Friday, February 29, 2008

A level down in Europe

March is finally here and we're deep into the heart of the domestic season. Many of you will be happily supporting your team as they bumble along in the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga and so on, but we'd bet the shirts on our backs that you've probably forgotten all about the teams that were relegated last Summer.

So whatever happened to those teams that fell through the trapdoor and into the ignominy of second-tier soccer? Some People Are On The Pitch are about to tell you as we check out the forgotten men of Europe's big five leagues.

(Details correct as at February 29 2008)

England: Football League Championship
Relegated from Premier League in 2006/07: Sheffield United (18th), Charlton (19th) and Watford (20th)
Quite often you find that the teams who drop out of the English top flight every May are a member of 'The Yo-Yo Club' - that is to say they regularly go up and down from season to season between the Premier League and Championship. Think West Brom, Birmingham, Sunderland - that kind of thing.

Well last season proved to be the exception. Sheffield United and Watford were happily camped in the Championship for many years and Charlton were mainstays in the Premier League too for quite a while, so here were three names not used to relegation into the Championship as recent seasons go.

As it turns out, Charlton and Watford have made a decent fist of trying to get promotion back at the first attempt with both teams currently occupying positions in the play-off zone. Watford made the best start of anybody in the division, losing just one of their first thirteen games, but a six-week spell from the start of November 2007 that saw them lose five out of nine nearly undid all their good work. Luckily for them, they're currently on a seven-game unbeaten run and if they keep that up, they may well get the automatic promotion place they're currently battling with Bristol City and Stoke for.

Charlton have had similar good form, losing only a couple more games than Watford, but Sheffield United have found it nowhere near as easy as their two relegationees to keep their heads above water. Quite how much of a factor the Carlos Tevez affair has got to do with it, we don't know, but Sheffield United seem to be floundering at the moment down in 17th position.

Though they're unlikely to be relegated again, their main problem at the moment seems to be that they're drawing too many games. That in itself can be no bad thing, as long as their are plenty of wins to keep the points tally ever increasing. Sadly for The Blades that's not the case, but perhaps now that former manager Bryan Robson has parted company with the club, they can now look forward to a brighter future - albeit challenging for a return to the Premier League next year.

SPAOTP Prediction: Watford to be promoted, Charlton to enter the play-offs and Sheffield United to reach mid-table security.

Spain: Segunda División
Relegated from La Liga in 2006/07: Celta Vigo (18th), Real Sociedad (19th) and Gimnastic Tarragona (20th)
Of the three teams relegated last season, the big shock was undoubtedly Real Sociedad. Once a high-profile name in the Spanish top flight, Sociedad found themselves out of the Segunda División for the first time since the 1966/67 season. Former Fulham manager Chris Coleman was drafted in but Sociedad initially struggled in their attempt to bounce straight back, causing Coleman to resign in January 2008.

It's somewhat ironic but Coleman left just as his team were enjoying their best form of the season. True, Real Sociedad only won four of their first fourteen games, but they then lost only one of their next seven directly before Coleman left. Sociedad are currently fourth in the Segunda División table, just one place outside the promotion zone.

For the other two teams that dropped down a level with them, life isn't going quite so well. Celta Vigo are down in eighth but only four points behind Real Sociedad, while Gimnastic Tarragona are in danger of being relegated once again. They currently lie in 19th position, the last of the bottom four teams that will face the drop at the season's end if they remain where they are. The key to their survival may lie in their next three games, two of which are against fellow strugglers Las Palmas and Xerez while a tricky tie against fifth-placed Elche will push them to their limits.

SPAOTP Prediction: Real Sociedad to gain promotion with Celta Vigo just missing out, and Gimnastica to be relegated.

France: Ligue 2
Relegated from Ligue 1 in 2006/07: Troyes (18th), Sedan (19th) and Nantes (20th)
As in Spain, there was a real shock at the end of last season when a team regarded as one of the top clubs in the country were relegated. That team was Nantes, and the surprise was all the greater considering they were French champions as recently as 2001, just before the Lyon supremacy took hold.

Nantes had come close to being relegated at the end of the 2004/05 season but just held on. This time, there was only one outcome, and that was a return to Ligue 2 for the first time in 44 seasons. Hardly surprising given they'd gone through four coaches and numerous team line-ups during this last Ligue 1 campaign.

Their reaction to such catastrophe has been a good one as Nantes currently lie in second place in the table, just ahead of Troyes who also went down to Ligue 2 on the last day of last season. Troyes are no strangers to life outside the top flight, but since 2000 have just about held onto a place among the country's elite. The way things stand, they too could be heading straight back to Ligue 1 which is more than can be said for Sedan who are eighth at the moment and seem to be reverting to form as perpetual promotion candidates who aren't quite good enough.

SPAOTP Prediction: Nantes to finish runners-up, promoted with Troyes in 3rd. Sedan staying put for another season.

Germany: Bundesliga 2
Relegated from Bundesliga in 2006/07: Mainz (16th), Aachen (17th) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (20th)
Borussia Mönchengladbach aren't strangers to the Bundesliga 2, but they're not regulars there either. It's therefore fair to say that a few ripples were sent through German football when they, like Real Sociedad and Nantes failed to hold their seemingly unshakable place in the top division last season. That said, like their Spanish and French counterparts, they look to be making an immediate return for they're currently leading the table by four points.

Mainz were also relegated last season and they find themselves only five points behind Mönchengladbach in third place, while Aachen, the third team to drop out of the Bundesliga, are well off the pace in ninth.

Mönchengladbach are certainly the form team of the moment having only lost three of their 22 games, but what makes their success all the more remarkable is that they have one of the league's top scorers in Canadian Rob Friend.

Friend was drafted to Chicago Fire in 2003 but has since played his club football for Moss and Molde in Norway, and Heerenveen and Heracles Almelo in the Netherlands before joining the German club in 2007. Together with club captain Oliver Neuville, they're firing Mönchengladbach back to the top flight.

Alemannia Aachen, however, are known as regulars in Bundesliga and their form suggests that won't change this season but Mainz's future isn't so easy to predict. Though they recently beat Mönchengladbach 1-0 away from home, they've lost to 2nd-placed Greuther Fürth and also failed to beat lowly Carl Zeiss Jena or mid-table Koblenz and St.Pauli.

SPAOTP Prediction: Borussia Mönchengladbach to win Bundesliga 2, Mainz to be promoted, Aachen to remain mid-table.

Italy: Serie B
Relegated from Serie A in 2006/07: Chievo (18th), Ascoli (19th) and Messina (20th)
Finally to Serie B where Chievo are leading a march to reclaim their place in Serie A where their glorious six-season run came to an end in the summer. Having gained promotion in 2001/02, Chievo surprised many by not just surviving but also qualifying for European competition.

All that seems a distant memory now, but their future's looking bright despite the dirth of players that left before the start of the new season along with manager Luigi Del Neri. Chievo have lost only four of their 27 matches so far this season and are in a strong position although their lead is currently only a single point with three other teams, Bologna, Lecce and Albinoleffe very close behind.

For the other two relegated sides, Messina and Ascoli, promotion back to Serie A looks decidedly unlikely even at this stage of the season. Messina, who have only ever had five years in the top league before now, have leaked eleven goals in their last three matches and will be lucky to stay in the ninth position they currently occupy.

Ascoli are the stereotypical yo-yo club of Italy. Having just spent a couple of seasons in Serie A, they look set for a second season in Serie B but their mid-table position could change for better or worse in the coming weeks. Their current inconsisitency means a final table position is difficult to predict, but they were unbeaten in three at the time of going to press, so we have a sneaking suspicion they may be able to finish in the top half of the table this term.

SPAOTP Prediction: Chievo to gain promotion (though not necessarily as champions), Messina to finish in the bottom-half of the table and Ascoli to finish mid-table or slightly better.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #51

Like Eduardo's injury, only better...
10 Injuries That Players Would Rather Forget

1. Arsenal's Thierry Henry had to receive treatment off the pitch back in 2000 after celebrating a goal against Chelsea at Highbury. He ran to the corner flag and ended up being hit in the face by it. A similar thing once happened to Italy's Marco Tardelli during the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

2. Back in 1975, Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney once broke his jaw after screaming too hard at his team-mates.

3. Manchester City's Shaun Goater injured a foot in the match against Birmingham City in 2003. His team mate Nicolas Anelka had just scored, causing Goater to kick an advertising hoarding out of sheer delight. He injured his foot so much that he had to be substituted.

4. In 2001, Rio Ferdinand strained a tendon in his leg after sitting down in front of his TV at home with his feet up on the coffee table.

5. It's a scary business, relaxing at home. David Seaman, then of Manchester City, once pulled a muscle in his back reaching for his TV's remote control. Strangely, Robbie Keane suffered knee ligament damage back in 1998 while doing the same thing.

6. In 1993 another former goalkeeper, Dave Beasant, needed treatment for foot injury. It was caused when Beasant dropped a jar of salad cream (insert joke here) and instinctively stuck out his foot to break its fall.

7. Moving into 'bathroom territory' now... Spanish goalkeeper Santiago Canizares missed the 2002 World Cup Finals when he dropped a bottle of after shave on his foot resulting in a severed tendon.

8. What the hell - let's just pick on goalkeepers. Richard Wright of Everton once twisted his ankle while warming up for a game against Chelsea. He did it by landing on a sign telling people not to practice there.

9. Arsenal's Steve Morrow of Arsenal broke his collarbone following his side's victory in the 1993 League Cup Final. In the post-match celebrations, he jumped up onto Tony Adams back, slipped off and landed awkwardly on the hallowed Wembley turf.

10. Finally, back in 1964, England player Alan Mullery injured his back while brushing his teeth during a tour of South America. Alf Ramsey must have been pleased.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Caption Competition #5

It's time once again for you to get your thinking caps on as we search for that elusive caption or headline that perfectly fits a picture we provide for you.

Today, it's time for Arsene 'Tackles On My Players Are Punishable By Death' Wenger to act as our stooge, so have a look at this and see what springs to mind...

Leave us a comment with your best offerings and you could win... nothing, because this isn't really a competition at all. It's merely an opportunity for you to put a smile on the face of your fellow human beings. We look forward to seeing your captions... :)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Before, During and After: Luton Town, 1988

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Some People Are On The Pitch where we look at a team at their peak, choose three players from it and track where they were in their lives before, during and after that peak as well as the fortunes of the team itself.

As today sees the taking place of the 2008 League Cup Final, we thought we'd take as our subject the Luton Town team that beat Arsenal 3-2 in the same Final 20 years ago. The late 80's were a boom time for the Bedfordshire club, not only winning the League Cup in 1988 but also reaching the Final a year later.

So from that glorious Wembley match that saw Luton Town's name etched onto the trophy twenty years ago, let's track the fortunes of three of those medal-winning players: Brian Stein, Mal Donaghy and Mick Harford.

Born in Cape Town in 1959, Brian Stein began his career with non-league Edgware Town and soon attracted the attention of Luton who persuaded him to put pen to paper in 1977, a year before Mal Donaghy who joined from Northern Irish club Larne, and a full seven years before Mick Harford who'd had spells playing for Newcastle, Bristol City and Birmingham before arriving at Kenilworth Road.

Luton had struggled to maintain a place in Division One in the late 1970's, but the arrival of David Pleat as manager eventually saw a turnaround in their fortunes as they gained promotion from Division 2 in the 1981-82 season as champions.

Under Pleat's guidance, Luton were starting to go places and the team boasted a range of great talent such as Paul Walsh (PFA Young Player of the Year in 1984), Brian Horton, future manager of Oxford United and Manchester City, and talented midfielder Ricky Hill, future Luton Town manager.

At this time, Mal Donaghy was forging an international career with Northern Ireland and played in the 1982 World Cup Finals, although perhaps he'd rather forget the infamous defeat over Spain as that was a match in which he was sent off for shoving José Camacho, later to lead the Spanish national team himself. Brian Stein, meanwhile, was scoring goals regularly for his club and was every bit a regular in the side as Donaghy.

Having narrowly avoided relegation in the 1983 season, The Hatters, complete with their controversial artificial pitch, remained intent on staying in the top flight and in so doing added renowned goalscorer Mick Harford to their side at the end of 1984. That was the year that Brian Stein attracted the attention of then England manager Bobby Robson who gave him his first and only cap in the friendly against France which England lost 2-0.

The 1985-86 Canon League Division 1 season saw Luton finish in ninth spot and everything seemed to be going well for them, but then came a bombshell. Manager David Pleat had been approached by Tottenham to become their new boss and he'd accepted their offer.

While Mal Donaghy again represented Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup, Luton searched for a replacement to Pleat and they eventually plumped for John Moore. It would be a tough job filling his predecessor's boots, but Moore improved the team still further, getting them up to 7th place in the table at the end of 1986-87 - the highest league position the club had ever reached.

Amazingly, yet another bombshell was around the corner. Moore, despite his undoubted success in his first season in management, wasn't happy with the high-profile nature of the job and duly left the club.

Come the momentous 1987-88 season, Luton turned to Moore's assistant manager Ray Harford to lead the team and maintain their success, and that he did. Luton reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Final of the Simod Cup (don't ask) as well as achieving the ultimate goal - winning some silverware in what was then known as the Littlewoods Cup - the League Cup, as we know it now.

So here it is, the peak of Luton's success in summary form - their 1988 League Cup Final against the holders of the trophy at the time, Arsenal.

As you can see, two of Luton's three goals that day were scored by none other than Brian Stein. Ironically, Mick Harford socred Luton's only goal in the League Cup Final the following year against Nottingham Forest.

Harford weaved his magic again the following season by getting Luton back to Wembley to retain the League Cup but Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest side rode out 3-1 winners signalling the beginning of the end for that great Luton Town side.

Many of its best players, now approaching the tail-end of their careers, were sold off and one was Brian Stein who opted to hop over the Channel and join Caen at the end of the 1988 season. In eleven years, he'd scored 127 goals in 388 appearances for The Hatters and his form continued when playing alongside former Arsenal player Graham Rix at the French club.

Mal Donaghy was next to go in 1989 when he secured a move to Manchester United for £650,000 - at the time quite a lot of money for a 31-year-old defender. In 1990, Mick Harford drew an end to his time at Luton Town when he moved to Derby County for £450,000 and continued to score on average a goal every four games as he'd done earlier in his career.

Having perhaps seen the error of their ways, Harford was re-signed by Luton in 1991 who by then were once again being managed by David Pleat. He stayed for one season and was their top scorer in it.

With some degree of irony, Harford was also joined by Brian Stein as Pleat attempted to return a sense of former greatness to the side. Stein had moved to French Second Division side Annecy in 1990 and scored three times in fourteen appearances.

1992 saw both Mick Harford and Mal Donaghy move to Chelsea. Donaghy was 34 and Harford was 33, but both provided goals and experience for the side who were re-establishing themselves in the First Division again. For Brian Stein, however, his move was to Barnet who had recently gained promotion from the Football Conference.

It proved to be the last season as a player for Stein who hung up his boots having scored over 150 goals in his career, most of them for Luton Town. The following season, Mal Donaghy did the same, ending on a high note with a friendly against Mexico in Miami in 1994.

Mick Harford, however, had a bit more playing left in him. He was curiously offloaded to Sunderland before the end of his first season at Stamford Bridge and four months later went to Coventry City where he played just one game. Given his proven track record as a goalscorer, it was strange why anyone would be keen to get rid of him so quickly - in fact so reliable was he that he even managed to get a goal in that one game at Highfield Road.

Harford's playing days ended at Wimbledon in 1998 where he had four good seasons, but it was here that he got his first taste of coaching under Joe Kinnear. His relationship with his former manager saw them both move to Luton Town (of all places) where they helped the club climb out of the old Third Division into Division 2 in 2001.

Stein was following a similar path, coaching Luton's reserve team in 2000, while Mal Donaghy became under-19 coach of Northern Ireland following brief spells as manager of Newry Town and coach of Cliftonville. Donaghy still holds this position with the Northern Ireland FA and continues to do great work developing their stars of tomorrow.

Stein became assistant manager to Mike Newell at Luton Town in 2004, and when Newell left in 2007, he became caretaker manager until Kevin Blackwell got the job permanently soon after. Brian Stein is now, as far as we know, 'in between jobs'.

Harford, meanwhile, had been sacked along with Joe Kinnear at Luton but returned as Director of Football and then First Team coach not long after. He was to work once again with Kinnear when he was manager of Nottingham Forest in 2004 and became caretaker manager when Kinnear was sacked only months after Harford's arrival. When Gary Megson got the job full time in 2005, Harford was forced to move on and this led to his first stint as a manager in his own right with Rotherham United.

His year-long run began well but a 17-match spell without a win soon put paid to his time there and he ended up as assistant manager at Colchester United before taking up the equivalent post at Queens Park Rangers in June 2007. When manager John Gregory was sacked in October last year, Harford's days again seemed numbered, but this time a return to Luton Town was on the cards as his former club appointed him their own manager in January 2008. Unfortunately since the start of his tenure there, Luton Town have failed to win a match and are currently 22nd of 24 teams in League One.

Strange how Stein and Harford have returned to Luton long after their playing careers. Perhaps we shouldn't rule out the same for Mal Donaghy some time in the future? Who knows, but that's the story of three of Luton Town's stars of 1988 and the long and winding road they've followed.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

All-New Visitor Map!

Hello friends...

Just a quick word to tell you about our brand-spanking-new Visitor Map that we now have up and running. It replaces the old one we created donkey's years ago which was rather time intensive in terms of keeping it up-to-date.

This one is fully automated and is looked after by All you do is add your (nick)name and location and the system does all the rest. Ingenious!

So why not click the link below and show us where you're visiting from? We like to know where our audience is, just in case we want to pop round to borrow a cup of sugar anytime. You know how it is...

Click here to add yourself to the SPAOTP Visitor Map

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #50

The boy's a bit special...
50 Players Judged To Be The Cult Heroes Of Numerous British Clubs, As Voted For By Viewers Of The BBC's 'Football Focus' Programme

1. Tony Adams (Arsenal)
2. John Aldridge (Oxford United and Tranmere Rovers)
3. Ivor Allchurch (Swansea City)
4. Joe Allon (Hartlepool United)
5. Peter Beardsley (Newcastle United)
6. Colin Bell (Manchester City)
7. George Berry (Stoke City)
8. George Best (Manchester United)
9. Luther Blissett (Watford)
10. Billy Bremner (Leeds United)
11. Tony Currie (Sheffield United)
12. Tom Finney (Preston North End)
13. Robbie Fowler (Liverpool)
14. Trevor Francis (Birmingham City)
15. Paul Gascoigne (Tottenham Hotspur)
16. Bryan Gunn (Norwich City)
17. Mick Harford (Luton Town)
18. Johnny Haynes (Fulham)
19. Ian Holloway (Bristol Rovers)
20. Terry Hurlock (Millwall)
21. Alan Knight (Portsmouth)
22. Henrik Larsson (Celtic)
23. Tommy Lawton (Notts County)
24. Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton)
25. Craig Levein (Cowdenbeath)
26. Nat Lofthouse (Bolton Wanderers)
27. Lomana LuaLua (Colchester United)
28. Roberto Martinez (Wigan Athletic)
29. Clive Mendonca (Charlton Athletic)
30. Stuart McCall (Bradford City)
31. Ally McCoist (Rangers)
32. Paul McGrath (Aston Villa)
33. Willie Miller (Aberdeen)
34. Bobby Moore (West Ham United)
35. Cyrille Regis (West Bromwich Albion)
36. Andy Ritchie (Oldham Athletic and Greenock Morton)
37. John Robertson (Heart of Midlothian)
38. Don Rogers (Swindon Town)
39. Gary Rowell (Sunderland)
40. Franck Sauzee (Hibernian)
41. Graeme Sharp (Dumbarton)
42. Bernie Slaven (Middlesbrough)
43. Neville Southall (Everton)
44. Igor Stimac (Derby County)
45. Jock Wallace (Berwich Rangers)
46. Peter Ward (Brighton & Hove Albion)
47. John Wark (Ipswich Town)
48. Charlie Williams (Doncaster United)
49. Ian Wright (Crystal Palace)
50. Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

World Cup 2010 Update (February 2007)

Time to switch on the FIFA radar once again as we search for all the latest action taking place around the globe in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

In this bulletin, we've got news from Asia and North & Central America so let's begin by saying that most of the continental sections are currently either enjoying a rest period or waiting to get going in earnest, thereby leaving just the two we've mentioned.

In South America, play has come to a temporary close with Paraguay leading the round-robin group. Games restart in June, so we'll quietly draw the curtains on them for a while. Similarly in Africa, qualifying matches resume in May, although they've not had much of a rest due to the African Cup of Nations which ended recently. Matches in Europe kick-off on August 20th and in the Oceania section, New Zealand will have to wait until June before they almost certainly seal their place in the play-off with the fifth-best team from Asia.

So now you know all that, let's begin with the latest news from North and Central America. Here, it's Round 1 and the way it works is that the weaker teams play each other in a bunch of two-legged games, the winners of which go through to the second stage where they'll meet one of the big boys like the USA, Mexico or Costa Rica.

In the most recent First Leg games that took place earlier this month, El Salvador grabbed the headlines by whipping their opponents, Anguilla, 12-0 at home. El Salvador, FIFA's highest ranked team out of those competing in this first stage, can already plan for their Stage 2 game against Panama in June, as can Antigua & Barbuda. They beat Aruba, the joint-lowest ranked team in the world, 3-0 away and should be set for a second stage match against Cuba.

Elsewhere, Belize had a good win over St.Kitts and Nevis (3-1) and there were commendable draws for Dominica against Barbados and the Cayman Islands against Bermuda - 1-1 in both cases. The second leg matches take place in a month's time and we'll update you on who did what and which of the big boys they'll be playing against in our next update.

Over to Asia now, and they're currently going through the motions in Round 3 of 5 where there's five groups of four teams of which the winners and runners-up go through to Round 4.

A fortnight ago, all twenty remaining teams played their first games and first out of the blocks were Australia who secured a convincing 3-0 over Qatar thanks to a series of first-half goals from Joshua Kennedy, Tim Cahill and Marco Bresciano.

They go top of Group 1 ahead of China and Iraq who drew 1-1, while in Group 2 Japan lead the way thanks to a 4-1 win over Thailand. Bahrain were the other winners in the group, beating Oman 1-0.

In Group 3, it was a good day for the Koreas as the team from the South beat Turkmenistan 4-0 while the team from the North enjoyed a 1-0 win over Jordan. Group 4 sees Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan predictably lead the way after the former beat Singapore 2-0 and the latter beat Lebanon 1-0. Finally in Group 5, the United Arab Emirates were the only winners as they beat Kuwait 1-0 while Iran and Syria played out a 1-1 draw.

The next round of games comes at the end of March and there are some interesting contests to keep an eye open for. In Group A, China play hosts to Australia, Group 3 will see a historic meeting of North and South Korea and in Group 4 Saudi Arabia travel to Uzbekistan.

Want to know how those games pan out, along with all the other qualifying action going on during March? Stick with us here at SPAOTP and we'll tell you all you need to know...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 7

Welcome back to Champions League 'You Bet' where, if you recall from a couple of months ago, we were desperately failing to generate some money for our chosen charity.

Yes, our only win since this fund-raising exercise began was in our very first week and since then our not-particularly-hard-earned winnings have been frittering away like Liverpool's chances of playing in Europe next season.

So now we're back again from our winter betting break and it's time to start making some money for Little League Football. To that end, we invite you to cast your peepers on the following three options, one of which we will be betting our £1 on come Wednesday...

Bet A
Celtic v Barcelona
Thierry Henry to score first
Potential winnings: £5.00

Bet B
Lyon v Manchester United
United to win 2-0
Potential winnings: £10.00

Bet C
Arsenal v Milan
Teams to draw 2-2
Potential winnings: £15.00

And now all you need to do is pick the option you think's most likely to happen and place your bet accordingly below. The one with the most votes at 7pm (GMT) on Wednesday night is the one we'll bet our £1 on. You need not part with any money of your own and your house is not at risk if you fail to keep up repayments on your mortgage.


As we've mentioned all too often before, all winnings go back into the kitty and when the Champions League Final takes place in May, we'll see how much we've got and send it off to Little League Football. If we've got any by then, that is.

Keep those fingers crossed, folks, and let's hope for a win again this Wednesday!

We've had a great response to this week's You Bet, so thanks to everyone that took part. After a close start, Bet B finally became our clear winner with 63% of the vote with Bet A coming in second with 29% and Bet C finishing last with just 8%.

All of which means we'll be keeping our fingers crossed for Man United to win 2-0 in Lyon, and if they don't, we'll be writing a strongly-worded letter to Sir Alex Ferguson. So there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 5th Round Proper

The Fourth Round of this season's FA Cup (sponsored by E.On) gave us an absolute corker of a match when our team, Havant and Waterlooville, met the might of Liverpool at Anfield. Heavily expected to be pulverised to within an inch of their lives, non-league Havant and Waterlooville took the fight to Rafa's men and were in the lead twice in the first half before eventually losing out 5-2 at the final whistle.

Havant and Waterlooville did us proud on the day and rightly earned plaudits from all quarters for the way they refused to be overshadowed and outclassed for much of that tie. Sadly though, we must bid them farewell as we progress to Round Five along our Road to Wembley and for the first time we give our support to a Premier League team for the first time. For the less observant amongst you, we today follow Liverpool as they play host to Championship side Barnsley at Anfield.

Now at this point we'd normally tell you stuff about our featured team that you didn't already know, i.e. some of the players in their squad, their season so far, their manager and so on, but we figure you already know a lot about The Reds, so let's look at their track record in the FA Cup over the last twenty seasons.

The first thing that strikes you is that Liverpool are a team that have had more success than most in the competition over the past two decades, particularly towards the beginning of that period. Between the 1987/88 and 1991/92 seasons, Liverpool won the trophy twice, were runners-up once and reached the semi-finals once. Liverpool were a team riding high back then, but decent Cup runs were to become less regular with each passing season after that.

1993 and 1994 saw The Reds exit at the first hurdle, losing out to lowly Bolton and a slightly-less-lowly Bristol City in each case before a return to the Final came around again in 1996. On that occasion, a late Eric Cantona goal put paid to Liverpool's chances signalling another return to numerous Third and Fourth Round runs before 2001 when the Anfield side tasted glory once again.

It was the first time since 1922 that the FA Cup Final had been played somewhere other than Wembley, but Liverpool didn't seem to mind as they took on Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Though the Final itself was largely forgettable - particularly the first half, Liverpool sprang into life after conceding a goal with 18 minutes left through Freddie Ljungberg. Michael Owen became the hero of the day when he popped up with two goals to give Liverpool their first FA Cup win since their 1992 win over Sunderland.

In typical fashion, this peak in their recent Cup history would precede a fall that lasted for four long seasons including a Third Round defeat to Burnley in 2005. They needn't have worried for The Reds returned again victorious in (ironically) the last Final to be played in Cardiff in 2006.

It was a classic, roundly regarded as one of the greatest Cup Finals ever. Liverpool faced West Ham who, themselves, had enjoyed a good season, finishing just six places below Liverpool who ended their Premier League campaign in third spot.

Much like Liverpool's previous Cup Final in 2001, they found themselves going behind but this time they conceded a goal early on and not just once, but twice. With half an hour of the game gone, Liverpool were 2-0 down, but Djibril Cisse was on hand to volley a goal back shortly after and when Steven Gerrard volleyed in an equaliser after 55 minutes, the Final was set for a tense ending.

Nine minutes on from Gerrard's effort, Paul Konchesky's floating cross caught out Reina and went in to give The Hammers the lead again but with seconds remaining Gerrard arrived once more to smash home another equaliser to finish normal time at 3-3.

Extra time came and went without much incident and penalties were called for. It was here that West Ham showed a lack of experience that Liverpool used to their advantage. Bobby Zamora and Konchesky missed with their efforts either side of a Teddy Sheringham goal, and with only Sami Hyppia having missed from the first three kicks for Liverpool it was left to John Arne Riise to score the decisive third goal before Reina saved from Anton Ferdinand.

The Reds were handed the FA Cup for the seventh time, thereby meaning only three clubs have won the trophy more than them - Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham. They look set to be a major player in the future of the competition for many years to come just as they have been for many years, but just as last season they're also highly susceptible to early exits and even defeats to lesser teams.

Will they overcome Barnsley today? We shall see...

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #49

Sorry, that shirt's not for you...
15 Withdrawn Squad Numbers In Tribute To Former Players

1. AC Milan's number 3 (Paolo Maldini)
2. AC Milan's number 6 (Franco Baresi)
3. América (Mexico)'s number 10 (Cuauhtémoc Blanco)
4. Inter's number 3 (Giacinto Facchetti)
5. Vasco Da Gama's number 11 (Romario)
6. New York Cosmos' number 10 (Pelé)
7. Legia Warsaw's number 10 (Kazimierz Deyna)
8. Brescia's number 10 (Roberto Baggio)
9. Ajax's number 14 (Johan Cruyff)
10. LA Galaxy's number 13 (Cobi Jones)
11. Napoli's number 10 (Diego Maradona)
12. Dynamo České Budějovice's number 8 (Karel Poborsky)
13. Roma's number 6 (Aldair)
14. Kispest and Honved's number 10 (Ferenc Puskas)
15. Lens and Lyon's number 17 and Manchester City's number 23 (Marc-Vivien Foe, posthumous)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

UEFA Cup Curiosities

As the 2007/08 UEFA Cup enters its first knockout round and we're left staring at the remaining 32 genuine contenders for the title, we thought it was a good time to look at some of the quirkier aspects of the competition from its 36 year history.

One city, one club
The UEFA Cup began life in the 1971/72 season and was brought in as a replacement for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which had been running since 1958. The old competition was based around the premise that any cities holding trade fairs could play against each other, but though that may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it had its limitations.

One curious rule the contest held aloft was that only one team could represent any given city, and that's why the Final of the first competition featured Barcelona playing a 'London XI'. If you don't want to know the score of that one, look away now:

(Barcelona beat London XI 8-2 on aggregate.)

When the UEFA Cup took over in 1971, the 'one club per city' rule remained, but not for long. In 1975, Everton complained that they'd been denied the chance to compete when they'd finished fourth the previous season in Division One, two places below Liverpool. The rule was scrapped, and Everton were able to take their place in the competition for the next few seasons as of right.

Open-door policy
The strange thing about the UEFA Cup is that it's become a refuge for practically any team to take part in. Once upon a time, it was open only to clubs finishing as runners-up in their own domestic leagues. Since then, however, the competition has welcomed the winners of domestic Cup competitions, teams failing to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League, qualifiers from the Intertoto Cup and even clubs that have done well in the UEFA Fair Play rankings.

Quite frankly, it's more difficult not to qualify for the UEFA Cup these days than it is to qualify for it, yet some teams have remarkably managed to achieve this ignominy and yes we are talking to you, Harry Redknapp...

Territorial advantage
The UEFA Cup has been subject to a distinct sense of dominance on the part of certain parts of Europe. Take England, for example. It produced at least one of the finalists for four of the first five competitions, and three of those went on to win the competition.

In broader terms, clubs from northern Europe dominated the UEFA Cup for the greater part of its early history. In fact between its inauguration in 1972 and 1985, only Juventus and Real Madrid managed to wrestle the trophy from its northern counterparts.

Over the last ten years, of course, teams from Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy have been far more successful with only CSKA Moscow in 2005, Feyenoord in 2002 and Liverpool in 2001 breaking the current trend.

Where minnows fear to tread
The funny thing about the UEFA Cup Final is that it's attracted its fair share of lesser-known teams down the years, all of which have disappeared into history as quickly they arrived. In 1975, there was FC Twente representing the Netherlands as they faced (and were eventually beaten by) Borussia Mönchengladbach. Then in 1978 there was French side Bastia who reached the Final that year... and have promptly done nothing of any note since. They played PSV who themselves were still very much in the ascendancy prior to their European Cup win a decade later.

In 1981, Ipswich Town were pitted against AZ of the Netherlands (what is it about Dutch teams in this competition?) in another two-legged Final where both teams arrived with no prior reputation preceding them.

The ultimate in small teams must have been in the 1985 Final, however, as the mighty Real Madrid took on the equally mighty... Videoton. That's Videoton, folks - a team from Székesfehérvár in Hungary that were, for a long time, named after its sponsors, an electrical goods manufacturer.

And were they any good? Well they certainly ended Manchester United's chances that season in the quarter-finals and even managed to win the away leg of the Final at the Bernabeu. Had they not lost by a greater margin at home, they'd have lifted the trophy.

All of which goes to prove that the older the UEFA Cup gets, the quirkier it becomes. On that basis, we're backing Bolton Wanderers to win this year's competition, and why not - they've only got Atletico Madrid to get past first, after all...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


See that 'Links' section on the right, there?

Scroll down a bit... a bit more.... that's it, that one. Very long, isn't it? Not that that's a bad thing, you understand. We love telling you about the many blogs and websites out there on the web that we like the most, but the thing is there's only so much space we can give to them before our 'Links' section starts looking like the closing credits from Ben Hur.

That's why we've set up this page where we can provide you with an extended array of places on the internet that we'd like you to check out and support. You can still access our original set of links on the right, but by clicking on 'More Links' at the bottom of the list, you can reach this page and see who else we'd like you to know about.

So without further ado, let's get on with the business of linking. That's what we're here for, after all...

Football, the universe and all points in between...

Talk Football
Brilliant site covering numerous aspects of football from tactics and skills to club histories

The Nameless Thing
Stuff about Football and other meaningful things in life, courtesy of writer Ian Hough
Watch video clips of the very latest goals across Europe on this great new site

Keep up-to-date with this site all about skiing and snowboarding - great graphics, too!

Monday, February 11, 2008

African Cup of Nations: The Final Round-up

The 2008 African Cup of Nations came to a thrilling end last night and we now know who the champions are, but we have work to do here by giving you a recap on what happened in the two semi-finals plus that all-important Final.

Semi Finals

Ghana v Cameroon
As far as the hosts were concerned, this was the big one. A do-or-die clash with a Cameroon side whose legend preceded them would test Ghana to the limits, yet Cameroon had proved they were entirely beatable after a couple of performances in which they'd failed to convince the neutrals.

The two sides were very evenly matched when they faced each other last Thursday and neither made the best of starts as some poor passing put paid to any decent attacks in the first half. That said, Ghana looked the more threatening and were it not for a stronger midfield they could have a grabbed a goal or two.

Cameroon, however, were not outplayed and even managed to hit the Ghanaian crossbar in the 21st minute through an Achille Emana shot. But it was the home team that seemed to be in the ascendancy overall with several chances going unconverted near the hour mark, and as has happened with other teams in this competition, they were made to pay for their sloppyness.

On 71 minutes, Alain Nkong scored what turned out to be the winner when a three-man counter-attack caught the Ghanaian defence napping. It still wasn't the end of the game for the Black Stars, though, and Junior Agogo had two more great chances to score before the game was up, but again they failed to result in a goal.

And so it was that Cameroon scraped through to victory while the plucky Ghanaians were left ejected from their own tournament. They'd done well to get as far as they could, although some will say they could or should have reached the Final. Instead, that honour fell to a Cameroon side that looked like they were gradually running out of steam. Would the Final come too late for them?

Ivory Coast v Egypt
If anyone was in any doubt that the remaining four teams in the tournament didn't deserve to be there, this second semi-final proved them wrong. Once again, two very strong teams went into battle for the right to play Cameroon in Sunday's Final, only this encounter would have more goals to offer the casual observer.

Egypt changed tack when pitted up against Ivory Coast. They figured that The Elephants would need to be out-muscled if victory was to be theirs, so a change was adopted and the results were quickly forthcoming. After an early effort from Didier Drogba was saved, Ahmed Fathi sneaked a goal in from a corner that hadn't been cleared at the other end to make it 1-0 to Egypt.

A vigorous exchange of shots ensued over the next half an hour and Ivory Coast were dealt a cruel blow when goalkeeper Boubacar Barry had to be replaced with the inexperienced Stephan Loboue due to injury just before half time. Sensing a need to regroup, Ivory Coast threw everything into a late attack but two chances in quick succession were brilliantly saved by Essam Al-Hadari who therein staked his claim as one of the tournament's best goalkeepers.

More of the same happened early in the second half when Al-Hadari made another great save from Didier Drogba and then from a Arthur Boka free-kick.

Frustrated at not finding the net, Ivory Coast allowed Egypt to score a second through Amr Zaki after 62 minutes, but this only prompted The Elephants to come back stronger when Kader Keita scored with a screamer from 25 yards out to make it 2-1 only seconds later.

Ivory Coast weren't back in the game for long, though, as Zaki made it 3-1 after 67 minutes, and with Drogba's side throwing everything into attack in the search for goals, it came as no surprise when Egypt finished off a comprehensive victory in stoppage time thanks to Mohamed Aboutrika. The final score was 4-1 to Egypt and on this form, few would bet against them retaining the trophy they won in 2006, but that would all depend on how Cameroon performed in the Final.

Egypt v Cameroon
If the Egyptians were ready for the physical might of Ivory Coast in the semis, they'd have more of the same to deal with in the Final from Cameroon, along with a decidedly defensive approach that would make them difficult to break down.

In the first half, both teams furtively tried their luck with a series of shots designed to see how awake the opposition were but no goals were forthcoming. It wasn't until the second half that either side upped the ante, and then it was Cameroon who played a quicker, more assertive style of play which only forced Egypt onto the attack themselves.

Amr Zaki and Abd-Rabou both went close with decent shots that were well matched with great saves from Cameroon goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, but the cracks were starting to show when Abd-Rabou hit the post just after an hour of play. It was a sign of things to come, and when Rigobert Song failed to clear the ball from defence with 13 minutes remaining, Mohamed Zidan stole the ball and gave it to a grateful Mohamed Aboutrika who put the ball in the net and won the game for Egypt.

Song himself had a chance to equalise in stoppage time but his header went well over the bar, so victory went to The Pharoahs 1-0 who can now claim to have won the African Cup of Nations a record six times.

It was a suitably exciting end to a competition which had been great to watch and had produced a record 99 goals - more than any other. All the colour and passion we'd been expecting had been there over the last three weeks and no-one could have been disappointed by what they'd seen.

Egypt were crowned worthy winners last night, but the tournament itself had been a great success too. Well done to Ghana and indeed all the competing teams and let's hope Egypt get the chance to represent Africa at the next World Cup as successfully as they had done here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A sign of kits to come?

It has recently come to our attention that Adidas, that bastion of sports apparel for so many years, has... well... how can we put it... adopted a corporate policy of giving free hallucinogenics to all its employees.

If you don't believe us, take a look at this shirt currently being worn by French rugby union club Stade Francaise...

It is, we think you'll agree 'different'. And to build on such colourful foundations, Stade Francaise have also adopted this as their 'Third' shirt:

Now before you go and book up that eye test you've been putting off for the last three years, we'd like to point out that Stade Francaise do have a second shirt amongst their repertoire as well, but it's pink and is more conventionally styled than the two above, so we won't concern ourselves with that for now.

So the question remains, what do you think of the above? Whether you like them or not, we happen to think it's going to be the next big thing in football shirt design too. Let's face it, many teams have jumped at the chance to adopt all kinds of new designs in the past, and this could be the leap forward that some clubs have been looking for to get ahead of the rest of the crowd fashion-wise.

It's a bold step by Adidas and one which, we assume, they should be congratulated on for coming up with something so incredibly alternative. The only thing we're not sure about is the effect a rugby player bearing the physique and body weight of a disused coal bunker wearing brown and pink would have on an innocent spectator. We're sure they've already tested that under scientific conditions, though...

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #48

You're not exactly Peter Crouch, are you?
The 9 Shortest Players In The Premier League

1. Jermaine Defoe (Portsmouth) - 1.69 metres
2. Roy O'Donovan (Sunderland) - 1.69 metres
3. Paul Scholes (Man. United) - 1.68 metres
4. Yasser Hussein (Man. City) - 1.68 metres
5. Steed Malbranque (Tottenham) - 1.68 metres
6. Ross Wallace (Sunderland) - 1.67 metres
7. Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea) - 1.66 metres
8. Emiliano Insua (Liverpool) - 1.65 metres
9. Aaron Lennon (Tottenham) - 1.65 metres

Statistics courtesy of

Thursday, February 07, 2008

African Cup of Nations: Round-up #4

We're entering the final straight in the African Cup of Nations 2008, and by the end of today we'll know who's going to be playing in Sunday's final, but before all of that, let's recap on the quarter-finals that took place on Sunday and Monday.

Ghana v Nigeria
The hosts entered the knock-out phase on the crest of a wave having finished top of Group A in Round 1 with a maximum nine points in the bag. They faced a Nigeria side that left it very late to secure their place and were curiously only a shadow of the reputation that preceded them.

The meeting between the two turned out to be rather scrappy and somewhat physical, but Ghana had the upper hand for most of the first half and looked slightly more threatening than their opponents. It was a little surprising, then, when Nigeria grabbed the lead just after the half-hour mark as Yakubu converted a penalty, but their lead was to last little more than 10 minutes.

On the stroke of half time, Chelsea's Michael Essien headed in an equaliser via the woodwork and Ghana were back on level terms for the second 45 minutes. Little were they to know they'd have to endure some pressure after the break as Nigeria's Uche almost scored with a lob from long distance and Ghana's captain John Mensah got himself sent off for bringing down Osaze Odemwingie when he had a clear run on goal.

Despite having a numerical advantage, Nigeria couldn't make it pay whereas Ghana bided their time and reorganised to greater effect. Their reward came seven minutes from the end when Muntari crossed the ball to Nottingham Forest's Junior Agogo who couldn't miss from four yards out. With no reply in the time remaining, Ghana ran out 2-1 winners and the crowd, as they say, went wild. The home side had made it to the semi-finals and from there, you feel, anything could happen.

Ivory Coast v Guinea
Chances are, if you had to plump for one team to win this match, you'd have gone for Didier Drogba's. The Elephants of the Ivory Coast had been clinical in their first round campaign, bulldozing their way through Nigeria, Mali and Benin, scoring eight goals and conceding just one. Yet in Guinea their opponents were the stereotypical dark horses that could give Drogba's side a run for their money, as Morocco found out to their cost.

Sadly for Guinea, they were missing suspended captain Pascal Feindouno and injured defender Bobo Balde, thereby leaving a side that was lacking age and experience against such dominant opponents. For all that, though, they managed to restrict Ivory Coast to just one goal in the first seventy minutes, scored by Keita shortly before the half-hour mark.

Guinea held the ship steady and even had a couple of chances to score themselves in the ensuing period, but Drogba made the breakthrough well into the second half with a well-taken goal following a one-two with Boka. That goal opened the floodgates as the increasing nervousness of the Ivory Coast team dissipated instantly. Three minutes later, Kalou rounded the keeper to make it 3-0 and in the 81st minute completed a great team goal by converting a cross to score his team's fourth. Substitute Kone ended the rout with a great fifth from long distance with four minutes remaining and that was the end of Guinea's involvement in this competition.

They'd fought well, if without the spark needed to at least get a goal, but frankly most teams would have struggled to deal with the Ivory Coast on the basis of their second half form. Whoever the winner would be of the quarter-final between Egypt and Angola would no doubt be more than well aware of that.

Egypt v Angola
Here were two sides that have played some of the best football in this tournament so far, and in Manucho, Angola had one of the most exciting prospects for the future who could swing the game for them.

The game started with both teams reluctant to commit too much to attacking play with few exchanges of note, but that all changed when Macanga handled the ball in the penalty area following a free kick, leading Abd Rabou to score his fourth goal of the tournament from the spot.

It prompted another moment of brilliance from Manucho. As we've already mentioned, he's already been snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson, and it isn't difficult to see why on the basis of the 25-yard belter he unleashed four minutes after the penalty. Angola were back on level terms at 1-1 and deservedly so.

Manucho's side were now on a roll and looking the more dangerous side but they shot themselves in the foot with a moment of absent-mindedness that came from a harmless cross in the 38th minute. The ball bypassed everybody, the Angolan defence failed to clear it but it finally fell to oncoming Zaki who chested the ball in to give Egypt a 2-1 lead.

Into the second half, both teams approached the game with renewed vigour and Manucho could have wrapped the game up for Angola if he'd made the most of a few decent chances that came his way. As the game progressed ever onwards, both teams looked evenly matched as the two keepers pulled off excellent saves, but Egypt's defence remained strong to the end.

Angola were left frustrated not to have found the equaliser they badly needed as reigning champions Egypt won the match 2-1. It was a shame that either of these two teams had to face elimination from the tournament, but for fans of the Premier League, there was at least the tantalising prospect of seeing more of Manucho in the future long after this contest had finished.

Tunisia v Cameroon
This match became the first to go to extra time in the 2008 African Cup of Nations as Cameroon struggled to finish off a Tunisian side that wouldn't accept defeat easily.

Stephane Mbia headed the Indomitable Lions in front with 19 minutes on the clock and soon after Chelsea's Geremi made it two with a brilliantly taken free kick from nearly thirty yards out. But the Tunisians would not be outdone as Chaouki Ben Saada scored with a similar effort after 35 minutes.

The second half saw the close-fought battle continue with Tunisia having the best of the chances, and this led inevitability to an equaliser for the Carthage Eagles nine minutes from time when Yassine Chikhaoui struck the ball firmly into the back of the net from close range.

Within two minutes of the restart, Cameroon found themselves back in front. A long throw-in from Geremi found its way to Mbia who turned and shot on the edge of the area to get his second of the game. As the remainder of the game continued, both teams looked tired and things got scrappy with a number of fouls punctuating the play. It worked against the plucky Tunisians and as full time arrived, the equaliser they strived for remained out of reach.

So Cameroon finished the game 3-2 winners and they were through to a semi-final against the hosts. If nothing else, it taught them a lesson that when you have the game by the scruff of the neck, you need to get the job done right through to the end, but maybe it'll be Ghana that suffer by that lesson learned. Tonight we'll see if that's the case as the semis get underway…

Semi Finals
Ghana v Cameroon (5pm GMT)
Ivory Coast v Egypt (8.30pm GMT)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Vote! Vote! Vote!

What a terrible thing vanity is. Just when you think you're not bothered by trinkets and gold, someone offers you a sparkling gem and it consumes your very existence.

That's the situation we found ourselves in when a nice man at contacted us yesterday to say that Some People Are On The Pitch had been nominated for three of its Readers Choice awards.

Apparently we've been shortlisted in the following categories:

- Best Overall Blog
- Best Design
- Best Blog Name

...which made us feel suitably self-satisfied and not a little big-headed, if we're honest. And now of course we wait and see if we actually win any of these awards, but therein we have a problem.

You see to win an award, we need to receive as many votes as possible from good, honest, kind people like yourself who selflessly head over to with no other motive than to make us feel loved and wanted.

So if you feel the need to, put a metaphorical tick in the box for Some People Are On The Pitch on any of the above voting pages and tell the world that you're part of something special - a blogsite that loves you as much as you love it.

Thank you to each and every one of you from the very heart of our bottom.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Finger Flickin' Fun!

It's our absolute delight to bring you another article written by one of you, our wonderful audience. It comes from TheGreatDandini who recently left us a comment on our 'Obscure Kits From British Football History #5' post where he made reference to the great and much overlooked pastime of Subbuteo.

Well, we appear to have sparked off a train of thought within TheGreatDandini, the result of which is a wonderful look back at the more memorable aspects of that fabulous finger-flicking game of days gone by. Read and enjoy...

1 - Floodlights
If you where lucky enough like me to be able to afford the various stands, then the floodlights really made the whole thing real. With a big chunky black base for the 4 Lithium batteries you needed, the white plastic mast and the 4×4 bank of lights in their solid black plastic casing, they really looked the part. Unfortunately, the light they emitted wouldn’t have been enough to cover a stamp, let alone an entire pitch. Even with all four of them on you could just about make out the front three rows of the stand and the penalty spot. After that it was a no-mans land. The romance of the Wednesday evening European Cup ties between Waterschei and Lech Poznan where out, just like the floodlights after about 10 minutes of use.

2 - The Half Empty Stadiums
Together with the floodlights and the TV tower (complete with John Motson in sheepskin coat), the only other thing that really made the big match atmosphere come alive was a stadium crammed with supporters. You could buy these either pre-painted or blank but having already spunked all your money on the batteries to keep the floodlights going, you could only afford the unpainted figures and perhaps two tins of Umbrol paint. In my case, this was blue and green. Painting them was a right nightmare and with only the two colours, variation was somewhat thin on the ground. The other problem was that you needed so f*****g many of them to fill the stadium. I once worked out that a fully complete Subbuteo stadium would seat over 2,500 people! This always meant that your stadium resembled a Queens Park reserve game on a rainy Wednesday in November at Hampden rather than that big Old Firm derby you had in mind. Big Match atmosphere? Hardly.

3 - The Crocked Teams
There was always the one team you had that more resembled a First World War field hospital rather than a top flight football team. There was your headless goalkeeper, your fullback with one arm missing and 'Stubby', who was just a base with two feet and perhaps only his ankles. In my case this was always Glasgow Rangers, a team I despised so much that whenever life was getting me down or Rangers gubbed Aberdeen again, I’d get the box down from the loft and snap off Peter McCloys arm, or take the head off Derek Johnstone.

4 - The Sloping Pitch
We had a deep shag carpet up in our loft so this required a solid base on which to put the pitch. The pitch was generally a green cloth with the various lines drawn on it. This was the cheaper option than the astroturf which cost a fortune, and not really much use unless you always played as Luton. As well as that, after about two months, the pitch would resemble the Turin Shroud, with the lines all faded and broken. The good thing was that you could just get the Tipex out and do your groundsman Willy routine. My pitch was stuck onto a piece of plywood which had an uphill slope at the far left corner that made Easter Road look like a snooker table. It was further attached to the board by means of several strategically placed drawing pins that would warp the lines in such a way that your eighteen-yard area might be anywhere from twelve to twenty-five yards out, depending on the way the drawing pins where placed. Anyway, getting a corner or a throw-in on that side of the pitch was practically impossible. You’d flick the ball there, only for it to roll back towards the penalty spot. Or worse, into the…

5 - Bouncy Nets
Subbuteo had one two types of goal. One was more of a hockey goal than anything else, the other was your traditional goal-stanchion-net affair. The problem with this was that the net was generally so tight on the goal that it wasn’t so much an onion-sack as a trampoline. Any reasonably hard shot wouldn’t nestle in the far corner, but bounce out back towards the half-way line. Picture the scene. Man Utd v Man City in front of 40 green and blue spectators in your splendid Subbuteo stadium. With five minutes to go and the score at 7-6, you’re after flicking Stubby into a scoring position in front of the United goal. With a deft flick of the forefinger the ball screams towards the goal with only the one-armed keeper to beat. It flies past him into the back of the net and… springs straight back out again towards the half way line, freshly Tipex-ed before the game. 'Goal' you shout. 'Post' shouts your mate. An argument ensues at the end of which your ex-friend goes home in a huff and you go upstairs and another Rangers player loses a limb.

6 - What Team Is That?
Back in the old days, before the dismantling of the trade unions, the factory floor and militant socialism, Subbuteo had a factory somewhere in England where rows upon rows of women would sit and paint the teams. At least that’s what I imagined, because even today I don’t think you could invent a machine that could accurately and consistently do you a Celtic top on a Subbuteo figure. So if you’ve just got a bunch of Manchester United or Rangers or Leeds to do, you’re grand. Anything a little bit more intricate however and you’d soon see which ones where done towards the end of the shift. You know the ones. Teams with stripes or hoops. Celtic, Arsenal, West Ham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and the Aberdeen strip of the late 70’s where all pretty tricky to do and generally looked a right state. Buying a new team wasn’t so much a thrill as playing Russian Roulette. Ok, the one player you’d see through the little window always looked top notch, but when you got home and opened the rest of the box, the disappointment was crushing. Many of my Arsenal v Aston Villa (or was it West Ham, it was hard to tell) games where played under floodlights to avoid embarrassment.

7 - Subbuteo Crapperies
Subbuteo came with many little add-ons to make it all the more realistic. At one time, I had:

- a Dugout
- a TV tower (including camera team and John Motson figure)
- a police dog team (all green and blue, including the dog)
- a St Johns ambulance crew (again, green and…)
- a scoreboard

The best ones though, where the corner kick taker and the throw-in taker. The corner kick taker was basically a huge figure somewhat resembling Nat Lofthouse in 1930’s shorts, with a pin through his hips on which his right leg could swivel. The idea was that you’d place the ball in front of him, pull his right leg back and then launch the ball into the six-yard area. The idea was good, the reality somewhat different. Like the throw-in taker (another giant, this one on a spring), the ball would generally end up in the stands or under the bed. Completely useless, just like the other add-ons that just got in the way during the course of the game and which would eventually end up under the bed, or in the hoover.

Our thanks go to TheGreatDandini for that great article, and it you want to read more just like it, go check out You won't be disapointed! And before we go, an additional reminder that you too could have your articles published here. If you've got something you want to write about (on the subject of football, preferably), just drop us a line to write4us [at] spaotp [dot] com. We await your correspondence!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obscure Kits From British Football History #5

Crystal Palace (home)
1971/1972 season

When it comes to football kits, there are only so many different designs you can create which are simple, distinguished and can last the test of time. Whoever it was that decided black and white stripes were a winning combination must still be receiving royalties from Juventus, Newcastle United, Botafogo and many other clubs to this day.

Similarly, that pairing up of green and white hoops must have put a very large tick in the box for the people running Celtic and Sporting Lisbon when they were trying to work out what their team should wear.

As for Ajax, they must be have one of the most exclusive niches of all, thanks to that very individualistic broad red stripe running down the middle of their clean white shirts.

We can only guess it was this last example that prompted the chairman of Crystal Palace to go for something similar in the early 1970's when he opted to change the team's strip, but a big red stripe was too obvious. What they needed was something that nodded noticeably in that direction yet had a degree of distinction that would make the design all their own.

And so it was that in the 1971/72 season, Crystal Palace FC unleashed the following kit onto an unsuspecting world:

Yes, witness one and all the Double Stripe of Crystal Palace, replete in claret and blue.

Now at this point, the younger folk amongst you may be starting to make comparisons with the kit Crystal Palace wore on and off from 1976 onwards - you know, the one with the red and blue diagonal sash on a white background.

The thing to note here, though, is that while these days we're all used to seeing Palace wearing red and blue the whole time, back then their kit sported decidedly Burnleyesque hues.

So this was something of a radical departure from either claret and blue shirts or plain white ones as had been worn before it. This was a bold move and one which perhaps epitomised a brave new identity for the team and one which would would spark a change of fortunes for Crystal Palace.

It was. Call it coincidence if you will, but the introduction of the double-stripe initiated a gradual decline for the club which would see them drop from the First Division to the Third in the space of three seasons. As if to admit the new styling had had a derogatory effect on them, Crystal Palace altered their kit slightly for 1972/73, separating the claret and blue stripes with a thin white one.

It had no effect. Palace languished in the Second and Third Divisions until 1980 when Terry Venables' managerial expertise put them back where they were a decade earlier, but by then the claret and blue had gone, as had that distinctive two-stripe design.

It's interesting to note that this jinx of a design has never been reintroduced by the club since, although it was chosen by the fans as the basis for a special kit to be worn in celebration of Palace's centenary in 2005. In the two games it appeared in, both of them ended as 2-0 wins for Crystal Palace.

Maybe they were a bit harsh to abandon that design after all...

Friday, February 01, 2008

African Cup of Nations: Round-up #3

It's back to our African Cup of Nations update service now as we tell you how each of the sixteen competing nations faired in their last group games this week.

This was the critical stage of the tournament for many teams as a win or loss could determine whether they'd stay on for the knockout stages or catch a flight home to watch the knockout stages on TV. Here's what happened…

Group A
As you may remember from our last round-up, Morocco were hanging on grimly for the second qualification spot in the group but had to at least draw against Ghana in their last game to secure it. Ghana had already qualified, but that was no guarantee that they'd treat the Moroccans lightly.

Guinea, however, had the same sort of predicament but they faced lowly Namibia in their quest to go through. The smart money was on Guinea, but who would prevail?

In the end, Ghana proved no match for Morocco who lacked the quality or even desire to remain in the contest. A 2-0 win for the Ghanaians, including goals by Chelsea's Michael Essien and Portsmouth's Sulley Muntari, meant they finished the first round at the top of Group A with a maximum nine points.

All Guinea had to do was get a draw against a Namibia side that had fought valiantly up to that point but were yet move off the bottom of the table. Guinea dominated Monday's game, launching wave after wave of attacks on the Namibian goal, but neither team could find the net until the 62nd minute when Souleymane Youla put Guinea 1-0 up.

Namibia looked unlikely to find an answer to that, but Guinea settled into their comfort zone a little too much for their own good and allowed Brian Brendell to take on the opposition defence and score a fine individual goal with just nine minutes remaining. It proved to be the decisive equaliser for Namibia and the last goal of the game.

Guinea had held on for the draw they needed and leap-frogged Morocco into second place in the group. Morocco and Namibia finished third and fourth respectively with the former continuing their recent downward spiral into mediocrity.

Group B
If any team had to win their last match, it was Nigeria. They found themselves in third place of Group B after a couple of miserable performances that brought them just one point. Failing to reach the knock-out stages was inconceivable, unlikely, even, and standing in their way was plucky Benin.

Victory over The Squirrels would ensure Nigeria had done their share of the deal, but they'd also be hoping that second-placed Mali would be beaten by group leaders, Ivory Coast. Without that, Nigeria would be doomed to failure.

They needn't have worried. Benin struggled to contain Nigeria yet amazingly held on for almost an hour before Chelsea's John Obi Mikel headed the Super Eagles into a 1-0 lead. It gave Nigeria the confidence to play a far more composed style of football and it stood them in good stead all the way through to the 86th minute when Yakubu calmly put the ball past Benin goalkeeper Amoussou to wrap the game up at 2-0.

It was to be Nigeria's day. In the other Group B game in Accra, Ivory Coast did anything but rest on their laurels despite knowing they'd already qualified for the quarter-finals. Against a Mali side that would have settled for a draw, The Elephants were professional to the last as they snuffed out any hopes of their opponents doing just that.

Didier Drogba finally sprang into life in this tournament by scoring the opening goal on 9 minutes before Zoro (standing in for the injured Kolo Toure) added another early in the second half after many a missed effort from his teammates. By this stage, Mali's only hope of scoring goals, Fredi Kanoute, had been substituted but Dramane Traore almost scored when his header came back off the Ivory Coast bar.

With news coming through of Nigeria's lead against Benin, Mali had to go on the attack to find goals fast, but it only succeeded in providing Drogba's side with an open defence to penetrate for a third goal which was scored by Sanogo. Mali had lost their chance and were out of the competition, their place taken by a Nigeria side that had left it incredibly late to show willing. Though they may be through to the quarter finals, I'm still not convinced by their uninspiring performances.

Group C
Cameroon still had work to do on Wednesday. They were in direct competition with Zambia for the second qualifying spot behind Egypt who were already through, but Zambia had to play the Egyptians and ideally win if they were to deny Cameroon.

Zambia's start to their match couldn't have been worse. Within 14 minutes, Amr Zaki had put Egypt 1-0 up and the Zambians could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop. Admirably enough, they didn't - in fact they turned on their heals and showed the Egyptians they'd have a fight on their hands.

Egypt opted to deny Zambia the space to play the game the way they wanted and played a counter-attacking style of their own that should have brought many goals. Sadly for them, their attacks proved largely ineffective and Zambia were glad for that ineptness when with two minutes of the whole game left, captain Katongo skilfully put the ball into the net to equalise. Would the draw be enough? Cameroon had the answer.

In Sudan, Cameroon's opponents were ill-equipped and lacking the experience to deal with a team full of star players, so it was no surprise when the Indomitable Lions came out of the traps first. A 1-0 lead came about in the 27th minute when Samuel Eto'o scored from a penalty and in so doing claimed the all-time record as the highest scorer in the African Cup of Nations.

Six minutes later, an own goal from Ali Elkhidir put Cameroon 2-0 up and from then on there was no going back. Sudan had little to offer in return except for the occasional isolated and dangerous attack, so when Eto'o picked up his second of the game and Cameroon's third in stoppage time, their was no doubt they were through to the quarter finals. The game ended 3-0 and that meant Zambia were out, finishing in third place in the group, two points behind Cameroon.

Group D
Finally a group that almost didn't need to play its last two games, such was the way its teams were progressing. Going into yesterday's showdown, Tunisia and Angola were easily looking the more accomplished of the four teams while Senegal had been below-par and South Africa were predictably poor. As it turned out, Tunisia and Angola would play each other knowing a draw would suit both sides, while Senegal and South Africa would have to fight tooth and nail for even the merest hint of a chance to qualify from the group.

Without wishing to deny you the fine detail from both games, Tunisia and Angola did settle for a draw (and a goalless one at that) while Senegal and South Africa cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw.

It means Angola reach the quarter finals for the first time ever and deservedly so after playing some good attacking football while Tunisia looked capable and dangerous in their three games. For South Africa, one can only begin to wonder what sort of transformation they'll need to undertake after many years of steady decline if they're to avoid bombing out of their own World Cup Finals at the first hurdle in two years' time.

And that was the First Round, folks. We've seen some great goals scored already and have a better idea of who might lift the trophy in just over a week. Before that though, we must consider the quarter-final line-up, and here it is:

February 3 2008
Ghana v Nigeria (Accra)
Ivory Coast v Guinea (Sekondi)

February 4 2008
Tunisia v Cameroon (Tamale)
Egypt v Angola (Kumasi)

Join us for a round-up of the action from those four games very soon.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #47

Le jeu de la boule ronde
21 Ways To Say 'Football' In Different Parts Of The World

1. Futboll (Albania)
2. Futebol (Brazil)
3. Nogomet (Croatia)
4. Kopaná (Czech Republic)
5. Fodbold (Denmark)
6. Jalkapallo (Finland)
7. ფეხბურთი (Georgia)
8. ποδόσφαιρο (Greece)
9. Knattspyrna (Iceland)
10. Calcio (Italy)
11. Sakkā (Japan)
12. Voetbal (Netherlands)
13. Fotball (Norway)
14. Piłka nożna (Poland)
15. Fotbal (Romania)
16. футбол (Russia)
17. Kurat al Qadam (Saudi Arabia)
18. Fútbol (Spain)
19. Fotboll (Sweden)
20. ฟุตบอล (Thailand)
21. đá banh (Vietnam)


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