Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seven Shades of... Didier Drogba

The Carling Cup Final last Sunday didn't show itself in the best of lights thanks to the mass brawl that ensued near its end, but two players did avoid the fisticuffs and covered themselves in glory as they did so. Chelsea's Didier Drogba scored twice to win the match while Arsenal's Theo Walcott scored his first goal for the club in reply.

Let's connect the two in our usual spurious fashion...

Didier Drogba
or ‘Top Drog’ as he’s known to many of his fans, currently leads the way as top goalscorer in the FA Premier League. Though born in the Ivory Coast, he began his footballing career in France playing for Le Mans, Guingamp and Marseille. The man who signed him for the latter of these was

Alain Perrin,
one-time manager of Portsmouth. Though he helped the south coast club avoid relegation towards the end of the 2004/05 season, he failed to start 2005/06 in a convincing fashion and was sacked eight months after his arrival at Fratton Park. Christened ‘Reggie’ by fans and popular press alike after the TV sitcom character of the same name, he was succeeded in the manager’s position by

Harry Redknapp
who had done the job once before in 2002. Harry Redknapp not only played for and managed Bournemouth but achieved the same feat with West Ham United with whom he started out as a player. Redknapp’s playing days ended in 1979 at another London club, Brentford, as was the case for

Stan Bowles.
‘Stan the Man’ was a cult hero of the 1970’s and was well-known to like a bet or two. This was once shown in a match he played for QPR against Sunderland at Roker Park in 1973. The home team had recently won the FA Cup and were displaying it on a pitch-side table when Bowles accepted a financially-induced challenge from one of his team-mates. Could anybody knock the Cup off the table by kicking the ball at it? Stan Bowles did with a fearsome drive that understandably outraged the Sunderland fans. He went on to score two in the match, reinforcing his image as the natural replacement for

Rodney Marsh
at Queens Park Rangers. Marsh wasn’t so good when it came to bets. As a Sky Sports pundit, he offered to have his hair cut off if Bradford City avoided relegation in 2000 and suggested Wigan fans could put him in stocks and throw rotten tomatoes at him if their side didn’t win more than seven games in the 2005/06 season. Marsh got both wrong, although he was later spared the rotten tomato treatment. Marsh shares the same birthday, October 11th, with

Sir Bobby Charlton,
scorer of 199 goals for Manchester United and 49 goals for England. Charlton is simply one of the greatest English footballers that ever lived. Having survived the Munich air disaster that ended the lives of many of his United team mates in 1958, he went on to win a World Cup winner's medal in 1966 and a European Cup winner's medal in 1968. He still holds the record for most England goals and most appearances for Manchester United, all of which earned him a much-deserved place in the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, four years ahead of Arsene Wenger, current manager of an Arsenal side featuring

Theo Walcott.
Although the 17-year-old is yet to reach the heights of Sir Bobby, he can at least claim to have done something he didn't, and that's play in and score during a League Cup Final. Let's hope in years to come we can say he spearheaded an England campaign that resulted in a World Cup Final win just like Charlton did. (Well we can dream, can't we?)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The India Equation

In March 2007, FIFA will begin a new pilot scheme which, it's hoped, will reinvent the game of football in a country that perpetually underperforms on the world stage - India.

India have never reached the World Cup Finals - in fact the only footballing success they've enjoyed came with a fourth place finish in the 1956 Olympics and a gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games. It's now over forty years since India did anything of note in footballing terms, and for a country with a population of around 1.1 billion, it seems staggering that they haven't achieved more before now.

All of which got us thinking... how many other countries are there around the world that are failing to find success in relation to their population? We decided to look into the matter...

First we needed some sort of equation - a mathematical way of correlating who had achieved what and who was concealing the biggest set of inhabitants within their borders. It seemed all very easy at the outset, but once we ended up hip-deep in statistics, we soon found it was anything but.

So let's start off with 'achievement'. Quite honestly, if you haven't played in the World Cup Finals, you're not going to score very highly. Yes it's all very well to say you've reached the Finals of your own continental tournament, i.e. the European Championships, Copa America, and so on, but it pails into insignificance compared to the World Cup. Case in point: Greece won Euro 2004, yet failed to qualify for World Cup 2006. Need we say more?

In our equation, each country scores a point for every round reached in a World Cup Finals tournament, with an extra point awarded to the outright winners. For every World Cup that a country failed to reach after they affiliated to FIFA, we've knocked off a point. To round things off, we then gave each country a rank based on the number of points scored (so Brazil got 1, Germany 2, etc.) and that sorted out the 'achievement' side of the equation.

So onto the 'population' bit. Quite straight forward - we divided a country's population by a million, knocked off the stuff after the decimal point, then ranked it. Having got the rank, we then divided it by 10. (Example: China has the biggest population of all the 206 countries, so 206 became its rank. 206 divided by 10 is 20.6 so China's population rating is therefore 20.6.)

Add the achievement rating to the population rating and there's your final score for each country. So according to our figures, who are the biggest under-achievers in world football? Yes, you've guessed it - India. They scored 94.5 on our system, 0.4 ahead of near neighbours Pakistan in second. In third place were Bangladesh (who have a population greater than that of Russia), and just behind them on 93.5 points were the Philippines.

The highest-placed African country were Ethiopia in sixth place on 93.1 points and Europe's biggest under-achievers were Kazakhstan in 23rd place on 88.7 points.

At the other end of the table are Uruguay who, with a population of just under 3.5 million, have won the World Cup twice. In a system where lower points means a higher rating, Uruguay did exceptionally well to score just 17.2 points. Second best were Sweden with 19.2 points, then in third were Brazil - population: 188 million - followed by (West) Germany in fourth and Italy in fifth.

England came in seventh with a score of 23.2 ahead of France in tenth, but Scotland did well to come in 18th on 32.4 points. Ireland were two places behind in 20th while the United States showed how a heavily populated country can be successful by finishing 23rd.

So what can we derive from our final list? Well we can gather a greater sense of admiration for those countries who have achieved much despite having a small population from which to make team. The likes of Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland and Austria may not hit the headlines very much these days, but they deserve our respect for what they've done up to now.

Conversely one can look to the opposite end of the list and see which countries should be doing better. What we see are mainly Asian and African countries that we can only assume have a wealth of talent waiting to be discovered and honed into a force to be reckoned with. Until then though, the world awaits a World Cup Finals that introduce the likes of Thailand or Sudan, and thanks to FIFA's new scheme, it might happen sooner rather than later.

197th Tanzania
198th Sudan
199th Myanmar
200th Thailand
201st Ethiopia
202nd Vietnam
203rd Philippines
204th Bangladesh
205th Pakistan
206th India

1st Uruguay
2nd Sweden
3rd Brazil
4th (West) Germany
5th Italy
6th Argentina
7th England
8th Belgium
9th Hungary
=10th France / Spain

14th Netherlands
15th Mexico
18th Scotland
20th Republic of Ireland
23rd USA
25th Portugal
27th Northern Ireland
43rd Australia
45th Wales
59th China
64th Greece
71st Canada

You can download a PDF version of the list by clicking here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Shirt Legend: England

The big debate following last week's Friendly international between England and Spain wasn't whether England could have played better or whether Steve McLaren should be replaced as manager. The main discussion seemed to revolve around whether the new England home strip was all that much different from the previous one.

You see, what Umbro and many other kit manufacturers seem to forget is that all genuine football fans feel a tingle of excitement at the time when a new kit is launched, and that's because they're expecting to get something new and exciting for the next season or two. What we saw last week was all well and good, but if you squinted a bit it could have been the same kit as the one England had before.

All of which leads us to dwell on England shirts of the past. Not all of them were great, but they were definitely all interesting for one reason or another. Since 1964, England have sported fourteen white shirts and here they all are in pictorial form (click on the image to see an enlarged version).

(Image removed pending replacement - apologies for any inconvenience)

Shirt A, of course, is the classic shirt worn by the World Cup Winners of 1966. Plain and simple, it was made by Umbro and became a design classic. When Don Revie became manager in 1974, though, it was all change. A new commercial era had dawned where the demand for replica kit grew and grew, so to reflect that, Admiral were drafted in to make a snazzy new shirt (Shirt B). It featured a lighter shade of blue, stripes along the sleeves and a proper collar.

Not everybody liked it, least of all Jimmy Greaves who likened the new England kit to pyjamas, but it became the image of England in the 1970's. Admiral's second kit came into force in 1980 and this time there was even more red and blue to upset the traditionalists. Shirt C achieved maximum exposure during the 1982 World Cup and has recently become a cult favourite among fans looking for that essential bit of retro kit.

In 1984, Umbro were reinstated as official England designers and their first kit back (Shirt D) saw a return to a more traditional look with navy blue coming back and red colouring being almost discarded. There was now a shadow pattern woven into the fabric as well, a feature that continues to this day, but in 1987 it was all change again with the reintroduction of a round collar and a splash of red here and there (Shirt E).

Come 1990, it was World Cup time again and yes, you've guessed it - they dropped red from the kit once more. The new kit had a navy blue winged collar and a funny triangular bit of business just below it but that was about it, apart from an Umbro logo pattern around the sleeve ends (Shirt F).

Shirt G is one of the less memorable ones of recent times, coinciding with the wilderness years of Graham Taylor's managerial reign, but it did feature some cleaner lines and of course, the return of that red colouring around a rather odd-looking collar.

When Euro 96 rolled around though, there were wholesale changes for England's white shirt design. For a start, Umbro's famous diamond logo was replaced with a big fat depiction of the company name in text only, but more controversially than that, the red had been ditched again - this time in favour of light blue as a complement colour (Shirt H).

A year later and Umbro went for their boldest design yet (Shirt I) incorporating navy blue and red side stripes. It was smart enough, but some felt the clean white appearance of the shirt was being compromised, so in 1999, Umbro went for a change which was just as dramatic but for different reasons. Their next kit (Shirt J) was more like the one worn in the early 1960's with it's round neck and simple white with navy blue trim. The Umbro diamond logo was also back with a vengeance.

2001 ushered in a return to more modern-looking fare (Shirt K) with a simple red stripe being used to give a splash of colour to an otherwise straight-forward design, and in 2003 that red stripe transferred to the shoulders and sleeves in a move that more prominantly than ever reflected the Cross of St. George from the English flag (Shirt L). It was also the first ever England shirt that could be worn inside-out, the reversible version having a navy blue stripe along the sleeves.

In 2005, the Cross of St. George appeared fully-fledged, albeit in stylised form, on one shoulder of Shirt M. All other stripes and trim were done away with to leave another clean, predominently white design. It would appear this was uppermost in the minds of Umbro's designers when Shirt N entered the public domain last Wednesday, a red ribbon-like stripe replacing the cross and traversing from one shoulder to the other. There's also a hint of the Three Lions badge in the navy blue trim that runs down either side of the new shirt, not to mention a sparkly gold Umbro badge that appears above the red stripe.

So that's the full collection, but which one's your favourite? Do any of them fill you with pride or do some of them make your blood boil?

Let us know by leaving your comments, but also by way of a survey, tell us below which shirt you like best. Simply click on your favourite choice and hit the 'Vote' button to register your preference.

Which of the white England shirts worn since 1964 do you like best?
Shirt A
Shirt B
Shirt C
Shirt D
Shirt E
Shirt F
Shirt G
Shirt H
Shirt I
Shirt J
Shirt K
Shirt L
Shirt M
Shirt N
Free polls from

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dumb Footballer of the Year Award

There are some players in the game who attract the contempt of fans all over the country. There are some who find themselves on the wrong end of the fans' ridicule. And then there are some players who are frankly so dumb that they defy any such categorisation. These are the players we'll be saluting in the Some People Are On The Pitch Dumb Footballer of the Year Award.

The first nomination is for Jens Lehman of Arsenal and Germany.

He is deserving of his place on the shortlist following the Arsenal v Wigan Athletic match on Sunday 11th February 2007. Here's why:

Wigan led the match from the 35th minute following a goal by Denny Landzaat and sensing a chance to hold on for a rare away victory at the Emirates, they set about frustrating their hosts by wasting a bit of time here or there. Chief culprit for the Latics was Chris Kirkland, their goalkeeper. He was duly booked by the referee for his trouble.

As the match progressed, Arsenal got more and more desperate for an equalizer and ever more wound up by the liberal wastage of time by Wigan. Finally, Arsene Wenger's side drew level in the 81st minute after a Fitz Hall own goal. Thierry Henry couldn't help but rub salt in the wound for Kirkland with a quick word in his ear as he returned the ball to the centre spot but there was more to come for Arsenal.

Four minutes later, Tomas Rosicky gave his side a 2-1 lead and with five minutes of normal time remaining, Arsenal were feeling like justice had finally been done. To ram home the point, Jens Lehman stepped into the fray to give Wigan a taste of their own medicine now they had their noses in front.

As the ball went off the pitch behind his goal, Lehman was handed the ball by one of the ball-boys. In an effort to deliberately waste some time for his own team, he made a weak attempt to throw the ball back onto the pitch which, unsurprisingly, resulted in the ball bouncing back to him via a nearby billboard.

He'd succeeded. By the time he'd returned to the pitch with the ball, the Wigan players had already pointed out the offence to the referee and his yellow card was being raised into Lehman's line of vision. It seemed fair to the rest of us that if Kirkland had been booked for timewasting, so should Jens Lehman.

Lehman himself might have even agreed, yet he'd overlooked one thing. Lehman had already been booked four times this season, so this fifth booking meant he'd be banned from playing in Arsenal's next game.

Stupidity out of immaturity, you might think, until you learn that Arsenal's next match is the Carling Cup Final against Chelsea. Jens Lehmann had taken himself out of the running for a place in a prestige Cup Final by acting like an impetuous schoolboy. That's Jens Lehman, 37-year-old goalkeeper of Arsenal, known to many as 'Super Jens' although, we suspect, not as many as before the Wigan match.

So there you have it - our first nomination for Dumb Footballer of the Year and it has to be said it may take some doing to beat that opening gambit, but rest assured there will be more on the way soon. Watch this space...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Excuses, excuses...

Written by Smart

Under Sven Goran Eriksson's reign as England manager, we were reminded by players, managers, media and neighbours that "This is the best England squad since '66" and therefore our best chance of bringing a trophy home.

Optimism was somewhat high and justifiably so with the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard, Owen and Rooney in the squad. Of course, we all know the outcome of recent tournaments.

So imagine my surprise when reading today’s papers, with two articles catching my eye.

First of all, we have players "talking the talk" but when it comes to the important thing - doing it on the pitch - it's a different story. On the back of a fourth consecutive game without a win under Steve McLaren, Steven Gerrard says the players must improve and give the fans and manager the performance they rightly deserve.

This is the same rallying call that has been issued for the past 18 months or so and not just from Gerrard. We've had everyone saying it. John Terry, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Cashley Cole, Gary Neville, Frank Lampard to name just a few.

Strange how most of the above want you to read their books about their footballing exploits, yet the next time you hear from them it's an admission of under-performance. "I'm shite. Buy my book". No wonder they didn’t sell.

To be honest, I am sick of it, and have hardly watched an England game since McLaren's first. Wednesday night was no exception. In a choice between Crouch up front with Dyer and Wright-Phillips behind, or 'Dragon's Den' on the next channel, I was off to the Den (and I don't mean Millwall). In fact if it were a choice between England and sticking pins in my testicles, I'd be reaching for the pins.

I said after the World Cup that I was 'Sven-ed Out' meaning the disappoint of Sven’s reign has put me off England for a while. I think I am coming to the conclusion that I am not 'Sven-ed Out', but probably 'Gerrard-ed Out' or 'Lampard-ed Out' or... you get the picture.

The other article that I had to laugh at was a comment by Middlesbrough Chairman Steve Gibson, who was of course Steve McLaren's former boss. His claim is that the Premiership and its chairmen aren't helping McLaren's job by employing foreign coaches and players.

So we have gone from having the best England since '66 with the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney (to name a few) in the squad, to being overloaded with Johnny Foreigners blighting our national squad, which contains the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney. To name a few.

Give me 'Dragon's Den' anytime...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The best £26.50 I ever spent...

So there I was sitting in the bar of the Broadway Theatre, Barking, sipping on my bottle of alcohol-free beer when my mobile phone vibrates. It’s a text message from Smart saying he’s just stopped off at KFC for a bite to eat and would I like to join him. The answer, sadly, was no. I’d only just arrived five minutes before and was in no rush to step back outside into the frosty night air now I’d begun feeling warm again.

The reason for my being at the theatre in the first place (and Smart, eventually) was to see a show called ‘An Evening With Jimmy Greaves’. It’s not often someone so famous passes through our neck of the woods, and as he used to play for the teams we both support, it seemed only natural that we should go along to see what the show was like.

Much as I hold the former Tottenham, Chelsea and England star in high esteem, I can honestly say I wasn’t hugely fussed about getting tickets for the show. Fortunately for myself and you, the readers, Smart reminded me of my journalistic duties to keep you informed of what this evening of entertainment was going to be like.

Anyway, back to the theatre. While supping on my bottle of Becks’ finest, I caught sight of the tables that had been set up in the lobby where memorabilia and souvenirs were being sold. I sauntered over to peruse the modest array of items laid out for us punters to purchase, and there, predictably, were some replica Tottenham shirts, some books written and signed by Jimmy Greaves and any number of other small items.

What caught my eye, however, was a yellow replica Brazil shirt being displayed on a mannequin torso. It was signed by Pele, and below it was a card offering people the chance to win it in the raffle being held later in the evening.

Any football fan over the age of nine would have been tempted as I was to buy a ticket, so I bought seven. Well it was churlish not to – if you bought seven tickets for £10, you also got a picture card signed by Jimmy Greaves. It’s what we in the trade call a win-win situation.

So it was that I returned to my seat, raffle tickets and card in hand, to wait for Smart’s arrival which was fortunately not long in coming. Having welcomed him into the building, I ushered him in the direction of the bar where to my distinct pleasure he bought me another drink. Good bloke, Smart. I won’t hear a bad word said against him.

It was perhaps unsurprising that when we sat down for a chat, he too spotted the souvenirs being sold in the lobby and decided to go off and investigate for himself and less surprising still that he had also bought seven tickets for £10 with an eye to winning that signed Pele shirt.

An hour later and we had taken our seats in the main hall, listening as we were to Jimmy Greaves regaling us with tales from his footballing career. It was all very amusing as you’d expect being the funny half of that well known double act with Ian St. John, and if truth be known, he spent much of the night telling many a corny gag rather than talking about football.

No matter. It was actually a pleasure just being in the same room as him, and even his corny gags were rather amusing. There was the one about his agent telling him that he had to do a show for the British Paranoids Association and that at that moment, the chairman of said Association rang up on the phone. “We were just talking about you” Greaves responded before putting the phone down abruptly…

To help out Greavsie during this night of badinage and anecdotery was another legendary name from the heyday of English football. Actually on second thoughts, perhaps ‘legendary’ isn’t the right word to use there. ‘Notorious’ is perhaps more appropriate when talking about Chelsea hard-man Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, especially given his pride in referring to the many career-threatening tackles he inflicted on other players.

Despite retaining the persona of a man who played football like a grim reaper for anyone who dared get the ball past him, Harris was remarkably humorous while telling his football stories and though he lacks the depth of personality Jimmy Greaves does, he was just as worthy of a place on the billing when all was said and done.

The second half of the show was largely devoted to a ‘question and answer’ session. This was the chance for any member of the audience to tap into the mind of the two men on stage, something that can be both interesting and unfulfilling in equal measures. This was never better illustrated than when Greaves failed to answer the question “What was the happiest day of your life and why.” Not only did he not have an answer to it, but the man posing the question had done exactly that with the same outcome on a radio phone-in a few days before.

At the other end of the scale, the question “what was the most difficult team you’ve ever played against” brought about the answer “Bolton.” He wasn’t joking. Greaves explained that the Bolton side of the late-50’s / early-60’s barely changed from year-to-year and featured ex-coal miners that were grateful for the chance to earn a better living elsewhere. It was a salient point and one worth referring to in this age of £100,000-a-week salaries for the best players.

The evening closed with the raffle and the chance to win the aforementioned Brazil shirt signed by arguably the greatest player that ever lived - Pele. Smart and I got out our tickets and waited for Jimmy Greaves to plunge his hand into the bag of duplicates he held on stage.

I won’t insult you with an elaborate description of what happened next. The winning number he pulled out was 493, and I was holding it in my hand. I couldn’t quite believe it. My brain wouldn’t accept that I, of all the people in that theatre, was the winner. I’d only ever won one competition before, and that was twenty-six years ago at the age of nine in my local newspaper, so how could this have happened?

Whatever the answer, it had happened, and I was being called up on stage to receive my prize. Half an hour and several hundred steps later, there I was shaking the hand of Jimmy Greaves himself in front of a gathered crowd of about two hundred people. What a moment. He even invited me to stand right in the middle of the stage so that everyone could see me (albeit so that they could identify me in the car park afterwards for a good kicking in, but you can’t have everything…)

I returned to my seat brimming with nervous excitement, still not fully at one with what had just happened. It was all very surreal yet utterly amazing. I was now the proud owner of a football shirt signed by Pele – something I could only have dreamed of as a kid. And I know there are probably hundreds of people around the world that can say they own something similar, but it’s still a club I’m proud to be a brand new member of.

I drove Smart home that night and we talked about the unlikely events that had happened earlier. It almost never happened. I almost visited him in KFC at the time when I bought my raffle tickets. I almost declined his offer to go to the show in the first place. I almost left it too late to get tickets for the show. Luckily for me, luck was on my side that night and I have Smart to thank for that.

If only he’d persuaded me to buy a lottery ticket as well…

Monday, February 05, 2007

Video Nasty

A postscript to the article of November 22nd 2006. Back then, we spoke of the unending criticism of referees and the dissatisfaction that club managers have of their performances. One of the sub-topics that emanated from that discussion was the use of video replays and how they could be used to assist or even (dare we say it) replace the officials.

It's been used in Rugby and Cricket matches the world over for some time and appears to work well in a number of situations, so why not Football?

The answer, perhaps, lies in an incident that occurred during the England v Scotland Six Nations match at Twickenham a couple of days ago. Jonny Wilkinson, back in the side for the first time since his heroics helped win the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, was having a wonderful game, kicking point after point to put Scotland under early pressure.

To top off a wonderful performance, Wilkinson received the ball and began a long speedy run down the wing towards the corner of the pitch. His moment of glory looked secure as he dived near to the corner flag to plant the ball over the line for a try when a member of the Scottish team dived across to bundle him out of play.

The ball had certainly been put down over the touchline, but had Wilkinson strayed over the sideline first? There was nothing else for it - the video judge had to be called into action to look at the replay and make a decision on the referee's behalf.

The verdict? Try to England. Major celebrations and hysterics ensued in the English section of the crowd, not to mention a healthy slapping of Jonny Wilkinson's back by his team-mates to acknowledge such a fine try.

The thing is, it wasn't a try at all. Despite having clear video footage showing Wilkinson with one foot in contact with the ground on the wrong side of the line when the ball was put down, the Irish video judge still managed to make the wrong decision. It should never have been given, and frankly there was no excuse for making such a bad error of judgement.

All of which goes to show that even the use of video replays to help referees isn't perfect. Perhaps in a game where the human being is imperative to its very existence, surely we can allow for a little human error once in a while?


  © Blogger template Psi by 2008

Back to TOP