long-term fan myself. I went into the World Cup this June with vague memories of watching the last one at two in the morning with my little brother, a spring-break tour of the Camp Nou sandwiched in between the Dali museum and Sagrada Familia, and three months in London where I watched the FA Cup final and Eurovision on the same day with delight, having never seen either. I came out of it this July a committed obsessive.

Being an American football fan is an interesting experience, marked by a willful snobbism and a wild idealism, based more often than not on sheer arbitrariness. We pick and choose just about everything. I continue to be fascinated by how my fellow fans get their teams, both club and national, because it's usually fairly indirect and funny. Even the act of becoming a fan is arbitrary, as it automatically sets us apart from the majority. Most of the time, we're not doing it because we were born to it.

Which gives us a fundamentally different mentality, I've noticed. European fandom is local, American fandom is deliberately global. We become fans because we want to be somewhere else, we're sick of being isolated, we want to connect. We want to be part of the world, and the world's game, as football's so often promoted as, is a way in. And since we're generally crap at it, we can go in humble. My hope for any tournament that the US is participating in is for us not to embarrass ourselves, but I always secretly look forwards to when we get knocked out and I can go for something more interesting.

Of course, I'm using "we" way too freely, and I'm absolutely certain there are Americans who think differently. The only way to generalize Americans is as contradictory. Even among the subculture of football fans, the only way to generalize is to say that we're going to be tired.

So Your National Team Is Crap - louisquatorze

By Abby Waysdorf aka louisquatorze

Hello England! Over the past few months I've noticed a lot of complaints about the state of your national football team. The possibility of not qualifying for Euro 2008 is looming, and I see reactions ranging from despair to dismissal. Perhaps it's time you learned something from us Americans- the fine art of picking an alternate national team.

Americans have long needed another national team to support for when the US either goes out of or doesn't participate in major tournaments. There are several ways of picking. One popular way is to go back into your heritage. This is particularly common of late among Italian-Americans, who have the benefit of a distinct culture and a World Cup winning team. However, this may not work for you English, as I understand most of you descend from other English people. That's fine. It doesn't work for all Americans either. My family background is Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, and Austrian, with I think a little bit of Ukrainian thrown in. Most of the time, I'm better off just supporting the US. Being Jewish, it's been much nicer for us here anyway.

Another good option is the travel one. Been somewhere? Enjoyed it? Got a T-shirt? Then you have a national team. In fact, you don't even have to go there, you just have to like the idea of the country. This is why England is so popular over here- you guys have been cool since the 60's. That makes a great default alternate national team for a lot of Americans. We also speak the language, which means that most of our football news comes from you. Brazil are also very good at marketing themselves as fun and interesting. Plus, their track jackets are in great colors. People who couldn't care less about football wear Brazil track jackets, which are normally bright yellow with stylish blue or green accents. Find a national identity that appeals, and follow that team.

There's also picking a national team based on a person. If you're a fan of a Premiership team, you likely have a good selection to choose from (Arsenal fans like me are spoiled for choice). Take your favorite player and follow his team. If, for some reason, your favorite player is English, don't despair. Your inspirational person doesn't even have to be a footballer. My early fandom of England had as much to do with Robert Smith as any other variable, and my brother backed Sweden in the 2002 World Cup based entirely on ice-hockey great Peter Forsberg. Any writer, singer, or car company can be your muse. Be creative!

Then again, you can always throw arbitrariness out the window and simply watch games, find a team you generally enjoy, and support them. It doesn't make a good bar story, and usually doesn't provide photographs, but it can be rewarding anyway. I've been delighted by Germany recently. They're an exciting young team that seem to really enjoy their football. And their track jackets are excellent.

Sport – It’s just entertainment you know - MouthoftheMersey

Real fans know that sport is much closer to the arms industry than the entertainment industry, but us poor saps are endlessly told that we have to accept lunchtime kick-offs, Martin Brundle mincing down the grid trying to get a word with Jensen, Russell bloody Brand in the Guardian, all because “sport is part of the entertainment industry”.

What if it was then eh? How about reviving a few entertainment classics (and not-so-classics) and seeing how sports top performers would get on.

The Roker Roar would be but a whisper compared to the cheer around the country if Fawlty Towers were revived in its full glory. Basil would be played by Jose in one of his more exasperated moods, “What do you mean, we have no centre-halves? The Chair of the Rotary Club is having dinner here tonight! Tonight!” Rafa was born to play Manuel, with his tenuous command of English, “Everton is small club, no?” Arsene would don the drag we are all waiting to see and take on Sybil, “Pretentious? Moi?” Ellen McArthur as Polly would rescue them all in the end.

Harry Redknapp is almost too obvious a choice as Norman Stanley Fletcher, as is Sir Alex as Mr MacKay (hairdryer included). Clean cut Chris Coleman must possess a geography O level, so he gets Godber, with Joey Barton typecast as ‘Orrible Ives and Stuart Pearce all bug-eyed naiviety as Bunny Warren. Mr Barraclough is earmarked for Gerard Houillier after his touching trust in Robbie Fowler’s explanation of the touchline snorting incident, with Gordon Taylor as Governor Venables nicely leading into Terry Venables as genial Harry Grout. The Guardian’s very own Russell Brand can get a bit of much needed exposure as Lukewarm.

Preposterous blusterer Peter Kenyon nicely steps into the Captain Mainwaring role, supported by Second–Choice Steve as Sergeant Wilson. On parade, we find dodgy Cockney Private Walker played by dodgy Cockney Dennis Wise, miserable Private Frazer played by Alan Hansen, Stupid Boy Pike played by Stupid Boy Lampard and Bobby Charlton in the role of aging, decent, but confused Private Godfrey. “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic! It’s just like when we faced those Italians at Istanbul in 05” - Corporal Jones is a role made for Stevie G, with Glenn Hoddle as the Verger.

On other channels, we might view the much-missed gentle romantic comedy of The Love Boat, with Cristiano as the scampish steward pursuing, not entirely whole-heartedly, a haughty Russian Princess love interest played by La Sharapova, whilst kind, but firm, Purser Gary Lineker is tracking down stowaway Theo Walcott. The ship itself is captained with a paternalistic twinkle in his eye by Bobby Robson. With Ricky Tomlinson signing books and Ralf Little flogging a dead horse in celebrity football, Big Sam takes on Jim Royle, supported by Kevin Nolan as Anthony and Mick Quinn as Twiggy. Venus, Serena and our very own Paula Radcliffe line up as Charlie’s Angels (Hmm… might need a name change) and Batman and Robin reunite as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick don the silly costumes.

Beats Super League live from the JJB though doesn’t it?

MouthoftheMersey February 14 2007

Ten things I never want to see again - MouthoftheMersey

Sport is a cruel mistress – just when you’re ready to chuck it (say after another half-time summary from Shearer and Wright), along comes Roger Federer, like a lover with a Agent Provocateur bag in hand a funny look in their eye, and you’re right back where you started, trying to keep your heart inside your rib cage. But though we love sport warts n’all, how might a little corrective surgery improve its fading looks?

Here’s ten things to be nipped and tucked away from sight.

  1. Formula One grids with cars lined up in team order. It’s the drivers we want to see competing, not techies with telemetry print-outs and team anoraks.
  1. Grabbing a flag from the crowd and waving it on a lap of honour. Poignant at first, now clich├ęd and occasionally jingoistic. The Olympics ought to celebrate the Family of Man not a country’s sports budget.
  1. Any pundit with more than three year’s service should be pensioned off – we can only hear so much, then the teeth grate. Hansen and Lawro tell us nothing that they haven’t bored on about ad nauseum for years. Charlton can’t defend - who would have thought it?
  1. Commentators treating sport as a moral debate. Barry Davies and Alan Greene can turn a commentary into a Daily Mail editorial – they are not all good boys: get over it! And while you’re at it, what’s going on down there on the pitch?
  1. Yet more praising of Rugby players’ attitudes towards the referee. Yes they don’t do the dissent thing and yes Rooney and co should shut up, but I don’t call fisticuffs and worse with a referee trying unsuccessfully to separate the thugs, a fine example to our nation’s youth.
  1. WAGS. Let’s leave these cohabitees undermining national teams’ skills out of the sports pages – it’s not as if they are short of exposure elsewhere, even in the Guardian for heavens sake
  1. Big production adverts during international tournaments. I don’t want to see Beckham as a cowboy, nor Zidane playing football in a banlieu, nor Roberto Carlos doing anything except taking free kicks. They are bad actors in poorly scripted, overblown, 60 second melodramas which are destined to be forgotten the moment the real stuff starts again after half-time.
  1. Those beards Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and Big Sam send out to do the BBC interviews while they sulk in the corner about some slight or other three years ago. Grow up and speak to the people who support your team and pay your wages.
  1. Perimeter advertising hoardings that play a short animated film whilst we try to concentrate on the match. Who thinks those are a good idea, except for the Peter Kenyons of this world? Get rid of them now.
  1. Opening Ceremonies. They have as much in common with sport as the Eurovision Song Contest has in common with Slipknot. Say No! to singing kids. Say No! to traditional dancing in national costumes. Say No! to the poor sap reading the commentators’ guide as the BBC devote 25% of its annual live sports coverage to this tosh.

MouthoftheMersey February 13 2007

Phoenix from the ice - Plissken

By mike Landers (Plissken)

It is common in sport to find stories of teams suddenly finding themselves homeless, through accident or mismanagement. Sometimes the story has a happy ending, with a return to a clubs traditional home, sometimes a club is stuck in limbo or simply dies quietly. But for the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey club, the solution was simple - build their own ice rink.

In the late 1990s, ice hockey in the UK went through a boom time. With fans packing the arenas in Manchester, Sheffield, Belfast and Nottingham, the Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) offered a high standard of hockey in brand new facilities. The problem was that the ISL was built on a foundation of sand with large numbers of imported mercenary talent combining with epic financial mismanagement to lead a league to collapse as quickly as it arrived, taking names such as the Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers to the brink of disaster and Manchester Storm and Ayr Scottish Eagles into high profile liquidation.

After the Storm blew itself out, the remaining fans created the Friends of Manchester Ice Hockey with the twin aims of restoring a team in the top flight and finding a new place to play. The first job was accomplished with the help of local businessman Neil Morris, who financed the newly named Manchester Phoenix, entering the brand new Elite Ice Hockey League - which tried to correct the neglect of British talent by reducing import numbers.

There was no fairytale ending. A disappointing season in the Elite League was played out in front of an average of less than 3,000 supporters, rattling around the cavernous (and expensive) 17,245 capacity MEN Arena. The team was nowhere near financially viable in such a building and with the smaller (and dilapidated) Altrincham facility closed down, the Phoenix were officially put into hibernation at the end of the 2003-04 season.

For the next two years Morris fought red tape, council intransigence, even politicking by other members of the Manchester ice sports community in order to realise his dream of building a new ice sports facility. Sites both permanent and temporary were considered all over the city, from west near the Trafford Centre to north, in Bolton. Eventually, in early 2006, Morris was able to announce he was going to build the new Ice Dome in Altrincham, for years the area which was the spiritual home of the sport in the city ready for that September.

With the hard part seemingly over, the Phoenix prepared for the new season with an opening date of 24th September in their new rink. Nothing would be that simple - problems with the site forced a three month delay until 2nd December. Committed to playing in the league, the club had to arrange "home" games at in North Wales and Sheffield, forcing fans into 100 mile round-trips. Players had to make the same trip two or three times a week. The equipment manager sat in laundrettes washing used hockey gear, the teams own washing machines stuck in storage awaiting their new home. Then in November, another body blow - the rink would not be ready until the end of January. More trips, more travel - and in January... another three weeks of delay. This forced the Phoenix to cancel home games, caused a fixtures pileup and 14 homes games to be played in the space of 40 days.

On Saturday, after almost three years of struggle, top flight ice hockey will return to Manchester when the Altrincham Ice Dome opens with the Phoenix hosting the Edinburgh Capitals. Despite being played in what is effectively a building site, with no amenities except for toilets and changing rooms for the players, the game is sold out. Such has been the determination from the fans that around fifty of them have been organised to spend Saturday afternoon wiping down seats and sweeping up brick dust in order to make the new home habitable. None of those fans will receive anything more than a thankyou, they will still pay full price to get in to see the game.

But for them, the fact that the team will finally play in its new home is enough.

Not even the best league in England - dogfacedboy

The Premiership should look over its shoulder before calling itself the best.

by Peregrine Roscorla aka dogfacedboy

Grand Slam Sunday, Super Sunday, glitzy Sky graphics, and back-page Sun splashes - who could doubt the Premiership is the best league in the world? Me.

Most of the heretics who argue against the Premiership as the best league in the world point to Serie A and La Liga, but if you care to look there is another contender much closer to home.

Just imagine a league where seven teams could still win the title in mid-February, 11 teams are in danger of relegation and all bar one of the 24 teams are within 10 points of the top six or the bottom three.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Championship.

In the Best League in the World(TM) only five teams are realistically competing for the top four spots and relegation looks almost certain to be three clubs from four.

This leaves 11 teams competing for nothing more than the Uefa Cup, which is before you take into account that before the season began 16 of the teams in the league did not dare to dream about winning it.

The gap between the top and bottom teams in the Premiership is 48 points, in the Championship it is 33. And with 15 games to play and 45 points up for grabs Leeds, rock bottom of the Championship, could still qualify for the play offs or even win the league.

As for predictability, the top four in Premiership have lost 18 games between them - with the only home defeat coming when Arsenal won at Old Trafford.

The Championship tells a completely different story, with the top four losing 30 games and no side undefeated at home.

There are also more goals in the Championship, 2.55 per game compared with 2.42 in the Premiership. If you transfer the Championship average to the Premiership there would have been an extra 37 goals already this season, rising to 49 if the scoring rates stay the same.

Just imagine, 49 extra goals over the season could have changed the whole shape of the league if they were all late winners or equalisers and as the Championship is the more competitive league it seems that a good number of them would have been.

You may argue that the Premiership has better players, which it does, and more people go and watch it, which they do, but if you look at the facts and you prefer some old fashioned competitive football where every point counts and no one is overly surprised if the team in 24th place beats the team in first then this year's Championship makes the self-proclaimed "Best league in the world" look about as exciting as a Dott-McManus snooker match.

The least likely Scudetto ever? - Ebren

By Ebren

Gun-toting fascists, animal trainers and a Welshman who outscored Pele up front – Lazio's 1974 team are probably the most outlandish Serie A winners ever.

Promoted from Serie B in 1972, Lazio took their place in a Serie A where foreigners were banned and where the league dominated by the Milan and Turin giants, within two years they had won it.

Coached by former Roma player Tommaso Maestrelli and fronted by Giorgio Chinaglia, Lazio spent little on the team, used a tiny squad (only 18 players were involved in the 74 Scudetto, two of them only playing once) and played a brand of all-action total football in the temple of Catenaccio.

To add to the fun, the team were split in two in training. Coaching sessions frequently ended in violence, seeing more players wear shin pads in practice than in league games, and the two camps changing in separate dressing rooms.

The team were also gun-happy. Relaxation involved shooting at things - bins, lamps, and in one case Roma fans trying to keep them awake.

They also voted fascist, held up jewellery stores for fun and managed to beat up – on the pitch, in the dressing room, and in a restaurant – the only two English sides they ever faced (Arsenal and Ipswich).

But wedded to all this, they played excellent football.

In 1973 they finished two points behind champions Juventus, with the best defence in the league. In 1974 they scored 12 more goals with Chinalglia finding the back of the net 24 times in 30 games to win the league for the first time in their history.

And Chinaglia was special. The first Serie B player to be capped for Italy, named Lazio's greatest ever player in 2000 and – playing in the same side as Pele – all-time top-scorer in the North American Soccer League.

But stats are where his story begins.

Giorgio followed his parents to Wales aged six and was free-transferred by his first club, Swansea, before reaching Lazio. Brought to Serie A in 1969 he flourished under coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo, who was in charge of the Argentine "animals" of 1966, he scored the winner against Milan on his full debut.

On the pitch he was lippy, violent, and shot from the lip as often as at the goal – in effect Chinaglia was what Paul Dicov would be if he was good at football.

But less than a year after the 1974 triumph, Lazio's decline began.

Banned from Europe for their 'fracas' with Ipswich, Lazio's coach Maestrelli contracted terminal stomach cancer. Then, just 47 days after helping to carry Maestrelli's coffin, Scudetto-winning midfielder Luciano Re Ceccioni was shot dead while pretending to rob a jewellery shop as a joke. He was 28.

By then Chinaglia had already left for the New York Cosmos.

It would take Lazio more than 20 years to win another trophy and until 2000 and the inspirational leadership of Sven Goran Eriksson to win their second league title.

And so it begins

Right, we now know who Gary Naylor is. My annonymity and jonnyboy71's are blown. And I get an honourable mention [I am, of course, sure that there was no politics at all in the final decision ;-)].

I've got two entries to post here - so here we go...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It lives!

With the advent of the blog about blogging on the Guardian Unlimited sports blog, it was announced that GU contributors could submit 500-word articles for publication.

The best three would be published every Friday - allowing all those that thought they could do better to prove it.

Well, I was thinking about this, and decided that I would like to read what my former fellow GU sports blog contributors put together regardless of whether they made the grade for the GU website.

From now on they will have a home here - in Pseuds' Corner, the home of the frustrated hack.

Email submissions and I will put the ones that don't make it to the GU site online for you to read and comment on here.

On the assumption that my piece will not make it, it will probably be me kicking the site off on Friday afternoon anyway - and I'm a terrible egotist dontcha know.

Email the site at pseudscorner@hotmail.co.uk

Tweet it, digg it