Friday, 31 December 2010

Narrow The Angle's Football Quiz, No. 1

Well, as the footballing 2010 draws to a close and a new year of hope, optimism and lots of Ian Holloway looms into view, I thought I'd bring the curtain down on this blog for the year with a taxing little football quiz for you anoraks out there. I've had a very pleasant afternoon with my Rothmans annual and have come up with this for you. I've put the answers at the end, but frankly, if you skip straight to the answers without trying to guess them first, you may wish to consider a career working for FIFA, you sneaky so-and-so. No peeking! Right, here goes, I'll start with a toughie...

1) Who was Fulham manager in between Kevin Keegan (1998-99) and Jean Tigana (2000-03)?

2) Who were the top goalscorers (in all competitions) in all four divisions in the 2009/10 season?

3) Who did Cardiff City beat over two legs in the Championship play-off semi final, before losing to Blackpool at Wembley?

4) As we begin a new decade, Arsenal have had just five managers in the previous three decades. Two of them are, of course, Arsene Wenger (1996-present) and George Graham (1986-95). Who are the other three?

5) Carlisle United's player-coach is one of the most dynamic and industrious midfielders to grace the Football League in recent seasons. Name him.

6) What was unique about Torquay United's goal difference in the 2009/10 season?

7) According to Rothmans, who is Ipswich Town's all-time record signing, from which team and what was the fee involved?

8) In 2009/10 season, five teams in the top four divisions won fewer than two league games away from home. How many can you name?

9) Sheffield United have just appointed Micky Adams as manager. Who is the only other manager in their history with a five-letter firstname and five-letter surname?

10) In the opening match of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, Angola lead Mali 4-0 with 11 minutes left on the clock. What happened next? Why was this apparently bad news for one English university student?

11) True or false? Jimmy Bullard has scored more than five goals in a season just once in his career.

12) Who is this Wolves assistant manager, pictured here with Mick McCarthy?

13) Bolton Wanderers signed Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov in the summer. How many of his five previous clubs can you name?

14) Two members of the current Stoke City squad have the colour blue in their national flag. Who are they, and what are their nationalities? Note: I have discounted Diego Arismendi (Uruguay) as he is on a season-long loan to Barnsley. There are two others.

15) Name the six different sponsors that the League Cup has had in its history.

Scroll down below this completely random Panini sticker of John Aldridge in his Oxford United days for the answers...


1) Paul Bracewell.
2) Didier Drogba, Peter Whittingham, Rickie Lambert, Lee Hughes.
3) Leicester City.
4) Terry Neill (1976-83), Don Howe (1984-86) and Bruce Rioch (1995-96).
5) Graham Kavanagh.
6) They were the only side in all four divisions to finish in the bottom half with a positive goal difference. They ended up with a goal difference of +9 in 17th place in League Two.
7) Matteo Sereni, £5 million from Sampdoria (August 2001).
8) Fulham, West Ham, Burnley, Hull, Gillingham. (Doesn't say much for the quality of last season's Premier League, does it?)
9) Steve Bruce (1998-99).
10) Mali scored on 79, 88, 90+3 and 90+4 minutes to draw 4-4. The English university student allegedly bet £4,400 (with the score at 4-0) that Angola would win the game. The odds were 1.01, so he stood to win just £44 profit from his £4,400 stake.
11) True.
12) Former Leeds, Brighton and Portsmouth striker Terry Connor.
13) CSKA Sofia, Servette, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City.
14) Asmir Begovic (Bosnia) and Eidur Gudjohnsen (Iceland).
15) Carling, Worthington, Coca-Cola, Rumbelows, Littlewoods, Milk.

Hope that got the old grey matter working. If people like it, I'll do another one sometime. Happy new year everyone. Hope your team rips it up in 2011.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Has Andre Blackman blown it at Wimbledon?

Back in August, I wrote on this blog about how lucky AFC Wimbledon were to have a supremely talented 20-year-old left back on their books in Andre Blackman. I said this with some caveats though. Blackman's already been shown the door at few league clubs (a level at which he is easily talented enough to play), and the worry was that his attitude and lack of discipline would get the better of him. Sadly, these caveats are looking quite accurate at the moment.

Blackman was - and I'm going on overheard fan conversations here - apparently seen stropping off in the car park while his teammates were preparing to kick off against Eastbourne yesterday, leaving flu-hit Wimbledon to name only three subs on their bench. Who knows, maybe Blackman had flu too and was just frustrated that he couldn't play, but whatever the cause was, it's another worry to add to Blackman's growing list. There are plenty of rumours as to why he got kicked out of other clubs - most of them relating to off-field matters - but it's on the field where the concerns are at the moment.

Wimbledon started the season short of cover at left back. But this wasn't too big a problem because Blackman looked a nailed-on starter for that position. Quick, skilful, audacious, attack-minded - Blackman essentially looked like an exciting winger that could defend a bit. On the ball, there are comparisons with several Premier League left backs - with aspects of Ashley Cole, Micah Richards, Gareth Bale and Patrice Evra in the way he plays. Defensively, he's a bit naive and prone to being dragged out of position. And by "dragged out of position", what I really mean is "caught upfield after neglecting his defensive duties".

The frustrating thing is, it's not always naivety that makes him a liability. Sometimes it's just flagrant disregard for tactics. We've even seen him dispute shouted instructions from the bench. Like the time when, positioned as cover on the half-way line for a corner, like full-backs often are - he started creeping forward leaving only one man back. And when told to get back to his position, he started gesticulating at the bench as if he knew best and that going forward was the correct thing to do. Even if it was, that's a debate for the dressing room afterwards. When you're on the pitch, you do what the coaches tell you to do.

If you'd seen Blackman play during pre-season you'd understand why I thought he could be one of the stand-out players in the division. AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown agreed, labelling Blackman as "Premier League or Championship quality". But it's just not worked out for him yet. He's not been able to find a way past solid Brentford loanee Chris Bush into the first team of late, and Brown is now making noises about finding another left-back in January.

One surprising thing is that Brown hasn't really given Blackman a go on the left wing. I'm a huge admirer of the manager and I'm sure he knows better than me, but a player of Blackman's touch, pace and skill would presumably do quite well running at an opposition full-back. I'd like to see it tried once.

If Wimbledon do sign another left-back in January, I worry that could be the last we'll see of Blackman. And for such a talented player to just simply not be able to knuckle down and work hard at his game, listen to instructions and make progress, would be a huge pity. If he applied himself, he'd be playing league football in no time.

I'm sure most supporters can think of a player they've watched as a youngster who looked supremely talented, but just never quite had the mindset of a professional athlete - and thus didn't make the grade. Andre Blackman may be just the next in a long line of gifted players that don't fulfil their potential. But with the ability he has, it really wouldn't take a hell of a lot of knuckling down for him to regularly be one of the best players on the pitch.

I hope I'm wrong to be worried. I hope we see what he's really capable of in the second half of the season and that this talented but troubled soul can somehow channel his angst into terrorising the opposition. But I'm increasingly concerned that Andre Blackman may have kicked over his bar stool at the Last Chance saloon, and is now squaring up to nobody in particular, possibly just his own reflection in a mirror, as a potentially brilliant career starts to slip from his grasp.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The thrills and skills of Andrei Kanchelskis

I used to love watching Andrei Kanchelskis play. At his best he was a genuinely exhilarating player. It is he more than almost anybody that epitomises my memories of the early years of Premier League football and Sky’s coverage. Here's why...

Any winger with the winning combination of searing pace and plenty of trickery will always be a favourite with the neutral. They’re the one you want to get on the ball during a drab game; you know that if anyone can make something happen, it’s the baggy-sleeved whippet on the wing.

But Andrei Kanchelskis’s sleeves weren’t as baggy as the archetypal touchline hugger. Surprisingly broad of shoulder for a winger, he’d often go past his man with a combination of pace, skill and the sort of strength that is best shown when going shoulder-to-shoulder with a fullback and gradually sending them off balance over the course of several paces. The marauding Ukrainian played the game how most of us like to see it – quick, on the deck, with precision and verve. I think the greatest compliment I could pay him would be that he made every pitch look like it was wet. The ball would glide along smoothly as he dribbled it. His crosses and shots would normally be fizzed in low like a well-skimmed pebble being thrown into water. He did everything with zip.

Of course, Kanchelskis played at the same time (and in the same team) as Eric Cantona, and so history perhaps does not remember him as a true United great. And even apart from the volatile-but-gifted Frenchman, he was playing alongside other world-class players in their pomp (Giggs, Schmeichel, Keane). But he still stood out as a real danger on many occasions during his four-year spell at United. During this time, he would make 145 appearances for the club, scoring an impressive 48 goals.

United's first 'proper' right winger since the early 1980s
I was lucky enough to see him play during his last full season at Old Trafford. It was 29 October 1994, and United were at home to Kevin Keegan’s table-topping Newcastle. The home side were convincing 2-0 winners, thanks to goals from Gary Pallister and Keith Gillespie (before the latter became a make-weight in the Andy Cole transfer between the clubs a couple of months later). But the real star of the show that day was Kanchelskis. People often talk about how thrilling it is to be stood or sat behind the goal towards which a flying winger is running. But for me, it was equally beguiling to sit behind him as he ran away, because then you got to enjoy watching the full-back squirm and contort before eventually falling over. He seemed so fast. And as he approached top speed he would jink and lurch in different directions – much like Gareth Bale does today, but at more acute angles. He loved to cut inside too, and was more than comfortable shooting with either foot. 

When United signed Kanchelskis from Shakhtar Donetsk in March 1991, they paid just £650,000 for his services. And they were urgently needed services too. No disrespect to Mike Phelan, Neil Webb and Clayton Blackmore, but United’s right-sided options weren’t exactly budding Usain Bolts. In fact, the new arrival was said to be United’s first 'proper' right-winger since Steve Coppell.

Like with so many of United’s best servants over the years, Kanchelskis departed after a fall-out with Sir Alex Ferguson could not be patched up. He left for Everton in a £5 million deal just weeks after Ferguson had sold Paul Ince and Mark Hughes – in retrospect, a clear-out that arguably accelerated the development of one David Beckham, not to mention the rest of “Fergie’s Fledglings”.

Many predicted that he’d flop on Merseyside. They assumed he must have an attitude problem to have fallen out with Ferguson. But whenever I saw him play for Everton he always looked a threat – and 20 goals from 52 Premier League games, including both goals in a 2-1 win away at Anfield – tell you all you need to know.

Kanchelskis nets the winner at Anfield in 1995
Having earned cult status with Toffees fans and cemented his reputation as one of the most feared wingers in British football, he was suddenly gone; sold to Fiorentina in the January of his second season at Goodison Park for £8 million. He was never quite the same player after that, and even when he joined Glasgow Rangers in the summer of 1998, he never quite hit the heights. His status in Glasgow was that of a player good at turning the screw once Rangers were ahead, but who couldn’t produce in the big games.

The flat-track bully tag was perhaps best evidenced in the fact that he began to showboat. Once, memorably, with Rangers several goals to the good against Ayr United in a Scottish Cup semi-final, Kanchelskis received a pass in space on the right flank. He stood on top of the ball with both feet and raised his hand to his brow as if surveying his options. A swift one-two with Claudio Reyna and Kanchelskis whipped the ball in for Billy Dodds to score. It was a memorable moment, replayed endlessly in the days that followed, but Ayr’s players and fans felt it was unnecessary to do it against a minnow already heading for a convincing defeat. They just wanted to enjoy their big day out at Hampden Park by that point, and Kanchelskis had rubbed their noses in it.

But if he got away with that one, signs that his powers were on the wane were more apparent in a game with Kilmarnock at Ibrox, when Kanchelskis performed an even more pointless trick, completing a 360-degree turn without touching the ball. His marker, who’d kept his eye on the ball, wasn’t even close to being fooled and the Ukrainian then failed to get his cross in. He did little of particular note in what remained of his career, as he drifted to Manchester City (loan), Southampton, Saudi Arabia and Russia before eventually retiring at 38.

It was not the end he would have wished for his career, but he will always be remembered by fans of United and Everton for the way he brought pace, goals and skill to the first half of the 1990s. He also provided a certain amount of exoticism as a foreign player. He was one of just 13 non-Brits to play in the Premier League’s opening weekend (the others were Schmeichel, Cantona, Jan Stejskal, Robert Warzycha, Roland Nilsson, Hans Segers, John Jensen, Anders Limpar, Gunnar Halle, Craig Forrest, Michel Vonk and Ronnie Rosenthal). How bizarre does such a statistic seem now? Today’s Premier League teams have, on average, 13 foreign players each.

Andrei Kanchelskis was unusual. He came from a place we knew little about, seemed to run differently, shoot differently, even celebrate differently – his arms outstretched, slightly bent at the elbows, hands turned in, as if ready to embrace the first person that could catch him.

The Cantonas, Bergkamps, Henrys and Beckhams are all rightly revered for the contributions they have made to football in this shiny Premier League era. But we should not forget that Andrei Kanchelskis more than did his bit too.

Gloria! Hosannah in Kanchelskis!
(Or, to use a less pretentious subhead, ‘Five Memorable Andrei Kanchelskis Moments’)

1) An absolute monster of a goal against Oldham in the 1994 FA Cup Semi Final. United are making rather heavy work of this fixture, and so Andrei decides to take matters into his own hands...

2) A stunning volley for Rangers away at Dunfermline – one of the few special moments of his time in Glasgow.

3) A terrific hat-trick for Everton against Sheffield Wednesday (you’ll notice a rare Daniel Amokachi goal in there too).

4) A decidedly scrappier hat-trick in the Manchester derby. But still, a hat-trick in the derby is something to savour, especially when you win 5-0. Kanchelskis is the only player in history to have scored in all three of the Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow derbies. Some feat.

5) A sublime goal against Forest in the 1994/95 season. It’s the first goal in this enjoyable compilation video. Watch for the view from inside the net to see just how well he picks his spot here. If Bergkamp had done that, it would have been Goal Of The Season in any season.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Learning to not like ‘Arry

Harry Redknapp divides opinion like few other football managers. Some see him as a straight-talking, canny, shrewd operator and a wonderful motivator of players, while others see him as over-rated, ungracious and untrustworthy. In fact, many in the latter camp have more-or-less already made up their minds that he must have been involved in some illegal activity; the odd dodgy deal or twelve over the years.

I’ve always put myself – albeit increasingly tentatively – on Redknapp’s side. This is not a fashionable point of view, particularly in recent years. As a Bournemouth fan, who started watching the Cherries in the 1988/89 season and became instantly hooked for life, Harry was something of an idol to me as a child. Redknapp, captain Mark Newson, goalkeeper Gerry Peyton, classy midfielder Ian Bishop, and talismanic striker Luther Blissett were my heroes that first season at Dean Court. They were the key men, and none of them could do any wrong in my eyes. They all seemed immaculately good at their respective jobs. Redknapp seemed so much cleverer and more earnest than most of the kick-n-rush football managers of the late 1980s. I was, in short, a big fan. But that’s started to change in recent times, and never more so than this season. But I’ll get to that later.

Let me first explain where my fondness for the man comes from. The late 1980s were a cynical time for football. Much romanticised now of course, now we’re all pining for crumbling terraces and £5 tickets, but at the time it wasn’t much fun for many football fans. Functional football was increasingly the order of the day. Huge centre backs and centre forwards would crash into each other, nippy wingers would be chopped down by hard-as-nails full backs wearing metal studs, anybody with an ounce of guile – Peter Beardsley, Kevin Sheedy, Ossie Ardiles and the like – were adored like messiahs by the fans; givers of the few moments of flair that would, once in a while, light up a muddy Saturday afternoon and make it worthwhile.

The beauty of Harry Redknapp was his ability to combine skill and toughness into one side – a quality his teams still often exhibit today. The squad contained the flair of Bishop, Sean O’Driscoll and the vastly underrated Shaun Brooks, the searing pace of Richard Cooke, but also the rugged bite-yer-legs-and-any-stray-testicles graft and occasional downright nastiness of Tony Pulis. Most of the squad could really play, including the back four, but there was that bit of steel when it was needed. You can apply this template to most Redknapp sides ever since.

He was a champion wheeler-dealer even back then. Yes, I used the phrase ‘wheeler-dealer’. What better expression is there? That’s what he is. It’s not an insult. Astute signings from the Football League such as Gavin Peacock, John Williams, Blissett and Bishop were combined with brilliant, inspired non-league discoveries like Sean Teale, Efan Ekoku and Newson (pinched from Maidstone United, under the nose of apoplectic manager Barry Fry, after Redknapp found out Newson hadn’t actually signed his contract at Maidstone – Fry telling Redknapp in response that “there'll be two blokes coming down the motorway to shoot your ****ing kneecaps off”).

Bournemouth had their highest ever league finish under Redknapp in 1989, hanging around the Second Division play-offs until late March before petering out and ending up 12th. Sadly, they were relegated the following season (minus Ian Bishop, I should add), and Redknapp would soon depart the club. In a (not widely known) moment of controversy, it emerged after his departure that Redknapp had accepted a payment of £100,000 from then chairman Norman Hayward on leaving the club. Hayward insisted the money was his own and hadn’t cost the club, but still nobody knew what the payment was for. The story caused some unrest among the fans and led to the council withdrawing a grant for car park improvements. It was to be the first of a fistful of allegations and rumours that would dog Redknapp at various times during the long managerial career he has enjoyed.

After he left Bournemouth, I continued to follow Redknapp’s fortunes with some interest. West Ham effectively became my second team for several years. Players like Bishop and Matt Holmes continued a long-standing tradition of links between the two clubs, which carried on throughout the 1990s with the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe joining the Cherries on loan, and Matt Holland and Scott Mean arriving on free transfers – much of this on Redknapp’s recommendation, no doubt.

And so there are the foundations for my liking of the man. Over the years since he left Bournemouth, I’ve defended him so many times when other football fans have been critical or taken the mick. I’ve sometimes felt that the main things he gets attacked for are slightly unfair.

The wheeler-dealer issue first. Surely the very definition of a wheeler-dealer is someone who buys and sells a lot of things, chiselling out a profit overall. Yes, he buys and sells at a rate of knots, but it’s misleading to say that he’s wasteful with money – as a lot of pub bores do. During his 27-year career as a manager the ‘spent’ and ‘recouped’ columns from his transfers are almost exactly balanced at approx £220-230 million each; if anything the ‘recouped’ total is slightly the bigger figure. That’s textbook wheeler-dealage! The bargains (Rafael Van der Vaart £8m, Sean Teale £50,000, and an honourable mention to Robert Prosinecki on a free while director of football at Portsmouth) and the stinkers (Robbie Keane £12m, John Utaka £7m, Nigel Quashie £2.1m) balance out and leave Redknapp marginally in the black.

Then there’s the twitch. People always laugh at silly old Harry with his craggy, jowly face and his ‘hilarious’ twitch. The affliction seemed to coincide with Redknapp’s recovery from a major car crash at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, in which Bournemouth’s inspirational managing director Brian Tiler was killed. Redknapp was lucky to escape from the wreckage with his life – and I’ve no recollection of him twitching before that. So as well as permanently losing his sense of smell in the crash, that twitch is a perhaps permanent reminder of the day Redknapp lost a colleague and a very close friend. It’s probably not something to make a cheap joke about.

The biggest Redknapp haters of all are probably Southampton fans – and they are perhaps the ones I do have some degree of sympathy for. He did take them down, and he couldn’t get out of St Mary’s quick enough when the chance came to return to arch rivals Portsmouth. To offer some sort of caveat, he did inherit a poor squad, where the likes of Darren Kenton and Neil McCann were getting games, and he did have Clive Woodward brought in over his head the next season – a rugby coach with no football experience. So it’s not quite as simple as dismissing him as a Judas, though it’s certainly true that he could have handled things a lot better.

But among the average football fan there has been a move towards having a go at Redknapp about every little thing he says in recent years. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people in pubs where I’ve stuck up for the guy, and it’s been getting harder to win those arguments I can tell you. It’s been a challenge not to get sucked into following the herd, and sticking steadfastly to my own feelings about the man. Until this season, that is. I’ve gone. I’ve finally cracked.

Good grief – he’s been a dislikeable sod this season, hasn’t he? It’s been a non-stop torrent of spite and selfishness. He’s declared interest in the England job (more than once) when England have a manager and he himself has a contract at Tottenham. He’s threatened to stop talking to the press after speculation he could get into hot water for some conspiratorial and disparaging comments about referee Mark Clattenburg following Nani’s controversial goal at Old Trafford against his team. He’s humiliated an interviewer live on air for using the ‘wheeler-dealer’ tag ("I'm not a wheeler and dealer – f*** off. I've not made my name as a wheeler and dealer, don't say that. I'm a f***ing football manager"). He’s blamed Spurs’ performance away at Young Boys on the artificial surface, when clearly his team defended like they’d never seen each other before. He’s winged to anyone that would listen that Man City wouldn’t loan him Craig Bellamy – why the heck should they? Would he have loaned them anyone that could help them finish above Spurs? Of course not. And when asked before the World Cup if he was interested in signing Joe Cole, he hinted in no uncertain terms that Cole already had a deal in place with another club, giving no thought to whether the player himself might want to tell the Chelsea fans that had supported him for years that he was moving on. He’s become a real fan of poking his nose into other clubs’ business, and openly discussing rumours with journalists instead of politely avoiding the questions.

So the question is: were all of you Redknapp haters right about the man all along? Or has he just become much more objectionable in recent years?

He is, of course, due back in court in the next few months – to answer charges of tax evasion along with Milan Mandaric and Peter Storrie. Which makes his status as bookies’ favourite to be the next England manager quite interesting. Obviously he’s innocent until proven guilty, but if Fabio Capello has another couple of bad results and walks, Redknapp could conceivably be convicted of the crime while in the job. Then what?

Harry Redknapp, despite spending most of his career managing middling teams, has a career win percentage of roughly 40% – no mean feat. He has the knack of getting the best out of players, particularly those that lack the intelligence to comprehend complicated tactical instructions – as recent quotes from Van der Vaart made clear. He is a wily, savvy, dogged survivor. But though it saddens me to say it – deary me, he hasn’t half turned into a bit of a tosser.

Monday, 1 November 2010

How Danny Baker changed my life

It's with much sadness that I read today's news confirming that Danny Baker is battling cancer. I'm sure we all really hope the big man pulls through. I have special reasons for adoring the guy and it feels only right to document them here.

In early 2002 I was surprised to be invited to attend an interview for a place on a journalism postgraduate course in London that I'd speculatively applied for. I rocked up to the interview feeling blasé and like I had nothing to lose. I'd ummed and erred about whether journalism was for me during my undergraduate days, and really hadn't been the most proactive person in terms of getting work placements or internships during my studies. I was about to head off backpacking and was going to London for the interview experience as much as anything.

First question: name a journalist you admire and talk about the reasons why. My mind went blank - I was not an avid reader of newspapers and spent most of my time reading about football rather than *proper*, hard subjects like news, politics and other terrifyingly grown-up things. The only name coming to mind was Danny Baker. Man alive!

I decided to run with it, and gave an impassioned five-minute speech about why Baker is a genius, an essential part of the footballing press and an inspirational user of the English language. There were initially raised eyebrows from the panel at my choice (I think most people said AA Gill, Will Self and the like) but clearly I won them over because they offered me a rare place on the course despite the rest of the interview being downright ordinary. I haven't looked back since. So thanks Dan, I really owe you one.

The love affair with Baker and his wonderful vocabulary began in childhood with his series of Own Goals & Gaffs videos and other similar releases. I was bought the first installment as a Christmas present. "Why have you bought me a video by the man from the Daz adverts?" was my baffled response to my parents. But as soon as I stuck it on, I was hooked.

I used to play Own Goals & Gaffs over and over again. I knew every sentence, in the same way that some people can quote you the entire script of Withnail & I or scenes from Spaced verbatim. The rich and florid language used by Baker, combined with his London twang, fascinated me. It was like a door had been opened in my mind: this was how to get the most out of our Mother Tongue. It was the moment in my childhood when I realised that using long or intelligent words was not simply a preserve of the pompous; it was not necessarily done to exclude the uninformed but to embrace the possibilities available in a language riddled with near-infinite possibilities.

If you haven't seen the Own Goals & Gaffs series, I would urge you to try and pick them up at the earliest opportunity, even if you have to buy them on VHS and track down something to play them on. The footage is very funny in itself, but what makes it is Baker's introduction and commentary over the clips. It would always be the small detail that caught his attention - an old man in the crowd sarcastically applauding a hairbrained own goal by his team, a bald fella falling over, a fleeting glance between goalkeeper and defender as they attempted to blame each other without moving their lips. Baker would highlight all of this minutiae to the viewer; it was delicious.

Into my teens and the Radio 5 show Baker & Kelly Upfront was essential listening. The idea of a football phone-in that spent hardly any time talking about action on the pitch, instead concentrating on every other aspect of being a supporter, perfectly summed up what it is to be a football fan in this country.

And by football fan, I mean a fan of football. Some people just support their team, and as long as they win that's all that matters. I, and I suspect most of you, have never been that way. I am a fan of the game, played in the right way and in the right spirit. And that spirit has to include humour. Without humour the game would die. Would we really pay anything from £5 to £50 to watch our team if there was no possibility of the referee falling over, a hilarious own goal, some girlish fisticuffs between foppish midfielders or - best of all - a brief floodlight failure? It is all this other stuff that Baker (and Kelly) would celebrate. And today more so than ever Baker's Saturday morning show on 5Live retains this heavy dose of the absurd. Any caller wanting to discuss the actual match action in a game is usually given short shrift in favour of a lady with an anecdote about how she knits baby booties during Reading's home matches.

But for all Baker's lovably verbose delivery, nothing makes me smile more than when a caller rings in with a beautifully silly football anecdote and Baker responds with a roaring, uncontrollable belly laugh of delight. In that moment, as you can almost hear the tears of joy rolling down his cheeks, he embodies us all, us proper football fans.

It's not about whether you win, lose or draw. It's about the last man, desperately dashing towards a ball trickling towards the goalline as a result of a squiffy back-pass, straining every sinue to get there in time, failing, and ending up in a heap with one boot stuck in the net. Wonderful. That is the game we love and the game Danny Baker brings us every single time we tune in.

Football is not about Alan Shearer telling us on Match Of The Day that a centre forward has "done great" in beating his man to a header. It's about Danny Baker asking former England captains whether they prefer red or brown sauce on a sausage sandwich.

Everything else is just noise.

Get well soon, Dan. I would say that I love you more than words but that wouldn't quite be true. I look forward to hearing more of your immaculate words soon.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Strange behaviour in the Darlington dugout

What is the point of any away team's manager getting involved with heated banter and bickering with the home fans? The very idea that a manager would even bother seems ludicrous. What possible good is ever going to come of it in terms of the team's performance on the pitch?

Some context. Yesterday I was at AFC Wimbledon v Darlington. The first thing to say is that Darlington got their tactics right, worked their socks off and were probably deserved winners. But Darlington manager Mark Cooper's conduct in the dugout was really bizarre.

Stood in my usual spot on the terraces behind the dugouts, I get to hear a lot of what the managers say during the game. I pick this spot because I find Dons manager Terry Brown's continual encouragement of his troops to keep calm and play attractive football rather heart-warming.

Opposition managers - Crawley's Steve Evans aside, obviously - have generally conducted themselves in a good manner this season at Kingsmeadow. I had always been under the impression that Mark Cooper was an intelligent, forward-thinking young manager - but that was not the impression I left with yesterday.

Some fans behind me were giving Cooper a little bit - and I emphasise the words 'little bit' - of stick, largely about how things hadn't worked out for him as manager of Peterborough. Cooper was giving a bit back for some reason, but it was largely harmless at this point. Then one fan quipped "How much dodgy money are they paying you at Darlo?", or words to that effect. Cooper's response was quite surprising.

He paused for a moment, then turned around and snarled: "About one-hundred-and-fifty grand, tax-free, ah-reet?!"

It's one thing to banter with the away fans - as the likes of Dagenham keeper Tony Roberts regularly demonstrate, you'll quickly gain widespread respect if your banter is good - but to spitefully start boasting about your salary just because a couple of fans have harmlessly taken the mick... as you can imagine, the fans took a real shine to Cooper from this point on.

During the second half, the manager continued to argue with the home fans. There was a lengthy debate between Cooper and the fans over a free-kick in Darlington's favour. And at one point, responding to a throwaway comment from a Dons fan, Cooper crowned his afternoon with a really bad 'Your Mum' joke aimed at one particular fan. And not a funny one either. How much is a manager's mind on his team's performance if he's coming up with crap jokes about supporters' mothers?

One final point. While Cooper remained a distracted presence for large periods of the game, his assistant Richard Dryden acquitted himself well. For much of the game it appeared that Dryden was calling most of the shots. On a couple of occasions it even appeared that Dryden had overruled Cooper on a couple of decisions. I'm sure it wasn't quite as it seemed, but there's no question that Dryden was the only one of the two that was fully focused on the game. Indeed he was the only person in the stadium who realised what had happened when the referee gave Darlington a penalty for more-or-less nothing in the second half.

Apologies if any of this sounds like sour grapes. Darlington did play well, with some impressive performances from the likes of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Chris Senior and live-wire substitute Daniel Powell. But their manager's behaviour was just plain odd.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Great footballing names: Max Power

A few weeks ago, some of you may have seen me prattling away on Twitter at the fact that Tranmere Rovers have a player – a local lad and highly-rated scholar of their youth team – who goes by the glorious name of: Max Power.

“Max Power. The man whose name you’d love to touch,” goes the Homer Simpson ditty (in Simpsons Episode 216 from 11 years ago, where Homer decides to change his name to Max Power after noticing it on a hairdryer). Here’s the lyrics and a clip I found on Youtube, in case you’ve not seen the episode.

“Max Power — he's the man whose name you'd love to touch...
But, you mustn't touch!
His name sounds good in your ear
But when you say it, you mustn't fear
Because his name can be said by anyone!”

According to Soccerbase, Power is yet to make his first team debut. But he does have a squad number (22) and was on the bench against Southampton at the weekend. So it won't be long... brace yourselves.

If you are a Tranmere supporter then I urge you: learn the Max Power song, teach it to your mates, and the first time the lad first runs onto the Prenton Park pitch, sing it at the top of your voices. Hopefully it will end up being sung at him on a regular basis. 

But this isn't just a blog by a man amused about another man because he has a good name. There is more to enjoy about the Wirral's Max Power. Like the fact that three years ago - when just a scrawny Scouse scamp in his mid-teens - Power set up his own Youtube channel. Here he announced himself to the world thus: "My name is Max Power. Am 14. I play for Tranmere Rovers FC. I like meetin birds and love makin funny and mad videos." 

A budding Nick Broomfield he is not, but regardless here are my three favourites:

1) Max Power slaps his mate. For a laugh, like

2) Max Power pranks his sister during the night

3) Max Power and his school chums belting out "You'll Never Walk Alone" on a train

You can imagine that last one getting dredged up if he ever signs for Everton. That's some serious Red-loving passion in Power's face on 57 seconds. If only Youtube had been around in Jamie Carragher's Everton-supporting teenage years.

Anyway, like the Homer song, this blog doesn't really make sense. I just wanted to be the first person to write anything significant on the subject of Max Power the footballer. If he makes it big, you heard of him here first. 

Even without the Simpsons episode, the name conjures up memories of the laddish car magazine of the same name - the one you used to see sitting on the passenger seats of souped-up Vauxhall Novas with fancy hubcaps and Ford Fiestas with silly spoilers on the back. The merest mention of the name Max Power will always make us smile. Look, I'll prove it to you. Here are three random and otherwise fairly mundane mentions of the lad in what little press coverage he's had so far:

  • "In contrast to Southampton's resources, Tranmere manager Les Parry had to put 17-year-old academy player Max Power on the bench."
  • "It was a miss that was followed by a lull in the proceedings until Max Power drilled a shot straight at Bouzanis after a neat exchange with Ryan Fraughan on the half hour mark."
  • "The Rovers side also included keeper Andy Coughlin, who was on the bench during a few first team games last year, and captain Jay Gibbs, though hotly-tipped midfielder Max Power missed out."

See?  :)

I'll leave you with The Simpsons family's reaction to Homer's name change - because if this ridiculous idea for a blog post has achieved one thing, it's probably been to make you crave watching the whole episode, and I cannot bring you that. 

If you are reading this and you happen to know Max Power, or indeed if you are Max Power, please get in touch. I’d love to do an interview with the young man whose fledgling career we will all surely be keeping tabs on. Even if it's mostly because we'd really love to touch his name.


Lisa: "Max Power"?
Homer: Dynamic, isn't it?
Bart: I love it, Max.
Marge: You changed your name without consulting me?
Homer: That's the way Max Power is, Marge. Decisive. Uncompromising! And rude!
Marge: But I fell in love with Homer Simpson! I don't want to snuggle with "Max Power!"
Homer: Nobody snuggles with Max Power. You strap yourself in and feel the "G"s!
Marge: Oh, Lord.
Homer: And it doesn't stop in the bedroom. Oh, no. I'm taking charge! Kids, there's three ways to do things. The right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!
Bart: Isn't that the wrong way?
Homer: Yeah, but faster!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Non-League Day: Sutton 1 Billericay 0

Never was so much fun had in the name of a worthy cause. Here's how my Saturday afternoon was spent on Non-League Day.

Having ummed and erred for a few weeks trying to decide where to go for Non-League Day, I was more than happy I'd chosen Sutton United v Billericay Town as soon as I walked into the Borough Sports Ground on Gander Green Lane.

This place has everything you could want from a non-league ground. A club shop in a portacabin with a thick, lush hedge growing on top. Strange, curved terracing bending right the way behind the goal at the far end (Wikipedia says it was once used for 'racing' - not sure if they mean dogs, horses or humans). A giraffe for a mascot - well Sutton do play in yellow and brown! A boy with a rasping little vuvuzela that he blows for shock value every time an opposition player is about to shoot or cross . A quaint shack on the far side called "Rose's Tea Hut". Big-brand companies' sponsor boards (Tesco, Zurich, Securicor) standing side-by-side with ads for local timber merchants and skip-hire firms. The home team's manager (Paul Doswell), occasionally heading to the stand to watch spells of the action up there, but continuing to bawl instructions at his charges so that his voice booms around under the metal main stand roof. This is, as they say, 'proper football'.

The standard of football's terrific too. Sutton's front four of Bradley Woods-Garness, Richard Jolly, Craig Dundas and Fola Orilonishe have the lot - industry, guile, pace - it's most easy on the eye. While at the back, Jason Goodliffe remains as rock-like as he was in his AFC Wimbledon days. Billericay's Leon McKenzie scored 54 goals in 104 appearances for Peterborough, yet he doesn't stand out from a very decent overall standard here. One of the few who does look too good for this level, however, is ex-Watford and Burnley player Micah Hyde in the 'Ricay midfield. When he gets the ball he looks a class apart, even at 35.

Ten minutes in and Jolly almost gets a shot in on goal, but is charged down. The ball breaks lose and Woods-Garness shows excellent pace and bravery to get there fractionally before the keeper and nudge the ball home. It proved to be the only goal, as Sutton, urged on by their constantly vocal support, pressed and harried all over the pitch during what was a very enjoyable 90 minutes.

It's worth giving a better mention to these fans. They were such good value that I'd go and watch Sutton again any day just because it's a pleasure to take in a game with such lively and good-natured guys. At one point, Sutton won a free-kick and the referee, who'd be annoying the home fans for a spell, made a point of pacing out the 10 yards from the ball where the wall had to stand. "One! Two! Three! Four!" bellowed the fans each time he took a step. But they were only to get as far as eight. "Boooooooo!" Maybe it sounds crass to repeat, but it's very funny when you're part of it.

The attendance is read out over the loud speaker during the second half: 733. An increase of over 200 on the previous home games this season. Well done to the organisers of Non-League Day - it certainly had the desired effect at dozens of grounds around the country; even if certain media could have done a lot more to promote it (I'm looking at you, Auntie). My dad (Bournemouth fan) and brother (Villa fan) went to Moneyfields v Farnborough North End in the FA Vase (5-2, cracking game apparently). Moneyfields more than doubled their previous attendance, in another example of Non-League Day making a real difference. Already looking forward to the next one: 9 October, it says here. Can't wait.

All photos linked to in this piece were taken by Paul Loughlan, a talented snapper who uploads pictures from loads of Sutton games to his Flickr page - what a treat

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

New challenges. Variety in life. Why do so few footballers crave these basic desires?

First off, I'm going to start this blog by comparing Football Manager with the real world. This is done and dusted with a minimum of fuss, so bear with me.

I've been playing Football Manager 2010 on a reasonably regular basis since it's launch late last autumn. For the first time in almost a decade, I'm actually quite good at it. I've taken AFC Wimbledon up the leagues, taken over a Liverpool side that had persevered with Rafa Benitez until 2014 and turned them into double winners, and reversed the fortunes of Lecce and Sheffield Wednesday.

But I just can't settle. Once I win one decent trophy, I find I lose interest over the following close season. One trophy in the cabinet and I'm spent - my work there is done. I start eyeing up leagues in other countries, thinking "I quite fancy winning something over there now". Or, I start looking further down the Football Pyramid. Yes, I've won the league with Liverpool, but rather than win it again, would it be more fun to win the Championship with Swansea? Maybe I could get Thurrock into League Two?

This has got me thinking about ambition among real-life footballers and managers, especially those that hang around at one club for ages, winning the same trophies multiple times. Can it ever be more satisfying the second time you win the Premier League or FA Cup, for example? Can it even be equally satisfying? Does Ryan Giggs treasure his fifth, seventh or tenth Premier League winner's medal as much as his first?

English players are particularly prone to staying in one place. Perhaps they develop stronger bonds with devoted supporters that make it harder to leave a club? Steven Gerrard should probably have left Liverpool after winning the Champions League in 2005 and tried to achieve other things in the game somewhere else. Clearly, he was tempted. Was it his bond with the fans that made him stay? Or was it a very English fear of new places, new cultures, funny foreign food, having to learn a language?

Maybe Gerrard's not quite the right example. He's been loyal to his local community and that's pretty admirable. But what about Frank Lampard? Why's he still at Chelsea? Does (or perhaps 'did' is a better word) he worry he'd be a failure at Internazionale or Real Madrid? Was it just safer to stay at a club that based their tactics around him rather than take a risk?

Personally, as a fan, I love it when a player moves somewhere wholly unexpected. Maybe it comes from being eight years old when Luther Blissett joined my team, Bournemouth, in 1988. It came from out of the blue. It was as if, perversely, he wanted to play in AC Milan's kit again. We couldn't believe it. And he was consistently brilliant for us, with a goal record of roughly one in two, often winning us games on his own.

Jose Mourinho's a man after my own heart - get in, grab some trophies, move on to the next challenge. He used to annoy me at Chelsea at times, but since he's gone I've realised how much we need people like that. The continual quest for both success and new challenges are what make truly great football personalities that we can all admire.

Craig Bellamy joined Cardiff last month. If you overlook some of the questionable financial issues behind the deal, it's undeniably a maverick and sexy move. Imagine being a Cardiff season ticket holder and finding out you've got Bellamy. I bet if you'd said to Cardiff fans, "You can have Bellamy for a year, and he'll play his nuts off for you, but you've got to give up beer for the whole season," they'd have bitten your hand off. But he is there. And the boyos have still got frothing pints of Brains in hand. This is certainly the first time I've ever said these words, but fair play to you Craig Bellamy, I nod approvingly in your general direction.

Some more examples of players making shock transfers to clubs that they didn't need to join, they just thought it would be interesting (note, the transfer doesn't have to have been deemed a success over time to qualify here): Attilio Lombardo to Palace in 1997 - came out of left field, excited the fans; David James to Bristol City - nobody saw that one coming, England's World Cup keeper suddenly turning out at Ashton Gate; Real Madrid's Guti to Besiktas this summer - just look at how much it meant to these rather excited Turkish fans; Dave MacKay to Derby during Brian Clough's reign - a double winner and Cup Winners Cup winner dropping a division to join a then-unproven loudmouth at an unfashionable club - ticks all the boxes. Please feel free to suggest any obvious ones I've missed.

Did these players lack ambition in joining these clubs? No. They still wanted to win every week. They might have made themselves big fish in small ponds, but they liked the nature of such a challenge, of bringing new levels of excitement to fans used to mediocrity and same-old-same-old. They could perhaps have earned more money or stood more chance of winning the league elsewhere, but they appreciated that life isn't all about money, and they already had trophies.

I'd like to see more great players drop down the leagues as their enter the twilight of their careers too. Yes, there's a certain nobility to Eric Cantona calling it quits at his peak, but think of the goals and moments we've lost as a result. Yes, there's a risk of iconic players getting kicked by jobbing centre backs at Lincoln on a wet Tuesday night, but that's what referees are there for isn't it?

There is still a chance that in a year or two Paul Scholes will say 'see ya' to Manchester United and have one glorious season at Oldham before he hangs up his boots. If you were an Oldham fan, wouldn't that be just the most exciting and memorable thing that's ever happened to your club? At the very least, it seems he'll do some coaching at Oldham when his playing days are over, but Latics fans want to see the man on the pitch - their pitch. In their kit. Just a few beautiful times.

I'll end with a couple of questions for you to ponder.

If you could pick one player to join your club, who would you pick and why?

And if you could send one player or manager in world football, to one particular club, with purely good intentions rather than anything malicious (ie. no Gary Neville to Liverpool, etc), just for the sheer childlike wonder of it - who would you pick, which club, and why?

Zinedane Zidane's just announced he's coming out of retirement and he's signing for your club as player/coach. Allow yourself the idle dream for a moment. This is football - we need these daydreams to keep our fire for the game burning. But we need them to actually happen sometimes too.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

You, me and Rothmans

This week, it was with no small amount of delight that I took delivery of this season's Sky Sports Football Yearbook  (or 'Rothmans' as all football fans still refer to it). I haven't had one for a long time - not since my teens - and had forgotten what a pleasure it is to leaf through its thin, cheap pages.

Reassuringly still edited by father and daughter team Jack and Glenda Rollin, it does a brilliant job of reminding you all the stuff from previous seasons that you'd forgotten about - particularly the most recent season.

But what it's even better at is alerting you to interesting (depending on your definition of 'interesting') facts and stats that you'd completely missed.

In an attempt to prove how gloriously nerdy, fascinating and useful this book is, I am setting myself the challenge of finding one interesting nugget of information every three minutes, for thirty minutes, and then I'll report back on what I discover. Ok here goes...

As Fist of Fun's Simon Quinlank used to say in the 1990s, "You may drink your weak lemon drink now."

  1. I had no idea that the following four individuals had all managed Doncaster Rovers: Lawrie McMenemy (68-71), Billy Bremner (78-85 and 89-91), Dave Mackay (87-89), Kerry Dixon (96-97).
  2. The 1950 FA Charity Shield was contested between, bizarrely, the "World Cup Team" versus "Canadian Touring Team". What the heck? Anyway, the Canadians went down 4-2. 
  3. Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario scored two goals in one season, playing for Academica in the Portuguese league.
  4. Celtic once lost 8-0 to Motherwell.
  5. Sir Alf Ramsey managed Birmingham from 1977-78 - how did I not know this? (Incidentally, Birmingham's managerial history features some cracking names including: Billy Beer, Bob Brocklebank and Roberts McRoberts.
  6. On 17 December 2009, Lazio hosted Levski in Europa League Group G. The score was a shock 0-1 victory for Levski. More surprising is the recorded attendance in Rome that night: 3,000. Youtube footage suggests most of these were Levski fans. Anyone know where the Lazio fans were that night?
  7. Milton Keynes Dons, a team formed as recently as 2004, mysteriously has a managerial history dating back to 1955 including Dave Bassett, Bobby Gould and Joe Kinnear. I assume this is a mis-print, right? 
  8. In a nod to the modern world, crusty old Rothmans now lists on each club's entry the official email address you should use if you want to contact the club. Most, rather boringly, have "info@clubname" style corporate email address. Not Swindon though. If you want to get in touch with Swindon, you have to email "Brian P". Rothmans says so.
  9. Wing-half George Farrow completed five years in all four Football League divisions in 1936 after a spell at Second Division Blackpool followed spells at Wolves (Div 1), Bournemouth (Div 3 South) and Stockport (Div 3 North).
  10. Since WWII, total attendance figures for England's top division have always been above 10 million, with the exception of the period 1982-1993, when they were consistenly below this number, dropping as low as 7.8 million. In fairness, football was quite rubbish during this period.
So there's 10 quickfire reasons why Rothmans is a geeky delight. This genuinely was researched under timed conditions - this stuff is everywhere once you start flicking through. I'll find a thousand more little nuggets like this over the course of the season no doubt, with Rothmans always in easy grabbing distance from the sofa.

If anyone's interested, here's a gallery of the first 30 years of Rothmans covers. 1986/87 is a belter. 

Go on, admit it, your inner nerd is itching to head over to a famous rivery-sounding online bookshop isn't it? If it's not, then I'm sorry I've wasted your time and I'll let you get back to listening to Talksport.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

This afternoon with Richard and Jamie

Messyrs Keys and Redknapp can flag-wave for the “best league in the world” and the latter’s own father all they like. We just wish they’d wave a white one.

Sunday's Community Shield wasn't a bad game; I rather enjoyed spells of it. There were goals, the better footballing side won, we were treated to a new goalscoring face in Javier Hernandez and enjoyed the funniest goal we'll see all year. So why was I left feeling deflated? Two reasons, one greater than the other: Richard Keys and Jamie Redknapp.

The lesser of my gripes first. Redknapp has long been derided for the level of his analysis. Women like him apparently, so that’s ok. I liked him a lot as a player. I was lucky enough to watch him as a 16-year-old for Bournemouth before Graeme Souness snaffled him away to Anfield. But his punditry is a bit like watching Chas cook a fried breakfast, while Dave talks you through it. He tells idiots what they ought to have already spotted, just in case they haven't.

"He's opened the beans, Richard. Now look at the way Chas pours the baked beans into the saucepan there, while keeping his eye on the bacon. He’s using all his experience there, Richard. I believe that, I really do."

For his first season or two in the job, Redknapp was a harmless, earnest presence in the Sky studio. He brought a bit of enthusiasm; he knew a lot of the players so he could offer some personal insight – all told, he was mildly irksome at worst.

These days there’s a bitter edge to him that borders on the teenage. He gets irrationally worked up about things, as if some producer’s told him to get more irate. You got the impression today – during the rather off-topic World Cup post-mortem prior to kick off – that not only did he want to throttle Fabio Capello, but that Capello’s lack of Englishness was his main reason for wanting to. He was really going for it; the phrase “he’s lost the plot” cropping up at least once. It’s as if he has become cheerleader-in-chief for his dad’s quest to land the top job at Soho Square. And Keys was only to happy to egg him on.

Now on to Keys. I’ve recently got Sky Sports again, after a hiatus of several years watching it in the pub and not having to listen to him very often. I was quite shocked by the man today. Whereas he used to have the awkward-but-affable keenness of a man that’s only discovered football recently, he’s now morphed into an unpleasant and slippery Murdoch propaganda merchant, cunningly disguised as a Lego man in a cheap suit.

Here’s just one of his endless plugging attempts from today, paraphrased reasonably accurately: “If you haven’t watched a Sky game in 3D yet: it’s sensational. Trust me”. You work for the goddamn channel Richard – don’t insist that we trust you. Just tell us what you’ve got.

Why the ruddy heck would we trust you, when you seem to spend dedicate the majority of your time on air to trumpeting on about the “best league in the world” and how we must make sure we don’t miss the “big game on Monday night” – even if said fixture is Big Team A inevitably trampling on Relegation Fodder Team B.

Today he kept on informing us that, after the disappointment of the World Cup (a tournament entirely broadcast on terrestrial television, let’s not forget), it was great to be looking forward to the big crunch games between the Manchester Uniteds and the Chelseas again. Well, no Richard, it’s not really. Some of us would rather watch Chile v Honduras or Schalke v Stuttgart at the moment. The Premier League is losing its lustre and, judging by Keys’ and Sky’s tub-thumping party line, Sky more than a little worried.

In the wake of BT Vision being allowed to offer Sky Sports 1 and 2 to its customers, Sky’s response is to move Sky Sports News off Freeview (taking Jeff and the boys with it) and, going by this month’s listings, shunt rather more live games to Sky Sports 3 than it usually does. You imagine the folk that flog Sky Sports’ advertising space are finding it a slightly harder sell this summer.

There are so many reasons why the Premier League is not what it was. But one of the biggest reasons is that it's getting a bit repetitive. And yet another season of Richard Keys telling us that the latest drab derby game "could turn into a classic in the second half" is distinctly unpalatable. Richard and Jamie may think Capello should have gone this summer. Well, there's plenty of us who think they should have been given their P45s by Sky too.


At the end of the Sky broadcast today – during that tediously jokey, show’s-winding-down-so-we-can-all-talk-over-the-top-of-each-other bit – Redknapp and Andy Gray were mocking Keys’ bright orange tie. Somehow Hernandez’s name cropped up, and Jamie Redknapp dimly wondered aloud: “What’s ‘orange tie’ in Mexican?”

“Stylish,” was Keys’ response. Goons, the pair of them.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Into the archives: Pathé football films, 1931-67

I was recently introduced to the archive of old football films on the British Pathé website. I tweeted a couple of things at the time, more or less while still laughing at them. But I've now been back to revisit, and they're all just as good on second viewing. 

Here's a few highlights of what I found while hunting around the site. No doubt if you search for your team you might unearth further gems. Feel free to post links to them in the comments at the bottom of this post.

This is an absolute belter, as Southampton are put through their paces in front of the cameras. Look at the state of the crummy medal their manager wears (to training, no less) commemorating his FA Cup Final appearance with West Ham in 1923. Left winger Laurence Fishlock looks a bit handy, and we're even treated to a surprisingly slick slow-motion replay of his wing wizardry. (Fishlock, if you're interested, was also a fine cricketer for Surrey). The high point of this clip though is surely the defensive clearance from Bill Adams - agricultural, I think they call that.

Arsenal's management team introduce their 'happy family' team at Highbury ahead of their 1932 FA Cup Final with Newcastle. Herbert Chapman's a little husky so he passes duties on to his assistant who introduces the boys to us, one of whom is 'Little Charlie Jones', whose slight air of shiftiness suggests he's either just killed a man or perhaps really needs a wee. Another cricketer lurks within Arsenal's ranks you'll notice. Goalkeeper Frank Moss pulls no punches on how little he's enjoying his experience in front of camera. Edris Hapgood, who went on to captain England and was one of those who had to give the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler, is not trusted with talking to camera here and instead just glowers. Great hair, even better collars and a nice little sing-song at the end. 

Scenes from Tottenham overpowering OFK Belgrade in a fixture played on somebody's allotment. This is worth a look for some great shots of the stadium including a gorgeous wide angle shot of White Hart Lane at half-time. The commentator's early prediction that "there may be some needle in this game" almost comes true, but just handbags sadly.

"His timing to meet the ball is really wonderful". More shots from training, this time Newcastle perform a few perfunctory actions like kicking and throwing as the narrator assures us we're watching some sort of master-class. The keeper can apparently "punch 'em, catch 'em and put 'em out of harm's way". All the more impressive if performed in a natty roll-neck jumper.

A silent one this, but no less enjoyable. For reasons unknown, the referee tosses the coin for the two captains and what appears to be a jockey. There then follows some eccentric fans, some shaky camerawork, a view-obstructing post and some glimpses of what looks to have been an awful FA Cup Fourth Round tie.

Dubbed the "Cockney Cup Final", this film shows the footage Pathé got at Wembley as Spurs took on Chelsea. Stick with this one through the so-so first-half highlights as there's a real treat after the teams walk off. The narrator enthuses: "Let's relive that first half through some of the faces in the crowd - the faces of Wembley". Great, a chance to revel in the fever of Cup Final day. Oh. Most of them look like they're witnessing some sort of horrific emergency dentistry.

No messing about, straight into the action as Wycombe Wanderers take on Bishop Auckland in the Amateur Cup Final. Impressively, Bishop Auckland are going for the hat-trick of wins. An early sign that they may indeed achieve this comes early as Wanderers winger Len Worley fluffs an easy ball. Lovely understatement from the commentator who notes that he "makes a bad pass". Watch it for yourself. That's not a bad pass. That's the worst connection anybody ever made with a football until this. Anyway, the Bishops run up the other end and score. They look pretty nifty even now. Wycombe are powerless to stop them clinching the hat-trick. One final point: look at the size of the bloody crowd! Packed.

Hooray! It's the annual boxers versus jockeys charity football match at West Ham, everyone's favourite thing that ever happens ever. We're introduced to the two teams and their magnificent shorts, and as the caption points out in stern brackets: "(One of the team is black)". Cor blimey guv'nor, etc. A mysterious celebrity chap kicks the game off - and wellies it straight up someone's backside. What larks. The boxers then unveil their clever tactical ploy: dainty little lobs over the heads of the puny jockeys, over and over again. The clip ends with the jockeys coming back strongly. A decision goes against the boxers and a burly midfielder is so livid he picks up the ball and hurls it at his own goal. Howard Webb would card you for that these days, of course.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

It's the hope that thrills you...

Pre-season: you could argue a case for this being the best time of year to be a football fan. Optimism peaks as a new season begins, last term’s failings a distant memory. And this pre-season it’s worse than ever...

If you had to say something nice about the 2010 World Cup, you'd say that there were some intriguing tactical battles between some highly organised and efficient teams. But that's not exactly a gushing compliment. To liken most of the teams at this World Cup to poker players, a lot of sides were essentially sitting back, folding everything and waiting for aces. Netherlands, Paraguay, Denmark, take your pick. There were plenty of teams waiting for someone else to make a mistake rather than risk making one themselves.

I'd put myself towards the nerdier end of football fans, and found the tactical musings of Zonal Marking and Jonathan Wilson fascinating reading during the tournament, but we were all craving so much more than just great tactics. Few of the flair players delivered in South Africa, be it through tiredness or effective opposition tactics negating their influence. The ones that could have made games exciting failed to do so, for a multitude of reasons. It wasn't an abysmal World Cup but, if you're like me, you were sneakily quite relieved when it was over.

It was time to start looking forward to the new domestic season. And how. I’ve thrown myself into pre-season with never-seen-before enthusiasm. Where previously I viewed pre-season friendlies as a way of passing the time on a sunny day, they now became enticing prospects.

Having recently moved to southwest London, I’ve decided to take the plunge and accompany an AFC Wimbledon-supporting mate in getting season tickets at Kingsmeadow this season. I’m not a Wimbledon supporter, but have tracked their progress with interest as they gradually return to prominence. It promises to be an intriguing campaign, with the Dons having turned professional over the close season, assembling a young, hungry squad all desperate for a crack at a successful career in the professional game.

Arriving late at their first pre-season friendly against Charlton Athletic, I was immediately struck by the appetite and determination of these young men on a baking hot day. A team loaded with trialists and new signings were covering every inch of the pitch. You could smell the optimism on the terraces as fans – who’d sensibly assumed that turning pro on the same budget would be a initial step backwards, in the hope of several steps forward later – began to reassess.

Dons’ manager Terry Brown has taken his time with his signings, but the majority look worth the wait. Talented left-back Andre Blackman looks like he’ll be the standout player for many reasons. He’s clearly a gifted and athletic footballer, but has an air of nuttiness about him that makes me think there will be a couple of dramatic red cards during the campaign too. He comes with a reputation for off-the-field trouble, with Brown hoping to tame him. He’s clearly a gamble, but if it comes off he should be one of the best players in the Blue Square Bet Premier. He’s had chances elsewhere and blown it – he needs to take this one. It may all end horribly, but right now just the prospect of seeing him play in a competitive game has me like a kid at Christmas.

And it’s not just at Wimbledon that the optimism flows. I’ve made trips to other non-league clubs in my area for friendlies – Tooting & Mitcham and legendary amateur side Corinthian Casuals. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing your local non-league team in action, make sure you give it a go on 4 September in support of Non League Day, a campaign that’s being well backed on Twitter at the moment. There's no top flight or Championship games that day and you’ll be surprised what a thoroughly excellent antidote it is to the slightly saccharine and stinkingly rich Premier League. This special Google Map indicates clearly where your nearest game is on 4 September.

As Tooting destroyed their youthful opposition that day, with brilliant goals from new signings Lino Goncalves and Karl Beckford, you could see Tooting’s fans start to dream that this year will be different – and I hope for them that it will be. There was a nice moment late on, when some kids aged about eleven asked German wunderkind Monty Gimpel for his autograph, perhaps not aware that the leggy teen was young enough to attend the same school as them. Tooting’s management team were in fits of giggles as Gimpel bashfully scribbled away.

This warm feeling of bonhomie I was seeing (and no doubt you’ve experienced it at other grounds if you’ve been to pre-season friendlies this summer) was undoubtedly linked to the good weather and – more crucially – the fact that Tooting haven’t lost any proper games yet. Nobody has. Everyone’s on nought points – we’re all joint top. Your team could win the league. They really could. So could mine.

Ah yes, my team. My lot are AFC Bournemouth, led by the second-youngest manager in the league, 32-year-old Eddie Howe. The man can do no wrong in our eyes. Just look at his chipper little face. How could you not want him to do well? To lead a young group of players to promotion was remarkable. To do it while under a transfer embargo from the Football League that often left us with only two or three substitutes – which at times included the GCSE-bothering Jayden Stockley – was as close to a miracle as I’ve seen in football.

So, exciting times at Bournemouth, and plenty of reasons to be cheerful at Wimbledon, where I’ll be every other Saturday. You can see why I’m energised as the new season approaches. The teams that mean a lot to me look in pretty good nick. But I bet you’re excited too – whoever you support.

I hope you’ll enjoy this blog over the course of the season. The idea is not to hone in on one or two particular teams or themes, but to write about whatever is interesting to me in the football world – and hopefully to you too. There may occasionally be a bit of focus on Bournemouth or Wimbledon (they say you should blog about what you know), but I’ll aim to keep it interesting for the generalist.

I’ll leave you with some quotes coming out of various clubs that typify the wave of optimism currently doing its annual sweep of the football pyramid (you’ll notice I’ve saved the best ‘til last).

"I will work 24 hours a day to help with my knowledge, ideas, leadership and in my way to achieve promotion. We can do it and we go to work this season to achieve that but in two years I don't have doubts, we will be there."
Leicester’s new boss Paulo Sousa believes the Foxes are Premier League bound

“With the season just around the corner, usual subject but are we not coming together well? Team seems to be gelling, good friendly results, luckily so far no injuries (fingers crossed) and what I’m more impressed with is the clean sheets. Didn’t have many of them last year. Definitely think Artell could be a good signing. Feeling a bit optimistic. Let’s hope we can start it off well against Hereford.”
Crewe fan on BBC 606 website. How many of us are saying things like this at the moment?

“There's a really good team spirit, the gaffer knows that. Team spirit is the biggest thing in the world - you can't win anything without team spirit. We've all got to love each other basically, we have, we've all got to love each other, on the pitch we've got to fight for the club, and that's how you win leagues, if everyone loves each other that's how you win leagues. Everyone is very confident, and I wouldn't swap anyone for anyone else in the league. We've got a really good bunch of mixed lads, we've got players with good experience in the Football League and at this level as well, but as I said, team spirit is massive."
New Wrexham striker Andy Mangan plays it cool

You’ve got to love their optimism. When you saw the headline of this blog, maybe you thought I would eventually descend into pessimism and cold, hard reality. But I love this time of year. Who cares if it’ll probably all end in tears/apathy/ripped-up season tickets. The point is: it might not. When our teams run out onto the pitch for their first game of season, let’s hope they’re all wide-eyed optimists like Andy Mangan and cross our fingers that by mid-October they’re not a demoralised shambles resembling the French national side at the World Cup.

Oh yeah, the World Cup. I haven’t thought about it for a while. Must be time for the football season. Can’t wait.