Thursday, February 28, 2008

How's this for excitement? - PremCorrespondent

After a third or fourth pint my old mate Spanner would complain about how dull life was. He’d pine for some excitement to stir things up in his predictable suburban existence. Then he walked in on his Eileen bent over the cooker with Big Dave in attendance.

And so to St James’ Park.

The Geordie Army wanted free flowing attacking football. They demanded it. They said it was better to lose such games than win playing Big Sam’s way.

Well southerners applaud actors from the stage after a fine performance, so why did the Magpies not stand and applaud Rooney and Ronaldo from the field after their 5-1 master class? I guess for the same reason Spanner ended up serving eight to twelve at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Football isn’t fun when played so freely in your own box.

So is there any chance West Ham fans might take note?

It seems the Irons never watched Charlton before hiring Curbishley. And who could blame them? Athletic were dull at the best of times. But now confronted with Alan’s ‘The best form of attack is defence’ philosophy, they don’t like it.

They won a tedious 1-0 this weekend against almost relegated Fulham, and the fans have started voicing their displeasure. So who wants to bet they too fail to hire Harry Rednapp in the near future and so resort to a former boss to return them to the exciting days of second tier football?

Not that dull football is always so bad. Just ask Wenger.

Eduardo caught the wrong end of a mistimed tackle, the likes of which happen across the country every week. And the the not-quite-first-teamer hit the deck just like countless players across the country every week.

Unfortunately for the Brazilian, Croatian hopes of winning a trophy he shouldn’t be eligible for this summer were dashed by the fluke that the lad wasn’t just another prancing ninny. With the sort of break that even Terry Butcher might have needed more than a bandage on, Eduardo went to hospital wishing he’d been on the bench.

And apparently so did Gallas.

The Arsenal Captain sulked down the field as ten man Birmingham leveled from the spot at the finale. Some witless pundits complained at his lack of team spirit for not preparing to defend a possible rebound or rally his troops. I on the other hand criticize his lack of spirit for not lamping Gael Clichy after such piss poor defending that the great Tony Adams would surely have sent him for an extended stay in the bed next to his not-quite-Czech teammate.

And so to the chase for fourth place.

How is this for unwanted excitement? One of Liverpool, Everton, or Aston Villa is now likely to miss out on a European Tour next season by finishing sixth.

That’s right. Spurs are languishing in eleventh but have won the Floodlight Cup. And that means they go into next season’s UEFA Cup draw ahead of those in sixth place.

At the moment the unlucky team is set to be Aston Villa, who won an easy three points against free-falling Reading. The margin should have been greater than 2-1. But with a relatively easy run-in I wouldn’t bet against the geeky Irish chap finishing one place higher than his team is right now.

Next up are Liverpool who face the toughest run in of the three. They beat Middlesbrough 3-2 thanks to a phenomenal hat trick from Torres, who has shown a top class striker can adjust to English football in his first season. Some one should tell Kuyt.

And then there are Everton. Anyone that hasn’t bet on this belligerent group of battle hardened bastards doing well should get their money down now. The odds will only shorten and they demolished Manchester City in a 2-0 win that was at least as comprehensive as poor Newcastle’s drubbing.

They are rough, cynical, tactically astute, and have the sort of passion behind them that has become all too rare throughout a league they should this year finish fourth in. Indeed if Chelsea don’t snap out of their reported post-final crisis quickly the Toffeemen may look to go one better than that.

And so to teams for whom excitement is a relative term.

Blackburn beat an unlucky Bolton 4-1 in a game that never deserved that many goals. Two penalties, one of which was an awful decision, won it for Hughes’ side before the later and rather pointless extras were added.

Pompey won a rubbish game against Sunderland with a late penalty. That shot from the spot was the only one worthy of note. Frankly had both sides lost that would have been fair.

And finally Wigan went to the formality of taking three points from Derby. Any more detail than that is as unnecessary as telling poor Spanner that Big Dave was just that night's winner of the Eileen Raffle that the lads held in the Goose before he got off work.

A Pseud tours Australia – Mimi

When I was little the big dread after the long summer holidays about going back to school was because the first thing you had to do was write the essay “What did you do on your holiday?” Everyone else had had really exciting times – camping in France or Spain, maybe even going to America. I just had 2 weeks in Devon to make interesting. There was one year with an element of interest when someone nearly drowned on the beach but mostly my hols were deeply dull.

This time, however, I am quite happy at the thought of the “What I did on my hols” essay. For one I don’t HAVE to do it, and for two my hols were a bit interesting!

So what happened to make my hols interesting in a sporting way? For Pseuds readers? Well – I chose to take my time off in the home of sporting excellence and endeavour. Yup – I went to Australia. A country (delightful though it is in many other ways) that judges all and everyone by their achievements in the sporting arena. From the moment I arrived it was clear that if you care not for sport, there is little else to read in the papers.

My time coincided with the pre-season Footie (a culture all of its own) and the Tri-nations cricket competition. This was between India, Australia and Sri Lanka and most of the stories were not about any actual games but the sledging between Andrew Symonds, Harbhajan Singh and the entire Aus v Ind cricket establishments. None of it very enlightening but quite fun as a spectator sport.

I did go to a match at the “G”. That is the Melbourne Cricket Ground and it is the most enormous of stadiums (or should that more properly be stadia!). This is a sports ground so huge that with 50,000 spectators it feels empty. My gosh – coming from the NE of Scots where a crowd of 7,000 in Inverness is a sell-out – to get 50,000 is beyond belief. But there that’s a show of lack of interest.

However, when I was at the G, I found myself sitting in the part of the ground filled by Indian supporters which was fun. When the teams came out to warm up, the Indians came right up to our part of the stadium and played up well to us. They were well aware of all their fans and gave us good photo opps – which was nice.

It was interesting that when the Aussies did their warm up in front of the Aussie part of the crowd, Victoria’s finest (known as the Filth), found it necessary to be very much on duty. Not being a regular attendant at football matches in the UK, I found the strong police presence quite off-putting.

Once the match got underway – after of course the ceremony of the toss and the TV interviews of the captains in the centre (a delight for me as my favourite chap Mark Nicholas was presiding) – there was much to enjoy. Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to bat but was out for virtually no runs after twitching at the crease like a demented Dreyfus. Symonds – the subject of so much controversy was also out cheaply and once the Indians were in to bat, Symonds was the one who bowled an absolutely stupid wide at the end of the match! Which India won.

Indian One-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was charm and delight personified. Ishant Sharma – who earned the nickname Instant Karma – was a 19 year-old revelation of brilliant fast bowling.

I left the G having witnessed some wonderful cricket and some rubbish from the umpires – Gilchrist walked (as he is known for) to a shocking decision which deprived us of seeing him in his retiring pomp. Mostly it was fantastic experiencing this mythical ground – even half full, it was a great day.

A few days later I encountered Aussie sports in a very different environment. I took a drive down The Great Ocean Road and stopped off at a small (in Aussie terms) beach called Kennett’s Creek. Here I, almost literally, ran into some home boy surfers. Fortunately they were efficient and seeing a swimmer without board in the waves took evading action and did not run me down. It was a very hot day and I felt the best way to deal with the heat was to put on my cossie and get into the beckoning waves. What I didn’t realise was that the beckoning waves were of a strength to knock me under and nearly knocked me out!

The chaps were obviously far more au fait with the circs than I was, and very kindly shepherded me back to the beach in safety. It was a salutary experience but also one that led to an understanding of the great Australian mate-ship thing. You nearly drown, get rescued and share a stubbie or two. Nice!

There was one other delightful sporting gem that happened to me on my hol. I met an elderly chap who had seen Don Bradman play when Jardine took England to the Bodyline win. Mr Walker had stories to tell and it was a joy to talk to someone who had been witness to history. At the end of his stories he said to me “and of course I was at school with Sam Loxton”. It’s a shame I didn’t have more time to hear and take down more of his stories.

So that’s what I did on my hols. One other thing I did – and maybe some Pseuds will understand this – I did buy some lovely pyjamas!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Good triumphs over evil - Margin

Right now I’m sitting at home watching Die Hard 4.0. I booked today off work to nurse my hangover. It is an excellent fourth to a stunning line of Die Hard films. And it works for the same reasons as its predecessors.

The badies have the advantage in the shape of all the finances, technology, helicopters, and machine guns a former Soviet Republic can offer. Meanwhile the goody, Bruce Willis, must overcome the odds with nothing but a police issue revolver and his own impressive endeavor. Not to give the ending away, but civilization survives with far fewer badies in it.

Football rarely follows this simple plot. But Wembley yesterday offered the spectacle of much hated badies with despicable intent being overcome by the glory and honour of noble goodies.

Simply count the ways in which Chelsea are evil. They have a nasty foreign owner who profited from the deprivation of Russia’s huddled masses. They can lose £75million a year without flinching while for most that would mean bankruptcy. They are part of a top four that even some fans of those four clubs wants to see undone. They have bought themselves the most expensive team in history. And in Jose Mourinho’s willingness to talk the talk they sacked the one source of excitement their club has generated in recent times.

As you would expect from a Hollywood script, they did all the sinister things that make badies bad. They turned up for another showcase game intent on strangling the life out of it. They kept things slow, pretended to be injured for two minutes whenever the tempo rose. They played exclusively for occasional free-kicks and corners. And they offered no glory or entertainment to anyone.

Like the best action thriller, the badies were well set to win after Drogba scored. In between pretending he was injured seven times to slow the pace of the game, he stroked home a free-kick that gave his side license to kill the match stone dead.

But what sort of film would it be without valiant goodies willing to fight back. They had done things right throughout. They tried to invent. They tried to score from open play. They tried to use a bit of pace and creativity to overcome the forces of darkness. And eventually they got their just rewards.

Like a car or bus hurtling through the air that misses our hero by mere inches, Bruce Willis, played by Tottenham Hotspur, earned a little good fortune. That good fortune saw the linesman flag a penalty for one of Wayne Bridge’s two handballs under pressure from Tom Huddlestone. With Berbatov’s elegant conversion from the spot the goodies lived to fight on until the film’s finale.

And so to the final half hour when the wonderful Woodgate rose above all others and against the odds scored his first goal in two years. Not that this surprised the audience. At one-nil down Spurs fans remained confident, and I had a fair few texts declaring we would still win. But hey, I guess we don’t go to the flicks thinking John McClane might lose.

That winner led to the end game, which in action films means frenetic gun-toting but ultimately fruitless activity on behalf of badies. In football, that meant Chelsea pumping the ball long and high time after time after time.

That King limped up the steps to claim his prize inspired this interpretation of the day’s events. Bruce Willis is after all, always bleeding by the end of a Die Hard film. And reading the papers today it seems they all saw it this way too, though they have Ramos pegged as the hero.

But I can never help but wonder about the bad guys, and in this case Mr Grant. This was Jose Mourinho’s team playing Jose’ Mourinho’s big game tactics. And the line up was not his replacement’s instinctive choice either, but a compromise for those with greater say than him. So with Roman still breathing when the credits rolled, is a Chelsea decline inevitable? Have the badies been truly vanquished?

You see, I fear a manager needs a big ego to pick the right team instead of buckling to the press, the owner, and influential players. But Roman sacked such a manager for doing just that. Is he capable of hiring another? Or will Chelsea have to be replaced by new badies once they limp away into the shadows?

I guess we have to wait for the next installment to find out.


Yes I know this article is gloating somewhat. But I offer some defence off that. I have a hangover from partying in Tottenham High Road last night, and writing this eased my headache. And as my mate Terry said as we trudged off the pitch after his Broomfield under 14s beat my Chelmsford City under 14s – Why else do we win?

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