Friday, September 29, 2006

Football Tales #2

Back in the mid-1970's, English football was awash with bright young talents adding their own distinctive brand of flair, panache and skill to the game.

One of them was Stan Bowles, the Queen's Park Rangers centre-forward with a fiery temperament and a knack for scoring great goals. A talent as obvious as his was inevitably spotted by the England boss of the time, Sir Alf Ramsey, and it wasn’t long before Bowles was given the call to enter international battle for his country.

Never one for turning down the opportunity to maximise his income (as any bookmaker in West London will tell you), Bowles was only too happy to lend his name to any venture that provided him with a tidy sum of money. You can understand the delight he must have felt, then, when numerous boot manufacturers came knocking at his door, asking to be associated with the latest member of the England team.

Bowles didn’t waste any time talking to the interested parties, all of whom wanted him to wear their latest footwear, but the result of his negotiations showed a shrewdness and a sense of financial nous that no-one before had matched.

When Stan Bowles walked out onto the Wembley pitch to face the Netherlands on February 9th 1977, he wore an Adidas boot on one foot and a Gola boot on the other, having accepted money from both companies. It was his last appearance for England and a memorable one for that reason. It’s just a shame they didn’t win the match - the Netherlands won the friendly 2-0.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Obscure Kits From British Football History #1

Yes, it's back, back, back! Following the undoubted success of the 'Obscure Kits' series during this summer's World Cup (well, sort of), we bring you the footy strips that time forgot 'British-stylee'.

And where better a place to start than with the all-time number 1 cult kit from the annals of history. The reason for its notoriety can be summed up in one word - brown. Yes folks, we give you THAT Coventry Kit from the mid-to-late-1970's.

So who was to blame for this fashion 'faux pas'? It was Admiral, one of the most well-known kit manufacturers in Britain at that time. They shot to fame in 1974 when the FA chose the Leicester-based company to produce a new England strip that would appeal to the growing commercial market. The result was the first England strip to feature stripes on the sleeves, shorts and socks, a move that prompted Jimmy Greaves to refer to them as 'pyjamas'.

The signs were obviously there from the start, but undaunted, Admiral continued to find clubs and countries from far and wide that were willing to wear their apparel, and one of them was Coventry City.

Admiral created a new range of kits in the the mid-70's which featured an alarming triple stripe that curved in from the sides of the shirt and ran all the way down to the bottom of the shorts. You may recall Wales wearing a colourful version of it in red, yellow, and green, but for Coventry it was only ever going to be the tasteful hues of sky blue, white and navy blue.

But then came that fateful day when the chairman, director and manager all sat round the table to choose a new design for the away kit. God only knows what must have been going through their minds. Perhaps they'd been out for an extra-long lunch at the pub or something. Who knows, but the result of their temporary lapse of reasoning was that Coventry City would for the next couple of years visit many of their opponents bedecked in brown, white and black. I think you'll agree, it was an absolute vision of loveliness. [IRONY.]


Ian Wallace (Coventry City, circa 1976) and Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham, 2006).

The odd thing is that just before the start of this season (2005/06), Tottenham resurrected the brown kit ploy thanks to their new manufacturers, Puma. With a splash of gold here or there, it looks rather more acceptable than the old Coventry strip ever did, but that colour's still rather alarming. Will we have to wait another 30 years before we see brown come back to the world of football kit design? Maybe not, if it's designed in the right way, but then that'll depend largely on whether Admiral are involved.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

If you think the game of football suffers from fixture congestion these days, think again. Once upon a time, football’s stuffed shirts were practically falling over themselves to organise a whole range of competitions to appeal to the great and the good.

It all started in earnest way back in 1938 with the Empire Exhibition Trophy. This was a one-off competition that invited four English and four Scottish teams to compete in an unofficial ‘Battle of Britain’. The idea was an appealing one at a time when European tournaments were still a long way off and there was no way to test your might against foreign opposition.

Fifteen years later, the format was repeated in the similarly popular Coronation Cup. In the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, eight teams gathered in Glasgow for the competition which culminated in Celtic winning outright, just as they’d done in 1938.

These were exploratory attempts at creating competitions with a commemorative bent, but the 1970’s would see a whole raft of imaginative contests that varied in necessity and significance.

The Watney Cup ran from 1970 to 1973 and was a knockout competition for the two highest-scoring teams from each division in England. As competitions go, this one was undeniably different to anything else that preceded it. For a start, some of the games in the Watney Cup were televised live, something of a rarity back in the early-1970s. Secondly, tied matches were decided by a penalty shoot-out - the first time the method had been used in a major competition anywhere in the world. And just to be even more different, the Final of the competition was staged at the ground of one of the competing teams, not at a neutral venue as is normally the case.

The Watney Cup also led the way in being one of the first competitions to be corporately sponsored. Another was the Texaco Cup, in which teams from the UK and Ireland that hadn’t qualified for Europe got the chance to play each other. Sadly, after a reasonable start that saw Wolves, Derby and Ipswich win the first few tournaments, interest waned and Texaco eventually withdrew their sponsorship.

The competition changed form slightly to become the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1976, and was played pre-season between sides on either side of the border. Like the Texaco Cup before it, the Anglo-Scottish Cup also had a distinctive feature to help it stand out from other competitions, namely its scoring system. In addition to the ‘two points for a win, one for a draw’ way that was standard back then, English teams in the first round were also awarded three points if they scored three or more goals in a game. Something that would encourage livelier matches in the modern era, perhaps?

And if you think the habit of putting out weaker teams for low-priority tournaments is the scourge of the modern game, you’d be wrong again. In the 1977 Anglo-Scottish Cup, Newcastle United were expelled from the competition for doing just that. It wasn't long, though, before other clubs were losing interest in the Cup as the early 80’s saw more and more lower-league English teams being drafted in to make up the numbers. With only one Scottish winner of the competition - St.Mirren in 1980 - its days seemed numbered and in 1982, the competition was forced to change once again.

The Football League Group Trophy picked up where the Anglo-Scottish Cup had left off, and now it was just English teams involved from the bottom two divisions. The competition still runs to this day, however you may know it better by one of the six names that its adopted since 1984, i.e. The Freight Rover Trophy, The Sherpa Vans Trophy, The Leyland DAF Cup, The Autoglass Trophy, The Autowindscreens Shield or The LDV Vans Trophy. For good measure, the competition will take on another corporate sponsorship transformation in 2006/07 when it becomes the Jonhstone’s Paint Trophy.

Whatever you choose to call it, the competition has less interest in it these days than ever, despite offering lower-league teams the chance to play in a Millennium Stadium Final (or Wembley, as once was).

It takes a lot to persuade clubs that a new competition is worth its salt and this was never more evident than in the case of the ScreenSport Super Cup. After the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985, six English clubs - Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham, Southampton and Norwich - were denied the chance to compete in Europe the following season.

As a form of sporting and financial recompense, satellite TV broadcasters ScreenSport proposed a tournament where all six teams could prove their worth against each other to fill the yawning gap in their match schedules. With the best will in the world, none of the clubs taking part could muster much enthusiasm, and when Liverpool defeated Everton in the two-legged Final, Ian Rush handed the trophy to an Everton ball-boy as he left the field, advising him to ‘put it in his bedroom’. So much for that, then.

Europe has been the focus for numerous competitions in the past, beginning in 1969 when Swindon Town, then in the Third Division, won the Football League Cup. UEFA rules dictated that no team from outside the top league of any competing country could qualify for their competitions, so in 1970 the Anglo-Italian Cup was born.

Running for just four seasons, the Anglo-Italian Cup gave lesser sides in England and Italy the chance to enjoy a modicum of European competition and in its brief history it was the English sides that tended to come out on top. Swindon, Blackpool and Newcastle all got their hands on the silverware, but in addition there was also an Anglo-Italian League Cup running in parallel which lasted until 1976. Spurs and Swindon (again) can claim to have reaped the rewards of that contest in its day.

Although the Anglo-Italian Cup made a brief comeback in the early-1990’s, it never caught the imagination and soon returned to take its place in footballing history as one of those competitions that never quite went ‘big time’. It goes to prove that for every FA Cup there’s always a Full Members Cup vying for our attention and for every Home International Championship there’s a Rous Cup skulking away in the corner.

Do we need so many tournaments in the modern game? Maybe not, but it’s fair to say that all those that have tried and failed have at least livened things up for a while. They’ve not all been worthless, especially those that tried to pioneer new developments. Just think - if the Ford Sporting League had lasted more than one season (1970-71), we could all be seeing teams getting deducted a point for unsportsmanlike behaviour these days. I wonder if anyone would have finished the season with a points total higher than zero?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

If Carling did giant killings...

In case you missed it, the Carling Cup Third Round draw was made on Saturday. This is the stage where the teams competing in Europe enter the competition.

The thing that strikes me about this draw is the great chance for a smaller or non-premiership club going all the way. In the previous round, Fulham, Manchester City, Middlesborough and Wigan all took an early bath, and this Third Round draw will see a few more premiership teams eliminated due to all premiership fixtures.

Blackburn v Chelsea looks like the pick of the bunch, although Newcastle v Portsmouth has potential. Charlton host Bolton and Liverpool host Reading.

For other premiership clubs, there are some tricky looking fixtures, or ‘potential banana skins’ as Richard Keys would say. Crewe v Manchester United and West Brom v Arsenal may not sound too tricky for the premiership ‘giants’, but with Champions League action abound it may mean the return of the ‘reserve squad’ routines from them both.

In form Spurs take there impressive away record all the way to Milton Keynes to play the Dons, West Ham travel to Chesterfield and Leicester host the Midands derby with ‘The Villa’.

For some reason, Leeds v Southend catches my eye, but I cant work out why...

The draw in full >>>

Ties to be played the week commencing 23 October, once Sky Sports have selected their favourites for a giant-killing. I predict the Sky TV outside broadcasting units will be heading towards Milton Keynes…

Monday, September 25, 2006

Homeless World Cup

Chances are, you are unaware that the 4th Homeless World Cup has kicked-off.

The Homeless World Cup Foundation is a charity that has been set up to fund and support projects based around the highly successful Homeless World Cup.

It’s a street soccer event and this year it is held in Cape Town, South Africa. Football legend Eus├ębio got the tournament underway with the first kick of the competition.

2003 runners-up England have been in summer training with the Manchester United squad and face Hong Kong, Serbia and Kazakhstan in Group A.

Scotland face Group D opponents Frane, Czech Republic and Burundi.

Last years winners Italy have been drawn against Namibia, Kenya and Nigeria.

Some of the rules of street soccer are…

  • Matches consist of two halves of seven minutes each
  • Pitchsize: 22 metres long x 16m wide
  • Goal size: 4 m wide x 1.30m height, depth approx. 1 m
  • Ball size: normal ball used
  • Teams can be all male, all female or mixed
  • Maximum of four players per team on the pitch - three outfield players and goalkeeper
  • Plus four substitutes ('flying' or 'rolling' substitutions apply)
  • Squad must not exceed eight players

The final is to be held on Saturday 30th September.

For more details, visit http://www.homelessworldcup.org/

Friday, September 22, 2006

Finger Flicking Good

Long, long ago when I was a mere slip of a lad, I used to spend much of my time playing games with dozens and dozens of men, many of whom I knew as old friends but all of which had an intimate relationship with my right index finger. Between the ages of 10 and 14, I liked nothing more than to play Subbuteo.

It's often said that for a man of my age, childhood was all the better for the absence of PlayStations and GameBoys, but I'd have to disagree. I'm sure that in the early 80's I'd have practically wet myself with excitement if someone given me a games console, but of course they didn't exist. So were we downhearted with our distinctly lo-tech alternative? Of course not.

That's because Subbuteo allowed us to enter a world of boyhood imagination and excitement, a world of endless fun and enjoyment. But what made the game so incredibly popular amongst many thousands of kids all over the world? The key was surely in its ability to appeal to the game player and collector alike.

It was relatively easy to start playing Subbuteo Table Soccer. All you needed was a boxed set like the one I had when I was about ten years old. Mine was the 'Club Edition' and it contained a pitch made of green baize-like cloth, two teams (numbered 001 and 002), two sets of goalposts, some corner flags and two footballs - one white and one orange.

With this, you were off and running - as long as you had someone to play with. Subbuteo was never a game for the lone player, but that only added to its appeal. With a friend, you could share the experience of pitting your tactical skills against human opposition which, let's face it, gave you greater satisfaction than playing against a computer ever would.

Subbuteo was a simple enough game to play. You were in charge of a team of miniature plastic footballers mounted on virtually semi-circular bases. Once put into position, you would use your index finger to flick the player in order to hit the ball. If your player failed to hit the ball, you lost possession and your opponent took their turn. If your player managed to hit the ball and propel it into the net - REJOICE! You scored a goal!

Repeat for the allotted time, tot up your goal tally and there you have it - perfection in a box. On the playing side there was much more to the game than just getting your player to make contact with the ball. There were techniques to learn such as curling the player's path of momentum around an obstacle or chipping the ball over a wall for free kicks. For *real* depth of interest, though, a child would only need to wander into his local toy shop and gaze agog at the multitude of teams and accessories on offer.

The general rule of thumb stated that the more teams you owned, the greater the variety you'd get. I was lucky enough to own several teams, most of which I don't remember buying personally. Yes, I had the team I supported - West Ham - and yes, I had the England team. Fair enough, but how on Earth did I end up owning the Crystal Palace team, or West Germany?


The Subbuteo teams I owned (in numerical order):
'The reds'; 'The blues'; West Germany; Crystal Palace; West Ham; England; Watford; Manchester United; Spain; Brazil; West Bromwich Albion (away).


I know how I came to own the West Bromwich Albion team in their yellow and blue away strip. That was when I was off school feeling ill and my Dad came home from work armed with a present to cheer me up. I'll never forget that. I'd never have bought that team if I'd had my choice, but somehow it was all the more perfect because (a) their strip featured new-fangled horizontal pinstripes and (b) he'd gone to the trouble of buying it especially for me. Good old Dad.

Anyway, although I probably owned no more than a dozen teams, I might as well have owned hundreds thanks to my abundant imagination. Take that 002 team, for instance. Now to a ten-year-old, that could have been Scotland, France, Italy, Everton, Leicester... and therein lies the beauty of it. If you wanted to re-enact Ipswich Town's finest hour or make believe that Iceland were your team of choice, all you needed was to drift off to that Shangri-la in your head and you were away.

With such a wide range of teams at your disposable it was perfectly reasonable to then create a tournament that you and your best chum could play out. I must have played loads of tournaments in my time: The FA Cup, World Cup... you name it, I did it. All the results would be written down for prosperity and the scorers names pored over at great length. (We knew who'd scored each goal because of the number transfers that I'd stuck to the back of each player, by the way.)

The documentation of one competition got me into trouble once. I was sitting in my French class at school taking a sneaky look at the results of my latest World Cup tournament when along came my teacher who snatched the piece of paper from my hand. "Ah" he said above the din of my fellow pupils, "What's this? 'Subbuteo World Cup 1984' ... 'host nation Scotland'... 'Italy 1 France 3'... very good, very good..." To say I was embarrassed was an understatement, but you know, I had a sneaking suspicion that he secretly admired the artwork and Letraset transfer lettering on that page of results. I could be wrong, mind you...

Over the years my Subbuteo collection grew, not least thanks to an aunt of mine who paid a visit to us once. She brought with her a whole ton of stuff that her son no longer wanted and wondered if I'd like it. There was a stadium stand, perimeter fencing, some old teams... all kinds of things. I was over the moon! Now I could play my favourite game at an even more realistic level. The sad thing is I can't remember whatever happened to all my Subbuteo gear. Did I donate it to a friend or did it all simply go in the bin one day in my mid-teens? Nah, surely not. I couldn't have treated it with such disdain as that, could I?

Subbuteo was my life back in the early 1980's. Schoolwork could go hang for all I cared. If only I'd kept all that stuff. If nothing else it'd be worth a pretty penny now, especially given the fact that its makers, Hasbro, stopped making it back in 1999. Ah well, at least there's always eBay for those of us that are willing to pay for a piece of our childhood. What's the harm in buying one or two teams to keep us young at heart, eh?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paying the Ultimate Penalty

Written by Kedge

An interesting article in the Saturday edition of the Daily Telegraph, prompted by the European matches midweek, revealed that Wayne Rooney handed over the penalty taking to Louis Saha and Frank Lampard relinquished his responsibility to Michael Ballack. As the Telegraph writer commented, this seems to be a worrying state of affairs considering England’s poor record in competitive penalty shoot-outs. Why are we giving our continental rivals additional practice? It’s not as if they need it.

Apparently on Le Continent, it is quite common for players to practice penalty taking, and it is even included in their soccer academies.

So after reading that, I thought I would trawl through the results so far and see who is taking the penalties in the premiership.

D Bent (Charlton) (twice)
R Fowler (Liverpool)
M Arteta (Everton)
J Bullard (Fulham)
E Diouf (Bolton)
J Angel (Villa)
J Barton (Man City)
F Lampard (Chelsea)
G Speed (Bolton)
T Henry (Arsenal)
J Beattie (Everton)

The only current player who could possibly be considered for England and who is taking penalties on a regular basis is Darren Bent. Presumably Lampard let Ballack take the midweek penalty as he had missed one the previous week, but Rooney has no such excuse.

For the sake of England’s chances in Euro 2008 I hope our regulars will start stepping up to the spot more often.

The Telegraph also pointed out that one current England player does take the penalties for his club. He was also successful in the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup, and he was reckoned on being our best player in that tournament.

Unfortunately he has also broken his leg. However he should be back in time for the Euro 2008 finals.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bring Back / Take Away

The modern game of football is truly a wondrous thing, don't you agree? Spanking new stadiums, fans behaving responsibly, international star players gracing our pitches up and down the country. It doesn't get much better than this... or does it?

Well we here at SPAOTP think there's still room for improvement, but only really in a hypothetical sense, you understand. If you could remove something from football in its current form in order to make it better, what would it be? Similarly, what would you reintroduce or add to the game in order to improve it?

Well if you want my opinion, I'd:

1) Get rid of football agents
I know much has been said about agents in the past - especially last night, if you were watching Panorama - but let's package all this up into one concise statement to draw a line under the matter:

Agents do nothing but generate greed in the modern game, so they should be abolished.

There you go, I've said it now. What was wrong with the old system? Once upon a time, your average manager would send his assistant off to the home of some new starlet he was hoping to sign and was told not to come back until he'd got his name on the dotted line. Job done. Agents? Nothing but leeches if you ask me...

2) Bring back the old-fashioned clock
Nowadays we're all used to watching matches on TV with the current score and a running clock in full view all the time, but I say we should scrap it. Let's return to the way things used to be done years ago. Back in the 1970's we made do with an occasional caption telling us what the score was along with a pleasing round analogue-style clock. Perfect. No fuss, no bother. Who needs flashy computer graphics cluttering the screen when all you want to watch is the match?


Non-digital clock, as seen on Match of the Day

So what would you get rid of or bring back? There are surely many more things we could do to enrich the modern game by way of inclusion or exclusion, so tell us what you think by leaving us a comment. We look forward to seeing some of your suggestions!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Football Tales #1

Antoher day, another new series here at SPAOTP (don't say we lack imagination on this blog site). Here we'll be talking about the silly side of football, and we begin with a story submitted to us by one of our regulars, Kedge. It actually appeared in The Sun last Thursday, about a week after Kedge sent it to us, thereby proving that our loyal band of visitors are always ahead of the game in every sense.

We'll let Kedge tell all...

"My local paper had an article about Stambridge United (Division 2 of the Olympian League). Stambridge is a small village outside of Southend - two pubs, one church and a few houses. They are sponsored by a local author who is publishing a new book of football poetry. The deal is that the team's shirts carry the title of his book. There is some concern that they might get into trouble with the football officials as the book is called 'The Referee's a W****r!' The local league Referee's Association has refered this to the FA for a decision..."

You can't write that kinda stuff can you? Speaking of shirt sponsors, did you notice the Champions League match last week between Arsenal and Hamburg? If you didn't, you missed an odd sight: Arsenal wearing shirts bearing only the word 'Dubai'. The reason? Both they and their opponents are sponsored by Emirates Airlines, however UEFA rules dictate that no match can be played where both teams have the same sponsor on their shirts. Arsenal, being the away team, changed theirs and opted to show one of the destinations that Emirates Airlines flies to. I make it the first time I've ever seen that - I dunno about you!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Write For 'Some People Are On The Pitch' !

Here at SPAOTP, we love writing about football. It's a way of informing, educating and amusing people like you who so graciously come and visit our site. But we don't just like to write - we love reading what other people have written too.

To that end, your wonderful comments and feedback have been such a pleasure to read over the last few months that we're convinced you could all be budding writers in the making! So how about this for an offer: why not have a go at writing an article for Some People Are On The Pitch?

You must have read one of our posts in the past and thought "I could do that" or "I know what I'd write about if I had the chance"? Well if you have, why not show us the fruits of your burgeoning talent? It's dead easy - all we ask is that you write about some aspect of football (the choice is entirely yours) - and send it to us here at write4us [at] spaotp [dot] com. We'll give it the once over and if we like what we see, you can expect to have your article published forthwith.

Please note: your articles may be subject to editing - nothing too drastic, we hope - but nevertheless anything that's deemed too long or too unsuitable may require amendment on our part.

We look forward to publishing your material!

Best wishes,
Chris.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You cant beat the real thing

So the 'sugar free' FIFA\Coca-Cola rankings have been released again, and since they have reworked the scoring system, I for one, cant really argue with the current top 10.

As of 13 Sep 2006:

1 Brazil
2 France
3 Argentina
4 England
5 Italy
6 Netherlands
7 Czech Republic
8 Germany
9 Portugal
10 Spain

OK, maybe England may appear a little high and Germany a little low, but overall the top ten teams are the BEST ten teams in the world, in my opinion.

Debate over the final order will always reign, and to say 'Italy are the World Champions so they should be top' would be a little niave and simplistic in my book.

Previous FIFA rankings have been the height of controversy mainly due to the continued Top Ten appearances of Mexico and USA - both were in the Top FIVE at one point.

Then one day, Sepp Blatter and his wife, Fanny, "woke up" and realised that beating the likes of El Salvador and Haiti isnt really a great yardstick for calculating how good a team really is.

In this 'New Improved' recipe, both Mexico and USA are out of the Top Ten. In fact, the US are out of the Top Twenty and are now ranked 29th. Mexico's fall from grace wasnt as severe, sitting in a respectable 17th.

For the record, Scotland have climbed 6 places this month to 34, Wales slide 6 to 62, the Republic of Ireland fall 5 places to 43 and thanks to their Spanish victory, Northern Ireland climb a massive 14 places to 58.

For the complete list, click here

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Staying Alive

When the 2006/2007 Premiership season started on August 19th, all eyes naturally focused on the two extremes of the top flight. On the one hand, the perennial heavyweights vying for the title with international superstars and open cheque books on standby. On the other hand, there were the three new teams promoted from the Championship - Reading, Watford and Sheffield United. Would they stay up? What chance would they have of achieving any success? Questions that are asked year in and year out, but what’s the reality for those daring to set foot in the top flight?

Ask anyone to predict the Premiership final table at the start of the season and the chances are they’ll pick at least two of the three new teams to go straight back down again. The thing is, over the last 25 years (on average) only one of the three teams ends up being relegated. Perhaps, then, the job of getting promotion and staying up isn’t such a tough task after all. Some teams even go on to greater success after making the step up, but for every tale of miraculous survival there’s always one that speaks of failure and despair.

Foxes Tale

At the end of the 1979/80 season, Leicester City sat proudly on top of Division 2 looking down on those that challenged them for a place alongside the big boys. Things were different back then. Division 2 boasted such sleeping giants as Chelsea, Queen’s Park Rangers, Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic, but none of them were ready to wake from their slumber and secure promotion to Division 1.

Leicester City were and they entered the top flight full of hope and optimism but unbeknownst to them or their fans, it was to be the first of three instances between then and now where promotion was followed by relegation the following season. In 1981, they finished 21st out of 22 and down they went once again.

Leicester City are one of a particular brand of clubs who, for many years, have made a habit of yo-yoing up and down, but at least they’ve got the satisfaction of knowing they’ve never dropped lower than the second tier of English league football. If you ask any fan of Swansea City or Wolverhampton Wanderers about the importance of going up and staying up, they’re likely to tell you how bad it can really get.

Boom and bust

When, in 1978, former Liverpool legend John Toshack took over as manager of Swansea City at the tender age of 28, they soon embarked on a run that saw them gain promotion from Division 4 to Division 1 in four seasons. In 1982 they arrived in the top flight and looked like they meant business. Their first game of the season saw former Everton player Bob Latchford score a hat-trick to help defeat Leeds United 5-1 and further victories over Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool soon followed.

At the end of the 1981/82 season, Swansea City had finished sixth in Division 1. An incredible achievement, but the story didn’t end there. Poor form and financial difficulties saw Swansea relegated in 1983 and the same happened again in 1984. John Toshack was sacked, the club teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and by 1987 they were back in Division 4. Their meteoric rise had been matched for swiftness by that of their unrelenting self-destruction.

Wolves can also tell of pride coming before a big fall. Along with QPR and Leicester (again), they secured promotion to the First Division in 1983, but when they stood on the trap door, the drop they were about to experience was even faster than Swansea’s. Where Toshack’s men fell three divisions in four seasons, Wolverhampton Wanderers needed one less.

Fulfilled potential

For most teams promoted to the top tier of football in this country, it’s fair to say that many aim simply to avoid relegation (and a fair proportion do), but some can claim to have gone one better.

Clubs like Ipswich, Watford, QPR, Norwich and Newcastle United have all followed up a promotion season with a top-five finish the following year but for the ultimate consolidation of a place in the big league, you need look no further than Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers.

Having successfully climbed out of Division Two at the end of the 1989/90 season, Leeds found themselves crowned Division 1 Champions just two years later. This was matched by Blackburn Rovers who finished top of the Premier League in their third season out of the old First Division, but even this isn’t necessarily a sign of better times to come. Both Leeds and Blackburn have since been relegated again and in the case of Leeds, a return to the Premiership is yet to arrive.

The new boys

So what about the 2006 vintage - Reading, Watford and Sheffield United? For inspiration, they should turn to Wigan and West Ham who gained promotion the previous season. Wigan were most people’s choice for relegation but they finished a respectable 10th. As for West Ham, they finished one place above them and were runners-up to Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. A place in the UEFA Cup now awaits.

Steve Coppell’s Reading have the potential to stay up in the Premiership but this is their first season ever in the top flight, so how they will fare is open to debate. Sheffield United have been here before - they came up with Leeds in 1990 but four years later they dropped out of the Premier League in its second season. They look set to struggle this season and are many people’s favourites to finish bottom.

Graham Taylor’s Watford had a textbook promotion back in 1982. On arrival in Division 1 they finished second only to Liverpool but relegation came to haunt them in 1988 and they dropped a further division again in 1996. With Graham Taylor back in charge of Watford for a second time, they miraculously returned to the Premiership in 2000 but it was to be for just one season. Like Sheffield United, they will have their work cut out simply avoiding relegation.

Three of a kind?

Is it possible that all three teams will get relegated this season? Maybe, but in the last 25 years it’s only ever happened once - in 1998. Then, the three teams that came up in 1997 - Barnsley, Bolton and Crystal Palace - all went straight back where they came from before we'd even had the chance to get to know them.

If things occur as they usually do, however, one of this year’s debutantes will thrive, one will only just stay up and the other will face relegation. Yet even though the drop may be avoided in the first instance, new clubs always end up looking nervously over their shoulder for years to come. It seems if they’re to learn anything from the likes of Leicester City, it’s that relegation is never all that far away…

Monday, September 11, 2006

The 100th Post

Ladies and gents, may I have your attention for a brief moment, please...

I'd like you all to raise a glass with us to Some People Are On The Pitch which today celebrates its 100th post.

Over the last 148 days, we've written and talked about all kinds of football-related things from the World Cup and the Premiership through to quirky football kits and the annoying nature of TV pundits.

But for those of you that thought we must be starting to run out of things to talk about, I have some bad news. We're nowhere near finished yet! In the coming weeks, we'll be covering loads more stuff be it serious, silly, analytical or nostalgic.

But we've not just been beavering away at our computer keyboards writing though, oh no. We've also been trying to raise awareness in our happy little blogsite by promoting it in various places, the result of which is that we're getting new people visiting all the time.

So as we push on with the next 100 posts, we'd like to thank all of you that have read what we've had to say and left comments of your own. The site gets better and better all the time thanks to your feedback and participation in everything we do.

And now, on with the show...

Friday, September 08, 2006

SPAOTP Recommends... White Hart Lane Legends Vol.1

In the first of what we hope will be a regular feature, ‘Some People Are On The Pitch’ brings you a selection of interesting extracts from football-related books that we think are worthy of a mention.

Our first piece is from the book ‘White Hart Lane Legends - Volume 1’. The book, published in August 2005, includes interviews with some huge names from Tottenham Hotspur's illustrious history, including Graham Roberts, Steve Perryman, Cliff Jones, Pat Jennings, Ron Henry, Keith Burkinshaw and many more. Every Spurs fan will love this book, it captures what the club and the fans meant to some of the biggest names in the club’s history.

In this extract, journalist Keith Palmer talks to former Spurs, Arsenal and Northern Ireland goalkeeping legend, Pat Jennings:

KP: You played in dangerous times. Did the terrace trouble ever affect your game, especially being the closest player to the action?

PJ: Not really, although over the years I’ve been hit with almost everything. At Tottenham the crowd were right on top of you, although as far as personal insults are concerned, you probably heard worse at reserve games because the sparse crowds made it easier to pick out individual comments.

I’ve been hit by door handles, snooker balls, ball-bearings, and filed down coins. I remember once being bombarded with wire staples in a home game against West Ham. But the worst incident was when I was playing at Forest one year with Arsenal, where a missile came flying out of the crowd. I didn’t see it but suddenly felt a pain surge through my upper forearm. I glanced down to see a dart sticking in me. It had penetrated all the way up to the hilt.

KP: What was your first reaction?

PJ: I remember pulling it out of my arm, then placing it in the back of the net with my other belongings. I recall a policeman rummaging around trying to take it out but I didn’t know whether he was checking the evidence or trying to hide it. The match was still in progress so I didn’t have time to dwell on it there and then.

KP: What happened then?

PJ: Don [Howe] immediately flew in to Cloughie’s office asking him what kind of place Forest was for allowing that kind of behaviour. Brian reassured us that something would be done and responded by apologising in a personal letter the following week.

[Laughs] It was addressed to ‘’the Big, soft Irishman’’ and signed, ‘’Love, Brian’’. The thrower actually got caught and served six months in jail, so Brian kept true to his word.

Taken from the book “White Hart Lane Legends – Volume 1”.
Published by Legends Publishing


ISBN: 0-9543682-5-8
Published: November 2005
Binding: Hardback
Price: £19.99

Thursday, September 07, 2006

European Championship Qualifying round up

Amongst the wealth of international fixtures played during weeks like this it's almost impossible to find a result that catches the eye. However, last night's offerings have given us a feast of impressive and eye-catching performances that I don’t really know where to start.

Lets try...

Group A
Best performance in this group goes to Finland, who held the World Cup Semi-Finalists Portugal to a 1-1 draw. Finland head the table with Serbia and Belgium.

Group B
The performance of the evening looked like going to Scotland, after their 2-1 victory in Lithuania. Christian Dailly and Kenny Miller put Scotland two up before Darius Miceika pulled one back to add a tense finish to another impressive Scottish display. Scotland lead the table with six points from six, and it’s the turn of the French side to face the rejuvenated Scottish side next.

The French themselves will be buoyant after their 3-1 ‘revenge’ win over world cup champions Italy. Italy have one point from two games – already five points behind Scotland and France.

Group C
Results here seemed to follow the form book, with wins for table-topping Norway, Hungary and Turkey.

Group D
Yet another eye-catching scoreline:

San Marino 0 Germany 13.

Yes 13. Unlucky for some, but lucky for young Lukas Podolski who bagged four goals in this record-breaking UEFA Qualifying Match.

The Czech Republic beat rivals Slovakia 3-0 to sit just behind Germany in the table with six points from six. The Germans just about have the edge in the goal difference column, however…

Group E
Russia 0-0 Croatia suited England in this group - provided they beat Macedonia of course. They did just that, thanks to the athletic Peter Crouch scoring the only goal of the game. The only other point worthy of note was the resurrection of the official ‘Subbuteo’ scoreboard, which I haven't seen since circa 1986. A nice touch.

Israel's 4-1 win over Andorra sees them pick up six points, along with England.

Group F
Performance of the night? The German 13? Scotland's victory? Surely this result has to take the honours this time around:

Northern Ireland 3 Spain 2.

A David Healy hat-trick saw the home side come from behind twice to upset the much fancied Spanish side. Manager Lawrie Sanchez has been the focus of attention since the victory, after throwing his tie and blazer into the crowd. In celebration? Or as a farewell? A recent family bereavement and press criticism after Saturdays defeat to Iceland have fuelled speculation that Sanchez and Northern Ireland may soon be parting ways.

Elsewhwere in the group, Sweden maintained their perfect start with a 3-1 win over Liechtenstein.

Group G
Holland's 3-0 win over Belarus sits them on top of the group, followed by Bulgaria and Romania.

Early days of course, and some of these surprise results only inspire the defeated side to qualify from the group without losing another game - like a Brian Clough style “kick up the backside”.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Rock versus ..?

So Gibraltar want to become a member of UEFA and particpate in qualification for the World Cup and European Championships. In four months time there wishes may be granted.

The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) has taken its case to Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) who have insisted UEFA consider Gibraltars appeal - again.

The GFA tried to join UEFA back in 1999, when FIFA declared it cannot join as it is not an independent state. UEFA now currently have 'nations' similar to Gibraltar - such as Faroe Islands, San Marino and US Virgin Islands - amongst its membership list.

Of course, Gibraltar is still an area under dispute between Spain and England, so if it goes to a UEFA members vote then there is every chance it will become a political vote rather than a sporting voting - which would be a shame.

I dont see Gibraltar becoming a threat to the bigger nations, including England and Spain, so lets hope they see sense and vote with a sporting frame of mind.

For the record, Gibraltars population is less than 30,000 and covers an area of 2.25 miles - which is something like Charlton on a match day.

England In The 70's: Part 4

A Chance of Glory

When Ron Greenwood was appointed temporary manager of the England football team on August 17th 1977, the nation was under no illusions about his chances of reaching the 1978 World Cup Finals. They were small to the point of being barely existent.

His predecessor, Don Revie, had endured months of growing pressure following England’s World Cup qualifying defeat away to Italy in November 1976 and decided to leave his post during the summer of 1977, much to everyone’s surprise. Greenwood therefore knew his side had to beat Luxembourg away and Italy at home, not to mention hope for a win by the former over the latter in the final group game, to qualify for Argentina ’78.

To his credit, Ron Greenwood took care of his side of the bargain by steering England to a 2-0 win over the Italians at Wembley. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, a partnership that would go on to perform well for England as a double-act, both got on the scoresheet that night in November 1977, but any optimism gained there and then was to last just two-and-a-half weeks. In early December, Italy beat Luxembourg 3-0 and subsequently qualified for the World Cup Finals. Level on points with England, Italy’s record was better only by the three goals they’d scored in the last game.

No-one really expected Ron Greenwood to achieve the impossible after Revie’s exit, but the win against Italy gave the nation hope that England were starting to turn a corner under his leadership. The Football Association were inclined to agree, and by the time England played their next match - a friendly at home to West Germany in February 1978 - they’d given Greenwood the job permanently.

The winning mentality

It proved to be a worthwhile decision. In the summer of 1978, England swept through the Home International Championship with three wins out of three. Greenwood quickly settled on a mixture of players from Revie’s era as well as a few new players who were starting to emerge at club level. Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton continued to battle for a starting place in goal while in defence Phil Neal, Mick Mills and Dave Watson became regular choices. In midfield, Greenwood favoured the likes of Steve Coppell, Trevor Francis and Trevor Brooking, while up front the inimitable Kevin Keegan could always be relied upon to score goals regularly.

In the Autumn of 1978, Greenwood embarked on his first major competition since taking over the England manager’s role - qualification for the newly-expanded European Championship finals in Italy in 1980. Things got off to an exciting start as England beat Denmark 4-3 in Copenhagen, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan - now a Hamburg SV player.

The second match, a 1-1 draw away to the Republic of Ireland, saw England’s only dropped points of the whole campaign, but it didn’t dampen the spirits for long. Into 1979, Greenwood’s men beat Northern Ireland 4-0 at home, then two wins and a draw helped them retain the Home International Championship during May. Come June of 1979, England were on an unbeaten run of 14 games and though it came to an end in a 4-3 friendly defeat to Austria, it once again proved to be a mere blip in the strengthening fortunes of Ron Greenwood’s England team.

Before the curtain fell on 1979 and indeed the entire decade, further European Championship qualifying wins were secured against Denmark, Northern Ireland and Bulgaria before the final match against the Republic of Ireland in February 1980 confirmed England’s first involvement in a major competition for ten years.

Full circle

The 1970’s had thereby ended as optimistically as they’d begun. England were no longer world champions - far from it, seemingly - but they were about to enter the limelight again as one of the best teams in Europe. Yet at a time when football in England was booming like never before, it’s strange to note how the national team failed to deliver when it really mattered.

The pool of talent available to Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie and Ron Greenwood was of a particularly high quality throughout, but for some reason the England manager of the day always seemed hard pushed to find the right combination of players that could bring the biggest success. Looking at the statistics, England won only 56% of its matches during the 1970’s and were losing around one game in every five. For a team with such high expectations, it simply wasn’t what the fans had come to expect.

Fortunately the appointment of Ron Greenwood provided a light at the end of the tunnel. England reached the 1980 European Championships and followed that with qualification for the 1982 World Cup. Though some may say England under-performed at both, it was at least an improvement on what had gone before and laid the foundations for greater success in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s.

And so the book is closed on a chapter of England’s footballing history that few people these days even dare to reflect on. It’s said that every country falls from grace from time to time and the 1970’s was just such a time for England, but the bitter-sweet memories remain. No more do we see the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon and Emlyn Hughes walking out onto the pitch at Wembley, but the efforts they made to keep England at the top of the world game, albeit in vein, remain to this very day.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The 'Scotland / Not England' Thread

As regular visitors will know, we've recently been looking into the fortunes of the England football team during the 1970's and some of you I hope will be pleased to know that the fourth and final part of that series will be appearing on SPAOTP in the next few days.

In the course of reading the feedback to part 2 of England In The 70's, however, an interesting discussion transpired. It turns out that one of our loyal visitors, Flicktokick, is a Scotland supporter and as such gave us an insight into his regard for the Scotland sides that participated in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups as well as pondering on what the future holds for his team.

As someone who's only ever supported England and only ever known other people that also supported England, I found it fascinating to hear what a non-English person thought of their national side.

Because the conversation has been developing at a great pace, I thought it was about time we started up a thread specifically to talk about Scotland and other international teams beyond the English frontier. If you're a visitor to SPAOTP and you follow a footballing country that isn't England, why not leave us a comment and tell us your story? We'll be glad to hear your feedback!

To start the comments bit of this thread, then, I've published Flicktokick's last comment from part 2 of England In The 70's, in which he talks about Scotland's qualification for the 2006 World Cup. My comments will be added after... feel free to add yours too!

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Joy of Football

You know what I love about football? The sheer ability it has to surprise you. Football has so many disparate elements that millions and millions of permutations become available on which a change to the status quo can be made.

Take the 'deadline day' dealings in the transfer window yesterday. One minute you've got Ashley Cole playing for Arsenal, the next, he's signed for West Ham. Sorry, Chelsea.

Actually, the way things turned out, it's no longer beyond the realms of fantasy for someone like Cole to be signing for West Ham. What a strange turn-out that was! Two world-class Argentinians snapped up by Alan Pardew... and I thought Harry Redknapp was a wheeler-deeler!

As it turns out, Harry still is a great wheeler-deeler. He yesterday secured the services of Cameroon international Douala along with Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar and 34-year-old former Man United striker Andy Cole. Quite an impressive set of purchases although I have to admit to being a little baffled by the release of Svetoslav Todorov on loan to Wigan. The Bulgarian forward had a great season for Pompey before the summer so why replace him with a Man City striker who did just as well for his club?

Wigan's main signing yesterday was Kevin Kilbane from Everton, but they've offloaded more players than they've bought, including Graham Kavanagh, David Connolly and Pascal Chimbonda who finally moved to Tottenham for a 'club record' fee. Rash judgement on the part of Paul Jewell? Time will tell...

Tottenham were the subject of much rife speculation about numerous comings and goings, but in the end they made only two signings on deadline day, the other being Steed Malbranque from Fulham.

And who else changed clubs? Well Robert Huth and Jason Euell went to Middlesbrough, Newcastle took Antoine Sibierski on a 1-year loan from Man City, Liverpool released Jan Kromkamp to PSV Eindhoven, but most surprisingly of all, Bolton's Sam Allardyce didn't sign anybody. Staggering how these things can catch you out...

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