Monday, 24 December 2012

Swansea Nativity

This is an extract from the Premier League Bible. It is taken from The Gospel According to Midtable Obscurity. I hope, like all of us who believe, that you enjoy it.

'Now in a corner of the country known as Swansea there lived a girl called Mary and one night when her fella was out and that, there was a bright light in her bedsit and Angel Rangel appeared before her.

'"Be not afraid" said he, but in a weird accent Mary didn't understand, "for I have been sent with great news. You shall carry a child and he shall be called Michu, and many opportunities shall he take. He shall be in a stable born. Not an unstable, that's where Mario Balotelli was born."

'"But it cannot be" said Mary, "for I am a Virgin."

'"In Swansea?" smirked Angel.

'"I am, you cheeky bastard" she insisted. "Although the Government would like me to be replaced by First Trains. Have you been sent by God?"

'"Yes, although He had to ask permission from Sir Alex Ferguson first."

'So saying, Angel Rangel vanished in a flash of light and wasn't seen in the first team for quite a while.

‘Now across the land, Word came that a Messiah was to be born, a leader of the line who would prove that from poor beginnings goalscorers do come. But lo, word did reach the lands in the East. Or the Eastlands.

'And there came an edict from he whose tresses look like a photograph from a hairdresser's window in the early 80s. And he did demand 'Bring me this mother of Michu that we might make him ours, and drape him in blue as blue as the sky, as we always do with blokes who have made their name in funny little places, ha ha!'

'And soon the cry rang through the ears of all mothers of prospective footballers and those with any sort of pride and loyalty fled before they were captured by the Abu-Dhabi Lucre.

'Mary was heavy with child and so her husband, a bloke who so loved footy and carpentry that in his spare time he made wooden centre-backs called Williamson and Bramble. We shall call him Joseph or Joe-Cole for short (and I mean short).

'Joe-Cole managed to get hold of a tatty old donkey and then this Tony Adams carried Mary much as Robin Van Persie had carried Arsenal for two seasons, or Steven Gerrard Liverpool for full seven years, the poor sod.

'Eventually they arrived in a town called Bethlehem. Now all the inns there were taken up by rich holiday-makers, two of whom, Messrs Berbatov and Sturridge, were over-relaxing by the pool.

'The inn-owner said they had a stable with a few animals in there but the Leeds fans would be gone before dawn. So Mary and Joe-Cole lay down with the Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joey Barton (the ass).

'And that night, to the WAG a baby Michu was born (once the doc had turned up to perform the elected caesarean). And glory shone all around.

'Meanwhile above the town and up in the hills, three shepherds were playing keepy-uppie with a sheep's bladder. It was one of those new sheep's bladders that moves unpredictably through the air.

'Angel di Maria appeared to them and they were sore excited cos he was, like, almost as good as Ronaldo... on his day... but not very often for Argentina.

'"Be not afraid" spake Angel "For know that an excellent striker has been born this day."

'"But why tell us?" said the older shepherd. Moyes was his name. "We won't be able to afford him."

'"Nor I" said Redknapp, the second shepherd (although to be frank, he had a bit of cash stashed away and was more than ready to put a bid in).

'"Nor I" said the third, who had only really dallied with shepherdry and knew naught of it, despite his name of Shearer.

'"But this striker may yet be cheap, as little as a fifth of a Giroud and yet in truth twenty times his worth."

'"We shall come to see this miraculous sight" said Moyes optimistically, even though the Kenwrighting was on the wall.

'And then in the East there appeared a star. And not long after that, Manchester City bought it. It would've gone to Chelsea but the star wasn't sure he liked what their captain said about stars. It's quite possible he was starrist.

'But three wise men followed this star (at least until Kia Joorabchian became its agent). And the wise men were called Hansen and Lawro and Andy Townsend (and yea, verily, the word 'wise' was used ironically... c.f. Little Peter Crouch, Upright Luis Suarez, Squeaky-Clean Sepp Blatter.)

Yea, and many opinions had they of this star, many of which were so fucking obvious they didn't need saying but they said them anyway.

'They never made it to the stable. But the Three Kings did.

'That's 'king Chelsea, 'king Manchester City and 'king Manchester City.

'And they found the infant forward lying in a manchego and they offered it gifts: gold, gold and more gold. Just loads of gold really. And Frank, incensed, Lampard in part exchange.

'And though the Mary Mother of Michu hated the thought of it (she was from Croxteth originally) she felt unable to resist and finally allowed the newborn king to go to one of the Big Three for a six-figure salary.

'And lo he of Man U did hold the baby aloft from his Manchego, cried Hosanna Bless the Lord and placed the child upon a lowly bench where it sat like Andy 'Christmas' Carroll for a whole year and a half and the poor lad and his Mum wondered why they'd left Swansea in the first place.*

Happy Christmas To One And All!!! I shall be knocking back an extra hot toddy for you Villa fans out there.

Up the Boro!

*In later chapters Michu finds himself in the wilderness for a whole season. When he returns he is crucified for missing a penalty, before finally managing to get on the end of a decent cross.  

Monday, 10 December 2012

Tackling the Tossers

Maybe Manchester City's fans have as much money as the owners these days. Certainly throwing loose change at the likes of Wayne Rooney is a genuine waste of time. Wayne probably smiles to himself when he remembers the days when he'd have gladly picked it up and toddled down to a lady of the night for some entertainment. Word has it when Wazza first visited Turin and heard he was to playing the Old Lady he took some extra Euros with him.

Love of your club and hatred for its rivals are two sides of the same coin, which may well be a metaphor too far for the knobhead who lobbed one at a celebratory Rio Ferdinand. There are always those who take things too far and once again it's the honest Johns who swear quietly into their half-time Bovrils who are getting lumped in with the louts.

It's a shame cos the Manc derby had much to admire in it, apart from Mario Balotelli. I dunno if it's the haircut but increasingly Mario plods about like a truculent dinosaur, and probably finishes about as well as your average deinonychus n all. (I have a 9-year-old son, I know about these things).

Whatever you think about Carlos Tevez - and that'll be many more thoughts than the little gaucho has had in his entire life - you can't deny that he's ten times the player Balotelli is, which means he's half the player Balotelli thinks he is. Why Mancini persists with his fellow Italian is one of the great conundrums of British football.

(The others are: 'How Come The FA Aren't Imposing Retrospective Three-Match Bans On Diving Little Cheats Like Santi Cazorla?' and 'Jordan Henderson - Why?')

That aside it was end-to-end stuff and Fergie's positive team selection had a lot to do with that. Every season feels like it has to be his last and yet he still manages to get most of the important decisions right. It's infuriating. You do feel that whenever he does leave - and despite huge and grudging admiration I'll be on one end of the lever - that the next bloke is going to have the toughest job in football. Well, apart from being Roman Abramovich's manager-finder general.

If you want to understand the difference in commitment between the two, you could hardly do better than look at the Citeh wall for United's winner. Samir Nasri, a gifted mercenary who joined the millionaire swells last year, was just another prick in that wall. And a loose prick at that. It realy was the most effeminate attempt to block afree kick I think I have ever seen.

In fact women's teams are much more slid when they line up a wall, I reckon. Although that's possibly because there's less to protect. Nevertheless, Nasri deserves a thorough dressing-down by Mancini if only to discover whether he actually has any balls.

Lescott must be wondering quite what he's done wrong too to be replaced by Nastasic, and then Kolo Toure when Kompany came off. The big wardrobe was very good at the end of last season.

But it all led to a typically Fergiefied finish. He's like a latter-day Fagin, isn't he, leading a team of arch pickpockets as they nick win after win.

Perhaps the man most likely to succeed him upped his chances on Sunday too when Everton snatched a last-gasp win. Everton under Moyes have become a second favourite team amongst many fans simply because the manager's stuck with 'em and his team play football the way we'd all like our teams to.

Jelavic glad-handed every player on the bench when he left the park after grabbing the winner and frankly that's not a sight you'd ever see on the bench at Eastlands. That's probably why I begrudge every point Citeh get at the moment. It really is a flagrant assembly of self-interested wealth-creators, that squad. So for once I was happy to see United win.

I still don't reckon on United strolling to the title from here on in. They've got the Champs League still, which happily Citeh don't, but more than that they're not so much better than every other candidate out there - unlike, say, Saltburn's own James Arthur (he won X Factor by the way).

Mind you if Teesside could be bothered we'd win every talent competition going, man. The walls of our buildings are dripping that kind of raw soulful brilliance it's just we don't like to go on about it. NB there's a bit of irony in that statement.

Of course the throwing of missiles by the fans is going to be the main subject of conversation for the next few days and I have to say it drives me tonto. I've no doubt that much of this is laced with naked jealousy for the preposterous amounts of money these blokes earn. But that's giving it too much credence as some sort of protest.

Yes, they're overpaid. Yes, they behave like children. Yes sometimes their celebrations could be termed as 'provocative' although given similar circumstances I'd be sliding on me knees and raoring with delight too. And yes, sometimes, as with Cazorla (who seemed delighted by his deceit) they don't deserve even the minimum of respect.

But for Chrissakes most of us stopped throwing stuff at other people when we were seven years old (that school window costs my Dad a fortune to fix). I've no desire to see Rio Ferdinand's blood unless it's been delivered to drug-testers (and a good thing that would have been, eh?)

Let us not forget though, that the vast majority of footballers, even the ones wading through wonga, simply get on with the game because they love it. And in the case of both Glen Johnson and Joe Cole, they remember that fans have long memories and do the decent thing when they score against them.

All Citeh can do is find the tossers and ban them. Otherwise we'll go back to the days when Dads stopped taking their kids along and we'll all be even further in hock to Rupert Murdoch if we want to get our football kicks.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Le Fin, Arsene

Europe is a nice break for Arsene Wenger these days. He can toddle off to the mainland where his brand of possession football is highly regarded and, to a limited extent, successful (you might say he gets nice easy qualifying groups if you’re Mancini). Whether Athens, with its seething hordes of disenchanted people jeering at authority, felt any different from the Emirates is a moot point.

Part of the joy of football punditry these days comes in the form of the annual ‘Is it time for Wenger to hang up his puffer jacket?’ debate. It’s woven into the fabric of the domestic season like a Chelsea sacking or a ‘plucky newcomer to the top flight’. Or even the phrase ‘Mark Hughes is the early favourite to take over at Anywhere FC.’

It’s hard to recall quite when a Gunners team has been so roundly booed as the one that departed after being  beaten by Swansea on Saturday. It’s one thing to be overturned by a bunch of alehouse meatheads playing route one plebeian footy the likes of which wouldn’t look out of place on a windswept park in Northallerton (aka Sam Allardyce’s Bolton – YES I KNOW there’s more to Sam’s game than that, but not against Arsenal) – but it’s another thing entirely to be outpassed and outclassed by a bunch of no-marks that cost tuppence.

Of course Swansea have a wonderful player as their manager and he’s done brilliantly to move Swansea on from Rodgers’ team, even while losing the likes of Sigurdsson and Allen. It must be particularly galling for a Gooner to have to watch their latest costly imitation centre-forward when Laudrup’s wafting the cut-price PleasedTo Michu under their noses. Giroud, Chamakh – they’re not so much target men as targets. Of abuse.  

So is the writing on the wall for Wenger this time? Well you’d have to think so. He’s found a decent-ish centre-half in Mertesacker – whose name my mate Chris Charles always insists sounds like Mark Lawrenson saying ‘motor-cycle’.

And he’s bought a wonderful player in Cazorla too, but he does look like he’s been manufactured from Arsene’s Prototype For A Perfect Player. He’s dinky, neat, good feet, can’t kick it all that hard, really, but he's very good at keeping it and he's easy on the eye.

You wonder whether Arsene can see anything in any other type of player: Rosicky, Arshavin, Arteta, Coquelin, etc, etc. Most independent observers would tell you that Arsene’s glory years were underpinned by a couple of vital things: a defence that took care of itself (and which was largely assembled by that niggardly envelope-passer George Graham) and a couple of midfielders who knew how to tackle – Vieira, Petit, Gilberto, Flamini, Edu….

Good tacklers aren’t necessary if the opposition keep giving it back to you. Arsenal would have no problem against, say, the full England team. But if the opposition can keep it and all you’ve got are little scurrying tippy-tapsters who couldn’t remove a lollipop from a toddler’s grasp without a struggle then you’ve got problems.

It doesn’t help that Wenger seems resigned – Freudian slip there – resigned to losing his best players even if one of them is that annoying nerk Nasri.

Now many of us have admired the way Wenger set about the job of transforming a side that had built its former success on not conceding and bagging the odd goal by Ian Wright. God they were fecking boring that team. The football equivalent of Cliff Thorburn.

Wenger’s Arsenal flowed. It oozed quality. Upfront you had Thierry Henry rolling right-footers into the bottom right-hand corner like a master crown green bowler. Bergkamp must have come into this world feet first he was so adept with them. Anelka, briefly, was lethal. But if they got past you they had Keown, Winterburn, Adams, Bould, Dixon… central casting for the heavy mob.

Now, to be frank, Arsenal are just a bit prissy. And so is the manager. He talks of ‘desire, technicality, quality’ but the first one’s pretty much lacking these days. He’s always been offended by an up and at ‘em attitude to playing Arsenal. Sometimes he’s come across like someone whose night at the ballet has been ruined cos some oiks ran on and started congaing.

Yes football can be art, but not all art has to be beautiful. Or good. Or even art. In a perfect world, Arsene’s home ground would be the Gardens of Versailles and his team would play against eleven elegant water features. It feels to me like the game has moved on and left an old school romantic behind.

It’s lovely to stick to the old philosophies come hell or high water. It’s great to have a proper wage structure when Manchester City are paying obscene amounts of money to the pedestrian likes of Gareth Barry. But tippy-tappy and club loyalty are distant memories for most of us. Wenger should know that when his team lines up against Citeh, the club his feeds.

So it’s not now a question of whether he should go but how he should go. He’s an obstinate old so-and-so. It’s not going to be easy. But you wouldn’t want to see him sacked – cast aside like some Stamford Bridge dishcloth. There should be a dignified moving on. He’s brought them as far as he can. Stand in the middle of the Emirates, wave everyone goodbye. Not a dry eye in the house. Move upstairs to an ‘administrative role’.

And then, in a perfect world, nick Guardiola and leave Abramovich flailing around with Faffer Benitez at the helm…

Maybe not the last bit. But definitely, au revoir et merci, monsieur.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Bewildering Benitez

I am starting to feel sorry for Fernando Torres.

Once upon a time he led the line like a footballing Legolas, fleet, flaxen and fatally good. Now he plods around like he's Legless. There's no pace anymore, his first touch seems to have been borrowed from Emile Heskey, and worst of all he glowers round the pitch like a grounded teenager who's had his X-Box confiscated. And let's face it the X-Box Torres is a far better player.

If Rafael Benitez has been brought back to revive ickle Nando then by golly he's going to need more than smelling salts and a common language. Abramovich landed the club with this folly-footed failure, just as he had with Sheva (not Shiva, destroyer of worlds, but Sheva destroyer of managerial reputations).

Benitez somehow has managed to get himself as a fifth head on the Anfield Mount Rushmore flag, and doe-eyed Scousers - the same ones that are presumably voting for that moon-faced bag o' shite Christopher Maloney in X-Factor - still revere that night in Istanbul when the Champions League was pulled out of the fire despite the manager, and because of Steven Gerrard.

Rafa repaid that miracle by sticking Gerrard wide right for a season. He also made the one decent purchase of his career in England by getting Torres. The Spaniard went on to terrify teams in the same way that Suarez does now (except for the odd leg-breaking lunge and the  racist jibe).

Benitez's subsequent career at Anfield was remarkable indeed. He spent shitloads on shite and blamed the lack of success on the chairmen, whoever the hell they happened to be, for not giving him even more shitloads. They won an FA Cup because Gerrard trumped a flapping defence. And when they finally got shot of him, he took with him a massive pay-off and the hearts of the Kop.

In short, the predominant quality Benitez had at Liverpool was luck. Ferguson suggested he'd got another dose by getting a six-month sentence at Roman's correctional institute (with John Terry playing Mr Mackay and Lamps as the kindly and earnest Mr Barraclough). I'm not sure Rafa will see it that way after the reception the Chelsea fans gave him yesterday.

The astonishing thing about Benitez's appointment is that Abramovich has replaced a whole-hearted man of Chelsea with someone who pretty much despised the club. (Why is the owner not getting his fair share of the flak for this maddening decision? Well cos ultimately he can take his ball home, in the form squillions of quid, so let's blame the Spanish Maitre D instead.)

It's laughable, too, that Rafa would want the job. You might think it shows an admirably thick skin. I think it's a choice made on the basis of pride and greed. He'll be well-paid whatever happens but if he thinks he can turn around opinion at the Bridge with a Torres tap-in he's living in the Land Where Reason Sleeps (which coincidentally is the tagline for an upcoming documentary on Chelsea Football Club).

Meanwhile Harry Redknapp returns to management at QPR, the Premier League's pit props. 'Course 'Arry does the press conferences very well - lots of talk of grandkids in blue and white hooped shirts, nice people at the club, working hard and running abaht. He's very good at making you feel you're just popping round H's for a catch-up or having a little chinwag outside the bookies of Monday morning.

It's hard to believe he lives in a massive fuck-off house in Sandbanks, home of the fourth most expensive real estate in the world, coz 'e's do dahn-to-earf!

Still the R's have got the best man available. Just ask the Ukraine FA. Harry was very tempted by their offer, he said. After all them Ukrainian fans are just loverly and Chicken Kiev is one of his favourite teas. But it was now or never for Fernandes to get the ol' geezer and you can't say it's the wrong decision. Indeed it as natural a fit as as Warnock and Leeds, or

But as with Torres's form, even Jesus Christ might be struggling to this squad to pick up its bed and walk. There were signs of improvement at Old Trafford, but as soon as United got one the game was up. It's not a coincidence, mind, that it was a QPR team lacking many of the expensive, needless bling that Hughes bought in.

'Arry's already stated he won't hesitate to cut out the dead wood and from what we've witnessed thus far he's going to need a chainsaw. Still it will come as bad news for the likes of Lambert, O'Neill and, increasingly, Pardew.

I like to think I had some influence on Newcastle's demise - I did after all reckon them coming fourth this season. The Barcodes have had injuries to irreplaceable players: Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Coloccini were cornerstones last season. But they've also suffered an utter relapse since Pardew was given a seven-year contract.

Symptomatic is Papiss Cisse who scored the best brace in the history of football at Stamford Bridge but this season couldn't score in a Stockton-on-Tees niteclub at 2am - and even Fernando Torres could manage that.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Roman Ruins

Rumours of Mark Hughes’s demise at QPR have been exaggerated. So are accusations that Lord McAlpine is to take over. Tony Fernandes’s votes of confidence are anything but confident, and QPR have made the worst Premier League start to a season since 1995.

This is dismal stuff and it’s not like the R’s came up, as have so many recently, with a workmanlike bunch of triers who might graft out a couple of results and hang on to the precipice. No sooner are they up but Sparky starts splashing around the cash like Donald Trump at a Tea Party convention.

You look at his acquisitions and apart from the shit-off-a-shovel pace of Junior Hoillet, he’s bought nowt. Jose Bosingwa has all the defensive abilities of a spineless hedgehog. Ryan Nelsen is a worthy but weary veteran. There are ten others who are barely worth a mention but who all suggest that the Loftus Road Chief Scout is not so much Akela but a lowly ranked seconder who wouldn’t know a necker from a woggle.

Players who have worked with Hughes insist he is a top manager. I don’t see it meself. Since he left a relatively successful stint with Wales his only marginal successes have been with Blackburn Rovers – and they were what commentators euphemistically call ‘a physical side’ (they kicked fucking lumps out of you).

The sacking at Man City seems to have indelibly hacked a chip in Sparky’s shoulder and he’s not exactly renowned for his loyalty. Then again he is represented by Kia Joorabchian, an agent for change, as it were. It’s unlikely that Kia would be encouraging a graceful exit when there’s more cash to be made from a sacking. That’s if Rafa Benitez’s benchmark millions from his departures from Liverpool and Inter are anything to go by.

Of course Benitez’s bank manager is supposedly warming his hands on some Russian gas-fired millions this morning after the announcement of Roberto di Matteo’s excision. Ironic that a lucky one-off Champs League winner might replace the other.

It must be a special kind of hell working for Roman Abramovich.

“Secretary! There is minor spelling mistake in email to ex-Missus! You are fired!” “Groundsman! Why this blade of grass 2mm longer than rest of blades? Are you try to make us lose? You are fired!” It must be hard for Roman to look himself in the mirror and not say “Nine managers in nine years. You are shit owner with no faith in own decisions. You are fired!”

Then again, they all sound a bit logical to me. There’s every chance that Roman will hire Benitez and sack him later in the afternoon so that he can say he is “first man ever to sack two Champs League winners in same day!”

So Chelsea have been a bit ropy recently. It’s no coincidence when Lampard, Terry and Drogba haven’t been around. For the first dozen matches, the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Mata were marvellous, and if Roberto can’t fathom out what’s happened to the errant Torres then he’s not the first, is he?

Torres continues to spurn easy opportunities like an anorexic at an all-you-can-eat buffet and it’s no surprise that Di Matteo left him out at Juve. Villas-Boas’ appointment last year seemed to point to the end of an ageing generation of mighty servants of the club, only the ageing generation weren’t having it. Now, when Di Matteo has no choice but to play the new breeds, Abramovich chucks him into the queue outside Loftus Road like he’s a trampled copy of Metro. The decision-making at the club has, for a long time now, been based on the owner playing ‘eeni-meeni-miney-mo’. (But let’s not extend that playground rhyme as Chelsea have had quite enough of that sort of thing in the past year or so.)

The spectre hanging over all of this is one Pep Guardiola. Never has a one-year career break been so lasciviously analysed. Even then, you’d think an interim manager for six months would be a pretty potty idea. John Terry as player manager has been floated which isn’t as daft as it sounds given that he already thinks that’s what he is.

Anyway would Guardiola be given the time to nurture a side into something that might mirror Barca? Would Pep pop over to pip others for the signature of, say, a Messi? Preposterous, maybe, but then there is nothing about Abramovich that fits into the normal scheme of things.

In the meantime, interim suggestions include: Sven-Goran Eriksson (lock up your daughters); Benitez (lock up your Rioja); Rijkaard (dreadlock up your Dutchman); Avram Grant (Return of the Dead-Eye); Harry Redknapp (quids in and it keeps his S); Mitt ‘g’is a job’ Romney; Danny Baker (he’d take ‘em down quicker than a whore’s knickers); and my mate Tony Thompson who reckons it takes the intelligence of one of them elephant’s that can do a painting to run that club.

“All you need is a marigold glove and enough KY to grease it and Roman’ll do the rest” he says. It’s not a nice image, but I think he’s right.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Paying Your Subs

An interesting aspect to Match of the Day 2 last night was the appearance of the now-permanent sub Michael Owen on the panel. (I can only guess he was a last minute replacement for someone else.) Owen has spent the last six years bathing in the afterglow of a career that burnt out yonks back.

Younger viewers might have watched with confusion at this nervy, wooden little chump with the ridiculous facial hair on the end of the sofa, and mistook him for some sort of club mascot. But no, that was England’s most lethal striker of the last fifteen years, boys and girls. You know that Rahim Sterling. Well Michaelowen (all one word, officially) made that lad look like your run-of-the-mill entrant in a Little Richard looky-likey competition. (What that’s sonny…? Who’s Little Richard…? Oh piss off.)

As for the facial hair, we’ll put that down to the marvellous Movember charity. What’s brilliant about Movember is that it allows the average man to access his inner pillock. There’s not a male in this country who doesn’t toy with notions of beardiness, but only Zen-Buddhist-Peruvian-knitwear-crusties seem to actually go for it. But now, for one month, there’s barely a chin that doesn’t betray a quite laughable arrangement of fuzz (and there’s not a wearer amongst them who doesn’t secretly crave approval, not for his charitable works, but for the ‘tache itself).

Only yesterday I guffawed as some bloke strode proudly up to the bar of the Blue Bell and ordered himself some ‘Cabsav’. “Ha! Good for you mate!” I said, pointing at the frayed brown bootlace on his top lip.  “Still it’s all for charity, eh?”

Turns out he’s never heard of Movember. He’s just a regular tosser. (And a Man City fan to boot.)

Which brings us back to Michael Owen and his analysis of one Edin Dzeko. Now Dzeko’s very keen to let everyone know that he’s not a kind of comfort blanket for a creaking frontline. I swear I’ve seen him start his touchline warm-up on the back of a white charger. But I do wonder what your modern footballer expects.

Citeh are playing twice a week most of the time, if you include their European games, though one could argue that they haven’t really been involved in one of them yet. Realistically Dzeko has three rivals for a starting berth: the Good, the Mad, and the Ugly. I could only ever envisage picking Balotelli if he was in an identity parade, so it really is a toss-up for the other three and they each bring something different, which is after all, what you want from a squad.

In other words, there’s no choice for Mancini but to swap players about. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise. So while, unlike Owen’s apparent contentment as a footballer-shaped scatter cushion, it’s good that Dzeko’s hacked off about it, if the lad keeps jumping out of the dug-out and saving the day you can hardly blame Roberto for keeping him there.

Indeed, the main thing that separates the better clubs from everyone else is the fact that they can rest players and bring in others without massively affecting the standard of the team they put out on the park. Unlike, say, Liverpool. If they dropped Luis Suarez (and if it were up to me I’d do it from a very great height) they’d never create a chance. He is to Liverpool what Van Persie was to Arsenal last year: the only hope.

A Scouse mate told me, in frustration, that he was thinking of writing a TV series called Fuck Rodgers In The 21st Century. I keep hearing him quoting figures about the number of chances they create. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge, it was one. Frankly I’m getting fed up of praise getting heaped on all this Barcelona Lite stuff. Little lads with neat feet and no end-product.

Celtic disposed of the real thing the other day (typically St. Johnstone proved a much tougher nut), so why this tippy-tappy tedium has to be lauded to the skies is beyond me. I know there’s a happy medium – we will after all be watching England’s latest attempt to familiarise themselves with a football and getting caught in possession would be a start for Woy’s men.

But there’s no point in keeping hold of the ball for these teams, really. Particularly as not one of them can defend a set-piece at the moment.

Of course there’s a lot of us who put this frailty down to zonal marking. Me, I’ve never felt comfortable ‘marking a zone’. That’s what cats do when they have a shit on the neighbour’s herbaceous border. (Never mind badgers let’s have a fecking kitty cull before the lawns of England become bird-free litter-trays.) No, I tend to think that people, and not ‘good areas’ score goals. So my theory is – and here feel free to shoot me down – that if you stay tight to someone when a cross comes in you might be able to stop him from getting a shot in.

Now I’ve said that, it seems so ludicrous and simplistic doesn’t it? Like when Andy Townsend says ‘The next goal is going to be very important’. Or when Garth Crooks says, erm, anything.

One thing I’m sure of is that standing still and watching the ball go over your head is never going to work on a football field unless you’re a midfielder in a Sam Allardyce first team. And that’s what most defenders do at the moment.

I can see a time in the not too distant future when Tony Pulis does a workshop on it.

“It’s not fucking brain surgery” Tony’ll say “get some right big lanky bastards in there and tell ‘em to get their fucking heads on it.” And then, to himself, “and you can shove your ball-playing centre-halves up your khybers.”

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Clattenberg Tapes

Apologies to one and all for the lack of bloggery last week. I was having a break in Brecon, near Hay-on-Wye, home of the world’s most expensive second-hand books. I bought one while I was there for £3.75. It was originally sold for £1.50. I expect some lackey of George Osborne’d tell me that ‘the book had decreased in value in real terms’. And I'd have to punch him in the face. Gladly.

Still it was marginally better than writing another blog on the plague-house that is Chelsea Football Club.
So I won’t do that. Much. I mean, steps are being taken by the FA – arthritic, doddery ones I grant you but steps nonetheless – and Clattenburg will be condemned or castigated one way or another so I’m not quite sure why Ferguson and Wenger feel the need to stick their oars in. Habit, I guess.
Clattenburg’s decisions in favour of United might mean Ferguson feels obliged to defend the bloke but it’d be lovely if he could keep his gob shut, just once. Wenger thinks such things should be dealt with in private, which is hard when even the partially-sighted can lip-read John Terry on their 44-inch TV screens. 

But what did Clattenburg say exactly, that was so inappropriate? It’s easy to misinterpret things in the current febrile atmosphere. But I have it on no authority whatsoever that the conversation went like this:

CLATTENBURG:                 Come here, son. I’m going to have to book your for that!
OBI MIKEL: He dived, ref!

MIKEL:  What did you call me?
CLATTENBURG: You cheeky monkey.

MIKEL: Oh it’s like that is it?
CLATTENBURG:  Look I let you off for one earlier so don’t be so niggardly about this one.

MIKEL:  I’ll be talking to my lawyers. I know you’ve got a reputation for being outspoken but this is ridiculous!
CLATTENBURG: I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade if that’s what you mean.

(Or maybe Clattenburg simply called Mikel a ‘donkey’ which is to be fair an unarguable fact.)
I hate to seem facetious about all this, and if the official concerned has uttered such regrettable remarks then his career’s in for the early bath, but in the light of recent events at Chelsea it’s hard not to get the sense of a bit of yah-boo going on here. The convicted user of racist expletives is still their club captain after all.

The situation would’ve been helped of course if the ref’s conversations were a matter of public record. Then there would be no doubt. No doubt too about the amount of obscenities lobbed in the direction of the referee during 90 minutes like so many bolts of phlegm expectorated from the throat and nostrils of the average footballer these days.

For that would be the danger of permanently miking up a Clattenberg – it would be a red rag to every prurient bull who reckons that passionate committed sportsmen should be able to compete whilst retaining the vocabulary of Noel Fucking Coward.

I remember being a tad incensed when Wayne Rooney swore down the barrel of a television camera – maybe that’s a tad too provocative Wazza - but if the lad can’t have the odd f-worded chunter at a ref who’s just turned down a stonewall penalty then we really are stepping back into the world of Mary Whitehouse – and what an annoying twat she was.
You get the same whinnying Nannies tut-tutting when Andy Murray effs n blinds after playing a particularly shit shot. So he should. The lad’s a brilliant tennis player and if it helps him win and doesn’t bother his opponent then, as Kim Sears no doubt puts it, ‘Fuck away, Andy, fuck away.’

Me, I can’t even play a crappity shot in a pool hall without upbraiding myself for being the most useless cunt ever to grasp a snooker cue. I just dread the idea of licentious do-right nobodies banging on about how these multi-millionaires can’t even put a sentence together without being a bit rude.
The Premier League continues to entertain us royally, with or without the odd wanker. (It's nowt compared to the Captial One Cup of course! A 7-5, a 5-4 and Boro in the quarters! That's entertainment). Two perennial Premier League tales are unravelling at present of course.

First, Arsenal – why have the wheels come off? Yes, Arsene Wenger’s temporarily solid Gunners have once again retreated into the same toothless keep-ball kittens: pretty and pathetic all at the same time.

Santos has proved once again that Wenger signs left-backs with a blindfold and a pin, and there’s no pace to scare anyone up front.

Giroud is just a paler version of Chamakh with less stupid hair. If Wenger insists on playing a centre-forward who can’t score he might as well play Walcott who is at the very least scarily quick. Cazorla’s a joy but there’s no devil up front without you-know-who who's doing very well at you-know-where.

Second, Sunderland – why have the wheels stayed on. When his teams do well, O’Neill looks like this genius football geek. When it’s going badly he looks like some bewildered blinking mole. The Black Cats' second top scorer in the Premier League is Demba Ba.

Martin insists they’ve not had the breaks, that they deserve better, but most of us watch them and think that the team play with all the artistry and wit of eleven Lee Cattermoles. Such is their dip in form that you’d almost think Steve Bruce was back at the helm.

There are other predictable sub-plots to the season: Suarez’s tightrope walk between genius and joke; Balotelli’s tightrope walk between joke and jerk; and Roberto Martinez continuing to prove that his sleeves are an endless source of cheap and very gifted footballers (Aruna Kone being the latest example).
We have the Champions League to look forward to this week. I’m guessing Mancini will already have written his post-match excuses. There is a small joy in watching them suffer in Europe. It's like when your rich neighbours come back from their skiing trip in Chamonix and he's got his leg in plaster. HA!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Pick It Up Or Kick It Out

Once again football has been dominated by one issue this last week and indeed over the weekend.

No it's not the fact that a toddler's got more chance of finishing a bowl of soup with a plastic fork than Luis Suarez has of finishing a decent chance. It's not even the question as to why the Wayne Rooney who plays for Manchester United turns out wearing normal football boots, whereas the one in the England shirt wears boots made out of a fluffy Victoria sponge. No, it's not even the fact that Harry Redknapp continues to make the rest of the pundits on Match of the Day look like chumps of the highest order.

No, it's race. And racism. And what to do about it.

Jason Roberts sounded like a lone voice in the wilderness when he said he'd not wear his 'Kick It Out' t-shirt on Saturday. Certainly Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to think so, even snidely coupling Roberts's standpoint with his role as a TV pundit. So when Rio Ferdinand avoided putting one on too, the Govan Beetroot's face grew more purply than ever.

Fortunately, the issue has been sorted at United, not least because the rest of football's top managers rather thought it was down to the individual players to decide whether they wanted to wear the t-shirt or not, what with them being grown-ups and all. (I still wonder whether the adults at Liverpool Football Club really wanted to wear those Suarez supporting t-shirts but that's for them, too, I guess).

Mark Hughes said that it's hard to eradicate racism from the game entirely but "Any campaign that looks to address an ill in our game and in society needs to be supported irrespective of the fact of whether they are doing enough or not."

Well yes and no, Sparky. I mean I'm sure Nick Griffin thinks that he is addressing a lot of ills in our society but I don't think I'm going to signing up for his solution.

It looks like Roberts, Ferdinand et al are disassociating themselves from a campaign that almost every other footballer has signed up to and undermining the consensus. So the question is 'Why?'

The amount of money the Kick It Out campaign receives would make a football agent blush. In 2010-11, it was less than half a million pounds, or 2 weeks of Carlos Tevez's wages. Or the daily rate for John Terry's lawyers. Or the amount of cash the latest posh twats on Grand Designs have found down the back of their Chesterfield sofa to spend on a new build in the shape of an oyster-shell on the harbour-front at Whitstable or some such bloody place. Yawn. It is, as the modern parlance might have it, fuck-all.

Furthermore, Kick It Out hasn't played an enormous role in the recent issues surrounding the Uruguayan tumbler and the Chelsea skipper - and yes, despite everything, Terry remains the club captain. That's just embarrassing. That might have something to do with why some black players don't think the race issue is being addressed properly.

In a statement Kick It Out states that:  Kick It Out said it "works in partnership with the game's governing bodies" and added: "We are not a decision-making organisation with power and resource as some people think, and can only work effectively in the context of these partnerships."

In other words, we're not up to much really. We can't do anything. We do go round chatting to people and reminding them not to be horrible to each other. But we don't make the decisions. And frankly if I was a black player I'd start to wonder what the point of the whole thing was.

It's much like Sepp Blatter, a man who so patently treats the game with contempt, urging football to get behind this Respect campaign. It takes a lot more than a few handshakes and some nice tee-shirts to imbue respect and anti-racism.

We might start by banning Serbia from international competition until it sorts its scumbags out. Sinisa Mihajlovic, the current national manager, is a cast-iron racist. Unsurprisingly he was much-loved at Lazio, whose fan base loves a monkey chant and yet is ironically unevolved itself. There's a decent column on Mihajlovic here:

He's more complicated than he seems, and Vieira, for all his high-mindedness, was just as guilty of racism during a spat with the Serb, but nevertheless there's no debating the accusation. (Yes he was very good at free kicks too but then Mussolini made the trains run on time, Enoch Powell had a way with words and Josef Goebbels simply loved his kitten.)

And it wasn't very long ago that black Britons were subject to the usual crowd hoots in Spain and that led to the sort of smack on the hand that wouldn't make a three-year-old wince. In other words there's a history of quiet toleration around such issues.

On the one hand Kick It Out and Respect parade around wearing the badges of genuine concern but when an issue has to be tackled head-on the FA or UEFA or FIFA are less Lee Cattermole and more Daniel Sturridge. At their worst, they are Lip Service in action.

Now three-quarters of the funding for Kick It Out comes from the FA, the Premier League and the Professinal Footballers' Association. It is by definition dependent. And it's hard for a dependent organisation to criticise those on which it depends. (Although my kids don't seem to have any bother having a pop at us, the ungrateful beggars). Many would like Kick It Out to be independent.

There's a way this can be done but it might mean that footballers give up a little more of their paltry weekly wages to fund it. Perhaps 1% to get it up and running.  They could certainly afford it in these austere times and it would certainly give the campaign fresh impetus and single-mindedness. Maybe clubs could offer up a proportion of their gate receipts, too, if they really want to help.

Let's be clear, racism in British football is nowhere near the issue it was when Clyde Best was enduring obscene chanting, not least from the terraces at Ayresome Park. Old 'Arry was right about that on Match of the Day. But that's still no reason not to stamp it our where you find it.

And if Kick it Out isn't helping then what is the point of it?

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Lost Weekend

I’m not enjoying these Friday night internationals. It’s the latest in a string of attempts by the God of Television to fuck about with my weekends.

If there’s an England match of a Friday night that means that Saturday stretches out before you, vast and unenticing , like a fat lass’s nightdress, and you can’t wait for Sunday to arrive. Only you forgot that Sunday is as empty as a Bedouin’s beerhall.  

Jeez it’s dull. I even found myself getting drawn into the latest bout of Murray v Djokovic and given those bastards kept me up til two in the morning not long ago I couldn’t last the three and a half hours. It’s exhausting. There comes a time when that level of competence becomes almost tedious.

It reminds me of watching that British bloke at the end of the Olympic shooting. Wilson the lad’s name was, and he was in the double-trap summat or other and it was so rare for him or any of his competitors to miss that you ended up in this mixture of hypnosis and agony. I tell you it’s no fun.

Of course there’s always Formula 1, which the Blue Bell Clarksonettes tell me is the most exciting championship race for years. These jeans-and-jacketed petrol-heads like nothing more than the sound of high-pitched chain-saws and the smell of a pit-babes leather-clad perspiration. The twats.

I’m of the opinion that Formula 1 is the most underwhelming, overrated, self-aggrandising trade fair in the world. Little pumped-up billboards masquerading as drivers as they whizz around in their pimped little proxy pricks. Yawwwwn!!! If you like it you haven’t quite got over the thrill of getting your first matchbox toy and pushing it along the carpet shouting ‘vvvvvvrrrooooom!

Having said that, I’d’ve rather watched Lewis Hamilton talk about particle physics than watch the actual football match I witnessed on Friday night.

England trotted out against possibly the worst assemblage of playing personnel ever to take to a field since my brother took a claw hammer to my Middlesbrough subbuteo team in 1973. Playing a rigid 9-1-0 formation they held on against an England team who think Painting by Numbers passes for creativity.

Honestly these lads couldn’t unlock an open door. The amount of times they hurtled into a quick one-two on the edge of the box only for it to dissipate into a three-four-fall-on-the-floor beggared belief.

Rooney was skipper which is good as, well, you know, he’s of unimpeachable character and the one before last was that dodgy geezer… you know the [whisper] racist… I mean, that bloke who isn’t a racist – some of his best friends are black – it’s just he says racist things… occasionally… on telly…

Anyway, Wazza took the armband as happily presumably as he takes analysis of his barnet, which is quite frankly ludicrous. It looks like the work of some high functioning chimps on a macramé course. It also makes him look curiously middle-aged, as if Tom Cleverley drafted him cos his Dad went to school with the bloke. I notice he hasn’t appeared in any of them before and after ads for trichology. The lad looked better with his bonce shaved.

Apart from Walcott getting Schumachered by the San Marino keeper there was nowt to report for the first thirty minutes. It’s hard to understand why Hodgson thought it sensible to play a back four, when a back two might have been overly-cautious. But then Woy isn’t about to get all flamboyant on us, is he?  The one thing he knows is that our lads like it nice n simple. We don’t want too much of that total football malarkey. 4-4-2. That’ll do.

It’s difficult, too, to draw any conclusions from the game, apart from the fact that based on that performance there must be only 14 men of playing age in San Marino. Oxbow-Chambermaid did his bit but he’s not quite ready for the midfield maestro role just yet. Wellbeck nabbed a couple but I always feel he approaches the six-yard box with all the lethal intent of a kitten in pyjamas.

I spent most of the game shouting ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ while our lads kidded themselves they were in some sort of Wengerised training session while a coach on the side shouted ‘Walk it in! Walk it in!’

Poland awaits. They’re no great shakes, are they, and the lad Blatchukowsky or however you spell it is out. It’s one of them games where England will have to find a way to lose it. I expect the England team to be: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole, Milner, Gerrard, Carrick, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Defoe. Carroll will be in the ‘throw the big bloke on’ role so beloved of Crouchy.

And thankfully we’ll all be back to wall-to-wall footy in five days’ time thank God. It might also drown out the horrible muttering, gurning, yodelling continuing spectral nightmare of one Jimmy Saville OBE. I, like many children, wrote to the old fiddler to have him fix it for me (a training session with Jack Charlton’s Middlesbrough, as it happens). My wish did not come true. But let me write another letter just for old time’s sake.

‘Dear Jim, (now then, now then) could you fix it for me (goodness gracious) and millions of others to dig up your corpse and trample it to dust, you monstrous and indulged piece of shit. Yours sincerely, Everyone.’

Only the God-fearing amongst you will imagine that he hasn’t got away with it. The rest of us will be cursing him. And Lance Armstrong too. Not that the latter’s crimes compare, but there are similarities. In both cases, charity became a sort of sainted cloak to hide behind, and in both cases everyone knew they were guilty. Sadly.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Cole In A Hole

It comes as little surprise that Ashley Cole has described the FA as a #bunchoftwats on his Twatter account. Cole knows a twat when he sees one but he thinks the FA's twattiness derives from insinuations that he lied for his mate John Terry. (I'm not saying he lied. He just backed up a very curious version of the truth.)

The FA report suggested that Terry's briefs - his legal team, not what he leaves on the  floor of teammate's bedrooms - managed to put together a case for the defence that was highly dubious, namely that the England centre-half (the former England centre half, I mean - and doesn't that sound good!) was repeating something that Anton Ferdinand said to him.

In other words the conversation went something like this:

AF: John!
JT: Yes Anton?
AF: Are you calling me a fucking black cunt?
JT: (confused as if unsure what was just said) Fucking black cunt...?

Somehow Ashley witnessed this conversation himself, from somewhere in the freezer of your local Londis if Rio Ferdinand's tweeting affirmation is to be believed, and potentially added something to the effect of: "Careful there, John. If anyone heard that out of context they must just misunderstand."

Well the FA have screwed up that version of events in their fists as if like they were Vinnie Jones doing an especially tight bit of man-marking. And quite right too.

We can leave aside the slightly arcane discussion about whether Terry - and indeed Suarez - are racists or simply nice lads who used racist language in the heat of the moment (though in Luis's case that moment lasted pretty much 90 minutes). The fact is the FA took the chance to lay down the law with Suarez and most of us thought that very admirable. Terry, for a less frequent but even more blatant piece of name-calling gets four games to sit somewhere quietly and wash out his toilet mouth.

Now half as long seems quite simply to be bloody feeble. The FA makes a bold stance one week and the next time the issue is raised it halves the sentence. You can only conclude one of two things:that the FA has a graduated scale for acts of racism (although you'd think 'fucking black cunt' might be at one end of the scale); or that Teflon Terry is a special case, given that he's English and not one of those sweary, divey Uruguayan types. But it couldn't be that. Cos that'd be racist.

(By the way, there's no point in Liverpool players bleating that Suarez can't win penalties anymore - there is a natural justice to the fact that refs just assume he's diving, and that leaves a lot of us with a great sense of satisfaction.)

So yes, Ashley, the FA are a bunch of twats, but not cos they are sceptical about what comes out of your mouth. If that were a qualification then Cheryl and Cheryl's Mum would be high up the twat list. No they are twats because they have been wilfully inconsistent. Racism is, well, racism.

Cole won't play against San Marino. (That'll teach him.) I could have confirmed that with Roy Hodgson yesterday but I got on the wrong train. But at least Cole has apologised for his knee-jerk tweet. His mate doesn't appear to have said sorry for anything in his life. It's that kind of self-belief that makes him such a consistent performer on the pitch and such a consistent tosser off it.

Were Terry to come out and apologise, condemn such behaviour and express serious remorse we might be on to some sort of turning point in the issue, but that's not his way. He's many things, John Terry, but ever so 'umble isn't one of them.

It's a shame that, in the meantime, Chelsea have developed a playing style that's very easy on the eye. Indeed, the opening seven or so weekends of the Premier League season have been hugely entertaining generally.

Cazorla has been the outstanding new signing, with the likes of Hazard and Mirallas not far behind. Everton and the Baggies might just cause a flurry or two of interest in the top half, while the bottom end looks confirming that Mark Hughes is one of the most obscenely overrated managers in football history.

And as for the European fixtures I find myself fully shorn of any sense of national loyalty these days. United's win in Cluj, the build-up punctuated by ludicrous vampire references as ever, was a bit disappointing. Citeh's fluked draw at home to Dortmund, thanks almost entirely to Joe Hart covering his goal like a human bedsheet, was a tad irritating too.

Citeh have now fully attained the status enjoyed by Chelsea after one season of Mourinho, where their limitless power to buy completely outweighs any respect for their quality and position. If Citeh win, it's a case of 'Of course they fucking did.'

Dortmund, in the likes of Reus, Bender, Gotze and Hummels, look like a German side because they are. Take away Hart and Citeh are just playing a bunch of arrant mercenaries on six-figure weekly salaries. Maybe we envy success in this country but I just want them to lose every match they play. Apart from United where a draw would be fine. May their struggles in Europe continue for as long - no longer - than Chelsea's did.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Trials With Terry

What is it Chelsea fans say? ‘John Terry. Captain. Leader. Legend.’ Something like that. They’re understandably loyal at Chelsea mind you. The rest of us tend towards something like ‘John Terry. Loudmouth. Lech. Very Slow When Faced With A Striker Who Can Run A Bit.’

Of course the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The best thing about John Terry is that he’s stopped playing for England. Ah now, that was just my little joke. The best thing about him is all those things that Chelsea fans adore – his whole-heartedness, his never-say-die attitude, and the fact that for an English centre-back he’s really quite good at passing accurately to a team-mate.

Those of us who witnessed the slip -on-the-arse that crapped on his dreams in 2008 can’t have been unmoved. Indeed I moved from off the chair and on to the floor very quickly, guffaws raining from my throat. Then again, the bloke stepped up when, say, Knackersless Anelka couldn’t. 

On the pitch, the odd allegedly racist remark aside, he has been a model professional. He is very good at what he does, and was, undeniably one of the best England players at the Euros. It is off the pitch where most of his shit happens.

There have been rumours – and these are only rumours – that Terry took it upon himself to take guided tours around Stamford Bridge (the football ground not the site of the battle of 1066) for £10k a pop. (I think any monies accrued have been donated to charity since if indeed they were offered in the first place.)

It should be pointed out that he has been found not guilty of much of this stuff: not guilty of attacking a doorman with a bottle; not guilty of attacking a bottle-man with a door; not guilty of being racist whilst using racist language; not necessarily guilty of shagging Wayne Bridge’s bird when Wayne was still with her. Indeed Ms Perroncel, a lingerie model and ‘nightclub hostess’, has often denied the relationship. Which is good cos JT is the father of twins n that.

Frankly that whole saga never much bothered most people, did it? So Terry was an unreliable mate and a disloyal husband – it’s not like that sets him apart from any other footballing legend, is it, Ryan? And Bridge probably could have bought himself a huge, state-of-the-art pram from the money he was earning as a mercenary Citeh bench-warmer. Get over it.

The fact that this led to Terry losing the England captaincy was silly but inevitable. He still got to go to the 2010 World Cup, mind – partly because there wasn’t a player in the squad who wanted him back in England while they were away for three weeks - and at times he still seemed to feel that he was England skipper. That press conference betrayed a man who was quite happy to show how bent out of shape his conk was, regardless of the consequences. The consequences were that some bright young German things made the Captain, Leader, Legend look like Corporal Jones. He was far from alone.

When Capello returned to Terry as skipper most of us were gob-smacked. Mud was sticking to him like a sun-baked hippo, Ol’ Fab had always insisted that the captain’s name should make no difference, and there he was giving the armband to Football’s Dark Side. Odd, to say the least.

But it is of course all this racist stuff that has brought things to a head. It meant Terry lost the England captaincy again – which was fair enough with a charge like that dangling over his head. But to be perfectly (fat) frank, I feel a bit of sympathy for the bloke for the first time… ermmm, ever, actually. If the criminal courts have found him not guilty then why try him all over again in a courtroom with less stringent applications of the law?

I mean if he was charged with nicking an apple, found innocent, and then his employers had a quick tribunal type thing and thought that in all honestly he probably might have nicked the apple so that’s probably enough reason to say he did (particularly when scrumping is front-page news these days) then one might just feel that the world had gone tits up.

There is the idea floating around that Terry ‘had it coming’. He is not a model citizen. He must know what’s coming or he wouldn’t be resigning now. If nothing else, it has always been very obvious that playing for his country means a heck of a lot to him.

But it’s farewell, JT. I’m not sure that he’ll be a huge miss for the national team despite what Hodgson says. He resigns at a time when England could do with looking a little further ahead than the end of the last lot of hope-crushers. If we’re going to fail let’s get some new people to do it for us, eh?

Terry will go down as one of the best centre-backs England have had – and probably the least-loved. He's been a sort of necessary evil. Even Ashley Cole's value as a superb footballer has seen him tentatively embraced by the English public. But JT? Well on balance I'd say 'Captain. Leader. Knob-End.'

Monday, 17 September 2012

Give Peace a Chant

This week two issues have raised heads uglier than the crowning peak of the cyst on a hyena’s arse. I know you're all thinking of the Duchess of Cambridge's bazongas, you rapscallions you, but I was thinking of the following: firstly, the matter of shaking heads with someone you despise just because you’re about to play football against them; secondly fans thinking it’s okay to be plain vicious to grieving people.

I’ll take the second first as it’s the easiest. Stop it. Just stop it, you evil mindless troughs of foetid shite. I’ve never understood the delight some take in mentioning the Munich Air Crash so some United sickos might think that Hillsborough is a chance for terrace bores to get even. It isn’t.

The true events of Hillsborough are barely believable: the police tactics, the FA decision to allow the game in the first place, the subsequent alteration of stories and statements all beggar belief. A clutch of folk who some have tried to label as bleeding-heart Scouse families who all talk and act like some sentimental scallies from a Carla Lane ‘comedy’ have been proved to be patronising meatheads.

These people simply wanted to know why their loved ones were blamed for their own deaths. Now they are on the way to getting some truth and some retribution. It’s late, but it’s a good thing.

It’s almost less believable that some people – and it’s always a small minority, just as the Islamic nutjobs hollering at America because some bloke’s put a shit film on youtube are – think that it’s really okay to sing happily about tragedy.

At least people within the game are coming out to condemn it utterly now. To be fair most of us ignore it and hope that no one thinks it’s us. Singing a bit louder than them helps. The chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust Duncan Drasdo has condemned it too, although in adding that ‘there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough’ in the chanting is disingenuous to say the least. I think the rest of us know what they were on about.

Now of course there is such a thing called freedom of speech in this country which allows people to speak their minds. For instance I can say that Geri Halliwell is a useless assembly of human cells that I wouldn’t be happy to find on the soul of my shoe and, well, you know, that’s just my opinion. (It’s true though, isn’t it?)

It probably also means that you are allowed to sing songs that express joy at the death of others no matter how repulsive you are. If your mind is a sewer you still have the right to open it up so we can all have a whiff.

But I’m not sure that football clubs have to let you back into their ground if they can prove that your mind is indeed no more pleasing on the senses than the hole beneath a Glastonbury plank. So that has to be the first thing: identify the malicious bastards, ban them and then preferably send them off to Egypt to make an anti-Islamic film on the streets of Cairo.

And maybe ManU and Liverpool could make a bit of an effort to get their heads together as institutions and present a united front – although obviously they won’t be able to call it that. They’re both saying the same thing. Say it together. In the same room…. I know – frightening concept isn’t it?

That might not be a bad idea for Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. Perhaps it could be a bare-knuckle contest with Ashley and Rio holding their coats.

‘Course all this hullabaloo raises the question of whether someone ought to be forced to shake hands with another person when he thinks that person has called him ‘a black cunt’. I dunno but, on balance, I’d say it’s fair enough (irony alert).

Whether this means that they should do away with this pre-match handshake is another matter. Of course this idea was brought in as part of the Respect campaign which, pointedly, people couldn't have less respect for if they had a long lens and a French passport.

It invites footballers to behave like gentlemen and you can tell how well it's worked. Footballers now speak in hushed and reverent terms to the match officials. The use of oaths and curses is almost never seen. Yes, sometimes footballers might fall over in the act of going past an opponent but this has more to do with the unreliable nature of the modern football boot than the fact that they are cheating diving bastards.
And best of all that awful shirt-tugging that used to go on – well now, if it happens at all, it is merely to get the attention of an opponent in order to have another hearty handshake.

Now I know this polite stuff was intended to set a good example to all those diving and cursing little wannabes that fill up football fields of a Saturday morning but to be honest they're more likely to be out there practising how to win a penalty kick like Danny Welbeck than paying any attention to some old-school decency at the top of the match.
And frankly do we need it? If it's just a bit of a faff that's exploited by footballers to make public their dislike of someone else then for Gawd's sake just send 'em down their relevant ends and leave it to the skippers to do the chivalry. Although of course in Chelsea's case that probably means John Terry. And JT's been refused more handshakes than a post-op James Herriot.
The FA might help the Respect agenda if they got on with the retrospective bans for simulation. Three game-ban and you have to play the first game back in Tom Daley's budgie-smugglers.
That should rebalance the Respect agenda nicely.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Seeing off the Cynics

There was, apparently, some item on the Today programme at the beginning of this week asking how long it would be before Britain returned to its old cynicism. (That'll be the cynicism that greeted the winning of the Olympic Games in the first place... and the waste of money... the fact that Lord Snooty was in charge, etc.)

As an Australian might say (as he grimly totted up his nation's swimming medals) 'Ah, look...' as long as there are Camerons and Borises giving all us regular chaps a hearty pat on the back for our good works then cynicism won't be far behind. I find the neglect of Ken Livingstone in all this a little baffling. Think of his speech after 7/7 and you won't find a more statesmanlike response to serious adversity.

Boris's popularity is enough to bring out the cynic in anyone. He's like the bastard child of a golden labrador and Hugh Grant, with a Latin reader tucked under his collar.

But no matter how hard they try they cannot rob us of the one thing I'd forgotten I had: national pride. Just when you thought that the bullet-headed secretly-swastikaed fuckwits had taken permanent possession of our national flags, along come a swathe of dedicated and talented and Gawd help us multi-ethnic individuals to sweep it back into general ownership.

Seldom has a summer of sport so elevated and transformed a people. There are those who reckon this is just another example of bread and circuses, but this was no ordinary circus. The Paralympics seemed almost to surpass the Olympics in terms of its drama and capacity to move. From David Weir - arms like Popeye, voice like Becks - through to Ellie Simmonds who is possibly the most astonishing athlete I've ever watched (yes it is probably because she's tiny but goes like a fecking jet-ski) every day of competition held something to admire.

The Paralympics is wonderful precisely because it is a celebration of ability. It's all very well to have soggy well-meaning folk telling you how every person is important and capable. It's another thing entirely to have it demonstrated: to watch folk regardless of any apparent impairment do things way better than you could ever manage.

It is also - and this applies to sport at its best - a celebration of honesty. The reason I like running and jumping so much is that gamesmanship is very hard to impose. All right, a sprint final might begin with a pantomime of posturing that wouldn't look out of place in Lion King the Musical, but ultimately it's eight blokes in eight straight lines and the fastest one wins.

In a longer race there may be jockeying for position, some team tactics, the odd spike in the calf, but in the end it's whether Mo Farah can lengthen those threadlike limbs despite being hunted down by the ravening pack behind him.

Andy Murray's Grand Slam win has come at a time in the game when bellowing at umpires and trashing equipment is a thing of the past - if you think a decision's wrong, call up Hawkeye and it'll give us a peachy little thrill to boot. I could do without the oceans of time that seem to pass between Djokovic's serves, and I once managed to read an entire Indian takeaway menu between a first and second serve from Rafael Na.... bounce, bounce, bounce, tug at bum crack, bounce, bounce, mop brow, tug, tug, bounce... dal.

Some of the usual sporting blights have been kept to a minimum. There doesn't seem to have been too many failed drugs tests, although if there were ever an event for weightlifting cyclists we could solve any employment problem for health professionals overnight.

But now, Ryder Cup apart, it's over. No more blind footballers (although seasoned Shaun Wright-Phillips watchers might disagree); no more wheelchair rugger buggers; no more cerebral palsy sprinters...

And so it's back to...

Last night England drew 1-1 with Ukraine and I thought they did okay. One way to avoid scepticism with the national team might be to acknowledge that we're not very good. Hodgson gave a few new boys their head last night. Given Messi is a Tidy footballer, maybe Woy should pick Tom Stupidly in the number 10 shirt next time.

I don't much mind that the lad had a mare, really. I'd rather we had 11 Oxo-Chambermaids gifting possession and trying fancy flicks than an overhyped bunch of slackers just trying to ease through 90 minutes and wait til Saturday comes.

1-1 was okay. And okay is the team we've got.

If you need a reason to get down and dismal then look no further, boys n girls, to the Premier League. Here's a place where money speaks louder than words, words mean nothing very much, much is made from very little and little is given back to those that create the atmosphere that makes football the game it is. (You might even call the fans the Gamesmakers.)

Yes sir, every shirt tugged, every linesman shoved, every nightclub brawl, every highboard fall, every bollocked ref, every coach gone deaf, every single time it crosses the line and no one checks on the telly, every utterance that falls, mind-numbing and obvious, from the plonkers panel on the pundits couch, we're going to be thinking longingly of a Hannah or a Jess or an Ellie or a Johnny and wondering whatever happened to the dignity and integrity of sporting endeavour.

And yet, and yet... we still might end up with some barrel-chested millionaire Argentine nicking the title with the last flail of his right boot and you know what? All the money in the world can't rob that of its jaw-dropping wonder.

[Can you hear that? That's the sound of the mighty cynic within my soul thumping on the door and demanding to be let out.]

Monday, 3 September 2012

Kopping the Flak

Three games in and Brendan Rodgers is officially shite. That's the news I'm getting. It doesn't do to take an average team high enough up the table to require the services of a sherpa cos there'll always be some glory-hunting success-starved muppets waiting to dangle the BIG CLUB carrot in front of your ass's nose.

At present Roberto Martinez looks like the cleverest man in football. He's turned down Aston Villa - the benchmark for Big-Club-Mentality/Small-Club-Results - and that particular spitting cobra is being wrestled to the ground by an already ashen looking Paul Lambert. Martinez managed to duck the Koppite's job, and it seems clear he's dodged not so much a bullet as a fecking torpedo.

Let's remember what Rodgers took over for a minute - a squad of overpriced underperformers cobbled together in a spending spree that would have astonished Imelda Marcos. Rodgers couldn't give away Jordan Henderson and he must've tried.

Nevertheless Dalglish, whilst grunting through post-match interviews like a dangerously unmuzzled Highland Terrier, still managed to hustle Liverpool to two Cup Finals, win one, and almost claw back the other.

But their League form, coupled with King Kenny's preposterous handling of Suarez's racism - I still wonder what the hell Glen Johnson was doing in that Suarez t-shirt - meant that it was only right that Mr Incomprehensible should step aside.

Rodgers looked a good fit. He said the right things - as did Roy Hodgson - about this being a job that you couldn't turn down. He's got his way of playing and it's a style that had several TV pundits getting a tad Onanistic about it. (I'm sure Sam Allardyce watched it with incomprehension: 'Where's the big lad upfront, eh? And the other big lad upfront? And where's the big lad in midfield and the enormous big lads across the back? It's not football, that.)

Rodgers' second act was to pretty much bad mouth the lanky pony-tailed Geordie behemoth who almost rescued the FA Cup for them. Not only that but, fed by Stephen Gerrard's right boot - a foot second only to the right peg of the statue of St. Peter in the Vatican in terms of Scouse worship - Carroll leapt like a seaworld dolphin to power home a majestic header in Euro 2012 and it seemed that the lad had turned his world around.

Rodgers, though, didn't want him. There's me thinking that a bit of the old tika-taka (and saying that in a Liverpool accent leaves a helluva lot of phlegm on your keyboard) might be just that little bit of finesse that could make Andy an all-round international centre-forward but Brendan's not having it.

So the lad who had started to treat that £35 million millstone as merely a two-quid necklace from off the Bigg Market - a lad, moreover, that was on the cusp of acquiring utter cult status at Anfield - was on the A road to E Bay.

But you know what - who cares? He'll be bringing in a new man. A better man. An opportunist. A hanger off the back of the last man. A ruthless, incisive, lethal finisher. (Or he could bring in Borini.) But no, nowt. Clint Dempsey withdrew at the last minute and Rodgers has zilch on the bench to turn to. It's not smart, is it?

Nevertheless it is too early to judge. But for a horrid back pass from the Slovakian model for Munch's The Scream, Rodgers might already have the defeat of the champions under his belt. As it is the Baggies thumped 'em, with Suarez helping their cause with a display of wastefulness not matched since the laast time Prince William bought his wife a pie.

The home match with Arsenal must've promised much, especially given the Gunners' acquisition of another goal-shy duffer in Giroud. But Wenger's team were all over them, really. Diaby has spent his life doing second-grade impressions of Patrick Vieira but yesterday the lad was every bit of him with a bit of Yaya Toure thrown in to boot.

Cazorla is the main man, though. He's got that enviable feathery quality of a Silva or an Iniesta. He reminds me of someone (an emaciated Peter Kay?) but more to the point he cost the same as Joe Allen. Allen's a nice little player, typical of the Swansea team that we all delighted in patronising last year, but is he the hub around which Rodgers team can develop?

Of course we may be making too much of this lack of an out-and-out front man. Rodgers may be so enamoured of the Spanish style that he feels he doesn't need what we beer-swilling barflies used to call 'an old-fashioned number 9'.

Of course, Rodgers could always turn to the King of the Pinged Hamstring, the Traitorous Trafford Turncoat, the Free Agent everyone's talking about. Michael Owen? Welcomed back? With open arms or with firearms?

Whatever, there's a whiff of a manager already on the backfoot, a gaffer not entirely supported by just another bunch of detached American opportunistic owners. Henry has said he would never jeopardise the club's finances by sanctioning risky purchases but anyone who, having watched Fulham last season, wouldn't have coughed up £6 million for Clint Dempsey really doesn't know what they're talking about.

Meanwhile Dempsey has thrown himself into the wacky world of Villas-Boas (which translates as the House of Snakes, I believe). Martin Jol must be chewing through the filters of his Marlboro red-tops every time Tottenham is mentioned. Not content with sacking the bloke for doing a decent job, they've just nicked his midfield.

Thing is, I still think Villas-Boas has got the tougher job. It strikes me that no one really knows if he's up to much. His new job will be as demanding as the Chelsea one. He's got plenty of jostling egos at WHL. He may have better handwriting than the man he took over from (then again so does a rhesus monkey) but he doesn't come across as a bloke with a bedside manner. Plus he is getting full and frank support from Daniel Levy which is never a good sign.

There are new brooms everywhere but the ones who appear to making the best starts are the ones who haven't come bustling in with a radical agenda: Clarke, Laudrup, Hughton (notwithstanding the drubbing by the Swans) all seem to have given their teams a firm footing.

Footballers don't like change, apart from the loose variety that tumbles out of their Armani jeans of a Saturday night. It's one thing to get hold of a bunch of young 'uns and tell them this is the way it's going to be. It's another to convert some old lags.

In the long run, I reckon Rodgers will outlast AVB. But in their cases the long run might not even be the length of the home straight for a pissed-off Pistorius.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Perked-up By The Premier League.

I'm not quite over my post-Olympic Blues but the Premier League has opened up with a something not far off a bang.

Hilariously, Manchester City seem to need to add a player or two to a squad the size and cost of the entire Russian Navy and they've only played a couple of games. They're rapidly becoming a footballing version of a shopaholic's wardrobe. There's simply no limit to the number of floral tops we need.

It's not dissimilar to that time when Britain's Laziest Millionaire Winston Bogarde sat around the corridors of Stamford Bridge doing fuck-all. I'd've strapped a dust-cloth to his arse and he could've cleaned a few seats while he was there.

Citeh will be miffed that Van Persie's still in red, and his appearance for United without rooney raised a few eyebrows. If it's a straight choice between the two then on current form RvP is just the better player (in the same way that Usain Bolt is a just a better runner than Oliver Hardy). Rooney may well be a little concerned, especially now he's had that nasty old gash - ahem.

Me I think Wazza is suffering from Reverse Samson Syndrome - he's never been the same since Delilah the Trichologist stuck all them follicles in his nut.

To some people Chelsea have made the most impressive start, but all that means, really, is that they've played three games to everyone else's two. Di Matteo - who could easily be cast as an intelligent humanoid alien life form in a passable Sci-fi TV series - has every right to be chuffed, mind.

Hazard looks as good as his namesake Micky, Mata looks more and more the identikit Spaniard - short, neat and nimble as a tap-dancing whippet - and Torres has almost made more highlights packages than there are highlights in his preposterously girly barnet. On MOTD, Lawro, dressed like scrunched-up bacofoil, made the valid point that Chelsea seem to be set up to accommodate Nando and if he gets knacked they might not have a Plan B. Plan A looks topnotch, though but.

Arsene Wenger has never had a Plan B, unless it's to moan about the fact that the opposition weren't nice about his Plan A. The early signs aren't good. Once again they are playing toothless footy - I've seen more bite in a box of tissues.

Brendan Rodgers's Liverpool awoke from a nightmarish start and looked good at Anfield. Rodgers hasn't sacrificed his principles and it was brilliant to see the lad Sterling getting a start ahead of habitual kick-teases like Downing.

Swansea have starte brilliantly but then they were aided by some bloody awful work by Jaskelainen and Collins. Big Sam crumpled into his dug-out like a slowly deflating bullfrog, as he does when his lump-it-up-to-the-big-man-philosophy yields nowt. Whoever said 'Football is the Beautiful Game' had not met Sam Allardyce.

Everton, who tend get out of the blocks around March, have started the season with fists swinging. It's weird, like watching a tortoise with an outboard motor attached, but it's refreshing too. Pienaar's looking a world-beater again and if they can keep a hold of Baines and Jagielka, who knows?

Aston Villa look the most troubled thus far. Paul Lambert has always carried the air of the depressive bachelor uncle that no one really wants to talk to at a family do, and at present he may have a few more footy funerals to attend throughout the year. Unlike Southampton, say, or Reading, you can't see where a revival might come. Good though Everton were, Villa were as clueless as a very badly written detective novel. I fear for their future.

But there's been plenty of talent plus the usual fast pace and relentless passion and God help us I'm pleased that it's back so soon.

It certainly has been a better week for the Armstrongs of this world. Neil finally passed on to the next life and if it's heaven, then he really ought to have found it before he passed on. As for Lance... well there's a chest-thumping, truth-bending bullshitter and a half.

It was easy for the uninformed (and yes that includes me) to dismiss the constant barrage of insinuations in his direction as being some sort of envy-fuelled witch-hunt. It was eay to have automatic sympathy for a bloke who lost a bollock to cancer and yet appear to have more balls that at least 50% of mankind put together. There was also the fact that the bloke was clearly a bit of a knob-end - but then a lot of single-minded people are.

Now, the double-speaking toe-rag has pulled out of a court-case that would have inevitably relayed to the world at large a litany of misdemeanours. And he, despite his relentless denials - if indeed 'Prove It!' is a form of denial - has slipped away before the public humiliation can begin.

You might say that in an era of super-doped cyclists, Lance was the best junkie pedalling out there. But that doesn't much excuse it. Credit is due to the Tour de France for instantly stripping him of his titles, even if that means that they have to give the first finisher who hadn't failed a drug test, which conjures up the image of a beardy old Breton called Bernarrrrd with onions on his bike suddenly being slid into a yellow jersey.

Still cycling has set the benchmark for drug-testing in modern sport, and, if we don't want to watch chemically altered freaks fighting it out (and there's summat to be said for that) then the testing has to be rigorous in the extreme.

I sincerely believe that Wiggo, Cav, Trott, Pendleton, Hoy and all them two-wheeling Titans have never had to resort to shifty medical practices to win medals. Indeed the French'll have you believe they simply made the bikes out of magic dust instead. But now I'm backtracking into some sort of Olympian reverie.

Never mind. I'm going to get out my hankie, pretend I'm Arsene Wenger, and watch that Van Persie strike again.