Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NFL Week 8 - with extra Wembley - The Velvet Bear

This week, it was all about Wembley - the players, the lights, the rain, the records, the mud, the cheerleaders, the mud, the spectacle, the rain, the 26 foot tall Jason Taylor, the mud, the 1972 Dolphins, the cheerleaders, the mud and the rain.

The game itself wasn’t much to watch. The weather saw to that. Torrential rain from just before kick off until just after full time made passing the ball a lottery, whilst the saturated Wembley turf, clearly unsuited to having real men play on it, cut up badly enough to make running difficult, too. Even so, the Giants were so dominant and the Dolphins so badly hampered by injuries that the 13-10 scoreline came nowhere close to reflecting the Giants’ dominance.

The game was worth attending for a number of reasons, though - the least of them being the historic nature of the occasion. First of all, after four years Eli Manning did something Peyton would never do - he ran more than 10 yards for a touchdown. Then there was the surprise emergence of a new star in the making, Fins running back Jesse Chatman replacing the injured Reggie Jones and being arguably the game’s MVP.

In all, though, it wasn’t a good day for the big name players. Jason Taylor was kept in check by the strong Giants’ offensive line. Eli, that run apart, only completed 8 of 22 passes. Plaxico Burress lived up to his ‘Plaxiglass’ nickname by going to pieces when put under pressure, whilst Jeremy Shockey was well marshalled by the Fins defence. Chatman apart, the Fins had nothing on offense, largely due to QB Cleo Lemon having a nightmare day which saw him fumble one snap and comically throw the ball backwards on another play.

The strangest thing about the whole day was that the Dolphins chose to spend most of the breaks in play promoting the fact that it is 35 years since they were the only team to go through a season unbeaten; they seem intent on honouring that achievement by going 0-16 this year.

Will there be another Wembley game next year? It is hard to tell. There are going to be 2 games outside North America next year. Buffalo have already said that they want to play one game a season in Canada, which may or may not count as one of these. Frankfurt will be claiming it is their turn after losing out to Wembley in the competiton to stage this game and there are other markets in the Far East and South America that the NFL is keen to tap. A crowd in excess of 81,000 and a fairly favourable time difference will count in London’s favour. The state of the pitch, the ignoramus who kept playing music over the top of the referee’s announcements and the fact that, despite all that money, the roof still flaming well leaks, will be votes against.

Oh, and the cheerleaders were very nice. Except the one stood in front of me, who was so skinny that you could see the bottom of her rib cage sticking out, making it seem like she had four breasts. Even in America, that’s wrong.

And in other news

Did you know it was the Superbowl this weekend? The Patriots and the Colts are in the same conference, so can never meet in the season’s most hyped and least entertaining game, but as the only two unbeaten sides in the NFL this Sunday’s match is surely a prequel for a championship decider in January. The Pats will be out to avenge last year’s defeat in that match and with both sides coming into the game off the back of crushing victories - the Colts ran riot in Charlotte to beat the Panthers 31-7, the Pats thumped the Redskins 52-7 - Sunday evening should be even better than last Sunday was;

The Rams season just keeps getting worse. Not only did they hand the Browns their first away win (27-20), but star running back Steven Jackson returned from a groin strain, only to leave the game with a back injury before halftime;

The Steelers beat the Bengals 24-13, the seventh straight time they have won in Cincinnati;

It was the battle of the back-ups in Giant’s Stadium. The Jets dropped regular starting QB Chad Pennington in favour of Kellen Clements, whilst former Bills starter JP Losman regained his place when rookie Trent Edwards went down with a wrist injury in the third quarter. Even a 13-3 win won’t have appeased Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr if the rumours that Edwards was only playing to save him paying Losman a bonus based on playing time are correct;

Big away wins for two form teams, as the Steelers win in Houston and the Lions in Chicago;

The Falcons’ DeAngelo Hall proves that some people never learn from their mistakes. The man who currently appears in a Reebok ad boasting that he knew he would become a professional sportsman when he got his SATs scores (i.e. he’s a bit thick) was fined $100,000 back in September with half of it suspended. Now, a second outburst, this time against the team’s owners and coaching staff for releasing a player, has cost him the suspended $50,000;

Old Man Favre is at it again, this time throwing an 82 yard touchdown pass in overtime to see the Packers to a 19-13 win in Houston;

Finally, sad news that the NFL’s most inappropriately named player is out for the season. 6’3”, 330lb (that’s almost 24 stones) Rams player Ritchie Incognito injured his right knee and won’t play again until 2008.

Daniel Levy Rules! - PremCorrespondent

Sorry for the late round up this week. I attended a long planned party to report on Daniel Levy’s steady guidance of good ship Tottenham on Sunday night, and no one else turned up. Still, waste not want not. I tucked into the free beer and sausage rolls and woke up in an alley this morning.

Spurs of course lost under Clive Allen’s temporary charge, with new man Ramos copying much of the Premier league and looking down on his side from above. Meanwhile Blackburn Samba’d away from White Hart Lane with a 2-1 win and a renewed confidence that Mark Hughes would stick around until Alex Fergusson collapses on the Old Trafford touchline.

Not that Sir Alex’s heart faces much stress right now. A number of injuries may have caused concern for lesser teams early in the campaign, but the Red Devils were their normal raging storm of attacking power against sorry Boro as they won 4-1 and must now feel confident of winning yet another Premiership pot this season.

Less a raging storm and more a refreshing breeze of attacking football, Arsenal’s young side saw a near record breaking run of wins come to an end against Liverpool. Missed chances at both ends during Gerrard’s 400th appearance for the Reds should have seen a 1-1 draw finish 3-3. But both teams would have been pleased to walk away with their unbeaten league records in tact.

Among the other title hopefuls, Manchester City took an unexpected drubbing at the hands of lowly Chelsea. OK, that’s an exaggeration of both clubs’ positions. But it was fun to type.

Anyway, apparently Chelsea under Avram Grant are set to be as predictably successful as his £300million first team was under the Special one. Their 6-0 victory raised again the concern that Sven has no plan B to instigate when defending a 0-0 draw and hoping to snatch a goal or set piece on the break falls short.

Everton risk being labelled boring after their 2-0 win against Derby. Not because the game was dreary or because goals from Arteta and Yakubu were not somewhat impressive. And not because of Everton’s negative tactics. But if you don’t score four goals against County when will you score four?

Daniel de Ridder lightened up the match between soon to be bought Birmingham City and soon to be relegated Wigan Athletic. The 3-2 win ended City’s run of defeats and was largely thanks to their Dutchman. But nothing on show shook the belief that ChampCorrespondent will be reporting on the same fixture next season.

In other games of little interest, Rob Green saved a late penalty to keep Pompey v West Ham 0-0 till the final whistle, and Sunderland’s Kenwyne Jones’ fear of Roy Keane inspired another late recovery to draw 1-1 with Fulham.

Newcastle showed just how bad Martin Jol’s Spurs side were in defeat at St James’ Park last week when even a lucky equaliser couldn’t prevent eventual defeat to Reading.

And finally Bolton were mugged, stabbed, and beaten senseless by referee Martin Atkinson in Megson’s first game in charge. Atkinson created much of the game’s excitement at the Reebok by refusing the home side their stronger than normal penalty appeals and by helping Aston Villa equalise by confusing everyone and his linesman when he gave Bolton’s throw to the away side.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Predicting predictions - Kokomo

During the heady days of the summer, when England were rubbish at Rugby, we didn’t bother with one day internationals too much, but could murder the shallow one-day obsessed sub-continentals at proper Test Match Creeket, I spent an idle minute writing my predictions for the season.

As pre-season predictions are a bit passé, I kept it to myself, but when dusting my shelves this week I was alarmed to see that I have been near 100% right in my predictions so far, so thought it was only fair that I should share with the rest of you what is going to happen for the rest of the season.

In the BBC Studio, a joke is made about Alan Hansen’s assertion that you don’t win anything with kids. He was famously proved wrong as Schmeichal, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Keane and Cantona lead United to the title.

The major news of the month is that Carlos Tevez making his Manchester United debut, scoring in a routine 2-0 home win over Reading. An article in the Guardian claims that this is the best team that has ever been assembled.

Arsenal beat Man City at home, with Da Silva scoring a header. Their fans tell themselves that they wouldn’t have won this match with the overrated Henry last season.

In Liverpool, Rafa Benitez makes a substitution. He is widely criticised for his mindless tinkering.

Arsenal score a goal after 87 passes, and are duly declared the guardians of all that is beautiful and true about the world. Tackles on Arsenal players are subsequently banned from all football matches for the rest of the season.

Sunderland fans are stranded at Shannon airport as Air Lingus pulls its route to Heathrow. Niall Quinn walks over the Irish Sea and carries them on his shoulders over to Old Trafford, where they sea Roy Keane make Ole Gunnar Solskaer cry in the dugout, before Nani and Anderson give United a comfortable victory. Ferguson is lauded as a genius in the transfer market for yet again spotting talented youngsters that nobody has heard of.

England play. Everyone goes on holiday.

Billy Davies becomes the first managerial casualty of the season. Everyone briefly remembers that Derby are in the premier league. Neil Warnock is appointed manager. He says the West Ham game will be just like any other for him.

Sven Goran-Eriksson attempts to play down Thaksin Shinawatra’s human rights abuses: "weeell, I don’t think it was so bad. This is football, and he did let those boys become girls. Eeeehh, I really couldn’t tell until you got really close."

Steve Bruce goes on holiday to China. He is not seen for the rest of the season.

Big money looks well spent for West Ham, Man City, Spurs and Sunderland, as they occupy the coveted top four spots in the table, closely followed by Man Utd and Liverpool. UEFA announce that, in the interests of the football community and UEFA brand, they are considering awarding the Champions League spots to the teams finishing in 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th in England. Bolton, sandwiching Chelsea and Arsenal in 8th place, don’t know which way to look. Little Sam is struggling to cope, and spends the entire trip to Krakow for a UEFA cup game in the overhead baggage lockers.

Reading are brought by an Afghan Warlord, who made his fortune in growing and exporting opium. The FA announces that he passed their fit and proper chairman test.

Order is restored in the premiership, as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are tied at the top of the table. UEFA denies that it ever seriously considered awarding champions league spots to anyone but the top four. Communications manager Christophe Gaillard said: "It is not true. Our only problem is Liverpool. We hate them." The Guardian concurs.

Everton manager David Moyes has his ring stolen in a trip to West Ham, where the sequel to Green Street is being filmed.

Chelsea win the African Nations Cup, but are falling behind in the premiership by New Year. Jose Mourinho asks how he was supposed to foresee this happening.

In Spain, table toppers Real Madrid lose their unbeaten record, but remain 5 points clear. Bernt Schuster is sacked.

In their winter break tour of Scotland Milan play Dundee United. Cally explodes.

David Moyes has to buy a new pair of shoes, and is photographed taking regular trips to a beauty parlour in Liverpool. A journalist searches through the bins in Merseyside and finds discarded wax strips filled with ginger foot hair.

In the January transfer window, Fulham are the major movers, signing Neil Lennon, Iain Dowie, Gerry Hamilton and Callum Best. The biggest signing though, is Thierry Henry sulking back to Arsenal, for a seemingly bargain basement £20, though he is paid a reported £500k a week. He surprisingly makes his first outing for the youth team, causing Canadian Arsenal fan, Johnny come-Arseneknows to marvel at Wenger’s ability to pick up unknown gems for a pittance.

Arsenal fans and GU journalists are united in their belief that Henry is exactly what young Arsenal stars Jens Lehmann, Toure, Gilberto, Gallas and Rosicky need to lead them and inspire the team.

Rafa Benitez signs a Spanish full-back for £2m. No-one notices.

The title race is hotting up, and the big four remain locked together, having only dropped points against each other.

At the other end of the table, Neil Warnock is sacked, a decision explained by the Derby board as being because, ‘well, he’s just a bit of an embarrassment really.’ Nigel Clough takes over.

Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Man City, Sunderland and Reading are all tied in what must be an exciting race for the UEFA cup spots. However, sky plus viewing figures are down to single figures for games not involving the big four, and FA chief executive Brian Barwick tells the press that he is considering calling it off due to lack of public interest, as they are all so much of a muchness.

David Moyes describes little Timmy Cahill as being his most precious player. Everyone thinks he is a bit creepy.

The Champions League restarts, but no-one really cares anymore. Michel Platini explains that everyone has played each other so much recently that it is pointless, before awarding the trophy to his mate Berlusconi.

Robbie Savage is declared public enemy number one, after he tackles Cesc Fabregas. He is sent off for this slight, and banned for the rest of the season. Mark Hughes apologises on the pitch, and orders Brad Friedel to score an own goal. Arsenal win 1-0, but have a pass completion rate of 103%, and are duly awarded another 10 goals by the FA for artistic merit. The Guardian welcomes this new rule, and subsequently goes back through the archives to discover that under this new ruling Arsenal have won every championship since they bought their place in the football league, even when George Graham was boss. The only exception is when Spurs pipped them in 1961. Martin Jol acknowledges that this proves that Spurs play exciting football. Still. Honest. A halo is fitted around the emirates to signify Arsenal’s purity.

West Ham are arrested. Just because they have so many ‘orrible players.

Everton players complain that boss David Moyes is starting to show a different, obsessive side to his personality. He also seems to have no internal monologue anymore.

Derby win all their games this month.

There are some showers; there are some fools.

The FA decide to have an end of season awards ceremony, instead of the FA cup final (which they cancelled after the big four were knocked out in the quarter finals) presented by Jonathon Ross, and with Javier Mascherano reading some poetry in the interval. Arsenal win the gold star for being pretty, Manu a prize for being exciting, while Liverpool and Chelsea are booed off the stage. These four are all awarded places in the Champions League, although Liverpool are asked to start qualifying last February.

David Moyes has not been seen for the last month, with the only sighting of him behind some rocks in New Zealand. He has taken to going around naked, and with a strange high-pitched voice. He is a shadow of his former self.

Derby win the title. Football eats itself.

In the summer, a major tournament is played for the first time since we bothered to look without a British Isles team in it. It is rubbish. There is no fighting; no useless looking team who manage to get through with passion and commitment; no amusing football songs; no ignorant British journalists who don’t know who Ricardo Quaresmo is; and most importantly, the sheer cynical, monolithic androgyny of it all bores the pants off everyone. The final is cancelled, and everyone decides that they like Rugby better.

Epilogue to the Epilogue

Germany win the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

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