Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now That's What I Call A Title Race (Part 2)

The concluding part of our series looking at the First Divison title race of 1988/89.

January 1989
It was a new year but old rivalries remained the same. Arsenal and Liverpool were striving for top spot in the First Division, but The Gunners had a nine point lead over The Reds and you'd be excused for thinking Kenny Dalglish's side were loosening their grip on the League Championship trophy.

Time, then, for a little distraction to test the powers of concentration. Enter the FA Cup Third Round... Arsenal were drawn away to West Ham while Liverpool had the considerably easier task of taking on Fourth Division Carlisle United. What could be easier than that? Going off to play non-league Sutton United, perhaps? Not if you're Coventry City. The part-timers dumped out the 1987 winners 2-1 to join a rare band of clubs from outside the Football League to get one over on their professional rivals in the competition.

As it was, Liverpool made far lighter work of their tie, beating Carlisle 3-0, but Arsenal slipped up. After a 2-2 draw at Upton Park, a replay back at Highbury saw them lose 1-0 to West Ham. The Gunners were now out of both Cup competitions, but at least their league form was more promising. They reached the end of January with two wins and a draw under their belt and were able to claim their second win of the season over Tottenham in the process.

Liverpool, for all their new-found Cup form, were still struggling in the league and ended January with two wins, a draw and their biggest defeat of the season so far, 3-1 away to Manchester United.

At the end of January 1989:
Arsenal: PL 21 W 13 D 5 L 3 F 48 A 22 PTS 44 GD +26
Liverpool: PL 22 W 9 D 8 L 5 F 28 A 18 PTS 35 GD +10

February 1989
There was a marked difference in the activity of our two clubs during February. Though it was a busy time for Arsenal, playing six league fixtures, Liverpool's players only took to the field once in a 2-2 draw with Newcastle. That said, they did also play their Fourth and Fifth Round FA Cup ties which, for once, didn't involve a replay. A 2-0 win away to Millwall and a 3-2 win at Hull City was enough to take them into the quarter finals.

Arsenal entered the month with a league game in hand over Liverpool, but they made up for that and more with a near unbeaten run which began with a 2-1 revenge win over West Ham. What followed was a double header against Millwall that brought them four points out of six and a defeat away to Coventry City, so come the end of February George Graham's Arsenal side could boast a massive 19 point lead over Liverpool (albeit having played four games more).

The Reds would get their chance to play their own glut of fixtures during March, but the stats going into it must have given them something to think about...

At the end of February 1989:
Arsenal: PL 27 W 16 D 7 L 4 F 54 A 25 PTS 55 GD +29
Liverpool: PL 23 W 9 D 9 L 5 F 30 A 20 PTS 36 GD +10

March 1989
If Liverpool's fans were starting to despair of their side's chances in the league at the beginning of March, their worries would be just distant memories at the end of it. This was where Kenny Dalglish's side finally clicked as everything suddenly went right for them.

While Arsenal hit an indifferent patch that saw them draw against Charlton, lose to Nottingham Forest and win against Southampton, Liverpool were in sublime form. During March they beat Charlton 2-0, Middlesbrough 4-0, Luton 5-0, Coventry 3-1, Tottenham 2-1 and Derby 1-0. It meant a maximum eighteen points were taken from six games in which they scored seventeen goals and conceded just two.

This blistering sequence of wins meant the gap between themselves and Arsenal was back down to just five points. The title race, it seemed, was back on again.

Oh, and Liverpool also beat Brentford 4-0 to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, too. Did we mention that?

At the end of March 1989:
Arsenal: PL 30 W 17 D 8 L 5 F 60 A 31 PTS 59 GD +29
Liverpool: PL 29 W 15 D 9 L 5 F 47 A 22 PTS 54 GD +25

April 1989
Though Liverpool's form continued in much the same vein, their achievements and those of every other club would be totally overshadowed by the events that happened at Hillsborough on April 15th 1989.

Liverpool's semi-final clash against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's ground was abandoned after just six minutes when it became clear that many supporters at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium were being crushed. Around 5,000 people were waiting outside to get into the ground just before kick-off, prompting the police to open a set of gates that would allow them to quickly enter the stadium.

The ensuing crush resulted in 95 people losing their lives and many more being injured. It was one of the darkest days in the history of English football and no games were played for more than two weeks as the nation took stock of the harrowing scenes it saw.

As the month ended, Liverpool could at least look back on the three league wins they'd picked up prior to the events at Hillsborough that brought their run of consecutive victories to nine. Arsenal were able to boast an unbeaten run of their own too. A draw against a below-par Manchester United side and wins over Everton and Newcastle meant that when play resumed once again in May, the First Division title would be hanging delicately in the balance.

At the end of April 1989:
Arsenal: PL 33 W 19 D 9 L 5 F 64 A 32 PTS 66 GD +32
Liverpool: PL 32 W 18 D 9 L 5 F 55 A 24 PTS 63 GD +31

May 1989
All eyes were on Liverpool and Arsenal as the First Division campaign reached its nail-biting finale. The gap between the two sides was now down to just three points but Arsenal had played a game more, and that became two when George Graham's side started the month with a convincing 5-0 win over Norwich.

Liverpool were next to play two days later, but their trip to bitter rivals Everton ended goalless. On May 6th, Arsenal took to the field again to face Middlesbrough, and once again, they emerged victorious - 1-0 winners away from home. Liverpool were now five points adrift with a game in hand.

The following day, May 7th 1989, saw the replayed FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a game fuelled with emotion which Dalglish's side won 3-1 - two of the goals being scored by John Aldridge. They'd made it through to their third Cup Final in four years, and their opponents, fittingly, would be near neighbours Everton.

The Reds were back in action again just three days later when they played and beat Nottingham Forest again, this time 1-0 in the league. The following Saturday, a full card of First Division fixtures was played, and in it Liverpool won 2-1 away to Wimbledon while Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Derby. This catastrophically-timed defeat by The Gunners meant that their lead over Liverpool was now just two points, and Liverpool still had to play their game in hand.

The following Tuesday at Anfield, Liverpool played host to Queens Park Rangers. A win would put them top of the First Division with just two games remaining, and they duly got it by two goals to nil. There was more drama to come when the following evening, Arsenal could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Wimbledon. That meant both Arsenal and Liverpool were level on 73 points with The Gunners' goal difference better off by just two.

Before the last two fixtures could be played there was the small matter of the FA Cup Final to deal with, but a resurgent Liverpool proved there was little they couldn't handle when they won an entertaining match 3-2 after extra time. It was an incredible achievement on the part of the Liverpool players near the end of a season that had left them physically and emotionally drained. Could they last out to the end of the league competition and win the double?

Tuesday 23rd May 1989. The pressure was now building. With an incredible sense of coincidence, the last game of 1988-89 was to be played at Anfield between Arsenal and Liverpool, but before that, Dalglish's men had one extra game to squeeze in - a home tie against West Ham. With the goal difference situation being so close, Liverpool not only had to win, but win by as many goals as possible. The final score was Liverpool 5, West Ham 1.

Friday 26th May 1989. The last game of the season - Liverpool v Arsenal. Winner takes all. Having staged a monumental comeback since the start of March that had seen them win thirteen of their fourteen league matches, Liverpool were now on top of the table. They were three points ahead of Arsenal, but crucially their goal difference was +39 compared to +37 for The Gunners.

The stage was set. A 1-0 win for Arsenal would not be enough - they would have to defeat Liverpool by two clear goals to reclaim the First Division title, and only then because Arsenal had a better 'Goals Scored' figure than their opponents. Liverpool only needed a draw.

The match began, and the first half was a tense affair, ending goalless. Liverpool remained in the driving seat, but shortly after the restart, Alan Smith headed in from a Nigel Winterburn free kick to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead.

The visitors had found renewed hope, but their efforts throughout the remainder of the second half were coming to nothing. The elusive second goal they wanted so badly looked unlikely to come, but then in injury time Arsenal's Michael Thomas took up an Alan Smith pass inside the Liverpool half, got past Steve Nicol who tried and failed to win the ball from him, and with the last kick of the game and indeed the season, Thomas slotted the ball past Bruce Grobelaar in the Liverpool goal.

The visiting supporters went wild, the referee blew his whistle and that was that. Liverpool's hopes of retaining the title after an incredible late-season surge had been dashed as George Graham's side won the league when many thought their chance had gone.

End of May 1989:
Arsenal: PL 38 W 22 D 10 L 6 F 73 A 36 PTS 76 GD +37
Liverpool: PL 38 W 22 D 10 L 6 F 65 A 28 PTS 76 GD +37

Number of points gained by Arsenal and Liverpool during the 1988/89 season.

It was Arsenal's first league championship win for eighteen years and the victory was made all the sweeter by the way it had been attained. The narrowest possible margin was what came between Arsenal and Liverpool at the end of the 1988-89 season, and it's doubtless we'll ever see such a remarkable finish to the season again.

Or will we...?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 11

Oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

We enter Week 11 of Champions League You Bet with just £3.75 in the kitty.

That's £3.75. Three hundred and seventy-five of your English pence.

We started off with £10 back in September, won £3.75 (ironically) in the first week and lost our £1 stake money every week since. The Champions League Final may yet arrive before we finally lose it all, but there's still time to win some money back for our chosen charity by taking part in this week's vote-off.

This Wednesday's main match (as far as we're concerned) is the semi-final second leg between Liverpool and Chelsea, so as usual, cast your eye over these three potential bets and ponder which one you'd bet £1 on if you had to...

Bet A
Liverpool to win
Potential winnings: £3.60

Bet B
Didier Drogba to score first
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet C
Steven Gerrard to score first
Potential winnings: £11.00

Thanks to everyone who voted this time around. The appeal of a simple 'who do you think will win' bet was obviously right up your street this week, as the winning option was Bet A with 60% of your votes.

That means we'll be hoping for Liverpool to beat Chelsea in today's match, and let's face it, with Liverpool's form in Europe you wouldn't bet against it. Well, 40% of you did, but that's beside the point.

Fingers crossed then, ladies and gentlemen, and let's hope we can prize £3.60 from the tight grip of our chosen bookmaker this week...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: April 28th - May 1st

Explanatory note: As a service to Tactics Truck readers, we put a quick preview of the televised senior matches available in the UK, one for the weekend and another for the midweek games. This is something we shall continue until the end of the season.

Readers from outside Blighty may find this piece of curiosity value only as some of these games will not be available overseas (legally).

(All times - UK)

19:45 - West Brom v Southampton, Championship, Sky Sports 1
If West Brom win, they are promoted to the Premier League with a game to spare. If Southampton win, they will move out of the bottom three at Leicester's expense. Sky will probably be hoping for an away win to maximise the hoopla for next Sunday.

Monday 20:00 - Derby County v Arsenal, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Nothing to play for and nothing to see really. Setanta will have paid big money for this strand of EPL fixtures but Sky's strategy of putting Championship games up against them has paid off this week. Away win.

Tuesday 19:45 - Manchester Utd v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Semi-final 2nd Leg, ITV4 & ITV1
The first of two mouth-watering ties. United are favorites but must be rattled following the shenanigans of the weekend. Time for their big players to pull big performances out of the bag. Could be a classic.

Wednesday 19:45 - Chelsea v Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Semi-final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 2 & Sky Sports HD2
As James Richardson might say "woof!" It's impossible to predict the outcome this game. However, Chelsea have their mojo working and have the home advantage. Also, you can't help but feel that Avram Grant is due a seriously large dose of Karma from the cosmos given the grief he's put up with over the last few weeks and months. Go on then, home win.

Thursday 17:30 - Zenit v Bayern Munich, UEFA Cup Semi-final 2nd Leg, ITV4
Finally some hot German action on terrestrial TV. This should be a cracking game. Bayern may well have had the Bundesliga title confirmed by kick-off at St Petersburg and will be desperate to restate their European credentials by earning a place in the final. However, the Russian champions have been really good throughout this arduous UEFA Cup campaign (much of which has taken place in their close season) and will be determined opponents. I still fancy Bayern to make it to Manchester.

Thursday 19:45 - Exeter v Torquay, Blue Square Premier Play-off, Semi-final 1st Leg,Setanta Sports 1
This Devon derby is a big game in the English west-country at any stage of the season. With a return to the Football League at stake, the atmosphere should be cracking at St James Park.

Thursday 19:45 - Fiorentina v Rangers, UEFA Cup Semi-final 2nd Leg, ITV4 (19:30-22:00) ITV1 (19:30-22:00 STV region only)
Rangers have developed an effective counter-attacking style that suits them in European competition. Fiorentina are in the box seat for that Champions League spot in Serie A but are being badgered by Milan and Samp. It is possible that their domestic excursions will cost them. This is another tie that's too close to call. Either way, Rangers fans will not need their passports for the rest of the tournament after this game.

SPAOTP Status Report

Friends, nomads, people who have strayed onto this site after typing the words 'Kenneth Wolstenholme' into Google...

I have something painfully honest to tell you. As your genial host of Some People Are On The Pitch for some time now, I've felt fulfilled, happy and useful all the while I've been serving you, my fine audience.

For a long time it's been a great source of pride for me that I (along with my former co-blogger, Smart) have produced such a regular supply of articles for you to read, despite the fact that their quality or relevance has probably been called into question on more than one occasion.

Sadly, however, the regularity with which those self same articles have been published recently has fallen, and for that reason I feel I owe you an apology. I'd also like to briefly tell you why SPAOTP hasn't been so bountiful in its reading content lately.

Firstly, my life as the father of a 21-month-old daughter has grown increasingly busier as she's grown older, and the result of this has been a reduction in the time I've had to research, write and put together new articles. Not good when you originally started out giving your visitors a new item to read every day, or at worst every other day.

Then there was the undoubted impact that Smart's recent departure had on SPAOTP. It was always reassuring to know that if there were days when I couldn't think of anything to write about or didn't have the time, Smart would chip in to fill the gap and ensure you had something decent to read in my absence.

I also spared you my presence not so long ago when I endured a brief spell of illness and took a hastily-arranged holiday to recharge my proverbial batteries. Unavoidable, perhaps, but as sole proprietor of this humble blog site, it was always going to leave you tapping your watch and wondering when the next article was going to come along.

All of which led me to arrive at a difficult decision in the last couple of weeks - that it would be best to bring Some People Are On The Pitch to an end while I've still got some credibility left.

The thing is, I'm not actually here to announce the end of Some People Are On The Pitch. With an unerring sense of fortuity, I had the great good fortune to run into a couple of people a couple of nights ago who I'm sure will prove to be this blogsite's saviours.

A few week's back, Terry and Graham, better known as Duffman and Sp3ktor (you may have seen their comments on some of my posts) got in touch and asked if I'd like to meet up with them for a drink as a way of saying hello and doing that rarest of things - meeting someone else who runs a blog site in person.

Duffman and Sp3ktor are two of the men behind the incredibly successful website The Onion Bag. When I met them, they were charming, incredibly complimentary of SPAOTP and seemingly shocked at my decision to shut it down within the next few weeks. What ensued was a discussion which led them to make the kindest of offers - to produce articles for Some People Are On The Pitch which, prior to now, have been a part of their two similarly excellent blog sites - Bundesbag and The Tactics Truck.

In so doing, they said I'd be relieved of the pressure to produce regular posts on my own and would in turn ensure the popularity of SPAOTP would continue for a little while longer.

Knowing what a tremendous job they've done of putting together their fantastic collection of websites, I could hardly refuse. It therefore gives me great pleasure to inform you that thanks to the amazing decency and kindness of Duffman and Spkctor, Some People Are On The Pitch remains very much open for business. I've absolutely no doubt that you'll enjoy their writing and be thoroughly amused by their contributions to our site, so please welcome them on board and thank them for giving SPAOTP a lifeline just when it was needed most.

With thanks to them and all of you,
Chris O.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Now That's What I Call A Title Race (Part 1)

It beggars belief but despite what a lot of people would have you believe, this season's Premier League title race is still wide open. No really.

Man United are only three points ahead of second-placed Chelsea, and though Arsenal are a further four points behind Avram Grant's men, they can look forward to games against Derby and Sunderland which should garner six points if all goes to plan.

So in general then, it's a three-horse-race for the title (come on you miserable lot - where's your sense of imagination?) but despite the excitement this is likely to generate, nothing beats the climax to the 1988/89 First Division campaign for sheer pant-wetting exhilaration.

Chances are you already know the end to this story, but what about the beginning and the middle? Let SPAOTP tell you how it all happened in this two-part tale of tears, cheers and Michael Thomas putting on over on his future employers…

August and September 1988
The start of a new football season. Liverpool were the reigning champions having won the previous First Division championship by nine points. They'd only lost two games in the whole shooting match, so The Reds entered the 1988/89 season as red-hot favourites to do it again (no pun intended).

Millwall were in the top flight for the first time having picked up the Division Two title, and joining them up among the big boys were Graham Taylor's Aston Villa and a Middlesbrough side that had inflicted relegation on Chelsea via the new end-of-season play-offs.

Elsewhere, Wimbledon were still basking in the dying glow of a victory in the FA Cup Final over Liverpool while Luton were the League Cup champions after beating Arsenal (to the surprise of many) at Wembley.

Among the top stars of the day were Newcastle's Paul Gascoigne, voted Young Player of the Year, and Liverpool's John Barnes who won the grown-up version of the top award while on the England front, a pall of gloom hung over the country following a distinctly dismal trio of performances in Euro 88. Bobby Robson's men had been eliminated at the end of the First Round, leading to many calls for his resignation.

Back to the new First Division season though, and the two teams who were to be the fiercest of arch-rivals and main title contenders, Arsenal and Liverpool, both began with opening day wins at the end of August, but September would force some early daylight between them.

While Liverpool picked up two wins (including one over Manchester United) and two draws, Arsenal looked decidedly shaky. Only a 3-2 win away to Tottenham provided any hope for Gunners fans as they also saw their side lose 3-2 at home to Aston Villa, 2-1 away to Sheffield Wednesday and draw 2-2 with Southampton at Highbury.

At the end of September 1988:
Liverpool: PL 5 W 3 D 2 L 0 F 9 A 3 PTS 11 GD +6
Arsenal: PL 5 W 2 D 1 L 2 F 13 A 10 PTS 7 GD +3

October 1988
Arsenal finally managed to reverse their faltering start to the season by going unbeaten throughout October '88, thanks to three wins against West Ham, QPR and Coventry and a draw against Luton Town.

Liverpool, however, were going in the opposite direction. Only one win (also against West Ham) and a draw against Coventry was all Kenny Dalglish's men had to show for their efforts. Defeats at the hands of Newcastle, Luton and Nottingham Forest meant they were now two points behind Arsenal at the end of the month having played an extra game.

Having lost only two games throughout the whole of the 1987/88 season, Liverpool had now lost three before the end of October. Was this the start of a catastrophe for the Anfield club?

At the end of October 1988:
Arsenal: PL 9 W 5 D 2 L 2 F 22 A 13 PTS 17 GD +9
Liverpool: PL 10 W 4 D 3 L 3 F 13 A 8 PTS 15 GD +5

November 1988
Both teams came through November largely unscathed with Liverpool unbeaten thanks to two wins and two draws and Arsenal picking up three wins before a 2-1 defeat at Derby blotted their copy book.

Elsewhere, there was the League Cup to be considered and ironically both teams faced each other in a Third Round tie at the start of the month. Arsenal had already beaten Hull City 5-1 on aggregate and Liverpool had disposed of Walsall 4-1 over their two Second Round legs, but this would prove an altogether tougher tie to settle.

When Arsenal travelled to Anfield on November 2nd, the match ended a 1-1 draw. Back the two teams went to Highbury a week later, but the score there was 0-0. A second replay was therefore required, and when the two sides met again at Anfield it was the home side that finally broke the deadlock, winning the match 2-1. Arsenal were out, but would the early exit save tired legs for later battles at the end of the season?

At the end of November 1988:
Arsenal: PL 13 W 8 D 2 L 3 F 31 A 16 PTS 26 GD +15
Liverpool: PL 14 W 6 D 5 L 3 F 19 A 10 PTS 23 GD +9

December 1988
Arsenal went from strength to strength as the year came to an end with another unbeaten month safely sown up, thanks to wins against Man United, Charlton and Aston Villa along with two draws, one of which was at home to Liverpool. It meant the two teams had faced each other four times in just over a month.

The Reds' form was rather more ordinary-looking and their supply of goals was also drying up. Following the 1-1 draw with Arsenal was another at home to Everton, followed by a 1-0 home defeat to Norwich and a 1-0 away win at Derby. Even their place in the League Cup which they'd fought so hard for in November had now been taken away from them by West Ham, who knocked Liverpool out 4-1 in the Fourth Round.

At the end of December 1988:
Arsenal: PL 18 W 11 D 4 L 3 F 42 A 20 PTS 37 GD +22
Liverpool: PL 18 W 7 D 7 L 4 F 22 A 13 PTS 28 GD +9

With a nine point lead over the reigning champions at the end of 1988, Arsenal appeared to be pulling further and further away from Liverpool and the chasing pack in the race for the title, but for how much longer? Come back soon for the second and final thrilling instalment of 'Now That's What I Call A Title Race'...

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #58

The second-best player in Europe...
24 Ballon D'Or (European Footballer of the Year) Runners-up Who Never Did Win The Trophy

1. Billy Wright (Wolverhampton Wanderers) - 1957
2. Ferenc Puskas (Real Madrid) - 1960
3. Gianni Rivera (Milan) - 1960
4. Bobby Moore (West Ham United) - 1970
5. Dino Zoff (Juventus) - 1973
6. Rob Rensenbrink (Anderlecht) - 1976
7. Paul Breitner (Bayern Munich) - 1981
8. Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool) - 1983
9. Jean Tigana (Bordeaux) - 1984
10. Preben Elkjaer Larsen (Verona) - 1985
11. Gary Lineker (Everton / Barcelona) - 1986
12. Ruud Gullit (Milan) - 1988
13. Franco Baresi (Milan) - 1989
14. Salvatore Schillaci (Juventus) - 1990
15. Dennis Bergkamp (Ajax / Internazionale) - 1993
16. Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham / Bayern Munich) - 1995
17. Davor Suker (Real Madrid) - 1998
18. David Beckham (Manchester United) - 1999
19. Raul* (Real Madrid) - 2001
20. Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid) - 2002
21. Thierry Henry* (Arsenal) - 2003
22. Deco* (Porto / Barcelona) - 2004
23. Frank Lampard* (Chelsea) - 2005
24. Cristiano Ronaldo* (Manchester United) - 2007

* So far...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beijing 2008 - First Round draw

Further to my recent article 'Beijing Bound' which told you all about the countries that had qualified for the 2008 Olympic Football tournament, here's news of how the First Round groups were drawn out in the official ceremony which took place on Sunday.

Group A
Ivory Coast, Argentina, Australia, Serbia
Defending champions Argentina might be forgiven for thinking they've got a relatively easy path through to the next round. Though none of their three Group A opponents are pushovers in any way, Argentina should nonetheless secure a safe passage to the quarter finals where they'll play the runners-up in Group B.

That means the runner-up spot in Group A should make for a more interesting fight. For my money, I'd have to go for Serbia as the team to take the remaining place, purely because (in general) the youth development setup in Europe is of a higher quality than elsewhere. I'm prepared to admit I'm wrong, however, as African teams do tend to do well in this competition.

Aug 7 - Australia v Serbia, Ivory Coast v Argentina; Aug 10 - Argentina v Australia, Serbia v Ivory Coast; Aug 13 - Ivory Coast v Australia, Argentina v Serbia.

Group B
Netherlands, Nigeria, Japan, USA
This is arguably the most open group of the lot, but if any team has some sort of pedigree to go all the way, it's Nigeria. The 1996 Olympic football champions and 2008 African Cup of Nations quarter finalists will be strongly backed to do well in Group B, and I feel they'll do that support justice by finishing top.

The team finishing as runner-up in the group (and facing the unwanted task of almost certainly meeting Argentina in the next round) is not easy to identify. Japan have been known to reach the quarter final stage before and in the Netherlands and the United States you have two sides with promising young players ready to catch the eye. For me though, I'd have to go with the Netherlands.

Aug 7 - Japan v USA, Netherlands v Nigeria; Aug 10 - Nigeria v Japan, USA v Netherlands; Aug 13 - Netherlands v Japan, Nigeria v USA.

Group C
China, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium
This group should be completely wrapped up by the time the final round of games are played on August 13th. Hosts China and many people's favourites Brazil have two relatively weak opponents in the shape of Belgium and New Zealand, therefore I see no other outcome than the former pair taking the two qualification places ahead of the latter.

China will no doubt have vociferous home support, but Brazil, looking to capture their first Olympic title, should overcome that. I'd guess they'll have attained the more superior goal difference by the time they meet in the closing pair of games in Shenyang, so my money's on Brazil to finish first, China second, Belgium third and New Zealand fourth.

Aug 7 - Brazil v Belgium, China v New Zealand; Aug 10 - New Zealand v Brazil, Belgium v China; Aug 13 - China v Brazil, New Zealand v Belgium.

Group D
South Korea, Cameroon, Honduras, Italy
An intriguing range of teams line up for Group D. Cameroon and Italy have both won gold in previous competitions and may very well be the two qualifiers here ahead of Honduras and South Korea who in themselves should be a tricky obstacle to overcome.

Honduras managed to stop Mexico from reaching the Beijing games and South Korea, like Japan, have proved they have the ability to progress beyond the first round, but without doubt it'll be Italy and Cameroon that set the pace in Group D. While Italy will be wanting to improve on the bronze medals they won in Athens four years ago, Cameroon will be aiming for the top step of the medal rostrum which they occupied in 2000. It shouldn't be too far beyond their reach, and if nothing else I favour them to top the group at least.

Aug 7 - Honduras v Italy, South Korea v Cameroon; Aug 10 - Cameroon v Honduras, Italy v South Korea; Aug 13 - South Korea v Honduras, Cameroon v Italy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 10

Apologies for the absence of 'Champions League You Bet' last time around. Circumstances beyond my control, I'm afraid ('being on holiday' being a more useful explanation), but it's back, back, back once again in time for the Champions League semi-finals, you lucky people...

As has been said during every week of this feature since the dawn of time, we're struggling to raise some money for our favourite football-related charity on account of the fact that our bets haven't been coming up trumps - a lesson in why not to gamble if ever there was one - but we remain determined to improve on our initial £10 stake until the very last kick of the 2008 Final.

This week, we're focussing solely on the first leg of the semi-final between Barcelona and Manchester United that's taking place this Wednesday. All you have to do is choose the bet you think is most likely to bring in some winnings and make your selection accordingly. Here's this week's three options for you to survey, and study them carefully as we don't want any more careless selections like we've had for the previous eight weeks (ahem...)

Bet A
Samuel Eto'o to score first
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet B
Man United to win 2-1
Potential winnings: £10.00

Bet C
Rio Ferdinand to score at any time
Potential winnings: £17.00

Thank you to everyone that took the time to vote on this week's You Bet. With a 53% share, Bet B was the winner, so keep your fingers crossed that Manchester United can beat Barcelona 2-1 in today's semi-final first leg!

If the Premier League were a popularity contest...

Consider this for a moment, if you will. If I were to ask a carefully chosen selection of football fans here in England who they'd like to see relegated from the Premier League (except for Derby who already are), what would be the most popular answer?

Chances are, you may well be wrong. According to an article in The Guardian on Friday, it's Bolton Wanderers, and I find that really quite staggering.

In the article, fanzines of all twenty Premier League sides were polled. They were asked four questions: 'Which club would you like to see relegated?' and 'Why?' (for footballing and non-footballing reasons), and 'Who will go down with Derby?' To my surprise, nine of the twenty responses to question 1 were 'Bolton', with Wigan and Sunderland taking three votes each, Fulham and Reading taking two each and Birmingham the remaining one.

It seems, from this harmless little straw poll, that Bolton have irked many a Premier League fan in recent times, but I was at a loss to know the reason why. It was probably rather intelligent of me, then, to read some of the answers to question 2. Here are a selection of some of them:

"Their philosophy of football is appalling and isn't exactly beneficial to the development of the sport as a spectacle."

"I hate the brand of football employed by Sam Allardyce and continued by Gary Megson."

"I don't like their brutish style of football, using the sharpened elbows of Kevin Davies to rough up opposing defences while El Hadji Diouf does his dying swan act all over the pitch."

"The most boring team in Premier League history. I left the Reebok early last week as I'd done my neck in looking for the ball in the sky."

...and so it goes on. Now forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just a little unfair? OK, so Bolton may not play the most scintillating style of football in the world, but then neither do a lot of other teams. That's what makes football the rich tapestry that it is - lots of teams all playing in different ways.

I'll be honest and say that I did watch a couple of their UEFA Cup games on TV earlier in the season and didn't feel enormously entertained as a result, but it didn't automatically lead me to wish them an exit from the top flight, nor did I assume that was what you got every time Bolton ran out onto the pitch to play their next match.

When I read this article, I was expecting West Ham to be the main focus of everyone's attention, given the shenanigans of last season with the Tevez / Mascherano affair and the fact that football fans tend to have very long memories. Apparently I was wrong.

And yes I know technically West Ham aren't in the frame to be relegated this season, but I still thought someone would want to tell the world they should be removed from the setup.

So please, give Bolton a break - that's all I say. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they're pretty harmless in the overall scheme of things and deserve the credit of representing England in European competition twice in the last few years... Unless you know better of course. Tell us if there's someone you'd like to see relegated this season and why!

Friday, April 18, 2008

All-Time Premier League Tables

(Article updated to correct errors and show data up to the end of the 2007/08 season)

Well here we are careering towards the end of the Premier League season, so with just a handful of games left, let's take a look at the Premier League table…

Actually, let's not.

Let's face it, we all have a pretty good idea of who sits where at the moment. At the top, Man United - 2007/08 champions in all but name now - followed by the resurgent Chelsea, then the faltering Arsenal and the always-fourth Liverpool.

So far, so predictable. Below the top four we have a series of teams that occasionally get a run together and are essentially a cut above the rest but aren't good enough to break into that top bunch, namely the Portsmouths, Blackburns, Aston Villas, Man Citys and even Evertons of this world.

Below them come the also-rans, the giants of mediocrity that harm no-one and come to no harm themselves. Stand up West Ham, Tottenham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. And finally we have the stragglers, those teams fighting amongst themselves to avoid the falling guillotine when the dreaded moment comes.

All of which is what you've basically come to know for some time now, so you don't need to see the Premier League table. Far better, then, to show you a more interesting Premier League table, namely one showing the total number of points accrued by each team that's ever played in the top flight since 1992/93.

OK, so some of this is predictable and given that the more seasons you play, the more likely you are to accumulate a decent points total, and this probably isn't going to raise too many eyebrows but it does make for a more interesting read at least. Have a look and see where your team figures in the 'All-Time Greatest Premier League Teams Of All Time Table'... (see below - click for larger version)

As you can see, only five points separate Everton and Blackburn up in the Top 10, as is the case for Aston Villa and Newcastle.

All well and good, but at this point I'd like to admit once again that it's not exactly fair to look purely at 'total points scored' in the history of the Premier League, so by way of providing balance, here's a table showing the average points scored per game by each team instead (see below right).

In this pared-down table, you'll see that QPR have leapt up from 27th to 10th and Leeds are up to 7th. Swindon drop right to the bottom having picked up the lowest points-per-game ratio from their only Premier League season thus far.

Great, so now we know which teams have performed the best since the Premier League's inception in 1993. Except it'd be quite good to see which teams have scored and conceded the most goals, wouldn't it? If only we had the data for that… (ahem…)

So as you can see from the yellow column on the right in this table, Leeds remain in the Top 10 even though this is the fourth season they've been away from the top flight. That said, West Ham and Middlesbrough should leapfrog Southampton imminently to close the gap on the Elland Road side.

Higher up the table, you can see that Newcastle and Tottenham are engaged in a bitter battle for 5th place with only five goals being the difference between the two teams. It'd be nice to think both teams had this 'battle' on their minds the next time they played each other, but let's be honest, it's unlikely...

Finally, we come to a list showing the total number of goals conceded by every team that's played in the Premier League. Strangely enough, Spurs top this list, closely followed by Everton in second and Aston Villa in fourth - three teams you wouldn't expect to find there.

The likes of Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool are not that far behind, but not as far behind as Wolves who can at least claim to be at the right end of one table.

So there you are - several tables to generate a bit more interest than the current Premier League alternative and an exercise in showing that if you massage statistics enough, you can please and annoy everyone in equal amounts.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #57

The Lure of the Maple Leaf
12 British footballers who once played for Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL

1. Alan Ball (1979-80)
2. Peter Beardsley (1981-83)
3. David Cross (1983-84)
4. Bruce Grobelaar (1979-81)
5. Kevin Hector (1978-80)
6. Willie Johnston (c. 1979)
7. Ray Lewington (1980)
8. Peter Lorimer (1981-83)
9. Dave Thomas (1981)
10. Dave Watson (1983)
11. Trevor Whymark (1980)
12. Terry Yorath (1981-82)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obscure Kits From British Football History #6

Sunderland (home)

We've talked before about how some teams are synonymous with a particular look to the kit they wear. Many teams prefer a bold strip of just one colour (think Real Madrid and Liverpool), others like to wear hoops (a la Queens Park Rangers and Sporting Lisbon) while a distinct minority have adopted an interesting half-an-half appearance (such as Feyenoord and Blackburn Rovers).

For many though, it always was and always will be stripes for their club's kit. One such team that falls into that category is Sunderland, and as you'll all be aware, they consider their red and white stripes to be the perfect antidote to the black and white of their near neighbours Newcastle United.

Those big red and white bands running the full length of the Sunderland shirt have almost always been accompanied by black shorts, except for a spell between 1961 and 1973 when they were white. The stripes seemed a non-negotiable facet to the club's identity, but when Sunderland returned to the old First Division in 1980 after a three-season lay-off, a change to the kit was not far off.

Someone somewhere decided that as this was the start of a new era in the top flight for The Rokerites, the kit should reflect the new beginning that was underway. For the 1980-81 season, Sunderland were to wear a home strip featuring no bold red and white stripes, no black shorts - not even white shorts. This was something utterly different than anything they'd worn before.

The new kit was made by Le Coq Sportif who, back then, were a major manufacturer of football attire for people like Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and even the Argentinean national team. They took on the Sunderland brief and gave them a design which, like all individual and revolutionary designs, would go down in history as either an unsurpassable classic or a never-to-be-repeated aberration.

The new shirt was predominantly white but featured a series of double tramlines in red running from top to bottom. These weren't stripes in the old-fashioned sense, nor were they the pinstripes that were so prevalent in the game around this time. These were 'thin stripes' and they were about as popular as they were visible from not-too-far away.

Even the shorts were red - another dramatic break from tradition - but then that's probably the only colour they could have been as white or black might have looked a bit silly. Finish off the job with a pair of red socks and there you have it - a kit that lasted for two seasons and has never been matched before or since.

It didn't go down well and the design was scrapped in 1983, as were the manufacturers. When Nike arrived as a new name on the British sportswear scene, they did the decent thing and wasted no time in reinstating the thick red and white stripes again. The old kit didn't even have the kudos of being worn by anyone famous (apart from Ally McCoist, pictured) such was the very ordinary team they had back then.

We can therefore say this was just an interesting experiment that's best left in the scrapbook of British Football Kit Design for another twenty-five years until someone else stumbles upon it. Sometimes you just don't win anything for trying to be revolutionary. Tradition is what people like, and more often than not as a football kit designer, you're best of just staying with the tried and trusted. It's just a shame no-one at Le Coq Sportif knew that.

Friday, April 11, 2008

My First Match

Before we get on with the following article, a quick apology for the lack of new stuff going on this week. My excuse is that I've been on a hastily-organised holiday of sorts in the west of England in a place called Mere. It has few distinguishing features except for the fact that it's probably the last place in Britain to acknowledge the existence of the Internet.

I was staying in a cottage that has no connection to the World Wide Web, the nearest open wi-fi network was about five miles away and the only access I had to my blogsite was via a PC situated in a small local library 100 yards away from our holiday home. They allowed casual web surfers like me one hour to find out whatever you could from the outside world before cutting off my access (painful if you're not ready for it) and that was about it.

So here I am, just back from my holiday, uploading my first article for almost a week, and I hope you enjoy it accordingly. Now I'm back from The Land The Internet Forgot, you should find I'm a lot more prolific than I have been in the days to come.


One memory that many of us seem to share with great affection is that of the first football match we ever went to. I'd like those of you visiting SPAOTP to tell myself and the rest of the audience about your memories if you'd care to, but in the meantime let me tell you mine.

The first football match I ever went to was between my favourite team, West Ham United, and Orient (often, as now, known as Leyton Orient) on Saturday, December 26th 1980. I was nine years old and West Ham were playing in the old Second Division. The former was something I'd experience only once in my life, the latter would happen all too regularly for my own personal liking.

The opportunity to go and watch The Hammers for the first time came about when my aunt Sylv suggested it'd be a good idea for her son (my cousin and fellow West Ham supporter) Keith to take me along to see a game at Upton Park as that was where he chose to spend many of his Saturday afternoons anyway.

There was also the added exciting bonus of sleeping over at Sylv's house that same night before returning to my family home the following morning. As you may agree, the prospect of spending the night in someone else's house when you're only nine is about as exhilarating as it gets, so I didn't need to be asked twice on this one.

And then came the big day. I didn't live very far away from Sylv and Keith so I arrived at their house in next to no time that Saturday lunchtime. After a quick hello and goodbye, Keith and I jumped on a bus (I think it was the number 5 but it's both difficult to remember and largely irrelevant) and before long we were walking along Green Street near the Boleyn Ground.

I seem to recall we arrived a little early - probably just before 2 o'clock, but Keith suggested we get our tickets, go through the turnstiles and find our place on the near-empty terraces. And yes, it was terraces in those days. None of this new-fangled all-seater business. You stood on the concrete steps like the 30,000-odd other fans and that was about all the luxury you were afforded.

Anyway, the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. The fans started to arrive the nearer we got to kick-off (a tradition that continues to this day, I can confirm) but the wait seemed to be endless. One welcome distraction, however, came when I looked up at the commentary box behind me and spotted Brian Moore.

Moore was the number 1 commentator on ITV back then and remained in that key position until his death in 2003. Renowned for his balding pate and his friendly, reverential commentary, Moore could often be seen up in his crow's nest at Upton Park surveying the action down below. The ITV cameras often visited West Ham's ground - more, I suspect because it wasn't far away from their studios on the South Bank of the Thames than because West Ham were anything approaching a top side of that era.

Anyway, the thought that West Ham v Orient would be featuring on 'The Big Match' that evening added an extra frisson of excitement to the proceedings, and when West Ham went on to win 3-1, you could be certain that I'd be staying up until 10.30 that night to watch the highlights of the self same match.

And therein lies another difference to the football of today. Back then, us Brits weren't spoon-fed wall-to-wall coverage of every goal from every game on TV. You had one 'highlights' show on a Saturday night or a Sunday afternoon and nothing else. They'd show the goals and best bits from three games and not all of those were from the top flight, so if your team wasn't featured, you were out of luck. But anyway, that's another story for another time...

Back to the plot. Keith and I got home from the match, me with my programme rolled up under my arm and a broad smile all over my face. We had our evening meal, talked all night about the game and before you knew it, it was 10.30 and ITV were showing my first ever match in highlight form all over again. It was a strange experience, seeing a game on TV I'd attend only hours earlier, but it nicely rounded off an exciting day that still lives with me as I approach my 37th birthday.

Upton Park was a different place then. It had a certain bleakness about it, but there was some good football played at the time and the players who ran out onto the pitch in their claret-and-blue shirts were, for someone of my age, legends in their own small way. Though I've seen many games at Upton Park since then, I'll never forget the first time I walked through the turnstiles and saw football 'in the flesh'. It was December 26th 1980, West Ham were playing Orient and it was a day to be frozen in my consciousness until the day I die.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup Semi Finals

At last we can say that our Road To Wembley finally has reached Wembley, but because of the arrangements that have been made by the FA this season, we're not quite at the FA Cup Final yet.

This weekend sees the semi finals taking place of the 2007/08 competition and we're specifically interested in the one taking place tomorrow between SPAOTP's featured team, Barnsley, and Cardiff City. Today, however, we've already seen Portsmouth edge past their opponents, West Bromwich Albion, to reach the Final in May.

So what of Barnsley then? Well we were quite flippant in the last round that our world-renowned jinx would see them lose to Chelsea, but we were wrong. Barnsley battled and battled just as they'd done in previous rounds and managed to get a winning lead through Kayode Odejayi who scored from close range with around 25 minutes left on the clock.

Though Chelsea attacked throughout thanks to the likes of Joe Cole and Nicolas Anelka, Barnsley's defence remained solid, organised and resolute.

A 1-0 win was therefore the order of the day and so Barnsley's band of happy men get to stride out onto the Wembley turf tomorrow knowing a performance like their previous matches in the FA Cup this season (not the Championship, mind you) will earn them a place in the Final against Portsmouth. We say 'not the Championship' because their league position has slipped from 16th at the time of the FA Cup Quarter Finals to 21st at present.

They're now level on points with Southampton who occupy the first of the relegation spots and since their last FA Cup outing they've only notched up one win out of four in the league. Things are looking grim for The Tykes so a good run-out at Wembley tomorrow could give them the boost they need to avoid the Championship trap-door.

So let's will them on to success against Cardiff tomorrow for their sakes and ours. It's been a long and winding road to reach the Final during this series and most of the time we've had to say goodbye to a team just as soon as we've adopted one in each round. If Some People Are On The Pitch can keep Barnsley for a third successive match it'll be something akin to a miracle, quite frankly, but miracles can happen...

It's therefore time to settle back and enjoy the semi final tomorrow in the hope that Barnsley can weave their magic once again, but rest assured for the Final next month there'll be a lengthy and at times emotional look back on our Road To Wembley as we review how far we've come prior to this season's big finalé. Join SPAOTP for that if you can...

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #56

Going for gold
38 players who have competed in the Olympic Soccer Tournament

1. Stephen Appiah (Ghana, 2004)
2. Faustino Asprilla (Colombia, 1992)
3. Dino Baggio (Italy, 1992)
4. Bebeto (Brazil, 1996)
5. Oleg Blokhin (Soviet Union, 1972)
6. Tomas Brolin (Sweden, 1992)
7. Roberto Carlos (Brazil, 1996)
8. Hernan Crespo (Argentina, 1996)
9. Rinat Dasaev (Soviet Union, 1980)
10. Kazimierz Deyna (Poland, 1972)
11. Landon Donovan (USA, 2000)
12. Dunga (Brazil, 1984)
13. Luis Enrique (Spain, 1992)
14. Edu (Brazil, 2000)
15. Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon, 2000)
16. Quinton Fortune (South Africa, 2000)
17. Brad Friedel (USA, 1992)
18. 'Kily' Gonzalez (Argentina, 2004)
19. Gabriel Heinze (Argentina, 2004)
20. Junichi Inamoto (Japan, 2000)
21. Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria, 1996)
22. Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany, 1988)
23. Alexei Lalas (USA, 1992)
24. Grzegorz Lato (Poland, 1976)
25. Javier Mascherano (Argentina, 2004)
26. Benni McCarthy (South Africa, 2000)
27. Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan, 2000)
28. Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria, 1996)
29. Andrea Pirlo (Italy, 2000)
30. KarlHeinz Reidle (Germany, 1988)
31. Claudio Reyna (USA, 1992)
32. Rivaldo (Brazil, 1996)
33. Romario (Brazil, 1988)
34. Ronaldinho (Brazil, 1996)
35. Ronaldo (Brazil, 1996)
36. Jan Tomaszewski (Poland, 1976)
37. Taribo West (Nigeria, 1996)
38. Ivan Zamorano (Chile, 2000)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Beijing Bound

Call it the 'Poor Man's World Cup' if you like, but the Olympic Men's Soccer Tournament is a competition that is worthy of its place in the football calendar. This being an Olympic year, we've not got long to go before the next one rolls around and the good news is we now know who's going to be taking part in Beijing this August.

Sixteen teams will be involved, all of whom will be split into four groups of four with the top two from each group qualifying for the quarter finals and the ensuing knockout stages leading to the Final.

China, the hosts, have qualified automatically and probably just as well as they haven't reached the finals of the Olympic soccer tournament since 1988. They go into the First Round draw on April 20th along with the qualifiers from all six FIFA continents including Brazil and Argentina from South America.

Brazil missed out on the last event in Greece but return this time as one of the favourites along with reigning champions and near neighbours Argentina. The Argentineans were a revelation in Athens, playing a free-flowing, attack-minded style of play that saw them score seventeen goals and concede none.

Arguably the most eye-catching player in their team was the top scorer in 2004, Carlos Tevez who, we understand, has gone on to do quite well since. With players like Riquelme and Messi likely to have a similar effect on their 2008 campaign, don't be surprised if the gold medals go to the Albicelestes again.

Africa will be sending an impressive triumvirate of talent to the Games this summer. Returning to the big stage are 1996 Olympic champions Nigeria, 2000 champions Cameroon and newcomers to the tournament, Ivory Coast. All three were among the big names at the recent 2008 African Cup of Nations and all three are capable of causing an upset when this year's competition gets underway.

The Olympic Soccer Tournament is renowned for giving the world its first sight of many stars of the future and Nigeria's victorious team in Atlanta twelve years ago is a good example of this. Among the players who went onto become household names were Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro, Sunday Oliseh, Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba. If their current squad can boast potential like that, they could be bound for greatness in Beijing.

There's one or two new names to conjure with alongside the tried and trusted. Accompanying the ever-present USA from the CONCACAF section are Honduras who surprisingly got their place at the expense of the usually-ever-present Mexicans. Mexico showed their gratitude to team coach Hugo Sanchez for his inability to gain qualification for his team by giving him the sack. Perhaps they Mexican Waved him goodbye as they did so - who knows…

Another new name at Beijing 2008 is New Zealand who finally have the chance to compete thanks to Australia's migration to the Asian confederation. It'll be only the All White's second ever Olympic outing since 1952 when they made the huge journey to Melbourne to take part. Obviously not a team that likes to travel long distances very much…

Speaking of Australia, they've been more or less a permanent fixture in Olympic Soccer since 1988 and they'll be competing again in August when they'll be hoping to match their 1992 semi-final finish that ended at the hands of Poland. Representing Asia alongside Australia and China are Japan and South Korea, one of whom should get as far as the quarter finals if recent form is anything to go by.

Finally to Europe where four teams will be making the long journey to Beijing, but here again there are some surprises. If you're looking for the likes of Spain, France, Germany or Portugal, forget it. All of them fell by the wayside during the UEFA Under-21 Championships last June that acted as the qualification round leaving Italy (2004 Olympic semi-finalists), the Netherlands (appearing for the first time since 1952), Belgium (appearing for the first time since 1928) and Serbia, appearing for the first time in their own right.

With a considerable sense of irony, England reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-21 competition but as a distinct entity separate from Great Britain (hosts of the 2012 Olympics) they won't, of course, be appearing in this year's games. This caused a play-off to be held between the two third-placed teams, Portugal and Italy, and the latter won after a penalty shoot-out.

Quite a tenuous way of qualifying for the Italians who were only beaten by eventual champions Argentina in 2004 and picked up a bronze medal for their efforts. That must have stuck in the throat of Cristiano Ronaldo who made an appearance for the Portuguese four years ago and may well have done so in 2008 had his side been better at taking penalties against the Italians.

So there they are, the sixteen teams going for gold in Beijing this year. Some are going for Nigeria to win, many think it'll be Argentina, but all things considered you can expect a football tournament full of interest and excitement when the games begin this August.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

La Liga and the 39th Fixture

While the Premier League struggles to convince English football fans and the wider community around the world that a 39th fixture would give its product greater popularity, La Liga has taken a similar initiative and gone one better. From the 2010-11 season, Spanish teams will play an extra fixture in a series of venues around the globe to promote its already familiar brand.

In a statement released today, Tonto De Abril, LFP spokesman, revealed that negotiations have been taking place during the last nine weeks with numerous football federations around the world and a series of agreements are now in place. As a result, the following cities will host a '39th game' (or 'El Juego 39' as it's known in Spain) at the end of the 2011 campaign:

Bogota, Colombia
Umtata, South Africa
Lahore, Pakistan
Libreville, Gabon
Seoul, South Korea
Stuttgart, Germany
Halifax, Canada
Indianapolis, USA
Tomsk, Russia
Taipei, Taiwan

The sheer variety in these locations is quite deliberate, according to De Abril.

"We want to bring Spanish football to the many people around the world who so far could only have dreamed it or watched on their TV's. 'El Juego 39' has been welcomed in countries from Russia to South Africa and we believe our different cultures will combine to bring excitement to the fans of our respective nations."

The surprising element to this announcement comes amid defiant resistance to the idea first put forward by Premier League Chief Executive, Peter Scudamore. It's thought the Spanish authorities were prepared to do much more to promote the game in the countries where their own version of the 39th Game will be played in direct contrast to the English representatives who seemed merely intent on showcasing the English game and nothing more.

Reaction to the announcement in Madrid has been mixed with many people pleased to see the Spanish League promoted around the world in preference to the Premier League, while others were noticeably against the idea.

The popularity of the scheme, however, may rest on the date selected for the final game of the 2010-11 Spanish season to be played on. The suggestion of April 1st is proving to be controversial and is expected to be reviewed in the interim period.


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