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?


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