Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flights of fancy - Postern

Despite ballooning costs, sport-wise, the London Olympics will not be the biggest Games ever. 2012 is scheduled to feature just 26 sports, a sizable slump from the 35 currently on the IOC roster, and five less Sydney managed on 20% of the budget.

Baseball or softball will be axed, say London, and none of the five replacement options offered by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) are to be taken on.

With the list of IOC-approved sports growing (Sumo, Life Saving and, er, Korfball, anyone?), future Olympic hosts are having to draw the line: the number of sports staged is finite. With two Synchronised Swimming, 17 Shooting and six Equestrian events remaining on the slate, some suggest London could do even more to fight the flab.

The challenge for the IOC marketing team is to produce a Games that balances the Blue Riband (Athletics, Swimming, Gymnastics) with the unsung. Part of the Olympics' appeal is turning your average football/ cricket nut into two-week fan of Rhona Martin, Sean Kerly or Gail Emms. It is these side dishes that make the meal. Cut too much and you'll still have the world's costliest indigestion.

Last April ASOIF suggested host cities be allowed to choose their sports. The IOC has yet to approve, but it may sanction an expansion of the guest-sports programme where host cities can add a sport of their choice. As this has traditionally been used as a sop to let the host win extra golds - Tokyo 1964: a three gold-sweep for Japan in the Judo - it does little to serve the Olympic ideal. But it should still be pursued.

If so, what can London add? I would suggest a sport that will cost next to nothing to stage, is inclusive (how was powerboating ever an Olympic sport?) and showcases a piece of local character?

It has to be darts.

Granted, Britain would be favourites, but it would be no shock if Holland, America or Australia took gold. And, with five years' lead time, surely it wouldn't take much for the British Olympic committee (and our best sports marketing agencies) to enthuse fellow Olympic members.

The costs are manageable: £27 will pay for a sleeve of Tripe B Ray Barneveld 22g Ghost Grips, £30 for a Winmau Pro Board. Have five sets of each delivered to every IOC member, bring back Bully to accompany Seb Coe on a promotional tour and we might just have a new grass-roots event on our hands. The beauty is anyone might make the Portugal, Thai or Mexican Olympic Dart team. 'Be an Olympian', easy.

Invite teams of three, 501, best of nine legs. Stage the group games in pubs and social clubs around London (Co Stompe in De Hems, John Part in the Maple Leaf, etc); move to Lakeside for the Quarter Finals onwards.

If it's not there in 2016, who cares? London might just have managed to stage a more humble Games. Better still, we might be treated to Phil 'The Power' throwing a bull to light the Olympic flame.

1981: The year Mario Kempes spoilt Diego and Boca's party - Pipita

Since I saw Mario Kempes score twice in an Argentina-England friendly at Wembley in 1974, and four years later twice again against Holland in the 1978 World Cup final, I have considered him my number one football hero. The fact that Diego Maradona later appeared on the scene, never managed to alter my feelings. El Diego is Argentina's best ever footballer, but the fact is I support River Plate and he is a self-confessed River-hater and Boca Juniors fanatic. Enough said.

Maradona's alleged fanatism for Boca was not made public until 1981, the year Boca signed him from Argentinos Juniors. By that time Kempes was still very much hailed as the idol of many Argentine's for his superb displays in 78. Although not in top form for Valencia at the time, the River directors decided it was indispensable to purchase him, in order to mitigate the commotion generated by Diego's transfer to their arch rivals.

It was a dream-come-true for me when, after complicated and obscure negotiations, Kempes signed for River and scored twice in his debut against Colon in a 4-0 win during the early stages of the Metropolitan Championship. However, in the first Maradona-Kempes clash a few weeks later, Boca thrashed River 3-0 at la Bombonera with a memorable goal from Maradona after a dribble where he left Passarella, Tarantini and Fillol all stranded on the floor. Maradona's stunning form allowed Boca to obtain a significant advantage in the league by the half-way stage. By that time Kempes had already been sidelined due to a severe knee injury that ruled him out for three months. He was back however for the return game against Boca at River's Monumental stadium where he scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw. Naturally, Maradona had put Boca in front.

In spite of suffering a shaky patch towards the end of the tournament, Boca eventually clinched the Metropolitan league title only one point ahead of runners-up Ferro Carril Oeste, the revelation team that year. River finished a meager fourth, but Mario managed to score nine goals in fifteen matches.

When the second tournament of the year began, the Nacional, River replaced legendary coach Angel Labruna by the equally legendary Alfredo Di Stefano, who had already coached Kempes at Valencia. An almost immediate improvement was evidenced in River's form when they visited la Bombonera, and convincingly defeated Boca 3-2 with Mario in great form scoring one of River's goals from a free kick. Diego scored Boca's second. The return game at the Monumental was an equally exciting 2-2 with Boca equalizing in the last minute, via a Maradona penalty, a consequence of a Kempes foul in his own penalty area.

Boca, however, were to be unexpectedly eliminated in the quarter finals of the Nacional by a Velez team containing veteran "French campaigners" Osvaldo Piazza and Carlos Bianchi. River reached the final against Ferro and won the first leg at home 1-0. For the second leg match, Kempes was back after a six match suspension. He scored the only goal of that game with a fantastic header that made River champions. It was to prove his last game for the club.

Truly delightful ending to a year destined for a Boca-Maradona double, ruined however by River and the great Mario Kempes.

Friday, March 23, 2007

England Cricket Team Meeting Transcript by Mimitig and MouthoftheMersey

Transcript of England Team meeting held Friday 22 March 2007

In a strange parallel with the leak of England’s bowling plans during the Ashes series, a tape has surfaced of Michael Vaughan’s team meeting held Friday 23 March 2007. This is a transcript of that tape.

MV – Okay, that’s just about it on the tax advantages of property in Dubai, so we’ll move to next business. Straussy make yourself useful (muffled laughter) and give the non-contracted boys a shout will you? (Sounds of people shuffling into room, chairs scrape)

Right, well I’ve just about had it up to fucking here with you – you pile of losers. We’re going to get serious now, forget the shit everyone is talking about, forget your piss-ups and the deals that some of you fucking bastards have done with the tabloids. This is it, it really is, and the fact I fell down a hole is nothing to laugh at. My knee is fine, just fucking fine, so shut up, the lot of you.

Right: Jamie – just sit down will you? We’ve been talking about Dubai not Welwyn Garden City. For fuck’s sake, you’ve nothing to be happy about.

Tomorrow lads, as you know, we’re up against Kenya – is it Ken-ya or Keen–ya? KP: that’s your neck of the woods isn’t it? We know your history with Happy Valley, so no need to be shy here. God, didn’t they teach you anything between the canings at the General Smuts Voortrekkers Academy?

Colly, didn’t quite catch that, but then, that’s your area. If you’ve got something to contribute, you’re going to have to speak a bit more clearly than that.

I’m saying Kenya and they’re a decent side (muffled giggling) so we’re taking this seriously right? I said RIGHT? Fred, please concentrate – put that bloody can down. Straussy – go and look their ODI record up on cricinfo while I’m going through the team will you? For fuck’s sake, you can’t bat, can’t bowl so do something for the boys.

Okay, here’s the team. I’m shaking things up, and you won’t all be happy (especially you Jamie) but I want to liven things up.

Fred – I’m throwing you in at the deep end (raucous laughter) and you’re opening with me.

Where’s that Irish lad – the little one? Boyce – sorry Joyce? There you are. Well sit tight and stop looking in that mirror will you, I’m coming to you later. Just sorry we don’t have Alistair but never mind, needs must …

Belly Boy – you’re three, but really, let’s see a few more shots shall we, and make sure you move those bloody feet? And don’t for fuck’s sake get caught asking for a drink at the bar again. They WON’T serve you. Child.

KP – Four, and don’t smirk. No-one likes a smart-arse, and winning the best arse in the competition so far is no excuse for slacking.

Colly – Five. Sit down, there’s time for nets later. (Oh god, will that man never rest)

James, sorry, Ed, you’re Six to er… be the finisher that’s right. Not to bail us out, not that at all, no.

Ravi – Seven. I’m sure you’ll get a go. Stop pointing at Jamie – he may have more in his bag than you, but we’re a team here so sit and shut. And you field nearest me all 50 overs nad when it goes past me, you're chasing it.

Nix – Leave Belly alone. Yes, you’re Eight. Why have you got that gum shield in? I know you’ve waited a long time, but sheesh.

Plonker – Nine and put the bottle down. I don’t care if it is low alcohol. It looks bad through the long lenses – don’t you ever learn?

Jimmy and Monty – Toss for it. Loser gets Ten. Ha Ha! Straussy – come in, we’ve just gone through the team.

Now all of you lads who’ve missed out this time – where is Saj by the way – I want you to stay focussed and fit, ready to step in if someone’s knee goes (very muffled laughter).

Right let’s get to nets – Straussy, clear away the glasses will you? (Chairs scrape – sound of whooping: probably Nixon)

Tape finishes.

Feedback on the Exam by MouthoftheMersey

“…he is also one of a handful of Englishmen to have gained the LMA-sponsored diploma in football management from Warwick University.” The Guardian March 9 2007.

The following text is reproduced from a sheet of paper found next to a photocopier at Warwick University.

Tutor Feedback Dip in FM 2007

Pie and chips on the coach on the way back from an away game does not constitute carbohydrate-loading. You should consider working with a qualified nutritionist to produce individualised diet sheets. Red Bull and vodka will not replace salts lost during a match.

Pre-season training should concentrate on building balanced muscle growth and losing excess fat, avoiding over-training and consequent injury. Whilst running up sandhills may be a valuable component of such work, it should not be the sole form of exercise and never prolonged until “the Big Fella vomits”. It is also not advisable to deposit the first “puker” into the sea, nor to collect used condoms from the beach to throw around on the team bus, whether this activity builds team spirit or not.

New recruits to the club should undergo a detailed health assessment and be immediately issued with instructions on developing and maintaining fitness. This process should be integrated into an all-encompassing induction programme. Taking the new lads to a lap-dancing club then stripping them and tying them to a lamppost whilst recording the evening on mobile phones does not constitute an appropriate induction.

Promoting mental agility is an important element of building decision-making capacity through all members of the squad. However, convening card schools to play No Limit Texas Hold’em until 5.00am the night before a Champions League game is not a suitable activity. It is not the coach’s role to advise young players never to raise if holding a straight draw with just the river card to come.

With football’s role in the community being recognised as crucial in addressing social exclusion, a young player should be encouraged to use his free afternoons to link with voluntary groups or fund raise through charitable works. Advice such as “Dunno. Go home and watch Countdown like me” is not constructive.

Agents are now licensed with a clear and valuable role to play in football. It is not acceptable to scream abuse down the phone at them even in role play, nor is it acceptable to “get my boy to google them on his computer and see if we can blackmail the oily bastard”. Speaking fluent French is not indicative of criminal intent.

Overall it is clear that there is still some way to go before I would wish to put your name forward for final assessment. I wish to see a marked improvement in your attitude – “Let’s put our caps on the table then shall we?” is not seen as a clinching argument at Warwick University.

Peter Swan: Fighting the Past - allwell

By Jeff Gold or allwell to those in the know

Seventy-year old Peter Swan has Alzheimer’s disease. His poor short-term memory renders him unable to drive or to run his pub in Chesterfield. His long-term memories are as sharp and painful as ever.

Swan was a tough, confident footballer. With hair sculpted and shorts rolled up, he played the game with a swagger, revelling in battles both physical and verbal.

“I used to strut about the field as if I owned the place,” he said in his recent autobiography. “Supporters would boo me at away grounds. I used to love it.”

It was the early 1960s, a time when training at Swan’s club, Sheffield Wednesday, comprised little more than a few laps of the pitch; when one of Swan’s team-mates would enjoy a couple of pre-match pints; and when the maximum wage had only recently been abolished.

By the summer of 1962, Swan had played 19 consecutive games for England and was the linchpin of a Wednesday team that had just faced Roma and Barcelona in European competition. Nevertheless, his weekly pay packet was £20 plus bonuses. His England team-mate Johnny Haynes was earning five times that amount.

Jimmy Gauld was the ringleader. He explained to a Wednesday player that match-fixing was common in the lower leagues and that players were earning bundles of cash. Two forthcoming games were already set up and Gauld was after a treble.

Wednesday hadn’t won for eight games and their next match was at Ipswich Town where they usually lost. “We've got nowt to come,” said Swan when asked about their chances.

Three Wednesday players, including Swan, placed a £50 bet on their team to lose. Swan insists that the match wasn’t fixed and that they received no payment from Gauld. Indeed, money initially went in the opposite direction as they gave Gauld the stake for their bet, which remained their only incentive to lose.

It was an isolated indiscretion but one that made the Wednesday trio the most high-profile participants in a long-running conspiracy. When eventually exposed by The People it was described as the biggest sports scandal of the century. Swan was fined, imprisoned for four months and banned from football for life.

On his release from jail, Swan found work selling everything from cars to beer. Eventually the ban was lifted. Despite being 35 years old and inactive for eight years, Swan reclaimed his place in a Wednesday side now playing in the second division. But his best was behind him; after 13 games he left.

Jimmy Greaves describes Swan as a player with a fine footballing brain and outstanding ball control. He believes that, but for Swan’s mistake, this “rock in a raging sea” would have been a 1966 World Cup winner.

“I don't blame anybody, only myself,” Swan says now, but “I feel very bitter towards The People and Jimmy Gauld because they ruined my life.” They are the words of a man still fighting the past, and losing.

Prozac Nation - JohnnyBoy71

In South Wales, memories are long and tempers are short when it comes to rugby. Ron Waldron turned the Neath side of the late 80s into one of the most feared club sides in the UK, and so was invited by the Welsh Rugby Union to do the same with the national side. He promptly lost 70% of his games in charge and retired from stress after his players unwound from their 60 point hammering by the Wallabies with a brawl at the post-match dinner. Waldron was Wales’ last home-grown coach until Gareth Jenkins was appointed in April last year.

Criticised for ignoring players from other clubs and selecting his All Blacks en masse for Wales, he still defends his selection policy: “What people didn't realise at the time was that we had one and a half teams in Wales, and they were players from Neath and Llanelli. The rest of the clubs just had a dribbling of players. People thought our club football was good enough, but it hadn't been for a long time.”

History tends to repeat itself. After being beaten in Italy, Gareth Jenkins has exactly the same CV as Wales coach as Waldron: played 10, won 2, drawn 1, lost 7. He stands accused of loading his Wales side with players from Llanelli, with a sprinkling of players from the Neath-Swansea Ospreys and the other regions. All it needs is for a fight to erupt over the prawn cocktails on Saturday night and the symmetry will be complete.

You can’t really blame Jenkins. Llanelli are the only Welsh region left in this year’s Heineken Cup, qualifying as second seeds and handing Toulouse a painful beating at home along the way. Success in the group stages owes as much to his careful moulding of the Scarlets over 24 years as their coach as it does to the talent of the players down at Stradey.

But no one is invulnerable to the sense of frustration bubbling up in Wales. Take Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones: first pick for the Lions in 2005, identifiably the best half-back pairing in the northern hemisphere in 2006, getting hate mail in 2007. Form seems to have deserted both and with it, their supporters. Current thinking on how to address Wales’ woes is to drop the Llanelli half-backs, bring in Mike Phillips from Cardiff at scrum half and move James Hook in to the fly half berth which occupies such a key position in the Welsh rugby psyche.

Even allowing for the Welsh public’s fantasy of turning Hook into the second coming of Barry John, this might not be such a bad idea. Global rugby pre-eminence in 2007 belongs to teams who rule at the breakdown: New Zealand in the south, Ireland in the north. Wales couldn’t turn over Italian ball at the ruck and they had trouble hanging on to their own. But when it works, it really works: Wales won a Grand Slam in 2005 by turbo-charging the ruck, shifting the ball and the point of contact quickly and unchaining their outside backs. Phillips, 6’3” and 15 stone, could act as an extra back row forward to bolster Ryan Jones, Popham and Martyn Williams and get Wales on the front foot. A small tactical tweak could pay big dividends.

That changes the shape of the Welsh line. Jenkins would move Tom Shanklin inside to 12, start Gareth Thomas at 13 and then stick with the mix of speed and guile in his back three. A supersized midfield could work well against England’s lighter centre combination, opening up space in the wide channels.

People will forget that Wales were whitewashed in 2003 and then went on to miss the World Cup semi-finals by a whisker, but it is an unavoidable fact that they haven’t beaten a side in the top 10 of IRB’s global rankings since Mike Ruddock walked mid-way through the 2006 Six Nations tournament. The saes are coming down to Cardiff to drive a stake through their heart.

Beat England, and Jenkins buys himself six months of space to get it right for the World Cup. Lose, and he joins Waldron as the man who favoured his own, dropped a national hero in Gavin Henson and got his comeuppance. Either way, a repeat prescription for happy pills will be indispensable.

Finally - BB5 is here

Big blogger five is here - JB 71 wins (in an entriley predictable turn of events).

Among the 16 hon mentions, nine are Pseuds' regulars.

I have Zephirine's, Mouth of the Mersey's, mimitig's, Kokomo's, and mine already.

I Reckon I can get JB's and Duncan23's by pester power.

Anyone else - send on to the usual address.

And just because big blogger is on sabbatical - it doesn't mean we have to be.

If you write something send it on - the address, as ever, is:

Have fun and play nice,


The Day the Music Died - Kokomo

There are places I remember. In 1986, I cried tears of outrage, as Maradona swatted us out of the world cup. In 1990, David Platt brought me unbridled joy. I was in turn enthralled, scared and relieved by Cameroon, before tears of anguish at the scenes in Turin. In 1996, there were tears again, this time in resignation that it would always be like this.

Throughout these times, sport has been touched by tragedy. Large scale deaths occurred in Glasgow, Brussels, Bradford and, most poignantly for me, 200 yards from where I now live in Sheffield. I was not there, but like all others connected with sport, I was numbed by that day. Within weeks though, football on the pitch and in the stands had sent me on a rollercoaster. The scenes at Celtic Park brought a tear to my eye, before they flowed when the FA Cup was won against Everton. Days later, and more waterworks as Michael Thomas ‘grabbed it now’.

2003 and 2005 brought dramatic and unexpected highs in Sydney, Istanbul and the little urn. I sweated, laughed and was overcome as Jamie Carragher whooped about the Attaturk, Mike Catt humped the ball into touch and Matthew Hoggard larruped it through the covers. In 2004 my son learned how England loses, I thought that this was a good thing, and that he would come to appreciate the beauty of the nearly men.

On the 22nd March 2007, Jamaican police confirmed that Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer had been murdered. This is not the first time acts of murder have taken place around the arena of sport; lest we forget Andres Escobar, Syed Modi and Sir Peter Blake, while an Italian Policeman was the latest in a too long line to perish at the hands of fans this year. We have also had to endure the Aryton Senna’s and the Michael Watson’s in more overtly dangerous sports. Yet this does not bear the hallmarks of the above deaths, which were caused by accidents, Pirates, crimes of passion and gangs of hooligans and hoodlums.

It seems likely that Bob Woolmer was strangled either in response to his team losing a game of cricket, or because he was about to tell us that the said game was fixed. I am not sure which prospect sickens me more, but it is clear that when men or women are murdered because of a game in which we invest our time, money and emotions, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What the fuck does it all matter?’

I have spent my life pouring over statistics, devouring all the column inches I could digest, and watching all the footage I could find in the name of sport. Yet increasingly I find that I couldn’t care less if Ronaldo winked at the bench, if Andrew Murray has a scab on his knee, or if Jon Lewis makes a tit of himself in Rumours. I can blame it on the fact that I can’t identify with the overpaid sports stars who represent us, yet ever since I was discarded by Sheffield United as a youngster they have seemed otherworldly to me. Maybe I am just getting older, but I look in the stands and see men twice my age, who are living through their team.

Johnny Cash reckoned that San Quentin left him a ‘weaker, wiser man.’ I have never been to prison (though neither had the late man in black), and my disillusionment should not even be considered next to the suffering of those close to all of the above, but I have felt a profound detachment this week. Has this Cricket World Cup left me weaker? maybe; wiser? hopefully, but sadder; definitely.

The show will go on, and sport is probably no more corrupt today than it has ever been, but it is fast becoming something different to me. A diversion, not a lifestyle. Enjoyment, but not the be all and end all.

I have hated, loved and admired many people from afar through the years, and have perhaps never been more inspired than by Mark Richardson willing himself over the line in 1992, or Steve Redgrave gasping over it in 2000, yet I will struggle to attach those emotions to men and women playing a game again.

Football, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, Athletics, Racing and Boxing; we are moving into a new phase in our relationship. Yet of all these friends and lovers, Sport; I’ve loved you more.

Woolmer, the fallout - mimitig

So far, here at Pseud’s Corner, we’ve not been asked any hard questions.

But here’s one now.

Late tonight, or early this morning, however you see it, the most shocking news has broken from Jamaica and it has been announced that Bob Woolmer has been murdered.

Now I’m not proposing that we try and steal a march on any of the newspapers or online sites, but we have set ourselves up as a forum for debate on current sporting issues, and if ever there was one, this is it.

Can we, as a group of fans and enthusiasts for our sports, address some questions now, and show ourselves to be serious and committed fans who care, not just about supporting our sport, but putting our beliefs and views out there for others to comment on?

This is a very different question from whether Lampard was deliberately attacked on the pitch by a Spurs fan, though the logical thought progression shows that if violence isn’t stamped on, this is where it leads.

Should now the World Cup continue, should teams take action and refuse to play, or is this an issue that is so tied up with the Pakistan team and the various corruption rumours that are emerging that all other teams should wash their hands and carry on regardless?

I have no answers and have written this in haste, before having to retire to bed with work looming in the morning, because I seek your views, and I don’t think we can be a serious sports forum without addressing this, the most serious of issues.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In Celebration of Radio commentary - mimitig

Bizarre though it might seem, once upon a time there were families who chose not to have a television set. It wasn’t that long ago that we were one of those families. The lack of a TV never stopped me from following my chosen sports with a dedication that bordered on fanaticism. After all, who needs telly - we had the wireless.

As a teenager I closeted myself away for 2 weeks every summer to listen to Radio 2’s coverage of Wimbledon. When play finished for the evening, I would go out into the yard and hit endless balls against the wall. With every ball I imagined Dan Maskell describing the aces I served and I relished the points won against Chrissie and Martina.

In the winter the focus changed to Rugby Football. We would crouch around the Bush Transistor that my Da had given Mum as an anniversary present, so that we could listen to Cliff Morgan telling us what was happening at Cardiff Arms Park. Welsh matches (apart from when we played the English) were only broadcast by BBC Wales and we couldn’t get that on the big wireless upstairs.

The years went by and we still had no telly at home, but they had a big colour set at my Da’s work. On a Saturday, I would go and join him and his chums in the leather-chaired inner sanctum of the Senior Common Room to watch, in summer, John McEnroe shocking us all with his behaviour, or in the winter JJ and JPR thrilling us with their boldness and dexterity. It was a tremendous treat for a teenager.

Fast forward some 30 years, and I still find radio commentary far more compelling than the TV. For most of my favourite sports now, I have some access to television coverage. However, time after time from the cricket and cycling to football, tennis and athletics, my choice is always the soundtrack. Whilst I may be very keen to see what players look like, far more important is the feel of the match. I find this much easier to picture if I see it in my mind’s eye with the aid of good radio commentary. For my favourite sport, the cricket, there is nothing to match the perfect descriptions of place and atmosphere that you get on the radio.

There is something magical, bewitching and beguiling about the painting of a picture with only the use of words. Today, the on-line broadcasters with their over-by-over or minute-by-minute written commentary act as the bridesmaids to the bride of spoken commentary. We can engage with them, we can even contribute and become a part of the event we are following. It is an extension of radio in a way that TV will never be able to compete with. It becomes a glorious adventure with broadcasters and fans working together.

Maybe, just maybe, Radio Commentary, the Poor Man of sports broadcasting will be able to rule the airwaves again.

A part-time fan speaks out - tonyellis

There’s something I have to say about the game of football, but first I should make a confession.

I love football, really I do, but you’re going to have to take my word for it; any tests you may care to set me, I should undoubtedly fail.

The fan loyalty test for example - It’s my wife’s birthday and she wants to go to Paris. Meanwhile, West Ham have at last realised their potential and are playing the final of the European Cup (sorry, ‘Champion’s League’ is such a misnomer) in Birmingham on the very day of said anniversary.

What do I do with the tickets to that final you are hypothetically about to offer me?

Simple: I ask my wife what she thinks; not because I’m worried about fighting over the custody of our two cats, but because I genuinely don’t want to disappoint her. And I rather like Paris myself.

The fact my wife quite likes football and she probably wouldn’t want to disappoint me on such a frankly unrepeatable occasion does not excuse me: I have failed the loyalty test simply by asking.

The other test of a professed football-lover is, of course, an in-depth statistical knowledge.

I’ll tell you now, I don’t have it; any more than I can tell you the number or name of the train which departs Huddersfield for London at 10:15 am. Number of FA cups? Easy. Scores? Of course; I can even tell you which part of his body Trevor Brooking scored with.

However, if I were asked the names of the goalscorers in that epic semi-final against Everton (there was one, wasn’t there? I’m sure I went to the dénouement at Elland Road), I have no idea. Did Frank Lampard get one? (Yes, of course I’ve googled all this: the point is that I had to).

If I cannot answer even these questions about my ‘own’ team, it would clearly be a complete waste of time to ask me, for example, to name the last 10 F.A. cup winners, let alone their squads.

Such failure on both theoretical and practical exams would naturally, and quite rightly, prevent me from taking unsupervised control of a car, but does it mean I should lose my license to enter debates on football?

Clearly it does for some bloggers and pub experts, for whom the right-to-comment exam is a pre-requisite for any conversation.

Well, I never claimed it was an exclusive love. I have loved West Ham ever since that victory over Preston North End by however many goals it was, and football from my first glimpses of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Brazil.

The problem is that I like lots of other things.

Now I’m as renaissance as the next man, but if I have to display an encyclopaedic knowledge of them all before I’m ‘allowed’ to give an opinion, I’ll be too busy cramming to form one.

Anyway, about my comment. It concerns the current obstruction laws and what is known as ‘shepherding the ball out of play’. I fucking hate that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Verse or worse? by MouthoftheMersey

Ebren suggested saving this until after Big Blogger has run its course, but things seem to have ground to a halt at GU.

Pseuds are, of course, invited to add their own excruciating couplets.

Pseudscorner – an appreciation (with apologies to McGonagall)

Twas in the year of Two Thousand and Seven
That Bloggers were offered a ticket to heaven
“Rebellious lot – write five hundred words
And we will sift the gems from the turds”
The prize was something ever so glorious
A GU gig for the blogger victorious

So keyboards were punched all over the world
Ideas were spun and others were twirled
But in competitions there are so few winners
So on to the spike went us literary sinners
Frankly I couldn’t have been much forlorner
Then Ebren invented a place called pseudscorner

So here we loiter with journalistic intent
Our thoughts are composed, then through cyberspace sent
So forget the mean verdicts of Barry and Sean
Big Blogger is dying, but at Pseuds it’s the dawn
Of writing by a worldwide network of chums
Pseuds is the cake and GU the crumbs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Great players, one club, no medals - Bluedaddy

A few weeks ago the BBC's Match of the Day cameras were at Deepdale, home of Preston North End, for an FA Cup tie against Manchester City. Before the game, in the shadow of the Sir Tom Finney stand, stood the man himself, answering stupid questions in typically bluff, but polite, Prestonian fashion (I spent the second decade of my life in Preston - it's a no bullshit place to grow up). Finney, irrefutably one of England's greatest ever players, was a one club man, despite this resulting in a trophy cabinet to make Alan Shearer's look fit to bursting. To put it in the vernacular, "He won nowt tha' knows".

While Finney now embodies PNE, I recalled from his biography that he had wanted to leave the club for Palermo in 1952. Tom was on £12 a week, and the Italians were offering a £10,000 signing on fee and ten times his salary. PNE's chairman, the exquisitely named Nat Buck, dismissed Finney's transfer request: "What's 10,000 quid to thee? Nay lad, tha'll play for us, or tha'll play for nobody".

Unfortunately for Tom and me, PNE succumbed to two late goals from City, and I got to thinking about one-club players. Incredibly six current England players are one-club ponies: Scholes, Neville, Gerrard, Carragher, King, Terry. But while five of them have got shiny medals to keep them glued to their first club, and warm in their dotage (not to mention the GDP of a small South American country in their pension pots), only Ledley King fits the Finney profile: great player, one club, no medals. So will King stay at Spurs and why?

If Ledley needs an example of loyalty in defiance of logic, rather than dipping into the history books to the indentured days of Finney and company, he need look no further than a man who actually signed for Spurs in 1991, only to tear up the contract. Step forward, in your own good time mind, Matthew Le Tissier. Two-footed and naturally gifted, like Finney, 'Le God' was also instrumental in keeping his side in the top division, though while the 'Preston Plumber' had the likes of Bill Shankly to help him out, Matt had Francis Benali! Tellingly, both Southampton and Preston finished bottom in the season after their most famous servants retired from football.

As to their respective rewards, Finney has a knighthood, was awarded the freedom of his home city, and of course he has that new stand at Deepdale, while outside the ground stands an impressive sculpture of Tom in his prime versus Chelsea. Le Tissier may have to wait a little longer for the statues and stands, but he too is a freeman of his adopted city. He shares with George Best the distinction of having an aeroplane named after him, and, appropriately for the convivial Guernsey boy, fans can enjoy a drink in the Matthew Le Tissier Hospitality Suite at Southampton FC's St Mary's Stadium, a ground built in no small measure on the back of some of Le Tissier's vital, and often brilliant, goals.

One final thought: while you would have to be mad, or a Saint, to pick the languid Le Tiss over the bona fide football giant Finney, in an all time one-club international eleven, you'd do well to bring Matt on for the penalty shoot-out. Out of fifty career penalties for Southampton, he only ever missed one.

PS. My post 1970 one-club eleven, in a 5 3 2 formation: Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, Willie Miller, Franco Baresi, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Paolo Maldini, Matt Le Tissier, Steven Gerrard, Eddie Gray, Raul, Paul Sturrock.

Zimbo or Zimno? by MouthoftheMersey

Viewing the Pet Shop Boys breakthrough hit “West End Girls” recently (professional obligation – don’t ask), I spotted amidst the sea of shoulder pads and glare of Neil Tennant’s lip gloss a strange gathering filmed from the back seat of a taxi as it sped through Trafalgar Square. To a bunch of twenty-something students, it meant nothing, but I was catapulted back to the 80s and those long waits for night buses. The noise and the colour was always there of course - the 24 hour Anti-Apartheid protest went on outside the South African Embassy 365 days per year. A faint glow of pride surfaced in my heart as I recalled my steadfast refusal to bank with Barclays or buy the evil “Cape” oranges, and I thought about telling the class about those far-off days… but didn’t.

Few would deny that the sporting boycott played its part in bringing an end to apartheid and that a heavy price was paid by cricketers who were very good (Clive Rice, Vincent van der Bijl, Garth le Roux, Ken McEwan amongst many, many others) and cricketers who were great (Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor). Even the staunchest opponent of that hideous SA regime winces at the denial of seeing the 1970 team reach its potential. How good were they? They beat the Australians by margins of 170 runs, an innings and 129 runs, 307 runs and 323 runs – handy, I suggest.

Fast forward 37 years and another team from Africa are playing cricket “representing” a hideous regime, but this time the country is Zimbabwe and nobody is seriously advocating a worldwide sporting boycott. But no cricket fan is at ease knowing the state of that nation and the impact politics has made on the very fine cricketers denied their right to play for their country. The issues were covered in Andy Bull’s article and blog at - as fine a piece of journalism, never mind “citizen journalism”, as I have read in a long time.

So should we play with Mugabe’s representatives on the sporting field? I, not without hesitation, say yes. I don’t know what the future holds for Zimbabwe, but I know that sooner or later, it’ll look a bit like this cricket team – black and white working together for the common good of Zimbabwe, under a young leader doing his or her best in adversity. I’m seeking advice on a destination for a small charitable donation to support (directly) grassroots cricket in Zimbabwe – I’ll post the advice in the comments here. After all, what’s worth knowing that cricket doesn’t teach?

One day I look forward to the feeling I had on June 24 1995. I sat amongst my fellow Putney Cricket Club 3rd XI players half-watching the preliminaries for the Rugby World Cup Final on TV, wondering whether it was worth starting our match and missing the big game. Suddenly there was a whisper, “Is Mandela wearing Pienaar’s shirt? “. People stood up, someone may have clapped, I had the beginnings of a tear in my eye. I thought of those cricketers and wondered whether they considered their sacrifice worth it – I hoped they did. It’s a different route this time, but the destination is the same. I want to help Zimbo to get there. Who’s with me?

Swing when you're winning

On a night when football fans across the land are divided on key questions of whether a fan attacking Lampard is good or bad for the game, Pseuds' Corner takes a step into the murky water of fan violence and asks the questions on everyone's minds.

Firstly, why are English fans so incapable of hitting such an obvious target?

Head shot, body shot?

Which of Frank's chins was he aiming for?

Is this the first time Lampard has ducked a rather than take the hit when offered the chance?

Was the fan unsettled by the fact Frank is clearly not fat, and decided that rather than be forced to come up with new insults would fatten him up with a nice knuckle sandwich?

Could this incident ruin the UK's hard-won reputation for having the most violent fans in the world?

Will opposition fans now chant "one punch, and you f****d it up" at Spurs?

Why are Premiership clubs so far behind the rest of Europe and South America when it comes to technique of fan intimidation?

Did the fan simply confuse "small" and "far away", before discovering that Drogba is clearly not "small" and neither are his boots?

Is it ironic that the fan appears to deflect his shot off Lampard before connecting with a member of Chelsea's staff?

More questions to follow...

Eyewitness account - Zephirine

[ed] Pseuds' Corner - ever eager to track down a pretty face - has gone in search of the maidens our first XI tried to bowl over in the Caribbean, here are the results - as recorded by Zephirine:

"So me and my friend Alisha right, we’re in Saint Lucia cos her boyfriend Gavin wanted to see the cricket and he’s got shedloads of money yeah, so he paid for us but it’s dead boring cos he’s off on all these other islands watching these cricket matches and they’re really long they go on for fifty thingies each side I dunno.

"So me and Alisha right, we went to this club by ourselves and we had a few rum and cokes on Gavin’s platinum card lol. And then these blokes came in and Alisha said to me they’re England cricketers and I was like, they look like a bunch of wankers to me omigod look at that one’s hair. And then this tall one came in and even I knew it was Freddie Flintoff cos I saw him on TV on that bus when he was really pissed that time. You know, ages ago I was still at school, they won that whatsit thing.

"So they saw we didn’t have any blokes with us and they bought us lots of drinks and we all had a laugh yeah, and then we got photos of us with them on our phones to send home to say, look, we’re with these like famous sports blokes.

"They were well hammered right, I said don’t you have like a game to play tomorrow or something but they were just like, bovvered, and the Freddie guy said he could play cricket with a hangover like some Sober bloke, I said to Alisha I didn’t reckon he knew what sober was and she nearly wet herself. He said he could drink Shane Warne under the table and I thought Shane Warne was the one that won The X Factor but he got sort of pissed off with me about that.

"So then they started asking us questions about cricket, like do we know what an over is, and we were like, we dunno, we just come here for the laugh and the beach action lol. Omigod they went all snotty, like it was important or something. The Kevin one who was a bit older, he started trying to teach us all this cricket stuff and Alisha said save your breath, Gavin’s tried for six months and it’s still a load of wank to me.

"Well then they all walked off and Freddie went out on the beach and we were like, well fuck you then arseholes, no need to be so up yourselves, so we phoned the News of the World yeah and sent them the pictures and they promised to pay us fifty grand but Gavin was well mad at us when he got back cos we didn’t sign a contract he said we’ll never see any money.

"I think famous blokes are all the same, when they meet real ordinary girls like us they can’t hack it, we’re too like genuine for them.

"Now our pictures are all over the News of the World and all our friends are texting us we’re famous too, so nyer. Only Gav was right cos they haven’t paid us yet. And they’re all writing stuff about Freddie’s in trouble for being legless, like, big surprise. Well, bovvered. I hate cricket."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

England's Latest Crisis - by Gary Naylor and Clare Davies

On Sunday 18 March 2007, a meeting was held at a secret location in the Caribbean.

Present were members of the England Cricket Team Senior Management, Players and individuals invited by both sides to facilitate a preliminary meeting to discuss the events of Friday 16 and Saturday 17 March.

Information and findings resulting from this meeting will be put forward to a full Disciplinary Hearing, to be held at the MCC, at a date yet to be decided.


For the Management:
Duncan Fletcher
David Collier
Geoff Miller
Michael Vaughan

For the Players:
Andrew "Freddie! Flintoff
Jon Lewis
Ian Bell

David Gower
Ian Botham
Malcolm Speed

David Boon

Boon: Good morning all, whoever you are, wherever you are - ah, we're all here. Hi Malcolm.

Well we're here to discuss the shocking display of ill-discipline, uncontrolled drinking and general bad behaviour of certain members of the England team last night.

First of all, I'd like to say that I have never in all my cricketing days seen such a shocking failure to stick solely to the amber nectar, and in my mind there's no question that severe and punitive actions must be taken against the offenders.

Fletcher (aside): David, we're here to discuss the situation - you can't dole out punishment before we've heard the evidence.

Thank you David

I think we should hear first from one of the participants in last night's debacle, one who I know, could only have been led into this by stronger, more powerful characters than himself.

I call on:

Mr Ian Bell.
Please confirm for us that you are Mr Ian Bell, a cricketer of no fixed position in the order?
IB: I am
DF: I put it to you that you spent the evening of Friday March 16 in the company of Mr Andrew Flintoff and others. Why was that?
IB: Mr Fletcher lets me play with my friends if I'm upset after another soft dismissal.
DF: Why Mr Flintoff though?
IB: Well they won't serve me at the bar. They say I don't look 21 and it's more than their job's worth.
DF: I think we need a little more detail about last night, please Ian.
IB: Well after a couple of shandies for me and a bucket of rum punch for Freddie, someone, don't remember who, it's all a bit fuzzy, suggested finding a bitch, sorry beach, and before I knew it, there we were playing pedalo dodgems - we've done it before, you know, in the Serpentine, before a match
at Lords.
DF: Ian, that's not something we need to discuss here. Please keep to the point of today's meeting. Are you saying that you had no part in the decision-making process that led to last night's shambolic catastrophe?

IB: I am, sir, I am.

Boon: Well thank you Ian - you can go now. Please wait outside, on one of those hard wooden chairs just outside the Headmaster's - sorry Mr Fletcher's room.

Next I'll call on Mr Flintoff to give us his explanation of how he failed to keep this episode away from the fans with their fiendish modern telephonic equipment thus allowing the media of the world to suffer the sight of cricketers drinking anything other than the amber nectar.

Speed: (aside) David, they're not here to be questioned about their choice of drink, you drongo. Get a grip. They are here because their behaviour has brought the entire ICC 2007 World Cup into disrepute - and I desperately need something to take the heat off Zimbabwe's participation and Pakistan's utterly pathetic performance.

Boon: OK, OK Malcy, keep your hair on ,ha, ha.

So Fred: what's your excuse?

AF: Look, everyone knows the kind of guy I am. The public loved me for getting pissed up in 2005 lurching around in a drunken haze at Trafalgar Square and no 10 - somewhere, not sure where that was actually. I'm a straight-forward Northern lad, and I take my guidance from the great Shane Warne, who has always offered me helpful guidance on how to behave in public and prepare myself for the top international matches. And you can't argue with Warney, can you?

Boon: Well, you have us there Freddie. Next.

Vaughan: Please sir, that would be me.

Boon: OK then, Mickey Blue-eyes, but why are you speaking on behalf on management? In my day, we players stuck together, didn't we David and Ian: we were a team (on different sides obviously) but we were as one when it came to having fun. Well, you can have your say.

MV: Mr Chair, observers, and management. I may be the captain of this sad and sorry collection of characters that have been sent out here for me to try and knock some shape and discipline into, but really, how could I have been expected to keep them under control? I have tried, Lord only knows, I have tried. I have locked them into their rooms at night, I have spent a fucking fortune on DVDs and pre-paid satellite phones for them to keep in touch with their families - and all they use them for is downloading porn - I'm at the end of my fucking tether, and it would suit me fine if you sent them all home and gave me the England A squad to work with.

Gower: Michael, you have a point there. In my day we knew how to rebel in style, didn't we Ian?

Botham: Yeah, sure, David, but we did get hammered by the press - remember Tuffers?

Collier: Ian - don't go there, this is the 21st Century and we handle "difficulties" in the team in a modern and caring way now.

Boon: Fellers, fellers, we're losing the plot here. I think we've heard enough from all sides. I'm gonna call on Mr Geoff Miller to sum up for us and then we'll have to go off and refresh ourselves (not you Fred) with a can or so and reflect on it all.

Miller: This is a difficult and may I say, very dark day in the history of English cricket. I do remember the times when David (Gower) and Ian threatened to bring the game into disrepute, but I have to say that a Tiger Moth beats a pedalo hands down. I'm not going to hand down unfair punishments at this early stage, and so Messrs Bell and Lewis are free to go. However, Andrew, you have let the nation down, and your vice-captaincy is removed forthwith. Further action will await the outcome of a full disciplinary hearing once this farce of a World Cup is over. Sorry Malcolm. Michael: I will do what I can to give you some young boys (offside collective snort from Boon, Gower and Botham), but I confidently look forward to seeing you at the airport in just a week or so's time.

The Meaning of Sport - Greengrass

A few days ago, I read an excellent piece of nostalgia on these pages. It tapped that rich vein of childhood memories that all lovers of sport surely share: in my case, traipsing down Sheepfoot Lane to the Boundary Park ground with Dad, trying hard to be a big enough lad not to grab his hand as we passed the ”bottom block” of the hospital where Oldham’s loonies lived.

Then into the ground, standing behind the goals, supping deep draughts of soon-to-be-dashed hopes, hearing the cheers and the curses, catching a glimpse of the game, marvelling at the magic of being in the company of all these big men. My Dad was in fine form - cracking jokes and giving his pennyworth, happy to have me as an excuse to get out of doing the Saturday shopping at the Tommyfield market.

My most vivid memory from those days is not a piercing pass - this was before the Scottish wizard Bobby Johnstone played for the Latics - a great goal or a match-winning save, but two Oldham fans who suddenly started clouting one another right in front of me. They were quickly pulled apart, but that was drama!

But it wasn’t all watching. There was playing, too. I always got picked last at football, but was hoofing a ball around alone one wet Sunday on the Back Meadow - our local footy field that we shared with Farmer Fitton’s cows. A bunch of Big Lads arrived - I was eleven, they were around fifteen. I’d never seen them before, so I was a bit scared. They stripped off and started a game of touch rugby and I stood and watched. I’d never seen this before.

A week later I was there again, waiting. This time, I had my playing gear on - brown boots and shorts - and they said I could join in.

I soon became their mascot, quickly learning the game. Before long I was selling dummies, side-stepping and grubber-kicking with the best of them. I played my first game in the under-seventeen’s league at the age of twelve - our lot were a couple of players short, and our trainer thought that I was big enough and daft enough. We got a thrashing, and I got the biggest thrashing of all.

That thrashing didn’t put me off. I spread the gospel to my gang, and soon we were playing touch rugby on our street every night when homework was done, dancing in the dark.

In those days, Oldham had a great Rugby League side. Being a centre, I worshipped Alan Davies. Sometimes I walked three miles to the ground, sometimes I had the bus fare. The bus trips were a treat! I always sat near the two experts - a retired farmer, Harry Hilton, and an Ulsterman from Bush Mills called John MacCallum - and tried to absorb their wisdom so that I could retail it to my mates.

At the age of fourteen I found myself a girlfriend. Her father, manager of the village Co-op shop, worked late - which allowed me to slink in through the back door of their house one or two evenings a week. And she came to Watersheddings to watch the rugby with me on Saturdays, too. On the way home after the match, somewhere in those endless lanes and fields, we would fall prey to the temptations of the flesh. Less than half an hour after sinning, she would park me outside the gates of our village Catholic church while she went in to confess. Not being a Catholic - not even a lapsed one! - I was left to worm and squirm.

After the next home game, we sinned again. Oh, those memories of childhood sport!

Footballers – HannibalBrooks

By Martin Quirk (HannibalBrooks)

I got Subbuteo for my sixth birthday, but a career-ending injury crisis struck both teams after just ten minutes. My three year old brother ‘borrowed’ all the little men, except for the goalkeepers, to staff his convoy of new Matchbox cars. He ‘had’ to snap each little man off his ‘flick to kick’ base, so their tiny feet could reach the pedals. My new birthday present had been reduced to the level of blow football, which I already knew just gave you a headache and was about as much fun to play as having one.

Mum saved the day, with an inspired improvisation using the silver foil from a Kit-Kat, a shoe box and a few packets of A&BC football cards hastily fetched from Hilda’s, the corner shop. In that moment of genius my mum invented the basis for a game that was to provide me with more blissful hours of compelling entertainment than Subbuteo or any other shop-bought toy, for the rest of my childhood years.

‘Footballers’ was the generic name for the thousands of football cards that I would collect during the 1970s and also, like ‘Life’, it was ‘the name of the game’ that I alone, it seems, used to play with them.

Kevin Keegan, Malcolm MacDonald, Gordon Banks, Peter Osgood, Charlie George and my boyhood hero, Ian Callaghan, complete with a rectangular sliver of pink bubble gum, all for the princely sum of just three ‘new’ pence. Although, in the interests of historical accuracy, such a single transfer scoop would be like finding a unicorn’s egg inside a Lucky Bag. All too often each unopened packet, although perpetually anointed with the promise of glorious bounty, usually yielded just another Ernie Hunt, the original Frank Lampard, maybe a young Alex Ferguson or worst of all, a pointless bloody ‘checklist’. But, any packet containing a Liverpool player would lend the whole day an air of mystical resonance.

The goalposts for the game were made from a shoebox cut in half and the ball from any piece of tin foil that was to hand, usually the lining from a cigarette packet. The pitch could be any carpeted floor that was big enough. Shag pile was useless. The grass was too long and its effect upon play was the same as having a water-logged pitch.

The Subbuteo ‘flick to kick’ principle applied to Footballers too, in that the bottom corners of each player’s card acted as their feet, which was why a carpeted playing surface was absolutely essential. Holding the attacking player in the right hand and the defending player in the left, the ball was passed by flicking it with each players right or left foot. The back-heel was a potentially standard skill, but since imagination played a large part in the authenticity of the game, this was reserved only for cheeky players like Stan Bowles or Duncan Mackenzie.

A right footed player would evolve into a more naturally left footed one as wear and tear took its toll upon his fragile cardboard body, a process that conversely made goalkeepers more agile and daring, and therefore better, as their flexibility and athleticism increased. Free-kick specialists could be developed by folding one cardboard foot at a slight angle that would enable the ball to be lifted over the wall, formed in a similar way to a ‘house of cards’ by the defending team, while my left hand was busy helping an anxious goalkeeper.

The obligatory running commentary for every match was provided by David Coleman, my own impression preceding Chris Barrie’s on Spitting Image by a decade. The crowd noise came from my still cherished ’Kop Choir’ LP.

‘Footballers’ was far more authentic than any other football game around at the time and represented a triumph of childhood imagination over marketing and merchandising. As I often used to say on David Coleman’s behalf…‘One-Nil!’

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