Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 - Robbo's Crystal Ball

Okay lady and gentlemen. Cover your eyes if I've predicted good things for your teams this year - or you can always resort to a Greg Dyke throat-slitting gesture if you wish. Here's what I see happening at least up until the World Cup - and let's face it, after that the rest of the year can go hang.

England's valiant cricketers return home and parade through the streets of London in an open-top bus. Australians watch from top-floor windows and piss all over them for the sixth time this winter.

On a visit to Manchester, Brendan Rogers gets a parking ticket and is appalled to discover that the traffic warden in question is from the Greater Manchester area.

The Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal goes into a second day after the first rally of the match takes 28 hours to finish. Andy Murray is so blown away by the match that he tells reporters 'it was a tough match'.

Nicolas Anelka is cleared of making a Nazi gesture and goes on loan to Lazio. 

Vincent Tan becomes Cardiff City's new manager. The team come out for his first game in charge with a collar and tie on under their shirts, cripplingly high waistbands on their shorts, and moustaches on their top-lips that even Adolf Hitler would've smirked at.

Meanwhile Malky Mackay becomes manager at West Brom and - to no one's surprise - they do pretty well for the rest of the season .

The transfer window closes after several eye-popping purchases:

Arsene Wenger finally gets his hands on some back-up for Olivier Giroud. Unfortunately it's a former Chelsea forward - any one of them - and so Bendtner goes back to second in the pecking order;

Tottenham narrowly fail to sign four top European players - all of them go to Chelsea at the last minute.

Marouane Fellaini's return from injury underlines the absence of a decent midfield player at Manchester United. But as he's tall, clumsy and doesn't possess a secure first touch, Mark Hughes is straight in there to get him on loan at Stoke.

Moyes spends the entire transfer window standing outside the homes of Everton players, knocking on their doors and then asking them if they'd like to come and play at his house.

Half-decent Premier League players wake up on transfer deadline day to find trails of coins leading out from their front doors. At the end of them is Tony Fernandes. Inevitably, Crouchy and Bent scurry over for a piece of the action with 'Arry.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea play Newcastle and there is a nasty coming together between David Luiz and Fabricio Coloccini. Top stylist Nicky Clarke is called in to separate them, hair by hair.

Roy Hodgson's squad for the next friendly has more late withdrawals than a Catholic family planning session. Hodgson uses it as a chance to blood some twelve-year-olds who were doing keepy-uppies on Wembley Way.

The League Cup final is an all-Manchester affair so who gives a shit who won it. Probably Citeh. 3-1. Goals by those famous Mancunians Negredo, Aguero and Fernandinho.

United compensate themselves with a 1-0 against Liverpool. Phil Jones scores the winner and Brendan Rogers accuses him of being born suspiciously close to the Greater Manchester area.

DJ Campbell denies putting money on how long his sentence might be.

Sebastian Vettel agrees to drive for Austin Allegro in this year's Formula 1 Grand Prix season. He wins the first three races despite having his old Mum in the back seat telling him to slow down.

In spite of everything the world might say, Bernie Ecclestone adds Damascus, Pyongyang and South Sudan to the F1 roster.

Graeme Swann decides to name names in regard to those people in cricket who are 'up themselves'. The press conference lasts seven hours and all he does is read out a list.

In the Champions League, Manchester City beat Barcelona and Chelsea overcome the shock of the terrifying legend on a banner in the crowd - until Frank Lampard reminded his team-mates that (a) 'Welcome to Hull' was a spelling mistake, and (b) it wasn't like they were Fulham.

The Premier League is won by Manchester City, with Chelsea second, Arsenal third and, horribly enough United fourth. Everton and Liverpool draw lots to see who will play in the Europa League. Liverpool lose and so Everton get to stay at home.

Falling out of the Premier League are poor old West Ham whose central defence is so riddled with injury that Big Sam makes a fleeting appearance, not so much as a centre back but a roundabout round which the opposition has to play.

Joining the Irons are Fulham and Cardiff. Vincent Tan writes himself a terse email and two days later finds himself sacked.

The FA Cup is won out of nowhere by Middlesbrough. No one can believe it. I celebrate like an 18 year old on his first night in Amsterdam and don't write a blog for six weeks. (Yes I know that is quite often the gap between them these days so just shush now).

The Champions League is retain by Bayern Munich after a thrilling final against Man City. People praise Pellegrini to the skies. Not because he's a genius or owt, just cos he's managed to stop Mourinho from picking up even the smallest trinket and for that we should be very grateful.

Brazil prepares to welcome the World Cup tournament. Tickets are reduced for those supporters who are willing to hammer in a few nails to keep the stands up.

England draw against Italy in sweltering conditions. They would have won only Frank Lampard's terrific 25-yarder was only three yards over the line so it was difficult to be certain it was a goal. Ashley Young gets into trouble in the Arena Amazonia when he appears to go down like he's been shot. It is later proved that he was shot, by a blow-dart from an England fan outraged that such a cheating little git could make the England squad. Several black players complain about racist monkey chants coming from the stands but it turns out those chants were made by actual monkeys. FIFA investigate to see whether these monkeys are actually racist.

On to the Uruguay game and England draw 0-0 despite Luis Suarez getting a red card for a diving bite at Phil Jagielka.

The decider against Costa Rica is nip and tuck but Bryans Oviedo and Ruiz (the only Costa Ricans this commentator has heard of) combine to create a winning goal and England are out. The nation breathes a sigh of relief.

The BBC's special feature 'Rio in Rio' is a bit of a disaster but Ferdinand successfully predicts a Brazilian victory on home soil. They win the final 3-1 against Argentina after Lionel Messi receives his first ever red card for failing to get a decent haircut.

Happy New Year! May it see fewer bosses axed, more bankers taxed, and a the continuing revival of the slumbering giant that is Middlesbrough FC.

Enjoy 2014, all of you!! (Except you. You know who you are.)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Time, Misery and Whine

Christmas is here and it's time for Robbo to dig out his white fluffy beard and become all grandfatherly, but not in the manner of someone who presented children's television programmes on the BBC in the 1980s.

Yuletide is a crap time of year I reckon. I spent today in a Sainsburys the size of Marbella pushing past bedazzled fuckwits as they paused over exotic butternut squashes as if they were in some sort of summer fete guess-the-vegetable contest. Husbands were shrugging at relentless wives as they burrowed through squadrons of unfettered brats all throwing unwanted confectionary into their parents' trolley and then booing their little bastard eyes out if so much of a grain of sugar found its way back onto the shelves.

I seriously heard one man say to his missus: "I honestly don't care just please don't make let me be in here any longer."

But now tis over. The requisite booze has been acquired. The brandy butter sits oozily in the fridge. And I am full of Christmas cheer.

So, ignoring the gift of Man City having someone called Jesus scoring at Christmas time (it wasn't that long ago it was Roque Santa Claus) here's some apt pressies for the folks we love to hate.

To Luis Suarez - well I would give him the freedom of Norwich but clearly he's already got that, so I'll give him a 5000 piece jigsaw. It might just be the only thing he can't finish this season.

To David Moyes - a little torch so he can see something while he's there in Fergie's shadow.

To Malky Mackay - he needs to expunge the name Tan from his mind for a few days so I've bought him a box of gerines, a book on tric sex and a fish k.

To Daniel Levy - a new manager who can help Spurs make that step up into the top four permanently. Given his track record, Jesus Christ might be the best bet, but failing that, Glenn Hoddle as he's closer to Jesus than many. Except it turns out it's Tim Sherwood - who should surely be the gaffer at Nottingham Forest.

To Graeme Swann - the film Titanic, featuring that memorable line 'women and children and hacked-off off-spinners first!'

To The Rest Of the England cricket team - a pair of very interesting shoes each cos that's what they'll be looking at for the next three months.

To Sebastian Vettel - a grab bag of Quavers so he has summat to eat while he's strolling to victory in them grand prix.

To Ashley Young - I think I must have given him snorkel and flippers last year so maybe he can give 'em to young Janazaj now he doesn't get much chance to use 'em anymore.

To Mark Lawrenson - a P-45 and my best wishes for a long and happy retirement, although to be fair he's been enjoying that on various television sofas for years.

To Jack Wilshere - a copy of the Mona Lisa. The eyes follow you around the room, much like television cameras you great twot.

To Arsene Wenger - one of them super-powerful wrenches you get at Kwikfit so he can stop the wheels coming off over Christmas.

To Rangers - some opposition would be nice.

To Celtic - some opposition would be nice.

To John McCririck - a small cottage in a deep dark wood somewhere in Olde England where he can chunter away to himself like the idiot bumpkin he is.

To Andy Murray - a musical stave that shows just how many notes are available to the human voice. And another grand slam, naturally.

To Heather Mills - a diving board so she can go off the deep end whenever she fancies it. Still it's good to see her putting her foot down even if it is one that the IPC don't approve of.

To Essex nightclub doormen - a chamber-pot hat, just in case Monty Panesar fancies a night out round their way.

To Roy Hodgson - all the luck in the world, mate. And 26 changes of shirt for the game in Manaus.

To Peter Crouch - a pair of boxing gloves so that the lad can keep punching above his weight with that Abbey Clancy. That lass doesn't so much dance as flow, bless 'er. Mind you, Sophie Ellis-Bextor's bloke - the one that looked like a surprised woodland piglet - is so far out of her league he's Chorley to her Chelsea.

To Tiger Woods - slalom lessons from his girlfriend Michelle Vonn. That way he might be able to avoid garbage bins when he comes out of his driveway.

To Oscar Pistorius - an amazing pair of briefs, he's going to need them.

To The Welsh Rugby Union - shares in French holiday homes, as that's where all your countrymen will be for the foreseeable future.

To Jamaican Athletics - a drugs mule to carry all the prohibited substances OUT of the country. I know you're quick boys and girls but that doesn't mean you can run forever. Allegedly.

To the organisers in Sochi - a great big slobbery same-sex kiss to each and every one of you, and a set of floodlights to bring you out from the Dark Ages.

To Marion Bartoli - a book on personal beauty by that picture of asymmetric beauty John 'Call Me Casanova' Inverdale. All right ladies, calm down. I know how much you hate us lads having a pop at John. He just oozes sex appeal, that man, like a chip oozes oil.

And to Kevin Pietersen - a forward defensive prod. Very useful when you're 400 behind. A wonderful batsman and an absolute twerp.


And up the Boro!!!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Gaffes with the Gaffers

Andy Murray won Sports Personality of the Year and then had the good grace to admit that his voice suggests he doesn't actually have a personality. You get more rise and fall in the monologues of Professor Stephen Hawking. Then again, who needs a lovely speaking voice when you racing back and forth like a Jack Russell on the lend of a length of rope? 

Of course while Sports Personality was wringing tears from this sentimental old sports buff's eyes - and the tribute to Anne Williams was really top-notch - Liverpool fans were crooning out You'll Never Walk Alone on the terraces of White Hart Lane. Or Shite Fart Pain as my unamusing drinking colleague Tony Thompson insisted on calling it.

Villas-Boas tried to maintain his strangely scholarly dignity on the touchline but each goal to removed another finger from the only hand left clinging on to his North London window ledge until finally Sterling's effort saw him off into free-fall. So the Portuguese joins Steve Clarke in the managerial sin-bin.

Clarke's dismissal was really quite mysterious. Sometimes it's a worry if a manager gets his team to their highest league position ever. Over-achieve and you've had it the next season. The Baggies won at Old Trafford (admittedly not too tough a mission right now) and should've won at Stamford Bridge. They haven't had the rub of the green. No one's really trounced them. The players are in shock and there's no one waiting in the wings to change things. Well there's AVB of course.

The chairman Jeremy Peace - a surname tinged with irony if ever there was one - doesn't usually muck about so you'd expect to see someone in place pretty soon. And Malky Mackay must be itching to leave Cardiff City and its moustachioed dictator.

As for AVB, well he's a curious cove. I'm sure if you told him a joke he'd have a think about it and then push a note back across the table telling you it's funny. If football was played in a library he'd be the next Alex Ferguson. Last season Bale was Jesus to Spurs's Lazarus but with the Welsh wizard long departed, a cluster of replacements haven't papered over the cracks.

Nevertheless there are others who could take a little more flak than they do. Baldini - whose job is what exactly? - seems just as responsible for the purchases as the manager. Only Eriksson and on occasion Paulinho have looked any better than what was already in place. Lamela, Chadli, Soldado... there was a time when only Rafa Benitez could rack up a subs bench of such utter forgettability. Bale was a game-changer. These blokes are same-gamers. Bring them on - nothing changes.

As for Daniel Levy - well, the appointment of AVB reeked of chutzpah in the first place."So he didn't work out at Chelsea? Well that's cos of Chelsea, not cos of the man himself."

Yeah, well, 17 months is not a great statement of faith in your man, Danny boy. Spurs aren't in a terrible league position. Anyone can concede six at the Etihad. The Europa League opposition have been vanquished. And who's going to replace him anyway?

It's all a bit desperate. Glenn Hoddle seems to be everyone's tip for some sort of interim role. Except every manager appears to be on an interim contract at the moment, regardless of how many years they've actually signed up for.

Genuine football fans crave stability. As do the players. Despite Abramovich attempting to prove otherwise, sticking with a manager is a GOOD THING. Tottenham's flirtation with 4th position in the Premier League appears to have left Levy's nerves shredded and judgement impaired.

Or maybe, just maybe, we've got it wrong. In the modern pentathlon, the horse you ride during the equestrian section is allocated at random. The nag you get is down to luck. If figure it's time they did this at Premier League level. The managers and the clubs do a do-si-do and Man City end up with Ian Holloway, Arsenal get Sam Allardyce, and Stoke, bless 'em, get Wenger. Then we'd see who was any good at proper coaching. 

Anyway I can't write A V B anymore as it reminds me of a Victorian Bitter, which is the official beer of Cricket Australia. And if it was up to me I'd be throwing nine of England's cricket team into a vat o the stuff n leaving em there. Utter utter shite. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Hurt of Moyes

A very enjoyable midweek Match of the Day on Wednesday and one man outshone all others. The Biter, the Baiter, the Bugsy Bad Boy is in the sort of form that you only really ever see in your dreams. So successful is he at throttling Canaries that Sylvester must be up there somewhere in cartoon heaven praying that Luis finds Tweety Pie's address.

When I was growing up, hat-tricks got scored by nimble goal-scroungers who loitered around the six-yard box like itinerant workers hang around outside Wickes. Opportunists, they were - your Mullers and Linekers - not doing a scrap of work elsewhere and then popping up just when you'd forgotten that they were on the pitch.

These days your hat-trick heroes don't some much sniff out a chance as construct on from their own imaginations. You seriously get the impression that Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez could score at almost any time they fancied it.

Take Suarez's quartet on Wednesday night. Admittedly this was against Norwich City defence still shell-shocked from previous encounters with the Nibbler, and which therefore gave the Uruguayan the sort of room you might give an elephant with diarrhoea.

Nevertheless, each one was a work of art. The first a searing volleyed lob that left John Ruddy flailing so badly there was a bit of Seaman in the despairing lunge. Ahem. The second a bit more of a Gerd Muller, but a tricky finish made to look so simple. The third a ludicrous Gazzaesque lob and control followed by a beautifully controlled half-volley drive. The fourth just your run-of-the-mill 25-yard free kick.

And you have to be one helluva player to set up a chance that even Raheem Sterling can't miss.

It strikes me that despite the praise ladled in the direction of the Suarez-Sturridge combo, Luis is even better when he has to do more of the work himself. This is good and bad news for Rodgers. Yes I know the Reds coped well while Suarez spent the first few games licking his wounds (I think maybe he should've been licking Ivanovic's too). They weren't exactly tearing teams apart, mind you. Lots of George Grahamesque 1-0s if I remember rightly.

I make in 13 goals in 10 starts since his Nibs returned. I never thought I'd write this but it's a pleasure to have him around this season. You can't help wondering if the Something Stupid he might do is just around the corner. But till then, enjoy. He's utterly brilliant.

A blissful week all round for the city of Liverpool then, particularly the blue half of what was briefly known as Moyesyside. Bryan Oviedo's 86th winner against Manchester United finally rid Everton of 21 years of failure in the Theatre of Dreams. That it should happen while their manager of 11 years is in charge of the opposition is a deliciously cruel piece of irony.

It's easy to suggest that Moyes always treated this fixture too negatively when he was in charge of the Toffees and that's why Everton could never win. Easy cos by and large it's true. The Old Puce Glasgae Father Figure rather intimidated everyone, not least his heir apparent.

Martinez isn't walking around in anyone's shadow. Everton, with Lukaku roaming the front line like a great caged lion, and the likes of Barkley and Deulofeu being given their heads despite their youth, are playing fine and attractive football with not a backward step involved.

Mind you, Martinez has inherited a better team. Moyes is picking through the debris of Fergie's leftovers. I still don't have a clue how these lads lifted a trophy last season. Vidic and Ferdinand are done for. The likes of Nani and Young float around the fringes like tatty decorations that haven't been taken down after the Christmas party.

The midfield looked bare before Moyes arrived. Fellaini looks back to his stompingly clumsy worst. Giggs is looking more like Corporal Jones in there (Don't Panic!). Cleverly is neat and tidy and tepid. Anderson might never be anything and Carrick's calmness is actually being hugely missed. Kagawa could help if played in the right position. It's all very average.

I'd love to watch a United game whilst simultaneously watching a temperature gauge attached beneath Wayne Rooney's top-weave. The Toxteth Terror seems to be seething and steaming more and more these days as he wages a one-man campaign to get some uplift into United's season. As I have noted before, it might be good for England that Rooney is learning to play well in a pretty shite team right now.

But Wazza - good though he is - is not a Suarez, not even a Bale. He cannot keep saving a middling team with one moment of inspiration even if every time he strikes a dead ball at the moment you think there might be something in it for his team.

Van Persie's return will further paper over the cracks but Moyes has a transfer window of massive importance coming up. And I'm jiggered if I can see who might want to join a midtable outfit with little chance of making the Champions League this season. Even Leighton Baines might prefer to stay put - unless Oviedo keeps him out of the team of course.

Footnote: Australian readers might be disappointed at my lack of coverage of the Ashes cricket series. Well for the winter this will remain almost exclusively a football blog. Unless England get their shit together.

Friday, 29 November 2013

AVB - Always Very Boring

Well it's been nigh on three weeks since I put finger to keyboard - at least in any meaningful way - and for those of you who hang on to my every word like a baby tooth clings to a toddler's gums, I can only apologise. The rest of you seemed to have managed okay.

Much has passed since Arsenal were top of the league - and by God if they aren't still there - hovering happily like Wile E Coyote, just before he looks down and finds there's nothing between him and the ground.

In the meantime Manchester City continue to slap all-comers around like the flat-track bullies they are, but still get all agoraphobic when they have to leave Eastlands. Incidentally I noticed there was a vote going on for African Player of the Year. The answer you're looking for is Yaya Toure - the rest are but crumpled beer cans that he carries in his magisterial wake.

Chelsea are starting to grind into the relentless Mourinho mode - cheerless and efficient - and United are at the very least stabilising with Rooney showing his best from since he was 17 years of age. I think Moyes can take a little bit of credit there.

Southampton have been a delightful exception to the expected rule but the main subject of current speculation is that fidgety football student Andre Villas-Boas and his expensively assembled bunch of dullards.

It is way too early for Spurs fans to bringing out the old Juande Ramos banners and altering the names a bit, but there is definitely a sense of stagnation at White Hart Lane at the moment. It doesn't help that AVB has taken over after a couple of seasons of high entertainment - some of it supplied by 'Arry's cavaliers, and the rest of it almost entirely by Gareth Bale.

It's hard not to review AVB's second season in the light of Bale's absence. The Welsh wonderchimp dug them out of so many holes last season and when AVB needs a ludicrous thirty-yarer from someone it seems that the first one to have a swing is Kyle Walker. It's not quite the same is it? I mean if you want someone to knock in a double-top to win you a darts fixture you don't seek out the drunkest man in the pub.

Actually I like Walker - going forward (by which I mean 'going forward' and not 'in the future') - but his form typifies the problems Spurs are having. And the bad news is, it's very reminiscent of Chelsea under the same manager.

Tottenham have some very sharp attackers still but only if the ball is moved quickly. You could put a couple of greyhounds on your left flank and you'd still have a lot of bother keeping up with Walker and Lennon. But stick a couple of banks of four and some hard-chasing forwards ahead of them and Spurs move the ball around like pensioners handing around a bucket of water.

When he played for England Walker repeatedly got the byline but cut back every time because you're better keeping the ball than doing anything dangerous with it. All this ploddery means that AVB's boys are constantly getting clogged up in front of a dogged and organised team.

What's more Soldado, a lad who plays much more off the last man's shoulder than with his back to goal, is looking like a waste of space and money. Not that there's anyone to spark off particularly. He does look a little bit on his ownsome.

The midfielders, capable players one and all, seem unable to imagine themselves bursting past the opposition back four either, unless it's one of those all guns blazing finishes that the White Hart Lane faithful are getting used to. Eighty minutes of pitter-patter tippy-tappy followed by ten minutes of the Siege of Mafeking.

Villas-Boas's team has a 100% record in the Europa League. Mind you they are still at the 'where the fuck do they come from?' stage of the tournament. If you can't beat Rfnsubzphlix Grabbenhoffsted home and away you're in real bother.

Not that a 6-0 drubbing at Man City should be cause for concern. Citeh can hammer anyone on their day. But the stats for that game tell you that Spurs had more possession and corners in that game. The nil is the problem, not the 6. Put simply, they don't score enough. It doesn't help that the proven goalscorer Jermain Defoe is left to prove himself on chilly European nights rather than in the Premier League.

The plain truth is that the reason the home fans at Spurs are getting so restless is that they're having the pants bored off them every other week. It seems to be the AVB way. True, they haven't conceded too many. But Jeez  there ought to be more to show for the Bale bonanza than scraping ugly draws against Hull with well dodgy penalties.

While we are on the subject of entertainment, congratulations to Rodgers and Martinez for putting out two such reckless sides for the last Merseyside derby. A game that had grown tired, mean and fractious suddenly flowered into a thing of madcap beauty. Footy at its best.

Of course had Mirallas been sent off for his bollock-high assault on the Uruguayan Bernie Winters it might well have been a much more straightforward affair. But Phil Dowd, no doubt somewhere deep within him wishing he could do summat like that to Suarez and get away with it, let it pass with a yellow. Not right, of course, but a much better game because of it.

In other news, Australian cricketers are much better when they wear moustaches, and the Sports Personality of the Year Award nominees are pointlessly announced. If it's not Andy Murray then I'm a Scotsman. Not that he can be considered British really. Or at least this time next year.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Arsene Ascending

It's official. We have to start taking Arsenal seriously. They are five points clear. If you changed their name to Manchester United then stubbly Robbie Savage would be saying in that dentist's drill of a drawl of his that 'the title's over'. He is prone to generalisation that lad.

Still, the Gunners saw off Liverpool more than handsomely. 8 wins out of 9 looks a good return to me. And yet, and yet....

I don't know any Gooner who is getting ahead of himself right now. If they only looked at he bare facts they'd be hoovering out the trophy cabinet for Monsieur Wenger right now, particularly as they're going to need a good six months to get shot of all that dust.

After all:

1. No team passes the ball quite so well at the moment.

(Apart from Man City, sometimes. Mind you Norwich stood so far off them that Yaya Toure had time to pop in to the dressing-room, have a jimmy riddle, get back on the pitch and still find himself in possession of the ball.) Wenger has so many midfielders that Arsenal sometimes play a 1-8-1 formation. And Ozil's languid ease seems to have rubbed off on the rest of them. It is a joy to behold.

2.  They've learnt how to tackle.

Or at least remembered how to. All them tippy-tappy boys, robust as thistle-seeds in a hurricane, have suddenly discovered how physical strength and commitment can help them regain possession. The fancy Dans become honest johns when they haven't got the ball. Even without Flamini, Arteta filled the gap admirably.

3. Giroud? Who knew?

Seasoned Wenger watchers will realise that Arsene doesn't have the greatest record when seeking out a top centre-forward. Anyone who's watched Chamakh's scruffy gel-plastered get nowhere near cross after cross would know what I mean. Giroud's link-up play has been delicate and smart and his finishing, while not always cold-eyed, hasn't been too shoddy either. It's impossible to overstate his importance to the team at the moment, especially when you look to the bench.

In the League Cup against Chelsea, Bendtner started in Giroud's stead which on current performance is like wheeling your Aston Martin into the garage and then appearing out of the side-door on a squeaky tricycle.

4. Ramsey revives

I can only imagine that some well-meaning mystic laid hands upon Aaron Ramsey in the summer. The signing of Ozil made him look like the first man off the overcrowded midfield boat and yet right now he must be the first name on the team-sheet. He seems possessed of Ozil's time on the ball, Cazorla's quick feet, Wilshere's drive.... Last season he was bog-standard, but that seems light years ago. It's a bit like trying to remember when Gareth Bale was a shit left-back. And after that hideous leg-break you can't help but be happy for the lad.

5. A Solid Defence

Whenever Arsenal have a run of clean sheets we have to blame Steve Bould. Dependency at the back has always had more to do with the nous of the personnel there than anything Wenger has done. At present they look solid as a rock there even though Mertesacker resembles a spooky family butler, and Koscielny spends every game struggling to contain his inner ninja.

When you add in an injury list which means that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Podolski are on their way back, and the likes of Rosicky and Gnabry are playing very well too it would all suggest that come May Arsene's going to be trotting up the Holloway Road while Gooners everywhere wave their palm fronds and sing hosannas.

Except... except... Arsenal have very little depth in key places. Only Vermaelen can cover the centre-backs and he's not as trusty as we once thought. As noted the options at centre-forward are frankly bleak. When you compare this to Chelsea or Man City you see how fragile this situation makes them.

In other words, injuries will make or break Arsenal's season. As witnessed by the absence of Walcott and Ox-lax-Chumber-Pan, the midfield is crisper and healthier than a yogi's salad. It's just everywhere else where it's as thin as a newspaper editor's excuse.

Of the others, Liverpool still look overly-reliant on two brilliant but erratic forwards (in Luis's case it's the personality not the play that is unpredictable).

Spurs get duller and duller - much like last year but without the simian wonderboy to - ahem - Bale them out. Everton will be plucky and persistent but won't scare too many and Pochettino's stylists at St. Mary's should hang on to 7th. United - remember them? - are looking a bit more stable but you've still got to reckon that there's not enough in the centre of the park to hurt the opposition there.

So... at the risk of echoing Kevin Keegan - and no sane man would want to do that - I'd love it if Arsenal could fight off the wealth-sodden pack.

Don't get me wrong, anyone who's paid for an Emirates season ticket can vouch for the enormous sums that Wenger has at his disposal. And Mehzut Ozil cost £1,999.999.99 more than they would've paid for Luis Suarez. That's not peanuts.

It's just that I can't help but admire a bloke who puts principle first, even if that does mean his team comes up short season after season. The team ethic is still there. The Wenger Vay. And with a bit more backbone in place this season... well...Yes!

They CAN do it! In fact I think they might even finish ABOVE third place.

Monday, 21 October 2013

What does FA stand for?

Looking at the weekend's results you might be forgiven for thinking that all is rosy in football's garden (apart from the fact that your Dad keeps worrying about the windows getting smashed and if you keep whacking it over next-door the big fuck-off Alsatian will marmalise your casey with its canines.)

Andros (surely a brand of household bleach and not a name) Townsend, Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere... well they're all pretty handy, aren't they? But nevertheless only 1 in every 3 first team starters in the Premier League are English. Which is a problem, apparently. (In Qatar there's a problem that only 8 in every 11 starters are Brazilian and this could have a terrible effect on the national team's chances in 2022.)

So Greg Dyke, in that bustling no-nonsense way of his, comes stomping in with this FA commission to investigate why English players are so poorly represented.  It sounds great. Greg, so much a man of the people that he can get someone to stuff his hand up a rat's backside and save a whole TV station, has really copped hold of a genuine concern for football fans in this country. Hasn't he?

Well, to start with, ermm... No, not really. Most fans I know don't give a toss what's on a footballer's passport so long as the player concerned has an instep that meets the ball more often than his shin.(Or, to put it another way, as long as it's not Titus Bramble). Me, I like the idea of a club whose playing staff represents its local community and principal supporters, but even I can concede that those days are long gone.

Much like our national cuisine, which we once cherished but now realise was stodgy, predictable and not much good for us, our football has been enhanced by spicy imports. Twenty years ago the presence of an Ivorian in your midfield was as unlikely as a pot of Thai fish sauce on your supermarket shelf. And these Thai meals and Ivorian midfielders have improved my life immeasurably.

The only time this issue becomes thorny is when the national team, as it has done many times in recent years, comes up woefully short on international duty. Then we all seek to blame them blinking foreigners who come over and take our jobs (and, at the risk of straying into Adrian Chiles territory, in the case of Poles and plumbing, for example, they tend to do it better and cheaper).

Now the commission's remit is to look at:

"1. The pathway from schools into academies;
  2. The progress of those young English players in club academies (ages nine to 16);
  3. The development of those young academy players into first team Premier League players."

(That's the first time I've ever cut and pasted from a David Bond blog. My punctuation is better.)

The original eight people who were going to explore this are Greg Dyke, Danny Mills, Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Richie Humphries, Dario Gradi, someone else at the FA, someone at the Football League.

They've now been joined by the England football manager and a black man called Rio Ferdinand. Had the FA Commission already had a minority ethnic person in its ranks, we might well be considering how much Ferdinand might have to offer. But for now it looks like the most blatant bit of tokenism since David Cameron allowed a grammar schoolboy into a cabinet meeting (actually that might be yet to happen).

Heather Rabatts was right to be so blazingly angry about this issue. As is Sol Campbell. It's a bleeding long time since Viv Anderson stuck his telescopic legs through a pair of England shorts. One only has to look at the England squad last Tuesday to realise just how important black players are to the national team.

And yet Dyke assembles a clump of horribly familiar and pasty establishment figures to his commission. All right Dario Gradi sounds like he might be a bit Italian or summat but you know what I mean. If there is a problem with the promotion of young Englishmen in the game, then half of these blokes have been overseeing it!

As for the ladies, well thank you very much dears but the last one of you to make a significant contribution to the well-being or otherwise of the FA was Faria Alam. Women have to be on this commission too.

Just as bad, there appears to be no true representation from people working with the youngsters at grass roots level. Obviously they'll be consulted but in a top-down, rather patronising way. Suited grandees sliding out of the back of Lexuses and shaking hands with kids doing keepy-uppies on a basketball court - that sort of thing.

Meanwhile the Premier League are outside the tent pissing in, which is pretty much their default position these days.

Dyke has rushed this through with well-intentioned zeal but I don't know anyone who doesn't see this gathering of minds as a talking shop for tedious duffers, most of whom spend none of their time with the young people whose needs they claim to be promoting. It's truly laughable.

I mean what's Hoddle going to say, exactly? The ones who can't make the grade at Premier League level probably did something bad in a past life? Wilkinson is just some past-it old chunterer. Only Gradi has any track record in converting potential into success.

The three objectives of this commission amount to pretty much the same thing. Better young players come from better coaches and yes, an infrastructure that keeps these players learning and developing. So who's going to coach the coaches? And can they have better facilities please?

When it come to clubs that doesn't even have to mean that the players or coaches are English. Hell, look at the players that have come through Ajax's system: Suarez and Erikson are just recent examples. They don't have to be Dutch. It's just a shame that they're never English.

I'd have been tempted to put Gradi in charge, pay him properly, give him a couple of community-based assistants and send him on a two-year mission. What the other nine blokes there will contribute is difficult to guess. And why so many?

I mean I wouldn't mind sitting around a table with Rio and Danny having a good old chinwag about the state of the game either. I just wouldn't make it a flagship policy for my organisation.

What does FA stand for? I think we all know. And it's not Faria Alam.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Racy Old Roy!!

Well thank God for that.

I know the more cynical souls amongst us are quite happy to chunter about the big tournaments being better when we're not in them, but I was pleased as punch for England last night. And especially for Roy Hodgson.

It's hard to think of a more honourable fellow than Woy. Even his acceptance that this was perhaps his greatest night as a football manager came with the rider that he didn't want to devalue what Switzerland achieved under his stewardship.

And you can't help but give the lovely old duffer a lot of credit for the way England played in the last two games. It was breezy, entertaining stuff. Caution thrown to the wind. Handbrake off. All right I'm not sure what else they could have done given they needed to WIN, but... it was almost as if Harry Redknapp was in charge.

Which of course he should've been. Harry'll tell you that. Everyone wanted him, you know. There are newborn babies entering the world in tears because of that decision. Everyone loves 'Arry. Apart, perhaps, from the Inland Revenue. And the FA. There is a whiff of something around Redknapp. It's called suspicion. And for all his geezery bonhomie he can't quite shake that off, bless 'im.

But that old samba soccer guru Roy Hodgson was the main man. Up until these last two fixtures he'd overseen a team that staggered out of one place after another clutching its single point like an asthmatic hanging on to his inhaler. The performances varied from poor to abject. The desire not to lose brought a deathly stiffness to everything the players did. The ball become as welcome a companion as a false widow spider on a toilet seat.

Roy meanwhile seemed blithely ignorant of the facts that lay before the rest of us. He thought the team had done well, except for the odd bad spell, and that a point was worthy of celebrating. The rest of us thought they were a bit shit.

My research (asking people in the pub) tells me that expectations are pretty low for this England side. There have been times when the successful exchange of four passes has been cause for optimism, it being such an improvement n all. None of this pessimism harms Roy.

Nor does having a full squad to choose from. The absence of Ashley Cole only helped England's cause with Baines delivering crosses like a left-pegged mop-topped Beckham. He is the best left-back we have now. Comfortably.

The selection of Andros Townsend was Hodgson's true bit of inspiration. The lad was a loanee at that den of iniquity Queens Park Rangers last season. He was part of that football club experiment which we might now sum up in seven words "Splash The Cash And Cross Your Fingers." He returned to a Tottenham bursting at the seams with new signings and you were wondering who was going to borrow him next.

And now he's been as good as anyone in an England shirt in his first two games, although I was bit suspicious that Andros Townsend's man of the match award v Montenegro was chosen by Andy Townsend. Corruption runs deep in football.

His pace terrified the opposition full-backs. He revealed a very decent right foot to go with his excellent left. Unlike Walcott, he didn't burst into space, lift his head and pick out some more empty space. Unlike Young, he tried to play the game in an upright position. Unlike Milner, he looked like he might do something creative with the ball. And he can't half belt it when he wants to. A brilliant pick.

Gerrard too deserves praise for his contribution. He's not quite the bloke that single-handedly secured Rafa Benitez's reputation at Liverpool in 2005, but he's a wiser soul now. He looks at ease with himself. And he's still got enough puff to get up the park and toe-poke in the decisive goal.

Rooney looks like he might be near his best too. He's looking pretty secure in front of goal and that Desperate Dan grin hasn't been seen this often in an England shirt since he was the boy Shrek of 2004. The naff headgear needs to stay, Wazza. It's working.

Of course there are concerns: Welbeck continues to float around like a great fragile moth. He seems to need about eighteen touches before he can shoot. You can praise the lad's movement and his link-up play (although that was erratic last night) but ultimately he's supposed to score goals and I still don't reckon he'll get enough.

Poland's best attacks came from our corners. It was alarming how easy it was to run the length of the pitch without getting challenged. No one went to the ball. Everyone just ran back towards the goal as if they thought that enough of them could queue up on the goal-line we might just be okay. It reminded me of the 4-1 defeat to Germany. That sort of defending. Scary. But they got away with it... just.

And maybe that's the price you pay when you actually try and win a game of football. Certainly there was a bit more incision up front and the interchanging front four were bordering on a revelation.

But no, England will not win the World Cup. Not even close. And there's nowt wrong with realistic expectations. Most of us support club sides where realism is essential. So a bunch of young lads with a  couple of old heads and a decent method to them seems like quite a nice watch if you ask me. As long as we don't expect miracles.

Having said that, I can already see England's performance in their opening fixture of Brazil 2014. It'll be like every other one: nervy, cautious, scratchy, but a point is a point.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland...

Oh shite. It's another of those weeks coming up. England have two games between themselves - ourselves? - and World Cup qualification. Try as I might I can't help sensing a dryness at the back of the throat, chrysalises in the belly just bursting with butterflies and, I don't mind admitting, a certain tightening of the ring-piece.

And yet I keep asking myself why. Why, when all England have thrown at us in every tournament since '96 has ranged from inept penalty-taking to inept bleeding everything. Why, when I absolutely know that Hodgson and his squad don't have a Richard Dawkins' prayer of a chance even if they do qualify? Why, when I enjoy it much more after we have made our inglorious/brave/unfortunate exit from the tournament?

Why, when it's just an accident of birth that I am English. And, given the less than binding regulations regarding which country one can represent these days, why don't I just tell everyone I'm Spanish and have done with it? Like Big Sam, who reckons he'd be a tactical genius if his name was pronounced 'Allardici', I too would be held in high regard: Derekinho Robsonez.

But I look down the highlights of the weekend's Premier League matches and suddenly start to imagine England on the brink of a renaissance. Forget that Roy Hodgson is a careful (negative)manager who doesn't so much 'set out his stall' as 'design the whole indoor market complete with good points of access and egress and clearly marked muster points'.

No, England have two strikers in good form: Sturridge and Rooney. They have a solid centre-back pairing, a commanding captain in the deep-lying Gerrard, and a couple of bright young things in Barkley and, if they can drag him out from behind the bike-sheds, Puffin' Jacky Wilshere. Hell there's even that converted tearaway Ravel Morrison looking more than promising now.

(And don't forget Januzaj! Yep, I saw little Adnan only the other day, fish n chips in one hand, B n H in the other, having a good old sing-song around the joanna before settling down to watch Corrie. Aye, he's salt o' the earth that lad.)

On the other hand, the keeper looks capable of diving over a double-decker bus at the moment... and the right-back, whoever he is, has a tendency to get so lost high up the pitch that the other ten have to organise a search party. And James Milner might be playing: Mr Work-Rate. Honestly sometimes I crave a lazy bastard who can actually do something with the football.

But there ought to be the makings of some sort of a team there. And yet... and yet....

...They can't seem to keep the ball. If they could retain the ball like my bladder can retain liquid we'd be laughing. But technically, England are still - what's the word? - SHIT. Never mind keepy-uppies - it'd be good to see our boys start with playing 'keepies'.

The standard of coaching of young footballers in this country is a root cause but don't worry!!! The FA's head of coaching is none other than John Beck. YES, that's John Beck who made Graham Taylor's Watford look like Barcelona. John Beck, who left the corners of the pitch unmown so a big hoof would slow up there, who gave prizes to the lad that could kick it the furthest, who dowsed his players in cold water before a game.

England's footballing youth is in safe hands, eh? For fucking fuck's sake.

So, it appears that my rising anxiety is based upon not evidence but some weird learnt experience. I think it's called 'blind patriotism'. That I should watch England - a hastily assembled bunch of self-interested millionaires - and expect them to lift my spirits like some Olympian distance-runner. Hmmm.

And even if they do get to the Brazil, what is the World Cup anyway? With every passing day it becomes clearer and clearer that the greatest football tournament in the world is one enormous gravy train for the insular and self-serving members of FIFA (Financially-Incentivised Football Administration).

I have this horrible dream that in 2043, the cryogenically-frozen head of Sepp Blatter will be thawed out long enough for him to tell us that World Cup 2056 will be held on... the planet Jupiter.

"Yes" Sepp'll say "there'll be those who doubt that the transport links will be up and running in time. There'll be those who wonder if Jupiter has enough of a football fanbase to create a decent atmosphere. There'll even be those who wonder whether athletes will be able to play football on a gaseous surface, let alone breathe the toxic air. And yes, they may have to play the tournament in mid February to compensate. But there all always nay-sayers and doom-mongers.

But all this faffing around the edges of the Qatar 2022 decision just shows how many vested self-interests are already in place. It was about intelligent decision-making it would never have gone there in the first instance.

Here are three objections that might have been raised at the time:
1. They don't like poofters.
2. They employ slaves.
3. It's too fucking hot.

But if you start including all these factors into your calculations then... well, Russia would have to keep their gobs shut and tolerate homosexuals at the Winter Olympics. And frankly, who exactly do they think is doing most of the ice-skating there, anyway, eh?

Nah, it's a bloody ugly farrago is the World Cup - a great festival of fingers in pies masquerading as a sporting spectacle. I feel soiled just thinking about it, as soiled as a free-thinking person allowing themselves to watch the X Factor (which I did on Saturday night and if there is a priest out there can you get round my house double-quick and absolve me of my sins?)

Yeah, the World Cup is completely and utterly tarnished in my eyes. There's only one thing that can reclaim it from the gutter. That's an England victory!

Come on lads. We can have these Montenegrolians! Brazil here we come! 2-1 on Friday. 3-0 on Tuesday. Job done.

Monday, 30 September 2013

All Quiet From The Moyesy Neighbours

Not that long ago my football-watching had become more jaded than an aside from Miranda Hart - but that was before the Premier League got interesting.

We've become used to the Champions League dog-fight. You know - the one in which wannabes still wallowing in increasingly distant past glories get all edgy about scraping into a Chumps League qualifier in a far-flung town where they still point at aeroplanes.

The usual suspects are: Arsenal (invariably successful), Tottenham (always deprived by a distracted manager and a side-order of listeria lasagne) and Liverpool - not exactly walking alone but certainly jogging some way back from everyone else.

Occasionally Everton might loom in the distance, defying the relative evils of a small squad and a lack of funds to quite possibly out-perform the others - and still finish 7th.

Now a quick - and undoubtedly premature - glance at the table reveals a great deal of optimism for the perennial scramblers.

Arsenal, pilloried after losing to Villa first-up, have clambered neatly to the peak like a crack squad of Sherpas. Good stuff they've played too. Ozil is a delight and Ramsey a revelation. Flamini has stiffened up the middle of the park too.

Tottenham have been mighty entertaining too, without really steamrollering anyone. Paulinho and Erikson are terrific players and optimism at White Hart Lane is growing almost as alarmingly as the AVB comb-over. (There's still something a tad unconvincing about the Villas-Boas fist-pump, mind you. It's a bit, well how can I put this without sounding cruel... it's a bit Tim Henman.)

And of course Liverpool look way sharper with more teeth in their attack now the ungrateful little (extremely talented) shit has returned to their front-line. Suarez looked good even if he was up against the Sunderland defence. UN resolutions get passed quicker than Carlos Cuellar.

This is of course good news. All three of these teams could win the League this season. The Gunners are still a worry given that they have centre-back pairing of headless chicken and bumbling beanpole. Spurs might be the better bet - the squad looks stronger. And Liverpool's good health will depend entirely on Sturridge's hamstrings and whether Suarez can remain vegetarian. It seems unthinkable that Luis will be available for selection for the rest of the season but if he is... hmmm.

Of course, none of these teams have been impeccable, it's just that the usual top tier have looked pretty bleeding average. For all Mourinho's personal swagger he can't half put a dull team onto a football pitch. Quite what Juan Mata has done to upset El Uno Especialo is beyond everyone. Perhaps it's those goals he creates and scores with such regularity.

Chelsea's best centre-forward is at Everton. And it'll be back to Ba after Torres's nonsensical sending-off. Then again the girls' playground assault on the thespian Vertonghen - 'I'll scratch your eyes out!' - was so demeaning that the great Jessie shouldn't have been on the park anyway.

Manchester City oscillate from the sublime to the preposterous. It's like complacency is inbuilt there now. A Benteke-less Villa were a piece of piss - until they weren't. And the post-match comments stank of more conceit - we were brilliant, it was a joke we lost it, etc.

But the most life-affirmingly poor start belongs to Manchester United. Now I like Moyes. Who doesn't, really? But he's not only filling the biggest boots in football, he's doing it with the weakest squad United have had since Ferguson arrived there.

In fact if you want to know how good a manager the Govan Beetroot was you only have to look at United's current first team and remind yourself that they are the current champions. That's right SAF won the league with a creaking back four, no midfield creativity whatsoever and one of the club's highest-ever goalscorers in a permanent sulk.

Of course Moyes can be held accountable for his lack of purchases. You don't want to be in a position where you're grateful that Nani has renewed his contract. He's an inflatable doll of a footballer - nothing like the real thing. Fergie papered over the midfield cracks with a bit of Scholesy here and a bit of Giggsy there and the odd Ashley Young plummet. The only thing Marouane Fellaini has ever created is a roaring trade in afro wigs. They needed a Cesc, or a Sneijder.

United have not scored a goal in open play since the opening fixture of the season. Were it not for Rooney's much-improved form they could be rubbing shoulders with Holloway and Kevin Ball. It's pretty dire.

Some will say it's too early to worry about whether they'll miss out on Champions League footy next season. I dunno. If I were the average United fan, I'd be worrying my little Malaysian socks off .

In the meantime a small thought for Paulo Di Canio. The knob.

Is it any surprise that a man so interested in fascism should run the club like a latter-day Il Duce? The only thing to be said in his defence is that Ellis Short must have known this already when he hired him. Everyone else did. There are poisoned chalices in football right now the SFC job is more like a hot steaming bowl of plutonium-enriched effluent.

And the candidates aren't exactly jostling for position. Mark Hughes should be top of the list but Gawd help us if he hasn't actually got a job. Steve McClaren looks like he's off to replace the pitilessly sacked Nigel Clough (and seriously who else would've managed all that on no budget? Ri-bloody-diculous.)

You could imagine Alan Curbishley coming in - and let's face it, Alan, it's better than George Osborne forcing you to pick up litter every day.

There is one bloke who's not been mentioned but relishes a challenge.  At the moment he's busy looking for his eyebrows down the back of the sofa, but don't put it past ol' Colin Wanker to emerge from the managerial scrapheap. Even Warnock's got a tad more subtlety than Di Canio.

Whoever gets the job, I hope he starts planning for the Tees-Wear derby for next season. (That's if we stay up of course.) Cos Sunderland look more than somewhat doooooommmed.

PS No I haven't mentioned Southampton. Someone always punches above their weight and this season it's you. What do you want? A medal?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Diving off the Deep End

Of all the low-down divers in the low-down dive that is the den of iniquity they call the Premier League, Ashley Young is lowest, downiest, diver-iest of the lot.

First of all, he's English, and Englishmen don't dive. We leave that to oily, slippery folk from hot countries. That's right. You know who I'm talking about. Michele OwenInho, Gareth Baleiovic, Stevio Gerrardini - untrustworthy sorts, I tells ya.

Second of all, he plays for Manchester United, one of the most upstanding of names in the world of international sport. United players have a history of never falling over to win a penalty. Like ever. (And unlike Evra.)

Thirdly - and perhaps more to the point - Ashley Young doesn't actually dive properly. While many prefer to indicate the slightest of ankle-taps has thrown him off-balance, Young attempts to simulate that he's been wiped of his feet by someone wielding the trunk of a recently sawn-down redwood. He doesn't so much fall as throw himself into an invisible tumble-dryer.

Having said that, he is at the forefront of a new and subtle variation in the art of diving. Falling over when no one has touched you can make you look a bit silly. Ashley counteracts this by kicking his opponent's leg before going over. This has caused all sorts of confusion for the regular pundit who will tell you that 'if there is contact he is entitled to go down'. Given that football is a contact sport, we are in serious danger here of losing the plot entirely.

The Young approach is akin to the old joke of the police officer's report that states that 'the suspect repeatedly smashed his face into my boot for a good ten minutes' before he confessed. The fact that Ashley has been warned about this appallingly blatant somersaulting before just adds to a sense of frustration about the player. (That and the fact that he's another of these England internationals who is promising at 22 and NEVER GETS ANY BETTER AFTER THAT).

The referee did well to book Young on Saturday. The irony is of course that the same player won a penalty kick a little later on as a direct result of trying not to fall over. If you watch the incident again you will see Young's feet start to stutter and stammer as he tries to overrule his now natural inclination to try a couple of Nadia Comaneci flick-flacks as he makes his way into the box. Dikcagoi makes a clumsy effort to get the ball, but nothing much more than that, and Young goes down anyway in the inelegant heap that would have happened even if the Palace man hadn't nudged him.

But this is the problem with these serial offenders like Ashley Young. I'm told that practice makes perfect; that the way a sportsman becomes very good at something is through repetition of tedious routine until that action becomes automatic.

You can't tell me that Young hasn't been practising. He has a little trigger, a muscle memory if you like, so that his inevitable response to going past someone in the penalty area is to cartwheel through the air like a bit of tumbleweed. He can't actually help it. Much like a batsman can't help lolloping a short ball down long leg's throat, or a golfer tends towards the draw in a tee-shot.

Except in football it's what's known as fucking cheating. So we wonder why Ashley Young can't just stop fucking cheating. And we find that the answer might just be to penalise the little bleeder severely until he unlearns his sinful little addiction.

So how do we do this?

Well first of all, as David Moyes has done, players and managers (and fans) need to condemn it whole-heartedly. A goal has been scored through the overt deceit of your player, your teammate. And not through the incompetence of the officials. And yet too often you get club representative shrugging their shoulders, grinning wryly and muttering the tired old maxim of 'winning some and losing some'.

The Crystal Palace chairman says the ref should give a red card for diving. Yes, mate. If he's absolutely certain, then he should. Especially if it is an attempt to win a penalty. However more often than not there's an uproar precisely because the bloke's got away with it. And in that case, you're a goal down and the punishment has to be retrospective.

Now to anyone but those folk who believe that the world spins on a stick of celery and is rotated twice a day by a giant marmoset with sticky hands, the idea that the FA haven't yet been able to introduce serious retrospective bans for simulation is simply gob-smacking.

It is the most obvious thing that can be done NOW, straight-away, to say that anyone found guilty of successfully conning the referee into awarding a penalty kick shall be given a three-match ban minimum. If he does it again, double the ban. So what if that means that Luis Suarez never plays another game of football? It would work.

Me, I'd go further. Humiliate the cheating little bastards. If you want to be a diver, you've got to dress like one. Ashley Young should play the next match in body paint and budgie smugglers. If he transgresses again, he plays his next match in snorkel and flippers (and he MUST be selected in both instances).

While said player is missing games he plays an important role in the half-time entertainment - a large paddling pool is pulled on to the pitch and small children take turns pushing the little sneak into the water. Then we strap him to a cart and he is given of lap of dishonour during which fans may boo, hiss and jeer, throw half-eaten pies, to their hearts' content.

If that weren't enough, I would make them explain themselves on national television, like disgraced Japanese businessmen sometimes do. Hell, let's get Piers Morgan to interview them. Let's see the contrition.

As it is, the FA lie motionless like basking seals, barking out the odd complaint but doing, appropriately enough, FA. It is ridiculous.

I don't really know anyone who has anything but contempt for the falling-over brigade. Ashley Young couldn't be less popular if he became an estate agent in his spare time. This is actually a very straightforward issue. Ban the Divers. Properly. Outside of the marital bed, there's no place for simulation.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hansen Is As Hansen Does

The announcement of the forthcoming retirement of Alan Hansen has hit the nation across the face with all the power and punch of a carelessly tossed cotton wool ball. Fair play to him for walking, mind you. Stuart Broad, wherever the hell you might be, take note.

But it brings to the fore the thorny issue of just how shite Match of the Day has become. While BT Sport are thrusting their little hips around in the form of Jake Humphrey and a studio the size of Dunstable, and Gary Neville's wielding his Sky gadgetry like some Mancunian Gandalf, MotD continues to chunter away in the corner like an ailing uncle.

So what's up with it?

The boy Lineker is still comfortably at the helm, but that saintly smirk stopped working when he employed it for the 723rd time in yet another Walkers crisp commercial. (What does he have over them, exactly - has he caught factory workers lobbing toe-jam into the cheesy Quavers?)

Plus there's the fact that, as a former professional footballer himself, why does Gary need to ask the opinion of other former professionals? It makes him look like he's being deliberately dumb, like some coquettish blonde with a first from Cambridge.

Television loves doing this. Take Ready Steady Cook. The chef Ainsley Harriot asks chefs how to cook. Former French Open champion Sue Barker asks tennis players how to play tennis. What next? Geri Halliwell asking Kerry Katona how to go about making a living from doing fuck-all?

Ideally your main man/woman should be a keen amateur enthusiast - your Des Lynam, your Clare Balding. Adrian Chiles works much better as a host of a footy programme precisely because he wants to know what it feels like to be stepping out on the park in an England shirt for the first time.

Of course you have to hand it to Lineker that he manages to keep a programme rolling when the punditry is delivered by Newcastle's answer to Stephen Hawking, Alan Shearer, and the lolling Lancastrian Lawro.

There used to be a kind of twinkly-eyed detachment in Lawrenson. He was the dressing-room 'wag'. He was the twot who put the 'pun' into pundit. These days he looks as bored as we are looking at him.

In the wings there are a whole host grisly options - and I excuse Pat Nevin from these cos by Gawd I like the bloke.

There's Robbie Savage who, despite preferring to look like a bearded Charlie's Angel, can be relatively coherent, although he can't help spouting contentious twaddle because he secretly thinks that's why he's been employed - he's a kind of footballing Richard Littlejohn. He's ruled Man U out of the title race already, according to the Beeb's website. The twit.

There's Martin Keown, who carries a Garth Crooksian gravitas with him and is an expert mixer of metaphors - the other day I heard him say that Arsenal were struggling because they hadn't managed to get the players in that they'd 'nailed their hats onto'.

Poyet - well I can't understand him (he always sounds like he's got a particularly chewy squid ring in his mouth); Hartson - he's straightforward enough but he never says owt that every bloke in my pub wouldn't say; Danny Murphy - promising enough but oh so mild.

But then each and every one of the new boys suffers from one drawback - Savage possibly aside - they just can't quite slate a former fellow pro like they should do.

And if you fumble down the back of the pundits' sofa you will find it clogged with one compromised opinion after another. The only time I've ever seen a BBC couch unite in condemnation is when England play in World Cup Finals. And hellfire in those circumstances even Mother Theresa could be forgiven for calling the wallies in white a bunch of useless malfunctioning cocks.

Of course one of the better pundits at the moment is Roy Keane, not because he is necessarily more acute than any of the others, but that he doesn't give a shite about what people think. You can tell just how challenging that is when people like Southgate wince as if the outspoken teenager has just dissed the head of chemistry again.

It is though, time to move on for Match of the Day and the fact that Hansen, there at the very dawn of the Premier League, has decided to spend more time on the golf course, and that the Beeb have given Lawro 'a reduced role' is a good thing.

They won't be much missed and within the year, I can see both of them talking up the delights of the latest sale at DFS:

       "Hansen: 'I used tae miss my sofa'.
         Lawro: 'Me too. I was never a City fan, but I'm dead sure I'm a settee fan, eh, Al?'

         Hansen shakes head and smiles at his irrepressible friend."


In their place I should like to see the following:

The host cannot be Lineker, he knows too much. I'd have Holly Willoughby. On the programme I mean. And Craig Revel-Horwood for balance.

My pundits would all be genuine and unreasonable. Joining Keano I'd have Geoff Boycott, Nick Faldo and a parrot that has learnt all it has to say from the football pundit handbook 2013 (or, if you will, Michael Owen).

Expert analysis a la G-Nev I would put in the hands of Dermot O'Leary lookalike, Tomasz Schaeffernacker. Foreign nationals, you may not know this fella but he's a BBC weatherman with all the swagger and pizzazz of a very cool cocktail waiter. Failing that I'd use Tracey Emin.

Viewers get to vote off a pundit each week, and they are replaced the following week by someone else effortlessly objectionable. Cowell? Mark Wahlberg? Neil Warnock?

You could press the red button and access such special extras as:
Thatch of the Day - one for the ladies in which Robbie Savage talks us through the best hair around; Snatch of the Day - not what you're thinking - but the most incompetent finish from a striker when one-on-one with the keeper (featuring the Frannie Jeffers Trophy);
Catch of the Day - a bit of a specialized one presented by Peter Shilton and mainly for old-school goalies who still reject the modern keeper's tendency to punch rather than claim....

Feel free to add to this list.

All I do know is that MotD is going to need a radical overhaul and I don't just mean Shearer's shirts or Lawro's appalling barnet. And at least this is a start. Cos let's face it, we don't have to pay shedloads to get this programme so it'd be nice to have it done well. Or better.

And good luck Mr Hansen. I can't help but like you a bit.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Love out the Window

I was away on a week's holiday last week. The missus got a bonus and rather than tuck it away for a rainy day she blew it on the rent of an Andalusian villa. With no telly. Or internet access. As often happens in such circumstances, you find that you can manage perfectly well without the news, or the latest in an lmost psychopathic addiction to dramas about murder, and as long as you know the words
 'paella' 'cerveza' and 'gracias' you're pretty much laughing.

Spain, mind you, is a pretty solemn place these days. 25% unemployment. Not a euro to rub together, Were it not for tourists like my missus, they'd have gone under long ago.

Still, that's not going to stop Real Madrid stumping up twice the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa for Gareth Bale. Some say if you coated Ronaldo in Dulux white emulsion with a hint of pink, put a monkey mask across his chops and divided his hair at a jaunty angle, you'd have Gareth Bale. (You wouldn't).

I've yet to go into the complex relationship between Real Madrid and the Spanish government but it seems safe to say that Real operate on a different level when it comes to the mundanities of paying tax and keeping solvent. No matter how broke they seem to be, the galacticos keep coming.

I mean if this was your work-shy neighbours and the expensive furniture kept being trotted through their front yard, you'd suspect that there might at least be a cocaine factory in the cellar. There appear to be no such investigations at the Bernabeu.

You might argue that Real have flogged Higuain and Ozil to fund this, but as long as players can cost Umpty Zillion quid, people like me are going to start wondering why we bother to follow the Beautiful Game.

The transfer window has become a preposterous game of player-hawking and whoring. Managers seem unable to keep their counsel under the sheer bulk of hack's inquiries and the final day resembles nothing less than the last days of Sodom. For those of us that support a scruffy little outfit and watch our team through groans and grimaces, the sight of Europe's mightiest passing around their produce like a bunch of toffs on a wine-tasting binge makes us howl with fury.

Chelsea's purchase of Willian was the most galling intervention by the richest - a simply opportunistic act to deprive others of something, like a vegetarian buying the last pork chop because he didn't like the bloke behind him in the queue. Mourinho can now field an entire front eight of attacking midfielders (as he pretty much tried to at Man U in that tedious draw last week). Moses was the only what to look elsewhere. I'm surprised Mata didn't beg to join him.

David Moyes, unversed in wheeler-dealership on such a lucrative scale, could only manage to drag the long-handled paintbrush Fellaini up the M62. His former employers resorted to familiar tactics and just borrowed a couple of players, including everyone's favourite midfield plodder, Gareth Barry - another of those blokes at a big club who looks along the bench in the home dug-out and thinks "What the fuck am I - a football player or a scatter cushion?"

Indeed the main business during these imposed periods of transfer activity seems to involve the Citeh and Chelski (The Croesus Two) lending their bench-warmers out for a jog on someone else's park.

They'll argue of course that some of these lads need a bit of playing time and it will help their careers. Like Wilshire at Bolton a while back. Except that loanees like McEachran, Lukaku or Carroll at Spurs (who's off to join that Den of Financial Discretion at Loftus Road) will find they're still right at the back of the queue when they get back.

The loan system is simply the refuge of a club with a horribly bloated squad on horribly bloated salaries.

Not very long ago - possibly slightly longer than the blink of an eye - people, myself always very much included, were railing at Arsene Wenger to acquire some bleeding gumption and purchase someone. The return of Mattheu Flamini wasn't quite what we had in mind. The doom-laden approach of the North London derby only seemed to make this major purchase more necessary than ever.

Spurs showed with all their brand new bits of human bling on show, looking for all the world like a dolly on her first night out after radical plastic surgery. All the new parts look like they work well enough, but when you put them all together... well it just a looked a little weird.

And, do you know what, I was very thankful to discover that old Arsene, moths still safely thriving in the lining of his wallet, managed to squeal a win out of that game without recourse to any 'marquee signing'. The moths are looking for new accommodation now of course. And Arsene has rather gone the Chelsea route of buying someone to play in a position that he has covered. There again, Ozil is a cut above.

And as the window closes, there's just one more thing that gets defenestrated, and that's my love of the game. Now, more than ever, it has become a serve-serving quagmire of wealth of ego. The Premier League, UEFA, FIFA, they simply sit atop these festering compost heap yelling 'Austerity My Fucking Arse'.

Maybe, if I supported a team that rewarded my support with the occasional tin-pot or day out, I might just think that this sloshing about of tidal-waves of lucre was justified. But I fear the heart of the game has been ripped out by the grasping hands of the plutocratic gods of our age. I preferred football when Glasgow Celtic won the European Cup with a bunch of lads all born within ten miles of Celtic Park.

Nowadays such localism and community loyalty is almost a joke. Before the decade's out it's not impossible that Real Madrid will be the first club to pay €500 million for a footballer - and such is their reach the lad will probably have learned his trade on the playing fields of Mars.

Still at least in Spain they still pick Spaniards to play in their league. As we do in England. We'll have anyone, so long as they're not English. Greg Dyke described the England team as a 'tanker that needed turning round'. It's a tanker. all right. It tanks and it tanks and it tanks.

The arrival of more qualifying fixtures approaches like the tapping stick of Blind Pugh in Treasure Island. Those Englishmen that do manage to pull on a first team shirt also manage to pull a muscle or a sicky and we're left with the prospect of a really shonky eleven scrambling for points against what we'll no doubt be reminded is 'a well-organised and technically good' Moldovan side.

Like the rest of football at the moment, I can't watch. But somehow I will.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

First Impressions

So what have we learned after 1 game of the Premier League 2013-14?

1. Roberto Mancini will not be missed.

If you believe all the reports, Mancini treated managed men in the same way that sheepdogs manage sheep; lots of barking, bullying and the occasional bite on the backside (metaphorically, rather than Luisologically, speaking). Pellegrini has made more sense in one press conference than Roberto did in three years. The signings, and therefore the signs, are good. If the Chilean can get Dzeko looking like a potent goal-threat rather than the lovelorn giraffe of last season then he really is a capable man.

2. Jose Mourinho never left.

Seriously, I swear John Terry had a bit of pace in them there legs. Gone was the dawdle of a three-legged crab. Frank Lampard looked thirteen, and is still taking penalties in the same way he did when Jose first arrived. His strike-rate from the spot can only be down to the denseness of the average frontline goalkeeper. He goes to the right more often than UKIP party spokesman's oratory. Most memorable of all, Chelsea played lovely stuff and settled for a 2-0 very early. And some numpty in the crowd held up a sign that read 'We Are The Happy One's' proving once and for all that a lot of Chelsea fans need to go back to school.

3. Moyes may not be moved

Good start for Moe, but the stats suggested that Swansea weren't that far behind. Van Persie is a law unto himself, and his fitness is vital. He's exactly the sort of thing Moyes lacked at Everton. Welbeck has already got his one for the season - we shouldn't start imagining that the second means he's gone all cold-eyed assassin, anymore than we should think that age has rendered Ian Holloway's post-match comments into something credible.

4. Wenger's Days Are Numbered

Well now it's easy to get carried away with one result but Arsenal were utter drivel against Aston Villa. I mean shite. 'Spend, Spend, Spend' is all very well but on who, exactly? No one of a game-changing disposition wants to get anywhere near the Emirates. The latest player to get you Gooners hot under the collar...? Yohan Cabaye, that's who. Talented French midfielder who did bog-all last year. Still at least Arsenal are a bit short in the pint-sized midfielder area. Ahem.

In truth this perpetual scramble for fourth place is sitting at its last chance saloon. There's something pathetic about Wenger's attempts to claim this as a triumph - akin to a toddler being pleased to have managed to put a spoonful of slops into its own mouth. Again.

The only thing that'll improve Arsenal this season is a lack of Gervinho. 4th place depends on how quickly AVB assimilates the BRC into his Tottenham team. That's the Bale Replacement Corps. Latest reports suggests Will.I.An is joining the crew. The signings look good, and Palace, for all the huff n puff, could and should have been shredded.

Liverpool, too, may have a say now that Suarez is happy to let his child wave at Scousers. I mean I would never inflict that on a child.

5. My bottom three prediction is spot-on

I simply don't see how any of the promoted sides has a prayer this year. Even a bit of first-game chutzpah did nowt for any of 'em. Any Palace victory will depend entirely on whether Phillips can get on the pitch. They should be sponsored by Seven Seas Fish Oils. Hull are an assembly of recognisable unfulfilled talents. Cardiff may do best, but that's cos the manager's got his head screwed on.

6. The Whingeing Manager is back already

Pardew continues to put his team's problems down to nasty people asking about his players. 'We were just about to play and Arsenal said they wanted our player and then we couldn't play nicely after that' was how he put it. Sometimes I wonder if there are any grown-ups left playing professional football.

Ian Holloway's grizzle about Chadli's 'foul' - and by God in my day that challenge is fairer than a Nazi Youth rally - and the handball not being a penalty... well, please you great Bristolian berk, can't you at least start the season on Planet Earth? There's a long season ahead not least for lonesome Dwight Gayle, who was ran his little socks off but resembled a dozy terrier that keeps heading off after an unthrown stick. Poor lamb.

Meanwhile the Ashes come to a close with Darren Lehmann urging his fellow Australians to make Stuart Broad cry when he comes visiting in November. This is cos the lanky England bowler and, on occasion, first-class tosser, failed to walk after edging to first slip at Trent Bridge.

Now Australians never walk unless they're called Gilchrist so really you're suggesting that Broad should walk cos his edge was bigger. This is ethically a tad murky. I mean how big must an edge be before you must walk, eh? Perhaps we'll have Hawkeye telling us the angle at which the ball came off the bat and deciding that one nick is more worthy of departure than another.

Broad'll get his fair share in Brisbane anyway. We don't need Lehmann spiting the pips out of the sourest grapes in order to make that happen. It's not like England fans consoled Warner for twatting our baby-faced opener, is it now?

In the meantime England prove that they still know how to take a foot off the throat of an Australian by kindly picking two newbies for the last test. No. No. No. Tremlett should be in. Stupid.

Oh and finally. Mo Farah. That sprint down the home straight of his. Like I've always said, narrow your eyes and you can see the pack of lions hunting him down. And never quite catching him. Has there been a better British runner? Well, no. He's just marvellous.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Robbo`s Predictive Text

-Well I've had a lovely summer bathing in the warm glow of on-tap micro-brewery ale, savouring the tissue-paper thin spine of the Australian batting line-up, and slowly recovering from a torn calf muscle. I've reached the stage now where I have to stop limping and start walking proper, like, until the bastard hurts, apparently.

I am allowed painkillers but not even ibuprofen suoer strength can dull the hurt till of the first game of Boro's campaign. More of the bleeding same! We are the Mumford and Sons of Championship football.

Any road, what do we reckon to this year's Premier League possibilities? Let me put aside visions of Jake Humphreys`smarmy choirboy call to arms (I look at him and know what BT stands for) and tell you what's going to happen this season.


The last seven seasons have resembled the slowest resignation speech in history. Arsene's been promised a big budget but I think like a pensioner who's won the lottery, he's forgotten how to spend his pennies and everything seems a lot more pricey than it was in the old days. If he can get Higuain, plus a someone like Fellaini, then maybe they'll improve. But don't die waiting, Gooners. 4th.

Aston Villa

It doesn't matter who they've brought in, the main thing is they've kept Benteke which is the first known example of a baby managing to hang on to its candy. It's possible that Lambert has finally got shot of the Villa's big club mental disorder. There is a core of young lads at the club that should ensure a steady progression. 11th.

Cardiff City

They weren't much cop at our gaff last year but Mackay has made some interesting additions, not least a tough-tackling Chilean midfielder who goes by the nickname of Pit Bull and looks for all the world as if he could've walked out of series 3 of Breaking Bad. Be nice if they had a pit-bullish grip on 17th, wouldn't it? 19th.


He is returned. He arrived by crossing the Bay of Biscay on foot. The fat Spanish Maitre D has gone off to pastures lucrative, and order is re-established. So far Jose has not exactly been pulling up stumps in search of new players. The bid for Rooney was merely a bit of new-boy needle for Moyes. But Chelsea were the best team in the league for big stretches of last season and I wouldn't bet against the pouting Portuguese nicking this year`s title. In fact Gawd help us I think they will win it.1st.

Crystal Palace

Olly's back in the big time. Expect more quirky analogies to him and his missus (e.g `every time we win I go home and make love to the wife and right now she thinks I`m celibate`) and a team that swirls energetically down the old Premier League plug hole. The manager has described it as being like starting a marathon and being 20 miles behind. 'Can we catch them up?' he asks. Not without a Ferrari and unlimited bus lane access, no. Dead last.


Who knows? Moyes left a club that has developed from dogged and difficult to really rather easy on the eye. No doubt Martinez will maintain that but so much depends on the back four looking after themselves. If Roberto ran a cattery you'd want someone else checking the cat-flaps every night. He won't be an overnight sensation. 8th.


Are they still in the PL? Really? Expect another season of national indifference you cottagers (and that's not a nickname that's likely to ingratiate yourselves with anyone Russian - if you believe Ms Isinbayeva. Incidentally Isinbayeva is Russian for 'fuckwit'.) Bent'll get em the odd goal. Taarabt will be entertaining, so erm, I dunno. 14th, somehow.

Hull City

The best conk in footy is back too. Steve Bruce must be a better manager than I take him for. At least when it comes to getting teams out of the championship. The Tigers spent the last few games of last season looking flea-bitten and declawed. Like their promoted colleagues I wouldn't give em a prayer. Huddlestone and Livermore have understandably fled a Spurs midfield more overcrowded than a bus out of Damascus, but when the question is 'where do we find a top goal scorer?` and your answer is Danny Graham, you know not to get too optimistic. 18th.


It's Bugsy or bust, innit? If Suarez stays then maybe there's hope of improvement - and by staying I mean staying on the pitch, the bitey little tosspot. Dead wood in the form of Downing and Carroll has been chopped away. More neat little Rodgersish players have come in. Slightly better this year if Luis doesnt bare his teeth. 5th.

Manchester City

It`s simply a case of getting a load of talented millionaires with egos are the size of national museums to play as a team. I know nowt about Pellegrini but im already not missing Mancini saying `in this moment` every other sentence. Fernandinho should be interesting watch - and I hear his son Ferdinandinhoinho is pretty good too. Still got the spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya and Aguero. Even with e his sy fits they'll be fine. 2nd.

Manchester United

 Well look they weren't the best team last season but they had the Mighty Wind from the Fergie hairdryer to power them along. I can't see Moyes stepping into those red wine stained loafers without the odd wobble. Take away RVP and I wonder what there is to worry about. One season to bed in, I reckon. 3rd.

Newcastle United

The Franco-Cockney takeover is almost complete. The former bar Shearer`s now sells an exclusive menu of jellied eels and escargots. `Les stottie cakes sont merde` said one player. What to expect from those Wonga-sponsored wannabes is anyone's guess. 7th. Or 20th. Let's say 13th.

Norwich City

Much will depend on Hooper and the wonderfully named Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Rip Van Wolf's brother). Norwich flopped off the end of last season like a drunk falling off a bar stool. Worthy, hardworking. oh so easy to patronize, they will be first one out if one of the promoted trio saves themselves. 17th.


You can't bet against Ricky Lambert, can you? What a wonderful start to an international career. There's one one-cap wonder we won't forget in a hurry. As for the Saints, well they'll be a bit better, but finish lower. 15th.

Stoke City

Someone said to me that Mark Hughes `can't become a bad manager overnight`. I told him he hasn't - it's taken him ten years to be this shit. That may be harsh but he was at least very responsible for the utter farce at QPR last year. He suggests a change of culture at Stoke but I don't see Pulis`s legacy being wholly overturned. More mid table mediocrity off the back of set pieces and cloggery. 12th.


That classy fascist with the penchant for dirtying posh suits will be entertaining us from the touchline again. It'll be a better watch than his team no doubt. He's brought in shed loads of foreigners and whether they'll all gel is anyone's guess. I'm guessing not. 16th.

Swansea City

 Hands up if you don't like Michael Laudrup. Thought so. I was hatching a plan to kidnap him and swap him with Mowbray. But that would've involved going to Swansea. The Swans will do just fine again so long as European competition doesn't deplete them. 9th.

Tottenham Hotspur

 The Portuguese Stick Man had a good first season but couldn't get em into 4th as Spurs suffered their predictable end of season lull. Without Bale though, as I've said before, they're Fulham. But given they've signed some tiptop players, I can see them improving enough to get even closer to Champions League football next season. What's that? Bale`s off is he? 6th, then.

West Bromwich Albion

 Lukaku will be a big miss. Anelka will score of course but he's a bit of a Worzel Gummidge so it'll depend on which head he has on. You can't see em doing better than last season's over achievements but 10th would be excellent.

West Ham United

Say what you like about Allardyce (`dull, fat chewer` for example) but the man knows how to make the best of what he's got. There's no danger if his tune changing after completing the signing of Carroll but the big Geordie lunk is due a big season and he'll be spoonfed a rich diet of pumps into the box this year.7th. (Prediction made on the basis that I didn't have anyone else down for 7th.)

So joy for Jose, misery for Malky and a big fat no change there then for Arsene. It's going to be interesting.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

It may never get better than this

I don't watch golf as a rule. I've tried playing it and have come to the conclusion that they should make the balls and the bats a lot bigger. There's a stereotype of golf in this country isn't there? - that it's populated by V-necked-sweatered numpties who talk lovingly of Top Gear and tonic water and don't have much time for 'the ladies'? Fortunately the R&A like to host their only major golf tournament at such places. Jeez, even the down home backwoodsmen of Augusta have let a woman join the club.

There's another cliché that all American golfers bash the Bible and blame the weather when they can't plot their way around a links golf course. Phil Mickelson was one such, a man with a talent as ludicrous as his mulletish mane of hair, but who couldn't fathom why these Scotch sandbanks didn't play like the unfeasibly green technicolor pastures of your average American course.

Well yesterday he proved himself and seemed genuinely moved that he had. Lee Westwood meanwhile professed himself not too bothered with the result as he hustled himself into his bridesmaid's costume for the umpteenth time. They always said he couldn't putt. This week he couldn't do the stuff he can do. Poor old Lee. Will waddling Westwood ever get his gong?

The last day of the Open is always a great watch and this one oscillated wildly in the best traditions. Adam Scott, his putter looking for all the world like a branding iron, took the lead only to leak shots immediately. Woods is almost back to his best but the old strut has been replaced by a warier tread these days.

As usual Peter Alliss saw fit to remark that the others were making it easier for big Lefty at the end, forgetting, as that not-all-that-successful-former-golf-professional always does, that when a bloke blazes down the stretch and you have to fight to keep up it can lead to mistakes. He's a harrumphing old scrote that man. I don't care if he has got a nice voice.

But the not-quite success of a couple of Englishmen shouldn't undermine the rude health British sport finds itself in. There may come a time when my ancestors sit round my deathbed and all I bother telling them about is Swanny and Anderson, Wiggo and Froome, Jess n Mo n Greg Thingammy.

The Ashes have turned, well, to ashes already. To call Australia a shambles would be to denigrate a perfectly decent little thoroughfare in the fine city of York. Eleven twerps in saggy greens, they are. Barring a couple of extraordinary partnerships they have wielded their willows like inebriated conductors. The bowlers don't seem too bad - as batsmen.

But when Jimmy's not undoing them with brilliance, Swann's tweaking them out with jack-knifing turners or they're undoing themselves by referring every decision to the third umpire. Or as Shane Watson would put it, a 'doggy's chance'.

But it's not like England are up to much at the mo. Were it not for Bell's batting we might not be gloating quite so whole-heartedly. There are those who lament the Australians' utter ineptitude. They're saying that we should make allowances -  give em three innings, one bounce, one hand, play with a tennis ball, etc. Well I'm not one of 'em. 5-0 would be wonderful, ta. Bloody wonderful.

As for Chris Froome, well he's about as English as an English middle-order batsman, which is English enough for me. He doesn't strike me as the most charismatic man in the world. In fact I've seen fallen twigs with more personality. But it's not charisma that tears you up an Alpine 1 in 4 after you've been cycling for a fortnight already. It's sheer force of will, enormous talent, and, in the olden days, a secret pharmaceutical prescription.

I don't doubt that Froome is clean. Cyclists like him seem desperate to shake off the inheritance handed to them by the megalomaniac Armstrong. And who can blame him? Cycling history is pock-marked with horrendous levels of drug-taking. The death of Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux, brandied and amphetamined up to the handlebars, is possibly cycling's lowest (and yet almost highest) point, and it seems appropriate that Froome pedalled past his monument on the way to victory in the Tour this year.

I have at times wished for the whole of sport to be a drug-test-free zone. There would be a wondrous freakish side-show to be had if a 100 metres final line-up featured characters who wouldn't look out of place in an Avengers Assemble sequel. I can see decathlon favourite Dr David Banner being riled by his coach as I speak.

Professional football seems to be pretty much drug test free anyway at present, although I wouldn't mind if a couple of England boys were found to be over-stimulating themselves for a big summer tournament - it would be the first time any one of them has shown any initiative since 1990. Indeed the girls weren't much better - a horribly convincing imitation of the men as they laboured against a French team that were devilishly good.

But let's not think of footy - it'll only bring us all down when quite frankly there are heroes to herald.

2013. It may never get better than this.