Thursday, 28 March 2013

We don't care: football's militants fire a warning signal

We recalled the joy of summer as we drove past the Olympic stadium, chatted about the recent problems of Paul Elliott as we parked the Quattro next to the block of flats where he grew up, turned the corner - and walked into the 1980’s .

Defiance personified
Riot police with snarling dogs postured beside armoured vans, horses and a helicopter hovering overhead. The atmosphere was tense as we made our way into the stadium where thousands of white men shouted at us to fuck off. There was no thrilling, first glimpse of green because the pitch was a waterlogged, brown pudding and it was no surprise when the Championship game between Charlton Athletic and Millwall quickly degenerated into hoof ball.

The south London derby had seemed like a good idea at the time my Addickted pal suggested we go but its charm was fading. Rapidly.

It would've been more intimidating but for the 10,000 empty seats, a reminder there's more football than demand in these austere times. And you can call yourself a supporter without going anymore.

We football fans are resilient though and despite the graphic, aggressive and repetitive abuse from self-appointed pond life the game had its moments.

By the Tower Block behind the Jimmy Seed.
The home side’s 19 year old left winger Callum Harriot caught the eye with his pace, balance and delivery and veteran centre half Danny Shittu was magnificent for the visitors who were fitter and more skillful and deserved to take the lead with substitute Jermaine Easter’s first touch of the ball on the hour. Shane Lowry’s 30 yard free kick six minutes later was Balesque and ended the contest.

After the game both sets of fans were let out simultaneously and we had to take a long detour to avoid the corralled and smug, but no less defiant, visiting fans.

There is always something, even a flick or a tackle, in a football match that makes attending worthwhile for this enthusiast but the scowling Met policemen hungry to restore morale after the riots of two years ago, the thugs among those who follow Millwall and the demise of Charlton who were that rarity, a community focused and well-run Premier League club until double dip relegation, put melancholy one up over pleasure that day at the Valley.

It was how football used to be with its intimidating atmosphere, crap pitches and long balls.

Nah, you might say, that’s just Millwall; their fans have always been the roughest, it was a wet day and Chris Powell has Charlton going in the right direction despite not having a bean to spend.


But reports of some of the old faces, their banning orders having expired, turning up for the England game in San Marino is another reminder that the people who made going to football such an ordeal are still here and, as witnessed at Charlton, there is a disaffected and disadvantaged younger generation who don’t care that no one likes them.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Will the FA or anyone ever stand up to Fergie?

On Thursday, England manager Roy Hodgson included in-form Manchester United centre-half Rio Ferdinand in his squad for the World Cupqualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.

On Friday, Sir Alex Ferguson expressed surprise at Ferdinand’s call-up and doubts about his fitness.

On Saturday, despite Rio's marauding run single-handedly creating Wayne Rooney's match-winner against Reading, Fergie hinted at his irritation with a caustic remark about the decreasing features of Rio's game. 
What's the point of cordial relations without co-operation?
On Monday, Rio withdrew citing the conflict between micro-managing his long term back problem with training, travelling and playing for England.

Cue pelters for Roy and his lack of communication and for Rio and the perceived revenge for his exclusion ‘for footballing reasons’ from last summer’s European Championship.

This, though, was another example of how Sir Alex Ferguson operates when he feels the interests of the Premier League’s most successful club are under threat. As he himself is fond of saying, ‘control comes with results’ and he needs to control everything and everybody.

Sir Alex intimidates match officials and the media and manipulates the Premier League and the Football Association. Anybody who questions his conduct is berated or banned.

He refused to speak to the BBC for seven years after they made allegations about his son’s activities as an agent. He threatened legal action. None came. He wanted an apology. None came.

Draw your own conclusions.

Only occasionally the tendency to tyranny is exposed. Like the time he was heard at a news conference trying to ban reporter Rob Harris of Associated Press for making a routine enquiry on Ryan Giggs. More often than not he gets away with it because the people who should have put a stop to this years ago are scared of him.

Can you imagine the manager of the New York Yankees refusing to talk to a rights holder for seven years without Major League Baseball intervening or the Dallas Cowboys coach demanding a reporter be banned for asking a question and the NFL standing idly by?

Perhaps Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is too busy counting beans and his chairman Sir Dave Richards too embarrassed after yet another incident involving alcohol and a water feature.

Which leaves English football’s governing body. When he started talking to the BBC again just about the first thing Ferguson said was,
Richards' speech was daft enough without this indiscretion
“The FA treats us like sh*t.”

There is no record of David Bernstein, one of the best chairmen the FA has ever had, or General Secretary Alex Horne saying a word about Ferguson’s arrogant and damaging behaviour.
Only the FA have a range of objectives that clash with Fergie's agenda.

So when Roy Hodgson is forced to play midfielder Michael Carrick at centre-back against Montenegro because there is nobody else and England draw or lose a game they must win, it is because the men who should have stood up to a tyrant never did.

With United fan and former Old Trafford director, Greg Dyke about to take the reigns at Wembley, the chances of that happening are set to diminish even further.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Brand Beckham for hire in China

Becks in Paris, Becks in China. His guns are for hire. 
David Beckham is the biggest star in the world. I challenge you to think of anyone, even the biggest Hollywood star, that has a swoon factor for both sexes that he has - and in such diverse cultures.

America or China, they can't get enough of him.

Big in the east, big in the west, even big in Budapest, to quote Chas and Dave.

Brand Beckham is pure gold to a nation or corporation wanting to promote their lot and he was for hire again this week.

The client couldn't have been bigger: China. I’m certain I watched an ad for Becks at Sainsbury’s leading upto the feature in the news.

The former England skipper arrived amid competing paparazzi and the closest attentions of crazed fans. Chinese kids mobbed him like the Beatles were back in the 60’s.

He had a kickaround in his suit and passed the ball around in a pedestrian manner not dissimilar to his years as an LA Galaxy midfielder.

He also denied he was there to put the sheen on a sport tainted by corruption. He was there, he said, to promote the Beautiful Game – using the Brand, a sheening commodity that hangs limpet like to his body.

Becks can talk about something as abstract as his brand, yet says noodles are his favourite Chinese dish.

But that’s Beckham for you. Noodles is also his favourite Italian dish too. Infact, one man’s noodles is another man’s lockshen.

But whatever the shape of his pasta, Beckham's for hire and the world wants his stardust.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The wrong noise from Moyes

Moyes at an Everton crossroads
Defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup was a bad day at the office
The outpouring of vitriol from Everton fans last weekend must've taken David Moyes aback, but he only has himself to blame.

The FA Cup defeat at home to Wigan was a proper beating and many an Evertonian wanted a word. The Gwladys Street faithful seem divided and the loss of respect for their honest, hardworking and long-serving manager is sad but predictable.

In November, Moyes said he would wait until the end of January before discussing a new contract but in the middle of February he said,

“.....I want to see how the team do. I want to see if we’ve got a realistic chance of getting into Europe, or if we can get to a cup final. I want to see how well we progress and what we do.”

Coronation Street chief at a crossroads
Messrs. Kenwright and Moyes enjoy good relations
For an experienced manager it was an extraordinary statement but not without precedent. In 2001 Moyes’ friend and rival Sir Alex Ferguson made a similar gaffe: he said he was going to quit United in a year's time. The team lost form and, crucially, Sir Alex lost the ability to impose discipline on his squad. United finished third, in a four year stretch where there were two other third-placed seasons too.

More uncertain individual and collective performances could be avoided by the signing of a new Goodison contract - failing that the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright could pull the same stunt as Peter Kenyon did at United. The spur for Sir Alex’s change of mind was the chief executive’s plan to replace him with Sven Goran Eriksson.

“I’m not having him take over my f***ing team!”

Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Moyes are the three longest serving managers in English professional football; they have earned the rare right to decide whether to stay or go. Every manager, though, has a shelf life and, with his ill-timed statement, Moyes gave the players a marker pen and asked them to fill out a best before label and stick it on his forehead.

The uncertainty surrounding the ownership of Everton must also be wearing for all concerned. Kenwright has been trying to sell the club for years and even though the price is right, around £125 million, there have been no takers.
Moyes' record as boss, coach and talent developer is top,

To prospective buyers the club must seem old fashioned and overshadowed. Goodison Park is a classic football ground but matchday income is limited and the near neighbours with their bulging, if slightly dusty, trophy cabinet, American owners and fancy football are more glamorous.

It would be like buying Espanyol.

With his straightforward, grinding football, the Glaswegian has done his damnedest to elevate Everton above the Red mist. Only Sir Alex can match his three LMA Manager of the Year gongs. His work ethic, eye for a player and man-management are beyond reproach. Many a club, here and abroad, would love a manager of his calibre.

Moyes is 50 next month and maybe he has decided it is time to move on. A win at Anfield on May 4th would be a fitting leaving present.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Tottenham the pride of North London as bid rumours circulate Arsenal

Bale-ful Arsenal
Tottenham moved seven points clear of Arsenal in the Premier League after beating their North London rivals 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

Gareth Bale took his tally to nine goals in seven games with the opening strike.

As Gunners fans contemplate defeat which threatens their chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League, the club is rumoured to be the subject of a £1.5bn takeover bid from the Middle East.

Here's Jonny's Smooth Radio bulletin.

listen to ‘Tottenham the pride of North London as bid rumours circulate Arsenal’ on Audioboo

Here's Arsenal fan Hugh Wizzy's video on the game. Hugh produces a video after every Gunners game. I contributed an opinion in it.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

The first day of the Football League

Appears in the Trinity Road Stand at Villa Park
It was 125 years ago that the first ever Saturday 3 o'clock kickoffs changed English culture forever. Here's a roundup of the first day's action.

Ten of the twelve teams took part in the first ever round of Championship fixtures on Saturday, 8 September 1888 and although no league table was published in any of the newspapers of the time West Bromwich Albion would have been the very first team to claim top spot.

By modern day calculations, Derby County would have been the first ever table toppers because of their superior goal difference which was +3 after the first game.

The match between Blackburn and Notts County couldn't take place because the former had a friendly fixture against Newton Heath, who later became Manchester United. Even then, they were responsible for fixture congestion!

Albion won 2-0 at Stoke in front of 4,500 spectators and would have headed Preston North End, Derby County and Everton by virtue of goal average, which would be used to separate teams who were tied on points at that time. 

The first ever league goalscorer!
Preston defeated Burnley 5-2, Derby were 6-3 winners at Bolton and Everton secured the points in a 2-1 victory over Accrington.

Gershom Cox earned the distinction of scoring the first ever league goal. Unfortunately the Aston Villa defender put through his own goal in a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Minutes later Fred Dewhurst opened the scoring at Preston with the first intentional goal.