Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Calm down, Calm down

Liverpool fan and architect Paul Gregory, along with two friends, spent nearly £2,500 on flights, accommodation and tickets to see the Champions League Final 2007. As we know, many fans holding genuine tickets were refused entry to the ground whilst many with forged or no tickets got in to see the game.

Paul has since written to UEFA president Michel Platini seeking compensation. His letter makes interesting reading :

"I would like this to be reimbursed by Uefa. It's the least you can do for putting our lives at risk. If this is not forthcoming we intend to take action against Uefa through the British judicial system, and through the European Courts if necessary. It was only through good luck that Uefa avoided deaths.

"As a former shareholder in Liverpool FC I am the recipient of three €140 tickets for the Champions League final. All are still unused as we were refused entry into the stadium. I was herded, tear-gassed, kicked and baton-charged by riot police outside the stadium for the hour leading up to kick-off and way beyond.

"As the organising body, Uefa has a duty of care towards its legitimate ticket-holders in just the same way as any corporate body has towards its customers. This duty of care extends to having systems in place to deny entry to the stadium to non-ticket holders. Demonstrably these systems were not in place.

"While unsavoury elements of the Liverpool fans must take responsibility for their actions, so must Uefa take responsibility for its shortcomings. Uefa appears to have planned for a genteel corporate networking event. It took its eye off the ball and forgot about a football match between two of Europe's largest and most passionately supported football clubs, despite warnings weeks ahead forged tickets were likely to be in circulation.

"Not only did thousands gain entry to the stadium with amateurish, photo-copied forgeries (some not even bothering to print the reverse side of the ticket!) but, incredibly, some fans simply walked into the stadium with no ticket at all - forged or legitimate! Others waved a stadium map and gained entry. One fan gained entry to the press box with a photo-copied press pass.''

His journal of what happened that night makes interesting reading too :

"I can't even be accused of naivety as this was my sixth European Cup final and I arrived at the stadium an hour and a half before kick-off. Plenty of time to negotiate 'security', I thought.

"8.15pm: Arrived at stadium complex entrance arch. Everyone relaxed. Fans funnelled by railings into several entry points. It became apparent fairly quickly very few people were being let through. It also became apparent this was a holding operation.

"8.45: Crushing begins as fans see little progress. Panic beginning. Children lifted up and crying. Pushing from behind. Police respond by pushing back and forming an impenetrable barrier.

"9.00: I finally make it to the front. Extruded like toothpaste out of a tube into police line; 100m further on, a line of police buses with a bus-sized gap and riot police blocking it. Fans backing up here. It becomes apparent this is a similar holding operation. It looks like one or two are allowed through at a time to give the appearance of a checkpoint. Totally inadequate again. We hold up our tickets, to no avail.

"9.30: No one is getting through now. Police drive a bus in to close gap off completely. Crowd of 2,000-5,000 backing up. Panic, crushing. My feet aren't touching the ground. Kids crying. Pressure increases to dangerous levels. This prompts police to let crowd know over hand-held Tannoy that 'the stadium is full! You can't get in'. No one can believe it. The charade is over. The crowd realise they haven't been policed; they've been conned, corralled, herded and contained for the last hour. A surge from the back and now it's confrontational. The police get more vocal and counter-surge with shields, batons, helmets, visors and boots, pushing us back a few metres.

"The police fire a huge cloud of tear gas and panic ensues. Police batter their way forward. Crowd retreats, choking and eyes streaming.

"9.45: We assume the match will not kick off. Surprised to find it has.

"10.00: Some fans regroup and storm staircases to our right. Running skirmishes. Beaten back by police. Tear gas again, kickings. Some fans try to crawl under parked buses. This goes on until about 10.30. We make our way back.''

Paul concludes by asking Platini :

"1) At what time was the stadium declared closed? And by whom?
2) What security arrangements did you have in place, particularly in regard to forged tickets that Uefa had been warned about weeks in advance?
3) Why are corporate 'partners' allowed to sell tickets at hugely inflated rates to fans?'

Finally, if you want a solution to this perennial problem the answer (apart from security that actually works) is easy: license clubs to show the match live on screens at their home stadium when the live venue is sold out.''

Paul Gregory states his case very well, and although you suspect he won't get anywhere with his case, you do hope he is ultimately successful.

If he does succeed, Platini can expect a flood of compensation letters heading his way.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Everton (home)

Here's a quiz question for you: what's the difference between the Everton 'home' shirt worn this season and the one below which they'll be wearing next season?

Answer: Not a lot.

Yes, this is the new Everton shirt for 2007/2008 and smart though it might be, it doesn't differ greatly from the old one.

It's made by Umbro and has the styling you'll see on many of their other shirts, i.e. the diamond motif on the shoulders and the quirky fragment of patterned fabric running down the sides. It's also available to buy now from the Everton website, but before you rush off and part with your credit card details in a fit of retail gratification, tell us what you think of it by leaving a comment, casting a vote below or both. We'd love to hear your thoughts, as ever...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 49 (32%)
Good: 30 (20%)
OK: 31 (21%)
Poor: 12 (8%)
Terrible: 29 (19%)



Thank you very much indeed to everyone that's participated in our other Kit Votes so far (see right). We've had a tremendous response and already it's possible to tell that Tottenham's new home shirt is the most successful so far with 23 out of 29 people giving it a positive rating. Newcastle's new home shirt is also going down well while Manchester City's new sky blue offering has really divided you in a big way!

Keep your votes coming in and watch this space for more new shirts on their way soon...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Play-off Weekend

This weekend sees the climax to the English Football League season as the three divisions below the Premiership hold their play-offs to decide who gets the last available promotion places.

The play-offs have become a valued part of the football season in England. They were first introduced in 1987 when the First Division (as it was then) reduced in size from 22 teams to 20. For the first three years, they were contested between the team that had finished immediately above the automatic relegation places in one division and the three teams from the division below who'd just missed out on automatic promotion. In 1990, the format changed to that which we know today where all four contesting teams were from the same division, aiming for promotion.

The Finals to all three divisional play-offs, as this weekend, are played at Wembley when available, and this undoubtedly adds to the excitement and sheer sense of occasion. The thing is, not everyone's a big fan of the play-offs. That's because technically you could finish third in your division (which in years gone by would have earned you automatic promotion) but see a team that finished sixth take your place in the division above. And if that division happens to be the Premier League with all its financial benefits, it does tend to sting just a little bit.

Anyhow, who are the gladiators that will be battling it out for greatness and glory this weekend? Let's take a look...

League 2 Play-off
Bristol Rovers v Shrewsbury Town
Saturday 26 May 2007

This looks likely to be the closest of all three games this weekend with barely anything to choose between the two sides. Both Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury have tight defences – Rovers keeping 22 clean sheets this season – and they both have useful attacking lines too.

If either team look to have some sort of edge, it'll be Rovers whose form towards the end of the season was rather better than their opponents. They'll also be hoping to rely upon the talents of Richard Walker who finished third top goalscorer in League 2 with 13 goals.

Another sign of the closeness between the two teams can be seen in the results of their three meetings this season. At the Memorial Stadium back in August, Rovers ran out 1-0 winners, the score was repeated in their Johnstone's Paint Trophy match last January thanks to a Walker goal, and in the league rematch at Gay Meadow in March, the match ended goalless.

When Rovers were relegated to what is now League 2 back in 2001, they struggled for the first few years, almost ending up relegated again to the Conference, but they rallied to a mid-table finish the next two seasons and 2006/07 sees their best chance to climb out of the bottom tier for quite a while.

They'll be hoping to make the most of the occasion, but promotion may not come as easy to them as Shrewsbury who hauled themselves out of the Conference in 2004 and will want to use the impetus to go up again as Yeovil have done in recent years.

It's going to be too close to call, but if I had to go for either of the two, my money would be on Rovers. Not much money, mind you...

League 1 Play-off
Blackpool v Yeovil Town
Sunday 27 May 2007

As previously mentioned, Yeovil are undergoing something of a rebirth. Their status as a Football League club only arrived in 2003 when they were Conference champions, but in their second season in League 2 they finished Champions again. So after promotion in 2003 and 2005, will they do the same in 2007?

Well it'll be tough, that's for sure. Blackpool finished third in League 1 this season, two places above Yeovil and the Seasiders form going into the play-offs was excellent – just one defeat in the final quarter of the season. Blackpool were also the highest scorers in the league with 76 goals, but despite a poor end to the league for their opponents, Yeovil redeemed themselves with a five-goal pounding of Nottingham Forest in the play-off semi finals.

When the two teams played each other this season in the league, Blackpool took four of the six points – a 1-0 win away to Yeovil in March following a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road last October – but the scores show them both to be closer than they seem.

So with Blackpool taking centre stage at Wembley for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, who's to say the spirit of Sir Stanley Matthews won't play apart in taking them back to the top flight again? The rebuilding work is already underway and the only thing that can stop them is a Yeovil side who are already making their own history with the achievements of the last five seasons.

Championship Play-off
Derby County v West Bromwich Albion
Monday 28 May 2007

And so to the big one – the right to own the golden ticket to the promised land. Whoever wins out of Derby and West Brom will next season play in the Premier League, earning considerable wealth as they do so.

Derby dropped out of the Premier League in 2002 and have achieved very little ever since, except for an appearance in the play-off semi-finals in 2005. That defeat to Preston didn't throw them off the scent too much, though, as they return once again in 2007 to face a West Brom side that have seen Premier League action as recently as last year.

The Baggies enter the match as favourites despite finishing one place below Derby in fourth this season. The key to their status has undoubtedly been the form of two of their front men – Diomansy Kamara (second top scorer in the Championship with 20 goals) and Kevin Phillips (fourth best with 16 goals) who have made West Brom top scorers in the league overall. Derby have little that can match with that, except possibly for Steve Howard who has also scored 16 this season.

Both teams have been inconsistent during the play-off run-in and in Derby's case it almost cost them their place in the Final. A 4-3 win on penalties over Southampton proved necessary for them to go through while West Brom edged past local rivals Wolves 4-2 on aggregate in a close-fought encounter.

Even their head-to-head results have given few clues to which team is the more superior. Derby won their home match 2-1 in November and West Brom won at The Hawthorns 1-0 a month later.

So who do I think will win? Well, my heart says Derby as I'd like to see them have another try at playing in the Premier League, but my head says West Brom. Albion boss Tony Mowbray has got his side playing some good, exciting football this season, and it'd be a shame not to see that again next year against the big teams.

All in all then, three fascinating matches to look forward to. Victory and jubilation will undoubtedly go to some, while a summer of gloom and doom will sadly await the rest.

Friday, May 25, 2007

La Liga: Round 36 Preview

Written by Chris (B Squad)

With just three matches remaining, the title race has come down to four teams separated by a mere four points. The top four will all be playing at home this weekend, where they've felt quite comfortable and have the records to prove it.

Valencia is a side that, while only four points behind Real Madrid, will need to take the full nine points remaining in their season in order to keep the flame of their title hopes lit. They defeated Villareal 1-0 in the corresponding fixture in January. And while Valencia does sport an impressive home record, allowing only ten goals this season, Villareal have won five straight, including a win against Barcelona. Villareal will be well motivated for this match, as they are just one point out of the final UEFA Cup spot. Valencia have seen Joaquin and David Silva hit their stride in recent weeks and will hope David Villa can regain some of his early season form. Villareal, however, must rely on the inconsistent but occasionally brilliant Diego Forlan, who will need to have an impressive match if they are to take any points with them.

Prediction: Valencia to win 2-0

Sevilla, meanwhile, will be playing host to Real Zaragoza in what looks to be the most difficult match for the top four. Zaragoza is firmly entrenched in a UEFA Cup spot, and only seven points out of the fourth and final Champion's League spot. Sevilla is hardly out of the title chase, two points back, but will need some luck coupled with a few mistakes by Barca and Madrid. On average Sevilla concedes less than one goal a game at home, but Zaragoza is one of the better goal scoring teams on the road. They also took three points from Sevilla in January, winning 2-1. But Sevilla are still on course for a possible treble, and Freddy Kanoute seems to have a nose for goal in the dying moments of the match.

Prediction: Sevilla to win 2-1

Getafe will visit the Nou Camp just weeks after shocking Barcelona 4-0 and sending them crashing out of the Copa Del Rey. They will look to continue their good run of form and push toward the final UEFA Cup spot. Barcelona, on the other hand, has been wildly inconsistent, looking disinterest, unorganized, and at times outright lazy. Many, including myself, declared them to be dead and buried before last weeks 6-0 slaughter of Athletico Madrid. Getafe are not the most offensively minded side, having scored just 38 goals all season. And with Eto'o, Ronaldinho, and Messi looking as if they've awoken from their hibernation, one wonders if Getafe will be able to find the goals needed to match this newly tuned machine.

Prediction: Barcelona to win 3-1

And finally the team who now seems destined to take home the honors this season, Real Madrid, will host lowly Deportivo La Coruña. Depor has the worst goal scoring record in La Liga at just 26 goals, and only nine away from home. Considering the fine form Beckham, Guti, Robinho, and RVN have found, Depor will be lucky to leave with any shred of dignity. They have very little left for which to play and are coming off of an awful run of form. Real, in the meantime, have won five straight and look nothing short the future title holders.

Prediction: Real Madrid to win 3-0

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #13

Famous Rossoneri
26 Footballers That Played For AC Milan

1. Roberto Ayala
2. Roberto Baggio
3. Franco Baresi
4. Oliver Bierhoff
5. Luther Blissett
6. Fabio Capello
7. Hernan Crespo
8. Edgar Davids
9. Marcel Desailly
10. Paolo Di Canio
11. Roberto Donadoni
12. Ruud Gullit
13. Jimmy Greaves
14. Mark Hateley
15. Thomas Helveg
16. Joe Jordan
17. Patrick Kluivert
18. Jean-Pierre Papin
19. Rivaldo
20. Paolo Rossi
21. Juan Alberto Schiaffino
22. Andriy Shevchenko
23. Giovanni Trapattoni
24. Marco van Basten
25. George Weah
26. Ray Wilkins

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Middlesbrough Badge - You decide...

Unbelievably, some two weeks to the day after we told you about the new Aston Villa badge, we now have a new Middlesbrough badge to contend with.

Out goes this one, and in comes this new one...

...which, you can't fail to agree, is a step up the evolutionary design ladder from the crayon drawings that Fulham and Villa ended up with.

It looks a bit old and archaic to me, though. Perhaps not dynamic enough for the 21st century. Anyway, the club assures us that the new badge has been designed to remind everyone of the club's 131-year history rather than just the period since 1986 when the club was reborn following some nasty business involving liquidation. Quite why they felt the need to redesign the badge twenty-one years ago to celebrate that, I don't quite know, but still...

So what do you think of the new badge? Crusty old relic from the dim and distant past or a symbol of pride in the history of the club. Tell us your views by leaving us a comment...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You Bet - Champions League Final Special... Update

The voting period is over and tonight we'll be rooting for Kaka to score the first goal of the game. Half of you chose Bet A, so that's what our £5 will be going on. Remember - it's for Kaka to be the first goalscorer during the first 90 minutes - not extra time or penalties.

Second in our online poll was Bet C - Crouch to score with a header - which got 32% of your vote, and in last place was Bet B - Milan to win 2-1 in the first 90 minutes - which trailed in with 18%.

Thanks for all your votes... now let's see the action unfold!

Three wishes... for the Champions League Final

1. It's better than the FA Cup Final
If it isn't then I'm going to have to paint my wall again and watch that dry instead.

2. No penalty shoot-out.
My dicky ticker can't take the tension nowadays, so lets have the game settled before the 90 / 120 minutes are up.

We all know that penalties are a lottery, so I would rather see the game won with a sublime bit of skill. In fact, I'd rather see the game won with a sliced clearance by Nesta hitting the crossbar, bouncing back, hitting Dida on the posterior and then rolling over the goalline than a penalty shoot-out.

3. A Liverpool victory.
I don't support Liverpool and I don't often take sides in a cup final thats neutral to me, but I have for this one. I think it would be great to see Liverpool win it again and not just because of the English club factor. Liverpool have such a rich history with the European / Champions League Cup and I for one will be hoping they lift the trophy again on Wednesday night.

Anyone else got three wishes for tonight's Final?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You Bet - Champions League Final Special

And so we enter the second and final part of our special You Bet double-header having missed out on the chance to win some money from the FA Cup Final.

All the more reason, then, to think carefully about what we should be betting our £5 on this time around. Once again, we give you three choices - A, B or C - and all you have to do is tell us which bet we should put our money on.

In case you've joined us late and wonder what on earth's going on, any money we win goes to our chosen charity, The Alzheimer's Society and if we don't win any money at all, they'll just have to wait until our next You Bet when they'll almost certainly win something (it says here).

No money is required from you whatsoever - we just want you to tell us where to stick it. So here for you below are the three Champions League Final selections to choose from:

Bet A
First goalscorer: Kaka (Milan)
Potential winnings: £30.00
The skilful Brazilian is the top scorer in the Champions League this season, but will he be the first to get on the scoresheet in the Final?

Bet B
Milan to beat Liverpool 2-1 (after 90 minutes)
Potential winnings: £40.00
Milan enter the rematch with Liverpool a stronger side than in 2005... can they edge past The Reds this time?

Bet C
Peter Crouch to score a header (in 90 minutes)
Potential winnings: £55.00
The tallest man on the field, Peter Crouch is always the favourite to reach those high crosses. Can he convert one for his side?

Pick the bet you think will earn us lots of lovely cash for charity and watch this space to see how we do after the game finishes. (Closing date/time for voting: 7pm BST on Wednesday 23rd May 2007).

Voting has now closed. Keep visiting Some People Are On The Pitch for more You Bets soon!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Foreign Legions

How proud I felt recently as I drove to work, listening to the radio. Three English teams had qualified for the Champions League semi-finals with every chance of an all-English Final.

What a shame that the pride which was enveloping my whole body at a staggering rate came to a shuddering halt just as quickly. You see, it occurred to me that Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea weren't English teams in the true sense because the vast majority of their players were born elsewhere. English clubs, maybe, but not teams.

As anyone will tell you, the modern game is a truly international one, bursting at the seems with star talent from all four corners of the world. The debate about whether an abundance of foreign players in our leagues is a good thing continues relentlessly, but when you look at the facts it's quite startling just how insignificant English players are becoming in their own country - particularly in the Premiership.

Just over a year ago, Alan Pardew (then manager of West Ham) openly criticised Arsene Wenger for fielding an Arsenal side in the Champions League that featured no English players. Wenger replied by calling Pardew a racist, yet even as this season ended Arsenal could boast only seven Englishmen in their squad of thirty-six - the joint-lowest number for any team in the Premiership.

So does it work in Wenger's favour to have a squad where English is just one of eighteen nationalities represented (and in such small numbers)? Some People Are On The Pitch decided to find out...

The Premiership
In terms of trophies won, Arsenal have nothing to show for this season or the last, yet an appearance in last season's Champions League Final, a Premiership title back in 2004 and numerous runs to the latter stages of the FA Cup all suggest quality gets you somewhere.

The same can be said of Liverpool. Winners of the Champions League in 2005 and finalists this year, winners of the FA Cup in 2006 and always a certainty to finish in the top four of the Premiership, Englishmen account for just over three in every ten in their squad.

But gaining success through foreign purchases isn't necessarily the way forward. Fulham have fought hard to avoid relegation from the Premiership in recent seasons, yet English players make up less than 22% of their roster. This season they won just one of their nineteen away games and a little over a third of their games at home.

Fulham, however, may just be a bad example - a team that's bought the wrong foreign players. Buying (or at least developing) English players has brought about the wrong outcome for Sheffield United, Watford and West Ham. All three can claim at least 60% of their squad are English, and yet they've all shared a season-long effort to avoid being on the relegation trapdoor when it mattered.

During the 2006/07 season, the overall picture showed that out of 653 squad players in the Premiership, only 282 were English. That accounts for about 43% in total and whichever way you look at it, that's got to be to the detriment of the national side. Yes, many of the foreign players coming to England bring with them the skills, work ethic and commitment that can rub off on the home-grown talent that needs such influence, but when Steve McLaren tells his team to play 'the English way', how many will actually know what he means?

Perhaps it would help to know where all the foreign players in the Premiership are coming from. The answer: seventy different countries. That's more nationalities than are represented in the top leagues of Spain, France, Germany or Italy.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales aside, Ireland, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, USA and Portugal are all big providers of players for the English top flight. Look further afield and some countries that barely even registered on the football ten years ago also show strongly. Jamaica, Senegal, Iceland and Finland can currently claim to make a healthy contribution to many squads in a bigger way than they ever have before.

And if it's sheer novelty value that lights your candle, you'll be wanting to know where the most obscure homelands are for some of the Premiership's playing multitude. If that's the case, look no further than Oman, Grenada and Sierra Leone.

But how does the Premiership match up with La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A or the Bundesliga? How much do they rely on foreign players to bring success?

La Liga
Spain has been arguably the most successful country over the last few years in terms of providing the finalists for the Champions League and UEFA Cup, and yet it can claim over 63% of its players are from Spain itself - that's 20% more than the Premiership.

As for the number of nationalities represented in its teams' squads, well that's only 41 compared to 70 in the Premiership. Naturally enough, Spanish-speaking countries are among the biggest suppliers of players, although such novelties as Canada and Equatorial Guinea are also represented to a lesser extent.

Looking at the most successful teams of late, Barcelona have the lowest proportion of home-based players (just under 36%) and they're the 2006 La Liga champions. Seville follow a similar approach when it comes to foreign players. They've got lots of them, but it hasn't stopped them winning the UEFA Cup for the second year running or challenging Barca and Real Madrid for this year's league title.

The pattern matches England at the foot of the table, too. Two of the bottom three, Gimnastic and Real Sociedad, have a squad that's about three-quarters Spanish, but between them are Celta Vigo whose squad is about half Spanish, half foreign. That's more than twice as many as their equivalent, Fulham, in England.

Serie A
Milan have been at the forefront of Italian football over the last few years. They played Liverpool in the Champions League final of 2005 and will do so again in the 2007 Final. They've also done well to reach third place in Serie A with two games remaining although the 32 point gap between themselves and top-of-the-table Inter is, to be reasonable, one they'll struggle to close.

This season, Milan can claim the largest number of Italians playing in a top-division side, but then they have the largest squad too - a whopping forty-six players. It works out that their squad is about two-thirds home-grown, which happens to be on a par with Ascoli and Messina who are already relegated to Serie B.

Torino's squad is 95% Italian, yet they've been struggling to avoid relegation until recently. In addition, Reggina have dropped into the bottom three and their squad is almost 88% home-grown.

Of the nationalities accounted for in Serie A squads, South America provides its share with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile all prominent. France also appears high on the list with a number of central and eastern European nations, while at the other end of the scale, Siena can claim to have made the bold move of securing the services of someone from Liechtenstein. You won't be surprised to hear they could still be relegated too...

Germany's success in European club competitions is no longer the formality it used to be and when it does come, it's difficult to tell who'll achieve it.

Of those teams that have recently reached the latter stages of the Champions League or the UEFA Cup (and indeed those near the top of the Bundesliga at present), their squads are more or less a fifty-fifty split between Germans and foreigners. A fair and even split, perhaps, but one which isn't bringing them much in the way of glory on the continent.

Of the three teams to be relegated to the 2nd Bundesliga this season, Alemania Aachen stands out as they have the highest proportion of German players in any squad - 72%. The other two teams going down - Borussia Mönchengladbach and Mainz both have a half-and-half split, more or less.

Back in the top division, the Bundesliga draws on 59 countries outside of Germany for its playing staff. Brazil is again a big provider, but no corner of Europe is seemingly left unsearched as it strives to unearth the stars of tomorrow. Why, there's even an Englishman on the list - one Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich... but for how much longer?

Ligue 1
Finally we come to France and here's where all logic seems to go out of the window where foreign players are concerned. At the top of the tree, as has been the case for some time now, are this season's champions Lyon. Their squad is about two-thirds French - slightly above average for the whole league - yet only seven nationalities are represented amongst them.

Those figures are almost exactly the same as for Sedan, yet they've just been relegated. In third place at the moment with one game remaining are Lens. Their squad is 55% French and have eleven nationalities on their roster - figures which almost exactly match Troyes, one of the other teams dropping down to Ligue 2 next season.

In French football, the concept of a 'foreign' player is perhaps less significant than anywhere else in Europe as even those that were born overseas generally come from French-speaking countries anyway. It's not uncommon to see squad members deriving from places like Algeria, Cameroon, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, so maybe that explains the middling success of those teams from Ligue 1 in Europe?

So what can we tell from all this statistical analysis? In short, the French are struggling because most of their best talent is playing abroad in places like England and Spain. English clubs are better off because of that and the influx of players from many other parts of the world, yet the national team aren't benefiting from it.

Spanish clubs are fiercely loyal towards developing talent from their own country and have worked it to their advantage, but once again the national team continue to struggle. The Germans, conversely, have a strong national team at the moment yet their clubs can't find a winning formula no matter how many foreign players they employ.

Then there are the Italians. World champions and providers of some of the best club sides in Europe such as Milan, they follow the same approach as Spain and yet have worked it to their advantage.

A model, therefore, for every discerning country in the world to follow, and they achieved all that as well as a considerable amount of fan violence and corruption at the highest level. You've got to admire the Italians...

(BONUS MATERIAL! For more graphs and stuff relating to this article, click here to download a PDF containing all the info you need.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Now there's something you don't see every day...

The Red Arrows just flew over the park outside my front door about two minutes before reaching Wembley.

The park outside my house is nowhere near as prestigious as Wembley, I'll grant you, but the noise sh*t me up no end...

You Bet - FA Cup Final Special... Update

Well the votes have been counted and with 50% of the total amount cast, the winner was Bet B - Cristiano Ronaldo to be the first goalscorer, so that's what we'll be putting our £5 bet on today.

Second most popular choice with 38% of the vote was Bet C - Wayne Rooney being the first recipient of a card during today's Cup Final, and in last place with 13% of the vote was Bet A - a draw at half-time and full-time.

All we need do now is sit back and wait for the action to begin. Can you believe you'll actually be wanting Ronaldo to score for once...?

Three wishes ... for the FA Cup Final

1. We want goals.

When do we want them? As early and as frequent as possible, please. Most people seem to be predicting a cautious and possibly dour affair with the prospect of it ending in a penalty shoot-out.

Lets hope not.

2. "Still Ricky Villa..."

If we are going to have goals, lets have a corker, the sort of goal that will make me spill my pint.

A memorable one, in the mould of the mazey Ricky Villa goal of '81. Or that goal by Steve McKenzie also of '81. Or Gerrard's amazing long shot from last year's cup Final.

3. No controversy.

No Drogba diving. No Rooney sending off. No Scholes being ginger. No handbags from Mourinho and Ferguson. No referee trying to make a name for himself. No Lampard sporting a 'goatie' beard. No pies for sale under £10.

I dont think we're asking for too much.

And then there's the three wishes of our old friend, Kedge, who goes for the following:

1. Man. Utd. not just to win, but to absolutely stuff Chelsea.

2. A really good-looking female streaker to run onto the pitch at half-time
and for the TV cameras to zoom in on her.

3. José to get hold of a microphone, stand in the middle of the pitch and
apologise to the whole world for being such a prat.

Not a lot to ask for there is it?

Indeed not, Kedge. It's our right as one of the worldwide audience of 1 billion to ask for such things and, dammit, we'll be really rather peeved if they aren't brought to us in large quantities.

Our thanks go to Kedge for helping us out this time around. On Wednesday, to celebrate the Champions League Final, we'll be asking for your Three Wishes for Michel Platini, UEFA President.

Are there any decisions you'd like to see him make? Any issues you'd like him to deal with in a particularly efficient way? If so, send us three examples by email to write4us[at]spaotp[dot]com and we'll post them before your very eyes here at SPAOTP ahead of the big showdown on Wednesday...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Newcastle United (home)

Onto shirt number 4 in our series and this time it's Newcastle United who bring forth the garment you see below:

This is the shirt you'll probably see Michael Owen end his career in (if fate has anything to do with it), and lucky for you - it's available to buy via the Newcastle United website if that's what you choose to remember him by.

So what do we notice about it at first glance? Quite a bit more black than usual, if we're not mistaken. Some funny business with a curved white slash going upwards to the armpits, too, which might seem unecessary to some.

Have Adidas scored a winner here or are they out of Toon with you, the discerning member of the public? Leave us your comments if you so wish, or perhaps register your vote as so many of you have done with our previous offerings (for which we give our gracious thanks)...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 63 (38%)
Good: 36 (21%)
OK: 29 (17%)
Poor: 13 (8%)
Terrible: 27 (16%)


The (Cup Final) Friday List of Little or No Consequence #12

Wembley in numbers
15 Numbers Associated With The New Wembley Stadium

1) 600 - the number of television screens that will make up the two giant screens
2) 90,000 - the number of covered seats
3) 0 - the number of obstructed views from within the seating area
4) 15,236 - square metres of roofing
5) 2,618 - the amount of toilets installed
6) 314.9 - the span of the arch in metres
7) 757 - the cost of the stadium in millions of Pounds Sterling
8) 107 - the number of steps to climb before lifting the trophy
9) 68 - the number of degrees at which the arch is angled
10) 4 - the cost of a hotdog in Pounds Sterling
11) 7,000 - the amount of smoke/heat detectors installed
12) 20 - the amount of first aid rooms
13) 380 - the number of pitch floodlights
14) 98 - the number of kitchens in the stadium (one of which is 1/3 the size of the pitch)
15) 1,294 - the amount of available wash hand basins

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Premiership Predicitons 2006/07 - Result

Way back on August 15th 2006, SPAOTP ran an article where Smart and I attempted to predict the final table for the 2006/07 Premiership season. Our regular contributor, Kedge, joined in the fun by doing the same, and by way of a fourth contributor we used the prediction of FourFourTwo magazine too.

So now the season's over, how well did we all do? Well I think it's fair to say that we proved that making predictions of this sort is a treacherous business, but we were incredibly far-sighted in some ways.

If you look at the graphic below (click for an enlarged version), you'll see that myself, Smart and FourFourTwo all succeeded in correctly guessing three positions in the table while Kedge got one right.

Strangely enough, it was Tottenham that proved to be the easier of the teams to guess the fate of, and only then, presumably, by suggesting they'd finish in fifth place like they'd done the previous season.

As ever, it was a fairly safe bet to pick the weakest of the newly-promoted sides to finish bottom, and this season it was poor old Watford. No surprises there, but one has to note that Kedge picked a fairly adventurous set of predictions which featured Sheffield United at the bottom and Watford directly above them. Not so far from the truth there, then.

The enlightening bit, however, comes when you analyse our comments from that previous post back in August. I, in my wisdom, stated that "Aston Villa will improve on last season under Martin O'Neill but it's going to take some time to achieve" and that "two of the new boys will go straight back down with only Reading capable of really causing any flicker of an upset."

Someone hand me a lottery ticket...

Having seen Smart's predictions, I also commented "Portsmouth in ninth is an interesting choice. Why did you plump for that?" Strange I should single out his Portsmouth prediction specifically when it turned out to be one of the three correct ones he made!

In other ways we weren't so accurate. Smart suggested that "the further the [English UEFA Cup entrants] go, the lower down the league I think they will finish". Given that Tottenham reached the quarter finals and still finished fifth in the league, it's fair to say he was slightly wide of the mark with that... mind you, most of the other English teams didn't go that far in the UEFA Cup to give us an alternative comparison.

I was also guilty of suggesting that "Gareth Southgate will struggle badly in his first season as manager of Middlesbrough" where, in reality, they finished 12th. Who'd be a pundit, eh?

Overall, taking into consideration where we positioned each team in our predictions compared to the eventual table, Martin was the most accurate. On average, each team in his prediction was only 2.5 places away from where they should have been, which was pretty impressive.

Both FourFourTwo and I trailed in next with an average of about three positions difference between my line-up and the final table, and Kedge wasn't far behind with an average of just under 3.5.

All in all then, not a bad effort on all our parts. Congratulations to Smart on winning the contest and let's hope we all manage to do even better next season. (Just thirteen weeks left to get your predictions ready, by the way...)

Three wishes of... a Spurs fan

Written by Smart

To be honest, there were more than three things that I could wish for, such as a larger stadium, better public transport to the venue, giving me a seat on the board, etc., but unfortunately the genie said I could only have three wishes, so I opted for some short-term, more achievable options...

1. A decent left back
OK, I'm starting off with the most radical idea. The words 'Spurs' and 'defending' aren't often seen in the same sentence unless separated by words such as 'poor' and 'laughable'. At least, thats been the case since the 1970's.

Now I'm not asking for Spurs to 'shut up shop' at the back and bore me to death. I'm just asking for us to sign someone that is left-footed and can tackle and from the Premiership, I'd have to look no further than Leighton Baines of Wigan, and possibly Nick Shorey of Reading. Both are also quite handy with set pieces, score the odd goal and are English.

For some reason, I'm suspecting Baines will be the cheaper option.

2. A left winger
What's that? You're spotting a trend here? Yes, you're right. Whilst I'm at it, why not cure the problem of Tottenham's left side? Aaron Lennon on the left isn't the solution, and nor is Malbranque. What I wouldn't give for a quality left-sided winger.

We have a young talent on loan from Lens called Adel Traaabt who has looked quite promising in the brief appearances he has made thus far. It would be nice to have someone a bit older, with a bit more experience, however.

To that end, I'd like to see Morten Gamst Pedersen in the new Spurs shirt. On his day, the Norwegian can be a match winner. A good crosser and great with set pieces, it's just a shame his hairstyle is a bit... how do they say it in Oslo.. 'camp'?

Still, beggars can't be choosers, as my dear old Nan used to say.

3. Another beanpole striker
We need another tall striker as Dr. Jol likes his 'Little and Large' combination upfront. Keane and Defoe fill the 'Little' part of the double act, but we need someone to take some pressure away from the Andy Garcia lookalike we lovingly call 'Berbatov'.

That role is currently occupied by Mido, a player I have never really got on with so we need to off load him and fast. We need to find a club that has a recent history of players with a bit of a 'bad boy' image and who love to waste good money on naff strikers. Has anyone got Manchester City's phone number?

As a replacement, well I'd chance my arm on Darren Bent. Tall, pacey and again hopefully quite cheap, he could fit in well at the Lane. He knows a few of the players too, from varying levels of the national squad.

Of course, keeping hold of 'The Talented Mr Berbatov' is a must, unless some Russian billionaire chucks £40 million+ onto the table of the Spurs board. After what Chelsea paid for Shevchenko I think that's still a bargain, however.

So there they are, my three Spurs wishes. Now where did I put that lamp..?

Attention, Attention! This Saturday we'll be looking at 'Three Wishes of... an FA Cup Final Spectator' and we want to offer you the chance to write the article.

If there's three things you'll be hoping to see as you sit down to watch the biggest game of the English football season, why not tell everyone what they are?

All you need to do is contact us at write4us[at]spaotp[dot]com to say that you're interested in taking part, and if no-one else beats you to it, we'll get you to write up your 'three wishes'!

(Oh and don't worry if you're not interested in the FA Cup Final - there'll be other chances to write for us as we look into other subjects in our 'Three Wishes' series later.)

That's all for now - we look forward to hearing from you soon...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You Bet - FA Cup Final Special

Rejoice and be of good cheer! It's the return of our old favourite, You Bet!

For those of you who weren't with us last November, You Bet was a feature that ran for ten weeks, the aim being to raise as much money as possible for charity through a series of footy-related bets. It was a tricky business, but through the tactical guile of you, our loyal visitors, we ended up virtually tripling our original £10 outlay which has since swelled the coffers of Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Well, it's back, back, back for a special double bill which we hope will bring monetary benefit to another good cause, The Alzheimer's Society. For those of you that don't know, they're the UK's leading charity for supporting people suffering from dementia, funding research into the condition which, hopefully, will one day bring a cure. Over 700,000 people suffer from dementia in the UK, so we think you'll agree it's a charity worth supporting given the impact it has on so many people here.

And so to the game - how does You Bet work? Well me and Smart begin by chipping in £5 of our not-particularly-hard-earned cash, thus providing a stake 'kitty' of £10. Then, before the FA Cup Final this Saturday, we offer up three possible FA Cup Final bets for us to put £5 on. Which bet we choose is up to you - just register your selection using our online vote and when midday on Saturday comes around, we'll pick the one with the most votes. You need not part with any money of your own: you're just telling us what we should bet ours on.

If we win, the money goes back into the kitty and we do the same all over again before next Wednesday's Champions League Final. If we lose, we draw a line under the whole sorry affair and reconvene to repeat the process next Wednesday anyway. More of which next week...

For the time being, here are the three bets we'd like you to consider for the FA Cup Final this Saturday - Chelsea v Manchester United. Each has a different likelihood of actually happening and subsequently each can earn us a different amount of potential winnings. Do we go for a bet that stands a good chance of hitting the jackpot, albeit for less winnings, or do we go for a long shot? That's what you've got to work out, so here are the options to choose from...

Bet A
Draw at half-time, draw at full-time
Potential winnings: £22.50
Chelsea and Man United have drawn 0-0 and 1-1 in the Premiership this season - who's to say it won't be another draw (after 90 minutes)?

Bet B
First goalscorer: Cristiano Ronaldo
Potential winnings: £40.00
He was the second highest goalscorer in the Premiership this season... will he add another to his tally this Saturday?

Bet C
First player to be shown a card: Wayne Rooney
Potential winnings: £75.00
Always ready to blow that very short fuse of his, will Wayne Rooney see red... or yellow for that matter?

The choice, as we always say, is yours. Log your vote here and tell us who we should place our £5 bet on... (Closing date / time: 12pm BST, Saturday 19 May 2007.)

Voting has now closed. Keep visiting Some People Are On The Pitch for more You Bets soon!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Manchester City (home)

Time now to cast your eye over the third of our new shirts for the 2007/08 Premiership season, and today the club in question is Manchester City who give us this...

Le Coq Sportif take over as manufacturers from Reebok and the first thing to note is that the white sleeves have gone. I think that's a good thing, myself - in fact (and I know Footie Bird will want to strangle me for saying this) I rather like the look of it. I think.

Judging from some of the pictures I've seen, it can look stylish or cheap and nasty depending on which light you see it in. Anyway, I think I like it... what do you think? Leave us a comment or simply take part in our online vote below.

(Oh and a big thanks to Footie Bird for bringing the new shirt to our attention!) :)


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 53 (22%)
Good: 44 (19%)
OK: 39 (17%)
Poor: 27 (12%)
Terrible: 64 (28%)


Over for another year...

Well, that's it my friends. Another Premiership season has come to an end and although it may not have been exciting all the way through, it certainly had an exciting finish.

Manchester United were, for my money, worthy champions. They were the most consistent, had the best goalscorers and were able to get a result more often than everyone else while playing badly. Not that they finished with a good result yesterday, but then they didn't need to. All the damage had been done right from week one and no-one could match them for sheer quality week in, week out.

As has been mentioned before, one man stood out for them – Cristiano Ronaldo. He created chances and scored goals with great skill and competency, thereby justifying Sir Alex Ferguson's determination to buy him in the first place. Together with Wayne Rooney (who had a few 'quiet' spells this season) and old faces like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, United had all the weaponry they needed to run out as the number one team at season's end.

Chelsea matched United step for step at the start of the season and were all set to make it a genuine two-horse race, but my November the Blues had started to crack and by the end of December a six-point lead had opened up. Two months later it was a nine point gap, and the fight was as good as over.

Jose Mourinho's men just couldn't recapture the spark of the last two seasons. Lampard was regularly below par, John Terry and Joe Cole were often absent through injury and the likes of Ballack and Shevchenko frankly didn't live up to their inflated price tags. They managed to reduce Man United's lead towards the end of the season, but they'd left it too late. At least they'd won the League Cup back in February, though.

Arsenal were surprisingly below-par too, finishing fourth this year. They also foundered during November, picking up just four points - a run of form that transferred to their Champions League campaign (where they were knocked out in the second round) and the FA Cup (which they exited in round five).

Despite being fourth in the table for much of the year, they never ventured much higher, largely due to the absence of their outstanding striker Thierry Henry due to numerous injuries. Their only honour of note this season was as runners-up to Chelsea in the aforementioned League Cup final which they reached on the strength of their younger players performances in earlier rounds.

Liverpool claimed third spot in the league on goal difference from the Gunners and also reached the Champions League final where they'll once again meet AC Milan later this month. Rafa Benitez has once again mixed experience burgeoning young talent to create one of the best Liverpool sides seen for many years. Peter Crouch's England form last summer continued into the early part of the Premiership season while Steven Gerrard maintained his high standards with many a fine performance in the famous red shirt.

At the back, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise remained rock solid, giving Liverpool one of the best defensive records of anyone. In goal too, Jose Reina gave the team even more resilience, restricting Jerzy Dudek to a handful of appearances this season.

Martin Jol should be feeling very proud of himself. Not content with steering Tottenham into the UEFA Cup at the end of last season by finishing fifth in the Premiership, he did so all over again, equalling their highest league position since 1990.

The undoubted star of the show was Dimitar Berbatov, a close season signing from Bayer Leverkusen who scored, on average, one goal in every two games he played in all competitions. Berbatov showed a high level of skill and ingenuity in the games he played, but never in an overly fancy way. The Bulgarian's brilliance on the ball was born out of sheer technical efficiency, doing exactly what was necessary to score goals - no more, no less. It spearheaded Tottenham into another UEFA Cup campaign next season where you can expect them to at least match this season's run to the quarter finals.

Everton and Bolton both improved on last season's final positions and consequently earned a place in the UEFA Cup next season too. Rather worryingly for Bolton, however, is the recent departure of Sam Allardyce who undoubtedly gave them the sort of edge that Sammy Lee will find difficult to maintain.

Blackburn and Newcastle both failed to qualify for the UEFA Cup as they did last season, but all is not lost for Mark Hughes men as their tenth place finish gives them entry to the Intertoto Cup. An opponent from Lithuania, Wales or Poland will initially attempt to derail Blackburn's face-saving exercise in the summer.

Having saved Newcastle from relegation last year, Glenn Roeder can feel rightfully unimpressed at the way his contract came to a premature end recently, but with Sam Allardyce looking likely as his replacement, the fans may be right to expect more success for their club in 2007/08.

Without question the best of the promoted teams this season were Reading. Following in the footsteps of West Ham and Wigan the season before, Steve Coppell's men did exceptionally well to finish eighth, just missing out on qualification to the UEFA Cup by a single point.

Reading's strength came from the sheer range of players that could score goals for them. Though Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle excelled with a combined total of 20 goals, others such as Hunt, Sidwell, Kitson and Ki-Hyeon were all on standby to put the ball in the net too on many occasions.

Both Portsmouth and Aston Villa can be well satisfied with a mid-table finish after escaping relegation last year. Martin O'Neill arrived amid much optimism that he could turn Villa's fortunes around and despite failing to finish in the top-half of the table, they weren't far off in the end.

Harry Redknapp has worked wonders for Pompey. In his inimitable fashion, he's taken the cast-offs from clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham and brought in overseas talent like Benjani Mwaruwari and Niko Kranjcar to make a far more potent team than that we saw last term.

Middlesbrough and Manchester City continued to tread water, fairing only slightly better than last year although both managed to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

And then there was the bottom six, almost all flirting with relegation at some point of the season or another. Watford, predictably but no less unfortunately were the favourites to return to the Championship and were the first to confirm their departure. Above them, Charlton and West Ham remained stuck in the bottom three almost permanently with no way means of getting out.

That was until February when Charlton, now under the leadership of Alan Pardew, went on a run of form that saw them lose only once in eight games. Similarly at Upton Park, West Ham threw off their pre-Christmas takeover shackles to secure seven wins in their last nine games. It was this run which unquestionably set them up for a last-day rescue act they could not have foreseen a couple of months ago.

Sadly for Charlton, a return to their previous poor form came as they failed to win any of their last seven games. It means the Addicks will be absent from the top flight next season for the first time since 2000.

Joining them and Watford, somewhat surprisingly, are Sheffield United. Surprising because they'd looked to be playing well enough to stay in the Premiership all season, even if they weren't setting it on fire. A slow start was eventually improved upon and Neil Warnock's team were comfortably above the relegation places but once again the run-in to the end of the season proved critical.

A 3-0 win over West Ham was the only decent result they earned and though they were fifth from bottom going into yesterday's games, it wasn't good enough. Defeat to Wigan by two goals to one became their undoing.

While Fulham underachieved once again, flirting with relegation right up until the penultimate week of the season, Wigan were in much more trouble. Earning many plaudits for last season's feats on their Premiership debut, the Latics headed into turmoil during the middle of March. Seven matches without a win caused deep concern all round and entry into the bottom three came at the wrong time for Paul Jewel and his men.

On the last day of the season, Wigan had to get their first win in eight. They scored first through Paul Scharner, conceded an equaliser from Jon Stead and had Lee McCulloch sent off, but a David Unsworth penalty gave Wigan a 2-1 lead which was enough to earn them another season in the Premiership. It was all the more ironic given that Sheffield United had sold Unsworth to Wigan back in January.

And that was that. Chelsea gave way to Man United as champions, Wigan and West Ham grimly held onto their Premiership status and Liverpool reached the Champions League final. It was quite a season, and quite a finalé.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Bolton Wanderers (home)

Following on from the new Tottenham shirt we showed you recently, here's Bolton's offering for the new season as launched earlier this week:

I quite like this one, personally. A nice splash of red, a bit of navy blue and very little else. Smart and simple (perhaps bordering on too simple?) but quite nice with it.

Still, this isn't all about just me and my solitary thoughts... as ever, we're keen to know your opinion. Leave us a comment or if you're feeling really dangerous, cast your vote below. More kits coming soon...!


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 25 (26%)
Good: 33 (34%)
OK: 19 (20%)
Poor: 8 (8%)
Terrible: 12 (12%)


The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #11

You might as well keep the trophy...
14 Teams Who Were The Last To Win Football Competitions That Are No Longer Played For

1. Barcelona (Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, 1971)
2. Chesterfield (Anglo-Scottish Cup, 1981)
3. Hakoah Eastern Suburbs (Australian Cup, 1968)
4. Czechoslovakia (Central European International Cup, 1960)
5. Stoke City (Watney Cup, England, 1973)
6. Chicago Sting (North American Soccer League, 1984)
7. England (Rous Cup, 1984)
8. Lazio (European Cup Winners' Cup, 1999)
9. Porto (Intercontinental Cup, 2004)
10. Talleres (CONMEBOL Cup, 1997)
11. South Africa (Afro-Asian Cup of Nations, 1997)
12. Northern Ireland (British Home Championship, 1984)
13. Genoa (Anglo-Italian Cup, 1996)
14. Romania (Balkan Cup, 1980)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Aston Villa Badge - You decide...

In case you weren't already aware, Aston Villa have announced they now have a new badge. Out goes the existing design, and in comes the replacement...

For what my opinion's worth (and that's probably not a lot), I think it looks distinctly like the product of an under-14's art competition. But wait - Aston Villa's website ensures us that there's sound reasoning behind the new design:

After being ommitted from the previous badge... the letters FC have been re-introduced.

At the expense of your team's full name?!?! It gets better...

The famous lion also has a different look. Gone is the fragmented image seen on previous Villa badges. The lion is now proud, looking to the future and unified - signalling our desire for togetherness.

What a load of rubbish. Oh and they've added a white star to represent their European Cup victory in 1982. The perfect finishing touch...

As you can tell, I'm not impressed. What do you think? Leave us a comment and make your feelings known!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mystic Mart predicts...

With Capricorn rising, and the Moon entering Uranus, I foresee a strange sequence of events this Sunday May 13th...

News that Manchester United have taken a 3-1 lead over West Ham reaches Bramall Lane... then with minutes left on the clock, Wigan take a one goal lead over Sheffield United... scorelines which save both Wigan and Sheffield United... and relegates West Ham instead.

[Disclaimer : Not that such an arrangement was agreed by the two clubs beforehand, of course]

Watch out for more More 'Mystic Mart' in the near future - and yes, I really do have crystal balls.

The SPAOTP Awards 2007 : Disappointment of the Season

There were several contenders for this award, but we've decided to give it to the brutal challenge made by Ben Thatcher (then of Manchester City) on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes back in August 2006.

For those that don't remember, Thatcher and Mendes were running for a loose ball during the 0-0 draw at the City of Manchester Stadium when Thatcher inexplicably elbowed Mendes in the face while running at full speed. Despite leaving the Portuguese international concussed (causing a seizure later) and needing oxygen treatment, Thatcher walked away from the incident claiming he hadn't done anything wrong.

A slow-motion replay of the incident proved he couldn't have been further from the truth. Ben Thatcher was given a yellow card while Pedro Mendes headed for an overnight stay in hospital.

Manchester City saw fit to ban him for six games while the FA instigated its own eight-game ban. Thatcher later sent a written apology to Mendes who, two weeks later, returned to the game under medical supervision.

We think it's despicable that one player should want to impart so much pain on a fellow professional. A bad tackle is one thing, but to leave another player needing hospital treatment is totally uncalled for. To see what amounts to a physical assault during a game of football is something no-one would ever want to witness. It was without question our low-point of the season - one that we hope is never repeated.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Happy Birthday to us!

It's difficult to believe, but this little blog site of ours started life exactly one year ago today. How time flies...

Back then, we were building up to the 2006 World Cup, wondering what fate lay ahead for the 32 competing teams. We had no idea who Theo Walcott was, no faith in Sven Goran Eriksson and no idea that Italy were on the verge of being crowned world champions.

To pass the time away, we selected our best players of the tournament, played Spot the Ball and asked you to vote for your favourite TV pundits and commentators. 'Big Bluffer' proved hugely popular and helped attract a wider audience of friends new and old through our first big interactive feature.

When the World Cup was over and the excitement had died down, we gave our site a sparkly new look and turned our attention to the upcoming Premiership season. We surveyed the new kits on show, predicted the outcome of the league and watched the drama unfold before us.

As ever, there was time to look back through football history and our series 'England In The 70's' gave an in-depth account of one of the most interesting and most overlooked periods the national team has known.

Nostalgia has always been one of our favourite themes and this was apparent as we looked back to our Subbuteo-playing days and started a new series looking at Obscure Kits From British Football History.

Back in the here and now, the European Championship qualifiers were underway as were the UEFA Cup and Champions League competitions. We looked at the chances of the British teams involved and put everything into context in our own distinctive fashion.

To provide a tangible sense of light and shade, we began an occasional series called 'Seven Shades of...' where two well-known figures in football were connected in a spurious fashion via five people inbetween.

Even our regular contributor, Kedge, decided to write a 'Seven Shades of...' item and this prompted us to create an email address for anyone else that wanted to write for us too. If you want to do the same, you still can by contacting us at write4us[at]spaotp[dot]com. Many of you already have and we remain incredibly grateful for all your efforts.

By November 2006, it was time to start another interactive series – You Bet. Over 10 weeks, we invited you, our loyal public, to help us raise as much money as possible for Great Ormond Street Hospital by selecting a football-related bet that we could spend our £1 on. By the new year, we'd tripled our money and most importantly, had fun generating some much-needed cash for charity.

An SPAOTP trend began with the first of our analytical articles – 'Does Your Club Hit the Net on the Web?' It focused on the good, bad and in some cases awful Premiership club websites and compared their many and varied features. This was followed by a look at how countries with large populations often fail to live up to their potential in world football in 'The India Equation.'

By now, you, our visitors, were discovering us from all over the world. Be it the United States, Romania, Singapore or New Zealand, we've been staggered by how far the word has spread about SPAOTP. To this day, we feel humble at having such a wide-spread audience and are grateful for the sense of purpose you've given us.

Most recently, another of our light-hearted series has begun – 'The Friday List of Little or No Consequence.' It's fast turning out to be our most popular feature and somehow manages to raise a smile amongst many of you despite its utter futility and lack of significance.

Fortunately our site isn't based entirely on futility. We've always aimed to entertain, educate and give a refuge for those that want more than just football news, and that's exactly what we intend to do in the future.

We've been stockpiling lots of new material which you'll be seeing on the site in the coming months looking at all possible aspects of 'the beautiful game.' Future items include our second 'Kit Legend' vote, a look at the impact foreign players make on the game plus a special European 'You Bet' for the Champions League and UEFA Cup finals.

We hope you continue to enjoy Some People Are On The Pitch as much as we enjoy putting it together. It just remains for us to give a huge thank you to everyone that's visited, left comments, written articles, linked to our site and given us all the motivation we've ever needed to carry on. You continue to inspire us to bigger and better things.

And now, as this is a day of celebration and reflection for us, why not let us know your thoughts and ideas about SPAOTP? What are your favourite bits of the site? What would you like to see more or less of? How can we make things better? Leave us a comment and let us know! Your feedback is much appreciated.

Oh, and one other thing - to celebrate our first birthday we're trying to organise a special event so that those of you within spitting distance of London can join us in person by way of a football-related get-together. Watch this space for more details...

For now though, as we head off at the start of our second year, thanks for visiting and make sure you come back soon. We are Some People On The Pitch and it's a pleasure to be of service to you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I could see Jimmy Greaves wearing this...

[...although he's size XL now]

We love new kits at SPAOTP and we love them even more if they're nice!

Over the summer we will be showcasing any new kits we like, plus some that we don't. We aren't biased... much.

Our first offering is the new Tottenham Hotspur home kit, which, as you can see from the badge, celebrates 125 years of one of British football's finest clubs, playing football as the way was meant to be.

I read that on the promotional blurb. Anyway, here it is: if you want to see a bigger version, click on the picture, and if you want to tell us what you think of the kit, take part in our online vote below:


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 66 (55%)
Good: 22 (18%)
OK: 12 (10%)
Poor: 10 (8%)
Terrible: 9 (8%)


Sign this and pass it on...

Here at SPAOTP, we like to provide you with the public service you deserve. With that in mind, here's a chance to earn some easy money with our 'I'm Going To Sue West Ham' application form.

Download it by clicking here, fill it in, then send it off to whoever you see fit...

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #10

Missing stickers
10 Stickers I Need To Complete My Figurine Panini 'Football '81' Collection

1. David O'Leary (Arsenal)

2. Peter Withe (Aston Villa)

3. Alan Curbishley (Birmingham City)

4. Terry Butcher (Ipswich Town)

5. Alan Kennedy (Liverpool)

6. Joe Jordan (Manchester United)

7. Justin Fashanu (Norwich City)

8. Peter Shilton (Nottingham Forest)

9. Osvaldo Ardiles (Tottenham Hotspur)

10. Andy Gray (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The SPAOTP Awards 2007 : Player of the Season

Time now for us to give you our verdict on who the best player in the Premiership has been during the 2006/07 season.

Once again, we'll give you the results in reverse order, thus maintaining a reasonable degree of excitement which admittedly could be undermined by a liberal use of the scroll bar...

3rd: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
The 2007 African Footballer of the Year is currently top scorer in the Premiership with 19 goals and continues to pay back the £24 million that Chelsea paid out for him.

For a while this season we thought he'd sorted out that diving problem he once had, but recent weeks have seen him revert to his old ways. He still scores some cracking goals though, so it's 3rd place for the Chelsea number 11.

2nd: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)
A surprising choice to some, but Liverpool's vice-captain has been so diligent in his defensive duties that we feel he deserves great credit.

Carragher is part of a Liverpool defence which has conceded the second least number of goals (24) to Chelsea and which has let in just five goals at home all season.

Reliable and competent in what he does, we can at least be assured that there's one England player who'll give us hope for the future. The best defender in the country this season, bar none.

1st: Cristiano Ronaldo
Predictable perhaps, but with good reason. Starting out as a player whose repertoire of ball skills ran to just one - the much over-used stepover - Ronaldo has blossomed into a multi-faceted midfielder par excellence.

As we're probably all aware by now, he can raise the pulse of any spectator whenever he receives the ball. What he chooses to do with it is at the heart of the expectation that Ronaldo brings.

Swift runs, incisive passes, goal-bound free-kicks - hell, even a trick that's not a stepover, if you're lucky - it's always good to watch, even if a little painful should he be playing against your team.

That said, Ronaldo's not perfect. Like Drogba, he's capable of the odd unsavoury indiscretion like that first seen in the Euro 2004 incident with Wayne Rooney. Luckily, his good points outweigh the bad and this has been acknowledged by the Professional Footballers Association who recently honoured him with their Player of the Year award and Young Player of the Year Award for 2007.

We realise he's not everyone's cup of tea. You might think he's a show-off, a cheat, a narcissistic coathanger, whatever... at the heart of it all, he's a player who scores lots of goals, makes things happen and poses a threat to any team playing against him. That's why we've made him our Player of the Season.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The SPAOTP Awards 2007 : Goal of the Season

It's that time again: 'Goal of the Season' time!

Everybody loves a great goal and we at SPAOTP are no different. We've picked our three (yes three - how lucky are you?!?!?) favourite goals of the season.

The criteria were simple:

a - It had to be a goal...
b - from this season...
c - scored by a Premiership team in ANY competition, and
d - it made us soil our under-garments.

So without further ado, here are our choices presented in a 'Miss World' reverse-order style...

GOAL 3: Matt Taylor (for Portsmouth v Everton)

So there you are in the midst of a Premiership match, around the centre circle, when the ball bounces your way. Obviously, your first instinct is to volley it goalwards... isn't it?

Well it is if your name is Matt Taylor, the Portsmouth left-sided player who loves to score spectacular goals - and this is no exception...

GOAL 2: Dimitar Berbatov (for Tottenham, away to Besiktas)

This goal just oozes quality and gets better with every viewing.

Robbie Keane shows great vision and skill with a flicked pass, then it's all down to Berbatov to open his legs and show us his class.

Dont try this at home...

GOAL 1: Michael Essien (for Chelsea v Arsenal)

A fabulous goal.

Not just for its technique (striking the ball with the outside of the foot as it's coming across you), but also for the circumstances. Chelsea are a goal down to title-challenging rivals (yes, Arsenal) and its the 85th minute. Then Essien comes up with this...

So there you have it - our Top 3 goals of the 2007 season.

That's our verdict, but as always we'd love to hear yours so leave us a comment and tell us which goals you liked best!


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