Monday, March 31, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 9

So here we are in the Last Eight stage of the Champions League with four English teams remaining. We could talk 'til forever about the whys and wherefores of that particular situation, but we have other fish to fry - namely how we're going to salvage a nice little sum of money for our chosen charity, Little League Football.

In case you're joining us late, SPAOTP has a challenge running throughout this season's Champions League whereby a £1 bet is being put on an outcome of your choice. Any winnings we recover go back into the kitty and whatever we win at the end of the competition goes off to Little League Football as they attempt to develop football for children throughout the UK who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Anyway, the thing is our kitty is now running a little low having seen £1 stake after £1 stake leave our tight clutches, but all is not lost for this week we have another selection of bets for you to peruse. Take a look at these three options and as ever choose the one you think is most likely to happen...

Bet A
Arsenal v Liverpool
Fernando Torres to score first
Potential winnings: £6.00

Bet B
Fenerbahce v Chelsea
Frank Lampard to score first
Potential winnings: £9.00

Bet C
Fenerbahce v Chelsea
Fenerbahce to be leading at half-time and the match to end as a draw
Potential winnings: £15.00

VOTING FOR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 'YOU BET' WEEK 9 HAS NOW CLOSED.
With 47% of your votes, this week's winning option was Bet A - Fernando Torres to score first in the match between Arsenal and Liverpool. Thanks very much for taking part in 'You Bet' this week - 'You Bet' will return in a fortnight...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The MLS Cometh...

So here's the situation. Today marks the start of the 2008 MLS season over in the US and having caught one or two small and isolated clips of the action on TV in previous years, I figured that it'd be good to follow a season from start to finish if I got the chance. With the new season being about to start, you therefore find me stepping up to the plate to begin my initiation into a largely unknown world for me. If you’re in the same position, feel free to join me on the road to the MLS Cup 2008.

Format
So where to begin? Well first of all, let's assess how the 2008 MLS season will operate. Fundamentally, there are fourteen teams playing in two conferences - Eastern and Western. All teams play every other team (regardless of conference) at least twice, if not three times (depending on how the fixture computer churns the fixtures out).

The Conferences look as follows:

Eastern
Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew
DC United
Kansas City Wizards
New York Red Bull
New England Revolution
Toronto FC

Western
Chivas USA
Colorado Rapids
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquake

Now at this stage you might find it useful to pick a team to support throughout the season as I will be. You don't actually have to select the team you want right now, but now you know the team names and once you're armed with the information to follow, you should be able to make a selection of your own choice.

History
So who have been the most successful teams from the short history of the MLS? Well Washington's DC United were the team to beat in three of the first four years of its existence, winning the end-of-season MLS Cup Final in 1996, 1997 and 1999 before winning a record fourth title in 2004.

Since then, several teams have managed to pick up dual wins in the competition: San Jose Earthquakes won twice in 2001 and 2003, Los Angeles Galaxy won in 2002 and 2005 and more recently Houston Dynamo picked up the titles in 2006 and 2007. Only Chicago Fire in 1998 and Kansas City Wizards in 2000 have managed to add their names to the list in the last twelve years.

Star names
And who should we know about by way of star names in each of the teams? Well the name Cuauhtémoc Blanco is undoubtedly the stand-out of Chicago Fire. He's a distinguished member of the Mexican national team and a regular goal-scoring midfielder who joined Fire in 2007. He's their captain and without doubt the main focus of the team, a bit like Jaime Moreno of DC United. He's a Bolivian international forward who's so far scored 41 goals in 109 appearances for United.

Elsewhere, there's Taylor Twellman of New England Revolution who's fast gaining a reputation as a prolific striker capable of helping his side find a bit of glory now and then. In the Red Bull New York team there's a couple of eyecatchers in the shape of Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna. Angel transferred from Aston Villa in 2007 and has maintained a reputation as a regular scorer with New York while Reyna is the ageing former US international who these days brings some much-needed experience to the line-up.

Dwayne De Rosario is an attacking midfielder for reigning champions Houston Dynamo that can provide a useful supply of goals and is a former MLS Cup MVP while in the LA Galaxy team, one name stands out above all else - the one and only David Beckham. There's very little that needs to be said about the man who recently notched up his 100th England cap, but to suggest he's the only decent player in the team is to be rather short-sighted.

He's joined by Landon Donovan, an experienced player in the US national team with experience of playing for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. He currently has a 1-in-2 scoring rate with the Galaxy and is the perfect foil for Beckham as the man charged with taking his passes and converting them into chances.

Those are just some of the names to look out for, but there are many more besides, some of which are emerging talents in the MLS and many of which are likely to have a future in the US national team, the leagues of Europe or maybe both.

So who am I going to support in this new MLS season? Well after much deliberation, I've decided to go for the Colorado Rapids. I've chosen them because they seem to have something in common with my favourite team in England, West Ham, and I'm not just talking about their burgundy-coloured shirts. They seem to be the epitome of a team that has lots of potential which is never realised, one that is well-known yet hasn't really cemented a place at the top of the pile.

I have high hopes for Colorado and I believe that with my support they are destined for greater things. If you've decided to adopt an MLS team for this season and those that follow, let me know who it is and why and perhaps we can lean on each other for support during the 2008 campaign. It's a whole new world out there, but together we can get the most out of the MLS and all its highs and lows.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #55

Hot Shots
20 Top Scorers In The Premier League For Each Premier League Club

1. Man United: Cristiano Ronaldo (25 goals)
2. Liverpool: Fernando Torres (20 goals)
3. Arsenal: Emmanuel Adebayor (19 goals)
4. Blackburn: Roque Santa Cruz (14 goals)
5. Tottenham: Robbie Keane (14 goals)
6. Everton: Ayegbeni Yakubu (13 goals)
7. Portsmouth: Benjani Mwaruwari (12 goals)
8. Chelsea: Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka (10 goals)
9. Aston Villa: John Carew (9 goals)
10. Reading: Dave Kitson (9 goals)
11. West Ham: Dean Ashton (7 goals)
12. Wigan: Marcus Bent (7 goals)
13. Birmingham: Mikkel Forssell (7 goals)
14. Middlesbrough: Tuncay Sanli and Stewart Downing (6 goals)
15. Newcastle: Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka (6 goals)
16. Fulham: Clint Dempsey (6 goals)
17. Manchester City: Blumer Elano (5 goals)
18. Sunderland: Kenwyne Jones (5 goals)
19. Bolton: Kevin Nolan (5 goals)
20. Derby: Kenny Miller and Matt Oakley (3 goals)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We're on a road to nowhere

Oh it was woeful. It was inept. Poor, weak, lacking in value. That's my summary of last night's England performance against the French.

I got the distinct impression that the England players suddenly realised that the team they were playing against would be going to Euro 2008 and they wouldn't. What else could justify a ninety-minutes containing such pitiful amounts of enthusiasm, skill and drive.

On the basis of what I saw last night, England got what it deserved by not qualifying for Austria and Switzerland. The very thought of Fabio Capello's side taking one of those valuable sixteen places at the expense of some worthier country is one that makes me slightly sick, so it's rather gratifying that England's current poor standards were confirmed in last night's match.

Whereas Capello's team played in an unexciting fashion to earn a win in his first match, this time they played in an unexciting fashion with not even a goal to show for it. Perhaps we've quickly reached the level without too much need for prolonged ambiguity.

And yes I know England were playing the world-class French side and perhaps you wouldn't expect too much against them, but this was just a complete non-committal to playing in such a fashion that would earn respect from anyone.

All of which leads me to wonder what Capello must now be thinking. Have you ever seen one of those TV shows where a member of the public hands over a family heirloom to an antiques expert and waits to be told all about it? Well I can imagine Capello taking part in something like that. Think of the conversation that would ensue…

Expert: So what have you brought us today?
Mr. Capello: It's a set of sixteen England football players.
Expert: Ah, interesting. And have you had them long?
Mr. Capello: Just a couple of months.
Expert: I see. They must give you a lot of pleasure?
Mr. Capello: Not really. I was told they'd be a good investment but they seem a bit faulty to me.
Expert: Really? Well I can see that some of them are a bit rough round the edges, but they should be OK fundamentally. Did you get them from a reputable outlet?
Mr. Capello: Not exactly. They were a bunch of men claiming to be Premier League managers. Tell me, are they worth much?
Expert: On the open market, they should easily fetch upwards of £200 million, but you'll find this England packaging will lower their value quite considerably. Probably more like £10 million for the lot.
Mr Capello: I see. Is it worth me hanging on to them?
Expert: I'd advise against it. Try to find a new owner for them that is willing to invest in a lost cause and suggest to them that they may one day be a valuable asset.
Mr Capello: Fine, OK. Thank you for your advice.
Expert: No problem… oh, and better luck with your next acquisition.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Euro 2008: 73 days to go...

Tonight's a big night if you're an international side preparing to do battle in this summer's Euro 2008 Finals. There's just 73 days to go until things begin in earnest in Austria and Switzerland, so tonight's friendlies will be a good chance for players to cement their place in the squad of their choice. Let's see who's playing who this evening...

(Euro 2008 competitors shown in capitals, times shown in GMT)

Denmark v CZECH REPUBLIC (7.15 pm)
PORTUGAL v GREECE (7.45 pm)
SWITZERLAND v GERMANY (7.45 pm)
Belarus v TURKEY (6.00 pm)
AUSTRIA v NETHERLANDS (7.30 pm)
Scotland v CROATIA (8.00 pm)
POLAND v United States (7.30 pm)
FRANCE v England (8.00 pm)
SPAIN v ITALY (9.00 pm)
ROMANIA v RUSSIA (6.30 pm)
SWEDEN v Brazil (7.45 pm)

A nice easy one for Sweden at the end there...

Some interesting ties tonight, especially bearing in mind that infamous 'Group of Death' which features France, Italy, the Netherlands and Romania. Italy obviously think that they need to test their metal against a strong team and have plumped for Spain, France similarly have gone for England as their opponents tonight and Romania have arranged a test against Russia, but the Netherlands feel that Austria will be plenty tough enough in what can only be described as a 'gentle warm-up'. Perhaps the local school teams in Amsterdam were unavailable at short notice...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't stand so close to me...

Hello friends...

Just a brief note to apologise for the lack of posts appearing on the site recently. The reason for this has been a particularly bad spell of illness I've endured since last Tuesday. For the vast majority of the time I've been confined to bed, sneezing, coughing and generally feeling (as my Mum always says) like 'death warmed up'.

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that today's the first day in nearly a week that I've been capable of doing anything more than just staring at my computer screen, so all being well you should start seeing some new stuff to read over the next few days.

Once again, apologies for the lack of new posts. Normal service will resume shortly...

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #54

Seeing double?
12 Football-Playing Twins From Past And Present
from an idea sent to us by Sven

1. Dean and David Holdsworth (England)
2. Frank and Ronald de Boer (Netherlands)
3. Philipp and David Degen (Switzerland)
4. Gustavo Barros and Guillermo Schelotto (Argentina)
5. Shota and Archil Arveladze (Georgia)
6. Miguel and Javier Flaño (Spain)
7. René and Willy van de Kerkhof (Netherlands)
8. Andreas and Thomas Ravelli (Sweden)
9. Marcin and Michal Żewlakow (Poland)
10. Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan (Egypt)
11. Ray and Rod Wallace (England)
12. Peter and Ebbe Sand (Denmark)

Our thanks go to Sven for providing this 'Friday List' idea, and if you'd like to do the same, just send it to info [at] spaotp [dot] com. If all goes to plan, your suggestion could end up on SPAOTP!

Monday, March 17, 2008

All the Presidential Men (Part 6)

The sixth part of our occasional series looking at the Presidents of FIFA throughout history.

A divided party
The late-1950's were a revolutionary time in world soccer. The African Football Confederation (CAF) had been founded in 1957 to develop the game in that part of the world and the 1958 World Cup in Sweden had witnessed the first real wave of Brazilian dominance featuring the skills and showmanship of Vava, Garrincha and Pelé.

Yet this was also a time of change and one which Stanley Rous found himself thrown into when he became FIFA President in 1961.

Rous was born in Mutford, England in 1895 and his interest in football soon came to dominate his life in one form or another. He played as a goalkeeper at amateur level, was a sports teacher at a grammar school and went onto become a referee where he officiated in the 1934 FA Cup Final and in FIFA international matches.

His refereeing career behind him, he took up a role in the administration of football and was the Football Association's secretary from 1934 to 1962. It was during this time that Rous was assigned the task of rewriting the Laws of the Game to make them easier to interpret, and this he was seen to have achieved.

So when FIFA looked to attain the services of someone that could oversee a period of expansion and change in world football, Rous appeared to have all the credentials and he assumed the role of President following the death of fellow Englishman Arthur Drewry in 1961.

With the creation of the CAF a few years prior to his arrival, a big issue was looming in the background which would see many of the African delegates looking towards Rous for guidance. From 1948, South Africa had implemented a system of apartheid which operated a form of legalised segregation in its country that many of its international allies were opposed to. The CAF moved quickly to ban South Africa from being one of its members accordingly and asked Stanley Rous to do the same within FIFA.

Rous, however, had a dim view of taking such measures and took the ideological high ground that every country had a right to be a member of FIFA regardless of its politics. He felt that it wasn't FIFA's place to ostracise member nations on racial, economic or political matters, so when an Ethiopian delegation pushed for South Africa to be banned during the 1964 Olympics, it came as no surprise when Rous threw out the proposal.

The CAF were also becoming irritated by the fact that none of its countries were being given automatic places in the World Cup Finals, unlike their European and South American counterparts. African teams, and those from Asia were having to qualify via play-offs which would generally see them eliminated from the competition. The CAF felt this was unfair and wanted to see their continent represented along with the others taking part. Strangely, the 1958 and 1962 World Cups featured no African or Asian teams at all, and though North Korea were to represent the latter in 1966, Africa would remain unrepresented until 1970.

Though Stanley Rous was no doubt delighted to see England win the 1966 World Cup, the bigger picture told a tale of an ever more divided FIFA. The African countries were not happy with the way they were being treated by Rous and the South Americans were keen to see a representative of their own taking his position. Despite very well organised World Cups in England and Mexico, Rous' days were starting to look numbered as new member nations arrived, looking for a figurehead to advocate their interests.

Seizing his opportunity to take advantage of the situation was João Havelange, former President of the Brazilian Sports Confederation. He saw an opening to depose Stanley Rous by gaining the support of the South American and African countries along with many smaller nations that felt their importance was being overlooked.

When FIFA's 1974 Presidential Election was held, Havelange knew just what to do to install himself as their new leader, and it would bring an end to Stanley Rous' controversial thirteen year spell in charge, much to the contentment of many.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Euro 2008: 85 days to go...

Yes folks, Euro 2008 is only 85 days away so if you haven't already started rubbing your hands together briskly with anticipation, now's a good time to start.

Some People Are On The Pitch intends to guide you every step of the way as we head towards that first match on Saturday 7th June by giving you regular bulletins featuring the latest news and lots of interesting stuff to keep you in the mood for the big occasion.

Today we start off with an online game you can play courtesy of JVC, one of the competition's sponsors, which, for me personally, is complete and unadulterated nostalgia of the highest order.

Picture the scene: it's 1986, the World Cup is blazing a fajita-fuelled trail over in Mexico and I, along with many of my friends, are sitting around bored in our classroom at school. It's our lunch hour, nobody's got a football to play with out in the playground and things are looking grim.

Fortunately for us, the Great British ability to be resourceful in adversity comes to the fore as someone comes up with a swimmingly good idea. Penny Football.

It's a great game for two players and it's blisteringly simple. All you need is a rectangular table and three coins, preferably of the same size. (The same size as each other, that is - not the same size as the table...)

Play begins by putting the three coins together in a triangle formation at one end of the table. Player 1 uses his finger to shuffle one of the coins so that all three split apart into a wider triangle formation. From here on, the objective is to shuffle one of the coins between the other two time and again until you get within closer range of the goal at the other end of the table. If at any stage you fail to shuffle one of the coins cleanly between the other two or if one or more of the coins falls off the edge of the table, play switches to Player 2.

When either player elects to have a shot, his or her opponent must form a primitive goalmouth with their hands by putting their thumbs together (making the crossbar) and pointing their index fingers downwards to touch the table. The shooting player then has his or her shot, and the rest you can pretty much work out for yourself.

It was a great game and helped many a boring lunch hour pass by during those hazy school days, but now, thanks to JVC, you can play it all over again online with their totally excellent 'Euroball'.

All you need to do is visit:

http://www.jvcfootball.com/euroball/

...and follow the instructions. You can play as any of the sixteen finalists for Euro 2008 and if you get the highest score for your chosen country, you can win tickets for the Finals in Austria and Switzerland.

But that's not all. If, like me, you find that your coin shuffling skills are somewhat lacking, you can also take part in a free Lucky Dip Prize Draw to win a Home Cinema system courtesy of the sponsors.

So there it is - nostalgia, fun and prize-winning potential all wrapped up in one. Let's hope the Finals prove to be as completely fulfilling as this.


Euroball: Pick a flag-decorated disembodied hand and play...


There's a choice of venues for your match, including this English Café. Note the picture of The Queen on the wall...


Play gets underway... Anyone got any Euros?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #53

Spot The Irishman
13 Places Where Players From The 1994 Republic of Ireland World Cup Squad Were Born

1. Preston, England (Alan Kelly)
2. Ealing, England (Paul McGrath)
3. Maidstone, England (Andy Townsend)
4. Glasgow, Scotland (Ray Houghton)
5. Liverpool, England (John Aldridge)
6. Otley, England (Alan Kernaghan)
7. Lambeth, England (Phil Babb)
8. Govan, Scotland (Tommy Coyne)
9. St. Paul's Cray, England (Tony Cascarino)
10. Islington, England (Eddie McGoldrick)
11. Birmingham, England (David Kelly)
12. Birkenhead, England (Jason McAteer)
13. Manchester, England (Terry Phelan, Alan McLoughlin and John Sheridan)

Come on you Reds...

Never let it be said that the universities of the world don't waste a single moment of their valuable academically-charged time. It's just come to light that a study by Durham University and the University of Plymouth has found that football teams wearing red shirts are more likely to be successful than those wearing any other colour.

Their research looked into the results of English football league clubs since the Second World War and it shows that, when playing at home at least, those teams wearing red are more likely to win than those wearing, say, white, blue or yellow. Apparently the trend doesn't apply to away form, which, if nothing else, conveniently deals with those statistical anomalies they couldn't find an answer for.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, those English league teams that have worn yellow or orange throughout history are officially the least successful. Something to think about the next time someone offers you a ticket to that exciting Norwich v Blackpool FA Cup tie.

Yes we may scoff, but there's obviously something in all this. Maybe it's the psychological effect teams in red have over their opponents that makes them seem somehow invincible. It's that kind of thinking which is already making waves in the football world - so much so that Kevin Keegan has already ordered a redesign of Newcastle's home strip in the hope that it'll change their fortunes too.

Here's what they've come up with, and you can bet your life it'll be hitting the shops sometime very soon…

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Champions League: Last 8 Analysis

With Liverpool winning the second leg of their First Knockout Round tie against Internazionale last night, we now know the line-up for the quarter finals of this season's Champions League. It is:

Arsenal (ENG)
Barcelona (SPA)
Chelsea (ENG)
Fenerbahçe (TUR)
Liverpool (ENG)
Manchester United (ENG)
Milan (ITA)
Schalke 04 (GER)

No prizes for spotting that for the first time in Champions League history, one country (England) has four teams representing it in the last eight. Reason to celebrate and rejoice if you're English, then, but one is reminded that even with three teams in the last four in 2006/07, England did not provide the eventual winners of the competition.

Still, it's a great achievement and one that English football fans should be proud of, but of the other four teams that remain this season, can any of them stop an English team lifting the trophy?

First of all there's Schalke 04 who finished runners-up to Chelsea in Group B of the First Round and couldn't beat them in either of their two games. At Stamford Bridge, the Germans lost 2-0 while a 0-0 draw in the return match left us in no doubt who the better of the two sides were there. Schalke also lost to Valencia in the same group, so perhaps the English sides have nothing to fear on that front

Roma were second only to Man United in First Round Group F, and though they avoided another 7-1 thrashing like the one they endured last season, they still lost 1-0 at Old Trafford and 0-0 in Rome. The Italians have been a tough team to beat in the earlier stages and could well scupper one of the English teams' hopes.

Fenerbahçe were the runners-up in Group G behind Inter, but if they have a weakness it's their away form. Despite winning all three of their home ties, away from Turkey they could only draw two and lose the other. Good for only one leg of their quarter-final match, perhaps? We shall see…

Finally there's Barcelona, and there's not much to tell you about them that you don't already know. They finished Group E unbeaten with four wins and two draws, and they fair old steamrollered through Stuttgart, Rangers and Lyon. Winners of the Champions League in 2006, their hopes of regaining the title last year were undone by Liverpool in the first knockout round, so perhaps The Reds will fancy their chances again this season?

Let's wait and see. For now we can only lick our lips at the prospect of some of the English teams meeting each other before or during the Final, but a game against Barcelona somewhere between now and May could be just as mouthwatering.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Goodbye, old friend...

I was going to write an article today about the closing stages of this season's FA Cup competition, but I now have a more important piece to write.

It's with great sadness that I have to announce today that my good friend and co-blogger, Smart, is standing down from helping me run this little old blogsite of ours. We both created Some People Are On The Pitch way back in May 2006 just before the last World Cup started, and it was Smart's enthusiasm and fresh ideas that helped the site get off the ground to such great effect.

Since then, Smart has regularly contributed articles on a wide range of subjects, always and without exception getting a favourable response from you, our valued visitors. It's in that very capability of his that you can see how ideally suited his talents were in contributing to a football blogsite like ours, and it will now be all the worse off for no longer featuring his writing.

Smart's last collection of articles for Some People Are On The Pitch were for our '12 Days of Christmas' series at the end of 2007. It was intended to be a series we wrote in equal parts between us, but unfortunately it coincided with me moving house, so without an internet connection for a week or two I was unable to do my share of the writing. Smart grabbed this unfortunate situation by the scruff of the neck and wrote almost every single one of the twelve daily pieces himself, thereby ensuring the feature was completed for everyone to see.

It'll be that ability to get stuck in and get the job done that I'll remember most about Smart's involvement in the site, not to mention all the fun we've had thinking up ideas for new articles and features. Without him, Some People Are On The Pitch will be considerably weaker.

I therefore raise my hat to Smart and wish him well as he leaves us for pastures new. Goodbye and come back soon, old friend - maybe as a special guest writer, some time? :-)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup Quarter Finals

If you're a Barnsley supporter, today will see you experiencing distinct emotional highs and lows. On the one hand, you'll see your team have an all-too-rare prestige outing in the FA Cup Quarter Finals against Chelsea, yet on the other hand you'll see them get beaten thanks to the 'SPAOTP Road To Wembley Jinx' (Copyright 2007).

Yes, thanks to us, more teams have gone crashing out of the FA Cup without good reason than ever before, and the last round was no different. You'll remember our featured team was Liverpool, no less, as they faced a Barnsley team at Anfield that everyone thought would be the proverbial lambs heading for the slaughter.

How they overlooked SPAOTP's ability to scupper the team we follow on any given FA Cup weekend. Yes, Barnsley are the team we're with this weekend and what a match it'll be for them today. Chelsea will be huge favourites to win, of course, but The Tykes have put together a good run in the Cup this season.

Already falling foul of Simon Davey's men are Blackpool (knocked out in Round 3 by two goals to one), Southend (losing 1-0 on their own ground) and of course Rafa's Reds who lost by the odd goal in three a few week's ago.

So, are Barnsley a force to be reckoned with in the League too? Well so far, not really. They're currently 16th of the 24 teams in The Championship and haven't won a league match since February 9th. It's one of only two wins they've had since December 4th 2007 and they now run the very real risk of dropping to 21st in the table if the next five teams below them were all to win today.

All very strange, then, that they should be capable of beating Liverpool, but that shows the power of the FA Cup to make even the smallest teams punch above their weight. And who do they have in their squad that could make their mark today?

Well their top scorer so far in 2007/08 is Brian Howard, formerly of Swindon Town, who's so far bagged 10 goals in the league and one in the Cup - the decisive second against Liverpool. Then there's Hungarian Istvan Ferenczi and Jonathan Macken, twice voted Preston's Player of the Year. They've both scored five each in total this season and are as likely as anyone to get on the scoresheet today.

So historically speaking, can Barnsley do it today? Well they've not gone beyond the Third Round in the last few seasons, but Barnsley did knock Chelsea out at the Third Round stage back in 1989. The Barnsley side then featured John Beresford who later went on to gain a higher profile at Newcastle United and were managed by Leeds United legend Allan Clarke. The Chelsea side weren't bad either, putting out a line-up featuring Kerry Dixon, Gordon Durie and Graham Roberts. OK, so they weren't a patch on Roman Abramovich's band of international all-stars, but they were no pushovers either.

All in all, we're inclined to think the win will go to Chelsea today, but only with our logical heads on. If we used our hearts instead, we'd have to go for the romantic upset that SPAOTP have caused on more than one occasion in the FA Cup this season. We say 'Go Barnsley' - show the Blues how to do it! There's a place waiting in a Wembley semi-final if you do...

Friday, March 07, 2008

British Football in the 1980's - Revisited

You'll have to excuse me for a moment. I'm going to get rather nostalgic.

A number of other blog sites have recently been talking about a programme currently being shown on the ITV4 channel here in the UK called 'The Big Match Revisited'. Ours is about to join them, if a little belatedly.

The reason why so many people have brought up the subject of 'The Big Match Revisited' is because it pulls the curtain back on a period in British football history that people like me remember fondly but very rarely see these days.

That period is the early-1980's, a time when football was a very different animal from what we know today, yet for all its foibles, people of a certain age like myself (i.e. 30 years or older) have largely forgotten all the good and bad things that made it what it was. Until now, that is.

What ITV4 are doing is showing a series of programmes which were originally broadcast exactly 25 years ago. In London, that programme would have been 'The Big Match', a Saturday night show featuring highlights of two or three football matches that had taken place earlier that day. There were, however, equivalent programmes shown in different regions of the UK, but they all did the same thing - give viewers their first and probably only chance to watch the best bits from a small selection of the latest football games 'de la jour'.

It's proven to be real appointment-to-view TV for us thirty-somethings. Only yesterday I sat down to watch this week's show - a re-run of the North of England version of 'The Big Match' called 'Match Time' presented by former ITV anchorman Elton Welsby and co-host Denis Law.

Now herein lies the first point of curiosity. I never knew the former Manchester United legend had ever been employed by someone as a TV front-man, and to be fair, he didn't make a bad job of reading out the football news headlines on the show. What was more difficult to understand was what in god's name possessed him to settle on that hairstyle. It looked like he was balancing a stuffed cat on his head. Never mind... more of Denis later.

It was then time for highlights of the first featured game between Liverpool and Stoke City. The Reds, of course were rampant at the time, winning the First Divison title year in, year out, and the 1982-83 season was no different. Here, however, is Curiosity number 2: Stoke City playing in the First Division. Not a regular occurrence in the early-80's or at any time since, but luckily the ITV cameras were there to capture this rare event on film.

Sadly for them, they were beaten 5-1 by one of the all-time great Liverpool line-ups who, in my opinion, played rather poorly. All the stars were there to see - Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson (not just with a moustache but with a beard, too) and Bruce Grobelaar (sporting a beautifully cut mullet) - yet the passing was at times lacking in accuracy and overall the interplay between them left a lot to be desired. Stoke must have wondered what the score would have been if Liverpool had played better.

Really though, for me a programme like this isn't so much about judging football performances - it's in the fine detail that one gains the greatest enjoyment. Neither team's kit featured any shirt advertising - it was banned on TV back then. Ironic in a way, considering Liverpool weren't allowed to have 'Crown Paints' on their uniform, yet it loomed large on the three 20-foot advertising boards that were regularly in full view of the cameras (see left).

And that kit - the one with the white pinstripes. What a classic. I absolutely adored any kit with pinstripes back then. It seemed like the ultimate in football design... an interesting reflection on what goes through the mind of a 12-year-old boy, I suppose.

Even the pitchside advertising hoardings provide a rich harvest for the ardent nostalgist. These days they're all about electronic moving imagery promoting worldwide brands such as Nike or Mastercard. What did Liverpool have back in 1983? Wooden advertising boards promoting KP Nuts, John West tinned salmon and Slalom Lager (Slalom LAGER?!?!?)

Anfield still had its crash barriers in place on the terraces back then, a reminder that crowd trouble was far more of a sinister threat than it has been in recent memory. And the crowd - just over 30,000, we were told. It sounds quite low by today's standards and perhaps it is, but for a game against Stoke (no offence) at a time when Liverpool were 14 points clear at the top of Division One, it was a fair effort on the part of the crowd in attendance that day.

Still, it was all good to see a quarter of a century on, as were the highlights of the Everton v Sunderland match and the Notts County v Spurs match, too (Notts County AND Stoke City in the top flight at the same time?!? We must have been dreaming...)

All that was left to complete a perfect 45 minutes of escapism was a round-up of the day's news from the aforementioned 'Law Man'. Were all used to seeing the goals and action from any match that ever takes place in this modern era, but back then TV cameras weren't so omnipresent, so programmes like 'The Big Match' had to make do with black and white stills photographs taken by the Daily Mirror or some other tabloid newspaper to illustrate any exciting events. Cheap, but effective, you might say.

And finally, a look at the league tables... well the top and bottom bits, anyway. Just looking at the names of the teams and the levels they were playing at is enough to make your mind boggle. There was Nottingham Forest and Coventry City near the top of Division One, Arsenal in 15th and Swansea and Brighton propping them up at the bottom. Derby and Middlesbrough were stuck at the bottom of Division Two and in Division Three the leaders were Portsmouth. How things have changed.

How they've changed indeed, but that's why we like our football history so much. It's wonderful to step back from the here-and-now that sometimes lacks so much in the way of imagination to gaze through the looking glass into the Never-Never-Land of our youth. We probably thought it was all a bit humdrum back then in all fairness, but we should thank ITV4 for giving us a chance to see it all again. It's what helps keep us young, after all.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #52

Here today, gone today...
7 Players That Were Sent Off During Their Club Debuts
from an idea sent to us by Chrissy

1. Jonathan Woodgate (for Real Madrid in 2005)
2. Rolando Bianchi (for Lazio in 2008, after just five minutes play)
3. Graeme Souness (for Rangers in 1986)
4. Garry Flitcroft (for Blackburn Rovers in 1996, after three minutes play)
5. Tomas Repka (for West Ham United in 2001)
6. Ade Akinbiyi (for Burnley in 2005, having played just two minutes)
7. Jason Crowe (for Arsenal in 1997, just 33 seconds into his debut - a British record.)

Our thanks go to Chrissy for giving us this idea for a Friday List of Little or No Consequence, and if you'd like to do the same, just send it to us at info [at] spaotp [dot] com. We look forward to hearing from you...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Premier League percentage game

Isn't it amazing how the three-horse-race in this season's Premier League has shown Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to be equally as fallible? Very rarely have any of them got together a long run of wins to get them ahead of the chasing pack. What we see at the moment is Arsenal at the top of the table on 65 points, Man United a point behind on 64 with Chelsea in third on 58 points but with a game in hand on the other two.

So with all three teams dropping points with some regularity, is there any way to tell which will prevail in the battle to win the Premier League? Hopefully there is thanks to a nifty little graph we've created which shows the form of all three clubs on a month-to-month basis since the start of the season.

What we've done is calculate how many of the available points Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United collected for each month since the season started last August and shown the figures as percentages on our graph. So for instance, if during September Arsenal won three games and lost one, that would mean they picked up 9 points from a possible 12 which in turn means Arsenal picked up 75% of the available points for that month… clear? Good.

So here's the graph and the main thing to note is that the red line represents Arsenal, the white line represents Man United and the blue is for Chelsea (naturally).



(click image for bigger version)

And while you're looking at that, let's track how the three teams did throughout each month.

August 2007
Man United's start to the season was a pretty poor one by their standards. Only one win in their first four games, along with a defeat away to near neighbours Man City, left them with a success rate of only 41.7%. Chelsea, meanwhile, won three out of four of their games with only Liverpool stopping them from winning in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Arsenal played three games, two of which were wins - the other being a draw away to Blackburn.

September 2007
A much better month for Man United. Following their only August win at home to Tottenham, they won all four of their matches in September including a 2-0 victory of Chelsea at Old Trafford. Arsenal also won four out of four, of which two were against London neighbours Spurs and West Ham. Chelsea, however, had an absolute shocker of a month. Only two points from a possible twelve left them with a success rating of only 16.7%, causing Jose Mourinho to leave the Stamford Bridge club.

October 2007
Man United's amazing run of wins in September extended right through to the end of October as well. They scored four goals in all three of their games against Wigan, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough leaving them level with Arsenal on points and goal difference at the end of the month. Arsenal's lead at the top of the table was wiped out when they dropped their only points in October in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool. Chelsea, however, were doing much better under new manager Avram Grant. They won three out of three including a 6-0 win over Manchester City.

November 2007
Chelsea and Arsenal kept their campaigns ticking along as both teams won two games and drew one, giving them a success rating of 77.8%. For Man United, however, November saw a return to the poor form of August. After a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Arsenal, they earned a 2-0 home win over Blackburn before a shock defeat to Bolton left them three points behind Arsenal in the title race again.

December 2007
A busy month for all teams, particularly Arsenal who had a game in hand to fit in along with the six matches already scheduled for the festive season. It was in fact Manchester United who came through it best, though, winning five consecutive games before ending the year with a surprise 2-1 defeat to West Ham. Arsenal won four and drew two of their seven ties, losing only to Middlesbrough, but Chelsea lost further ground in the chase for the title despite losing only one of their six games in December against fellow challengers Arsenal.

January 2008
The new year saw excellent form on the part of all three teams, especially Man United and Chelsea who had a 100% record after their four games. Arsenal managed to win three and draw one during January, Birmingham being the only team to take points from The Gunners all month. Once again, Arsenal's slight slip allowed Manchester United to draw level with them on points, but this time United topped the table due to a superior goal difference.

February 2008
Having clawed their way back to within four points of the leaders, Chelsea saw all their hard work undone during February. Admittedly they played only twice last month, but both games ended in draws at the hands of Liverpool and Portsmouth. Arsenal pulled away from Man United at the top of the table once again thanks to two wins and yet another draw against Birmingham, but Sir Alex Ferguson's men had to endure their third bad patch of the season. A second defeat to Man City and a draw at Tottenham was only offset by another convincing win against Newcastle.

…and that brings us almost up to date. There has, of course, been one match so far this month and that resulted in Arsenal's three point lead over United being reduced to one, but look at the graph. Notice how Arsenal's line is much straighter than Man United's which has a distinctly alpine look. Does that suggest The Gunners are much more consistent and therefore more likely to win the title come May? Can Chelsea make their game in hand count and mount a decent challenge of their own?

Your thoughts, as ever, will be interesting to hear…

Monday, March 03, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 8

It's You Bet time again and I'm sad to report we failed to win some money for Little League Football again a fortnight ago.

But as the old saying goes, where there's hope, there's life so let's redouble our efforts once again and try to pick a winner from this week's selection of potential bets.

Though we usually feature three Wednesday night games involving British sides, we can't this week as only Chelsea are playing, so we're casting our net a little wider across Europe this time. Perhaps it'll bring us a bit of luck, eh?

Anyway, here are the three choices for this week:

Bet A
Porto v Schalke 04
Both teams to draw
Potential winnings: £3.00

Bet B
Chelsea v Olympiakos
Chelsea to win 1-0
Potential winnings: £6.00

Bet C
Real Madrid v Roma
Robinho to score first
Potential winnings: £8.00

VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED FOR 'YOU BET' WEEK 8.
Thanks to all of you that took part in 'You Bet' this time around. With 64% of the votes, we'll be putting our £1 charity bet on Chelsea to beat Olympiakos 1-0, so keep those fingers crossed and hope that the Greek club make a reasonable fight of it...

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