Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Ladies and gentlemen, Christmas is finally upon us so we're going to take the opportunity to have a break and rest our little grey cells ready to come back refreshed for the second half of the domestic football season.

That being so, all that remains to be done is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, as well as to say thank you for all your interest and participation in our little blog site thus far.

We hope to continue keeping you entertained and informed well into 2007, but for now, have fun this festive season and don't eat too much turkey!

See you again soon... :)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

You Bet! Week 8

So here we are in Week 8 of You Bet, and I'm happy to report we've already tripled our money with three weeks yet to play. Well done everyone!

Last week's winning bet took our total to £30.65, so let's see if we can win even more this week. Here's your three bets from which you must choose the one most likely:

Bet A
Arsenal v Blackburn: Adebayor to score first
Potential winnings: £4.00

Bet B
Wigan v Chelsea: Lampard to score first
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet C
Middlesbrough v Charlton: Half Time - Middlesbrough leading, Full Time - draw
Potential winnings: £15.00

If you don't know what to do now, where the hell have you been since November 2nd? Oh alright then, here goes.

Simply vote for A, B or C above according to the one you think's most likely to happen this weekend and whichever gets the most votes before midday on Saturday 23rd December 2006 has a £1 bet put on it courtesy of Some People Are On The Pitch. If that bet pays out, all winnings go back into the kitty and at the end of the 10-week run, any money we've accrued goes off to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The poll for this week seems to be having a technical fault insofar as it's only showing one vote as having been registered. If your vote fails to show up on the graph after you log it, please drop us a line at write4us[at]spaotp[dot]com with your name and the bet you've voted for and we'll keep a track of things ready for the big 'off' this weekend. Apologies for any inconvenience...

So here, then, are those ever-important voting buttons:

Voting on this event has now closed.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Christmas Quiz

Just the other day I thought I'd sit down and write an article all about club badges and how they vary in style and design from city to city.

But then I thought "Where's the fun in that?!!? Let's turn it into a quiz... and as it's Christmas, let's make it..."


And so I did. Here's how to play: below you'll see the badges for 10 football clubs, all of which currently reside in the lower reaches of the Coca-Cola league. All you've got to do is name the clubs they belong to. Simple... or not, as the case may be.

There's no prize on offer, but you'll potentially gain loads of kudos with your mates down the pub if you submit your answers and score 10 out of 10, so get cracking and see how well you know your lesser-known teams...

... Oh, and one more thing - have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

European League Round-Up

Have you ever watched Champions League matches and wondered how well those teams were doing in their own domestic competitions? Well wonder no more. Here's a round up of what's going on in the major leagues around Europe.

Italy: Serie A
Without a doubt the top team in Italy at the moment are Inter who are still unbeaten after sixteen games, thirteen of them being wins. They continued their fine form on Sunday by beating Empoli 2-0, while second-placed Roma, who trail by seven points, were beating third-placed Palermo 4-0.

Elsewhere, Catania - Serie C specialists in recent times - find themselves in fourth place after a 1-0 weekend win over Udinese. Completing the top 5 are Lazio whose 15 goals in the last five games see them making a strong push for a UEFA Cup place next year.

At the other end of the table, Sampdoria and Milan have recently hauled themselves out of danger but Parma and Fiorentina are still languishing dangerously amongst the minnows. Fiorentina started the season with points deducted after this summer's betting scandal, but their form of late suggests that they, too, should soon be well clear of the relegation dogfight.

View Serie A Table

Germany: Bundesliga
There’s a definite air of revenge about the German title race at the moment with all of the Bundesliga runners-up from the past four seasons occupying the top four spots. Last season’s runners-up and 2004 champions, Werder Bremen, are currently ahead only on goal difference from Schalke, who just missed out on the title in 2005.

Last season’s champions, Bayern Munich, have moved up to third while 2003 runners-up Stuttgart swap places with them to occupy fourth, a further point behind.

At the foot of the Bundesliga, SV Hamburg and Borussia Moenchengladbach are the surprise strugglers – the former still looking for their first home win of the season and the latter still looking for one away from home. At the very bottom, though, it’s Mainz who look like they’ll be sitting on the trapdoor at the season’s end having picked up only 11 points so far from a possible fifty-one.

View Bundesliga Table

Spain: Primera Liga
The title race in Spain’s hotting up nicely with just two points covering the top three. Barcelona’s early lead has now been ended by UEFA Cup champions Seville who top the league with only one defeat in fifteen matches and seven wins out of seven at home.

Ironically, second-placed Barcelona are the only team to have beaten Seville in the league this season, but the World Club runners-up dropped points to lowly Levante at the beginning of December and now need to win their game in hand if they’re to return to the top spot.

Real Madrid are still susceptible to the occasional defeat but are nevertheless closing the gap on the top two.

At the bottom, somewhat predictably, are Gimnastic who were last season’s Segunda Division runners-up, and above them are three under-achievers from the last campaign - Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis - of which Betis and Sociedad are still yet to win a match away from home in the league this season.

View Primera Liga Table

France: Ligue 1
Lyon are the runaway leaders in France at the moment with a seventeen point lead ahead of Lens. Lyon have won 16 out of 18 so far, practically ending the title race before it ever began. Leading the charge for second with Lens, however, are Saint Etienne, Lille, Sochaux and Nancy.

Saint Etienne are still searching for a return to their halcyon days of the early 1980's when they boasted Michel Platini among their ranks, while the others have all enjoyed limited success in European competition in recent seasons.

The shock near the bottom of the table is Nantes, who are 19th out of twenty thanks to a measely two wins all season. The 2001 league champions last picked up three points back in October and will be hoping to follow the example of Monaco who were also languishing up until a few weeks ago but have since fought their way to safety.

View Ligue 1 Table

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You Bet! Week 7

My my, how time flies. It's Week 7 of 'You Bet' already!

Let's see if we can add a bit more than the 65p we won last week (grateful though we are for it) by assessing this week's parade of punts:

Bet A
Aston Villa v Bolton Wanderers: Draw
Potential winnings: £3.00

Bet B
Everton v Chelsea: Everton to win
Potential winnings: £5.50

Bet C
Charlton v Liverpool: Liverpool to win 3-0
Potential winnings: £12.00

Whichever of these three gets the most votes is the one we'll be putting our weekly Pound on. Any winnings we get go back into the kitty and at the end of the 10-week run, all the money accrued goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Time to cast your votes, then...

Voting on this event has now closed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Striking while the Iron's hot

It’s always an interesting point in a club’s history when it changes its manager. The end of one era (more often than not a less than successful one), and the beginning of another fuelled with hope and optimism that the new man will bring glory to his team.

West Ham United now find themselves going through just such a period. Today, Alan Pardew was relieved of his duties by the man who became his new chairman just three weeks ago, and the debate has already begun as to whether Eggert Magnusson was right to dismiss him and who Pardew’s replacement will be.

To be blunt, the modern game with all its financial motives does not allow any manager to stay in charge of a club when it’s lost 11 games out of 17 and conceded four times more goals than it’s scored. Add to that the unceremonial ejection it received from the Carling Cup by Chesterfield (to say nothing of the rather more justifiable loss to Palermo in the UEFA Cup) and you have a team that’s staring relegation to the Championship squarely in the eyes, and that simply will not do.

For a team not to be a part of the Premiership these days is like a jailed criminal not being in possession of a reinforced chastity belt. Without it, you’re screwed.

It happened to West Ham in 2003. They slipped into the Championship forcing their last change of managerial personnel – Pardew replacing Glenn Roeder – and had to endure two near-suicidal seasons before they somehow scraped into the Play-Off Final and won a place back in the top-flight in 2005.

As if that wasn’t achievement enough for Alan Pardew, he last year surpassed himself by instilling a confidence in his side that allowed them to play entertaining, attacking football resulting in a ninth-place finish in the Premiership and a runners-up spot in the FA Cup.

Oh, and as a result of that, they also qualified for this season’s UEFA Cup.

Some people think that’s exactly the sort of reason why Alan Pardew should have been treated better by not being dismissed today, but by doing so they miss a valuable point.

To be considered a success these days, a manager must prove that his team can perform at the highest level on a continual basis, not just at some point in the past. If after a spell like the one West Ham have gone through there is no reason to feel that things will improve soon, the Board are left with only one option. He who hesitates is lost, as the old saying goes.

And you can say what you like about the Argentinean signings: what’s caused West Ham’s downfall in this first four months of the season is Pardew’s inability to drive his team on with imagination, inspiration and tactical diversity. That, too, is a signal for someone new to take over.

So who should that new person be? Sven-Goran Eriksson has already ruled himself out, which is a pity. With his track record at club level, it could have been an exciting prospect for West Ham. Alan Curbishley has been installed as the favourite, but as someone who managed to achieve only promotion to the Premiership for Charlton (after he’d got them relegated in the first place) and precisely nothing else, he’s perhaps not the man they’re looking for either. As for George Graham, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables, they’ve practically made a career out of appearing on lists like this whenever there’s a high-profile managerial casualty, so let’s not waste any more time considering them.

With lots of money waiting to be spent thanks to the recent investment made by the new Icelandic chairman, West Ham should be capable of attracting the attentions of a much better class of manager than any of those mentioned above, especially one that’s available on the continent. It seems too good an opportunity to miss with the club’s potential for success never being higher, so maybe Europe could provide the answer.

All that lies ahead for West Ham, but they will be looking for someone who can motivate the players, get them organised into a well-drilled unit and play a decent standard of football. If the new man can achieve that as Alan Pardew no longer could, West Ham will remain in the Premiership, thus achieving their immediate priority. Going one step further and achieving genuine glory seems a far-off dream at the moment, but with the right man put in place during the next few weeks, it might – just might – happen.

The sooner the Blatter...?

Yes, Sepp Blatter’s opened his mouth again. The big Swiss cheese with a mind full of holes who’s renknowned for his eye-opening comments has now suggested that Europe’s domestic football leagues should run from February to November. He claims that such a system would allow players to recover from injuries and rest over the winter break.

Great idea. Fabulous. No more playing through the cold, snowy, wet and windy months. The whole of Europe synchronised as one. How marvellous.

Marvellous, that is, except for the fact that there can’t be very many players in the UK (or maybe even Europe) that would want to miss out on a summer holiday, so when would they get to rest? The answer, in a word, is ‘winter.’

Providing you, as a player, have managed to make it through to November unscathed, you’d be free to jump on a plane and head off to warmer climes. Fabulous… but don’t get on that plane just yet. Herr Blatter has said that the winter break would be an ideal time for national teams to play their qualification matches. Oh well, maybe you wouldn’t have liked that two-week break in Barbados anyway.

But let’s not consign Sepp Blatter to the looney bin just yet, because he’s also come up with an idea that’s actually got something going for it.

He’s suggested that where the European qualification system for the World Cup is concerned, there should be more groups containing fewer teams, meaning players are involved in fewer games and are in turn less likely to pick up injuries.

This is in direct contrast to recent years where the number of qualifying groups has stayed the same but have swelled to accommodate as many as eight teams. Eight teams means fourteen qualifying games and fourteen reasons for Mourinho, Wenger, Ferguson and co. to bemoan the absence of their players. Any opportunity to reduce that must surely be welcomed, and this might just be the plan to help achieve it.

In the recent past, talk has centered on the smaller nations that now take part in the qualifying competitions for the World Cup and European Championships like San Marino and Andorra. Many claim they should be subjected to a pre-qualifying round to reduce their numbers, which is all well and good, but it wouldn’t necessarily reduce the overall number of fixtures for each team while treating all those competing fairly. This way would make for a shorter, sharper, more exciting competition with equality as its watchword.

So at last there’s a feint home that Mr. Blatter and his boffins in Zurich may have finally conjured up an idea that could benefit the game and be easy to implement. And when are we likely to see it implemented for the first time? 2009 at the earliest, by my reckoning. Let’s just hope it’ll be worth the wait...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

You Bet! Week 6

Onto the sixth week of 'You Bet' and the running total for the kitty currently stands at £20. Will we get our second winning bet this week? Vote now and help us make it happen!

Here's the three to chew over for this weekend:

Bet A
Chelsea v Arsenal: Draw
Potential winnings: £3.30

Bet B
Liverpool v Fulham: Liverpool to win 3-0
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet C
Manchester United v Manchester City: Joey Barton to score first
Potential winnings: £15.00

You should know the score by now - we'll put £1 on the bet that gets the most votes and any winnings we get go straight back into the kitty which in turn goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital at the end of the run. All your votes must be in by midday on Saturday 9th December so click one of the buttons below and tell us which bet's best:

Voting on this event has now closed.

Best of luck!

Seven Shades of... Imre Varadi

Written by Kedge

From Varadi to Ogrizovic, two footballers with foreign sounding names, both born in England.

Imre Varadi
Despite his name, he was born in Paddington and started his footballing life playing non-league at Letchworth. Spotted by Sheffield United just before his 19th birthday, he began a career that would see him change clubs more often than Ronaldo falls over in a match. After only ten appearances, he moved to Everton where he played 26 times and score 10 goals.

The arrival of Howard Kendall saw Varadi move to Newcastle for probably his longest stay where he played alongside Chris Waddle and Kevin Keagan. After two seasons and 81 games, he moved on and played for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom, Man City, Wednesday again, Leeds, Wednesday again (you’d think someone would have learnt by now), before dropping down to end his playing days with Rotherham, Mansfield, and finally Scunthorpe who famously had on their books at one time a certain

Ian Botham
who actually played more times than Imre Varadi. Botham had been taken on by Scunthorpe in order to regain his fitness following a cricketing injury. Beefy is one of a select band of men who played both cricket and football at a professional level. Having turned down the chance to join Crystal Palace, he started his cricketing career at Somerset where he was under the management of

Brian Close
who at one time early in his career made a couple of appearances for Leeds United and also played at under-15 level for England. Deciding that Football was not to be his sport, Brian turned to his other love, Cricket, where he had a successful career with Yorkshire and England.

Following a dispute, he moved to Somerset where he became captain of a side that included Botham. In 1976 at the age of 45, he played his last Test match for England against the West Indies in the third test (of five) at Old Trafford. He was replaced in the 4th test by

Chris Balderstone
who not only played cricket for Leicestershire and England but also football for Carlisle, Huddersfield and Doncaster Rovers. Probably the most talked about sporting moment from Balderstone's life was on the 15th September 1975. He ended the day 51 'not out' against Derbyshire, got changed in the dressing room, and was rushed full speed to the Belle Vue Ground, Doncaster, where he played against Brentford that very same night. He returned to complete his century the next day and also took three wickets. No-one had ever played First Class cricket and League football on the same day before, and no-one ever will again.

One statistic that he would like to forget was in his second Test appearance in the 5th Test of the 1976 West Indies tour at the Oval when he dropped a catch. The lucky recipient of this rare mistake, on 151 at the time, was none other that the great

Viv Richards
who has the distinction of representing the West Indies and his home island of Antigua at cricket and football, where he was part of their World Cup squad during the qualifying stages for the 1974 tournament. In contrast to his cricketing role as a prolific batsman and part of the formidable 'Windies' team that dominated the sport during the 1970’s and the 1980’s, he preferred to play in defence on the football pitch.

One of only a handful of people to play for his country at both football and cricket, he shares that rare distinction with Denis Compton of Arsenal and England, and of course

Andy Goram
The Scottish goalkeeper who was also a useful bowler for the Scottish national cricket team, playing in matches against Ireland and also in the NatWest Trophy. He was prevented from playing in the 1991 Cricket World Cup in England, as he had earlier signed for Rangers who put a no-cricket clause in his contract.

The football World Cup has also had its disappointments for Goram as he famously stormed out of the Scottish squad for the 1998 tournament following a bust-up over bonus payments. While at Rangers, it was reported in the press that he suffered from a mild form of schizophrenia, something that led to the Rangers fans singing “Two Andy Gorams, there’s only Two Andy Gorams...”

Among his many clubs were Oldham, Hibernian, Rangers, Motherwell, Notts County, Sheffield United, Manchester Untied and finally Coventry City, who had another famous goalkeeper named

Steve Ogrizovic.
Oggy, was born in Mansfield and played for Coventry from 1984 to 2000. He is one of the very few players to have scored direct from a goal kick, which he achieved in a 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday on October 12th 1986.

He was also a very useful cricketer for the Minor Counties side, taking the wickets of a few Test batsmen - Chris Broad, Martyn Moxom and Alvin Kallicharan.

In 2003 Oggy was the subject of a hoax when it was reported that he had been kidnapped while in Kazakhstan. An online petition was started to obtain his release, but the hoax was discovered when a local paper interviewed him at Coventry’s training ground.

And there you have it. Imre Varadi to Steve Ogrizovic via the world of cricket. Possibly a fitting tribute to our lads down under? Possibly not!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

9 points covering 14 places

Spurs won last night, with Middlesborough on the wrong end of a 2-1 thumping...

"And lets look at the league tables..." the sports presenter said.
"Do we have to?" I said to the plastic box (thats my TV, not the presenter).

With Spurs recent patchy form, I wasnt looking forward to it. It wouldn't be pretty viewing. But it wasn't as bad as I thought.

My club had moved upto 10th, and, as you do, my eyes scrolled upwards to see how many points we are from a European qualification spot.

Three points.

Infact, we are three points from being third.

A look at the bottom half of the table also revealed that Spurs are not much more than three points off a relegation battle.

We are sixteen games into the season, almost half-way (19 games), and nine points cover the teams from 3rd to 16th.

Fourteen teams, nine points.

My only conclusion was to say 'It shows how much rubbish there is in the premiership'

The complete table...

1 Man Utd 41
2 Chelsea 35
3 Arsenal 25
4 Portsmouth 25
5 Liverpool 25
6 Reading 25
7 Everton 24
8 Aston Villa 24
9 Bolton 24
10 Tottenham 22
11 Man City 20
12 Fulham 20
13 Wigan 18
14 Blackburn 16
15 Middlesbrough 16
16 Sheff Utd 16

17 West Ham 14
18 Newcastle 13
19 Charlton 12
20 Watford 10

PS - West Ham face Wigan tonight, and if they win, that will be 15 teams covered by nine points.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nostalgia and technology in perfect harmony

So anyway, there I was thinking about my rather odd and at times worrying interest in football kits past and present when it occurred to me that there must be dozens of kits from days gone by that I’d never even seen before.

“How would I ever get the chance to wallow in all that nostalgia” I wondered, with not a little time on my hands. It was then that I struck on a rather spiffing idea. Come back with me, if you will, to the early 1980’s…

Back when I was about nine years old, I grew into the habit of purchasing ‘Shoot’ magazine on a frequent basis. Inexpensive and utterly harmless to the young football fan, I regularly marvelled at its unique blend of written features and pictures of the stars that strode purposefully over the pitches of the day.

To be specific, it was those pictures I was drawn to more than anything else in each issue. At one point, I can specifically remember detaching the colour team pictures from the staples of each copy and sticking them up on my bedroom wall. I had it that bad.

And so it was that this enduring image gave me an idea. In this modern age where the Internet is king, why shouldn’t I have a looky-see if anyone out there’s selling old copies of ‘Shoot’ magazine that I could buy? It seemed rational enough – after all, you can buy just about anything on the Web these days. Predictably enough, my first port of call was eBay and wouldn’t you know it, there they were – copious editions of the magazine I used to buy as a kid, ranging from the late 60’s to the early 90’s. The feeling of joy within me was growing perceptibly.

I decided I’d take the plunge and put in a bid for an issue of ‘Shoot’ dated 13th April 1974. No particular reason why I should go for that one more than any other, but it did have Trevor Francis and Emlyn Hughes battling it out on the front cover so it can't have been all bad. And so it was that I entered my opening bid of £2.99 to match the asking price, fully expecting to have to put in a higher bid shortly after. Little did I know that a couple of days later, I'd be informed that I’d won the auction with a winning bid of £2.99 on account of the fact that no-one else wanted it or had put a bid on it. It was all too easy, this ‘buying Shoot magazines on eBay’ business…

So within a week, I became the proud owner of my very own issue. It contained some gloriously cheesy articles and pictures of people like Joe Jordan, grimacing as he was from behind his pristine white Leeds United kit.

It was great - all the old features were there, like 'You Are The Ref' and those fabulous 'Focus On' profiles where star players were asked inane questions. Ask a player from the 1970's who they'd most like to meet, and the chances are you'd get the answer 'Raquel Welch', likewise if you asked them what their favourite meal was, you'd be very surprised if it turned out not to be 'Steak and Chips'.

I was hooked. A few weeks went by and I started to wonder if there was room for one or two more issues in my life. I had no plans to spend a fortune, but with an eye for a bargain, I felt sure there'd be something to suit my budget. I was in luck.

On my next visit to eBay, I discovered someone selling a whole batch of about 30 'Shoot's' from the late 70's and early 80's. I figured I was prepared to pay about £12 at most for them, so in went my bid, fully expecting someone to pitch theirs in above mine and take the lot. Again I was wrong. At the point where the bidding reached £11, everyone else forgot that the auction was about to end, and I came out on top.

I had won yet again, but this was to be my last flirtation with eBay. I now had more than enough material to keep me going for months and was consequently as happy as Larry. I kept the magazines in my ofice at work, and whenever the stresses of web design got too much for me and my colleague, we'd stop, down tools, and have a 'Shoot' break. This, I was led to believe, was what was known in the trade as a (fairly) cheap thrill.

It was while perusing one of these delights from yesteryear that I realised just how unbelievably resourceful the Internet is. In one issue from 1982, there was an advert for a game called 'Logacta' which could be played by 1 to 4 players and was a way of playing every kind of football competition from the comfort of your own home. It apparently involved dice, lots of charts and the occasional basic logarithm to determine who would win the European Cup, FA Cup or any other Cup for that matter.

I was fascinated by the sheer lo-techness of it. This was an era before Fantasy Leagues and Pro Evolution Soccers. The most technical this game got was when you decided whether to use a biro or a pencil. It was of course only a matter of time before I asked myself "Is there anybody on the web that you can still buy this game from?" Well, you can buy just about anything on the Web these days...

Amazingly, a quick check on eBay showed that there WAS someone out there who had a copy of 'Logacta' to buy, so I put my hand in my pocket and immediately forked out the princely some of £3 to take it off their hands. It was a miracle - real proof that nothing ever dies - it just ends up on eBay.

You don't need to know what the game was like: that's a mere formality. The thing is, for someone of my age it's now entirely possible to be reunited with some facet of your childhood, and it's all down to the sheer comprehensiveness of the World Wide Web. How lucky am I to feel so young at heart with the memories and feelings of my youth still so readily at hand.

So I now have my dusty old 'Shoot' magazines and my 'Logacta' game. I dare say if I wanted to I could start collecting Subbuteo teams again or bubble gum collector cards, but I won't just yet. This will keep me happy for a while, but I know that if I need it, the Web will always be there to satiate my appetite for the good old days when men were men and footballers ate proper food like steak and chips.

Monday, December 04, 2006

FA Cup Third Round Draw

The draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup was made yesterday and as ever there was one tie in particular that caught everyone’s attention: Liverpool v Arsenal.

The holders face a stern test if they’re to retain the trophy this season with Arsenal always capable of putting together a good run in the FA Cup.

Elsewhere, there were two other all-Premiership ties. Manchester United will have it all to do at home to a tricky Aston Villa side led by Martin O’Neill while 1995 winners Everton host Blackburn Rovers.

Paul Ince takes his Macclesfield Town side, currently bottom of the entire Football League, to the team second from the top of the Premiership – Chelsea. Macclesfield have seen a change in fortunes for the better since the former Manchester United star took over, but they’ll surely have their work cut out if they’re to even get a sniff of Round 4.

As for those teams outside the Football League that are hoping for a chance of glory, Salisbury stand the greatest chance of achieving it. They drew 1-1 with Nottingham Forest in the second round, so a win in the replay will ensure them a third round tie at home to Charlton.

Salisbury City are managed by Nick Holmes, one-time Southampton player and member of the team that won the 1976 FA Cup Final. To have come so far as to end up playing Nottingham Forest, European champions not so long ago, is achievement in itself but a place in the next round will no doubt eclipse even that.

Here’s the Third Round draw in full...

Ties will be played on the 6th and 7th of January 2007.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

You Bet! Week 5

Yes folks, we finally did it... we won our first bet last week and here's the proof!

The question is, can we add to our lovely £21 kitty this week for the good of Great Ormond Street Hospital? Only you can decide! As ever, all we ask is that you vote for the bet that you think we should spend our £1 on, and the one with the most votes wins. Then it's a case of sitting back at the weekend to see if the bet comes up trumps, which I've no doubt it will once again.

So here goes with this week's selection:

Bet A
Arsenal v Tottenham: Draw
Potential winnings: £3.10

Bet B
Portsmouth v Aston Villa: Kanu to score first
Potential winnings: £6.00

Bet C
Middlesbrough v Man United: Man United to win 3-0
Potential winnings: £10.00

...and here's where you vote for your favourite:

Voting on this event has now closed.

As I forgot to mention last week, your votes must be cast by 12 noon this Saturday, so get voting and once again, good luck!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Seven Shades of... Ferenc Puskas

Well Kedge, you certainly set me a stinker this time. Your challenge, for the benefit of those who didn't catch the previous installment of this exciting series, was to link the late Ferenc Puskas with Ruud Van Nistelrooy using only non-European players.

All I can say is 'I've done it,' but BOY was it tough. Here goes...

Ferenc Puskas
who died earlier this month was quite simply a legend in the game of football. His amazing dribbling skills and ferocious shot were the impetus that Hungary needed to propel them into football’s elite, culminating in a 6-3 win over England at Wembley in 1953 (the first ever defeat for the English at home) and the runners-up spot in the World Cup the following year.

At club level, Puskas spent nine glorious seasons with Real Madrid, scoring 155 times in 179 appearances before hanging up his boots in 1967. During that time, Ferenc Puskas switched allegiance and played for Spain on four occasions and represented them at the 1962 World Cup. Another footballing legend that famously represented Spain as well as their home country was

Alfredo Di Stefano
the Argentinean centre-forward who played in the same Real Madrid side as Puskas during the 1950’s and 60’s. Di Stefano - nickname ‘The Blonde Arrow’ - accumulated a multitude of achievements during his playing career, winning eight Spanish championships and five European Cups. He was also the Spanish league’s top scorer five times and European Footballer of the Year twice, but he wasn’t just a great player - he also achieved greatness as a manager, guiding Valencia to the 1980 European Cup Winners' Cup Final where they defeated Arsenal 5-4 on penalties. The undoubted star of Di Stefano’s Valencia side was

Mario Kempes
who shot to fame as part of the 1978 Argentinean World Cup winning team which, ironically, featured a player called Daniel Valencia (but that’s another story). Kempes was the long-range shooting specialist that scored six goals in the tournament including two in the Final, thus earning him the Golden Shoe award, given to the top goalscorer at each World Cup. Other previous winners include Ronaldo, Gary Lineker and

who, though born in Mozambique, represented Portugal and played for them in the 1966 World Cup. Known as ‘The Black Pearl,’ Eusebio single-handedly helped the Portuguese avoid a shock defeat to North Korea in the quarter-finals by scoring four after the Koreans had gone 3-0 up. Portugal went on to win 5-3 and Eusebio went on to a career playing in the North American Soccer League once his fifteen-year tenure at Benfica had ended. In 1976, Eusebio signed for the Toronto Metros, latterly renamed 'Toronto Blizzard,' who can boast an array of well-known players passing through their ranks such as Jimmy Greenhoff, Peter Lorimer and

Clyde Best,
one of the first black players to appear in British football since World War II. Best was born in Bermuda in 1951 and joined West Ham United in 1969. In seven seasons, the tall, stocky centre-forward scored 47 goals for the Hammers and became a fan’s favourite until 1976 when he left for Feyenoord and then the NASL where he played for Toronto, Portland and Tampa Bay. In 1997, Clyde Best became manager of the Bermudian national team where he was able to call on the likes of

Shaun Goater
to appear in his team. Having originally signed on for Manchester United in 1989, Goater failed to break into the first team, thus resulting in a transfer to Rotherham United where he scored seventy goals and then Bristol City where he added another forty-three. It was here that he caught of the attention of Joe Royle who was looking for someone to reverse the fortunes of an ailing Manchester City. He signed for City in 1998 and went on to become a big success, but in those early days he was kept out of the side by another recent signing,

George Weah,
one-time European, African and FIFA World Player of the Year. Arguably the only Liberian player you’ve ever heard of, Weah was signed by Arsene Wenger for Monaco in 1988 before reaching the pinnacle of his career at AC Milan in the late-90’s. Having won just about every honour it’s possible to win, Weah moved on to England where he enjoyed short spells playing for Chelsea and Manchester City before ending his career with Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates. His list of achievements earned him a place on the 'FIFA 100' list, a collection of 125 players chosen by Pele in 2004 to represent the greatest living footballers at that time. Also on the list was

Ruud Van Nistelrooy,
currently the fourth most prolific goalscorer ever in European football competitions. While at Manchester United he became the club’s highest ever goalscorer in Europe, set the record for most consecutive scoring games in the Premiership (eight) and won the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award. Despite scoring nearly 100 goals for United in 150 matches, Van Nistelrooy’s days at the club abruptly came to an end after a public falling-out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson and a move to Real Madrid followed soon after.

He has already scored 14 goals in 17 appearances for ‘Los Blancos’ this season and on current form the Dutchman is certain to earn his place on the list of all-time great Real Madrid players, headed as it is by Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

You Bet! Week 4

Good news and bad news from last week. The good news was that we actually gave you an option that could possibly have earned us some winnings for a change. The bad news is that the majority of people didn't vote for it.

Oh well, onwards and downwards then. There's seven lovely pounds of the English realm left in our kitty and I just know we're going to add to it this week. Perhaps you'd care to take your pick of this fine selection of gambling gaieties...

Bet A
Bolton v Arsenal: Bolton to win
Potential winnings: £3.50
Bolton haven't lost at home to Arsenal in the Premiership for four seasons and have beaten them on the last two occasions. Will history repeat itself?

Bet B
Aston Villa v Middlesbrough: Agbonlahor to score first
Potential winnings: £6.00
Gabriel Agbonlahor's already scored three goals for Martin O'Neill's side this season. Can he make it four this weekend?

Bet C
Man United v Chelsea: Man United winning at half time, a draw at full time
Potential winnings: £15.00
It's certain to be a close run thing between these two, but can Chelsea keep United in check over 90 minutes?

It's time to vote for the bet you'd like us to place our £1 on...

Voting on this event has now closed.

As ever, good luck and let's hope for a return on our investment!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Criticism of Referees: Form an orderly queue...

We seem to be stuck in a perpetual loop where British football's concerned. Every single week we hear from any number of club managers moaning about the quality of refereeing in this country, yet nothing ever seems to get done about it.

Just the other day we had Mark Hughes, manager of Blackburn Rovers, criticising referee Phil Dowd for not giving two penalties that he felt his side deserved against Tottenham. Before that, Watford boss Andy Bothroyd took exception to referee Chris Foy who awarded Portsmouth a last-minute penalty that lead to Harry Redknapp's side taking all three points, and before that Jose Mourinho was questioning Graham Poll's impartiality in matches that involved his Chelsea side. These are just the most recent examples. There are plenty more if you look for them.

The newspaper back pages are regularly littered with stories of coaches and managers outraged at how their team has been wronged by the actions of the referee, but where is all this leading to and what's really going on?

Well for a start, many of the penalty flashpoints are coming about because of players diving in the area - getting an unfair advantage by deception, as it were. One has to ask whether managers are asking their teams to play fairly by not diving? If they were, perhaps we'd see fewer problems of this kind occurring. Football is, after all, a game of skill and has no place for cheating, despite what Diego Maradona would have us believe.

A lot of the time, referees are accused of misjudging offside decisions and handball incidents. These are the sort of things that happen in a game which referees and linesmen can only judge correctly so often. Sometimes they get it wrong and it's always been that way, so why are there now calls for technology to be used to ratify their decisions? It seems that the term 'referees are only human' doesn't cut the mustard these days, but then the media are partially to blame for attitudes changing so dramatically.

Many years ago, a controversial refereeing decision would have brought about, at most, a grumble by the manager affected and possibly a square inch of comment in the sports pages of the Sunday newspapers. Nowadays, managers have a microphone thrust in their face the minute they step off the field at the end of a game and are asked to tell the world what they felt about the preceding ninety minutes at the one time when their emotions are running at their highest. It's therefore hardly surprising that they sometimes come across as being a tad upset.

The tabloid press are also keen to fan the flames of outrage, citing the latest tirades from the merry band of Premiership bosses. Sensationalism, it seems, is what people want to see when they pick up their daily paper. Balanced, well-written journalism that gives an account of events in their true proportions apparently isn't.

The only aspect of the game remaining where technology could be put to good use is where the ball may or may not have crossed the goal line, and that only ever happens once in a blue moon. Even so, it's at least an instance critical enough to warrant an exact scientific judgement, rather than a flawed human one.

The good news is that things might be about to change. Keith Hackett, head of the Premier Game Match Officials Board, is about to put forward a document detailing how the game could benefit from the use of technology to the Premier League. The bad news is that it will only focus on the 'ball crossing the goal-line' scenario, although it's hoped that the report will provide the necessary impetus to look at other aspects of the game in future.

But do we really want the intrusion caused by all this hi-tech proficiency? Former referee David Elleray has voiced his own concerns: "One of the greatest attractions of football over almost any other sport is that it's almost non-stop action. I went to Twickenham the other day to watch quite an exciting rugby game, but it was constantly stopping, not least for video referee decisions."

He may have a point, but will it stop the constant stream of furious criticism from managers week in, week out? For now, perhaps not as changes to the game are unlikely to be applied in the near future, but in the meantime it's the managers themselves that need to address the way they and their team behave and to acknowledge the fact that errors of judgement by match officials are a part of the game. It's always been thus and they know this to be the case before every match their team plays, so a change in attitude could go a long way to ensuring we don't get to read the same vitriolic outpourings for any longer than we have to.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How to pick a Fantasy Football team

There can be hardly a football fan in the country these days that hasn’t at some point entered a ‘Fantasy Football’ competition before. It’s a phenomenon that’s been running for fifteen years in this country and has developed out of its humble beginnings as an idle pastime for those few people that knew about it into a multi-million pound industry enjoyed by hundreds of thousands all over the world.

Though Fantasy Football games peaked many years ago, they still attract people like myself who enjoy the challenge of selecting that elite group of players that can score more points for you than anyone else in your competition. For some, it seems there’s little chance of reaching that elusive level of superiority over your friends, family and work colleagues, while for others it’s a matter more important than life and death. They see it as a fine art, a skill which can be honed out of dedication, a prolific depth of knowledge and a keen footballing brain that few others have.

But just how do you pick a ‘Fantasy Football’ team that will bring you success and a warm glow of supremacy over those also-rans you call ‘your friends’?

Well first of all, there are the rules of the game. These are to be read, digested, ignored and read again (if need be) so that you have a thorough understanding of where a tactical edge can be gained over your fellow competitors. The rules will cover everything from team formations to scoring, but first you must assess your total budget for assembling a team and decide where your priorities lie when spending it, albeit ‘virtually’.

You may find that you have a starting kitty of £100 million pounds or so - a fortune, or so you’d think it - but when you begin throwing your money around like Richard Pryor in ‘Brewster’s Millions’, you soon find that it doesn’t go very far. But what’s the harm in choosing a few big-name players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney? Nothing, as long as you’re prepared to have them playing alongside bargain basement players who probably won’t step onto a pitch all season.

So star players must be rationed if you’re to achieve strength in depth, but who else should you be looking for? England internationals, perhaps? Maybe, but you know how bad England are playing these days. Chelsea players? Again, logic suggests ‘yes’, but with a large squad to pick from, it’s no wonder Mourinho selects and drops players from week-to-week leaving you with personnel that aren’t guaranteed a regular run of games. The same applies to Arsenal and Manchester United.

Points don’t just come from potential goalscorers. They can also come from players providing an ‘assist’ - that is to say a pass that immediately leads to a goal. Why not, then, pick those players that take the corners and free-kicks? Great idea… until someone like Geremi comes along from out of nowhere and scores from a free-kick as he did on Saturday, thus rendering your fiendish little scheme useless.

The captain of your side scores double points, so maybe it’s a good idea to pick a player who will perform well anyway and really cash in on his prowess? Fine, good… but just because your captain’s got ‘Henry’ on the back of his shirt, doesn’t mean to say he’ll rake in a ton of points for you. Even the inimitable Frenchman has his off days, and everyone else has even more of them.

Hmmm. It’s not easy, this ‘Fantasy Football’ lark, is it? I know - what about making a few cunning transfers to bring in some on-form talent to your squad? Yes, you’ve guessed it - even this is fraught with pitfalls. Experience suggests that the one player you get rid of will score the minute he’s no longer a part of your team, or alternatively the one player you bring in will either pick up a freak injury falling out of bed one morning or announce his retirement from professional football the very next day.

Winning at Fantasy Football looks devilishly easy on the surface, but it’s anything but. Chances are you could probably pick a winning squad by pinning the list of available players up on a dartboard and throwing fifteen of your best at it. Quite frankly, you can only do so much to ensure the utmost success for your team. Just think of ‘Fantasy Football’ as a game that requires about 30% footballing insight and 70% luck - that way you’ll never be fooled into thinking that glory is anything more than a fantasy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You Bet! Week 3

Alright chaps, this is getting serious now. Our kitty money is already down from £10 to £8 and if we don't do something about it urgently, we'll have nothing to hand over to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The alternative is that we send the boys round to break your kneecaps, so bear that in mind as you choose from the following selection of weekend bets...

Bet A
Wigan to draw at home to Aston Villa
Potential winnings: £3.20

Bet B
Chelsea to beat West Ham 3-0 at home
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet C
Gary Speed to score away to Everton (any time)
Potential winnings: £8.00

Press your Brucie Buttons now, folks...

Voting on this event has now closed.

Votes to be cast no later than 12pm noon on Saturday 18 November 2006. Best of luck!

The Galloping Major

The Footballing community lost another legend this week.

Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, star of the 1950's 'Magical Magyars' team that both dominated and entertained the world football, died at the age of 76.

In todays terms of ability, Puskas would probably be classed as 'one footed', and he hardly ever headed the ball. His left foot, however, worked wonders on the pitch.

He was part of the side that inflicted Englands first defeat on home soil in 1953, beating Billy Wright's side 6-3.

Playing for the army team Honved, he earnt himself the nickname 'The Galloping Major' as he helped himself to 50 goals in his first season, five Hugarian Championships and an amazing 357 goals in 354 games.

Arguably the highlight of Puskas' career the 1960 European Cup Final. Playing for Real Madrid, Puskas starred alongside Alfredo Di Stefano. Di Stefano scored a hat-trick, but not to be outdone, Puskas scored the other four goals as Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3.

'Legend' seems an over used words nowadays. For Puskas, it doesnt seem fitting enough.

Ference Puskas Video Montage

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Seven Shades of... John Chiedozie

So the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down. In the last 'Seven Shades of...', Smart challenged me to link John Chiedozie with Henrik Larsson in the next of the series. (One can only wonder at the strange thought processes going on inside his head...)

Anyway, true to form, here goes with another ride on the 'Seven Shades Express' - first stop:

John Chiedozie
who you may remember was the former Notts County and Tottenham winger whose speed caused a veritable frisson of panic among those teams he faced during a career that lasted between 1978 and 1988. Chiedozie's middle name is Okechukwu, which he shares with another former star of the Nigerian national team,

Uche Okechukwu
who played for the Super Eagles in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup Finals and won an Olympic football gold medal in the Atlanta games of 1996. The Nigerian defender caught the eye of many a coach during the 1990’s, but the first to spot his potential was

Morten Olsen
who signed Okechukwu for his side, Brondby, in 1990. After a lengthy international career playing for Denmark, Olsen went on to become Coach of the national team and has remained in that post since 2000. His greatest achievement thus far was when he successfully guided Denmark to the second round of the 2002 World Cup, a run ended by England thanks to goals from Michael Owen and

Emile Heskey
who at the time was playing for Liverpool but previously came to the nation’s attention while playing for Leicester City. Heskey - full name Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey - was born in nearby Evington in 1978 and went to the City of Leicester Secondary School just like

Gary Lineker
the ubiquitous figurehead of Match of the Day, Tottenham, Everton, England and Walkers Crisps. The top scorer from the 1986 World Cup was said to be wanted by Alex Ferguson three years later as he tried to lure him to Old Trafford in a bid to form a lethal strike partnership with his old Barcelona team mate

Mark Hughes
but Lineker chose Tottenham instead. Hughes, meanwhile, had already returned to United in 1988 for a second spell at the club where he would go on to make another 256 appearances to add to the 89 he made between 1980 and 1986. Between the two stints at Manchester United, Hughes spent one season at Barcelona under the tutelage of Terry Venables, but he enjoyed only limited success, not unlike

Henrik Larsson
who followed a highly impressive spell at Celtic with an injury-plagued couple of seasons at the Catalan club. He still managed to score 12 goals in 33 appearances before announcing a return to Sweden to end his career with Helsingborgs in Sweden. In 2003 his country gave him the accolade 'Greatest Swedish Player in the Last 50 Years' - an honour attained perhaps by default given the number of other well known Swedish football players you can think of from the past, but he’s certainly a star player of recent times and without a doubt a god to Celtic fans everywhere.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Local Newspaper Headlines (Part 2)

Written by Kedge

As an occasional series, here is my second offering of headlines from the local newspapers.

My local rag, the Evening Echo, landed on my doorstep tonight and the back page headline grabbed my attention.

How did they know, I asked myself? Who's been talking to the press? Will I have hoards of screaming women chasing me up the road, wanting my autograph, locks of my hair, and pieces of my clothing?

The headline read :

Kev can't wait for Spurs tie
By Chris Phillips

The reality returned as I read on. It was about Southend United's captain, Kevin Maher, looking forward to a return to White Hart Lane.

Ah, the fickle finger of fate, eh?! For a fleeting moment, I was nearly famous...

Platini v Johansson

This January, UEFA will hold an election to find a new President and it looks set to be a straight head-to-head battle between existing President, Lennart Johansson and Michel Platini.

Johansson is the 76-year-old Swede who has been at the top of the UEFA tree since 1990. Despite his advanced years, many feel he’s the man for the job until 2009 having steered the European governing body through some tricky times over the last sixteen years.

Platini is a former member of the French team that gained a worldwide reputation for playing entertaining and skilful football during the 1980’s and is generally regarded as one of the all-time legends of the game. Since retiring from football, Platini has helped organise the successful 1998 World Cup in his home country and become the chairman of FIFA’s Technical and Development Committee.

While some may see Platini’s arrival as the chance to elect a new man with new ideas, others are approaching the Frenchman’s candidacy campaign with caution, and all because of one key issue.

Both men have gone on record to state their views on the Champions League, and more specifically, the international make-up of those teams that take part. Platini was the first to put forward his thoughts, and they immediately raised a number of eyebrows among the European football community.

Platini feels that the Champions League should restrict the number of clubs entering from each country to a maximum of three. At the moment, Italy, England and Spain are allowed to enter four teams, purely on the basis of the financial stability that they bring to the organisation. Lennart Johansson has opposed this, favouring the current system for that very reason, but Platini thinks that every associate member of UEFA isn’t properly represented.

“Four clubs are too many - for the country itself, the fans and TV rights. Three should be the limit. There are not enough national champions in the last 32 of the tournament and that cannot be right." However, Platini added that "I am not so stupid as to want to change the current format”

Putting the Frenchman’s slightly illogical footnote to one side for a moment, it’s a contentious issue. My personal thoughts are perhaps a little old-fashioned but no doubt reflect a considerable number of people in that I tend to favour Platini. In actual fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Champions League should be just that - a competition whereby only the league champions from each European country take part, not even the runners-up and teams finishing third.

A solution to the problem would be to rename the title of the Champions League to something like the ‘European Premier League’, thus relieving it of its specificity. Not as catchy, I’ll grant you, but it’d be one solution.

As we all know though, that’s not going to happen, so we’re left with the prospect of a Champions League with ‘only’ three teams from each country. Personally, I think it’s a workable scheme and just requires a refined version of the ranking system currently used for the competition. In addition, any thoughts of seeing the likes of SK Tirana taking the place of Liverpool (shock horror) can be dismissed thanks to the rigorous qualifying competition that’s already in place.

One still has to wonder how many privileges the bigger countries in UEFA really want. Why, for instance, should a smaller country be denied their chance to enter their champion team in favour of a decent also-ran from Italy, Spain or England? How will they be able to develop when the big teams are constantly shutting the door on them?

It seems Mr Johansson is only interested in fleecing as much cash for his organisation as he can. I suggest with a bit of imagination and a mind towards fair play, he and his associates can come up with a reformed version of the Champions League competition that keeps many of UEFA’s member nations happy and reclaims some of the tradition that’s been discarded in recent years.

If Lennart Johansson doesn’t, maybe one day Michel Platini will, and that could make Champions League competitions altogether different in the future.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Bet! Week 2

So, nine weeks left and only £9 now left in the kitty. Last week's bet - Chelsea to beat Spurs 2-0 - failed to materialise so already you can see the harsh realities of life as a professional gambler.

Can we recoup our loss this week? That's for you to decide! Here's our choice of bets for this weekend, so give us your vote and help us raise lots of cash for Great Ormond Street Hospital:

Bet A
Liverpool to beat Arsenal away from home
Potential winnings: £3.50

Bet B
Middlesbrough 0 West Ham 1
Potential winnings: £8.00

Bet C
Man City v Newcastle - Joey Barton to score first.
Potential winnings: £11.00

Voting on this event has now closed.

All votes must be received by 12.30 p.m. on Saturday 11th November 2006. Thanks for taking part and good luck!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dreams can come true...

Written by Kedge

So there I was, Seat 132, Row R, Block V in the West Stand at Roots Hall, on Tuesday 7th November 2006, at 8:26 in the evening. A hush had settled on the crowd. Breaths were held. Hearts stopped. Time stood still.

Some guy wearing a blue shirt kicked a white, spherical object which came to rest in some nylon mesh attached to some white posts.

The crowd went mad. I went mad. Total strangers were jumping up and down, hugging each other.

We all sat down again. There was a lot of running around by people in red shirts and blue shirts, the white spherical object was kicked and thrown and chased all over the place, and then at 9:50 a man dressed in a green shirt blew a whistle and the world went mad again.

So? What was that all about?

Well lowly Southend United, bottom of the Championship, without a win in 11 games, had just knocked Manchester United, Top of the Premiership, one of the richest and most successful clubs in the world, out of the Carling Cup.

To put it into perspective, before anyone thinks, well Dah! Anyone could beat the Man Utd 2nd team, Here is the lineup on the night:

Mancheser United
Tomasz Kuszczak Polish International Goalkeeper
John O’Shea Republic of Ireland International Defender
Wes Brown England International Defender
Mikael Silvestre French International Defender
Gabriel Heinze Argentinean International Defender
Cristiano Ronaldo Portuguese International Midfield/Winger
Darren Fletcher Scottish International Midfielder
David Jones Uncapped Midfielder
Kieran Richardson England International Midfielder
Alan Smith England International Striker
Wayne Rooney England International Striker

Southend United
Darryl Flahavan No international appearances
Lewis Hunt No international appearances
Spencer Prior No international appearances
Efe Sodje Nigerian International (9 appearences)
Steven Hammell Scottish International (1 appearance)
Jamal Campbell-Ryce Jamacian International (3 appearences)
Peter Clark No international appearances
Kevin Maher No international appearances
Mark Gower No international appearances
Freddy Eastwood No international appearances
Gary Hooper No international appearances

I’m sure there were some other things that happened, but to be honest the only thing that mattered after 8:26 was that the scoreboard stayed as it was.

And so to the quarter finals. Who do we fancy? Well, Arsenal at home would be nice. Bring it on!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Good Whine Guide

This weekend we found ourselves down in the cellar sampling an interesting selection of whines from the Premiership.

First of all, there was the rather acidic 'Chateau Wenger'. This old-fashioned red was uncorked at about 2pm on Sunday and went sour rather quickly thereafter. Normally unassuming and amiable, this one left a very bitter taste in the mouth, so we advise you to avoid it at all times. If you must sample it, don't mix it with claret at the same sitting.

Straight after that, we moved onto a Portuguese whine with an undoubted pedigree yet seems to have gone bad in recent times. Known as 'The Special One', there doesn't seem to be that much that's special about it - indeed many people in North London are now finding it's not as good as they were lead to believe. Best left to fester in a darkened room and forgotten about, we feel.

Earlier in the weekend, we found a rather bland number from the far north-east overlooked by most but which was quite popular in Europe last year. The 'Cote du Roeder' is usually quite mellow, but was sharp on the tongue last week when we sampled it. The 'Roeder' likes to be rested and isn't happy when exposed to the air, however its regular appearances on TV should provide the revenue required to make this whine sweeter in years to come.

In our article last month we reviewed the 'Chateau Redknapp' 1947 and the 'Semillon Allardyce'. When we said that the 'Allardyce' needed to be bunged regularly and the 'Redknapp' was yours for two-grand in a brown paper bag, we in no way wished to infer that two Premiership football managers of the same name were illegally accepting monetary payments in order to facilitate the transfer of players. We apologise for any distress this may have caused.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You Bet! Week 1

It's time for all you so-called football experts out there to really put your neck on the line as we try and raise some money for a good cause. This is:

...the game where tactics, knowledge and a fine gambling brain can really pay off dividends. This is how it works...

Smart and I have both coughed up the princely sum of £5 to create a starting 'kitty' of £10. From this, we will put on a £1 bet each week for ten weeks as dictated by YOU, our loyal visitors.

To make it simple, we'll give you a choice of three possible bets, each one carrying its own risk and giving a different potential payout accordingly. All you need to do is vote for the bet you think we should stick our £1 on, and the bet that gets the most votes is the one we bet on.

All winnings go back into the kitty and at the end of the ten weeks, any money that's left goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital...


(No pressure or anything.)

So here's this week's three bets - vote for the one we should put our shiny £1 on:

Vote A
Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea to all win their respective matches:
Potential winnings: £3.50

Vote B
Chelsea to beat Tottenham 2-0
Potential winnings: £7.00

Vote C
Man United to draw 1-1 with Portsmouth
Potential winnings: £9.00

Voting on this event has now closed.

All votes must be received by 8pm on Friday 3rd November 2006. Thanks for taking part and good luck!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Seven Shades of... Sven

Having had the gauntlet thrown down by Kedge after the last 'Seven Shades of...', I have great pleasure in giving you the next thrilling installment where we link up John Toshack with Sven-Goran Eriksson...

John Toshack,
Former Liverpool player and current head coach of the Welsh national side, reached the peak of his managerial career when he took charge of Real Madrid between 1989 and 1990. His successor was

Alfredo Di Stefano
who played for the club between 1953 and 1964 and became one of the all-time greats of European football due to his incredible scoring record. He is the third highest-scoring player in the history of Spain’s top division behind

Hugo Sanchez
in second place. The somersaulting star of the 1986 Mexico World Cup team started his career ten years earlier playing for club side UNAM Pumas and soon after appeared for his country in the 1976 Olympic Soccer tournament, as did

Kazimierz Deyna
who won a silver medal with the Polish team that year. Like Sanchez, Deyna played for a time at San Diego Sockers having moved from Manchester City in 1981. Deyna was voted the Greatest Polish Football Player of All Time in 1994 and was known often by his nickname ‘Kaka’, as was

star of the Brazilian football team since 2002 and AC Milan since 2003. Kaka played in the Champions League Final in 2005 where his side lost on penalties to Liverpool. Though Kaka converted his penalty,

Andriy Shevchenko
saw his one saved by Jerzy Dudek. Shevchenko joined AC Milan in 1999 for £26 million, his side having recently been crowned champions of Serie A. With Shevchenko on board they were unable to repeat the feat in 2000, beaten to first place by Lazio who were managed by

Sven-Göran Eriksson
who controversially reneged on an agreement to join Blackburn Rovers before signing on the dotted line for the Rome club. Sadly, dear old Sven wasn’t able to replicate the unprecedented success he brought to Lazio in his five-year stint with England, but a return to club football is again on the cards… Can he weave his magic once again?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Footy Book Review

It's been my good fortune recently to pick up four new books on different aspects of football nostalgia which, although small, are no less interesting to read.

I thought I'd tell you about them as they'd make a jolly good Christmas present for football fans of a certain age - that is if you don't steal them away to keep in your own collection first!

Studs!: The Greatest Retro Football Annual the World Has Ever Seen
By Barney Ronay
Amazon UK Price: £5.99

Anyone here used to buy Shoot magazine when they were younger? I certainly did - mainly for the big glossy team pictures that adorned the centre pages every week. I used to delicately detach them from the staples and stick them up on my bedroom wall, a habit which lasted all the way up to, ooh, last Tuesday, I should think.

Anyway, enough of my personal hell. Shoot magazine was the ideal comic for youngsters everywhere back in the 1970's and 80's. It featured the latest football news, big pin-up photos of all the big stars as well as interesting articles looking at their private lives away from the bright lights of stardom.

Looking back, it was all a bit limp and cheesy, but that was surely the one thing that was good about it. If you want to find out how limp and cheesy, you have two options: 1) Buy some old copies of Shoot which are still available via eBay (more of which on another blog post), or 2) Buy Studs, a new book by Barney Ronay which compiles the best bits from nearly 20 years of the classic footy weekly.

In this book, you can find out just what was going through Bobby Moore's mind when he was arrested for stealing that bracelet in Bogota, the person that Alan Hansen most wanted to meet when he was playing for Liverpool (and no, it wasn't the club's defensive skills coach) and what went on in an average day in the life of George Best.

Not only that, but there's all the regular features that kept us occupied every week, such as You Are The Ref and the all-important quiz page. If all that isn't enough, you can marvel at the hairstyles and erratically trimmed moustaches that were rampant in the game back in days of yore, so if a bit of happy memory-jogging is the sort of thing you like, you'll do far worse than putting this in your Amazon UK shopping basket.

Flick to Kick: An Illustrated History of Subbuteo
By Daniel Tatarsky
Amazon UK Price: £6.39

If I wasn't reading Shoot magazine as a kid, I was probably playing Subbuteo. The table football game that no-one ever played on a table was perfect for those wet Sunday afternoons when you wouldn't dare pull on a pair of boots and play football in the park.

As mentioned previously on SPAOTP, Subbuteo was the ideal combination of a collecting hobby and a game that was dead easy to play. All you needed was a pitch, a couple of teams and enough space in your bedroom to use both.

Subbuteo has a long and interesting history, starting off in the days when players were made of cardboard, through to its heyday in the 1970's when World Championships were played and sales were at their peak, even going through to the the 21st century when its existence looked to be virtually at an end due to lack of interest.

Author Daniel Tatarsky goes to great lengths to tell us about the game's creator and the many years of development that Subbuteo endured. There are lots of excellent photos to illustrate the story including some of that show how the Subbuteo brand even ventured into other sports such as cricket, rugby and angling (don't ask).

For anyone like me that used to play the game, this is a great book that fills in the gaps of Subbuteo's history that you were blissfully unaware of as a kid. Informative and entertaining in equal parts.

True Colours 2: Football Kits from 1980 to the Present Day
By John Devlin
Amazon UK Price: £9.89

Next up is True Colours 2, a book which, like it's predecessor, devotes itself to documenting the many and varied football strips worn by club and country alike from the 1980's through to the present day.

It's amazing how many fans are so interested in footy kits. When you think about it, they're just bits of fabric that help distinguish one set of players from the other, but therein lies the fascination. Over the many decades that the game's been played, every team has adopted it's own colours and designs resulting in a greater following from the fans through a stronger sense of identity.

To that end, John Devlin has skilfully put together a second book full of kits - 20-odd years worth for each team - which this time features the main teams from the lower divisions. After the success of book 1 which did the same for those teams in last season's Premiership, this one repeats the formula by not only showing the kits but also analysing the trends and reasoning behind the strips worn by each team.

As an added bonus, this book also shows the outfits worn by the five 'home' nations since the 1970's, so if you want to know when Scotland favoured a bit of tartan on their backs or when Wales showed off the biggest dragon since St George was a lad, this'll tell you everything.

Another fantastic book for all you kit lovers and a perfect accompaniment to the first edition, which is still available.

Swap Yer: The Wonderful World Of Football Cards And Sticker Albums
By Rob Jovanovic
Amazon UK Price: £7.19

Finally we have a book that should make former devotees of Panini stickers and collector cards break out in a broad smile. Rob Jovanovic tells us how the self-adhesive stickers of today developed out of a need to sell more cigarettes at the end of the 18th century to become the multi-million pound business that it is today.

It's a fascinating book which makes you realise just how long people have been striving to complete their sets of football player pictures. The cards given away with cigarettes 100 years ago were printed in black and white and were rather formal by today's standards, but as printing techniques improved, so did the quality and diversity of the images.

We see how the 1970 World Cup was used to kick-start Panini's long and illustrious place in football sticker history and how those little sticks of pink bubble gum played such a vital part in Topps' collector card range. There's also the chance to giggle mischievously at the frankly ridiculous hairstyles of yesteryear, just as you can with the 'Studs' book.

As with all the other titles featured above, this book is well-researched, well-written and packed full of pictures to maximise your enjoyment. No football nostalgist should be without it!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Its a funny old... lottery

Tonights “Euro Millions” jackpot is a ‘colossal’ £75m.

Just imagine what you could do with that amount of money. According to Middlesborough valuations you could buy SIX Stewart Downings. Do you see how easy it is to waste such fortunes?

If you are having help picking the winning numbers, here’s a scientific approach we have adopted at SPAOTP, using this weekends football matches to assist us.

‘Winning Numbers’
2 – The amount of goals Middlesborough will score.
3 – The amount of goals Middlesborough will concede.
14 – The amount of formations used by Rafa Benitez in the match against Aston Villa.
28 – The amount of ‘incidents’ Arsene Wenger doesn’t see in the game against Everton.
33 – The minute Chelsea take a 1-0 lead against Sheffield United.

‘Lucky Stars’
1 – Jens Lehman – saves a penalty against Everton.
3 – Alan Pardew will be thanking his ‘Lucky Stars’ as West Ham pick up 3 points against Blackburn.

There you go. Enjoy the £75 million, wont you?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's a funny old... Cup

Written by Kedge

Yesterday I was full of the joys of spring as my local side, the Mighty Blues (Southend United) had won away to Leeds United in the 3rd Round of the Carling Cup. This joy was just slightly diminished when I realised that my favourite team Manchester United’s match against Crewe was only being shown on Sky Sports. I’ve switched from Sky to cable and no longer have a subscription to Sky Sports. Then this morning, joy of joys, I find that the 4th round draw has paired Southend and Man U together with a tie at Roots Hall. My first thought was “Got to get tickets for this!”

Then I thought, “OK… Where does my allegiance lie? With my local club or with the big boys from 200 miles away?” And the answer was instant! I want Southend to win. No two ways about it. My local club comes first. That’s the way it has to be. My first experience of live football (watching, not playing) was at Roots Hall. I followed them throughout my childhood and into adolescence, and despite my passion for Man U, when it comes to the crunch, it can only be Southend that I will be cheering for.

On a lighter side, Chris was regaling us with the words from Monty Python’s ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’, and last night’s local paper had coverage of West Ham’s defeat. They cover all the Hammers’ matches as they consider them to be the local ‘top flight’ side. They certainly took Chris’s words to heart with the headline:

‘Hammers Lose Again (but at least they scored a goal)’

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


How easy it is to take for granted something which holds great significance for us. Things that we see every day so often fade from view because we don't look at them with the necessary sense of perspective.

Such is the case for our local parks. In every town in every corner of Britain, you'll find a green space providing a home to a few trees, some grass and any number of further embellishments that make it unique from the one down the road, the one across town or the one you've never seen in a completely different area altogether.

For those of us that grew up living and breathing every moment of our lives high on the joy that football gave us, the local park was the best place to go to kick a ball around and live the dream that we, too, were the superstars of our day. That vast expanse of grass long vacated by sunbather and dog-walker alike was like having our very own Wembley to play on for the day. No cuts or grazes here - this was the lush surface that repaid the love we had for it with the sort of safeness that no concrete pavement could provide.

Better still if the grass had just been cut by the Council Parks Department. That unique smell drew you in the moment you passed the vandalised 'Welcome' sign by the gates. With ball in hand, your stride lengthened ever so slightly as you made your way to that place where you always played - your pitch. The ball would be tossed in the air and as it fell again, the inevitable volley would come as it was kicked high onto the big green, followed by an excited run in pursuit of it.

I remember so many happy days playing football with my friends in the park. While others would use a pile of old coats as goalposts, we had the luxury of two young trees spaced (ideally) the right distance apart to constitute a goal frame, albeit without the cross-bar. One of us would elect to go in goal first - often me - and everyone else would play outfield.

And off they'd go. A series of passes would neatly and tentatively be made from one to the other, waiting for the moment when someone would fashion a set-up move that resulted in a final flourishing shot or header towards the expectant keeper. Goals weren't scored as often as we'd like, but when they did arrive, they were usually greeted with a disproportionately gleeful celebration that sent the keeper on his way to fetch the ball that was by now half way to the other side of the park.

Sadly for the goalie, this long walk to retrieve the ball became the bain of our afternoon. Only the promise of an occasional spectacular save made the job worthwhile, but for the greater part it was a diet of tedium and tree-gazing as the wait for another shot went on.

But at least they were lovely trees. We'd sometimes sit under them when the weather became too hot or too wet, our backs propped by the huge, rippled trunk. We'd stop to rest and catch our breath, taking a while to finish off our drinks and talk about all kinds of unimportant things. Big willow trees, they were, yet their shadow never seemed to fall on us as we played football in our collective boyhood idyll.

We'd carry on playing, but by now our legs were growing tired and weary and the chance to score that one last memorable goal gradually diminished like the sun which so often warmed our backs. By unanimous vote, we'd eventually call it a day, pick up our things and go, walking slowly home with the satisfaction that we'd performed as well as any multi-million pound player could ever hope to.

All a distant memory, and yet the park where you used to play is more than likely still there, still retaining a modest, silent beauty, silent as people pass it by as though it wasn't even there.

It deserves more respect than that. Parks are responsible for so many of the happy memories we hold, so let's celebrate them for what they are and what they've given us. If you get the chance, pay a visit to your old park, or if not, go and make use of the park round the corner from where you live.

It's a privilege to have such a wonderful resource on our doorsteps, so make sure yours doesn't get taken for granted.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A legend in the making...

Written by Kedge

So what was going on at the weekend in the Premiership? That's the question on everyone's lips. Well I can reveal all. Having done a little bit of snooping around (you know the kind of things I mean - looking in dustbins, reading the Sport on Sunday, talking to the odd looney and if all else fails, making it up) it seems that Jermaine Defore has suddenly realised that he has as much charisma as Steve Davis or the guy in the Mr Muscle ads.

In order to do something about it, he (apparently) is looking for a suitable nickname. After all, the sporting world is full of guys with catchy names:

Phil "The Power" Taylor
Steve "Interesting" Davis (OK, so that doesn’t really work)
Norman "Bites yer Legs" Hunter
Ron "Chopper" Harris
David "Butter Fingers" James (maybe another not-so-good example)
Arsene "I didn't see it" Wenger
David "Bender" Beckham (sorry, that should have read "Bend It")
Stuart "Psycho" Pearce
Ben "Forearm Smash" Thatcher

So now I can introduce to you...

The one...

The only...

The amazing...

Jermaine "Nibbles yer Nipples" Defoe.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stadium Madness

I dunno. I go away for three days to refresh my brain and sharpen my keen football-writing skills, and what happens? Everyone goes stadium crazy.

First of all, I here that new Aston Villa owner, Randy Lerner, intends to rake in yet more money for the club by allowing a company to sponsor the name of its ground. But fear not - Lerner has said that the history and heritage of the club will be retained in any change to the name of their stadium. Apparently an early suggestion for a new title has proved controversial - it's 'Villa Park'.

I'm thinking we could see some highly commercial deals being done here. Maybe the team could be renamed Aston Martin and get them to play their games at PolyVilla Park?

Then there's the fight for the London 2012 stadium in Stratford, East London. Several clubs have been sniffing around looking to purchase the venue once its primary purpose has elapsed, but Tottenham Hotspur have now declared they're pulling out of such a move as "all grounds with a [running] track have a poor atmosphere, attendances are down and clubs say moving there was a mistake." What nonsense - it never did Brighton & Hove Albion any harm when they moved to the Withdean Stadium - or at least that's what the 1,740 miserable fans at their last home match told us.

Apparently West Ham United are now in "serious negotiations" to make it their new home - a move backed by both parties attempting a multi-millionaire takeover of the club. Speaking as a fan of the Hammers myself, I think it will be a lot more accessible for large crowds than Upton Park currently is, but it has to be said that the 'running track / atmosphere' issue is something that has to be given serious consideration.

And apparently the Football Association have reached a conclusion in its talks with Multiplex, the engineering company that won the contract to build the new Wembley Stadium, which means the Australian company will now be paid the outstanding money its due and the stadium will be finished in time for next year's FA Cup Final. Well isn't that marvellous. Instead of telling them they wouldn't get a penny unless the damn thing was finished by Christmas like anyone with any pride in it's national stadium would have done, they tell them everything will be OK and 'by the way, just carry on as before - no rush lads'.

Impressive it may look as you drive along the North Circular Road and very nice it may look when it's completely finished, but surely this must teach any discerning football association around the world one simple lesson? That is if you're planning to build a venue like this, you surely must employ builders that come from the same country as that which you're building the stadium for. That way they'll have so much inherent pride in the national team they support, they'll be only to keen to get the job done well and promptly. Or am I being too simplistic about the issue?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Obscure Kits From British Football History #2

Today's 'Obscure Kit' is an absolute belter. Very little is known about it, other than the fact that it was worn as a third strip by Birmingham City in 1974.

I could say that it was a commemorative strip to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, but that would be a lie. I think. That said, it does have a distinctly German feel about it, given the fact that it features the Bundesflagge running at 90 degrees down the full length of the shirt.

It's quite a daring design, one would have to say, but not to everyone's taste. Me personally, I quite like it. You could only seriously get away with wearing something so colourful as a third strip these days, but let's face it, if you're going to have one, you might as well rip up the rule book and do something daring.

Birmingham City are no strangers to quirky kit designs. A few years ago they had an away kit of red and white stripes which looked, from a distance, like a Tesco carrier bag, plus there was the blue home shirt with white flecks that gave the impression that their players were part-time pigeon feeders in Trafallgar Square.

This one from 1974, though, tops the lot. The fact that it has gone unnoticed for so long is a testament to its acceptance in football history and it's use of strong colours makes a great case for designers everywhere to be bold and unshackled in their creations.

And not only that, but it also keeps alive the hope that one day all kits will be based on national flags of countries around the world.

(Our thanks go to John Devlin at True Colours Football Kits for giving us kind permission to use the above kit design image.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A night to forget

Oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

England lost 2-0 to Croatia last night. Scotland lost 2-0 to Ukraine.

Not good. You're quite possibly feeling a bit down in the dumps about it all, but let me just say this as I try and raise your spirits.

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble - give a whistle, and this'll help things turn out for the best...


Always look on the bright side of life (do-doo, do-do do-do do-do), always look on the light side of life (do-doo, do-do do-do do-do)...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Seven Shades of... Euro 2008

Last Saturday was a bad one for Wales and the Republic of Ireland. The Welsh conceded five goals at home to Slovakia in their Euro 2008 qualifier and the Irish let in five, too, against the mighty... Cyprus.

At least the two coaches, Steve Staunton and John Toshack, can now claim to be kindred spirits as they share a quiet pint of arsenic down the pub, but maybe they have more in common with each other than they realise?

Using the theory that there's only seven degrees of separation between any two unconnected things, let's try and make a monumentally spurious link between these two under-achieving managerial giants...

Steve Staunton
is the former player and current coach of the Republic of Ireland who scored direct from a corner kick in a 1993 match against Northern Ireland, just like

Artim Sakiri
who did the same for Macedonia against England in October 2002. Sakiri spent two years playing for West Bromwich Albion between 2003 and 2005 where his manager was

Bryan Robson
who in October 1981 became the most expensive footballer in Britain when Manchester United signed him for £1.5 million. The previous holder of the record was

Andy Gray
who was bought by Wolves from Aston Villa in 1979 for £1,469,000. Gray was the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1977, a title won the following year by

Peter Shilton
whose flawed attempt to make “the perfect save” allowed Poland to score against England in a 1973 World Cup qualifier and consequently stop them from reaching the 1974 World Cup Finals. His opposite number that night was

Jan Tomaszewski
the goalkeeper labelled “a clown” by Brian Clough but had the last laugh due to his heroic performance in the 1-1 draw with England, a result matched in a World Cup qualifier earlier that year by Wales, whose goal was scored by

John Toshack
The current Welsh team manager and someone who knows what it’s like for his team to be well and truly spanked in a major tournament qualifying match. See top of list for alternatives in this category.


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