Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fergie's Having It Both Ways

So Sir Alex Ferguson is complaining about the overweaning power of Television on the Beautiful Game. That, much like the game itself, is a bit rich.

'I tell yer, television is God and it's crucifying me'

The only reason that the top footballers wade into work through a sea of bank notes these days is television. I’m sure Ferguson himself is that little bit wealthier since the advent of Sky Sports.

Those that run the Premier League will point to its enormous operating profits and pronounce it a success. It’s not so much television that rules the roost, it’s money. And television, in the form of walnut-faced mogul Murdoch and his butter-wouldn’t-melt boy James – the result of what would have happened if Steptoe and Son had made it big – pays better than owt else.

But then cos telly gets your ‘brand’ seen across five continents it doesn’t half help your merchandising n all. In fact, the Box is so instrumental in keeping your club afloat that you’d think that Ferguson might be a less grumpy about the whole thing, even if he doesn’t have to resort to the average chief executive’s role of bending over forwards while the EPL stuff in as many fivers as his arse can carry.

Ferguson says ‘Television is God’ (and you were beginning to think it was you, eh, Alex?) If he’s right, then presumably he thinks football is the Virgin Mary, but the only people getting truly fucked by the situation at the moment are those clubs without the emissaries necessary to hook a billionaire with too much time on his hands.

I just picture Bill Kenwright slapping on the lippy, hitching up the stockings and walking the wealthier thoroughfares of major financial centres waiting for someone to wind-down the dark-glassed window of his Rolls-Royce and buy some business.

When Man City played Everton this weekend, you had the two extremes in opposition and you couldn’t help rooting for the poverty-stricken honest Johns against the moneybagses. Unsurprisingly, the Toffees, outmuscled by sheer wealth, opted for the Alamo approach and held out for as long as possible while Mancini chopped and changed his state-of-the-art armouries until a fluky deflection saw the royal blue walls crumble.

'I have this many millionaires on my bench!'

This is the reality of modern-day football. Money will win out. And money comes from two directions – telly and the deep, deep pockets of rich men with nowt much to do.

And there’s no doubt that football’s thirst for cash shows no signs of fading. The whole idea of the Europa League, a great sprawling fat beggar on European football’s landscape, is designed to accrue more bits of change for the football hierarchy.

Ferguson complains about fixture lists being twisted to accommodate the whims of the television companies; surely it’s the whims of the greedy graspers running football that conceived of the Europa League, a competition that distorts your regular Saturday afternoon domestic footy programme more than any other.

Of course Fergie has only just patched things up with the Beeb after some 2004 programme implicated his boy in some sort of brown envelope conspiracy. It took Mark Thompson to go bowing and scraping at his door to get His Puceness back on side. Perhaps the Beeb’s not part of the television godhead. Perhaps Fergie’s an atheist. Or perhaps Fergie’s idea of a divine creator is one that comes and begs you to help Him out.

Add to this the fact that you can go a week without the latest endeavours of Manchester United being emblazoned across our screens, and you have to think SAF is guilty of biting the admittedly unpleasant hand that feeds him. I mean I can’t see that United have suffered in any way, shape or form from its relationship with telly.

All right, sometimes (very rarely) clubs have to play Wednesday night and Saturday lunchtime. But what with all that cash the telly’s bringing in, a club like United can afford to have two pretty decent teams in its squad, with a third one just for show for the Carling Cup. I’m still not sure where you’re losing out.

To his credit, Fergie’s push for football clubs to get more revenue from any renegotiation of the League’s international TV rights deal isn’t wholly self-interested. That money gets split 20 ways equally, so United benefit and so does everyone else. The old leftie in him sees that as ‘fair’. So do I.

Meanwhile, Michael Owen continues to bewilder the average football fan with his career choices. Apparently he’s rather play once every three months with top players than every week with cack ones. I think maybe he’s rather turn up in the League Cup where, given the poorer quality of opposition available, he’ll get more opportunities to tuck away the odd brace.

Certainly the old predatory skills have not deserted him, and he can still scuff one in off a left foot that, after 14 years at the top level, still can’t kick straight.

Owen gets a lot more joy out of his horses, as those who saw his celebrations after his nag Brown Panther won the King George V Stakes at Ascot can testify. You do wonder quite what he’s doing warming benches for a day-job.

Of course he’ll have to make sure his jockeys keep their whips trousered from now on. There are strict rules for whip usage coming up. No more than eight lashes allowed in the final furlong for National Hunt jockeys. Which is a tad muddled. If hitting them is bad, why tell the riders to do it less often? It’s like telling a thief he can only turn over three security vans a month. After that, we get serious.

You should've seen the mess it made of Max Mosley's behind. Allegedly.

Of course if horses enjoy a good thrashing then who’s to tell the likes of Dettori and McGuire what to do in the privacy of their own horse-race. I dunno but me, I suspect the gee-gees might rather watch telly with Sir Alex Ferguson than have an anorexic midget smack em about for a mile and a half. But what do I know?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Tormented Torres

Fernando Torres, eh? Three years ago he had the world at his feet. If that were still the case, he’d only shank the world into Row Z.

That miss, that glorious Rosenthalian miss, capped off a performance that sums the lad up at the moment. Clearly, he’s got a bit of the old swagger back. Villas Boas made him the lone striker and the way he ran off the shoulder of the United’s back two was very reminiscent of his better Liverpool days.

His finish for Chelsea’s goal was pretty smart too. And suddenly you were thinking that the lad that made Nemanja Vidic look like he was on board the starship Enterprise during a prolonged meteor shower was back.

But the false dawns continue. Put him in front of a net and it’s like Chelsea have paid £50 million for Norman Wisdom.

"Mr. Villas Boas! Mr Villas Boas! I think I'm going to score, Mr Villas Boas!"

I just picture Nando at home, haplessly going about his business. Looking for his pants and finding them slipping out of his trouser leg an hour after he gets to work. Dunking his biccie in his tea and losing the whole blinking digestive. Bending over to wipe his arse only for his I-Phone to fall out his shirt pocket and into the lav (all right, that last one’s happened to me – except it was a cranky old Nokia summat).

You could cry for the lad were it not for the fact that he’s paid an effing fortune and it’s Chelsea’s look-out of they want to keep rewarding failure. (As opposed to say the Royal Bank of Scotland where we’ve all got an interest, not that you’d know it).

Not that Torres’s team-mates helped out a lot. Ramires looks a decent player until he gets inside the box when he betrays all the confidence of a hydrophobic climbing into a punt. And defensively they were alluerthpless (Hansen speak for ‘crap’).

Of course, as any Arsenal fan’ll tell you, a pathetic defence makes for highly entertaining football, and despite your average neutral wishing ill on both United and Chelsea, the game was a joy to behold.

On the BBC Fergie (I’m missing Mike Phelan already aren’t you?) described the game at Old Trafford as being like basketball - well given the number of sitters missed it was like basketball played blindfolded elves.

As we know only too well, Rooney isn’t immune to the odd desperate muff, and the scuff on to the post was probably even worse than the John Terry impersonation for the penalty kick. (Although the latter wasn’t nearly as enjoyable: I think the new dictionary definition of schadenfraude is: ‘Watching John Terry fall on his arse while trying to score a match-winning penalty for Chelsea’.)

Of course Fergie’s main concern post-match was the atrocious tackle by Ashley Cole on the Cheapdorito. Cole was probably at the end of his tether after Nani spent the whole match ripping him to shreds like so much damp newspaper. Say what you like about Ferguson but he’s stuck with this bloke even though for much of his career he’s had the National Society of Show Ponies (chairman one D. Bentley) hiding their heads in shame.

You can't help wanted the cocky git to fall on his head, mind

Nowadays Nani eyes up a full-back like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall eyes up a rabbit carcass. (Although I’ve noticed the old Etonian broiler has announced he know mostly eats vegetables – a fact that coincides serendipitously with his new vegetarian cookbook.)

Another pleasing development was the loss of points by Manchester City, despite the continued ruthlessness of Sergio Aguero. Mancini says he’s short of midfielders of the holding variety. What planet is he on? I’m guessing that Mancini doesn’t step out of the house on a cold day unless he’s got at least three coats on.

Arsenal’s continued inability to tackle is another delight. According to the Daily Mirror the Arsenal squad are right behind the manager but would like a defensive coach brought in, which is ironic given that Wenger’s about the most defensive person working in football.

It was also a weekend for patting the Premier League new boys on the head. When pressed Alan Shearer managed to positively spike himself on the fence regarding the prospects of Norwich, QPR and Swansea staying up. Not sure that lad ever utters an opinion one way or t’other. Me, I don’t see the Canaries or the Swans escaping the bird-catchers.

The R’s though have one Joey Barton in their ranks and if he can stay out of trouble he might just keep the Loftus Road lot laughing. And if Shane McGowan could stay out of the pub he just might make another record.

Despite my better judgment I watched a recording of England’s rugby players’ victory over the might of Georgia. The upside was that fast-forwarding a rugby match is the best way to watch it. Just press play during the ten minutes of each half when summat is actually happening and the experience is greatly enhanced.

A lot of fuss was made of some of the England blokes – one of them married to a royal personage as if that makes a blind bit of bloody difference – having a few beers in a boozer after the Argentina game. I mean so the hell what? There was a whole week before the next game, it didn’t look like they were totally hammered, and while there’s plenty of things to do in Queenstown, most of it involves doing summat really stupid like bungee jumping... ahem.

The fact that the people involved included one Chris Ashton, a man who continually confuses extreme self-confidence with being an utter tosser (c.f. Cristiano Ronaldo, Floyd Mayweather, Robbie Savage) hardly helps their cause.

Ronan O'Gara mind-melds with a New Zealand supporter

But it was the Irish who actually brought the tournament to life. There’s nowt like beating the Aussies in the Kiwi’s backyard for endearing yourself to people. Marvellous.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Huzzah! It's Rugger!

The rugger buggers are back, then, spreading their maxi-muscled frames across our screens like a bunch of cauliflower-eared Chippendales in nadger-nipping lycra.

Course ‘rugger bugger’ is a term we tend to aim at the chinless horse-toothed pricks who slaver into your local Pitcher & Piano in their workaday pinstripes and bray like donkeys while dropping rohipnol into each other’s pints. You can tell from a lot of what passes for banter that this is pretty much a bunch of oiks in toffs’ clothing. Thick, moneyed but not remotely vain.

'Yah he like tried to gouge out my beautiful eyes, the fucking cunt!'

‘Course that’s very much an English take on union. Your average Welshman or Kiwi sees rugby as the preserve of the working man. As indeed it is. It might also be said that of the teams that I’ve watched so far those two did the most to entertain. Having said that the All Blacks only managed it for 40 minutes – but then again that was a pretty decent 40 minutes (especially according to my missus who has decided that Dan Carter can pop it between her posts any time.)

I’m particularly impressed with Sonny Bill Williams. Not least cos he’s got over the fact that his parents obviously wanted him to be a harmonica player. His handling and ‘offloading’ (that’s knobspeak for ‘short passing’) are pretty fantastic, although any seasoned Rugby League watcher will tell you that every man is taught to fling around with that sort of dash in the 13-man code.

Wales of course did their impression of Tom Cruise at his wife’s side and came up short. Again. Defeat was followed by the habitual verbal pats on the back (‘ooh well done, Taffy old chap – good show what with you being poor and English not really being your first language, wot, wot!’) They should’ve won. They were much the better team. Hook’s kick might’ve been in (can’t they use Hawkeye? I mean it’s not like India are in the tournament is it?)

And you know what, forget Invictus – and forget how transparently pleasant Francois Pienaar is - the South Africans are still the baddies. For one, they are the holders’; for another, when they open their gobs the English language has to scurry off to a refuge home for battered vowels.

Didn’t see the Wallabies or the French – I find seven o’clock starts as agreeable as Jessie Wallace wedding day – but the most irritating bleeding aspects of the whole shebang thus far are:

1) The Scrums. Has there yet been a scrum that hasn’t had to be reset? They cave in like an elephant’s deckchair every time they engage. Play doesn’t move for ten minutes while some end-of-his-tether ref tries to get the six auditionees for Captain Caveman to just stay up long enough for the game to continue.

‘Hold! Touch! Fall On Your Faces!

Hilariously if a team finds itself unable to field a prop forward cos of injuries the scrums go uncontested. Which makes you wonder what the point of it is in the first place.

2) Running down the clock is easy. If you’re a point or two ahead with 5 minutes to go you just keep hold of the ball and flop to the floor a few dozen times and you’ve won. There’s nowt the opposition can do about it. It’s a really boring version of running the ball into the corner flag in footy. Can’t they just lose the ball if they haven’t gone forward for a couple of minutes – or summat like that?

3) The pundits. I know they’re all World Cup winners and great players in their own right but every one of ‘em looks like he’s being operated by a run-of-the-mill puppeteer. I put on my 3D glasses to watch one half-time briefing cos I was so sure I was missing at least one dimension. They make Alan Shearer look like Martin Luther King.

Oh and I might add that I hope that’s the last time we see and England rugby team wearing all black shirts. Just a shoddy, arrogant decision by a bunch of people who couldn’t give a toss about tradition. And England played like a bunch of blindfolded Sumos in it any road , so get rid.

Why so much rugby talk anyway? I hear you cry.

Well, the footy has left us with nowt to yap about. It’s business as usual in Manchester – apart from Stoke and Arsenal there’s not much about the table that’s going to change by the end of the season. And the Evertonians can protest all they like about lack of ambition and progress at the club but really all them lovely banners are saying is ‘For Chrissakes, Kenwright, you’ve been there for 7 years and you still haven’t laid your hands can on one bastard tycoon.’

'If I were you, Bill, I'd be looking at the young Iranian Ahmedinajad and failing that yer man Gadaffi must be lookin' to squirrel away a few thousand.'

I can see old Bill whoring his way around the oligarchs of the world kowtowing to anyone with a few spare dirhams like... like... well, like a Prime Minister. Or Garry Cook. Of course that chippy Manc has been relieved of his position by the FandAbuDhabi brigade. It could’ve happened to any one Garry. I’m just pleased it happened to you.

The national side may be worth a quick mention, although at the mo I’m showing as much enthusiasm for the England team as the players themselves are. I certainly don’t think that point in Montenegro is a gimme. And even Capello has finally conceded that managing this set of players has left him scratching his walnut face in utter confusion.

Poor old Rob Earnshaw (‘ooh well done, Taffy old chap – good show what with you being poor and English not really being your first language, wot, wot!’) That chance was so much easier than a sitter it was damn well prostrate.

As for who will win the Rugby World Cup – listen to the upcoming podcast!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Left Sky and Dry

One of them strange weekends when your average non-Sky subscriber feels like a cave-bound hermit in the sporting wilderness. I was settled in to baby-sit the grandson on Friday night – I do my bit y’know but the sooner they get the young lad down a boxing gym the better. If you can’t jab with the left at six years old there’s little hope for you.

Any road, no Sky at this place so I’m scooting through the TV guide for the highlights package. Nowt. Nada. Murdoch hasn’t even seen fit to relinquish a glimpse of The Thatched One bagging his brace. And now it turns out that Tony Blair is godfather to Grace Murdoch. I tell you some days I’d happily feed the contents of my arse into the inner workings of every Skybox in the sodding country.

You tight-fisted misery!

Nevertheless I hear, via 5Live and the easily nettled Alan Green that it was a good victory for England, punctuated by the dropping of one Frank Lampard, halle-fuckin-lujah. There’s a phrase in football – let your feet do the talking – and I’ve noticed with Lamps in an England shirt that his feet are positively garrulous. He takes more touches to complete one pass than the number of passes Xavi Hernandez completes in an entire game.

Refreshing then, but a bit bewildering, that Capello, his job clearly up in a year’s time, finally finds the bollocks to pick the right team. Not sure what they’re doing with that new kit, mind you. There’s summat about the phrase ‘black shirts’ that makes me uneasy.

I’d like to think that Andy Carroll might be a top international striker, but he needs to start treating his body more like a temple and less like a back-alley rock venue.

So in the Murdoch-induced absence I shared the pain of Scotland’s draw with the dodgy Czechs. A blatant dive wins a match-saving penalty. Berra’s riposte – a poor enough performance to earn a walk-on part in Taggart - earned him a yellow card. Cue spurious arguments about the fact that the ref – a Dutchman called Kevin – gave one spot-kick when it wasn’t and so should make the same mistake twice in the interests of balance.

Hmm... that way madness lies. I reckon if they’d had another ten minutes of that game left, each team would have had all its outfield players rolling around in the opposition penalty box with tears in their lying eyes.

And this is where football gets it so bloody awfully wrong at the moment. There’s this tacit approval of conning the officials within the game. The times you see Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy (or indeed any one of them managers at whom Lady Luck is always flicking the V’s) saying ‘we had one go our way today... that’s football.’ The referee always gets the flak but surely the only one to blame is the sneaky bastard who threw himself to earth in the first place. Or am I being naive?

It was left to the athletics to lift the soul this weekend – and in the form of young Mohamed Farah, the Robbo spirit soared like an eagle attached to umpteen thousand helium balloons.

Denied in the 10,000 metres by the latest lad off the Ethiopian production line, Farah hit the home straight in the 5K with the same death skull grimace on his face. Lagat, chasing him, looked no less in fear of his life. In fact it was hard not to imagine a bloody great lion looming up in the background.

And that’s why I love athletics. No bikes, motors, gloves, pads, just a lad or lass in his/her vest with his eyeballs out, going for it. OK you have to exclude Usain Bolt from that description as the lad just flows across the track like a duster across a newly-polished floor. Whereas, currently, the UK sprinters move like wonky-wheeled shopping trolleys on a cobbled street.

If I’m honest, I tend to enjoy the lads’ races more than the lasses. There’s summat about a female athlete’s body that’s intimidating and well just not sexy. Them six-packs for starters.

Put em away love!

On balance I prefer the hour-glass figure to the brick shithouse when it comes to your lasses. Still, despite the fact that they’re barely wearing owt, they’re not there for my delectation are they? And that Aussie hurdler Sally Pearson would just tonk me in the gob with her leading leg if she read this. She was just magnificent.

And that’s where athletics seems to embrace a good swathe of the assortments of humanity. Scrawny little Kenyans, gangling Croatians, women the size of wardrobes, men the width of the Wirral, all seem to have summat they can have a crack at.

But the sprint finish off the back of a middle distance race... there’s nowt to beat it.

Footy resurfaces tomorrow with England at home to the 115th ranked team in world football. Yes, Wales come hunting a shock, this time armed with the left-wing wonder-monkey that is Gareth Bale. A bigger test for Smalling you might think than some scurrying Bulgur egged on some racist thicksters from the terraces.

I shall be watching it on ITV, bless it, with his dough-faced host the saggy Baggie Adrian Chiles. An Eeyorish attitude suits watching England games, I reckon, so I’m looking forward to the old grouse’s presentation.

He’ll no doubt be accompanied by a whole welter of former Middlesbrough managers – and I think Boro’s current position in the English game is testimony to how much these blokes know.

I see A narrow England win – 2-1 – but that’ll be enough to start gearing ourselves for another let-down over the summer. England fans have sat through more anti-climaxes that the neighbours of my Uncle Keith after he married that Croatian nymphomaniac. We’ll see.

But temporarily at least, with Rooney at the top of his game, there’s a tiny flame of hope for the England team again, even if it has all the permanence of a lit match in a hurricane.