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.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Volcano To Erupt For England

The was a surprise in the world of rugby this week as Gloucester winger Lesley Vainikolo was selected by Brian Ashton for England's 6 nations squad.

Nicknamed The Volcano, Tongan-born Vainikolo made his name for the Super League's Bradford Bulls scoring 149 tries in 152 games. He has also represented New Zealand at Rugby League.

The 17 stone powerhouse then switched codes from League to Union joining Guinness Premiership leaders Gloucester two years after initially turning them down. In his 9 games so far he has averaged a try a game.

However, despite adapting so quickly, is the 28 year old is ready for the demands of the International game? Vainakolo had knee problems throughout his time in Yorkshire but has thus far not suffered any relapse at Gloucester.

Another problem for Vianikolo will be the instant comparisons to the unfortunate, injury-prone centre Andy Farrell - one of the more recent less than successful league-to-union converts - who himself has been dropped from the England squad following his indifferent showing at the recent World Cup.

The general feeling is that 'Big Les' - often compared to the legendary Jonah Lomu - should be eased into the team rather than people expecting miracles from the get-go. Bring him on late in the game as legs are tiring and allow his quick feet and power to punish the opposition. The man loves scoring tries and that's what winning matches is essentially all about.

Vainikolo's inclusion has been heralded in many quarters and should add something different to the England team. It will certainly make for interesting watching once the tournament kicks off next month.

The Volcano scoring 5 tries on his Rugby Union debut. Apologies for the quality...

Friday, 11 January 2008

In Attendance: Carling Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg, Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur @ The Emirates Stadium, January 9th 2008

North London's great footballing divide was once again brought to the fore on wednesday evening. Historically, Arsenal and Tottenham are two of the biggest names in the country and have a fierce rivalry which is, in my opinion, one of the most bitter any football fan will encounter.

Tottenham were the original kings of North London until a bunch of interlopers from south of the river came and invaded their turf. Not only that, these unwanted guests went on to become far more successful than thier rivals and currently, Arsenal enjoy the kind of superiority over Spurs that has most gooners considering Spurs to be more of an irritant than a real threat.

But recent years have given an indication that the tide may be turning somewhat. In recent years, Arsenal have faded from the title picture and had it not been for a last day tragedy of Shakespearean proportions 2 years ago, Tottenham would have finished above Arsenal and clinched the much sought after champions league place and then who knows how different the fortunes of the two clubs would have been?

This season however, all indications seem to suggest that, for Arsenal fans at least, normal service has been resumed. Flying high, playing fantastic football, and a realistic shot at thier first league title since 2004. Meanwhile at White Hart Lane, there has been both managerial and boardroom unrest, player disatisfaction and poor results on the pitch. Arsenal have already done the double over Spurs and in doing so extended an unbeaten run in North London derby matches stretching back to 1999. When the Carling Cup semi final draw was made, Spurs would hardly be relishing the prospect of 2 more clashes with their illustrious rivals.

Incidently, Tottenham's last trophy, also in 1999, was in this same competition and suprisingly, was masterminded by George Graham an Arsenal legend both as player and manager. The team would also be galvanised for this game by the battling performance they gave at the Emirates a little over 3 weeks ago when they were unlucky to come away empty handed.

Arsenal on the other hand, despite their frequent presence in the latter rounds of this competition, clearly consider it to be bottom of their list of priorities in a season and generally choose to play 'the kids' instead of the first team. This second team however, is not to be underestimated as Tottenham themselves found to their cost last season. This time around, they knew there was no way they could make the same mistake...

As I stood on the platform at Euston waiting for the Victoria Line train to Finsbury park, I was wondering how the game would pan out. Spurs' new manager Juande Ramos is still very much an unknown proposition in this league. Would he go for the win or try and play out a draw or even be prepared to sacrifice a 1 goal defeat before going back to the lane?

My thoughts were interupted by the announcement that trains had been suspended due to 'problems' at Finsbury Park. Fighting at football? Never!

I wont bore you with tales of my journey but I eventually arrived at the magnificent Emirates Stadium with just minutes to spare. Or so I thought. The 'problems' had meant kick off was delayed by 15 minutes to allow people to get to the stadium.

I met up with a friend and his Dad and went into the stadium. Much is said about how the soul of the club is lost slightly when they decide to up sticks and move ground. The Emirates, as beautiful as it is, cannot really feel like home to fans that packed themselves into Highbury all those years. The history of the North Bank, Clock End and Art deco East Stand cannot be replaced. Esspecially not when sections of the ground are quite lazily named after colours.

We had back row seats in the lower tier of the BLUE quadrant and awaited the teams. As soon as the away fans' "COME ON YOU SPURS" chant was greeted by "F*** OFF YOU SPURS" from the home fans, you know the banter was going to be in great supply. Spurs had suprisingly dropped Paul Robinson in favour of Radek Cerny which natuarally has sparked rumours of a rift between player and manager. Arsenal, as expected, put out a second string team.

As the match kicked off, Arsenal started the brighter. For about 20 minutes, they stroked the ball around in the way we've all become accustomed to over the years. Retaining possesion well and not allowing their opponents a momments rest. Denilson put in a cross that presented Bendtner with a chance to open the scoring but his header lacked power.

The home supporters began to get a little arrogant and even "OLE"'d a lot of the passes. At least until Gilberto insisted on giving the ball away. Little details change the complexion of football matches. Young Polish keeper Lucaz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal often chose to distribute the ball short to his full-backs. On one occassion, Justin Hoyte on the right squared it back to Johan Djourou, where the young Swiss defender struggled under pressure from Robbie Keane and the unspeakably good Dimitar Berbatov and ultimately give the ball away.

From then on, it was all Tottenham. Berbatov was giving Djourou the runaround. Whenever Arsenal had the ball, possession was often squandered. The atrotious Gilberto was the main culprit. A quick word on the Brazilian: Gilberto's all round play last night truely exposed him for what he is, a fraud. For years, he's gotten away with the fact he's been alongside world class midfielders in Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas. Up against the raw Jamie O'Hara and the shocking Jermaine Jenas, Gilberto looked out of his depth,; something Arsene Wenger should be very concerned about.

Everytime Spurs had the ball you felt they could open Arsenal up. They should have taken the lead when Malbranque, who spent the game charging around like a headless chicken, put the ball wide with the goal at his mercy. And just to confirm the first miss was no fluke, he planted a free header wide of the mark after great work by Keane.

It was only a matter of time before Tottenham opened the scoring and after Berbatov toyed with Djourou, his pass found Keane who squared to Jenas (dear God) who scored! The first thing that dawned on me is that the two times I've seen Jenas in the flesh this season have resulted in 3 goals for the "England International". If you think that would change my opinion on his complete and utter uselessness, you'd be very wrong!

Keeping with mediocre players who are just not good enough, When I saw Philip Senderos was Arsenal captain, I thought that this was a game that Arsenal might not win. As the goal went in, and I saw this so-called captain hunched over with his hands on his hips staring at the floor, I knew that this was a game Arsenal WOULD NOT win. The Swiss' body language was a disgrace. His duty in situations like that should be to lift the team. If any Arsenal players were paying attention to what was essentially a surrender from Big Phil, then what motivation would they even have to try and get back in the game? Just goes to show that these days the captains armband is just a bit of fabric and means nothing save for the fact you get to walk out of the tunnel first and observe a coin toss.

Spurs were flying and didn't want half time to come such was their dominance. Arsene Wenger hauled off the useless Djourou and the ineffective van Persie and introduced Bacary Sagna and the in-form Eduardo.

This changed very little as Spurs continued to pile on the pressure. "JUST LIKE THE LIBRARY" and "SHALL WE SING A SONG FOR YOU" were belted out of the away end making reference to both the percieved lack of atmosphere at Arsenal home matches and the fact Spurs were leaving the gooners stunned silent.

Moments of sublime skill from Berbatov as he would frequently control balls out of the air like he had glue on his boots were alone worth the admission. Arsenal mistakenly gave the Bulgarian far, far too much space and on another day he may have punished them more.

However, no real chances were created - thanks in part the Aaron Lennon's lack of a left foot and delivery akin to a parapalegic postman - but you felt if anyone would get the game's second goal, it would be Spurs. Kevin-Prince Boateng was brought on for Malbranque to shore up the midfield alongside O'Hara and Jenas. Ramos might have done well to retain the former Fulham man's attacking threat but instead decided to exercise caution.

With little over 10 minutes to go however, I felt as though I had witnessed the kind of daylight robbery not unfamiliar to the infamous Seven Sisters Road that connects the two clubs... Arsenal somehow equalised!

Some nice work from Sanga feed Gilberto who instead of giving the ball away found Eduardo whose played a perfectly timed through ball to the feet of the preciously annonymous Theo Walcott. As the 'Boy Wonder' sped into the box, an attempted tackle by Lee Young Pyo saw the ball skip up and hit Walcott on what from my seat looked like his hand before beating the keeper and slowly, slowy finding its way into the net. The youngster cheekily celebrated if front of the Spurs fans who had been no doubt giving him abuse all game.

The Emirates errupted and the Spurs Faithful were greated with chants of "WHO ARE YA? WHO ARE YA?" which was a tad impolite!

Arsenal finally began to play but Spurs were still the ones who might have snatched the winner as substitue Jermanie Defoe, crap haircut and all decided he would rather rather star on the next football bloopers DVD by missing an open goal from less than 10 yards out.

Arsenal's last minute corner might have had some Tottenham hearts in mouths but it Jenas on the back post was fortunately able to prevent Arsenal winning the game...

Full time. Admitedly with hyperboly, I have to say, never has there been such an unjust result to a game of football. Spurs could rightly feel aggreived having dominated proceedings for so long in the match.

Theoretically, home advantage should see Spurs get that elusive win over Arsenal in the second leg in two weeks but there are no guarentees thanks to this obvious jinx. When the gooners fans sang "YOU'LL NEVER BEAT THE ARSENAL" at the end, a small part of every Tottenham fan actually believes it. To play this well and not win was criminal.

Final Score:
Arsenal 1 (Walcott, 78)
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Jenas, 37)

Attendance: 53,136

Man of The Match: Dimitar Berbatov - Too good for Arsenal's kids, maybe too good for Spurs. PLEEEEEEEEASE dont go to Man utd!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

What's That All About, 'A'?

Football has always seen weird, wonderful and wacky goal celebrations. That feeling of excitement when the ball hits the back of the net can get people to do the craziest things.

Others are more reflective and like to use their goals to make dedications. We've all seen the dated 'baby' celebration - made famous by Bebeto during USA '94 - repeated over and over again prompting the sarcastic among us to opine "Let me guess, someones just had a baby, right?". What I want to know is who really cradles a baby like that???

Carlos Tevez got a little bit more creative this week as he sucked on a dummy after securing the points for Man Utd against Birmingham on New Years Day.

However, there are some celebrations that just boggle the mind....

Titus Bramble after his screamer salvaged a point for Wigan against at Anfield last night. And he's not the only one...

Rumours that the players are pointing to wedding bands, throwing up gang-signs (word!), warding off Vampires or learning the first letter of the alphabet have all been quashed.

In actual fact, what the above players are doing is actually signaling the letter 'A' which represents the brand new A-Star project many of them are getting behind.

The project, co-founded by the likes of Fitz Hall and Andy Johnson and is aimed at encouraging young people to steer clear of trouble by getting involved with projects where they can express themselves and have role-models who do not glamorise, guns drugs and violence.

Personally, from someone who has seem who easily it is for youths to fall into that trap, I think the A-star (as in "every child is A STAR") project is great idea and I wish them all the best.

The scheme looks to highlight things like knife crime figures as a way of deterring children from getting involved in that lifestyle and "opening pathways into employment".

For more information, check out the website.

Aside from Johnson and Hall, players like Emile Heskey and Leigthon Baines are also involved but I very much doubt we'll see Joey Barton's name attached to something so noble.

A quick word on Barton. It's sad to see an undoubtedly talented player throw his career away because he cant seem to keep out of trouble. For his sake, you kind of hope he can pull his finger out and turn his life around before it's too late for him. From England reckoning not so long ago to a jail cell. A sad decline for the boy.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Window Shopping

So as the world makes the transition from 2007 to 2008, many people take a minute to reflect on their lives. What they achieved or failed to achieve in the previous year and what they hope to achieve in the coming months.

In the world of football, things are ever so slightly different. The new year signals the middle of the season in most leagues. Across the continent, many countries take a mid-season break depriving their fans of the excessive feast of football we get here in the UK. January the 1st is not so much about new beginnings but rather the resumption of business as usual. However, there is an opportunity for reflection and an introspective look at self-improvement amongst clubs...

In 2003, FIFA, in order to fall into line with the rest of the continent, introduced a mandatory transfer window during the season in which clubs could conduct their necessary transfer dealings. This meant that apart from the summer, top flight clubs only had one month in which to buy, sell or loan players. Lower league clubs abide by the same window rules but also have a separate 'loan' window which operates twice during the season.

This ruling has been heavily criticised. Surely this constitutes some form of restriction of trade? Something the authoriies said they wanted to avoid in their rebuttal of introducing quotas (Not that I'm a fan of this suggestion either).

What we have seen in this country since the window was introduced is a spate of panic buys resulting in a deluge of players that clubs have ultimately found to be, lets just say, not as good as first anticipated.

Desperation is the name of the game and negotiation skills seemingly fly straight out of this metaphorical window. Clubs have the opportunity to over-inflate their asking prices because they know they buying party are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their man. On the flip side, a club that needs to sell will end up only receiving a fraction of a players true value when they are up against the clock. Also, on a time limit, managers have no time to replace players or have to do so with inadequate alternatives.

It is possible to pick up a bargain although these are very few and far between. Good fortune may also find that players, both existing and new buys/loanees up their game in the crucial second half of season in the knowledge that they have to stay put where they are and as such are expected to perform.

If a manager cant shift his dead wood during this time, he's stuck with an unhappy player possibly disrupting the camp for the rest of the season.

Managers only have a month in which to re-shuffle the pack during which time fixtures are still ongoing. Players end up being scouted off the back of individual performances rather than over a longer period of time. For struggling clubs, bad business during the transfer window could see them falling through the relegation trap-door!

The problems are far reaching. There's no telling who, when or how long a player or players may be injured for. If this happens at a crucial time of the season such as in a title race or the midst of a relegation battle for instance, clubs, although they have the money, are prevented from purchasing replacements. I suppose you could say they could draft in a youth team player but is it really fair to throw novices in at the deep end for what could crucially make or break a career? Some managers might do this anyway but I'm sure most others would at least like to have options.

Finally, differences of opinion between board and management over when or who to buy and how much they should pay, could - and often does - lead to in-fighting within the club causing instability and ultimately, a detriment to on-pitch performances.

Transfer window? Many would say just leave it open otherwise, you might wake up on 1st February to find out your club has just signed Nigel Quashie!