Friday, January 25, 2008

One perfect night – Margin

For football fans the inevitable pain and suffering visited on us by our teams is made bearable by the prospect of a perfect moment. This is the story of one such match.

Standing on the cracked concrete of the back yard, Spurs fans sang with their heads held high, getting wet by the rain as they drank their beers. Inside we got wet by the beers we spilt as we jumped arm in arm, singing and chanting and enjoying the night.

That was the Bell and Hare - an hour before kick off.

I’d ridden up on the rush hour train after work, and no commuter could have been left in doubt that Spurs were on the move. I don’t know what those heading to Bishop’s Stortford made of the constant chants of ‘Yid Army’ throughout the carriage. Nor do I care.

When the time came, those heading home squirmed to make space for the alighting supporters who could now be joined in their chorus by comrades from other carriages.

‘We are Tottenham – Super Tottenham – We are Tottenham – From the Lane’ announced the blatantly obvious as we, in Spurs shirts, hats, coats, gloves and scarves, surged down White Hart Lane station’s metal stairway onto White Hart Lane.

Cars slowed to a crawl as the marching crowd took to the roads, and programme quickly in hand I slipped into the familiar yellow glow of City Kebabs. At a table with fellow fans - there were no strangers tonight - I gorged on the best doner in town, washed it down with a beer, and made haste to the pub.

The Bricklayer’s was heaving. So too the Coach and Horses. The Corner Pin, its windows permanently boarded up, was audibly full. But the Bell and Hare was groaning under the weight of revelry.

The manic sweaty throng was united in its expectation. No talk of tactics. No fretting at results. No pondering likely line ups. Just singing, dancing, jumping, shouting, drinking and glory for one and all.

A few brandies and a Guinness necked, the pub emptied. The whole crowd as one had passed into the High Road which was ablaze with bright jackets of a wary police force, and ringing to the sound from seemingly miles around, “Spuuuuurs are on their way to Wemb-ley.”

Passing by the away fans entering their corner of the Park Lane, one large drunk behind me shouted “You’re going out you c*nts!” No more need be said.

Twenty minutes to go and the ground was almost full. The atmosphere had started to build and when the players marched on the announcer could barely be heard.

Kick off triggered a giant roar lasting so long that when Jenas sauntered into the box for the early opener we had no higher volume with which to mark it.

“Hark now hear - the Tottenham sing – the Arsenal run away.”

Soon after Denilson went down, seemingly injured by walking about. The signal came from the bench and he got back up again. Then after fifteen minutes another signal was offered. This time he stayed down to cover his manager’s embarrassment at changing the team in an act of early panic.

“Now we know you’re wooorrieeeed.”

The second goal went in and all heaven broke loose. People toppled over plastic chairs. Men hugged each other like long lost brothers. Children were hoisted high into the air. There was more jumping, more shouting, and a delight that no one knew how best to express.

“Ramos – Give us a wave – Ramos, Ramos, Give us a wave.”

Berbatov hit the post. Spurs dominated but couldn’t score. Fabregas gave the ball away cheaply time and time again. And then the interval.

Fans shook hands, grinned knowingly, and universally expressed the view that we were finally going to do it.

Keane opened the second half with our third and the contest was all over. We cheered again, we hugged again, and we marvelled at just how many we might score.

“Aaaalll I want is a team of Robbie Keanes – Team of Robbie Keanes – Team of Robbie Keanes.”

Now there was nothing left to do but celebrate. When Lennon scored we cheered again and revelled in the humiliation of our rivals. But by then the ground was already singing in full voice about the win.

“Que Sera Sera – Whatever will be will be – We’re going to Wem-ber-ley – Que Sera Sera!”

And to top it off, at that point, our wonderful Spanish manager took off Berbatov, Keane, and soon after Lennon. He was resting them for the big game at the weekend. No goal count, no chant, no other gesture, and no score line could have better insulted our opponents than that. Although by then many of their fans had gone home.

“Weee can see you – weeee can see you – weeee can see you sneaking out”

The rest of the match barely mattered. Arsenal players started fighting each other. Adebeyor scored what was barely a consolation goal. And Malbranque concluded matters with a last second fifth.

And during all of that time the Spurs fans combined in a universal spine tingling slow rendition of “Ohhhhhh Wheeeeen theeeee Spurrrrrrss – Goooo Maaaaarrrcchiiiing iiiiiiin - Ohhh Wheeen theee Spurrrss Go Maaar-chhiing iiiin – Iiiii Waaannaaa Beeeeeeeee Iiiin thaaaat Numbeeerrr – Oh When the Spuuuurrrs Goooo Maaaaaar-chiiiing iiiin.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Long live King Kev - PremCorrespondent

Visiting St James’ Park is a bit like a trip to theatre-land down south. Or so says Kevin Keegan, referring presumably to the quiet spectators, over priced tickets, and acting on display.

Were it not for the third coming, Newcastle v Bolton was surely the least interesting game of the season. It was dull throughout, the football was turgid, and the ending was inconsequential.

Bolton have dragged their form out of the doldrums and Newcastle probably can’t fall as far as 17th. So good luck to the great hairy one. Lets hope he returns some vague interest to this amateur dramatic production of ‘A Ferret Ate My Hat’.

Staying with entertainment and funny wigs, Coco-the-Bramble managed the best ‘slip on a banana while wearing silly boots’ moment of the weekend.

The comedy signing for soon-to-be relegated Wigan attempted a pass back under very little pressure, fumbled it into the path of Andy Johnson, and by the time the fans stopped laughing Liverpool’s big four club had secured the three points.

Liverpool’s second team meanwhile, waited two days before failing to make up ground on their more illustrious rivals.

Amid fan protests at the owners for not buying them the title, and fears that Mascherano will leave because he’s not valued at £17million, only a late gem by Peter Crouch denied Villa a well deserved three points.

That’s Aston Villa by the way, who along with impressive form, a talented bunch of young English players, and a nerdy looking manager, are supported from afar by Tom Hanks - because they have a silly sounding name.

Further up the table the title challenge took an unspectacular lack of twists.

Arsenal comfortably beat relegated Fulham three nil, suggesting that the African Cup of Nations can rob you of key players with little ill effect if you only have to play rubbish sides.

Chelsea slightly less comfortably beat lowly Birmingham City by a goal to nil, showing that the African Cup of Nations can rob you of key players with little ill effect if you only have to play rubbish sides.

And Manchester United uncomfortably beat an energetic Reading by two goals to nil, showing that the African Cup of Nations can’t rob you of Portuguese wingers.

In other games no one much worried about…

Pompey strolled to a 3-1 win over Derby County, who might as well not have come up this season, thanks to a Benjani hat trick.

Blackburn had the ineptitude of the Boro front line to thank for their one-all draw. Had the North East side had a striker better than last night’s Chicken korma then this would have been a rout.

And Manchester City scored a dodgy sixteenth minute equalizer against West Ham to effectively end the contest at Eastlands with over seventy minutes to go.

So as the final curtain comes down, take a bow Robbie Keane. In an age when any old mercenary can hop between clubs like Wolves, Leeds, Coventry and Inter, it takes praiseworthy loyalty to stay in one place long enough to score 100 goals for your side.

His goal in a two-nil win against Sunderland made him Spurs’ fifteenth century scorer. And I can’t help but wonder as I raise my can of wife beater to him, how Spurs get so lucky that the top clubs decide time and again that they don’t want what has become a near goal-a-game Irishman.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NFL Divisional Championship Games - the Velvet Bear

That’s that settled, then. The 2008 Superbowl will be between (to no-one’s surprise) the New England Patriots and (to everyone’s surprise) the New York Giants.

In truth, both Divisional Championship games were grim affairs, played out by four teams who were not only wary of taking any chances whatsoever, but who were also being frozen to the marrow. The game between the Patriots and the San Diego Chargers was played in a temperature of 9 degrees. Fahrenheit. That’s -13 Centigrade. And that was the warm game! Later, in Green Bay, the Giants and the Packers endured the third coldest NFL game ever, playing in -1F (-18C).

The first game - the AFC Championship - was decided more by the defenses than the much vaunted offenses. On the Chargers’ side of the ball, this was not much of a surprise, as QB Philip Rivers needed arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee to play at all, tight end Antonio Gates was still playing with a dislocated toe and running back LaDanian Tomlinson managed exactly three plays before going off injured again. This meant that, on the three occasions that they managed to get inside the Patriots 20 yard line, they only managed three field goals. By comparison, on the four visits that the Patriots made to the other end of the pitch, they came away with three touchdowns.

It tells you something about the game that the biggest news was that Tom Brady threw three interceptions, including one intended touchdown pass, the first time he’s been picked off in the end zone since 2005.

A fairly easy 21-12 win for the Patriots, marred only by allegations of foul play against defensive end Richard Seymour, although most rugby players would be surprised that being accused of ‘stomping on feet, slapping heads and elbowing people in the back’ was worthy of comment at all. (And why would you slap the head of someone wearing a helmet anyway?)

The game in Green Bay was so dull that it is hardly worth devoting any time to at all. Two very evenly matched sides slugged it out for the full 60 minutes to finish 20-20 at full time. It shouldn’t have been like that, as the Giants’ Scottish kicker Lawrence Tynes managed to miss two very kickable field goals which would’ve won the match for them in normal time, including one with the last play of the fourth quarter.

The drama all came during overtime, the fifteen minute period of extra time where the first score wins. Green Bay started out with the ball, but Brett Favre threw an interception. The Giants failed to obtain a first down and were left with the choice of punting the ball away, or attempting a 47 yard field goal. A lot of people are talking about how brave Giants coach Tom Coughlin was to take the latter option, especially considering Tynes’ earlier misses. In fact, a 47 yard field goal means that the ball starts on the opposition’s 32 yard line, as the kick is normally from a point 15 yards behind the point where the ball is ‘spotted’ at the end of the previous play. It is almost impossible to punt from so close to the goalline, so the options were to try again for a first down and risk handing the ball over on the 32 if you fail, or try for a field goal and risk handing the ball over on the 32 if you fail. In first-score-wins overtime, what are you going to do? Tynes nailed the kick and the Giants won 23-20.

So little Eli Manning gets to go to the Superbowl, just one year after his big brother finally got there. Moreover, he goes with a better record than Peyton did - Manning Snr being the first player to go to a Superbowl having thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Who will win? Come back next week and I’ll tell you.


- Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has confirmed that he is, after all, going to stay with the team for one more season;

- Buffalo Bills’ player Antony Hargrove will be taking next year, off, though, after being suspended without pay for twelve months, having clocked up his third breach of the NFL’s anti-drugs policy. He was suspended for four games earlier this season for his second breach and the year ban is automatic for a third offence;

- Speaking of banned players, some good news at last for Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones - the latest woman to accuse him of assault has withdrawn her complaint;

- Finally, four players have been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Named after the legendary Chicago Bears running back, who died of a rare liver condition ten years ago, the award recognises players for their contribution to the community. Hines Ward, Jason Taylor, Jason Witten and Brian Waters are the four, and you can read more about their respective foundations here:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Anil and his Winning Shades - Chanelle

(dutifully transcribed by Zephirine)

“Well as my Dad would say, fall about in my back yard. Australia have lost a Test match.

Those of you who are not into cricket right will be saying like yeah and?

Let me explain it for you yeah they were on a winning streak of 16 having not lost a Test match since way back in 2005 when they were beaten by England yeah hard as that may now be to believe.

Australia have done this before right under their previous captain the legendary Steve Waugh they reached 16 unbeaten in 2001 yeah so the less legendary Ricky Ponting has been obviously like busting to beat the record but 17 was not to be. Tough shit Ricky lol.

So I was trying to explain the impact of this to Karl and I’m like, it’s as if you woke up and found Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea were all halfway down the Premier League right but he was like, that’s a physical impossibility and a ridiculous hypothesis so I was like, ooh pardon me for breathing. Football freaks eh?

Seriously it is a great result yeah because the Aussies winning all the time in the Tests was quite dull and also there have been like questions raised about their style of play under the not quite legendary Ricky and if the Indians can be their like nemesis it can only be good for the game yeah.

Thing is yeah the Australians play using a lot of sledging which is basically like verbal abuse and the sort of thing you or I would get thrown off the bus for but well to be fair everybody does it a bit in cricket well the men anyway because hey they are basically standing about in a field for a very long time yeah and most men would swear in this situation. Though it is more like insults and there are famous examples that everybody like sniggers about yeah to do with who has been seeing to whose wife etc etc you can use your imaginations. As far as I know women cricketers don’t sledge much right but I bet they swop the odd remark yeah like about how the batswoman made a big mistake choosing that hair colour with her skin tone lol.

But there has been a feeling right that the Australians employ psychological aggression like to excess yeah and this ended in nasty scenes in the 2nd Test match at Sydney which I am not even going to start to discuss right because a thousand trolls will descend on this site from Australia and India and will scream at each other endlessly causing noise pollution in cyberspace life is too short. But we can say that some iffy umpiring didn’t exactly help yeah and also we must admit that the Indian Cricket Board does a bit of psychological aggression of its own yeah consisting of waving its very big cheque book and saying like argue with us if you dare.

So this 3rd and latest match has been played in Perth right and there the Indians have won by 72 runs and nobody has got into any fights yeah and the spirit of cricket is safe and well for a while longer hooray and hurrah and everybody is happy except the Aus team. Even some of the Aussie supporters don’t mind yeah because they were getting like pretty bored, win win win win yawn.

And this is very nice for Anil Kumble right who is the Indian captain but only after years of waiting for the job and he is one of those people that just like does what he does really well and gets on with it yeah and nobody notices much and now suddenly right everyone realises he has taken over 600 wickets in his career which is the third highest ever since the dawn of the game right so cheers for Anil. He also wears very cool shades which are probably from a sponsor but they are chicly smart.

The other person to talk about right is Ishant Sharma who is only 19 and very tall and skinny with long hair and looks like the sort of boy who just loafs about at home smoking lots of weed yeah but that would be like the wrong impression of all time because he is a seriously like seriously good bowler : )) He managed to get the almost legendary Ricky P like totally rattled and got him out right so that is like an achievement and a half for a 19 year-old guy. So the same as our own tall skinny and cute Stuart Broad yeah we must hope he avoids injury and also doesn’t like go mysteriously off the boil for ever like too many of the English bowlers sigh.

Now there is one Test left because they are only playing four which is kind of stupid right so India can only level the series yeah but clearly the sparks are flying now and everybody is looking forward to it. And this shows that it is the like unpredictability of sport that we love yeah nobody wants to watch a match knowing in advance what the result would be right and perhaps we will love the Aussies more now they have been beaten hmm though I think we in England will only truly love them when they have been beaten by us.”

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