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.