Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 and all that...

So here we are at the end of 2007 (at least it is in the UK - if you live in Australia, New Zealand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Thailand, China or Japan, it's now 2008). It's been a busy year for us and an eventful one for football generally. We'll bet a princely sum you've probably forgotten a lot about this year, so let us guide you gently by the hand down memory lane to remind you of all those things that happened while you had your back turned...

Alex McLeish became Scotland manager and promptly left again. Having taken over from Walter Smith in January he guided the Scots to within a gnat's whisker of a place in the Euro 2008 finals, but when the Italians pipped him to it, he stepped down. A great shame, but it seems the lure of the Premier League is stronger now than ever it was...

David Beckham announced he was heading off to the States to join LA Galaxy. It's fair to say he's had a minor impact on the field during his short stay so far, but his impact off it has been much, much greater. Interest in the MLS got a huge boost on the back of his arrival, to say nothing of Galaxy's commerical dealings in the States and around the world. Much is expected of him in his second season, and who knows - it might even reignite the England career we thought was over.

Italian football went into meltdown as violence raged in the stands and out on the streets. A police officer was killed during a fight between 'supporters' of Catania and Palermo and all fixtures were soon after postponed until a full investigation was carried out. Things haven't improved since the status quo was restored.

West Ham United stunned the football world by signing a couple of Argentineans - Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. Many thought it was a sneaky, underhanded way of breaking in a couple of big-name internationals that could be sold onto to a bigger club like Man United or Liverpool further down the line. Tch, as if... The novelty soon wore off, though, as West Ham were found guilty of breaking Premier League rules due to the way they'd conducted the deal. Though many expected a huge points penalty to be given out, instead The Hammers were made to pay out a record sum by way of punishment. And that was that - everything was sorted out to the satisfaction of every other club in Britain and no harm was done. Tch, as if...

England supplied three out of the four Champions League semi-finalists, but by the time the Final arrived only one was left, and even they couldn't lift the trophy. Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool all flew the flag with pride, but in the end Fillipo Inzaghi's two goals blew The Reds out of the water in a thrilling climax to the competition that ended 2-1 to Milan.

Wembley Stadium made its long-awaited comeback by hosting the FA Cup Final once again. Sadly the match itself didn't live up to its incredible surroundings as Chelsea beat Man United 1-0. It was in fact the Carling Cup Final that had more incident. Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a brace from Didier Drogba, but while he was finding the net, John Terry was taking a boot to the head and being carried off and John Obi Mikel, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor all got a red card for their efforts. Who said it was it was the FA Cup Final's less interesting counterpart?

In April, we heard the sad news of the death of 1966 World Cup winner Alan Ball who died from a heart attack. We also said goodbye in 2007 to Seville's Antonio Puerta and just yesterday, Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell, both of whom collapsed and died suddenly during matches they were playing in. They will all be greatly missed.

Back in England, the managerial merry-go-round whirled round faster than ever before, throwing off many a coach who thought they could hold on a little bit longer. Fulham parted company with Chris Coleman and later Lawrie Sanchez, Bolton went their separate ways from Sam Allardyce and later Sammy Lee. Sven Goran Eriksson arrived at Man City and promptly started spending the many millions of disgraced former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while Martin Jol made way for Juande Ramos at Spurs and Steve Bruce left Birmingham City. Even England lost their coach - Steve McLaren holding the door open for the aforementioned Italian.

In the Premier League, it was goodbye Charlton, Watford and Sheffield United and hello Derby, Sunderland and Birmingham. Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player since Andy Gray to win the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards as well as the PFA Fans' Player of the Year and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards too.

Transfer-wise, it was all change with the biggest headline of all going to the departure of Thierry Henry from Arsenal to Barcelona. Elsewhere, Tottenham shelled out £16 million for Charlton's Darren Bent, Man United finally picked up Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves and Liverpool splashed the cash to snap up Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun.

On the international front, England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 along with the other home nations, but elsewhere Iraq amazed the football world with a win in the Asian Cup while Brazil less unexpectedly lifted the Copa America once again despite a strong challenge from favourites Argentina.

Towards the end of the year, Harry Redknapp and Milan Mandaric found themselves arrested in the ongoing investigation into transfer irregularities and AC Milan became the first European team to win the FIFA World Club Cup.

All in all, it's fair to say that 2007 has given us lots to write about and we hope that in our 266 posts, we've done that sufficiently well to entertain, inform and please you. If we have, we've done what we set out to. If not, stick with us - our aim is to do even better next year.

That just leaves us to say an enormous thank you to all of you that have visited SPAOTP during 2007. We can't tell you how much we appreciate your interest, your comments, your compliments and your involvement in the site. We'd particularly like to single out Adam, Chris (B Squad), P.Shaw, Keving, Flicktokick, The Gaffer, Kedge, Kris and Emma, Chris C Paul, Sp3ktor, Sven, Duffman, Soccer Shout Phil, Blulu, HaveYouSeenLucky and Ratonbox as our most frequent and valued supporters, but if your name doesn't appear on the list, don't worry - we know you're out there and we can't wait to be of service to you again into the new year!

So that's it. We're drawing a line under 2007 and starting anew with 2008. Let's raise a toast to another great twelve months of football and whoever you support, may your team win and may it do so often...

Happy New Year from Some People Are On The Pitch!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Shirt Legend: Scotland (home)

Way back in February this year, Some People Are On The Pitch launched its first ever Shirt Legend poll. In it, we asked you to vote for what you thought was the best England home shirt ever worn since 1964, and the response we got was fantastic. To date, we've received 164 votes and the poll remains open so if you haven't voted yet, make sure you do soon!

As you may have guessed by now, we love anything to do with football kits and football shirts here at SPAOTP, so you can imagine how pleased we are to finally bring you our second Shirt Legend poll. This time, we want you to vote for the greatest ever Scotland home shirt worn since 1964.

It's exactly the same as our England poll - we show you all the home shirts Scotland have worn over the last 44 years, we tell you a little bit about them and then you choose the one you like best. Simple.

So here are the all-important 16 shirts as worn by the Scottish national team since 1964. Click on the image below to see a larger version...

[Image removed pending replacement]

It all begins with Shirt A, which, for many, will be an all-time favourite due to its simplicity and no-nonsense styling. We think it was made by Umbro (as they were the kit suppliers of choice for most of the British countries back then) and it has a simple white round neck and white cuffs to compliment that famous dark blue.

It was replaced in 1973 by Shirt B which featured a proper white pointy collar and a white triangle below the neck. The look was pretty typical of many countries' shirts at the time and looked a little more up-to-date than its predecessor.

Then in 1976 came a bold move into the world of commercialism as Umbro rolled out a design feature which was to become ubiquitous in British football until the start of the 1980's. As you can see from Shirt C, it consisted of twin white lines running from the shoulders down the sleeves to the cuffs, between which was a repeated Umbro 'diamond' logo, also in white. The pointy collar remained, but that sleeve design was one you either loved or hated...

To see the difference between the Scotland home shirt of 1980 and the one before it, you need to look quite carefully. There was hardly any change at all in reality, but Shirt D found itself without the white triangle below the neck while all around it remained the same.

A more dramatic change occurred in 1982 when Scotland again qualified for the World Cup and a new Umbro shirt was unveiled (Shirt E). The slinky silk-like material which was already in use by companies such as Adidas had had finally arrived, and with it came a double white v-neck and some white piping below the shoulders too. The modern era had finally arrived.

A year before the next World Cup, Umbro changed things around again as a round neck was preferred for the first time since 1973 (albeit a stylised one) and the white piping was altered too (see Shirt F). On its own it looked simply effective, but with the accompanying white shorts (featuring a broad navy blue band just below the waist), it looked altogether more startling.

Three years later and Umbro went for a very modern, sleek look (Shirt G). A modern, traditional white collar with a red insert topped it off and the shade of navy blue used was ever-so-slightly different as well (from what we can make out). There was also a new badge to replace the circular ones of old and the Umbro badge changed from white to yellow. Yet again, the accompanying shorts added to the overall effect of the shirt, but we won't concern ourselves with them as you're voting on the shirt alone, of course!

Shirt H looks more like a continuation of the styling seen up to the arrival of Shirt G. The old navy blue colour was back and there was some funny white flashes on the sleeves which were typical of the early-90's which this one comes from. Not sure about that collar and the white thing below it, though...

If you're talking about radical redesigns, Shirt I from 1994 is probably the most radical of the lot. Forget fancy lines or modern collars - forget white shorts, even. This was an all blue strip and one which had a single overriding design feature that really caught the eye: tartan. It was another of those stark 'love it or hate it' shirts which really shocked a lot of people when it was launched, but if the players needed reminding who they were playing for, that subtle tartan pattern should have done the job easily.

Its replacement in 1996 had its feet firmly planted in the old design school (Shirt J). No eye-catching patterns this time, but there was now a noticeable use of red around the collar and in the piping running the length of the shirt. There were also some bold white bands on the sleeves to accompany that bold white collar. A little messy, some might say, but at least it was a real contrast from the one before.

In 1998, Umbro released its last Scotland home strip, seen at the World Cup that year (see Shirt K). Out went the red colouring and back came the simple navy blue and white. There was an understated v-neck collar as the main focal point of what was a generally understated shirt anyway, and that was about it.

The new millennium saw a change of manufacturer as Fila took over from Umbro as Scotland's kit supplier. The company, founded in Italy, began with a simple design (Shirt L) that had a v-neck, white trim and white under-arm panels. It bore a passing resemblance to the World Cup '82 shirt, only it pushed the levels of simplicity even further to the extreme.

For the 2002 update, Fila created a new shirt (Shirt M) that was a combination of two different eras. Around the neck was the 'white-wings-and-triangle' collar that came straight from the 1970's, and on the navy blue body was a series of white pinstripes that were redolent of the early 80's. The mix of devices was a curious one and came on the back of a retro revival not long before its launch.

In retrospect, Scotland fans didn't get much of a chance to admire this design as it was replaced only a year later with something from a different Italian company, Diadora. As you can see, Shirt N shows a return to a plain navy blue body but with two white panels widening from the top of the shoulders towards the area under the arms. There was also a small white triangle below the round neck, all of which made for a smart, dare we say 'popular' bit of styling.

If Diadora had found the right balance between modernity and tradition, their second offering in 2005 lurched full-tilt towards the former (see Shirt O). A strange white band had suddenly appeared along the left shoulder and that, apart from some subtle white piping down the sides, was all there was. It made up part of a quirky asymmetrical design which continued on the shorts and socks. One sided games, maybe, but one-sided kits?

Finally, we come fully up-to-date with Shirt P. Last year, Diadora did that rarest of things - make the whole Scotland strip navy blue, but that wasn't the only thing to note about it. To contrast with the blue, they used not white, not red, but gold. The colour was used sparingly yet noticeably in the piping along the shoulders and on the cuffs as well as on the numbering to give their most recent offering a curious appearance.

So which of those shirts really lights your candle? Is there a simple, classic design from way back that puts a tick in your box, or do you prefer one of the strange, left-field offerings from more recent times? We'd really like to know, so make your selection using the facility below, and if you've got time tell us which ones you particular like or dislike by leaving a comment. We look forward to hearing from you!

Which Scotland home shirt 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
Shirt O
Shirt P
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day Bonanza

Boxing Day. A national holiday in British Commonwealth countries whose traditions relate to the giving of Christmas boxes (or presents) to friends and family. Nothing to do with Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali or any other famous pugilists, for that matter.

In England, another Boxing Day tradition is the playing of football matches as part of the Christmas festivities, and yesterday was no different. Nine games took place in the Premier League and quite a few of them were high-scoring too.

Chelsea and Aston Villa shared an amazing eight goals in a 4-4 draw, Man United put four past Sunderland and Tottenham had a pleasant end-of-year pick-me-up in the form of a 5-1 home win against Fulham.

Believe it or not, though, Boxing Day has provided an even greater booty of goals than that in the past, and the one year that comes to mind in particular is 1963. On Boxing Day 44 years ago, a massive 66 goals were scored in the old First Division compared to 29 yesterday.

So what were the eye-opening results that day? Well, Liverpool beat Stoke City 6-1 as they headed for their first Football League title in seventeen seasons and Manchester United (who would end up being second only to Liverpool at the end of the campaign) were on the receiving end of a 6-1 scoreline away to Burnley.

Ironically, there was a 4-4 draw that day too as West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham shared the points, and there was a 5-1 result, too, as Chelsea won away at Blackpool. The goals didn't end there - West Ham lost 8-2 at home to Blackburn, still there heaviest home defeat ever, and there were a couple of 3-3 draws involving Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest and Wolves and Aston Villa.

But without doubt the biggest result of Boxing Day 1963 was at Craven Cottage where Fulham played host to Ipswich Town. The East Coast club had been managed by future England coach Alf Ramsey up until April of that year, only for another legend of the game, Jackie Milburn, to take over. Sadly he couldn't bring the same level of success to the club as his predecessor did for on that fateful day, Fulham thrashed Ipswich 10-1.

It remains Ipswich's biggest ever defeat, and yet the pain was eased only a couple of days later when the fixture list reversed all the Boxing Day games. Fulham travelled to Ipswich on December 28th 1963 and the outcome then was a 4-2 win for Milburn's side.

So what a Boxing Day that was all those years ago. An average of 6.6 goals were scored per game, two records were set and goalmouth action was in plentiful supply. Needless to say if it was all too exciting for you, Filbert Street was the place to be. There you'd have seen a meagre, boring 2-0 win for Leicester City over Everton. How lacking in festive spirit is that?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #12

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me

12 Derby 'Drubbings'

We return to where we started - with a Derby County related post - this time for the 12 biggest defeats for Derby County this Premier League season.

Liverpool 0-6 (A)
West Ham United 0-5 (H)
Arsenal 0-5 (A)
Tottenham Hotspur 0-4 (A)
Manchester United 1-4 (A)
Aston Villa 0-2 (A)
Everton 0-2 (H)
Chelsea 0-2 (H)
Birmingham City 1-2 (H)
Reading 0-1 (A)
Sunderland 0-1 (A)
Manchester City 0-1 (A)

"And that's a wrap" as they say. Not quite sure who 'they' are nor where 'they' say it but say it they do.

Which just leaves us to wish you all a Merry Christmas and if we don't see you beforehand, a Happy New Year too.

Anyone for stuffing?!??

Chris and Smart

12 Days of Football Christmas #11

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me

11 Players 'Piping'

Smoking related player names

Matt Piper [Southampton]
Ashley Cole [Chelsea]
Nicky Butt [Manchester United]
Alan Stubbs [Everton]
Craig Fagan [Derby]
Dmitar Berbatov [Tottenham Hotspur]
Paul Benson [Dagenham & Redbridge]
Ian Hedges [Forest Green]
Paul Lambert [Celtic]
Thomas Butler [Swansea City]
Russell Coughlin [Torquay]

Every day is a 'School Day'

What we have learnt this week at SPAOTP.

A Nation on your side.

The usually laid-back Darren Bent commented on the former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson.
"I saw him when we played Manchester City recently but I wouldn't even look at him".

Don't worry Darren, all England fans can sympathise with you there.

Nutmegs roasting on an open fire

Terry Butcher claims Capello's England problem is
"The old Nutmeg of Lampard and Gerrard playing together"

Even Terry should know its Chestnut, not Nutmeg. Come on Terry - after all it is Christmas!

Meanwhile, in 'Wenger World' ...

After drawing AC Milan in the Champions League, Arsenal Arsene Wenger claims
"As we play the world and European champions, if we win we can call ourselves world champions"

Yes Arsene, thats how football works. Honest.

So Congratulations go to Bolton, who beat reigning Champions Manchester United 1-0 in November. Since then, Liverpool held the crown after beating Bolton, who then handed it to current holders Reading.

Who would have thought there would be so much riding on today's Reading v Sunderland game?

"I'm telling my Mum"

Whilst counting his wealth of £20m, Portsmouth Defender Sol Campbell says crowd abuse is getting out of hand.
"I am an international player who has given his whole career to club and country. I think I deserve more than this."

Said Sol, whilst searching for another rattle to chuck.

What happened to the days of the working man paying his 'hard-earned' every Saturday (or Sunday as it seems to be nowadays) to go to a game and barrack the players to let of steam after a bad week in the office\factory\pit? Has Football changed that much and if so, for the worse? Is it all down to the 'Prawn Sandwiches' brigade, a term once used by former Manchester United star Roy Keane?

Talking of which, Roy himself has said that Sol is right - player abuse is too much, saying
"I wanted to do an Eric Cantona loads of times. I wanted to do it everywhere."

Keane is obviously referring to the infamous Kung-Fu kick at Selhurst Park in 1995.

Another Keane, Robbie this time, seems to have a more level-headed approach.
"The fans are not giving abuse to ridicule you, they are saying it out of frustration. It's the same for a player on the pitch. If a bad decision goes against you, you say something out of frustration in those few seconds. We all do it. We are not doing it to upset anyone."

Verbal abuse, as with all things, can go too far sometimes, we aren't denying that. Best of luck in trying to stop it, however.

Instead of informing every supporter about to attend your future matches that the 'name calling' is affecting you, surely the best answer is by playing out of your skin, ensuring you are on the winning side and perhaps the 'cherry on the cake' of scoring the winning goal?

Or is that a dying tradition too?

12 Days of Football Christmas #10

On the 10th Day of Football Christmas my true love gave to me

10 Managers Managing

Managers who havent seen the axe wielding Chairman for quiet a while...

Dario Gradi, Crewe Alexandra, 24 years, 187 days
Alex Ferguson, Manchester United, 21 years, 44 days
Graham Turner, Hereford United, 12 years, 141 days
Arsène Wenger, Arsenal, 11 years, 80 days
John Coleman, Accrington Stanley, 8 years, 132 days
David Moyes, Everton, 5 years, 280 days
Martin Ling, Leyton Orient, 4 years, 84 days
Steve Coppell, Reading, 4 years, 72 days
Steve Tilson, Southend United, 4 years, 31 days
Paul Fairclough, Barnet, 3 years, 265 days

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter draws on

As always with cup competitions, it was a very 'mixed bag' of an affair for British clubs in todays Champions League and UEFA cup draws.

The stand out tie of the Champions League has to be Arsenal v AC Milan. Milan arent as strong as they have been in recent years and have yet to win at home in Serie A, but their techincal ability against Wengers attacking side should prove to be a very interesting 180 minutes of football.

As for the other Milano side, well its a trip to Merseyside for them for another great looking tie. If you look up the phrase 'in-form' on wikipedia it has an image of the Inter Milan badge. Thats because Inter have won 12 and drawn 4 of there 16 Serie A games, conceeding only 8 goals.

The Champions League draw in full
Celtic v Barcelona
Lyon v Manchester United
Schalke v Porto
Liverpool v Inter Milan
Roma v Real Madrid
Arsenal v AC Milan
Olympiakos v Chelsea
Fenerbahce v Sevilla

As for the Wafer Cup, well some clubs got lucky... others *cough*Aberdeen*cough* didnt. Aberdeen face Bayern Munich, Bolton face Athletico Madrid and Rangers face Panathinaikos. Everton and Spurs have the comparatively simpler tasks of SK Brann and Slavia Prague respectively.

Draw for the last 32
Aberdeen v Bayern Munich
AEK Athens v Getafe
Bolton v Atletico Madrid
Zenit St Petersburg v Villarreal
Galatasaray v Bayer Leverkusen
Anderlecht v Bordeaux
SK Brann v Everton
FC Zurich v Hamburg
Rangers v Panathinaikos
PSV Eindhoven v Helsingborg
Slavia Prague v Tottenham
Rosenborg v Fiorentina
Sporting Lisbon v Basle
Werder Bremen v Braga
Benfica v Nuremburg
Marseille v Spartak Moscow

Draw for the last 16
Anderlecht/Bordeaux v Aberdeen/Bayern Munich
Rangers/Panathinaikos v Werder Bremen/Braga
Bolton/Atletico Madrid v Sporting Lisbon/Basle
Galatasaray/Leverkusen v FC Zurich/Hamburg
AEK Athens/Getafe v Benfica/Nuremburg
Rosenborg/Fiorentina v SK Brann/Everton
Slavia Prague/Tottenham v PSV Eindhoven/Helsingborg
Marseille/Spartak Moscow v Zenit St Petersburg/Villarreal

Roll on February when it all kicks-off again.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #9

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me

9 Players Dancing

Our top nine players who can dance... our at least they think they can dance...

1. Roger 'The Legend' Milla (Cameroon)






2. Bas Savage (Brighton)






3. Peter Crouch (England)






4. Kevin Prince Boateng (Hertha Berlin)






5. Jerzy Dudek (Liverpool)






6. Didier 'Dosey-doe' Drogba






7. Ronaldo (Real Madrid)






8. Ronaldinho (Brazil)






9. Adebayor (Arsenal)






It could be worse... it could be the American Footballer Chad Johnson






Sol Campbell eat your heart out.

12 Days of Football Christmas #8

On the eigth day of Christmas my true love gave to me

8 Players 'Milking it'

Players who 'Milk it' for varying reasons, though most are due to a lack of shame and pride.

Warning : The following footage is rather embarrassing especially when you consider how much they earn for their 'Sportsmanship'

1. Rivaldo
Oooo my face...


2. Henry
Oooo my face... - part deux


3. Steven Gerrard
Penalty... not!


4. Winston Bogarde
After a severe lack of first-team action Winston Bogarde decided to stay at Chelsea honouring his contract to the letter as he could not get a similar salary anwhere else. During his four year contract for Chelsea he only appeared eleven times reportedly earning £40,000 a week during this period.

You wont be suprised to hear Winston hasn't found a club to play for and if you want to know what Winston isn't upto these days, check out http://www.icons.com/WB/

5. Cristiano Ronaldo
Don't cry - you've been given plenty of penalties before.


6. Didier Drogba
Classy...


7. Didier Zokora
Ere, is that Lee Harvey Oswald is in seat 138..?



8. Fabregas
Enjoy the trip...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #7

On the seventh Day of Christmas my true love gave to me...


7 Swansea Legends
Just over half a dozen players that wore the white shirt with pride for Swansea City...

Ivor Allchurch, 1947-1958, 1965-68
164 goals from 445 games

Wilfe Milne, 1920-37
586 league games

Reg Weston, 1946-52
229 league games

Alan Curtis, 1972-1979, 1980-1983, 1989-90
95 goals from 359 league games

Mel Charles, 1952-59
66 goals from 233 league games

Bob Latchford, 1981-84
35 goals from 87 league games

Joe Allen, 2007-?
17-year old Welsh Under-21 International

12 Days of Football Christmas #6

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me...


6 Geezers Saying

A small selection of ill-thought out utterances from football commentators, pundits and players

"Playing with wingers is more effective against European sides like Brazil than English sides like Wales"
Ron Greenwood

"Bobby Gould thinks I'm trying to stab him in the back. In fact I'm right behind him"
Stuart Pearson

"I wouldn't be surprised if this game went all the way to the finish"
Ian St John

"A tremendous strike which hit the defender full on the arm - and it nearly came off"
Kevin Keegan

"He dribbles a lot and the opposition don't like it - you can see it all over their faces"
Ron Atkinson

"....and the news from Guadalajara where the temperature is 96 degrees, is that Falcao is warming up."
Brian Moore

Monday, December 17, 2007

FIFA World Club Cup 2007 - Update 2

First of all, an apology to all of you who were hoping to get the latest update on the remaining games of the 2007 World Club Cup before now.

Without wishing to bore you with details about my personal life, my house unfortunately ended up half-flooded by a burst water pipe towards the end of last week, thereby leaving it without an electricity supply for a considerable time. Fortunately for me, my extremely efficient co-blogger Smart has been more than capably keeping you entertained while power was restored to my home, so now that's been fixed, let me belatedly fill you in on all the news.

Oh and before I carry on, I'd like to dedicate this post to P Shaw. Thank you...

Semi Finals
Etoile Sportive du Sahel 0-1 Boca Juniors
December 12 2007
It was a case of 'Enter the Giants' as the semi-finals welcomed the arrival of AC Milan and first, Boca Juniors whose first game was against the challengers from Tunisia, Etiole du Sahel.

The CAF representatives enjoyed an equal share of the early play in the first half but suffered a hammer blow when Neri Cardozo smashed in a left-footed shot from close range in the 37th minute to put Boca 1-0 up.

Sahel came out fighting and put together a number of chances that came close to bringing them an equaliser, including an Amine Chermiti effort which was comfortably saved by Mauricio Caranta in the Boca goal. Then in the 65th minute, Fabian Vargas was sent off for his second bookable offence which gave the Africans hope of cashing in on their numerical advantage.

If anything, it made the Argentineans all the stronger both in defence and attack as some of the closing exchanges resulted in Palacio grazing the crossbar with one shot and Palermo heading just wide of the post too.

Finally at the death, a scare for Boca as Sahel substitute Gilson Silva hit the post with a close-range header. It was to be the final act in a tense match for both sides, but it was Boca Juniors, somewhat predictably, that earned their place in the Final while Etoile du Sahel exited the competition with rather more respect than they arrived with.



Urawa Red Diamonds 0-1 AC Milan
December 13 2007
Urawa were unquestionably spurred on by what was virtually home support in this semi, as Urawa played out an unexciting first half that ended goalless against the European champions. That's not to say it was entirely lacking in notable incident - Ambrosini managed to get in a header that just skimmed the crossbar - but it would be the second half that was all the more entertaining for the fans.

AC Milan came out looking like they wanted the win more, Clarence Seedorf quickly getting a couple of straight-forward chances which were squandered, but in the 68th minute it all came right for the Italian club.

Kaka took the ball down the left, beat his man, reached the byline and put in a cross which he Seedord lashed home after taking a moment to control the ball first. 1-0 to Milan.

It was somewhat ironic that the balance of power should swing their way as only minutes before Nesta had almost scored an own-goal and Washington had had his shot saved by Dida. Once the goal was scored, though, there was no way back for Urawa and the game ended in a single goal victory for Carlo Ancelotti's men.



Final
December 16 2007
Boca Juniors 2-4 AC Milan
After an exciting 3rd/4th Place Play-off that saw Urawa Red Diamonds win 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, the Final had much to do to if it was to go one better for entertainment value. Fortunately it didn't disappoint.

As everyone in the entire known universe had predicted from the start (even FIFA if they're honest with us), it was yet another match up between the champions of Europe and South America in the final match. What wasn't certain was whether a European club would win for a change.

In the end, the Argentineans fate would be undone by a Brazilian - namely Kaka of AC Milan. It was his surging run and shot mid-way through the first half that brought about a chance for Filippo Inzaghi to open the scoring, although the Italians didn't hold the lead for long.

Direct from the kick-off, Boca Juniors quickly went on the attack once more and within seconds it was Rodrigo Palacio who headed the ball in to make it 1-1.

Into the second half and Milan came straight back at Boca, Alessandro Nesta hitting a tremendous volley to restore their lead while Kaka was causing much concern among the opposition with numerous threatening runs.

At the other end, Hugo Ibarra came close to equalising with a long-range shot that hit the post, but it was Kaka once again who was next to get on the scoresheet with a shot scored from a narrow angle at the end of another one of those surging runs.

A candidate for 'Man of the Match', Kaka completed an impressive performance by setting up Inzaghi with his second of the game (Milan's fourth) ten minutes later. Pablo Ledesma got a second for Boca Juniors with five minutes remaining, but there was to be only one winner in this game, and just for once, they were European.

AC Milan are the new World Club Cup champions, and from the evidence seen in this match, it's deservedly so.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #5

On the fifth day of Christmas, etc etc...

5 Gold Kits

Barnet
A classic off the shoulder number as worn by... some bloke.


Arsenal
The Gunners change strip as worn by Barcelona star Terry Henry.


Spurs
Berbatov in action, wearing the Spurs Old Gold kit. Do not adjust your set...


Wolves
The classic Wolves kit as modelled by 'The Headless Man of the Black Country'. My wife takes holiday snaps like this too... (and is available for Weddings and Funerals at reasonable rates)


Australia
The Amber Nectar kit, which has the letters 'POHM' across the back. He's a good player apparently.


Just a quick poll. Put your circle in the box, click vote and watch what happens!

My favourite Gold kit from the festive selection really and truly is...
Barnet
Arsenal
Spurs
Wolves
Australia
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Saturday, December 15, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #4

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

4 Scoring Birds

Marta (Brazil)
Despite being on the losing side in the Womens World Cup Final 2007, 21 year old Marta had plenty of consolation in collecting the Golden Ball and adidas Golden Shoe awards as the tournament's best player and top goalscorer respectively.


Birgit Prinz (Germany)
A hat-trick against Argentina, on the score-sheet against Japan and a goal in the World Cup final against Brazil proved to be a good tournament for Birgit, who has scored 115 goals for her country making her one of the greatest markswomen the world has ever seen.


Abby Wambach (USA)
Athletic Abby, seen here scoring a cracker against Sweden, also scored against Korea DPR, England and twice against Norway in the 2007 World Cup third place play-off. The No20 picked up the 'Silver Shoe' award for her six goals and one assist.



Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (Norway)
30 year old Ragnhild opened Norway's tournament account against Canada, and was on target again the 1-1 draw with Australia before bagging a fine hat-trick in the 7-2 win over Ghana

12 Days of Football Christmas #3

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

3 French '10's'

Arguably the most prestigous shirt number a player can wear has to be the number 10. With the French National team, however, there is no arguement - it's a fact.

According to Monsieur Platini, "The street is the best way to become a good footballer." Well, if the video evidence below is anything to go by perhaps more footballers should start off as prostitutes.

Until then, we leave you in the more than capable 'feet' of Sidney Govou, Zinadine Zidane and of course Michel Platini.

Pick the bones out of this christmas footballing feast...





Friday, December 14, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #2

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

2 Fertile Gloves
OK folks, here's the rub: There are twenty teams in the Premier League and each one has a regularly playing goalkeeper. Some are better than others, but most are likely to trigger off a reaction with you, be it good, bad or bewildering.

So here's what we need to establish. Which one is the best in the Premier League and what do you think of the others?

To tackle the first part of that equation, we'd like you to use the following online voting facility to tell us the goalkeeper you think's best. At this stage we're loathe to remind you that we don't want you to automatically pick the goalkeeper of the team you support, as that achieves nothing. Choose the one you like most, then check the results page to see how many other people agree with you.

Who do you think is the best Premier League goalkeeper?
Almunia (Arsenal)
Carson (Aston Villa)
Taylor (Birmingham)
Friedel (Blackburn)
Jaaskelainen (Bolton)
Cech (Chelsea)
Bywater (Derby)
Howard (Everton)
Niemi (Fulham)
Reina (Liverpool)
Isaksson (Man City)
Van Der Sar (Man United)
Schwarzer (Middlesbro)
Given (Newcastle)
James (Portsmouth)
Hahnemann (Reading)
Gordon (Sunderland)
Robinson (Tottenham)
Green (West Ham)
Kirkland (Wigan)
Free polls from Pollhost.com

With regard to the second part, we want you to give your opinion of any of the goalkeepers listed but in no more than three words. So for instance, if you wanted to express your view on Jens Lehmann, you might leave us a comment that says 'German bench warmer' or 'Highly capable player.' The choice is yours.

Right, that's it. Consider yourself briefed. Off you go and the very best of luck to you...

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #42

The parachutist's view...
7 Well-known Football Stadia As Seen From The Air

1. Azteca Stadium, Mexico City


2. Hampden Park, Glasgow


3. Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro


4. Monumental Stadium, Buenos Aires


5. Nou Camp, Barcelona


6. Olympic Stadium, Rome


7. Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Thursday, December 13, 2007

12 Days of Football Christmas #1

With Christmas starting to appear on the horizon, Some People Are On The Pitch would like to ease you into the festive season with our very own 12 Days of Football Christmas. Each day we'll be presenting you with a little seasonal gift in the form of something quirky, fun and interesting - in fact all the things that your childhood Christmas presents weren't, more than likely.

So let's begin, then, shall we? Clear your throats now... ahem... "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me..."

A Sturridge in a Pear Tree
Your essential profile of five interesting facts about former Premiership footballer, Dean Sturridge.

Fact 1:
Dean Strurridge reached the peak of his fame while playing for Derby between 1991 and 2001.

Fact 2:
As well as Derby County, our Dean has also played for Torquay United, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield United, Queens Park Rangers and Kiddeminster Harriers.

Fact 3:
Our Dean scored 59 goals in his 214 appearances for the Rams.

Fact 4:
Our Dean's middle name is 'Constantine'. Dean Constantine Sturridge. Nice.

Fact 5:
The best anagram of 'Dean Sturridge', in our opinion is 'Retained Drugs'

Tomorrow, yes you've guessed it, will be our 2nd day of Football Christmas.

Same time tomorrow then? Marvellous...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

FIFA World Club Cup 2007 - Update 1

Having got the preamble out of the way, let's now catch up on the opening three matches of the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup.

Play-off
Sepahan 3 - 1 Waitakere United
December 7 2007
The competition got underway with a play-off between Sepahan of Iran and Waitakere United of New Zealand, the winner gaining a place in the quarter-finals against Urawa Red Diamonds. Sepahan were looking for a chance to exact revenge on Urawa who knocked the Iranian side out of the Asian Champions League Final, so a play-off win was essential if they wanted another bite of the cherry.

It turned into a walk in the park for Sepahan as they scored two goals inside the first four minutes through Emad Mohammed. The Waitakere defence proved more than generous with their lapses in concentration, and when goalkeeper Simon Eaddy's mistake allowed Abdul Wahab Abu Al Hail to score a third in the 47th minute, the game was effectively all over.

The New Zealanders, to their credit, continued to battle away and they effectively gained the support and sympathy of the Japanese fans for the remainder of the game. It may have been a key factor in helping Hadi Aghily get a goal back for Waitakere sixteen minutes from the end to make it 3-1, but that was to be the last goal of the game.

Sepahan had earned a comfortable victory, but next up for them would be that much-wanted rematch against Urawa Red Diamonds...



Quarter Finals
Etoile Sportive du Sahel 1 - 0 Pachuca
December 9 2007
The Tunisians of Sahel upset the form book with this surprise victory over their Mexican counterparts in Tokyo's National Stadium.

Pachuca were easily the more dominant side throughout and had a number of chances to take the lead in the first half. Juan Carlos Cacho headed against the crossbar early on with Gabriel Caballero's follow-up effort cleared off the line and that set the tone for the early action.

Etoile du Sahel got through to half time still on level terms, but the second half remained largely one-way traffic as Pachuca maintained their superiority. They had a goal disallowed for offside in the 73rd minute and it seemed only a matter of time before they'd get on that was valid, but it was Sahel that got the winner five minutes from the end.

The Ghanaian Moussa Narry tried a speculative shot from well outside the penalty area, and though not especially well hit, the resulting deflection off Pachuca's Leobardo Lopez was enough to see the ball bounce past wrong-footed keeper Miguel Calero and into the net.

When the final whistle went, it was the Tunisians that were the surprising winners and they now go through to play Boca Juniors in the semi-finals. For Pachuca, all that awaited was a plane journey home, and all too soon after they'd arrived at that.



Sepahan 1 - 3 Urawa Red Diamonds
December 10 2007
The rematch: Sepahan v Urawa. Only a month earlier, the two sides had met in the Final of the AFC Champions League, and on that occasion Urawa had won 3-1 on aggregate over two legs. How that scoreline would come back to haunt them again...

Yuichiro Nagai was first out of the blocks when he put Urawa in front after 32 minutes, scoring from point-blank range when he met a low cross from Takahito Soma. Sepahan were stunned but undeterred as they entered the second half still only one goal behind.

Sadly for them, a second Urawa goal was not long in coming as Brazilian striker Washington scored neatly from a tight angle in the 54th minute. One of Sepahan's scorers from the Waitakere play-off, Hadi Aghily, was next to put the ball in the net but unfortunately for him it was at the wrong end of the pitch. It signalled the end of the Iranian team's chances, although a late goal from substitute Mahmoud Karimi did at least give them something to cheer.

Urawa Red Diamonds ended the game as 3-1 winners and they now face AC Milan in the semi-finals. As for Sepahan, it seems the flu bug that swept through their squad upon arrival in Japan may have made too much of an impact, although coach Luka Bonacic was quick to acknowledge Urawa as the better team on the night.

So with the quarter-finals out of the way, here's confirmation of the semi-final fixtures coming up over the next few days:

Semi Finals
Etoile Sportive du Sahel v Boca Juniors (December 12)
Urawa Red Diamonds v AC Milan (December 13)

We'll be back nearer the end of the week with match reports from both those games. Until then, Sayonara...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 6

OK folks, here's the situation. We need to start winning some of these bets, and we need to start winning fast. Actually, come to think of it, we need to start providing you with some decent choices that could result in us winning money, and fast.

So to that end, here are this week's three options for you to choose from. Oh, and if you haven't the foggiest idea what the hell we're talking about, click on the 'Week 1' link to the right in the Champions League You Bet section. It's all explained there.

Bet A
Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest
Adebayor to score first
Potential winnings: £4.50

Bet B
Rangers v Lyon
Rangers to win 2-1
Potential winnings: £11.00

Bet C
Roma v Manchester United
Man U winning at Half Time, Roma winning at Full Time.
Potential winnings: £26.00

Quite a tempting selection, we think you'll agree. Just use the buttons below and tell us which one you think we should put our £1 bet on, and with any luck, we'll have our coffers overflowing with wealth once again. All for charity of course. Not a penny goes into our pockets. Honest.

UPDATE:


The public has spoken. The public has opted for Bet C - Man U winning at Half Time, Roma winning at Full Time, which could swell our coffers quite considerably.

Fingers crossed...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Your guide to the FIFA World Club Cup

Just when you thought you couldn't possibly cram any more football competitions into one year, 2007 is about to end with one last hurrah in the form of the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup.

Over in Japan, the action's just getting underway, and as ever, SPAOTP will attempt to keep you up-to-date with everything that's going on as efficiently as we can.

By now you may be starting to get a confused look on your face. We're thinking the name of this competition sounds familiar to you, but you're not sure why. Let us explain…

This is not the World Cup as we know it, but it is the equivalent for club teams. Forget Brazil, Italy and the like - think Manchester United, Real Madrid and so on. This is the chance for the big teams at club level to prove they’re the best in the world.

All well and good, then, but you're probably feeling a little ill-prepared for such an event - a bit under-informed, perhaps. Fear not, fine people. What you're about to get is a whistle-stop tour of all the key details to help you get the most out of our coverage.

So if you're ready then, buckle up and let's go - the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup awaits…

History
In its current form, the FIFA World Club Cup has been running since 2000, but its origins go back much further than that. Prior to 2000, there was the Intercontinental Cup - an annual meeting between the club champions of Europe and South America, and that began back in 1960.

The Roll of Honour for the Intercontinental Cup is an impressive one. Names such as Real Madrid, Santos, AC Milan and Independiente would often appear in the Final - played in Japan from 1980 onwards - but by the turn of the century FIFA wanted to cast the net wider and include the continental champions from all over the globe.

And so it was that in 2000, FIFA created the World Club Championship to serve just such a purpose. The competition took place in Brazi where eight teams competed in two First Round groups. Among them were recent treble-winners Manchester United (who passed up the chance to defend their FA Cup title in order to be there), Real Madrid (playing by special invitation) and two home sides, Vasco da Gama and Corinthians of Brazil.

To be fair, the competition never quite caught fire as a spectacle despite being played in the homeland of Pele, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho. Man United's only win came against South Melbourne and Real Madrid were even beaten in the 3rd/4th place play-off by Mexican side Necaxa. Fortunately for the home supporters, both Brazilian teams got through to the Final which Corinthians won 4-3 on penalties after ninety minutes and extra time had failed to produce a goal.

What with all the problems surrounding over-crowded fixture lists and the unspectacular nature of the 2000 event, FIFA decided to quietly put the World Club Championship on the back burner until 2005 when it re-emerged in Japan once more. This time, a knock-out formula was established, however the champions of South America and Europe (Sao Paulo and Liverpool) were given byes to the semi-finals while the other continental champions battled it out in the previous round.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was Sao Paulo and Liverpool who met in the Final and this time it was a more exciting affair despite a 1-0 scoreline which ultimately went in favour of the Brazilians again.

With some credibility regained, FIFA decided to stage the competition annually from now on and also changed the title too, opting for the altogether more catchy 'World Club Cup'. Some things stayed the same though. The venue for the third edition remained as Japan and the format was untouched too. Even the two 'seeded' teams ended up in the Final again - this time it was Internacional of Brazil against Barcelona of Spain.

Despite being heavily tipped as favourites to win outright, Barcelona couldn't quite pull it off. They faced a Brazilian side under the leadership of Abel Braga that knew exactly how to deal with the likes of Deco and Ronaldinho. They opted to mark them closely, shut off the midfield supply chain and counter-attack whenever possible. It worked, thanks to an Adriano goal eight minutes from time, all of which meant that all three winners of the competition had now come from Brazil.

Will the sequence end in 2007? To find out, we need to know a bit more about this year's competition...

The format
Once again, a knock-out format is in use whereby the champions of Europe and South America receive byes to the semi-final stage. To begin, a play-off was required to establish the future involvement of the representatives from Oceania (who used to get qualify as of right but don't anymore - don't ask, long story) and that took place on December 7th 2007 (more of which later).

The winner of that play-off would then enter the quarter-finals which, as in the last World Club Cup, would involve just four teams. The two winners from the quarter-finals would then go through to play the champions of Europe and South America (deliberately kept apart again) and as you'd expect, the winners of the semi-finals will go through to the Final.

The contenders
Eight teams began the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup starting with the play-off, and they are:

Boca Juniors (South America)
Country of origin: Argentina
Coach: Miguel Angel Russo
Captain: Martin Palermo
Other notable players: Rodrigo Palacio, Gabriel Paletta (formerly of Liverpool), Hugo Ibarra
Honours: 3 Intercontinental Cups, 6 Copa Libertadores (South American championships) and 23 Primera Division titles.

AC Milan (Europe)
Country of origin: Italy
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Captain: Paolo Maldini
Other notable players: Cafu, Gennaro Gatusso, Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Kaká, Ronaldo.
Honours: 3 Intercontinental Cups, 7 European Cups, 2 European Cup Winners' Cups, 17 Serie A titles

Pachuca (North and Central America)
Country of origin: Mexico
Coach: Enrique Meza
Captain: Miguel Calero
Other notable players: Christian Gimenez, Miguel Calero, Aquivaldo Mosquera, Gabriel Caballero, Andres Chitiva, Luis Angel Landin.
Honours: 5 Primera Division titles, 2 CONCACAF Champions' Cups, 1 North American SuperLiga

Urawa Red Diamonds (Asia)
Country of origin: Japan
Coach: Holger Osieck
Captain: Nobuhisa Yamada
Other notable players: Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Keisuke Tsuboi, Yuki Abe, Keita Suzuki, Robson Ponte, Yuichiro Nagai, Nobuhisa Yamada.
Honours: 1 J League title, 1 AFC Champions League.

Étoile Sportive du Sahel (Africa)
Country of origin: Tunisia
Coach: Bertrand Marchand
Captain: Saber Ben Frej
Other notable players: Francileudo dos Santos Silva… and various others that we were unable to discern due to a lack of details on the internet.
Honours: 3 CAF Cups, 9 Tunisian Championships, 1 African Champions League.

Sepahan (Asia)
Country of origin: Iran
Coach: Luka Bonačić
Captain: Moharram Navidkia
Other notable players: Maharram Navidkia, Emad Mohammed.
Honours: 1 Iranian League Championship

Waitakere United (Oceania)
Country of origin: New Zealand
Coach: Chris Millichich
Captain: Danny Hay
Other notable players: Danny Hay, Commins Menapi
Honours: 1 OFC Champions League, 1 New Zealand Championship

So now you know all the facts, it's time to get stuck into the news from the 2007 World Club Cup... except we're going to give you a break now otherwise you'll be reading this page until late into the night. Next time out, we're going to give you the match reports from the first few games to get you up to speed, but for now, pour yourself a glass of saki and dwell on the undoubted sense of anticipation that's now starting to grow inside you. See you next time...

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #41

Abramovic Territory...
21 British Record Transfer Fees

1. Alf Common, £1,000 (Sunderland to Middlesbrough, 1905)
2. Syd Puddefoot, £5,000 (West Ham to Falkirk, 1922)
3. Tommy Lawton, £20,000 (Chelsea to Notts County, 1947)
4. John Charles, £65,000 (Leeds United to Juventus, 1957)
5. Denis Law, £100,000 (Manchester City to Torino, 1961)
6. Martin Peters, £200,000 (West Ham to Tottenham, 1970)
7. Bob Latchford, £350,000 (Birmingham City to Everton, 1974)
8. Kevin Keegan, £500,000 (Liverpool to Hamburg, 1977)
9. Trevor Francis, £1,180,000 (Birmingham to Nottingham Forest, 1979)
10. Bryan Robson, £1,500,000 (West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United, 1981)
11. Mark Hughes, £2,300,000 (Manchester United to Barcelona, 1984)
12. Ian Rush, £3,200,000 (Liverpool to Juventus, 1987)
13. Chris Waddle, £4,250,000 (Tottenham to Marseille, 1989)
14. David Platt, £5,500,000 (Aston Villa to Bari, 1991)
15. Andy Cole, £7,000,000 (Newcastle United to Manchester United, 1995)
16. Dennis Bergkamp, £7,500,000 (Inter Milan to Arsenal, 1995)
17. Stan Colleymore, £8,500,000 (Nottingham Forest to Liverpool, 1995)
18. Alan Shearer, £15,000,000 (Blackburn to Newcastle United, 1996)
19. Nicolas Anelka, £22,500,000 (Arsenal to Real Madrid, 1999)
20. Rio Ferdinand, £29,100,000 (Leeds United to Manchester United, 2002)
21. Andriy Shevchenko, £30,800,000 (AC Milan to Chelsea, 2006)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A little bit of History repeating

Tonight, Brussels, 7.45pm - Anderlecht v Spurs in the UEFA Cup. But allow me to briefly transport you back 23 years. Flared trousers at the ready...

[Cue wavy monitor effect for 'Time Travel' back to 1984]

After the 1-1 result from the first leg in Belgium over 46,000 supporters packed White Hart Lane for the second leg on a wet Wednesday night in May. May 23rd to be exact. Captain Graham Roberts scores for Spurs but the scoreline mimics the first leg and ends 1-1. Penalties. And we all know what happened there.

Personally I can remember sitting through the tense two-legged final. Glenn Hoddle constantly chipping the ball over the out-rushing Anderlecht defence - it was just a shame none of the forwards worked out how to stay on side.

Staying up for what seemed like an eternity during the extra-time. My Dad unable to watch the penalties as the tension got to him - at one stage he even turned the TV channel over, but was 'persuaded' to put the match back on.

Inexperienced Spurs keeper Tony Parks saves an Anderlecht penalty, Danny Thomas misses the potential winning penalty for Spurs. Then Tony Parks makes a name for himself, diving full stretch to his right to save the final Anderlecht penalty.

Spurs win the UEFA Cup and something goes wrong with the TV set as the picture starts to shake up and down whilst Tony Parks celebrates with a Rocky Balboa salute.

And my Dad goes to bed with a headache.

[Cue wavy monitor effect for 'Time Travel' back to 2007]

Tonight's game has no such prestige attached to it, but memories of '84 are bound to be plentiful. So what can we expect? Anderlecht's long ball game should suit a rocky Spurs back line, but after the two meetings of the '84 final ending up 1-1 it would be fitting to see the same scoreline tonight.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All the Presidential Men (Part 5)

Three Presidents in six years
The legendary Jules Rimet retired as President of FIFA following the 1954 World Cup and in so doing left his successor with a tough act to follow. Here was a man who led the organisation for thirty-three years in which a World War forced him to hide the World Cup trophy under his bed to evade the gaze of enemy soldiers. He ensured the World Cup competition got off to a safe and steady beginning and saw the number of member nations increase from 24 to 82 during his reign.

When Rimet stood down at the start of 1955, his replacement turned out to be none other than his Vice-President, Rodolphe Seeldrayers. Seeldrayers was born in Germany in 1876 but spent much of his life competing in and helping to develop many different sports in Belgium.

He officiated in the Olympic Games football competition in 1920 and seven years later was given the role of Vice-President at FIFA. During the time leading up to his appointment, Seeldrayers was a key figure in the ongoing debate about amateurism in sport, but though he preferred all players to be non-professional, he also accepted that in reality more and more players were turning their backs on the amateur ideals while still playing the game in the appropriate spirit.

Sadly, Seeldrayers never got to apply his ideas and beliefs to the post-war game to any great exent. Just a year after his election as President of FIFA, he died following a period of illness, aged 78.

In 1956, FIFA elected their second President in as many years. Arthur Drewry had been acting in a caretaker role following Seeldrayers death, but a year later he was given the top job on a permanent basis and immediately found himself planning for the next World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

He arrived as someone with experience of administrating in football yet had also flirted with controversy in his earlier days. Drewry had been appointed Chairman of the Football Association in 1955 and had previously been President of the Football League, but it was around this time that one of the most embarrassing episodes in English football history was credited to him.

In the 1950 World Cup Finals, England were due to play the United States. As far as the English were concerned, it would be a mere formality and there was realistically only one team in it. What few could have foreseen, however, was the 1-0 defeat the Americans inflicted on England, and when a scapegoat was being sought, the finger of blame finally pointed to Drewry.

Though Walter Winterbottom was the England team manager during the Finals in Brazil that year, it's said that Arthur Drewry (with his more senior authority) had appointed himself as the man to select the team instead. The end result left England desperately hanging onto a place in the competition which they soon lost.

Despite this, FIFA put Drewry in charge in 1956, but sadly he, too, was to enjoy an all-too-short spell as FIFA President when he also died in office, just before the fifth anniversary of his appointment in 1961. It would be a further six months before the world governing body would appoint a permanent successor, but when they did, they had somewhat better luck. The job was given to a former referee who went on to help rewrite the very Laws of the Game, and his name was Stanley Rous...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Nudge me when it gets exciting...

It's strange, you know. Just recently we seem to have been concentrating on everything except the Premier League. We've written about the Euro 2008 qualifying competition and the draw for the Finals. We've written about the draw for the World Cup 2010 qualifiers and the early rounds of this season's FA Cup, but the Premier League… well it's just not been on the radar.

Why should that be, I wonder? Is it not that exciting anymore?

Strangely enough, it should be at the top of our list. At the moment, there's a four-horse-race going on with Arsenal and Liverpool (1st and 4th respectively) still unbeaten with a game in hand over the other two, Man. United and Chelsea (2nd and 3rd) who have already lost two of their fifteen matches.

Even Man City are level on points with Liverpool although whether Sven Goran Eriksson can keep his magic going until the end of the season remains to be seen.

Then near the bottom of the table you have two teams that you wouldn't expect to find there - Bolton and Tottenham. Both have struggled and both have replaced their managers, but while the wait for drastic improvement goes on, so does the increased interest in them and the Premier League that, for the time being at least, remains their home.

Perhaps one reason we've not been bothered about England's top flight of late is because some of the big characters have either gone or gone quiet. Jose Mourinho - someone perfectly capable of starting an argument in a phone box - parted company with Chelsea several weeks ago, although even from his Portuguese home he still taunts the press with his 'might take the job, might not' approach to the vacant England manager's job.

In addition, Rafa Benitez has resorted to buttoning his lip and smiling sweetly whenever anyone asks him about the potential plans of Liverpool's American owners and Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger can only muster a meagre amount of foot-stamping whenever it looks like they're about to lose a game. So much for the personal angle in the game these days.

Player-wise, many of the big names seem to be having regular off-spells. Cristiano Ronaldo was slow to get going back in August, but every time he gets a decent run of form together, he either gets injured, sent off, rested or any permutation of all three. Frank Lampard's had a couple of brief scoring runs amid an unremarkable first three months, Dimitar Berbatov either hasn't been playing with andy confidence or or hasn't been playing at all and Fernando Torres has scored now and then but hasn't quite set the whole place alight as numeorus people thought he would do.

So what's going on? Is the thought of a four-horse-race simply not enough to satiate our thirst for the English game? Do we need more characters or bigger clubs back in the mix? Or is it simply that the Premier League Express is showing early signs of running out of steam?

Over to you with your suggestions...

Monday, December 03, 2007

World Player of the Year? Yeah, whatever...

Two weeks from today, FIFA will announce its World Player of the Year at a glittering gala in Zurich. The three nominees for 2007 are Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal), Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina) and Kaka (AC Milan and Brazil), which leaves us with the ultimate question: not 'Who will win the award this year?' but 'Does anybody really care?'

Forgive me if I sound like an old curmudgeon, but as award ceremonies go, this one comes bottom of my list when it comes to relevance and general interest.

It shouldn't do, of course. 'World Player of the Year' is a title which should be legendary amongst players and fans alike. To know that your team either features or is playing against someone that has been ranked above all others on the planet should send a tingle down your spine. So why doesn't it?

Well first of all, there's FIFA's ability to suck the excitement out of every fanciful occasion it organises from the World Cup Finals Draw downwards. You know the kind of thing - some guy in his mid-thirties wearing a sharp suit and the sort of smile you only see on a satellite shopping channel trying to waffle his way professionally yet cheesily through a running order that would be far better off without him.

He's usually accompanied by a small selection of former or current football players he's obliged to talk to briefly, all of whom give the impression they'd rather not be there. They're being watched by a sizeable audience of invited guests from 'the world of football' who aren't laughing at any of the jokes and are perpetually a matter of minutes away from dying an early death due to terminal boredom.

Then there are the nominees. This year, amazingly, we're spared the recent band of regulars (i.e. Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry) but the damage, you feel, has already been done. Year after year of seeing the usual suspects leaves you with a distinct feeling of deja-vu. Even this year's trio of star names look familiar as though they've all been here once before, yet strangely they haven't.

Then there's the 'World' bit of the title. How often has the World Player of the Year been playing for a club that's not European or South American? The answer: never. George Weah came pretty close in 1995, but despite being born in Liberia, he was actually playing for AC Milan at the time.

And to get really technical for a moment, of the 29 players who finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd in FIFA's previous sixteen World Player galas, only three have been defenders and one a goalkeeper. Hardly a fair recognition of the talents that every player has regardless of the position he plays in, is it?

So please forgive me if I'm not on the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting this supposedly important announcement. I just feel that all of us as football fans have our own opinion of who the best player in the world is, and for those of us that don't, it isn't of that much relevance anyway. We all want to see our club and country win whenever they play, and that, for me, is the very essence of what's important about football as every individual fan sees it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Euro 2008 Draw

Earlier today in Lucerne, Switzerland, the draw was made for the Euro 2008 Finals and one group stood out more than any other - Group C, containing France, Italy and the Netherlands, along with Romania.

The term 'Group of Death' is perhaps used too often in situations like this, but we're inclined to think it's a worthwhile epithet this time around. The average FIFA Ranking for all four teams involved is 8, and they're all inside the world's top 15.

Elsewhere, the two co-hosts (ironically the lowest-ranked teams of all sixteen taking part) face tough tests if they're to progress beyond the first round. Switzerland open the competition in Group A against the Czech Republic in Basel on June 7th 2008, while later that day Turkey and Portugal finish off the action in Geneva.

The following day sees Austria begin their campaign against England's victors Croatia in Vienna, while the other pairing in Group B sees Germany face-off against Poland.

June 9th will no doubt be the most eagerly awaited date of all as France and Russia meet in Zurich and the Netherlands and Italy play each other in Berne, while the following day Group D begins with defending champions Greece playing Sweden in Salzburg and Spain playing Russia in Innsbruck.

Further eye-catching dates for your diary are as follows:

June 11: Czech Republic v Portugal (Geneva)
June 12: Croatia v Germany (Klagenfurt)
June 13: Netherlands v France (Berne)
June 14: Sweden v Spain (Innsbruck)
June 17: France v Italy (Zurich)

Somewhat interestingly, Austria play Germany in the final round of games in Group B, but unlike the World Cup of 1982 there'll be no underhanded shenanigans going on as they'll be playing at the same time as Poland and Croatia.

There are plenty of opportunities for old acquaintances to be renewed throughout the first round. Portugal will be playing Turkey for the third time in four Euro finals over in Group A, but Group C will be full to overflowing with old scores waiting to be settled as Italy and France stage a repeat of the 2000 Final and Italy and the Netherlands re-enact the semi-final from the same year.

All in all, I think it's quite an interesting draw and some good games should ensue. Here for those who've not yet seen them are today's Euro 2008 First Round groupings in full:

Group A: Switzerland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Turkey.
Group B: Austria, Croatia, Germany, Poland.
Group C: Netherlands, Italy, Romania, France.
Group D: Greece, Sweden, Spain, Russia.

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