Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chat, ramble, yap, talk, converse...

Ladies, gentlemen, esteemed guests... You are all invited to take part in our latest venture which we hope will be a success for all concerned.

Yes, the time has finally come to bring you a bulletin board system where you can talk about football to your heart's content. Whatever the subject, whether it's your favourite club, the Champions League, Euro 2008, or even SPAOTP itself, you can now chat about it to your heart's content at

http://spaotp.lefora.com.

Though we're blessed by so many of your comments on our articles, there's often a need to chat about other stuff that we're not presently discussing. That's where Some People Are On The Forum comes into play. It's our new meeting place for any of you that have something to say and where you're sure to find other like-minded people that want to do the same.

It's also the ideal place to tell us what you think about the articles you've read here at Some People Are On The Pitch or give us ideas about items you'd like to see.

It's free and easy to register, so why not help us get the site off the ground by visiting
Some People Are On The Forum and start chatting about the subjects you love. We'll be waiting for your arrival!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #63

Squat Thrusts a speciality...
21 Football Players That Have Appeared In The British TV Series 'Superstars'

1. Bobby Moore (1973)
2. Colin Bell (1974, 1975)
3. Mick Channon (1974. 1981)
4. Malcolm Macdonald (1976, 1977, 1981)
5. Stan Bowles (1976, 1977)
6. Peter Shilton (1976)
7. Kevin Keegan (1976)
8. Trevor Brooking (1979)
9. Bobby Charlton (1979)
10. Tony Currie (1979)
11. Geoff Hurst (1979)
12. Terry Yorath (1980)
13. Peter Bonetti (1981)
14. Stuart Pearson (1985)
15. Dwight Yorke (2002)
16. Gianluca Vialli (2002)
17. Stuart Pearce (2003)
18. Steve Claridge (2003)
19. Dennis Wise (2003)
20. Bryan Robson (2005)
21. John Barnes (2005)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time for our stars to lead by example

I can see you're dying to ask me, so let me save you the embarrassment. Yes, I did watch the England v USA international friendly match last night. Was I pleased with the result? I suppose I was, really. Always nice to win, of course. Was I pleased with England's performance? In as much as one can be when they've won 2-0 against reasonable opposition in a meaningless friendly, yes.

Unfortunately, although last night's game ended in a relatively satisfactory way, there was one sour note that lingered on for me. I know this has been discussed before and I'm probably going to open up a can of worms again, but I was quite appalled by the conduct of two of England's players with regard to the influence they'll have on the young children watching.

I give two examples to explain my point. Firstly, there was an incident in the second-half when Wayne Rooney was spoken to by the referee following a tackle on one of the USA players. I think he might have even been booked at the time, but what I do recall quite clearly was the image on my TV of Rooney repeatedly shouting the words "f*** off" at the referee as he walked away from the official. Not a very mature way to react, in my opinion.

Secondly, an England attack on the US goal sometime later was brought to an abrupt halt by the referee's whistle (again, excuse me but the exact reason why escapes me - I think a foul or offside was called), and this resulted in John Terry running back to his own half uttering the F-word openly several times in abject frustration at the referee's decision.

I couldn't help but think that for any kids watching the game last night, this was not the example to set them. I know many children these days have a more than accomplished expletive vocabulary before they're out of kindergarten, but it's not them I'm concerned about. They've already been let down by their parents and probably society as a whole, so maybe there's little that can be done for them now.

It's the kids who are being brought up by responsible people in a respectable environment that I fear for. Not only are they being given every encouragement to swear profusely by their sporting heroes, but they're also being taught that it's OK to disrespect their superiors and elders.

Now before I carry on, I know there'll be plenty of you out there telling me to wake up, smell the coffee and get real, but this really irritates me. The likes of Rooney and Terry need to realise they are role models for kids and are as responsible as anyone for making sure they get the right messages and influences during their developmental years. Given the amount of money they're earning every week, they've surely got to justify it one way or the other and this is just one way of many.

Of course one way to look at this is to suggest some form of punishment that would discourage players from acting so irresponsibly. My wife, a keen rugby union and cricket fan, tells me that in the former you can be sin-binned for acting in an unsportsmanlike way towards the referee. This sounds like a fair way of dealing with the problem to me, especially if the temporary expulsion from the game were to last around 15 minutes or more. I personally feel the absence of such talented players for that time would certainly put extra pressure on their team-mates and discourage them from acting that way again.

There's also the option of heavily fining the players involved, but let's face it, the fine would have to run into six figures to make them lose any sleep over their actions, and that's not going to happen.

So what else can be done? What are your thoughts and ideas on the matter? Should I be cutting a bit more slack for supposedly committed, professional players like Rooney and Terry or should they be punished more severely for their poor demeanour?

Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment… oh and remember, any swearing will not be tolerated… ;-)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Euro 2008 City Guide: Vienna

Following yesterday's cursory overview of the eight cities hosting Euro 2008 games this summer, our inbox became overrun with an email from our good friend over at Football Overdose, Chris C Paul.

With his usual sense of politeness and decorum, he informed us that quite honestly our venue guide to Euro 2008 was a sham and an insult to the intelligence of football fans everywhere. Before we could so much as say 'alright then - see if you can do better', he went and showed us that he could do better, and the result is a guide to the city of Vienna (below) that's really very good. Could you tell we were saying that through gritted teeth?

Vienna
The history of Vienna is redolent with conflict, culture, and intrigue. The Celts, Barbarians, Romans, and Ottomans have all fought it out for this central European hotbed. Even the mongols had their eyes on it at one time and had plans to sweep through on horses to do a bit of raping and pillaging.

More recently the city's back streets and swanky hotels saw the shady goings on of the Cold War and James Bond-style espionage. Throughout history, therefore, Vienna has been a western stronghold, a bastion of the west against the rest.

No wonder, then, that culture, or what we think of as western high culture - the opera and all that - has become so integral to its identity. All the intellectual and cultural highbrow activity mark it out as a place of importance: a place worth preserving in the western mind set.

Loads of composers have lived and produced there, the classical big guns of Strauss and Mozart among them, attracted like artistic types always are to throbbing and diverse cities.

Statues and busts of the great and good dot Stadtpark in the middle of town. More recently a youthful Adolf Hitler would stalk the Viennese streets, inspired by its triumphal Aryan heritage.

Vienna is really a living museum of the west, stately and mysterious. An historic venue for that comparatively small matter of the European Cup, it also has the world's oldest zoo. Oh, and the Viennans make a delicious apple strudel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Euro 2008: 11 days to go...

The latest leg of our Euro 2008 build-up today focuses on the cities where the matches will be played.

The trouble is that Austria and Switzerland, the co-hosts, are... how can we put this... not all that interesting. Oh don't get us wrong, they're both beautiful countries in their own way, but when it comes to making them sound appealing for the purposes of an article like this, you've really got your work cut out.

We therefore present to you our guide to the venues of Euro 2008 featuring all the interesting facts you need to know about each one... or more to the point, the only interesting facts we could find on each one full stop.

Vienna

Vienna is twinned with, amongst others, Los Angeles, Moscow and Zagreb - ironic given that Croatia are in Austria's Euro 2008 group. If Croatia beat the Austrians, I wonder if they'll break all ties with them?

Vienna is also where you'll find the Tiergarten Schönbrunn - the world's oldest zoo.

Vienna is where Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss all lived.

It's also famous for those culinary delicacies, the Wiener schnitzel (fried veal in breadcrumbs) and apple strudel.

Innsbruck

Innsbruck hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.

It's also said to be where Douglas Adams got his inspiration for 'The Hitchhikers Gudie to the Galaxy' when visiting there in 1971.

The most successful local sportsman is Markus Prock, winner of silver medals in the luge at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics. No, we haven't heard of him either.

Klagenfurt

Klagenfurt has an annual BeachVolleyball Grand Slam event that attracts competitors from all over the world. Not bad for a city 446 metres above sea level.

Klagenfurt was a contender for hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics, but missed out to Turin, Italy.

One of Klagenfurt's visitor attractions is the 'Minimundus', a park featuring miniature scale models of well-known buildings and landmarks from around the globe. Fabulous.

Salzburg

Salzburg is the birthplace of the great composer, Mozart.

Means 'salt castle' from the barges that travelled up the Salzach river centuries ago.

Much of the film 'The Sound of Music' was filmed in Salzburg.

Tourists are advised to visit any one of large number of salt mines in the city. Many have facilities available such as cafés, but you're best off not ordering their bacon sandwiches - they're a bit... oh, you're ahead of us on that one.

Basel

Basel is a major industrial centre for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland.

It's also the home town of renowned tennis player, Roger Federer.

One of the main music venues in the city is the 'Bird's Eye Jazz Club'. Great music, but we wouldn't recommend the food - it's mainly frozen stuff, apparently.

Zurich

Zurich is where you'll find the headquarters of FIFA. No bias towards giving Switzerland the co-hosting rights there, then.

Johanna Spyri, author of the well-known children's book 'Heidi' was born here. Though she lived to the ripe old age of 74, she didn't get to see the 26-part adaptation of the story that was made for TV in the late-1970's. Some people have all the luck...

Zurich also has some 1,200 free drinking fountains, making it one of the world's most fontainous cities. (You see - it's not every football blog site that uses words like 'fontainous', you know...)

Geneva

...is where the Geneva Conventions come from. They're made up of four treaties that outline the correct treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war. So there.

Geneva's main football club is Servette. Their perennial boast was that they were the only club never to have been relegated from the top flight in Switzerland throughout their history. Sadly in 2005, Servette's parent company went bankrupt and the club were relegated to the third tier. You've gotta laugh, haven't you?

Geneva has featured heavily as a location in many movies and TV shows, including 'Goldfinger', 'Three Colours: Red', 'Babylon 5', and most importantly of all from a cultural perspective, 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers'.

Berne

Berne is where Albert Einstein created his Theory of Relativity while working as a clerk in a patent office.

Berne is home to a number of interesting museums including a Natural History Museum, an Alpine Museum and a Psychiatry Museum, although of course no-one in their right mind ever visits the Psychiatry Museum.

Berne also has an annual fair every fourth Monday in November called the 'Zibelemärit' or 'onion market'. It's where the locals get together every year to celebrate the many wonders of the tear-inducing vegetable and it's here you can buy such delicacies as onion pie, onion sausages and onion soup. Oh, and apparently they sell onions as well.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - The result

A belated update, now, on how well we did in our Champions League You Bet feature.

You'll remember we were having a weekly £1 bet to raise money for Little League Football, a charity that aims to help those less fortunate kids around Britain that can't find a local football team or pay for the required entry fees.

Back in September last year, we started off with £10 in our kitty, won £3.75 in Week 1, then promptly lost our £1 stake every week until the Champions League Final last Wednesday. At that point, and not without a huge sense of irony, we won again - this time the princely sum of £4.50 (thank you Cristiano Ronaldo).

All of which left us with a final not-so-grand total of £5.25. Not great, I think you'll all agree, but at least we didn't end the competition with no money at all.

With the competition now over, I have a couple of things to say. Firstly, given the fact that we started off with £10 sloshing around in our slush fund, it'd be only fair to not just give Little League Football the £5.25 they're due but to round it up to £10. That in itself isn't much in the overall scheme of things, but it's a bit better than £5.25.

Secondly, if you're feeling frustrated that we didn't win more, don't let that stop you. There's still an open opportunity for you to give a donation to Little League Football simply by clicking here and telling them you'd like to help.

Finally, I just want to say a huge 'thank you' to everyone that registered a vote or left a comment throughout this season's run of 'You Bet'. Given the amount of success we had in raising money through it, I wouldn't have been surprised if you'd have all given up and left in your droves. The fact that you maintained your interest in it right to the end means a lot, so thanks for taking part once again.

Having played 'You Bet' on an off over the last two years and not won a great deal of money through it, I doubt if you'll be seeing it again in the 2008/09 season, but let me know if you'd like it to return. If nothing else, we aim to please here at SPAOTP... :-)

Play the game, Chelsea...

I'm sorry, Avram Grant, but you had it coming to you.

You may have taken Chelsea to the Carling Cup Final, you may have helped Chelsea to finish second in the 2007/08 Premier League (just two points behind champions Man United), you may have steered Chelsea to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the Final of the Champions League, (losing out only penalties), but if you thought that was the sort of standard that would cut the mustard in this modern era, you were seriously mistaken.

Frankly you deserve to have your contract terminated so you can go off and gain employment elsewhere... like a club that appreciates your efforts and is only too pleased to achieve one of the above, let alone all four.

Good luck, Avram - we hope you go onto bigger and better things than Chelsea Football Club.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #62

First Caps for The Three Lions
The Last 65 Players To Make Their Debut For England And The Clubs They Were Playing For At The Time *

1. Ashley Cole (Arsenal, 2001)
2. Francis Jeffers (Arsenal, 2003)
3. Ray Parlour (Arsenal, 1999)
4. Theo Walcott (Arsenal, 2006)
5. Gareth Barry (Aston Villa, 2000)
6. Scott Carson (Aston Villa, 2007)
7. Lee Hendrie (Aston Villa, 1998)
8. Darrius Vassell (Aston Villa, 2002)
9. Ashley Young (Aston Villa, 2007)
10. Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich, 2001)
11. David Bentley (Blackburn Rovers, 2007)
12. David Dunn (Blackburn Rovers, 2002)
13. Matthew Upson (Birmingham, 2003)
14. Michael Ricketts (Bolton, 2002)
15. Alan Thompson (Celtic, 2004)
16. Luke Young (Charlton, 2005)
17. Darren Bent (Charlton, 2006)
18. Paul Konchesky (Charlton, 2003)
19. Scott Parker (Charlton, 2003)
20. Chris Powell (Charlton, 2001)
21. Wayne Bridge (Chelsea, 2002)
22. Glen Johnson (Chelsea, 2003)
23. John Terry (Chelsea, 2003)
24. Andrew Johnson (Crystal Palace, 2005)
25. Michael Ball (Everton, 2001)
26. Joleon Lescott (Everton, 2007)
27. Wayne Rooney (Everton, 2003)
28. Zat Knight (Fulham, 2005)
29. Richard Wright (Ipswich, 2000)
30. Lee Bowyer (Leeds United, 2002)
31. Danny Mills (Leeds United, 2001)
32. Alan Smith (Leeds United, 2001)
33. Jonathan Woodgate (Leeds United, 1999)
34. Steve Guppy (Leicester, 1999)
35. Emile Heskey (Leicester, 1999)
36. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool, 1999)
37. Steve Gerrard (Liverpool, 2000)
38. Danny Murphy (Liverpool, 2001)
39. Joey Barton (Manchester City, 2007)
40. Micah Richards (Manchester City, 2006)
41. Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City, 2004)
42. Wes Brown (Manchester United, 1999)
43. Keiran Richardson (Manchester United, 2005)
44. Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough, 2005)
45. Kieran Dyer (Newcastle, 1999)
46. Jermaine Jenas (Newcastle, 2003)
47. Robert Green (Norwich, 2005)
48. David Nugent (Preston, 2007)
49. Nicky Shorey (Reading, 2007)
50. James Beattie (Southampton, 2003)
51. Peter Crouch (Southampton, 2005)
52. Michael Gray (Sunderland, 1999)
53. Kevin Phillips (Sunderland, 1999)
54. Jermain Defoe (Tottenham, 2004)
55. Anthony Gardner (Tottenham, 2004)
56. Ledley King (Tottenham, 2002)
57. Aaron Lennon (Tottenham, 2006)
58. Paul Robinson (Tottenham, 2003)
59. Tim Sherwood (Tottenham, 1999)
60. Ben Foster (Watford, 2007)
61. Michael Carrick (West Ham, 2001)
62. Joe Cole (West Ham, 2001)
63. Frank Lampard (West Ham, 1999)
64. Trevor Sinclair (West Ham, 2001)
65. Chris Kirkland (Wigan, 2006)

(* Not many Man United players, are there?)

To save you counting, Tottenham have provided the most England debutantes since the 1998 World Cup (which this list covers) with six. Aston Villa and Charlton have provided five each with four coming from Arsenal, Leeds and West Ham respectively.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Euro 2008: 15 days to go...

With just over two weeks to go before Euro 2008 gets underway, we felt it was time to get down to the serious business of talking about the really important issue surrounding this year's European Championships.

No, not whether Cristiano Ronaldo will finish as top scorer, nor whether Greece can retain their title. The really important question we need to ask is: Which country has the best team bus?

Once again, those crazy tournament co-ordinators have commissioned some specially designed coaches to ferry the Euro 2008 squads around from venue to venue, and once again you can be assured of two things: (1) They're brightly coloured, and (2) they have a slogan printed on them which is either banal, badly translated into English, incomprehensible or an impressive combination of all three.

Older visitors to SPAOTP may recall we had this conversation almost exactly two years ago in only our fourth ever article. We were building up to the 2006 World Cup and were revelling in the delightful novelty value of having team buses that had individually selected slogans chosen from thousands of entries from each country in question.

How we laughed back then, and how we'll roll our eyes with disillousionment now as we realise they've taken the same approach for Euro 2008. Oh well, let's get this over and done with...

WELCOME, EVERYONE, TO THE EURO 2008 PARADE OF COACHES!

First of all, it's co-host Austria with this delightful vision in red...


Their slogan: "Only together we can win…!" (Huh, yeah - and half of the Brazil team as well, if they'll play...)

Next up it's France sporting a slick blue livery...



Their slogan: "Live together, celebrate together" (...and if all else fails, call a national strike, presumably...)

On now to Greece who arrive at the tournament in this white and blue apparition...



Their slogan: "One team one dream!" (...one plate of moussaka and a pint of ouzo as well, please...)

And here comes the Dutch bus in what else but bright orange!



Their slogan: "1 mission, 1 feeling, together we are orange" (Rejected slogan: '1 dream, 1 goal, 1 prize, 1 goal, 1 golden glance... of what should be... it's a kind of magic.')

Next, onto the Poland coach and a clean red and white look that's bound to impress the crowd...



Their slogan: "…because only sport and good fun counts!" (but if Poland are eliminated at the end of the First Round, we'll sack the manager anyway...)

Trailing in towards the back is the Portuguese coach with their contrasting colour scheme of red and green...



Their slogan: "This coach is driven by the Will to Win" (...or if absent, Senhor José da Silva - he's just passed his test, you see...)

Now it's Spain following on from their near neighbours, and what a vivid shade of red and yellow that is...



Their slogan: "Whatever happens, SPAIN ALWAYS" (...'fails to reach the knock-out stage'? Is that the end of the sentence you couldn't fit on?)

Finally it's our other co-hosts, Switzerland, in yet another red coach. When you've seen one, you've seen 'em all, I suppose...



Their slogan: "Final destination: Vienna" (or jump on the 169 in Zurich High Street if it's the terminus you're after...)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Haven't we been here before?

For those of you waking up today after a six-week coma, tonight sees one of those once-in-a-lifetime occurrences that heightens the senses and gets every football fan watching in eager anticipation - a Champions League Final between two English clubs.

Over in Moscow, Chelsea and Manchester United will do battle for that ludicrously large piece of silverware resembling one of Liberace's ashtrays as well as the title of 'Champions of Europe'.

But all this business about an all-English Final is actually old hat. There's been an all-English European Final before, and it was so successful that we haven't had one for 36 years. It all happened back in 1972 when no-one had heard of Johan Cruyff and the height of new football kit design meant having a stripe running down the sleeves of your shirt.

Such was the football landscape back then, and in it were two teams intent on being the first to win the brand-new UEFA Cup - Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. Along with Southampton and Leeds United, they set out to capture the trophy for England, but little did they know they'd be facing each other in the two-legged Final later that season.

Tottenham entered the competition having finished third in the old First Division in 1971 while Wolves, undoubtedly reaching a peak they hadn't experienced since the 1950's, had ended the campaign in fourth.

Both were bursting with talent that typified the hard but often skilful game played in England at the time. For Spurs there was Pat Jennings in goal, future Premier League manager Joe Kinnear, England international Alan Mullery, Welsh international Mike England, a young Steve Perryman, Martin Chivers and a member of the 1966 World Cup winning team in Martin Peters.

Wolves line-up had less in the way of big name stars, but there was still plenty to give Spurs something to think about. The late, great Derek Dougan led the way up front, backed up by people such as Kenny Hibbitt, John Richards and captain Jim McCalliog.

The UEFA Cup would prove to be a memorable one for both clubs with some impressive results along the way. Tottenham cruised through Round One with a 15-1 aggregate victory over Icelandic side Keflavik while Wolves' 7-1 aggregate victory over Academica of Portugal preceded a 7-0 aggregate win over Den Haag in the next. Spurs nearly met their match when Nantes held them to a narrow 1-0 win over both legs, but from there on in both teams were in unstoppable form.

Tottenham managed to eliminate Rapid Bucharest and AC Milan before reaching the Final but Wolves were determined not to be outdone by brushing aside Carl Zeiss Jena and Juventus in the build-up to the grand finale against their English foes.

And so to that two-legged Final. On May 3rd 1972 it was off to Molineux but it was the away team, Tottenham, that gained a numerical advantage to take back to White Hart Lane. Star Player for the Lilywhites that night was undoubtedly Martin Chivers who bagged a brace either side of a McCalliog goal in the 72nd minute. Chivers ended the game with a total of eight goals from his eleven UEFA Cup matches that season as his club sought to defend their narrow 2-1 lead in the second leg.

Two weeks later, Tottenham did just that. A goal by Alan Mullery in the 29th minute put the home side at ease, and though Wolves' David Wagstaffe got an equaliser five minutes before half time, they were still left to find another goal to level the tie on aggregate. They didn't, and so it was that at the end of the night Tottenham's Alan Mullery lifted the trophy that they'd win again some twelve years later.

An older and wiser Steve Perryman would raise the cup that night, but on May 17th 1972, he was just another member of the victorious Tottenham team that outplayed another English team in the Final, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Football in England was fast approaching such a peak back then that it was acceptable to believe there might be a few more all-English finals, yet we've had to wait all this time for another.

Could it happen again? Quite possibly, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm sitting here writing the next similar article in 2044. Matches like the one taking place tonight don't happen every year, you know...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Euro 2008: 17 days to go...

As part of our attempt to bring you a veritable smorgasbord of stuff to prepare you for the Euro 2008 Finals next month, today we bring you a selection of super sites to get you in the mood quicker than Lewis Hamilton riding a rocket-powered cheetah.

Firstly, we bring you a website which could have been the older sibling of SPAOTP that was separated from us at birth but which we've now been reunited with in a teary and emotional manner. That site is called 'The Onion Bag' and I make no apologies for giving it star billing here as two of the men behind it, Duffman and Sp3ktor, have recently joined the SPAOTP writing pool which until recently consisted of... well, just me, actually.

Now is a very good time to go and visit The Onion Bag as only yesterday they celebrated their fifth birthday - a tremendous achievement in blogging terms and all the more remarkable given the high standard of frankly silly but nonetheless amusing material they produce. If you like football stripped of all its self-consciousness and left to gawp embarassed at its own naked reflection in the mirror, The Onion Bag will give you what you want by the shed-load.

Oh and by the way - they've got heaps of Euro 2008 stuff too, including a handy facility to help you decide who to support this summer if you're English and a special edition of their Fantasy Football Agent game. Go pay them a visit - they'll love you for it and you'll love them back in return.

Elsewhere, if you want to read lots of great stuff about the history of the European Championships along with some incisive guides to this year's tournament, you need Twohundredpercent. As ever, it's the place to go for a regularly updated supply of writing on all aspects of the game, but with Euro 2008 looming menacingly on the horizon you won't be surprised to hear that it's being covered comprehensively too. Check it out...

Finally a special mention to my good friend, The Gaffer, who's back back back after a long spell of illness to continue the excellent work over at EPLTalk.com. He and his merry band of writers do a sterling job covering the full nine yards of world football on a daily basis - not just the Premier League as their URL suggests - and they also have a bulletin board, regular podcasts and a shop from which to buy lots of wonderful merchandise too. Their build-up to Euro 2008 is already underway, so why not drop by and see what's happening there?

Don't forget - other blogsites are available, so if we've left you out, please don't take it personally. If you'd like a mention though, drop us a line to info[at]spaotp[dot]com telling us what your site is doing in the lead up to the European Championships and all being well, we'll point people in your direction.

And that's it for now. More Euro 2008 news coming soon - in the meantime, mark your calendars: there's only 17 days to go 'til the action gets underway...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 12

Yet another long-running feature reaches its conclusion now at SPAOTP.com as we play our final round of Champions League You Bet.

Let's be honest - we've not done terribly well since we've started. Any hopes we had of making a fortune for our chosen charity have been sadly dashed, but before we try one last time to recoup a little cash for Little League Football, let's remind ourselves that one of the three options in Week 11 would have come up trumps if enough people had voted for it. That should give you enough incentive to think long and hard on this last occasion before selecting the bet you want us to choose this week.

And of course this Wednesday sees the Final of the 2007/2008 Champions League between Chelsea and Manchester United, so it's an extra-special occasion in more ways than one. To add a bit of spice to the proceedings, we've decided to give you not three but five bets to choose from and here they are in all their glory...

Bet A
Three goals scored in the match (not including Extra Time)
Potential winnings: £3.60

Bet B
Cristiano Ronaldo to score first
Potential winnings: £4.50

Bet C
Five minutes of injury time to be played (not including Extra Time)
Potential winnings: £8.00

Bet D
Manchester United to win in Extra Time
Potential winnings: £11.00

Bet E
Chelsea to win 2-0
Potential winnings: £15.00

The choice, as ever, is yours so tell us which one you think we should bet our final £1 stake on and if your opinion coincides with the majority of all those taking part, we will do...

VOTING ON THIS WEEK'S 'YOU BET' HAS NOW CLOSED.
For tonight's Final, the majority of you feel we should bet on Cristiano Ronaldo scoring first. That was Bet B which got 33% of your vote, so keep those fingers crossed, sit back and cheer on your most*/least* favourite Portuguese starlet. You never know - he might just win us some money...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Euro 2008: 19 days to go...

Time for another Euro 2008 update now and today we're looking at some of the announcements made recently detailing the squads playing in Austria and Switzerland.

Just yesterday, Spain coach Luis Aragones gave us his final 23-man squad for the finals and there were one or two notable absences - the main one being Real Madrid striker Raul.

He's been a key man in Real's title-winning campaign this season, scoring 18 goals, and is still Spain's leading goalscorer of all time with 44, but Aragones was insistent that Raul wasn't the only decent player he decided to leave out regardless of their current form. Sure enough, David Albelda and Joaquín Sánchez from Valencia have also been left out from the final Spanish squad.

Someone who has made the final cut, though, is Real Zaragoza striker Sergio Garcia. With only four goals to his name this season, Aragones was keen to note the quality of Garcia's recent individual performances as well as those of another surprise inclusion, the uncapped attacking midfielder from Villareal, Santiago Cazorla.

Spain squad for Euro 2008 (final):

Goalkeepers:
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Andres Palop (Sevilla)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Juanito (Real Betis), Alvaro Arbeloa (Liverpool), Fernando Navarro (Real Mallorca), Raul Albiol (Valencia), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal)

Midfielders: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), David Silva (Valencia), Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal), Ruben de La Red (Getafe), Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Marcos Senna (Villarreal)

Strikers:
David Villa (Valencia), Sergio Garcia (Real Zaragoza), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Daniel Guiza (Real Mallorca)

On now to France where coach Raymond Domenech has named a provisional 30-man squad which will be trimmed to 23 on May 28th. Among the key ommissions here were David Trezeguet who appears to be a victim of the coach's intent to play in a way that Trezeguet doesn't suit.

His place appears to have been taken by Saint Etienne striker Bafetimbi Gomis who has 16 goals to his name this season, but that aside there are very few surprises in the French squad. Here's how it looks...

France squad for Euro 2008 (provisional):

Goalkeepers:
Grégory Coupet (Olympique Lyonnais), Mickaël Landreau (Paris Saint-Germain), Sébastien Frey (Fiorentina), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille).

Defenders: Willy Sagnol (Bayern München), Lilian Thuram (Barcelona), William Gallas (Arsenal), Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Jean-Alain Boumsong (Olympique Lyonnais), François Clerc (Olympique Lyonnais), Julien Escudé (Sevilla), Philippe Mexès (Roma), Sébastien Squillaci (Olympique Lyonnais).

Midfielders: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal), Patrick Vieira (Internazionale), Claude Makelele (Chelsea), Jérémy Toulalan (Olympique Lyonnais), Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth).

Strikers: Franck Ribéry (Bayern München), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Sidney Govou (Olympique Lyonnais), Samir Nasri (Olympique de Marseille), Hatem Ben Arfa (Olympique Lyonnais), Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Karim Benzema (Olympique Lyonnais), Djibril Cissé (Olympique de Marseille), Bafétimbi Gomis (Saint Etienne).

Finally for now, a look at Germany's squad and the only choices that might raise an eyebrow or two are uncapped teenage winger Marko Marin from Bundesliga 2 side Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler who replaces usual 2nd-choice keeper Timo Hildebrand of Valencia.

Also included from Borussia Mönchengladbach, in spite of the club's lowly position this season, is Oliver Neuville while another Bundesliga 2 player, Patrick Helmes, also gets the nod as a representative of FC Koln. Both teams have this season gained promotion back to Bundesliga 1.

Germany squad for Euro 2008 (provisional):

Goalkeepers: Jens Lehmann (Arsenal), Robert Enke (Hannover 96), René Adler (Bayer Leverkusen).

Defenders: Christoph Metzelder (Real Madrid), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Marcell Jansen (Bayern Munich), Clemens Fritz (Werder Bremen), Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04).

Midfielders: Michael Ballack (Chelsea), Thomas Hitzlsperger (Stuttgart), Simon Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen), Torsten Frings (Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburger SV), Tim Borowski (Werder Bremen), Jermaine Jones (FC Schalke 04), David Odonkor (Real Betis), Marko Marin (Borussia Mönchengladbach).

Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Bayern Munich), Mario Gómez (VfB Stuttgart), Kevin Kuranyi (FC Schalke 04), Oliver Neuville (VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach), Patrick Helmes (FC Köln).

We'll have more news on the Euro 2008 squads, plus everything else you need to maximise your enjoyment of the competition later this week.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup Final

This is it, everyone - FA Cup Final Day, a day to enjoy and a day when someone will win one of the most prestigious trophies in world football.

Some people say it's lost it's value in recent years, some say it's lost it's sparkle. I disagree.

When I was a young boy, it was a day when Wembley Stadium was almost always bathed in early summer sunshine, when the football played was captivating and the fans experienced every possible emotion. Though you can never tell how good any Final will be, the occasion always has that evocative history that few others can boast, and that for me is what makes it so special.

Today, two teams have an all-too-rare chance to lift the trophy. On the one hand, there's Portsmouth, led by Harry Redknapp who brings a team to Wembley for the first time in his career, and on the other is Cardiff City. On SPAOTP's 2007/2008 Road To Wembley, we reach the Final with Cardiff as the team we'll be supporting.

It's been a long and winding road for us since we started out back in September last year in the First Qualifying Round. We began with Burnham Ramblers playing away to Chelmsford City which in turn led us to follow Hayes & Waterlooville, Maidenhead United, Horsham, Swansea City, Havant & Waterlooville, Liverpool and Barnsley before Cardiff City became the team for us in today's big finalé. You can see our Road to Wembley in graphical form by visiting our route map.

So Cardiff it is, then, and with the game not far off starting, let's check out the facts about our team so that we know who we're supporting.

Cardiff City's manager is Dave Jones, a former player with Everton, Coventry City, Preston and, strangely, Seiko - a team from Hong Kong. He arrived at Cardiff in May 2005 and maintained their new-found status as a Championship side, slowly but surely building up the quality of the squad and bringing in many well-known faces.

Among the ranks at Ninian Park now are former greats such as Robbie Fowler, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Trevor Sinclair, but that's not the be all and end all of their talents.

In goal they have Peter Enckelman on loan from Blackburn Rovers and one of his former team mates from Aston Villa, Peter Whittingham. Joe Ledley, a Welsh international midfielder, is also someone likely to catch the eye along with another member of the Wales squad, Paul Parry. Both players are joint top goalscorers for the club this season.

Cardiff have finished the 2007/08 Championship season in 12th place, just inside the top half of the table - a position they're very familiar with for most of the campaign. In the Cup, however, they've been even more efficient. Wins against Chasetown, Hereford, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Cardiff have all seen them cruise to today's big match finish which could see them win the FA Cup for the first time since 1927.

And that, really, is all you need to know about Cardiff. Anything else you can work out for yourselves by watching the match which, I've a feeling, will be a good one.

We send our best wishes to Cardiff City as we draw a close to our 2007/08 Road To Wembley. As someone once said, it's not the arriving at your destination but the journey itself that counts, and that's certainly been the case for us this season. Enjoy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: May 16 - 18

(All times - UK)

Friday 16th May

19:45 Doncaster Rovers v Southend Utd, League One, Sky Sports / 1 Sky Sports HD1

Donnie finished third and have the advantage at the Keepmote against the Shrimpers. Rovers' journey to the Championship from non-league will not be cut short here. Although it will be at Wembley in the 96th minute by Leeds.

Saturday 17th May

12:00 Rochdale v Darlington, League Two Play-off Semi-final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
Darlo fans will feel their team were good enough to go up automatically. As it is they face a tough trip against a determined Rochdale side that are living the dream.

12:30 Motherwell v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Second meets third as Rangers try to pick themselves up after their death by a thousand cuts in Manchester. The Gers still have two games in hand and the small matter of a cup final so it’s all to play for. And if all else fails their supporters could always trash the place. Cheap shot I know but there it is.

15:00 Cardiff City v Portsmouth, FA Cup Final, BBC1 / BBC HD / BBC Interactive / Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
This is the last outing for the BBC and Sky. From next year the cup moves to ITV and Setanta Sports. So while Messers. Scott and Rider measure up the studio at Wembley, Messers. Keys and Lineker try to engage the viewing public in what should be a dull affair twixt two mid-table teams. It should be John Motson's last Cup Final so expect even more needless sentimentality from him and I understand there is a good Poirot on the other side.

18:00 Stockport v Wycombe, League Two Play-off Semi-final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
It will start all square at Edgely Park and is far too nervy to predict a winner. So let’s say County for the sake of my old chum Ian.

19:50 Auxerre v Lyon, Le Championnat, Setanta Sports 2
Alain Perrin (pictured right) may be the first manager in years to win the double for Lyon, Trouble is, he's gone about it in such a ham-fisted way he'll most likely get sacked at the end of the season. At least, that’s what Paul Doyle off The Guardian podcast reckons.

21:00 Murcia v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Move along please people, nothing to see here.

Sunday 18th May

14:00 Parma v Inter Milan, Serie A, Five
14:00 Catania v Roma, Serie A, FIVER (not listed but trust me it’s on)

All four of these teams must win for a chance to clinch the title/avoid relegation (delete where appropriate). These are the games to watch this weekend. And people say Italian football is dull.

16:00 Cambridge Utd v Exeter City, Blue Square Premier Play-off Final, Setanta Sports 1
Two former League clubs fight for the right to play the like of Morecambe and Barnet next year. Joking aside, this will be an intense battle well worth a look if you have Setanta.

19:00 Real Madrid v Levante, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
If the Levante players go on strike, this game may be replaced by repeats of Blockbuster presented by Lisa Tarbuck.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #61

The Day of the Underdog
The Only Seven Clubs From The Second Division That Have Won The FA Cup

1. Notts County (1894)
2. Wolverhampton Wanderers (1908)
3. Barnsley (1912)
4. West Bromwich Albion (1931)
5. Sunderland (1973)
6. Southampton (1976)
7. West Ham United (1980)

...plus Cardiff City tomorrow? You be the judge...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tommy Burns (1956 - 2008)

It's with great sadness that we bring you the news today that Tommy Burns, legendary footballer and later manager of Celtic, has died aged 51 from skin cancer.

Burns had been receiving treatment for the condition since 2006 and despite early signs of improvement, the cancer returned in March of this year.

Tommy Burns will forever remain one of the greatest players ever to pull on the hooped jersey of Celtic following a career that lasted fourteen years. As a midfielder for the Glasgow club, he made his debut in 1975 and went on to play 352 matches for them, scoring 52 goals.

Having ended his playing days at Kilmarnock between 1989 and 1994, Burns returned to Celtic as manager where he developed a side renowned for playing attractive football. With Rangers dominating the Scottish Premier League at the time, Burns was to move onto Newcastle United where he worked alongside manager Kenny Dalglish and then to Reading where he became manager in his own right.

In 2002, Berti Vogts appointed Burns as assistant manager with the Scottish national team, a position he retained when Walter Smith succeeded Vogts in 2004. In more recent years Burns returned to Celtic again, working in Youth Development before becoming First Team coach under Gordon Strachan.

Among the first to pay tribute to Tommy Burns, Peter Rafferty, chairman of the Association of Celtic Supporters' Clubs, said:

"I knew Tommy very well both as a friend and obviously through his connections with Celtic. I got to know him over many years. He was a true gentleman and a big family man.

"Celtic was a big part of his life but the biggest part of his life was his family. He became a grandfather a few weeks ago and that is the biggest tragedy.

"Legend is a word that is used quite a lot these days but he was. He was a great player with Celtic first and foremost. He was a manager who played football the way Celtic supporters like to see it.

"All these things pale into insignificance this morning. He was a very nice person, a very religious person. If you needed anything, Tommy Burns would always be there for you."

We send our condolences to the family of Tommy Burns and share our sympathies with all Celtic fans on this sad day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shirts for 2007/08: The Final Verdict

You may remember between May and October last year, we gave you the chance to get an early look at some of the new shirts being released for the 2007/2008 season. Not only that but we also gave you the chance to tell us what you thought of them by providing an online vote in each case.

Well now the season's ended, we can tell you which shirts were the most popular amongst you, our fine and, may we say, rather smartly-dressed audience.

You'll recall we featured one new shirt per Premier League team so as to provide a fair balance throughout, and you were given the option to vote for either 'Excellent', 'Good', 'OK', 'Poor' or 'Terrible'.

All that taken into account, it gives us great pleasure to announce that on 'Excellent' votes alone, your favourite shirt was this one worn by Aston Villa away from home:



Out of all your votes for this shirt, 66% of you said it was 'Excellent' and based on 'Excellent' and 'Good' votes combined, it picked up 85%.

For your reference, here's the top 3 shirts in the 'Excellent' category:

1. Aston Villa (away) 66%
2. Portsmouth (3rd) 61%
3. Man United (away) 59%

...and in the 'Excellent' and 'Good' combined votes category, things were a little closer:

=1. Aston Villa (away) and Portsmouth (3rd) 85%
2. Tottenham (home) 74%
=3. Derby (home) and Man United (away) 72%

At the other end of the scale, Chelsea's new flourescent yellow away shirt proved to be the most unpopular. Out of all your votes cast, 56% said it was 'Terrible'. It also cleaned up when adding the 'Terrible' votes to the 'Poor' ones. Again, it was the least liked with 67% of the vote share.

Here's the three least liked shirts in terms of 'Terrible' votes:

1. Chelsea (away) 56%
2. Manchester City (home) 28%
3. Reading (away) 25%

...and when adding 'Terrible' votes to 'Poor' ones...

1. Chelsea (away) 67%
2. Reading (away) 41%
3. Manchester City (home) 40%

So congratulations to Nike who obviously tapped into the wants and needs of the Villa fan market perfectly, if not the Man United equivalent too. Points deducted for Adidas who thought a luminous yellow shirt would be highly popular outside of Stamford Bridge, and as for Puma, we have one piece of advice: 'Battleship Grey' is only a good colour for battleships.

Thanks to you all for voting and look out for some 2008/2009 shirt votes coming very soon...

New Badge Alert: Wigan Athletic

Yes folks, it's silly season once again as the Premier League's graphic designers get to work on some new imagery that will hopefully provide a smokescreen over any recent poor performances.

This week, we can unveil for you the new Wigan Athletic badge... voila!!

It's a redesign of a badge we featured on one of our old Friday Lists of Little or No Consequence back in June 2007 and was worn by Wigan during the 1970's and 80's. See if you can spot the difference...

There isn't that much of a difference at all, is there? There's a colour change here or there and the tree doesn't now look like a stork of broccoli, but essentially it's the same thing.

Of course there are those traditionalists (myself included, if I'm honest) that preferred the recently deposed badge which is more like a local town crest, but I'm all in favour of giving a nod in the direction of heritage and history. At least it's a bit more interesting than a tree on a crown... but then, as I always say, that's just my opinion.

What do you think of the new badge? Is it something you'd be proud to associate yourself with or not? Let us know your opinion - we'll be waiting to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Final Curtain

Well that just about wraps it up for another Premier League season. Amazing to think how quickly time passes, isn't it? It seems like only yesterday the season was just beginning...

Anyway, congratulations to Manchester United, the new champions and to my mind the right ones given the standard of the opposition. Had Chelsea claimed the title today, I doubt it would have sat right with many fans of the Premier League. I say that only because Chelsea have barely been at the front of the title race all season and have limped along in third or fourth place for much of the time. Man United, for all their poor phases this season, have always been there or thereabouts like Arsenal were until they capitulated so dramatically when it mattered most.

That said, Chelsea did an amazing job pushing United all the way to the bitter end. Today's result has little or no significance to me today given the fact Alex Ferguson's men were such strong favourites to see off Wigan. Bolton earned a creditable draw, but it was all a fait accompli anyway. The FA in their wisdom elected to take the real Premier League trophy to the Man United match today (rather than the copy which went to Chelsea) and with some justification too. United proved again they have the pedigree to make a sustained challenge for the trophy over 38 games, so the title must be theirs.

At the other end of the table, an eventful afternoon saw Fulham and Bolton Wanderers keep their place in the Premier League at the expense of Birmingham City and Reading who are relegated to The Championship.

As I may have said before, I tend to feel that Fulham are perpetually one of those sides that seem to achieve little, perhaps flirt with relegation but ultimately retain their place every season and for that reason I wouldn't have batted an eyelid if they'd been relegated today. The thing is Roy Hodgson looks like a genuinely nice bloke who deserves great credit for all he's done thus far in his career. I want to see if he can turn Fulham around and make them more of a force to be reckoned with, and thanks to today's 1-0 win over Portsmouth, it looks like he'll get the chance to do so.

As for Reading, I have some sympathy with them. I think they've done pretty well since arriving in the Premier League and have played some exciting football at times, but they've gone steadily stale over the course of this season and as we all know, when the rot sets in the result can be fatal.

Birmingham have been brave in their approach this season, looking capable of putting up a decent fight with most of the teams in the bottom half of the table, but they too have seen their challenge run out of gas when they needed it most. Alex McLeish's arrival in November may have given the club a belief that better things were around the corner, but sadly it didn't quite turn out that way. Whether McLeish is still their manager by the time they return to the Premier League remains to be seen.

So that's it - the final curtain has fallen on the 2007/08 season, but fear not - we still have some things to discuss on this campaign before we can draw a line under this whole sorry affair, and we'll be tying up all those loose conversational ends over the coming week or so.

The Axeman Cometh...

It's come to this, then... While Manchester United and Chelsea fight over who should have the Premier League trophy for the coming year, four teams will fight just to survive in the top flight.

Derby County have already succumbed to the executioner's axe, which means two relegation places need to be filled, and by 5pm BST today either Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Fulham or Reading will fill them.

The way things stand at the moment, Reading and Birmingham occupy those remaining places, but such is the closeness of all the teams involved that the axe could come down on almost anyone.

That said, there are a couple of things to note. Firstly Bolton are definitely in the best place at the moment, being that they're three places ahead of their nearest rivals, Fulham, and two places clear of the drop zone.

That means if Bolton get a draw away to Chelsea today, they'll be safe, no matter what the others do.

Then there's Birmingham. They're only one point behind Reading and Fulham and have a far better goal difference than the two of them. That gives us the situation that if Birmingham avoid defeat at home to Blackburn today and Reading and Fulham lose, Birmingham will stay up.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Birmingham look likely to go down today. Many of the possible permutations from today's results will see Alex McLeish's men demoted to the Championship, and if that's the case, it should be interesting seeing who takes the last place between Reading and Fulham.

All of which brings us to the handy Relegation Calculator that SPAOTP have designed for you. When all the important matches get underway today, you might want to know who's set to go down and who'll stay up, so why not use the chart below? It'll give you many of the outcome permutations just by cross-referencing who's doing what in each game involving Bolton, Fulham, Reading and Birmingham.

And before you check it out, we've left out all the permutations involving Bolton winning for the reasons mentioned above and yes, we know the writing's a bit small, but that's easily alleviated. Just click on the image to see a bigger, clearer version.



The best of British luck, then, to all the teams involved. Oh and by the way - who do you think will go down today? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #60

Something for the weekend, sir?
Eight Of The Many And Diverse Hairstyles Adopted by David James

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: May 9 - 11

(All times - UK)

Friday 9 May

19.30 Barrow v Stalybridge Celtic, Blue Square South Play-off Final, Setanta Sports 1
Prepare yourself for the weekend's Premier League nonsense with some good honest non-league action. Barrow are flying at the moment, and are this division's "team that sneak into the play-offs at the last minute and end up winning it".

19.45 Southend Utd v Doncaster Rovers, League One Play-off Semi-final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
First legs are always a bit of a let down, like this tie in particular as, unfortunately, everyone knows this match is only to decide who loses to Leeds at Wembley.

Saturday 10 May

12.15 Crystal Palace v Bristol City, Championship Play-off Semi-final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1 & HD1

I'm backing Palace to go through the play-offs. I predict a new tiresome over-used cliché about Victor Moses parting a sea of red shirts will start in this semi-final and continue until he retires in 2026.

12.30 Rangers v Dundee Utd, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The next two weeks see Rangers having more ties then Moss Bros. By the time they face Queen of the South in the Cup Final they're going to look like George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

15.00 Ebbsfleet Utd v Torquay Utd, FA Trophy Final, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Woo, fan power! Thankfully for actual Ebbsfleet fans, Liam Daish will be picking the team.

17.35 Darlington v Rochdale League Two Play-off Semi-final 1st Leg Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Darlington have hit an awful patch of form. Rochdale should take full advantage over the two legs.

19.45 Lyon v Nancy, Le Championnat, Setanta Sports 2
According to Lyon's president everyone's conspiring to make sure Lyon don't win a seventh consecutive title (Guardian article). They're currently two points clear of Bordeaux with two games left.

21.00 TBC, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
It's all over at the top of the table with Madrid champions, Villareal second and Barcelona third, but that won't stop Sky concentrating two of their three live slots on Real and Barca rather than the half a dozen or so teams still worrying about relegation.

Sunday 11 May

12.00 Watford v Hull City, Championship Play-off Semi-final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1 & HD1

Watford fans will be hoping that their team will suddenly jump out and say "Aha! Fooled you, we're not rubbish at all." They won't though.

12.30 Celtic v Hibernian, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
All Celtic can do is keep winning and hope that the Zombie-like Rangers slip up. Anything less than a win for Celtic could end the challenge.

14.00 Inter v Siena, Serie A, Five
Inter are three points ahead of Roma with two games to go and an amazingly similar run-in. This week the two have home ties against Siena and Atalanta respectively, both of which are comfortably mid-table. Next week, Inter travel to Parma while Roma visit Catania, both hosts desperately trying to avoid relegation to Serie B. Of course, it will all be over at the top this weekend if Inter win and Roma don't.

15.00 Birmingham City v Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Sky Sports Red Button
Usually the title's all over by the last day and focus is drawn to the sweaty palmed basement battles: lingering shots of teary fans, heads in hands looking glumly at the prospect of playing in the Championship. But with the top two neck and neck this all important tie for Birmingham has been bumped down to the interactive service. So, if you like seeing crest-fallen Brummies rather than jubilant millionaires, then press your red button.

15.00 Chelsea v Bolton Wanderers, Premier League, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Simple equation really, Chelsea have to do better than Man Utd. They'll do what they need to do here - leaving them reliant on Wigan. Bolton are effectively safe, so it would take Chelsea to score a hatful of goals and Derby to concede loads against Reading for them to go down... err, hang on...

15.00 Portsmouth v Fulham, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
I honestly don't know how it's going to work on Setanta. Have they struck a deal with Sky to show pictures of celebration/despair from St. Andrews at key points during the game and vice versa? If not, some of the match switching excitement we've been used might be lost - but hey, no great shakes. Since getting to the Cup Final Portsmouth have had the drive and motivation of someone's who has just returned from a long weekend sampling the café culture of Amsterdam. Birmingham are right to be very worried.

15.00 Wigan Athletic v Manchester Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Whatever result comes from this game, the conspiracy theorists will have a field day anyway. Personally, I'll start watching this game but the schadenfreude in me will want to switch over to the game at St Andrews. Apparently, bets have been suspended on a 3-0 win for Manchester United.

18.00 Wycombe v Stockport, League Two Play-off Semi-final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
A touch of "after the Lord Mayor's show" from Sky Sports.

18.00 TBC, La Liga, Sky Sports 3

20.00 TBC, La Liga, Sky Sports 3

The Return of Stoke City

They say what goes around comes around, and in football that's often the case - especially if you're a Stoke City supporter. As such, you probably won't need me to tell you that The Potters secured promotion back to the top flight in England just a few days ago, thus ending an absence of 23 years. It's an incredible achievement for which SPAOTP sends its heartiest congratulations (apart from Duffman, perhaps, who no doubt wanted his Crystal Palace side to go up instead.)

Anyway, if you're of the same generation as me (i.e. you were born near the start of the 1970's), you may still be clinging onto the fading memory of Stoke City the last time they were in the top flight. Numerous names spring to mind that were in the side back then: Paul Bracewell, Adrian Heath, George Berry, Lee Chapman, Garth Crooks… ah, the heady days of the early 80's.

Except the early years of the 1980's were not the best for Stoke. In the six seasons they spent in Division One, five of them were spent languishing in the bottom half of the table before their final ignominious crash with just 17 points in 1985. It was the lowest points total for any First Division team until the record was broken in 2003 by Sunderland. With only three wins from a possible 42 matches, it was a sign that the club were standing on the verge of a huge precipice.

The thing is, if you're a little bit older than me, you'll have much happier memories of Stoke City. In the early 70's, they were a team on the up and up. Having been given a much needed boost by a soon-to-be-retiring Stanley Matthews a decade earlier, manager Tom Waddington consolidated his club's position by investing in some high profile personnel.

Gordon Banks came from Leicester on the back of his World Cup-winning heroics, swiftly followed by England team-mate Geoff Hurst, talented Chelsea midfielder Alan Hudson and Gordon Banks' successor, Peter Shilton. Together with a well-established and resolute defence, Stoke City were able to push for greater success, and it wasn't long before silverware arrived at the Victoria Ground.

The Football League Cup duly arrived in 1972 and was seen as a well-deserved triumph, especially after a semi-final against West Ham that needed four matches to decide the victors. Stoke prevailed and faced Chelsea in the Final which The Potters won 2-1.

It seemed as though the First Division championship trophy would also end up back at Stoke in 1974/75, but though they were top of the table from November all the way until three games from the end, it was ultimately to elude them. At the end of the season, they lost to Sheffield United and drew against Newcastle and Burnley, allowing Derby County to win the title while Stoke ended the campaign four points behind in fifth place.

Strangely, Stoke couldn't maintain their fine form and just two years later they were relegated to Division Two. The club continued to tread water for a few more years before they returned to Division One in 1980, but it would ultimately prove to be a false dawn.

If you're younger than me (and nowadays that seems to account for most people, the older I get), you'll look upon Stoke as perennial strugglers that have achieved very little of note. The second half of the 1980's saw a continuous spell of mid-table mediocrity prevail, mainly under the player-managership of Mick Mills, but things got even worse when the 1990's arrived.

Despite the best efforts of new manager Alan Ball, Stoke City dropped into the Third Division but their stay was to be relatively brief. In Lou Macari, an old hand at steering faltering clubs back to calmer waters was brought in and by 1993 he'd won them promotion back to the second tier.

Since then, Stoke have failed to keep a firm footing from one season to the next. In 1996, they flirted with promotion to the Premier League but were beaten by Leicester in the play-off semi-finals. By 1998, Lou Macari had left, come back again and left again as Stoke were relegated to the third tier along with Reading and Manchester City (whatever happened to them?)

1998 was also the season that Stoke moved to a new ground, the Britannia Stadium, just prior to a takeover by an Icelandic consortium that ensured The Potters had a strong following over in that particular part of Scandinavia (well somebody had to, let’s face it…)

In 2002, Stoke once again gained promotion to the second tier, this time via a win in the play-off Final, and following an initial struggle, they've ensured a continual presence in what's now known as The Championship. Their manager since June 2006 has been Welshman Tony Pulis and under his guidance, Stoke City have forged a path back to football's promised land - The Premier League.

It's fair to say that few people would have predicted such a turnaround in the club's fortunes at this precise moment in time, but whichever generation you're from, you'll surely agree it's great to see Stoke back in the big time again.

Whether they can match the recent exploits of Reading and Wigan is probably irrelevant, all in all. That's because Stoke are a club that fell a long way - not once, but twice in the last 25 years - and lived to tell the tale. We look forward to seeing them in the top flight again next season.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Self-regarding moment of congratulation

A brief pause to acknowledge two landmarks in the history of this little blogsite...


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A fickle band are we

I was going to call this article 'The Art of Mediocrity' for reasons which will soon become apparent, but I realised its subject was far more wide-ranging. My intention was to write about the team I've supported all my life, West Ham United, and the fact that they've spent most of this season stuck in 10th spot in the Premier League.

I'm not joking. West Ham were tenth in the league at the end of November 2007 and have moved neither up or down since.

You can only wonder at the skill that's involved in keeping any team in one position week after week. I mean can you imagine it - one heavy defeat or a sound thrashing of Derby County and your whole position in the table could be seriously jeopardised, but West Ham have walked this precarious tightrope of a predicament and come out of it with nothing but… well… an acute sense of being average, I suppose.

The thing is, many of us West Ham supporters have been fighting with our consciences this season. We feel frustrated and a little hard done by that our team haven't progressed further up into the top half of the Premier League table, yet at the same time we realise that it was only one year ago that we were having to go to Old Trafford to beat Man United just to stay in the Premier League.

Things have changed, though (including the winning at Old Trafford bit, but enough of this weekend's beating by Sir Alex's men). This season West Ham have steered well clear of a relegation battle, largely thanks to a pre-Christmas spell which saw them undefeated in thirteen of their nineteen league games. All well and good up to that point, but having quickly reached the 40-point mark that's loosely used to denote safety from relegation, The Hammers seemed content to coast over the finish line safe in the knowledge they'd achieved their main objective for 2007/08.

True, Alan Curbishley has had to deal with all manner of injuries to many of his players and in getting them to a creditable mid-table finish we Hammers fans should give him our heartiest applause. Yet there's still that nagging doubt in the back of our minds that says 'Surely we could have done just a little bit better?'

I'm wondering if fans from other teams in a similar predicament are thinking something along the same lines. Tottenham Hotspur have been stuck in 11th place just behind West Ham since January, and though they're a team used to finishing much higher in the Premier League, are they thinking this has been a disappointing season even though they languished near the bottom of the table for the first few months?

The same goes for Newcastle. Many people would have put them down for a top-half finish this season and I'm sure many still feel they should have got it, but is the sense of relief at avoiding a relegation dogfight uppermost in their minds now, I wonder?

It all shows that as football fans we can be a difficult bunch to satisfy. Not content with maintaining stability in any particular league at the expense of glory, we strive only for glory and to hell with the consequences. Perhaps that's how it should be. Why else were the clubs we support created in the first place? To win, win often, and win at the expense of all others. Being average, it seems, isn't what makes us fans tick.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Shameless Cap-In-Hand Charity Appeal

Ladies and gentlemen, what follows is an appeal to your hearts, your emotions, your purses and your wallets.

On July 13th 2008, yours truly, Chris O, will be doing something beyond the realms of human physical strength, mental capability and emotional limitation.

Yes folks, I will be getting up off my backside.

When I've done that, I'm going to put on my trainers, pull on a loose-fitting t-shirt and run for five kilometres. Nothing below the waist - just my trainers and a loose-fitting t-shirt.

For me, a five kilometre run will be behaviour of the most ridiculous order, but I'll be doing it with good reason. I'll be trying to raise money for The Bobby Moore Fund, a charity that, through Cancer Research UK, is carrying out research into the treatment of bowel cancer - the disease which claimed the life of the legendary former West Ham and England football captain.

I've never done a charity run like this before, but after seeing my wife do something very similar last year I was inspired to give it a try. So here I am feeling decidedly out of condition after a far-too-long period without regular exercise knowing that what I now need is a decent amount of some regular exercise.

But that, my friends, is exactly what I shall do for I will not be made to look a fool by collapsing over the finishing line in an accute state of hyperventilation on July 13th. I know that my body must be a picture of health and vitality, and to that end I have already begun going out on training runs around my local park.

Now at this stage you may be asking why I'm telling you all this. It's not for the sympathy, oh no. I'm aware I'll get none of that... No, I'm telling you about my efforts because I'm trying to shame you all into feeling unworthy - a disposition which can only be offset by sponsoring me some money in order to go away and pester someone else.

And that I promise I will do, but first I need your money, if you can spare any. By clicking on the link below, you'll be swiftly taken to my fundraising page elsewhere on the web where you can donate any amount of money you choose. In so doing, you'll be doing a tremendous amount to help raise funds for a cause that aims merely to eradicate a disease that kills many thousands of people every year.

It needs the help of all of us to ensure their research and hard work continues until the job is done, so please give whatever you can by sponsoring me on my Race For Moore this July. Your donation will be appreciated more than you'll ever know, and you can rest easy in the knowledge that you'll not only help save lives but also stop me from boring you about my ongoing training schedules.

Thank you. :)

Donate here:
http://www.runformooresponsorme.org/chrisoakley

Caption Competition #6

Here's Number 6 in our Caption Competition series.

As usual, leave us a comment with a caption or headline to go with the following picture and you could win an amazing prize! *



* (LIE.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #59

No need for a Triple Word Score...
The Players Of The Provisional 32-Man Poland Squad For Euro 2008 And Their Respective Values In Scrabble

1. Jakub Blaszczykowski (68 points)
2. Tomasz Kuszczak (53 points)
3. Lukasz Piszczek (53 points)
4. Wojciech Lobodziński (52 points)
5. Jakub Wawrzyniak (50 points)
6. Jacek Krzynowek (50 points)
7. Wojciech Kowalewski (49 points)
8. Grzegorz Bronowicki (49 points)
9. Euzebiusz Smolarek (43 points)
10. Dawid Janczyk (42 points)
11. Tomasz Zahorski (41 points)
12. Maciej Zurawski (41 points)
13. Michal Zewłakow (40 points)
14. Mariusz Lewandowski (40 points)
15. Arkadiusz Radomski (38 points)
16. Lukasz Fabianski (37 points)
17. Adam Kokoszka (36 points)
18. Radoslaw Majewski (36 points)
19. Michal Pazdan (31 points)
20. Mariusz Jop (30 points)
21. Marcin Wasilewski (30 points)
22. Marek Saganowski (29 points)
23. Dariusz Dudka (28 points)
24. Lukasz Garguła (28 points)
25. Jacek Bak (27 points)
26. Artur Wichniarek (27 points)
27. Michal Golinski (26 points)
28. Radoslaw Matusiak (26 points)
29. Rafal Murawski (25 points)
30. Pawel Golanski (23 points)
31. Roger Guerreiro (16 points)
32. Artur Boruc (14 points)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Fallen Mighty in a Fight To The Death

The bottom of the Championship is a dark and murky place. For any club in the second tier there is always the knowledge that one good season, no matter how small you are, can lead to a play-off place and possibly the Premier League, even if its only one dismal humiliating season.

Its pretty unpleasant at the bottom of the Premier League too. However, if you are relegated, you can always console yourself with the, mostly misguided in recent years, belief that you can be back one year hence as though nothing had happened. Relegation from the Championship, however feels more like oblivion.

That is not to say that League 1 is a bad league. However, I'm pretty certain that supporters of teams who usually occupy the top two divisions of the professional game, it is a place they are desperate to avoid. It doesn't have that promise of glory and as Leeds and Forest will testify it's a very hard league to get out of once you are there.

This season, the Championship enters its final round of fixtures on a knife-edge at both ends of the table. This year, no less than four ex-Premier League mainstays are teetering on the edge as the relegation trap door swings open this Sunday. Some People Are On The Pitch takes a brief look at this quartet of the damned.

Coventry City
Relegated from EPL: 2001
Highest ever league position since the War: 6th (1970)
Highest honour: FA Cup Winners 1987 (Gary Mabbutt and all that)

The Sky Blues have struggled financially since their relegation. In fact they were saved from administration and a ten point deduction earlier this year after being bought out by former player Ray Ransom and the controversial hedge fund firm SISU Capital. In theory, relegation need not be disastrous and new manager Chris Coleman will be hoping for an injection of funds from the new owners when the transfer window opens at the end of the season.

Coventry will travel to Charlton for the final day. They haven't lost at The Valley since 1966. The problem is that almost all of those games have resulted in a draw which may still send them down on goal difference.

Sheffield Wednesday
Relegated from EPL: 2000
Highest ever league position since the War: 2nd (1961)
Highest honour: English Champions 1903, 1904, 1929, 1930. FA Cup winners 1896, 1907, 1935

More steeped in history than an Eric Hobsbawm lecture, Wednesday's post-war story is one of rapid decline and meteoric rise. The club are no strangers to the third tier but with their supporter base and the size of their stadium it's a matter of constant bafflement that a club of this size should have endured such a dismal run. Investment is the key and should the club ever sort that out, they may yet return to the Premier League.

Wednesday's prospects were boosted hugely after their away win against Leicester last week. On Sunday they face Norwich who will be playing in flip-flops ready for the summer. They can be caught by both Leicester and Southampton if they don't win which I think they will.

Leicester City
Relegated from EPL: 2002
Highest ever league position since the War: 4th (1962)
Highest honour: League Cup Winners 1964, 1997, 2000

Two-time League Cup winners during the Martin O'Neill years, City could easily be given the "team of the (late) 90's" tag. When O'Neill left, the Foxes were blighted by a foul concoction of relegation, administration and Peter Taylor (although not in that order).

The club was taken over by former Pompey owner Milan Mandaric who has finally settled on outspoken bumpkin Ian Holloway and his cab driver politics as manager. No one is quite sure how Holloway will react should Leicester go down. One thing we do know, though, is that it will probably be quite funny. City have never played outside the top two divisions of English Football so for all we know the World could end on Sunday if they are relegated.

Leicester can afford to lose if Southampton follow suit. Which is just as well as they have to go to Stoke who need a win to gain promotion to the Premier League.

Southampton
Relegated from EPL: 2005
Highest ever league position since the War: 2nd (1984)
Highest honour: FA Cup Winners 1976 (Bobby Stokes and all that)

The 2003 FA Cup runners-up are another club with mounting money woes. To coin a phrase from daytime TV adverts they've "…got more going out than coming in". Former chairman Rupert Lowe is coming over the hill and may take back the club he was forced out of. Failing that, it has been suggested that Southampton may go into administration if they are relegated. Such is the financial cost of failure.

On Sunday, Southampton host Sheffield United who have an outside chance of the play-offs. The Blades are unbeaten in five, drawing only once in that time. It looks bleak for the Saints.

In all likelihood, Leicester's game with Stoke will be live on Sky - at least it should be because there is something at stake for both teams. However, Sky's choice of live Championship games seems to be based on the size of the audience rather than potential for drama and unfortunately the two are not always connected. If you can plonk yourself in front of Jeff Stelling, Five Live or an open Internet connection for the afternoon, it should be a gripping finale to a truly bonkers season. For myself, it's Burnley at home for a place in the play-offs but let's not get into that now. I don't think my bowels are up to it.

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