Monday, 23 June 2008

Black By Popular Demand

So Paul Ince has been given the Blackburn job, eh? This is fantastic news. I’m not going to go off a fist-raising, militant, pro-black diatribe but I have to say, it’s certainly refreshing to see a big job in English football going to a ‘Brotha’.

While there are campaigns like Kick It Out to help combat things like racist chanting in the stands, we need to ask what of the problem of perceived Institutional racism at boardroom level. Linford Christie’s recent rant highlighted the problem in Athletics and while it was slightly cringeworthy, he also made a good point about recognition of achievement. While no-one can doubt the impact of Black players in this country, both home grown and from abroad, question marks have been raised over whether these players could transfer their skills into management. Of course, the first example most think of is John Barnes abortion when in charge at Celtic but this cannot be the benchmark for all future appointments of Black managers...

Ruud Gullit could be credited for helping transform Chelsea as his high profile contacts allowed the likes of Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo to all turn out for the blues. Gullit also won the FA Cup in 1997 – Chelsea’s first trophy for many a year. However, the big Dutchman will unfortunately be best remembered for his infamous fall out with Newcastle golden boy Alan Shearer when managing on Tyneside. Jean Tigana helped Fulham win promotion from the then first division to the premier league but is mostly remembered for signing wasters like Steve Marlet for obscene money.

Both managers had their initial successes overshadowed by other factors which helped purport the unfair assumption that black managers just can’t cut it at the top level. No black ENGLISH manager had even been linked to a premier league job until Ince’s appointment yesterday.

Meanwhile, over the years we have seen players such as Chris Coleman, Gareth Southgate and Ince’s predecessor Mark Hughes all get first jobs in the top flight without the necessary experience or qualifications. Ince himself lacks the UEFA Pro badge usually required but he isn’t the only one. At least the man known as ‘The Guv’nor’ cut his teeth managing in the lower leagues. Some successful stints at Macclesfield and more recently The MK Dons have earned the former Man Utd man enough of a reputation to make his Blackburn appointment no major surprise.

Whether he is a success or not in Lancashire remains to be seen. One thing is for sure however is that the colour of his skin shouldn’t have a bearing on it. Ethnicity doesn’t have an impact on managerial ability. Gullit’s solitary FA Cup is still one more than the much lauded Kevin Keegan has won in his long managerial career.

If Ince is a success, hopefully it will help reduce to scepticism and doubt over whether Black men can be as successful on the touchline as they have been on the pitch.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Eur So Predictable

These days, I have a love-hate relationship with international football. While I appreciate that a tournament like Euro 2008 is a great place for some of the world's best to really show what they're made of, I despair at the fact that the onus in these competitions has recently been more about trying to avoid defeat rather than trying to win.

So far, with almost all the first set of fixtures complete, we've had very little to get excited about. In all cases the underdog has succumbed to the favourite due in part to a general lack of adventure. With the exception of tonight's Holland-Italy match, is anyone really surprised about how the results have gone thus far?

International tournament football is famed for it's tendency to throw up something unexpected and while I understand the competition has only just begun, I cant see any major upsets taking place on route to the final in Vienna at the end of the month.

Even without upsets, the Euros look like they are set to follow a similar pattern to the last World Cup which didn't have a single 'classic' or epic encounter that will live long in the memory. The two best matches were Mexico-Argentina and Italy-Germany. The rest were were either a chess match between evenly matched sides separated by the odd goal or a heavily one-sided affair in which the favourite would triumph with little trouble.

In fact, it seems that in terms of great games in these competition, the standard was set during the 90s and peaked around France 98/Euro 2000. Both of which produced some truly memorable matches. Who could forget 98's two classic semis or England/Argentina or Argentina/Holland or Spain/Nigeria in the group stages? How about England self destructing against Portugal and then Romania in 2000? France v Portugal? The French comeback against Italy to ultimately seal the competition? Spain v Yugoslavia???

International football, at tournament level, fails to provide such drama in this day and age. As good a story as it was when Greece overcame the odds in 2004 to win in Portugal, it merely set the tone for a new attitude at this level. It is the reason why Turkey didn't dare try and take on Portugal, why Poland were outplayed by the Germans and why Romania were making substitutions to run down the clock in the 92nd minute despite having a free-kick in a promising position against France earlier.

The supposed underdog would rather approach a game taking minimal risks rather than being bold and adventurous. Ultimately, the better organised sides as opposed to those with a greater talent pool will tend to prevail. Although this time around, it seems as though the most talented have learnt from Greece and are now also the most organised. These sides have begun to abandon their attack-minded principles in favour of a more conservative approach; leaving the so-called lesser sides little chance of making in-roads in the competition.

Negativity is counter-acted by caution and while tactically, it's all very impressive, it fails to provide the kind of entertainment we all want.

Hopefully, my pessimistic outlook is proven wrong as teams begin to go out and play the rest of the tournament with the kind of reckless abandon that will keep us all glued to our seats. A Russia v Poland final that ends 4-3? I wouldn't complain.

Saturday, 31 May 2008


Apologies for the recent lack of activity on this here blog but I have been busy. Recently there has been a lot of talk in football about the percieved lack of discipline shown by players towards officials.

The men in black have always been in the firing line because, lets face it, there always be someone left unhappy with their performance after any given game.

With so much money in the game and the win at all costs attitude of the sport, is it any wonder players and managers will try and get into the referees head as they try to find any advantage whatsoever.

But how far is too far? Over the last few weeks I have been investigating whether referees in football get enough respect.


Wednesday, 21 May 2008


Champions League pre-match news.

Last night, it looked as though Ashley Cole might miss the game because of this...

Now, far be it from me to wallow in the misery of others but if he is deemed unfit to play then you have to say that Karma works in wonderous ways.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Every so often a football match comes around which can either make or break a player. A chance to filter the men from the boys. A time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Last night provided one such occasion...

A week ago saw my Monday evening Power League 5 aside team, HEARTLESS CREW FC spectacularly end our winning run and with it the chance to complete a 'PERFECT' Season. Going into the game we proudly boasted the quite remarkable record of 11 wins, No draws and no defeats with just 3 games left to play. The Championship and promotion were in the bag and all we had left was the amazing record to chance. We were up against second placed OUT OF BREATH who we had already trounced 17-11 in the reverse fixture. Unfortunately, history was not repeat itself as we, the five heroic warriors (with no subs might I add) bravely battled but unfortunately succumbed to a late onslaught from the opposition; conceding 3 goals in the last 2 minutes to lose 12-10.

Needless to say, we were devastated. The 134 Bus journey was a sombre one that night. Barely a word was exchanged as we lamented our loss.

All week the defeat played on my mind. Losing is not something I've ever learnt to do well. All the ifs, buts, ands or maybes were going through my mind as I would try and complete the most simple of tasks. All I could think about was the '0' from our losses column in the league table was gone forever.

I was distracted from my life. Defeat had been agonizing. It was almost getting too much to bear...

Then it dawned on me. It was gone. It was in the past. What was important now was not to lose again! The real test of a man is not about whether you lose, it's about how you react to that loss. It was time let go of the past, strap up my shinpad and get back out on the pitch!

I had some football to play....

We were back in Barnet. A week on from the scene of our crushing defeat. On this night, we would be facing THE UNTOUCHABLES. Let the battle commence...

The opposition barely proved a challenge and were dispatched with ease. We ran out 22-9 winners with yours truly grabbing a hat-trick which included a cheeky back-heel which outwitted the goalkeeper with Sun Tzu-like execution! The Heartless Crew were back!

Once again, we went into battle light in numbers. The team was ravaged by injuries and for the second week running, the five warriors to the pitch to face laden with substitutes to chop and change their side with. But like true soldiers, we overcame this handicap to reign supreme.

What this week showed was our mental strength; our ability to bounce back and triumph in the face of adversity.


Joey Barton could do with taking a leaf out of our book.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Rise and Fall of Parma FC

Channel 4’s Italian football coverage during the mid nineties was a phenomenon. The Premiership Genration’s alternative on a Sunday afternoon (or for those without Sky) was to tune in to James Richardson coming live from Venice, Milan, Rome or Turin as he introduced the weekend’s big game.

On Saturday mornings Richardson would present Gazzetta, Football Italia’s MOTD equivalent. Once again in some glamorous location, JR would be sat at some swanky cafe with a sexy looking ice cream or cappuccino that you bet your life doesn’t taste like the crap at Starbucks while the beautiful people of Italy did their thing in the background.

Fundamentally, the setting served as an allegory for the sport. While in England football was all about the blood and guts, hell for leather, all heart and no skills and various other clichés, our Italian cousins were all about the flair and skill which we could only look upon in awe.

Serie A was Europe’s top league at the end of the last century. Italian teams had all the money, the world’s best players and were contesting (read: winning) European finals on a regular basis.

In recent years all this has changed thanks to a) the explosion of the premier league over here and b) Italy’s massive corruption scandals.

In any event, back then, Lazio vs. AC Milan was a far more enticing prospect than Oldham vs. Wimbledon.

The influence of Calcio wasn't just about screaming GOLAZZO at the top of your lungs after lashing one into the top corner at lucnhtime when forced to play footy with a tennis ball. Alongside our favoured English side, every kid had an Italian side they would ‘support’ for the sake of variation. My team was not the dominant Juventus, the incredible Milan, or even Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s Lazio.

No, as a typical sucker for the underdog, my team was Parma.

Based in the Emilia-Romagna region in the north of Italy, the name is more often associated with the ham than the football club.

Parma FC doesn’t have much of a history and are not as famous as their more illustrious Serie A rivals. In fact, ‘AC’ Parma was only promoted to Italy’s top division for the first time in 1990 thanks mostly to Lire upon Lire of investment from parent company and dairy giant Parmalat.

My love affair began when the club won the now defunct European cup winners cup at Wembley stadium in 1993 – beating Belgian side Antwerp 3-1. They also beat AC Milan in the European Super Cup but were unable to successfully defend the ECWC when they lost the 1994 final 1-0 against Arsenal in Copenhagen.

Parma’s reputation had already been established with the likes of Faustino Asprilla, Gianfranco Zola and Thomas Brolin (when he wasn’t so fat) under the guidance of Nevio Scala, the club went on to win the UEFA Cup in 1995 beating Juventus 2-1 on aggregate. They also reached the Copa Italia final that year but Juve were to have their revenge winning 3-0 over two legs.

When Carlo Ancelotti replaced Scala in 1996, Parma came within a whisker of the 1997 Serie A title – ultimately losing out by just a couple of points.

More Italian Cup and UEFA cup success over the next few years were to follow but it wasn’t just trophies that cemented Parma’s reputation as one of Italy’s top clubs. The players that have been in and out of the revolving door that is the Ennio Tardini reads like a who’s who of footballing greats of the last decade. Aside from the aforementioned Zola et al, Hristo Stoichcov, Fabio Cannavro, Ariel Ortega, Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo, Lillian Thuram, Adriano, Roberto Mussi, Hakan Suker, Adrian Mutu and the World’s most expensive goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon have all donned the Traditional white (or blue and yellow hooped) shirt.

Parma always found it hard to hold on to these stars and without the prestige and history of the likes of Inter or Fiorentina; players rarely showed any sort of loyalty and would often get itchy feet; using the club as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Parma was nothing more than the world’s most glamorous selling club.

Then came the Parmalat fraud scandal of 2003. The dairy company’s outrageous financial mismanagement and insolvency meant that, as an asset of company, AC Parma was screwed financially.

As the club fought for its very existence, big names and big contracts were scarce in Parma. In much the same way players had no loyalty to the club, there were no rich benefactors willing to bail them out. Parma was a small club punching above its weight. When Fiorentina suffered similar collapse some years back, they bounced back almost instantly and after today, will compete in next season’s Champion’s League competition. Unlike Parma, the Florence side had the stature, support and backing to make sure they wouldn’t stay down for long.

The last few years have seen some stability return at board level but not enough of a backing to see the club hit the heights of the last decade. The team has been battling against the dreaded drop for the past few years and today, finally, their fate was sealed following a 2-0 home defeat to Inter Milan which also handed the Nerazzurri the title.

A sad occasion for everyone who remembers the glory days.

Like WCW, The Spice Girls, The Super NES and other things popular in the 1990s, Parma’s 15 minutes are up. Serie B football is on the agenda for the foreseeable future and only time will tell if we will ever see Gialloblu rubbing shoulders with Italy’s big boys again.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Fleet Like A Butterfly...

In continuing the theme that football exists outside the premier league/champions league, I feel it necessary to congratulate Ebbsfleet United on winning the FA trophy this weekend after beating Torquay United 1-0.

Following the club’s name change from Gravesend & Northfleet, the Blue Square side were not expected to make much of an impact on proceedings in the league. Pottering on nicely with no-one outside their patch really giving a monkey’s about them.

However, Ebbsfleet hit the headlines last autumn when it was announced that they would be taken over/owned by a fan-run website whose members would be voting on key decisions concerning the club (Including, somewhat controversially, the possibility of picking the team ahead of First team coach Liam Daish - a idea still up in the air).

The game itself was a fairly unspectacular affair with Chris McPhee grabbing the only goal just before half time having seen his penalty saved earlier in the match.

Victory for The Fleet took place in front of over 40,000 fans and in the eyes of many, is a fairytale-like ending to a truly remarkable season for the Kent based club.

Considering the takeover and the circumstances surrounding it, some would say a real blow has been struck for fan power in an increasingly commercially dominated game.

Cynics questioned whether this would prove to be a good idea in the long term but you try telling that to the fans who were at Wembley on Saturday!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Ibyss Vodcast 03/05/2008

In today's vodcast, I discuss the topsy-turvy world of Championship football as it enters it's final round of fixtures for this season.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Full English? Not For Me, Thanks.

I’m sorry but I’m thoroughly underwhelmed by this prospect of an all-English Champions league final. We are being told that this is somehow the greatest thing since sliced bread. I for one am not as thrilled as I supposedly should be and I’m not the only one.

Amongst the entire furore, it’s not lost on me, and I’m sure others will agree, that the two ‘English’ sides competing are the two most disliked football teams in the country. Outside of Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, would anyone really be happy to see either of these sides lift the coveted trophy?

It’s no secret to anyone who follows the beautiful game that CSKA Fulham would be nowhere without their sugar daddy and to seethe fruit of his labours triumph in his native Russia in a few weeks will produce the kind of irony likely to induce vomiting amongst the watching world.

In all fairness, CSKA – normally the Lords of anti-football – did produce somewhat of a classic against Liverpool during extra time to go through last night. However, let’s not let the final result mask the fact that over 90 minutes, it was the fourth draw between the two sides in 5 games this season.

A victory for The Salford Bay Rowdies on the other hand will spawn no end of sycophantic praise for the team and manager alike. While there is no doubting that Taggart is great manager and has a CV overloaded with success and his team play some sublime football at times – both legs of the semi final being the noteworthy exception – they are a deplorable, arrogant bunch who believe not only that they have a God-given right to success but also consider themselves above the law. See ‘Sir’s’ incomprehensible rantings last Saturday as a case in point.

No-one want to see a team like that succeed.

A moment of magic from Paul Scholes took them through but that aside, the Rowdies were comprehensively outplayed by a visibly unconfident Barcelona side who still managed to outplay their conquerors over both games.

But we are told that because the two teams are from England we should be happy. How can we be happy when we know there is no possibility that they can’t both lose?
Supporting an English club in Europe in a concept lost on me. It seems like something of a bygone era when there were very few clubs in European competition. Back then, it was something important to back a team who really represented the nation against Europe’s finest. The rare triumphs during the nineties were something most of the nation could get behind.

Nowadays the money-machine that is the Champion’s League is more like a watered down version of the old European Cup. Back then, it was a true test of how the best in Europe faired against one another. In the modern era you can finish as low as 4th and have a chance to win the big cup.

How can you support the team representing England when four different teams are doing their best to outdo each other?

Is it really a victory for English football if CSKA or the Rowdies win the trophy by beating one another? Also, explain to me how that is a triumph over Europe? Had Liverpool made the final, they would have done so having not faced a ‘European’ side since the first knock-out stage.

Me? Unpatriotic? Please!

In the final we have one side that are owned by Americans, managed by a Scot, whose best player is Portuguese taking on a Russian owned, Israeli managed team whose top player is from the Ivory Coast. Might I also add their kit is made by a German firm and their sponsor is from Japan! Hardly striking a blow for English football.

Once again, I’m sure I am not alone. Fans of the other 90-odd clubs in the English league surely don’t give a monkey’s about two of ‘our own’ in the final. How does that benefit anyone aside from the two sides involved? They’re the only ones who reap any sort of financial benefit and the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider. This final does nothing for the likes Doncaster Rovers, Ipswich Town, Rochdale or Hull City.

Finally, the amount of trouble in Moscow on that fateful May evening doesn’t even bare thinking about. The CSKA mob’s reputation has been well-documented for years and the Rowdies fans are hardly angels themselves. Add that to the expected heavy-handed treatment from the Russian police and undoubted ticketless fans who will try and get into the Luzhniki stadium and you have a recipe for disaster.

Ironically enough, this so-called great occasion for English football could very well see the kind of crowd trouble we all fear and ultimately may lead to UEFA imposing some kind of sanctions against English clubs. They can’t be too pleased about our clubs monopolising their competitions and will find any excuse to prevent it from continuing.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Shire-ly Not?!

Big hats off to East Stirlingshire FC today. A massive 3-1 last day victory against Montrose meant that The Shire finished 9th in the Scottish third division.

To the untrained eye, this is a rather unremarkable feat (or probably not even worthy of being described as a 'feat' at all) but make no mistake, they'll be partying on the streets of Falkirk tonight... maybe.

For those of you who don't know, East Stirling have finished bottom of the Scots third for the last five years. No relegation from the Scottish league means that every season they remain in the division as the proverbial whipping boys. In 2004, the club actually finished the campaign with a pitiful 8 points!

The club subsequently earnt the rather unflattering label of Britain's Worst Football Team.

The Shire have gained cult status internationally and even had a book published about their exploits.

For the gambling man, it's almost suicide not to back the home team when East Stirling are away on the saturday accumilator.

However, despite no relegation, The Shire were under threat. The constant last place finishes had the authorities questioning the worth of the Falkirk based side. Had they finished bottom again this year, the league would have reduced the club's status from 'full' member to that of 'associate' member meaning that a vote would eventually be taken to determine whether they could continue to play in the league.

Naturally, The Shire struggled this season and the dreaded scenario looked odds on going into the final game of the season today when play-off bound Montrose came to Firs Park. Forfar Athletic, the only team they could overhall faced fellow strugglers Dumbarton but could only draw as The Shire came from behind to take the three points and avoid the indignity of being Scotland's worst yet again.

Thank fuck for Forfar (try saying that fast!).

Sir Alex Ferguson was none too pleased about the events at Stamford Bridge earlier but I'm sure he would have raised a smile upon finding out the fantastic news about the club who gave him his first job as a manager.

...or not.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Friday Bits and Bobs

To be Frank...

My condolences to the Lampard family after this week's tragic news.

However, at the risk of sounding callous, why has this story dragged on over the last couple of days? Yes, it's a tragedy but why was it front page news and why am I still hearing about it on rolling SPORTS news channels?

Footballers (like all human beings) suffer berievements all the time but why has coverage of poor Pat Lampard been in the spotlight so much?

Methinks the PR machine is trying to drum up sympathy for one of the country's most disliked players.

Bad taste? Well, that's CSKA Fulham for you!

I Miss You Thierry-bly

So the grass isn't necessarily greener?

I'm not going to subcribe to the newfound assertion that the man that made the Premier League his own for so many years is now crap!

However, it's no secret that Monsieur Henry's Catalan dream is turning into something of a nightmare.

Not once has he talked about how good life is in the sun and he cant stop talking about the club he left behind.

Wenger, ever the diplomat, refused to shut the door on a return for the former Arsenal talisman.

Shame that in reality he rarely signs anyone over the age of 20


Sad news today could see Rotherham go out of business.

The club has gone into administration twice in the last two seasons and have struggled to find a buyer.

When top flight clubs are whinging about their managers not buying so and so or which billionaire owner they would prefer, it takes a story like this to put that all in perspective.

Wes Brown was given a £50,000 a week contract last week (for what?). The Millers' are overdrawn by just(in football terms) a couple of million quid.

Football needs to take a good long hard look at itself when professional clubs are on the brink of extinction.

The Big One

CSKA Fulham host the Salford Bay Rowdies in a 'Showdown' for the premier league title tomorrow.

We're in for a cracker! What with CSKA's unrivalled ability to send the opposition to sleep at The Bridge and The Rowdies prioritising Tuesday's second leg against Barca, it should be one for the ages.

The current CSKA team would be the worst champions this country has seen. Even their own fans will tell you that (if you can find them. None will be at the game). In a bittersweet sort of way, winning the title would actually be quite amusing. The experts have had a field day telling us that expansive, exciting football is the holy grail. If CSKA bore their way over the finish line, Sky TV might actually implode on itself.

Ronaldo has been brilliant this season. A bag full of tricks, incredible pace and an eye for goal have made him seemingly untouchable. And just when you thoughts there was no end to how amazing he is, the boy added a touch of the supernatural to his game as he actually DISAPPEARED at the Nou Camp on wednesday. The boy's a genius. Expect him to pull the same trick in another big game tomorrow...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Something Is Seriously Wrong

*Blows off cobwebs*

This was recently doing the email rounds.

John Arne Riise's alleged payslip.

If this is indeed real, something is fundamentally wrong in the world if someone being paid THAT MUCH to play football cant kick with his right foot!

...You really do have to wonder sometimes.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Alternative Things I learnt.... sorry, already knew but was just confirmed for me Gland Slam Special.

1. Liverpool and to a lesser extent Arsenal have some way to go if they are to seriously challenge the big two.
- Two contrasting problems: For all Pool’s personnel, they lack the talent and for all L’Arse’s talent, they lack the squad. Merger anyone?

2. Footballers generally are quite thick.

- Thank you Mr. Mascherano for turning what was a difficult task for your team into an impossible one. After all that’s been in the news this week, are you really that stupid???

3. Ronaldo doesn’t have to play well to make an impact
- Goal 34 for the season in a game in which he was outshone by Carrick!

4. Gerrard does

- No goals but outshone by Carrick!

5. Liverpool keepers must have “errors against Man Utd” written into their contracts...
- Dudek’s Jersey (see what I did there?) handed over to (and presumably dropped by) Reina

6. Mediocre Rowdies players must have “goals against Liverpool” written into theirs
- Silvestre, O’Shea and now Brown

7. Liverpool would never lose to United if there was no such thing as the corner kick, set-piece or crossing in general

8. Arsenal play pretty, free-flowing, attractive football which is not effective enough...

9. CSKA Fulham play dull, uninspiring, direct, long ball football which is!

10. Arsenal will never be able to defend against Drogba... ever!
- Can’t even blame Senderos this time around...

11. L’Arse are also one dimensional bottlers who will also never be able to shut up shop at 1-0 so should never have even tried

12. CSKA Fans are the most fickle, uneducated morons in the world and don’t deserve the success, team or manager they’ve got.
- I’m glad Sky mockingly highlighted this. These so-called fair-weather fans were telling a manager who has taken the club to the quarter finals of the champions league and still in with a shout of the title (in his first season might I add) that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. All this while in the middle of making what proved to be a match-winning tactical change. 10 minutes later these same morons are cheering like they’ve won the world cup! I’m sure 9/10 of this spoilt lot couldn’t even tell you what life was like under the late Ian Porterfield. Of course, they didn’t even watch football back then...

13. Most officials are inept

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Sweet FA

March 8th 2008 was a great day for Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude, quite simply, is a German expression meaning ‘taking pleasure from the misfortune of others’. In football, Schadenfreude takes place on an almost daily basis. How many times have you been at a match and been delighted to hear that your arch rivals have lost, even if it has no barring on the fortunes of your own side?
Yesterday’s FA Cup results are a fine example of this. Up and down the country, fans were united in their unconfined joy to see the Salford Bay Rowdies and CSKA Fulham surprisingly both crash out against unfancied opposition, thus sparing us another snorefest that was last year’s final between the two sides.

At Old Trafford, The Rowdies dominated an extraordinary match against ‘arry’s Pompey side but profligacy, heroic defending and dodgy refereeing saw them lose out to a late Sulley Muntari penalty after Milan Baros was felled my Tomasz Kuszczak.

Over the past few weeks, L’Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been labelled a whinger, moaner etc in the aftermath of the infamous Taylor-Eduardo incident. Many ignored the fact that Wenger retracted his outburst and chose to crucify him as if he is the cause for all the wrongs in the world. Meanwhile Martin Taylor was lauded as some kind of Martyr. The whole disgusting episode just reinforced the idea that fans, media and pundits alike choose to prioritise petty footballing rivalries over common sense and the fact a professional footballer was nearly crippled.

My point? Simply that I await the fall-out of Sir Taggart’s and Golum’s (Quiroz) rantings about the referee Martin Atkinson and the borderline slanderous remarks and Keith Hackett. Will they be slated in the same way Wenger was? Unlikely.

Sir Taggart’s main area of contention was the fact his side weren’t awarded a penalty during the early exchanges. While it probably was a bad decision, does anyone really believe that it changed the game? The Rowdies had many chances to win the game and didn’t take them. To single out that one incident is ridiculously short-sighted. As for the complaints about bad tackles, I love the way Wayne Rooney’s horrible lunge on Niko Kranjcar was conveniently ignored by The Rowdies and the press alike.

But that’s not to take away from the brilliant Pompey defending. Sol Campbell has had an interesting relationship with The Rowdies in his career. He once scored a brace in a 2-2 draw for Spurs and won the title at Old Trafford in his first season at L’Arse. However, he has also received two seperate FA bans for incidents in matches against The Reds (the first of which costing him an FA Cup final appearance) and was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Wayne Rooney in the infamous match that ended The Gunners’ record unbeaten run.

Today, the England man can smile after exacting a measure of revenge by putting in arguably his best performance since joining Portsmouth two summer’s ago.

Meanwhile, in sunny Yorkshire, the football story of the season was about to unfold as Championship strugglers Barnsley were preparing to take on CSKA Fulham.

Having beaten Liverpool at Anfield in the last round, I very much doubt that anyone thought Lightning would strike twice. Unfortunately for CSKA, The Tykes were very much of the opinion that it does!

CSKA couldn’t get into their stride on a poor pitch and Barnsley probably had the better chances in the first half. Unfortunately, their finishing was very much of Championship standard.

The hapless Kayode Odejayi was booed by his own fans last week after just 2 goals in some 30-odd appearances since joining The Tykes last summer.
Of course he was going to score the winner.

Cue some real backs to the wall defending in closing minutes and a pitch invasion by some very happy Yorkshiremen at the final whistle.

While it was undoubtedly Barnsley’s day, CSKA need to take a good long hard look at themselves. For the second time in a matter of weeks, they’ve failed to show up in an important cup game and all the recent talk of Quadruples has fallen shorter than even their diminutive manager.

Avram Grant has lost games against The Rowdies, L’Arse, and the two recent cup games. While he has gone about his business in the league and Champions League fairly unnoticed, his ability to handle pressure in the ‘Big Games’ is questionable. He’s failed all the big tests he’s had to face so far and while I feel the criticism he gets from spoilt CSKA fans to be somewhat unfair, he’s certainly does not look up to the task of fulfilling Peter Kenyon’s world domination dream.

The Barnsley win was particularly satisfying coming off the back of John Terry’s boastful assertion earlier in the week that CSKA can ‘play anyone off the park’.

So after years of putting up with The Rowdies and more recently, CSKA dominating English football and churning out matches like last year’s cup final, it will be a breath of fresh air on Saturday May 17th to see a couple of new faces battling for the famous old trophy.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Carling Cup Final Review

On cup final day, the result is more important than the performance. Tottenham Hotspur provided both as they deservedly won their first trophy this century after outplaying CSKA Fulham at Wembley today.

While the game wasn’t the most exciting as a spectacle (when are cup finals ever?), a heroic Spurs fightback saw them peg back the holders after going 1-0 down to a Didier Drogba free-kick in the first half.

CSKA have not had their full compliment of players for some time. Today saw the return of ‘Fwank’ Lampard (Lumpo’lard?) and John Terry. Add that to the fact the club’s African contingent were all back gave Avram Grant with one of those selection headaches that managers up and down the country would love.

The CSKA bench consisted of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Alex. The term ‘embarrassment of riches’ has never been so apt.

Spurs started like a house of fire (if a house on fire is considered a good thing...) with Keane almost opening the scoring after just 25 seconds. Only a typical John ‘No regard for my own well-being as long as we don’t concede’ Terry block prevented the Lilywhites taking the lead while the national anthem was still ringing in everyone’s ears.

The first half continued in this vein. Tottenham were dictating the play as CSKA struggled to find their feet. I say this in the most literal sense as players falling over almost habitually. The over-zealous groundsman at Wembley had clearly over-watered the pitch beforehand. Of course, some players don’t need any such invitation to hit the deck. Didier Drogba was a frequent victim of the sniper in the crowd and I’m also sure I saw Jermaine Jenas rolling around clutching his face after bumping into Ricardo Carvalho. I was later assured that I was wrong as English players don’t dive apparently.

The Drog’s inability to stay vertical won his side a dangerous free kick on the edge of the Tottenham penalty area following a reckless challenge by his fellow countryman Didier Zokora. CSKA had missed 2 free kicks just minutes earlier so you’d think Zakora would have known not to make a silly challenge.

Then again, this was Didier Zokora!

The good Didier made him pay as he curled his shot around the wall into the bottom corner of Paul ‘Not as fat but equally not good’ Robinson in the Spurs goal. ‘Robbo’ was one of the few Spurs players not to come out with much glory. Having flapped at many a corner I’m going to quite harshly suggest he could have at least attempted to save the free-kick. He was on that side of the goal and shuffled across leaving the area exposed for Drogba. Not taking anything away from the free kick mind.

There wasn’t much to write home about either side of half time as CSKA reverted to the containment strategy that has become the norm at The Kremlin (Stamford Bridge) in recent years.

Tottenham were in control but struggling to find the breakthrough. Ramos tried to change this up by introducing Tom ‘Slim’ Huddlestone to add something extra to his attack. This proved to be a success but before that, a word on the substituted Pascal Chimbonda. There’s disappointment and there is being a twat. Chimbonda skulked off down the tunnel without so much of a glance at the bench. Lo and behold, when his side won, who was there in the middle of all the celebrations? You guessed it. Far be it from me to reinforce negative borderline racist stereotypes but what is it with the French moaning and sulking this weekend???

Back to the game and it was ‘The Hud’ who was directly involved in the Spurs equaliser. Having controlled a cross into the box, the bouncing ball struck Wayne Bridge on the arm. The linesman frantically waved his flag signalling the offence and Mark Halsey pointed to the spot. It may have been slightly harsh on Bridge but after his theatrics (2:12 – looks for the linesman before falling over) in last year’s final which resulted in Arsenal’s Emanuel Adebayor being wrongly sent off after a case of mistaken identity, you have to feel it was a form of poetic justice for the England man.

Berbatov rolled the ball into the net from the spot and the Tottenham half of Wembley stadium was rocking. 1-all and the north Londoners were in the ascendancy. They were unfortunate not to get a winner in normal time thanks to the ineptitude of, shock, horror, Didier Zokora. The Ivorian found himself bearing down on goal with just minutes to go. His touch let him down and he struck a weak shot straight at Cech. However good fortune saw the rebound fall back at his feet but with the goal at his mercy, he struck high and wide. Didier Zokora has never scored for Tottenham and if he can miss chances like that, he probably never will.

So to extra time. Within four minutes, Jermaine Jenas floated a free-kick into the box where a poor Pter Cech punch rebounded off the head of Jonathan Woodgate and bounced oh so slowly into the goal to give Tottenham a deserved lead. The marking by CSKA was amateur. I’m still not prepared to buy into the recent hype around Jermaine Jenas but I had to admit he did make ‘Fwank’ look quite average in the middle of the park during the course of the game.

Even the introduction of Ballack and Joe Cole wasn’t enough to inspire a fightback. CSKA dominated as they tried to find an equaliser but couldn’t penetrate the Spurs defence. The final whistle eventually came and Junde Ramos reinforced his reputation as a cup specialist.

People will cynically tell you that the Carling Cup doesn’t matter. That Tottenham’s jubilation at the end of the game was unwarranted.

This is slightly unfair as the win (despite Zokora) means Tottenham are guaranteed a place in Europe once again next season – something they can’t be sure of obtaining via their league position. Also, for a club so starved of silverwear every trophy is important. Beating CSKA and making John Terry cry must have also been quite enjoyable.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The 39th Step - A step too far!

Never underestimate the lengths at which people are prepared to go to line their pockets.

The Premier League and all 20 money grabbing chairmen slash pigs have revealed that they are willing to explore the possibility of introducing an extra round of games in the Premier League to be played at various venues around the world. Yes, in the week we pay tribute to the victims of the Munich disaster, a suggestion to get more football players on planes. Talk about sensitive timing.

What will happen they say is that rather than taking an existing fixture and moving it abroad, they will instead create a NEW round of fixtures where teams are randomly drawn to face off before the match is whored off to the highest international bidder. All games are rumoured to be played back to back over a weekend and no doubt Sky will be creaming themselves at the prospect.

Yes, you read that right. The blood-suckers want to create a 39th league game in the season and completely devalue their own competition by creating a situation where the playing field is no longer a level one.

What do I mean? Well, take this season. Wigan and Reading are battling against relegation. If 'Game 39' pitted Man Utd against Wigan and Reading were drawn against Derby then how would that be fair on the Latics? This 'Wildcard' Game (Thats's What Sky could call it: WILDCARD WEEKEND) makes a mockery of the competition.

But why does that matter? As long as we are making more money then the integrity of the league doesn't matter.

The funny thing is, while it is touted as a more 'lucrative' venture, how much much interest is Sunderland v Derby in Shanghai actually going to generate? Without causing offence to the lower half of the Premier League the only games that the overseas fans with actually give a damn about, initially at least, will be those between the so-called Big Four - and even that wont happen as another addition to this genius idea will be to see that the top five in the division are seeeded so that they don't have to face each other.

Many have cited that the success(sic) of the NFL at Wembley shows that Premier League football can be franchised in the same way. Why am I not surprised that after the war in Iraq that this country would continue to validate their decisions based on what the Americans do? So much for British independance.

The Premier League is the representative football league of England. That snake Richard Scudamore talks about 'The Globalisation of the Sport' as if it is the responsibilty of the Premier League to promote football worldwide. Correct me if i'm worng but don't these countries have their own football league set-ups?????? Also, these countries and provide easily afordable feeds to the point where watching Top-flight English football abroad is more accesable than doing so over here. But that's another rant entirely.

What really worries me is how before this exception becomes the norm? What about when the suits decide that they want another game aborad? How long before Tottenham are playing in China one week and then The States the next? Rest assured, this 'inovation' is not going to be a one-off!

But hey, money-talks which is why it is no suprise to hear that vile smut-peddler David Gold championing the idea.

But it's just not Gold. I've wondered for a while why the there has been such an influx in foreign ownership in this country. Running a football club rarely turns over significant profit so why do Americans want to buy Derby County for Pete's sake? The answer is now very clear. The cash cow is fertile and ready reproduce.

The days are fast running out when we will consider the Premier League a competition We are on the brink of a travelling circus. What next? Franchising? How long before Wigan relocate to London... or New York!!?? How soon before Cristiano Rondalo is making 'Special Guest Appearances' for Middlesborough as they take on Arsenal in Melbourne?

Fans need to have their voices heard. There are very few out there that see this as a good idea. The gap between rich and poor is only set to widen. I wonder what fans of AFC Bournmouth think of these plans?

But what can we do? Mass protest? How about some chants? Vocal protests are always welcomed. Imagine 75,000 people at Old Trafford, 60,000 at the Emirates, 40,000 at Anfield all singing in unison "NO SURRENDER TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE" or "WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED" to express our displeasure at the raping of the English top flight. If for just one game next season every fan up and down the country agreed not to attend Premier League matches then maybe the fatcats might get the message. Unlikely though.

A petition is going around (which I recommend everyone reading this to try and sign), Football365 are starting a campaign and there is also a facebook group although how effective they will prove to be in the long run is anyone's guess.

If and when the change is implemented, I hope they just break away with no promotion or relegation. The Football League could then function independantly as the country's premier footbal competition for the real fans of the game and the 'International Premier League' can do what it likes wherever it wants. They can make as much money as they want and travel from country to country promoting themselves (Harry Redknapp has already made comparisons with the Harlem Globetrotters). Mind you, if they gorged themselves to death I wouldn't care as I wont be watching.

Monday, 4 February 2008

A Wright Wonderful Day

The attentive among you will have noticed that I don’t often blog about events in my life. Needless to say, you probably wouldn't care anyway.

However, as I sit here with an ice pack around my nether regions (slowly diminishing my chances at reproduction) I'm still buzzing about the last 24 hours and feel I need to document it somehow.

Today was my first day of a one-week work placement at TalkSport - the UKs number one commercial radio station - I don’t think it would be erroneous to suggest that, as a HUGE sports fan, I was in my element.

Having arrived at midday (one of the wonderful perks of a career in broadcast) I spent the early portion of my day reading newspapers scanning for any stories which may have made for good discussion on the evening drive time show. On this ery slow of news days, highlights included the rise in breast reduction surgery ...amongst MEN!

Drive time presenter Adrian Durham introduced himself to me. I was shocked at what a nice guy he actually was. Anyone who has ever listened to the station will have at least once in their lifetime been on the brink of launching their radio out the window or crashing their car after being totally infuriated by Durham's constant controversial, attention-seeking, outspoken views on football and life in general. Listeners up and down the country - myself included - have literally been reduced to shouting incoherently at their radio sets off the back of a single outrageous remark from one of commercial radio's most notorious baiters.

All this went out the window the moment I met him. Adrian Durham is mischievous in his demeanour. His voice is deceptive because without seeing him, he can easily be mistaken for sounding spiteful. In reality, Durham sits there with a permanent relaxed grin on his face basking in his ability to goad us unsuspecting fools into a reaction. No longer do you need to be fooled. He even asked me if I was up for joining them for a drink after the show. I sadly had to decline due to football commitments (more later!).

What capped my day though was meeting one of the people I admired most growing up; Mr Ian Wright. Regardless of who you support, there's no way anybody who watched English football in the 1990s could have avoided Wrighty's antics on the pitch. As a child, I, like many black inner city children, looked to Wrighty as a role-model. His own story - starting his professional football career reletively late following years of rejection to becoming one of the most deadly and feared players in the country was an inspiration to people like me. Wrighty epitomises the spirit of the working class hero.

One of Ian Wright's defining characteristics is his bubbly, excitable personality. Ths manifested itself on the pitch. Apart from the odd skirmish and brush with authority, Wright was one of the few players that always looked like he really enjoyed what he was doing and was rarely seen without his trademark smile.

He's lost none of his enthusiasm for the game despite his retirement in 2000. When Wright speaks, his presence and boisterousness make it seem like he's addressing everybody within earshot. What really surprised me was how down to earth he is. I often talk about footballers being self-absorbed, out of touch with reality and living in their own self-centred world but Wrighty seems very far removed from that. For someone who talks so much, he doesn't talk about himself a great deal.

The drive time show is officially the most popular at the station and the guys behind the scene have a big impact on that. I was working with them helping to screen text messages on the topics of the day. Today's show was a lot of fun. The discussion began with the plausibility of the concept of luck in sport. Durham was typically dismissive of the notion while Wrighty the idealist was hell-bent on convincing him that luck plays a huge part in not just sport, but also our lives - particularly cabbies who can suffer bad luck in constantly picking up low fares.

The latter part of the show was a very light-hearted look at favourite childhood cartoons. This invited a lot of callers to do their best Donald Duck/Popeye/Scooby Doo impressions live on air. Hilarious does not do this justice.

After this enjoyable experience, I shot off home to prepare for my first game at Powerleague Barnet in almost a year. After a long period of hiatus, recent weeks has seen our championship (albeit division 5) team had finally reassembled and we were ready to launch an assault on the league title (yes, division 5 again...) but as we joined midseason, we were taking over from another team who, by all accounts were not very good. We played and won our first 2 games which I had unfortunately missed. But was back this week! Psyched up and raring to go.

NOTE: Having not asked permission from the boys, I will have to use alias' from now on...

We took an early lead through OKOCHA, an incredibly skilful recruit and friend of team captain ROMARIO. However, complacency kicked in early as we haemorrhaged a number of goals to the opposition who exploited our inability to close them down by shooting - and scoring - from distance, a lot. In what was a poor first half, OKOCHA was our only threat. The opposition realised this and persisted in hacking him down. Our usual goal-getter INZAHGI was having an off-day in front of goal and TOTTI just couldn't get into the game. I continuously gave the ball away and MARQUEZ was frequently out of position exposing us at the back far too many times.

We went in 8-4 down at half time and really should have been further behind. Heads were down and there just seemed no way back.

The second half however, was a completely different story. We began to knock the ball around confidently and before long, I latched onto a quick free kick from OKOCHA to hammer the ball into the bottom corner at the keeper's near post to bring us back into the game. We grew in confidence, became stronger and were winning everything. OKOCHA scored another screamer leaving the poor keeper rooted and MARQUEZ scored from impossible angle to bring us right back into the game. A few lapses at the back allowed them to remain in front but we were in the ascendancy and knew even when they scored, we could score more. At 10-9 to them, TOTTI evaded challenge after challenge to score a great solo goal to level things up. They were on the ropes.

They went ahead once more but our heads didn't drop. TOTTI restored parity yet again before ROMARIO took centre stage to win us the game firstly with an unsavable Tracer rocket left foot shot from inside his own half and then sealing the points with a right footed angled drive into the bottom corner. The Sweetest of victories to cap off a great day.

P.S. The ice on my achy-breaky groin muscle has long since melted.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Surprise, Surprise

Tomorrow sees the FA Cup fourth round taking place and of course the dusting off and over-use one football's most tedious cliche about something to do with the 'magic' of the competition.

For those that don't know, this so called magic occurs when something unexpected happens in the competition.

Examples of such Wizardry include Southampton in 1976, Coventry in 1987 and Lawrie Sanchez's header in 1988.

The magic is all that more spectacular when a side from the lower leagues manages to vanquish their supposedly superior opponents. If the lesser side plies their trade at non-league level then we seem to be beyond pulling rabbits out of hats and instead looking at examples of what is tantamount to witchcraft!

The most shocking thing in these cases is that the footballing paupers in question are often not even professional in the sport. Growing up, I remember the likes of Aylesbury, Kingstonian and Woking all taking up the role of sorcerer in this magical realm of football's oldest cup competition.

Tomorrow sees the turn of the binmen, cabbies and fitness trainers of Hampshire's own Havant and Waterlooville take on the mighty Liverpool FC at Anfield having overcome Swansea in Round three.

The victory over the Swans seemed to suggest that the 'magic' of years gone by still remains. Victory for the little guy. Upsetting the status quo etc etc etc etc etc etc etc...

However, what people need to remember is that Swansea are currently riding high in League One and will have prioritised promotion over anything else. A good cup run for them would have proved to be little more than a burden. Losing to the Blue Square South minnows and the subsequent humiliation will be nothing more than water off a duck's (or Swan's) back if they are playing Championship football next season.

As for their Conquerors, they HAVANT (he he) got a prayer at Anfield and despite all Liverpool's current troubles, you expect if they were to field an under 17 side playing with no keeper they would still have enough to go through to the 5th round. The so called magic will be proven to be a farce such as when you realise there are no coins behind your ear...

As for the magic, let us consider that the only sides to have won the cup in the last 19 attempts outside the so-called 'Big Four' are Everton and Spurs - themselves hardly downtrodden paupers of the English game.

Speaking of Spurs and unexpected results, I don't think there is a single person in the world who would have predicted what happened on Tuesday evening. After 9 painful years in the wilderness and 21 unsuccessful games Spurs are very much on their way to Wembley. Like a battered wife or a bullied child, there comes a time when one becomes fed up constant beatings and lashing out in a way that leaves us all with our jaws on the floor.

Has the balance of power in North London shifted? No. Certainly not yet. The 27 point lead L'Arse hold in the league over their rivals should be enough to tell you that. Freak results happen all the time in sport. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will tell you that this seems to be the week for it.

FA Cup Fourth Round Fixtures

Southend v Barnsley - 19:45

Arsenal v Newcastle - 15:00
Barnet v Bristol Rovers - 15:00
Coventry v Millwall - 15:00
Derby v Preston - 15:00
Liverpool v Havant and W - 15:00
Mansfield v Middlesbrough - 12:30 - LIVE ON BBC1
Oldham v Huddersfield - 15:00
Peterborough v West Brom - 15:00
Portsmouth v Plymouth - 15:00
Southampton v Bury - 15:00
Watford v Wolverhampton - 15:00
Wigan v Chelsea - 17:15 - LIVE ON BBC1

Hereford v Cardiff - 12:30
Man Utd v Tottenham - 14:00 - LIVE ON BBC
Sheff Utd v Man City - 16:00 - LIVE ON SKY SPORTS

The Greatest Cup shock ever...?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Sit Down, Shut Up

The issue of crowd abuse at football has been brought to the fore once again this season. The likes of Sir Alex Ferguson*, Sol Campbell and Harry Redknapp have all expressed their unhappiness about various terrace chants and verbals they've received from paying fans.

*It is quite hilarious that Sir Alex might was at risk of being put in the dock after allegedly giving abuse to fans this week.

There has been a huge and largely successful campaign to eradicate racism from the stands but other forms of verbal abuse are still prevalent. Terrace 'Banter' takes many forms. Ranging from the hilarious to the hateful.

Fans have an almost irrational loyalty to their clubs and players and in instances such as with Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole - where they feel as though they have been betrayed - the abuse they give is not necessarily acceptable, but certainly understandable. Campbell's defection from Tottenham to Arsenal would have harboured ill-feeling at the best of times. The fact he was Spurs' club captain AND went for no transfer fee made things all the worse. Effigies were burnt at White Hart Lane and even now Campbell is at Portsmouth he still gets the bird from the Tottenham faithful.

As for Cole, his lies, greed and treachery have made him a subject of abuse not just from the Arsenal fans he claimed to grow up with but fans of the game in general. His pathetic tantrum about being offered ONLY 55 grand a week showed just how much of an overpaid primadonna he had become and he detached from reality he, and many of his colleagues are. Cole has since earned the unflattering nicknames of 'Cashley' and 'Chelsea Rent Boy' among others.

Like I said, not acceptable, but understandable.

However, surely a line must be drawn when it comes to the issue of death.

Today saw Manchester City request that the planned minute's silence to remember those who died in the Munich tragedy in the forthcoming Manchester derby be scraped and replaced by a minutes applause. This is because it is feared that some of the City fanbase might not be sympathetic to their rivals.

Things like the Munich air disaster should not be subjects for banter. Whatever you feel about Manchester United as a football club, it should never be right to make fun of people who died so tragically.

Manchester United have declined City's request.

You'd like to think they are right to do so and the right respect will be paid on what is indeed a solemn event.

Sadly, we all know that there is every chance that this will not be the case. This act of defiance by the reds will probably just spur on those looking to ruin the occasion.

Most football fans already know a famous chant sung at Liverpool, Leeds and City regarding the air crash and it's difficult to anticipate this will be any different just because this happens to be an anniversary. While I would never go so far as to say this behaviour is in any way shape or form acceptable, we have to remember this kind of thing intensifies football rivalries. And sad as it is to admit, football would be nowhere without these bitter rivalries.

Many football fans have moved to argue that once they pay their money for their over-priced tickets that they should be able to express themselves however they see fit. Football is an emotional game and can cause even the most reserved individual to start f'ing and blinding like a tourrets sufferer on cocaine.

I cannot say how many times I've been ashamed of what has passed my lips while watching the game.

That said, there is a distinction that needs to be made. Terrace abuse and banter are one thing. The actions of the aforementioned Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole have contributed to their own downfall. When making their decisions there is no way they did not anticipate the inevitable backlash so they have little reason to complain.

But as we have moved to combat racism and sectarianism, it would be fair to say that mocking death - the ultimate taboo - should receive the same treatment. No-one asked for the likes of Hillsbrough or Munich. These were unfortunate events where innocent people lost their lives. They need to be commemorated accordingly regardless of who you support.

Bill Shankley was wrong.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Sports Round-Up and Something different...

Friday Sports Round-up:

Andy Roddick has sensationally been knocked out the Australian open having beat beaten in a titanic third round match against 29th Seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6 6-3 6-7 (8-10) 7-6 (7-3) 6-8.

Staying in Melbourne, 2006 women’s champion Amelie Mauresmo lost her 3rd round match against Casey Dellacqua - ranked 78 in the world - 3-6 6-4 6-4.

F1 prodigy Lewis Hamilton is to stay with McLaren having signed a 5-year contract today.

The England Cricket Board have completely restructured their selection panel.

Staying with Cricket, South Africa beat the West Indies in a Twenty20 international.

And now for something completely different...

This can also be seen at

Monday, 14 January 2008

Things I Learnt Watching Football This Weekend (12th - 13th January 2008)

Chelsea Like Freddie? Newcastle fans to boo Shearer? Benitez out???

1. The African Nations Cup will have a big impact on the Premier League

OK. So, CSKA Fulham might not struggle like many predicted (more on them later) but there is no doubt that football's most inconveniently placed tournament will cause problems for certain sides in the League. You only have to look at the unspeakably dire performance of 'arry's Pompey side at Sunderland yesterday. So bad they were, they even allowed Charley Uchea's less famous cousin to bag a brace against them. Maybe, the speculation about 'arry's approach from Newcastle had an effect on the players or maybe, the climate in 'oop north' in Sunderland was not conducive to playing football (when is it ever?). However, let us cast our minds back to the last time Portsmouth were in the North East when they absolutely bullied Newcastle into submission. 'arry has moulded a side full of big, strong African players whose physicality has proven too much for most teams they've travelled to this season. Strength has been Pompeys's most useful tool this season and helped propel them up the table. At the stadium of light, without the likes of Utaka, Diop, Kanu and Muntari, the weaknesses were as clear as day. This month could be telling for a side like Pompey and ultimately may prove to be the difference between Europe and midtable obscurity.

That said, I have no sympathy as the tournament existed long before African players plied their trade in Europe and it's not as if it should come as a suprise to a manager who CHOOSES (not forced) to sign an African player.

2. ANY football match is capable of throwing up a story. No matter how awful the game.

EVERY F****** YEAR Sky TV think it best to broadcast what is, quite frankly, football's least passionate derby match. EVERY YEAR Bolton v Blackburn is on TV, EVERY YEAR it's an awful game of football. But get this, EVERY YEAR I actually waste two hours of my life actually watching it, I expect some kind of miracle. EVERY YEAR I end up moaning at the inevitable snorefest and vowing never again. Why change the habit of a lifetime though, eh? How often has it been said that a goal doesn't belong in a certain game? Yesterday was certainly one of those occasions as Kevin Nolan's contender for goal of the season lit up a typically dull lancashire derby. The technique of the volley was incredible. No doubt some crazy fool will be touting him for England once again.

Also, you have to love a last minute winner. Even if it does come from Jason 'One of the most feared strikers in the premiership according to wikipedia' Roberts.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo may never win a penalty again.... but may never need to!

The boy has his many, many, MANY critics. For all his talent, he's hardly the most noble of players on the pitch.... in fact, I wont sugar coat it: he dives. He is a persistent diver and will dive for as long as he's playing football. However, times do arise when he is hard done by. For me, Steven Taylor extended his leg and prevented the footballer of the year in waiting from progressing. If he went down easily, he had every right to as it was a foul. Still, what better way to respond. Rather than sulking or blowing his top and nearly give himself an Aneurysm like Old Taggart (your team won 6-0. How could you possibly be moaning???) on the sidelines The Artist Formerly Known As Fake Ronaldo stepped up and led the demolition job on a Newcastle side that very few outside of St. James' Park would have sympathised with. Oodles of Dream Team points for the Portuguese as well.

4. Roy Hodgson wont save Fulham.

I've always liked Roy Hodgson. While the likes of Alan Curbishley sit around moaning about not getting the England job when all he has ever achieved is a nice mid table finish or eight, a man like Roy Hodgson is going abroad and honing his skills as a manager on the continent in the most obscure areas of the game. His CV is glowing and if he was to have a pop at the FA then you'll hear no argument from me. Sadly, his most recent premiership job saw him doom Blackburn Rovers and the same unfortunately is set to happen with a very poor Fulham side. It's coming up to two years since their last away win. Maybe they'll get one at Barnsley next season.

5. Arsene Wenger's attitude may cost Arsenal some serious honours in the long run.

While you may criticise his lack of faith in English players and sing some very libelous things about him at games. There's very little you can say negative about Arsene Wenger. The man is no doubt a genius and turned a good Arsenal team into a GREAT L'Arse team over the last decade or so. However, Arsene is a man that chooses to stick by his principles regardless of what happens. Arsenal have not had a decent title challenge for years because Wenger has insisted on blooding youth rather than spending money. Despite the draw with Birmingham (and subsequent wrecking of my accumulator. Nice one lads!) Arsenal have performed admirably this season and sat on top of the table for most of the campaign. To not win it from here would not be a disaster but it would be disappointing. With the Salford Bay Rowdies hitting form and looking to buy as well as CSKA Fulham reinforcing their already strong squad, Arsene must stop insisting that he cannot improve on what he has. Some have said that the gunners don't have the squads like their rivals to last the course. For me, L'Arse are crying out for a winger/goal-scoring midfielder right now and with the right man(I'm never an advocate for spending for the sake of spending), the Emirates could well see it's first league title. Unfortunately, Wenger's reluctance to spend may prove to be his undoing.

6. I cant say for certain that Liverpool will finish fourth.

They probably will but with 16 games left, and the likes of City, Everton, Villa and Pompey on the horizon playing as well as they have thus far, if you're a red you have to hope Rafa has a trick or two up his sleeve. Liverpool are not playing well, and more importantly, they aren't playing well. After this Saturday, the last month has seen them face 'Boro, Derby, Reading and Wigan and only just beat Derby. If we throw Luton in the mix that's five games that any serious title contender should be winning comfortably. These results only suggest that Liverpool are not in the same class as L'Arse, The Rowdies and CSKA Fulham ...and it's not just because of the rotation system. The way things are going on the pitch, the reported off pitch problems and today's revelation that the board have already been looking elsewhere, I seriously doubt Rafa will still be on Merseyside come the start of next season.

7. CSKA Fulham are definitely in the title race.

Dont get it confused! They may have lost a few players to injury and African nations etc but Chelsea under Abramovich will just keep on coming back like a movie baddie who refuses to die. Lose Drogba? So what? Buy Anelka (who almost instantly showed his class on his debut might I add...). That's essentially why so many people are against this CSKA regime. Unlike Pompey, people at Stamford Bridge have barely batted an eyelid at the African Nations cup. No longer will they ever have to 'just deal with it' like anyone else. They assemble an incredible squad of players and will continue to spend the money as soon as one needs replacing. Imagine a world where your overdraft is infinite and your bank couldn't care less if you ever pay it back. The comprehensive victory over spurs simply illustrates how strong they are as a team and a squad. I said they'd be champions at the start of the season and I wish I'd put money on it when they drifted out to 12-1.

8. Newcastle wont sort themselves out for a very long time so the Geordies had better sit tight.

Things at St. James' will probably get worse before they get better. The term poisoned chalice has been branded about a lot in reference to what has been described as the impossible job. I cant believe that I actually feel sorry for The Walrus following last week's events. Were they expecting to be at the top of the league at this stage? Geordie fans had a moment in the sun in the mid-nineties with Kevin Keegan which in hindsight was probably the worst possible thing to happen to the club. The fact they never won the title (or anything else for that matter) somehow raised expectations so high. Now, agitation spreads like wildfire as soon as things don't go their way and before you know it, another manager loses his job and they're right back to square one. With no stability, I'm sorry but Newcastle wont achieve a thing. They currently sit 11th in the league behind the obvious 4 and also Everton, Man City, Portsmouth, Villa, Blackburn and West Ham. With the exception of the Hammers and City who have had huge cash injections to aid their cause, Every other side has been a result of long term (2-3 years) building. These teams have earned their right to be in the top half because they have shown patience and reaped the rewards. Giving Fat Sam only seven months is not showing patience and whoever comes in should not be expected to 'wallop Chelsea' (the exact words of the man in charge) within a couple of months.

Alan Shearer, eh? I'd like to see it just so he gets found out. If you never thought you'd ever Newcastle fans booing their Messiah just give him the job and see how quickly it happens.

9. The Derby & County - The pub side currently masquerading as a premier league football team - are rubbish

Although technically, I didn't learn that this week.

10. With only one relegation place left, any from 6 could still go down and make the race for survival quite interesting.

For me, despite their precarious positions, there is no chance that Spurs and Newcastle will go down (Imagine if they did though...) so, it's between Reading, Boro, Bolton, Wigan, Brum and Sunderland for the last place. Weekends like this one could decide it. Wigan won a game they were expected to, Reading and Bolton lost games they might have fancied at least a draw from, Boro and Brum picked valuable points that they might not have expected but Sunderland picked up an unexpected win that might prove crucial come May. It's hard to really get into it because it will flip flop a lot between now and then with so many factors coming into play. I for one just hope it goes down to the last day again. In recent years relegation battles have been far more entertaining than the title chase and so may it continue this season.