Sunday, August 31, 2008

World Cup 2010 Update: CONCACAF

A quick update now on last week's World Cup 2010 qualifiers in the North and Central American (CONCACAF) section. It's the third round of four and the twelve remaining teams are split into three groups of four, the winners and runners-up going through to the final round.

So what's to report? Well each of the clear favourites from all three groups came through their opening games with a win, but none of them had an easy time of it.

n Group A, USA faced an aggressive Guatemala team who tried to disrupt their opponent's play with a physical approach that bordered on brutal at times, and it may have been this that caused many of the US players to show poor passing and control. Consistency-wise, they lacked a certain something and many of the players had a poor game, but after 70 minutes of a match that had seen seven yellow cards and two reds, the USA finally broke through with what turned out to be a winning goal.

DaMarcus Beasley, on as a substitute for Eddie Lewis, took a perfect corner that allowed captain Carlos Bocanegra to head home, thereafter allowing the visiting side to shut up shop and hold out for a vital three points. It was the first time the American team had beaten the Guatemalans in their own country since 1988 and with the hosts currently at the peak of their abilities, they'll be glad to have survived a potentially treacherous encounter.

Elsewhere in Group A, Trinidad and Tobago swept aside an inferior Cuba side 3-1 in Havana. Midfielder Daniel Keon, who plays his club football for United Petrotrin, scored a goal in each half and with Cornell Glen adding a third after 69 minutes, the Soca Warriors were home and dry well before Jeniel Marquez pulled one back for the Cubans five minutes from the end.

That scoreline means T&T lead the group after one game with the USA second, but all eyes will be on the following round of fixtures taking place next Saturday. That's where we'll get to see the Americans playing in Cuba for the first time since 1947 while Trinidad and Tobago play their first home game of the round against Guatemala.

Can the USA improve on their last performance and live up to their billing as strong favourites against Cuba, and can T&T deal with the brusque approach of the Guatemalans? Watch this space to find out...

Group B now, and Mexico continued their march towards the Finals in South Africa with a 2-1 victory over a tricky Honduran side. It was Honduras who took the lead when Julio Cesar de Leon's free kick thundered in off the crossbar and Mexico had no reply going into the half time break.

Mexico, trying to avoid only their second ever defeat at the Azteca Stadium, came out with all guns blazing in the second half, but an equaliser didn't arrive until the 73rd minute. Stuttgart's Pavel Pardo converted a long-range effort to bring the Mexicans right back into the game on Sven Goran Eriksson's managerial debut for El Tri, and it wasn't long before a second arrived too.

Just two minutes later, Pardo took a free kick not far from the Honduran goal which flew over everyone's head and beyond the stranded keeper Valladares. The Mexicans finally had their lead and Honduras had nothing left to offer. A close run thing for Eriksson's men, and they'll be looking to improve in their next game against Jamaica next weekend.



The other game in the group saw Canada get off to a great start against the Jamaicans thanks to a goal early in the second half for Julian de Guzman. However just five minutes later, Canadian goalkeeper Pat Onstad allowed a corner kick to slip through his fingers and that was the end of the goalscoring in Toronto. A 1-1 draw means a solid start for both teams, but you already get the impression we've seen the bottom two for Group B here.

Finally to Group C and Costa Rica only narrowly squeaked through their game with El Salvador 1-0 thanks to a 48th minute penalty scored by FC Sion's Alvaro Saborio. That should have set the Costa Ricans on course for a comfortable win but Saborio was then sent off towards the end of the match to give El Salvador a slight hope of gaining an equaliser. Sadly it never arrived and Costa Rica can now breathe a sigh of relief as they look forward to the visit of lowly Suriname next weekend.

Suriname, the rank outsiders of all the remaining twelve teams in the CONCACAF section applied themselves well in their match away to Haiti and even went 2-0 up thanks to a brace from Wensley Christoph. Were it not for some better goalkeeping by his team-mate Ronny Aloema, they may even have won the game, for it was his poor handling that allowed a Brunel Fucien shot to crawl over the line four minutes into added time at the end of the game.



It was this goal that tied the game at 2-2 after Frantz Bertin had pulled one back for Haiti in the 90th minute, all of which must have left the Surinamese frustrated at coming so close to getting their first win of the campaign. As it is, Suriname travel next to Costa Rica where their hosts will no doubt be certain not to underestimate them, while Haiti go to El Salvador in the hope of equalling or bettering their 1-0 win in a San Salvador friendly last year.

More news from CONCACAF next week.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #76

The Boomerang Boys
21 Players That Had A Second Spell At One Of Their Previous Clubs

1. Peter Beardsley (Newcastle, 1983-87 and 1993-97)
2. Henning Berg (Blackburn, 1993-97 and 2000-03)
3. Lee Bowyer (West Ham, 2003 and 2006-)
4. Lee Clark (Newcastle, 1990-97 and 2005-07)
5. Julian Dicks (West Ham, 1988-93 and 1994-99)
6. Paul Dickov (Leicester, 2002-04 and 2008-)
7. David Dunn (Blackburn, 1997-2003 and 2007-)
8. Duncan Ferguson (Everton, 1994-98 and 2000-06)
9. Robbie Fowler (Liverpool, 1993-2001 and 2006-07)
10. Juninho (Middlesbrough, 1995-97 and 2002-04)
11. Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea, 1987-93 and 1997-2003)
12. Ian Rush (Liverpool, 1983-87 and 1988-96)
13. Andriy Shevchenko (Milan, 1999-2006 and 2008-)
14. Nolberto Solano (Newcastle, 1998-2004 and 2005-07)
15. Pavel Srnicek (Newcastle, 1991-98 and 2006-07)
16. Steve Staunton (Aston Villa, 1991-98 and 2000-03)
17. Steve Staunton (Liverpool, 1986-91 and 1998-2000)
18. Alan Stubbs (Everton, 2001-05 and 2006-08)
19. Pierre van Hooijdonk (Feyenoord, 2001-03 and 2006-07)
20. Neil Webb (Nottingham Forest, 1985-89 and 1992-96)
21. Shaun Wright-Phillips (Man City, 1999-2005 and 2008-)

...and a special mention goes to Paul Bracewell who had three spells at Sunderland in 1983-84, 1989-92 and 1995-97.

Can you think of any others to add to the above? If so, leave us a comment and let us know!

Weekend TV Preview 29-31 August

Friday 29 August

19.30 Karlsruher SC v FC Koln, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
The home side were robbed at Hamburg last week and will be keen to make amends against new boys Koln who have had an uncertain start to the season. Should be a cracking atmosphere at the Wildparkstadion.

19.45 Manchester Utd v Zenit St Petersburg, UEFA Super Cup, ITV1
Arshavin's in the squad but there's no word on whether or not he'll play in this Euro version of the Community Shield. With a long Champions League campaign looming, Zenit will get more out of this than United and the game will probably reflect that.

Saturday 30 August

12.45 Southampton v Blackpool, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Blackpool avoided relegation by just two points last season. It doesn't look like it's going to be any easier for them this time around. For the Saints, nothing short of a win will do.

17.20 Watford v Ipswich Town, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
While neither side have got started yet this season, this tie should provide good entertainment. Impossible to call though.

17.30 Arsenal v Newcastle Utd, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
A 4-0 victory over a team managed by Steve McClaren isn't really enough to dispel the doubts over the start to Arsenal's season. Newcastle are putting decent performances and results together - which will probably end when Owen breaks something again.

19.30 Sampdoria v Inter Milan, Serie A, Setanta Sports 2
At the end of Football Matters on Setenta this week, James Richardson said that they had picked up the rights for Serie A. Their website has opened this slot in their listings at this time on Saturday and Sunday evening. By that reasoning, we are hoping two plus two equals Sampdoria v Inter Milan.

21.00 Valencia v Mallorca, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Last season's horror show for Valencia is hopefully behind then as new manager Unai Emery (right) picks up from the mess Ronald Koeman left. Emery managed Almeria last campaign, finishing 8th in their first season in the top flight. The main changes for Mallorca have been at board level, where Englishman Paul "the Plumber" Davidson is now the owner: "Am I the British Roman Abramovich? No, I am a lot bigger than that." A team to keep an eye on this season.

22.20 Botafogo v Nautico, Brazilian Campeonatos, SportsXchange
The home team are cantering up Serie A at the moment while Nautico are going from bad to worse. Only one result in this match: they'll be dancing in the streets of Rio, as usual.

Sunday 31 August

12.30 Celtic v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
All four Old Firm matches last season ended up as home wins, the first time that's happened since the Scottish Premier was set up in 1975. However, both games at Parkhead were during Rangers end of season meltdown. Should be as fraught as usual.

13.30 Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Chelsea's unbeaten home record is safe for another week.

16.00 Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Hertha are unbeaten but will feel they should have got more out of their draw at home to Bielefeld last week. Bayern are also unbeaten but haven't actually won a game yet. Much has been made of Klinsie's revolution and he's not under any real pressure. However, if Bayern fail to win at home again there may be rumblings in Bavaria... and I'm not just talking about the sausages. Didn't see that one coming, did you?

16.00 Aston Villa v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
I don't know how many "Get Out Of Jail Free" cards Liverpool had at the beginning of the season but they're using them up at a rate of knots and it's not even September. Gareth Barry's performance will be the splintered bone that Sky will be gnawing on all afternoon: he needs to put on a good show in this one.

18.00 Numancia v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1 (First half on red button only)
True David and Goliath stuff as the Segunda Division champions mark their return to La Liga against Barca. Random match fact: Numancia's stadium has only 10% the capacity of the Nou Camp.

19.30 Fiorentina v Juventus, Serie A, Setanta Sports 2
Assuming our powers of deduction are on the money, this should be Fiorentina v Juventus. Dave says that they've changed the fixture selection criteria to allow big teams to play each other in the opening weeks of the season. The new system has thrown up two Champs League qualifiers. Who's Dave? He's this guy we know who knows about this stuff.

20.00 Atletico PR v Palmeiras, Brazilian Campeonatos, SportsXchange
Atletico's lowly league placing is down to their woeful away form; they've only lost once in their eleven home games so far. Should prove a stern test for second place Palmeiras.

20.00 Deportivo v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Since reaching the Champions League semi final in 2004 Deportivo have been "in transition" or 'rubbish' for want of a better term. While you can't read too much into opening games, especially against the champions, you can imagine a home defeat would signal the start to another one of those seasons.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Football Kits 2008/09: Who makes what

Before we press on with other matters, here's a final word on the subject of football kits.

Just before the current domestic football season started here in the UK, we carried out some research to see which kit manufacturers were the most popular among the 92 league clubs, and duly compared our findings to those of last year.

For 2008/09, we can confirm that Umbro are the most popular kit manufacturer with eleven teams in their portfolio, five of which are (somewhat impressively) in the Premier League. The next most popular is Vandanel - a name that may not be too familiar to you if you support a team playing below the Championship.

Vandanel are an Essex-based company who have been in the sportswear industry for about twenty years and are now the suppliers of kit for ten Football League teams including Gillingham, Notts County and Tranmere Rovers. As you can see from these three examples showing their current shirts for Port Vale, Northampton and Darlington, they're not at all bad either.



Puma and Nike are next with nine teams each, and here you'll find a slight difference in approach between the two companies. While Nike can claim to have secured the contracts of clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Fulham, Puma have only Tottenham by way of a 'star name'. Instead, their portfolio focuses largely on numerous teams from lower down the leagues like Coventry, Plymouth and Leyton Orient.

Further down the list are Errea, best known as the long-running suppliers of kit for Middlesbrough - they provide for seven teams - and Adidas who, out of the 92 clubs of the Football League produce kit for just six. That said, three of them are Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle.

All in all, there are 26 kit companies plying their trade this season - down three on last season - and one of the names to disappear off the list is Southampton FC. That's right: The Saints have made their own kit since 1999, but not any more - they've decided to go with Umbro for the foreseeable future.

Also falling by the wayside for 2008/09 is Bourne Red, the name for Bournemouth's own football kit company, plus one of the most famous names of all - Admiral. Only Leeds United had an Admiral strip last season, but with Macron securing the new contract, the one-time England kit suppliers are now absent from the football scene.

Other well-known names on the wane are Diadora (five clubs last year, three this), Hummel (Barnet last year, no club this year) and Surridge (down from four clubs to two) while Champion burst onto the scene with Wigan's new kit and Carbrini make their debut with Bournemouth and Luton's new attire.

Full list of kits (by manufacturer):
Adidas: Chelsea, Derby, Liverpool; Bukta: Chesterfield, Millwall; Canterbury: Portsmouth; Carbrini: Bournemouth, Luton; Carlotti: Blackpool, Oldham, Rotherham, Scunthorpe; Champion: Wigan; Diadora: Preston, Stockport, Watford; Errea: Brighton, Bristol Rovers, Burnley, Cheltenham, Crystal Palace, Grimsby, Middlesbrough; Gazelle Sports: Chester; Jako: Leicester; Joma: Cardiff, Charlton; Le Coq Sportif: Carlisle, Man City, Sheffield Utd, Stoke, Wolves; Lotto: Barnsley, Crewe, QPR, Sheffield Wed, Swindon; Macron: Leeds; Mitre: Huddersfield, Ipswich; Nike: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Fulham, Hartlepool, Hereford, Man United, Milton Keynes Dons, Rochdale, Southend; ProStar: Accrington Stanley, Shrewsbury; Puma: Brentford, Bristol City, Colchester, Coventry, Leyton Orient, Morecambe, Plymouth, Reading, Tottenham; Reebok: Bolton; SHO: Exeter; Sport Italia: Aldershot; Surridge: Bradford, Bury; Swift: Walsall; Umbro: Birmingham, Blackburn; Everton, Hull, Lincoln, Nottm Forest, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom, West Ham; Vandanel; Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Darlington, Doncaster, Gillingham, Northampton, Notts County, Port Vale, Tranmere, Yeovil; Xara: Norwich.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bundesbag Week 2: Hoff II & Hennes VIII

Of all the tedious long running English gags about Germany, surely the second most tedious is the Hoff (we don't mention the first). There's something about the power ballad crooning, robot car driving recovering alcoholic 80's refugee that tickles the collective funny bone. And they say our humour is sophisticated.

If that wasn't enough, word is spreading throughout the UK of a new Hoff, only this one doesn't wear leather jackets and make outrageous claims about his role in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. This is the Hoff of Hoffenheim and once again they get top billing on the Bundesbag.

TSG has been getting some good press in the mainstream sports media over here which is rare for a German club. Their impressive start to the season mixed with their billionaire owner and large ambitions are not news to regular readers. So much so that they were all set to take their place in the "Elsewhere..." paragraph which is usually about the fifth one down. However, the new boys are reluctant to step out of the light just yet and capped a fine home debut at their borrowed stadium at Mannheim with an impressive 1-0 win against fellow new boys 'Gladbach.

Admittedly you get the impression that the main contenders are still shrugging off a bit of early season lethargy, however TSG is providing football lovers with a fantastic feel-good story for the new campaign. For their next trick, they will teach us the true meaning of Christmas.

Conversely, for Monchengladbach, their season is off to a dismal start with two defeats. Big things were expected from them this season and given their propensity to under-achieve at this level, their may be some nervous tugging at the collars before they secure their first points.

They may have to wait a little longer as they host Werder Bremen next Saturday who have yet to register a win. It was a close encounter against Schalke at the Weser and Thomas Schaaf's when will, no doubt, feel unhappy to have conceded a late equalizer to their fellow Championship contenders. 1-1 was the final score.

nother title contender (supposedly) is Hamburg. Their new signing Mladen Petric (right) from Dortmund started from the bench against Karlsruhe and they were less than convincing for their 2-1 win thanks to a late winner from Mathijsen. Still, over their two games they could argue that they were worth 4 points, particularly since their last opponents were champions Bayern.

Speaking of whom, Munich welcomed back Luca Toni Cascarino to the fold after a spell of injury and embarrassment for the game against Dortmund. It wasn't his day as it happened. Neither was it Marc van Bommel's as he put in a characteristically "uncompromising" performance which lead to two yellow cards (the second for an elbow) and we all know what two yellows make, don't we?

Dortmund had gone ahead earlier on thanks to a belter from Jakuba Blaszczykowski who has had the good grace to go by his nickname Kuba. Thanks for that. With Bayern in a hole, Klinsie shuffled his pack and introduced Tim Borowski for his debut. The free transfer from Bremen did what all decent players do when called upon by desperate coaches: he scored and rescued a point for Bayern.

Elsewhere (told you) Bielefled's Artur Wichniarek (left) has started the season in blistering form with three goals in two games. His third was at Berlin last Saturday as he canceled out Marko Pantelic's beautiful lob. Jens Lehmann's comedy stylings are well known to followers of the English game. Gooners will be reassured to learn that he has not sacrificed his art now he is at Stuttgart. Indeed, his bungled save to allow Leverkusen's Helmes to score the opener at the Mercerdes Benz Stadion would have had Tati standing to applaud.

Fanis Geikas scored Bayer's second to finish the job. Wolfsburg and Bochum fought out a ding-dong 2-2 draw which finished with the Wolves as the stronger team and frustrated not to take all three points.

Finally, FC Koln celebrated their first match at home with a point against Frankfurt. It could have been so much more had Roda Antar not missed a penalty. The proceedings were watched by Cologne's new mascot Hennes VIII who is a rather splendid looking goat. The Bundesbag understands that his predecessor (another goat) had retired, presumably to a luxury out-of-town garbage dump. I bet he's glad he spoke to the Pru.

That's it. Results here.

Midweek TV Preview: August 26 - 28

Tuesday 26 August

18.00 FC Nordsjaelland v Queen of the South, UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg (Agg; 1-0), BBC2 Scotland
The dream may finally be over for Queen of the South, but they got out of worse scrapes than this last season.

19.45 Coventry City v Newcastle Utd, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
I'm feeling strangely confident about Newcastle's ability to have a good season. Don't worry, I'm sure it'll pass soon enough.

Wednesday 27 August

11.00 Vissel Kobe v Kashima Antlers, J-League, British Eurosport 2
Antlers have lost top spot and sunk to third after a disappointing run of results. Kobe aren't exactly in sparkling form themselves though.

19.45 Nottingham Forest v Sunderland, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Roy Keane seems to be making all the right noises about this tie being important, but you can't shake the feeling they'd rather just concentrate on the League.

20.05 Arsenal v FC Twente, UEFA Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg (Agg: 2-0), BBC3
What should have been a nice easy stroll for the Gunners has become a game they need to put a decent performance in to placate disgruntled fans.

20.05 Liverpool v Standard Liege, UEFA Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg (Agg: 0-0), ITV1 & HD
Anyone convinced by Liverpool's two Premier League wins? No, me neither. A big potential banana skin and certainly the game to watch.

Thursday 28 August

01.50 Sao Paulo v At. Paranaense, Copa Sudamericana Round 1 (Agg: 0-0), Setanta Sports 2
Those of you who got addicted to small-hour sport during the Olympics can get your fix with an all-Brazialian encounter. The two sides faced each other on this ground last week in Serie A, the home team walking away 3-1 winners.

15.25 Midtjylland v Manchester City, UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg (Agg: 1-0), Five
A fascinating match which most people will miss thanks to fixture shifting for TV. Sneak home early for this one if you can.

19.45 Torquay Utd v York City, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Former League Club Thursday is remarkably Wrexham-less this week. Torquay have lost their last three games while York are unbeaten after five.

20.00 Aston Villa v FH Hafnarfjordur, UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg (Agg: 4-1), Five
After all that fixture shuffling, Five are rewarded with a dead rubber in prime time. Strictly for bored Villa fans only.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Premier League Kit Parade (Part 4)

It's time for the thrilling climax to our look at the new Premier League shirts of 2008/09. Today, we survey the last five teams in alphabetical order, so let's begin with...

Sunderland
Another case of Umbro tidying up the over-proliferation of diamonds here as they give the Black Cats a much cleaner-looking and rather swish home shirt. A nice use of black around the v-neck and at the top of the arms makes this a rather decent design, mirrored in black and blue for the away shirt.

And here once again we see that black-and-blue-stripe combo that Middlesbrough have used for their own away shirt. Which is the better? It's difficult to say. Umbro have certainly done a decent job with their version for Sunderland and it's fair to say it's a nice contrast with the all-white affair that was used last season. Well done, Umbro.

Tottenham
Once again, there's a trilogy of new shirts to check out for The Lilywhites, thereby maximising those all important takings in the club shop. Yes, we are being cynical, but we're sure we must be speaking on behalf of some Spurs supporters out there...

So what do we have here? For a start, Tottenham's featureless but very stylish all-white home shirt from last year is replaced with one that has navy blue panels under the arms and a navy blue v-neck collar. It's not at all bad, we think, but somehow that plain white one was just a little bit special. Good, but not as good, if you see what we mean.

Then there's the new away shirt which this year is sky blue. It has to be acknowledged that Spurs have one of those constant talking points in place about which colours work best for the away shirt. For them, the debate is 'yellow or sky blue?' and though it will no doubt divide Tottenham fans in equal measures, we think yellow's better, but this blue edition looks really nice. It reminds us of those heady days when Clive Allen was banging in the goals at White Hart Lane, and that can be no bad thing.

And finally onto the third shirt which is a little bit odd. Where Spurs have recently resorted to a dark brown and gold outfit, this is black and gold. Does that suggest the brown colourscheme was a little bit too controversial to keep in place, we wonder? Whatever - this is again a nice shirt with a flappy collar just like the sky blue shirt, but what are those little white stripes on the left shoulder? We think it's a gesture of some sort relating to the Puma King range of boots and styling, but we're not sure. All we know is that it shouldn't be there, and that's an end to the matter.

All in all, three nice shirts from Puma, but don't expect them to be worn by the team next season as they won't be. The modern age of football kit design is a ruthless one, and it's best that we tell you the news now before you're hurt further down the line.

West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies are back! Not only that, but there's a new incarnation of those famous navy blue and white stripes from Umbro. This season, they've tried to invigorate that design with something original by incorporating an extra pinstripe either side of those navy blue bands. You might not be able to see it on our picture, but trust us it's there and it looks... er... not overly remarkable.

Add that to the lack of any significant sort of collar and what you end up with is a fairly featureless design that looks a little boring to us. Sorry Baggies fans, but there it is. We'd even go so far as to say their home shirt from last season was actually better, despite all those Umbro diamonds littered all over the shoulders.

And then there's the away shirt. How can we put this... it looks like something a referee would wear. It's yellow, with incredibly minimal styling and harsh though this sounds, it looks rubbish. Quite what Umbro were thinking when they produced this is beyond us - let alone what West Brom were thinking when they gave it the thumbs-up. This is arguably the worst shirt anyone will set eyes on this season, and that's all we can say about it. It's only our opinion, you understand, but we think it'll tally up with a lot of people. Sorry and all that.

West Ham United
While we're on the subject of Umbro, here's what they've come up with for West Ham this season. At home, they've put together a shirt that we think is OK but we're not sure why.

It looks not unlike Aston Villa's home shirt and seems smart enough in many respects, and yet it isn't a wholehearted nod towards something either traditional or particularly interesting. Basically we're saying it's neat and inoffensive but it won't win any design awards either.

Away from home, West Ham have bought into the Umbro template for this season - a plain shirt with two contrasting stripes across the upper part of the chest (see Everton away, England away, etc). This one's a pleasant summery blue with white and claret coloured bands and is really rather good.

A welcome return to the all-pale blue West Ham away outfit, but what we really want to see is the revival of those two horizontal claret stripes around the middle like Bobby Moore and Clyde Best used to wear circa 1970. No chance of that any time soon, we suppose...

Wigan Athletic
And so we reach the end of the road with Wigan and here we save a small surprise for last because The Latics have joined up with Champion as their new kit supplier. As far as we can remember, Champion haven't really had much to do with football kit production in the recent past, but they've got their foot in the door now and have even secured a contract with the Welsh FA.

All that aside, Wigan's new shirts look really good and are a credit to Champion as a new name on the scene. The home shirt has a crisp, clean look with bold blue and white stripes (take note Umbro/WBA) with some interesting little bits of business going on around the shoulder area too. Nothing too showy or distracting, mind - this is all good stuff and hits the spot nicely, in our opinion.

Then there's the away shirt which perhaps isn't so cut and dried by virtue of the fact that it's that controversial luminous yellow in colour. When Chelsea tried the same trick last season, Adidas' found themselves universally ridiculed for their efforts, but somehow this one looks less 'in your face' (if that's possible for a luminous yellow shirt).

Wigan's version simply uses some bold black piping around the shoulders and down the sides to create a look that's easy on the eye while being bold and, of course, highly visible on the pitch. Jolly good, we think - well done, Champion.

The end...?
So that's it - the end of our 20-team survey of all the new shirts for 2008/09, except for one shirt which has been launched in the last couple of weeks since Part 2 of our guide. It's Manchester City's new third shirt and it's already been worn in the club's opening Premier League fixture against Aston Villa.

It's predominantly Flame Orange with a navy blue sleeve and collar. The colourscheme is distinctive and works well, but ironically its effectiveness is almost undone by that totally unnecessary bit of yellow piping down the left shoulder. What's that there for, for crying out loud?!? We're sorry, Le Coq Sportif, but that bit of yellow you've included there cheapens the overall look and smacks of a designer who didn't know when to quit while they were ahead.

Still, let's not be too harsh. This has some elements of originality to it, like the asymmetrical sleeves and the use of colours, so it's not all bad. A reasonable try on behalf of LCS, but a note for future reference - don't get too fussy during the design stage. Keep it simple and the fans will be happy.

Here endeth the lecture.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #75

Football Philately
11 Postage Stamps Celebrating The Sport Of Football

1. Angolan stamp - World Cup 2006



2. Brazil, 1969 - Pele's 1,000 goal



3. England - World Cup 2006



4. Australia - 1976 Olympic soccer tournament



5. France - World Cup 1998 champions



6. Albania - Euro 1996



7. Switzerland - Euro 2008



8. Cuba - World Cup 2006



9. England - World Cup 1966



10. United States - World Cup 1994



11. Hungary - Euro 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: August 21st - 24th

(All times UK)

Friday 22 August

19:30 Hannover 96 v Energie Cottbus, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Both teams were hammered 3-0 last week. Of the two, Hannover can at least say that they were beaten by a title contender in Schalke. Cottbuss lost to one of the few teams tipped to finish below them, Hoffenheim. Should be plenty of goals in this one.

Saturday 23 August

10:30 Urawa Reds v Jubilo Iwata, J-League, British Eurosport 2
Both teams are going through an indifferent spell at present. Despite that, the Red Diamonds are only a point off the top of the League. Leaders Kashimar have a tough game against third placed Grampus 8 so now is a good time for Urawa to play a team who last beat them in 2006.

12:30 Aberdeen v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The last time Rangers travelled to Pittodrie they lost 2-0 towards the end of what should have been a legendary season. No doubt the visitors will be keen to inflict some pain on the "New Firm".

12:45 Charlton Athletic v Reading, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
Master takes on pupil as Steve Coppell's Reading travel to the Addicks. Both clubs will be among the 237 other Championship teams hoping to be there or thereabouts come the end on the season. Personally I think Reading are going to go straight back up and this could be the week where they show their hand. Away win.

17:20 Plymouth Argyle v Swansea City, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
Swansea should be pleased with their impressive 3-1 win against Forest last week. Manager Roberto Martinez (right) is destined for great things and you wouldn't rule them out of a push for the play-offs. Plymouth at home are a tough proposition though. A tough encounter at Home Park is on the cards.

17:30 Fulham v Arsenal, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
What better way for Fulham to bounce back from an away day defeat to Hull than with three points against the Arsenal? Mind you, they've got as much of a chance of beating The Gunners as Twente.

Sunday 24 August

13:30 Wigan Athletic v Chelsea, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
As impressive as The Blues have been, Wigan look to have assembled a side capable of giving anyone a game. While Scolari's men should take the points I think a lot of people will be anxious to see if Zaki can get another consolation.

16:00 Manchester City v West Ham Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
If you don't have Sky, why not watch an episode of World's Worst Train Wrecks on Bravo. It'll be the same thing pretty much.

20:00 Bordeaux v Nantes, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Bordeaux will be anxious to make up for the shame of losing to PSG last week. Nantes may well be the team to oblige.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SPAOTP Media Top Ten

So how much football do any of us actually watch in real life compared to what we watch on TV? And how much is our opinion informed through the football media lens rather than through our own personal experience and knowledge?

Much of what we know, or think we know, is based on the journalists, presenters, anchormen, and ex-professionals that populate TV, radio and increasingly podcasts. Clubs and players are aware of this and frequently use the media to propagate their position, whether it be by agitating for a move, criticising a referee, accusing another team of cheating or whatever. More and more, these arguments take place in the public arena and it is the job of the media to make sense of it all while at the same time carry forward their own agenda. In turn, the supporter is left trying to make sense of the media.

To that end Some People Are On The Pitch presents its completely arbitrary and in no way scientific top ten of the most influential (mostly) English football programmes.

10. Guardian Football Weekly (Podcast)
James Richardson (right) anchors this twice weekly Sony Award-nominated podcast with an assortment of Guardian Unlimited hacks. This has become as popular for the byplay between the contributors as it has for its funny and cynical analysis. Much of the regular panel also write The Fiver and the show is heavily informed by its narrative.

Regulars Paul Doyle and Barry Glendenning act as cult heroes/pantomime villains depending on your point of view, while chief football writer Kevin McCarra injects a more measured and insightful perspective. Correspondents include Sid Lowe in Spain and Rafael Honigstein in Germany.

The show has a feel of organised chaos which may or may not be by design and the inestimable Richardson manages to keep the animals reigned just enough to keep things coherent, barely.

9. The Game from The Times (Podcast)
Phil Jupitus (right) is the host for this season but previous incumbents were Guillem Balague with Gabrielle Marcotti and Danny Kelly before that. The show tries hard but has too many boring interviews and is way too corporate. You always feel that the pro-News Corps agenda is never far away (it took less than two minutes of last week's episode for the Setanta bashing to begin) and try as it might the show seems incapable of the necessary deprecation required of a low budget podcast. Despite this, it remains a popular show and essential listening for podcast junkies.

8. Sunday Supplement (Sky Sports)
Formerly known as Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement. This Sunday morning round table discussion programme used to go under the name of Hold The Back Page which was hosted by Brian Woolnough of the Daily Star. Woolnough continued as the host when it moved to Sunday and Jimmy Hill (right) was introduced as a sort of doyen figure pontificating on what's wrong with the game while a couple of other Fleet Street hacks would join in.

Hill retired two seasons ago but the show continues in the same vain. It's easy to dismiss this programme as nothing more than pissed hacks arguing the toss. However, the panel are made up of the top staffers on the English dailies. Regular contributors are Martin Samuels of the Times, Sean Custis of The Sun and Patrick Barclay of The Telegraph. These are heavyweight journalists with many contacts at the highest level of the game. They may be pompous windbags but they're always worth listening to.

7. Football Focus (BBC TV)
The daddy of all football magazine programmes. Focus has been a regular feature at Saturday lunchtimes since just before the birth of Christ. In fact, it's widely held that that time-slot was originally a pagan festival before it was taken over by the BBC.

Every time I think of the programme, I think of Bob Wilson (right) who anchored the show for many years. These days it's the amiable Manish Bhasin who looks after Mark Lawrenson and steers the viewer through a collection of highlights, features and interviews.

Most of the clich├ęs that you ever heard in the game were probably coined by the likes of Jimmy Hill and others during the programme's halcyon days. The show remains a popular mainstay to this day.

6. Goals On Sunday (Sky Sports)
I was once told that this was the show the pro's watched just after they'd kicked their Page 3 girl of their hotel room. Chris Kamara (right), and this season Ian Payne, introduce action from Saturday while chatting to managers or ageing pros.

The team like to go over controversial decisions by referees and pass judgement, thereby highlighting the benefits of video evidence. The style and tone is a sort of one-of-the-lads cheery dressing room banter that can sometimes make you feel as though you are intruding.

5. Soccer AM (Sky Sports)
It's extraordinary how this programme has crept into football culture given its tiny audience share. It just goes to show the value of aiming a show at a specific target audience (male, 16-25).

The return of "easy easy" to football grounds can be attributed to Soccer AM. The 'Save Chip' campaign during the show's imperial phase (for me at least) resulted in that message being displayed in all sorts of unlikely places.

Series producer Tim Lovejoy (right) left to join Simon Fuller at 19 a couple of seasons ago. Like Lovejoy himself, the programme continues to polarise opinion. Is it mindless populist trash bordering on corporate propaganda or well observed skilfully written banter with its roots firmly entranced in the humour of the terraces?

4. Ford Football Special (Sky Sports)
The lynchpin of Sky Sports' schedules. These days it consists of a live double header of the two most popular fixtures.

Richard Keys (right) is your host with heavyweight pundits Andy Gray, Alan Smith et al plus a prominent player or manager. Alan Parry usually commentates the undercard, and the highly respected Martin Tyler the main 4pm game.

It's not for this that the programme is on this list though. It's for perennial pundit Jamie Redknapp. The ex-Liverpool and England player has the family connection with the venerated Harry Redknapp and is one of the men behind the elitist lifestyle periodical Icon Magazine. Redknapp Jnr may come across as a bit naff, but he has his fingers in a lot of pies and is set to become a real player in the world of football in the decades to come.

3. Sport On Five (BBC Radio 5 Live)
This Saturday afternoon commentary and results show pre-dates televised live football by some years. However, the advent of subscription TV was a shot in the arm for BBC Radio's football coverage.

When Sky took the inaugural Premier League contract in 1992 a whole raft of football fans missed out on all these new live football matches. Sport On Five filled the breach and has done so ably ever since. The programme is the home of respected journalists Mike Ingham (right) and Jonathan Ledgard, plus professional loon and minority botherer Alan Green.

The show has the added bonus of reminding the obsessed that other sports exist such as Rugby, Cricket and Horse Racing. However, at its heart Sport On Five is all about the football and is still holding up well in an age of declining radio audiences.

2. Match Of The Day (BBC TV)
Only free-to-air live matches get more viewers than this weekly Saturday night highlights show. If Focus is the daddy, then MOTD is the wizened old Grand Daddy.

Perhaps inevitably, being so popular it falls foul of the hard core. The regular team of Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, and Alan Hansen have been accused of banality, vacuity and infidelity (although not in that order). Oh for the days of Des Lynam, eh?

1. Soccer Saturday (Sky Sports)
Grown from the roots of Sports Saturday, the idea for this programme is both inspired and unsellable. Watching aging ex-pro's watching football and telling us about it? Nope sorry, no-one pitches an idea like that - it develops organically from something else.

Jeff Stelling anchors a motley crew of fading superstars who aren't good enough to be managers and cannot be employed in any other gainful manner. They spend two and a half hours jabbering about football, then the 3 o'clock games start and everyone dons their headphones while Jeff reads the latest scores from the news wires and that's it - the ultimate in low rent programme in the worst traditions of broadcasting.

The result is a national institution which has made Stelling one of the most respected broadcasters in the game. Walk into any pub in England on a Saturday afternoon and the chances are it'll be his face you see rather than Ray Stubbs on the BBC. After Digital Switchover happens and assuming Sky Sports News remains free to air, Stelling should become a true household name.

Soccer Saturday is also the showpiece of another broadcasting phenomena, Sky Sports News. To anyone who hasn't seen this TV channel, it's is exactly was it says it is: news about Sky Sports. The impact this thinly-veiled infotainment channel has had is yet to be properly assessed.

Honourable mentions should go to the fine work going on at Football Fancast. Setanta have two discussion programmes, The Friday Football Show and Football Matters which I believe are both hosted by James Richardson now. I haven't really gone into TalkSport either.

Dishonourable mentions go to the Football 365 podcast which is barely listenable.

So there it is - our Media Top 10 in all its glory, but we'd like to know your thoughts too. Which programmes and podcasts do you like or dislike and which do you watch or listen to? Leave us a comment or cast your vote here...

Which of these is your favourite football programme or podcast?
Guardian Football Weekly
Football Focus
Ford Football Special
Goals On Sunday
Match of the Day
Soccer AM
Soccer Saturday
Sport On Five
Sunday Supplement
The Game
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bundesbag Week 1: Hoffenheim are the new Accies

There’s a line from the Simpsons when Principal Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie meet up after the summer holidays. Skinner asks Willie how his summer went to which he replies “I made millions in Software and blew it all on the track”. Every time I think of Dietmar Hopp, I think of that line.

Hopp is the ex-footballer and software billionaire owner who bought TSG Hoffenheim and took them from non-league obscurity to the Bundesliga in a few years. On their first day in the top flight they travelled to Energie Cottbus and beat them 3-0. While the result probably says more about Cottbuss that it does Hoffenheim, the newcomers sit proudly atop the table after the first weekend. The best way to describe the club which, until last season, had a ground capacity of 9,000 is a cross between Wimbledon and Hamilton Academicals. Only this time Hopp is building an enormous new stadium in Steinsfurt and staying well away from Milton Keynes. In the meantime they have moved to a short term home in Mannheim.

You have to worry though. By all accounts, Hopp hasn’t done an Abramovic and spent gazillions in the transfer market. However, you have to wonder if the club has the supporter base to sustain a Bundesliga club in the long term. Is Hopp doing the equivalent of blowing his money on the track? These are big questions for the opening day I guess and the main thing is they are here now and promise to make a big impact on the new season.

Keeping Hoffenheim company at the top of the table are Schalke who have had a blistering start to their season. First, Athletico Madrid and now Hannover. New boss Fred Rutten will be hoping that their good from sees them safely into the Champions League and eases the pressure on him. Another new manager making his debut is Jurgen Klopp who made the short trip from Mainz to Dortmund. His first competitive fixture was against a club with another new boss Bayer Leverkusen who welcomed Bruno Labbadia.

The Bayarena has no roof at the moment while they increase the stadium capacity. The place looked and sounded strange with the crowd open to the elements. In last Saturday's sunshine it could have been mistaken for somewhere in Spain or Italy. It wasn’t though - it was Leverkusen which is a bit of a dive in truth. Anyhoo, the upshot of it all was a 3-2 win for BVB with goals from Valdez, Kringe and Sunbotic. Special mention goes to Jakub Blaszczykowski who had a stormer and Tamas Hajnal who didn’t. Still, early days eh?

Elsewhere, Hajnal’s former club Karlsruhe (who are tipped to struggle this season without him and defender Mario Eggiman) got a valuable three points against Bochum (1-0). Last season, Bielefeld struggled but will take heart from a 2-2 draw at home to Bremen who are probably missing Diego quite badly. A club of Berlin’s size really need to get their shit back together. Here’s hoping a 2-0 win at Frankfurt gets them on the right track.

Of the remaining two promoted clubs it was not a good weekend. FC Koln had to face a trip to Wolfsburg who are an entirely different proposition under Felix Magath. Unsurprisingly, the new boys were sent home with nothing. ‘Gladbach are expected to not just survive in the Bundesliga but prosper. Needless to say they lost at home to Stuttgart. Gomez was among the goalscorers… fancy that.

I think that wraps it up for the week. Oh wait! How could I forget last Friday? Bayern Munich 2, Hamburg 2. Martin Jol’s team, recently shorn of Rafael van der Vaart travelled to the Allianz fearing the worst. So hands up who thought Bayern would steam-roller them? Just me then. The Bavarians themselves were missing Ribery and Luca Toni but if they'd shown a bit of mettle in defence, they could have held off the opposition after taking the lead twice. It was a decent game though and the perfect tonic for Jol, who’s got a tough job and is still a popular fella here in Blighty. Besides, it won’t hurt Klinsie to have his bubble burst. At least he knows what he has to deal with. There’s a long way to go.

That’s it. Results here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: August 18th - 21st

Monday 18th August

19:45 Torquay Utd v Ebbsfleet, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
MyFan FC travel to the English Riviera. Doubts remain about the longevity of the Ebbsfleet project and around the future of their highly regarded manager Liam Daish. Especially given their modest start to the season.

Tuesday 19th August

19:45 England v Slovenia, U21 International, Setanta Sports 1 Setanta kick off their new international acquisition with the kiddies. If you can call highly paid professional footballers 'kiddies' of course.

Wednesday 20th August

18:00 Norway v Republic of Ireland, Friendly International, Setanta Sports 2
If the Trap is going to get Ireland within a sniff of a trip to South Africa he needs to re-engage his top players with the national team. The Norwegians should provide a stiff challenge and more answers.

18:00 Wales v Romania, UEFA U21 European Championship Qualifier, Sky Sports 2
Might be worth having a look at this one. Wales are top of their group and I think a win guarantees a play-off spot for the finals.

20:00 England v Czech Republic, International, Setanta Sports 1
Home internationals are not as good for business as the Premier League. However, it will bite that Sky's big rivals have got their teeth into the England national team. As far as the game goes there's not much to say. We're just waiting for the real thing to start.

20:00 Scotland v Northern Ireland, International, Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports HD1
As international friendlies go this has the virtue of being a local derby and should generate some interest. Both nations are hoping for a good run at their qualifying campaign and this game should prove a decent sighter.

20:05 Wales v Georgia, International, Sky Sports 2, Sky Sports HD2
Hmmm. A bit surprised that this game is going ahead but I suppose the show must go on.

Thursday 21st August

01:10 Estudiantes v Independiente, Copa Sudamericana, Setanta Sports 2
Sounds like a 90's indie band revival doesn't it? It's not though - it's hot South American action which is much more exciting.

19:45 Wrexham v Oxford Utd, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
If it's Thursday it must be Wrexham. Setanta are flogging these ex-league clubs in the Thursday night slot. This can't be popular with their supporters and you have to wonder if it's worth the extra TV money.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Road To Wembley (FC)

My day didn't start well. I had two clear options with regards to my journey to Wembley FC: either I could go by car or I could go by Tube. Both ways would take around 75 minutes to complete, and as I had no idea what sort of parking facilities were available when I got there, I thought it better and far more relaxing to go by Tube. I'd be able to take my seat, read my notes and generally build up the big match atmosphere on this first Saturday of the 2008/09 FA Cup competition. How stupid of me to think that.

Having left my house in a blind panic some fifteen minutes later than I intended to, I hurriedly dashed off to Becontree station to begin my journey. Within minutes, I was being ushered along the tracks at great speed, through the very heart of West Ham country. For those first few stops, many people got on in their claret and blue shirts, all of them on their way to Upton Park for the first game of the season at home to Wigan Athletic. Though I wished I could join them, I knew I had a special appointment to fulfil - to watch the match between Wembley FC and Royston Town.

Before long, Upton Park station was just a distant memory and I was heading for North Wembley... or so I thought. Someone at Chancery Lane station had ended up under a train rather than on it, thereby causing travel chaos for every Londoner, tourist and part-time football journalist. It severely delayed my journey, and by the time I walked through the turnstiles at Vale Farm, the teams were already out on the pitch having their photos taken alongside the beautiful silver FA Cup trophy.

Of all the faces I should see first as I hurriedly made my way in, I'd never have put Brian Barwick at the top of the list, but there he was. An imposing figure wearing casual jacket and trousers, it seemed somewhat surreal that he should be there, but then this was a big showpiece event to launch the one competition he must be most proud to be associated with as the FA's Chief Executive.

So there I was mingling with the 100 or so people that had made their way to witness this clash between Wembley and Royston Town. And here I must make my first admission - that this was the first time I'd ever been to see a non-league match of any kind. Though some of the performances I've seen my team produce at Upton Park have been staggeringly amateurish at times, I can honestly say I'd never seen a game between two amateur teams before. I pondered with some anticipation what it was that I was about to see.

Before that, though, I had the great good fortune to bump into a couple of ITV types who happened to be there covering the game for ITVLocal.com. I'd already noticed the reassuring presence of one or two cameramen located in different parts of the ground, so they obviously meant business when they said they wanted to cover as many games as possible from the early rounds of this year's FA Cup.

Very soon, I quickly found myself in the very pleasant company of Marc Webber (Head of Content for ITV.com), Gary Andrews (Web Editor, ITV) and Chris Nee (Writing Genius and All-Round Messiah at the popular football blogsite 'Two Footed Tackle'). We watched Royston Town dominate the early exchanges while swapping pleasantries about 'the magic of the FA Cup', what it was like to work for ITV, blogging and generally anything else that might make one or all of us laugh like the wizened old hacks we really were.

Mid-way through the first half, an extraordinary privilege suddenly came my way. Just as I thought my day was starting to look up, it got imperceivably better. Thanks to all the contacts Gary had with the various FA suits in attendance, he, Chris and I all had the honour and privilege of having our photos taken with the FA Cup trophy.

I mean can you imagine it - the real FA Cup trophy! I've only ever seen it on TV and even then it's always looked magical, but in real life... I was blinded by the sheer aura of the thing. It glistened with all the brightness of a million diamonds, and there I was standing next to it, devaluing the damn thing more than it's ever possible to do.

But I didn't care - this was an unforgettable moment, and one that would stay with me for a very long time. Shame I didn't get to pick it up and hoist it above my head in that we all do in our fantasies as a kid, but I guess that's a privilege saved for just one lucky player every May. One couldn't be too greedy at times like this.

Back at pitchside, Wembley were finally finding their foothold in the game, but it only served to neutralise any penetrative football that may have been due to arrive. Don't get me wrong though - this wasn't a boring match - far from it. Here were two teams that were very evenly matched and it was intriguing trying to work out who'd make the first breakthrough. In the end it came from Royston Town's Luke Robins in the 35th minute, scored from a free kick some twenty yards out to ensure the away side had a 1-0 lead at half time.

The mid-match break gave us all a chance to fill up on chips, hot dogs but no pies, curiously, before the second half began much as the first had ended. Royston, however, were in no position to savour their lead as Wembley scored an equaliser through Shane Sinclair after 53 minutes. It was a well-worked goal that would have graced any level of football and it was a signal for both teams to throw caution to the wind for a winning goal.

Some great play ensued as some neat passing and clever attacking came into its own from both sides, but in the end neither team could find that valuable winner, despite the sending off of Wembley's Andrew Walker for a second bookable offence mid-way through the second half. Both sets of fans seemed to accept the result with good grace and were, like us, very pleased with the match they'd just seen.

And that was about it, save for a quick pint in the club bar after the game. Despite the somewhat ominous start to the day, I'd had a really enjoyable time watching a match which did great credit to non-league football. Not only that but I'd done so in the company of three thoroughly decent blokes AND had my picture taken with that trophy.

What else could you possibly ask for (except for Brian Barwick's autograph)? Not much, say I - in fact if anyone now so much as suggests the FA Cup is a redundant dinosaur from a forgotten age of football, I for one will have to disagree in the strongest possible terms. What I saw yesterday thoroughly reawakened my love of football, and that, my friends, speaks for itself.

And if you want to see what the match was like for yourself, you can watch highlights of Wembley v Royston Town at ITV.com/Sport.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The FA Cup starts here

We begin with an apology.

When we said yesterday that these were exciting times and that various football competitions were going on around the world except for one which was about to start (i.e. the Premier League), we were being slightly economical with the truth.

Not that these aren't exciting times, etc, etc - it was just the bit at the end about 'one competition remaining that hadn't exploded into life yet'. We should have mentioned another one that you might have heard of - a competition that gets a bit of publicity from time to time and occasionally raises an eyebrow or two. We speak, of course, of the legend that is the FA Cup.

Believe it or not, the 2008/09 competition began tonight at 6.20pm (BST) with the very first match of them all - an Extra Preliminary Round tie between Wantage and Brading Town.

Now usually an event such as this involving two teams playing eight rungs below the Premier League on the football ladder would barely impact on the lives of the common man or woman, but this season is different. That's because the 2008/09 FA Cup is being covered by ITV and unlike the BBC who had the previous broadcasting rights, they'll be showing all the action from the Extra Preliminary Round onwards - not just from the start of the First Round Proper.

That means dozens of lower league clubs around England and Wales will finally get the publicity they deserve as they show the world who they are and the vital role they play in the fabric of the national game.

We think this is a bold and utterly fantastic move on the part of ITV, a move which leads us to wonder why nobody ever thought of doing it before. It's exactly the shot in the arm the competition needs, and if it doesn't motivate even more people to go along and support their local teams, nothing will.

So how are ITV able to cover so many matches involving so many teams at a stage of the competition when even the mere suggestion of the term 'league club' seems out of place? The answer lies in ITVLocal.com - a new website aimed at bringing news and information to people at a local level, because let's face it, if there's been an upsurge in crime in your area, you don't want to turn on your TV to hear what Robert Mugabe's up to in Zimbabwe or which parts of Georgia have been reclaimed by the Russians.

Again, it's a brilliant idea that keeps people right across the UK up to speed on the things that are going on right outside their front door, and as a part of that remit, sport is being covered in a similarly relevant way. Via the ITV Local website (plus ITV.com and TheFA.com), anyone anywhere can catch up with all the goals and all the excitement from the FA Cup games taking place at local team level.

A whopping 762 teams are hoping to reach Wembley this year and tomorrow afternoon will see 380 of them entering the field of battle, all hoping that they might one day do a giant-killing act on one of the professional clubs.

ITV will be sending its cameras out to cover as many of the games as possible - one of which will be Wembley FC v Royston Town, and that's where we'll be going tomorrow to soak up that unique atmosphere for SPAOTP.

We'll be bringing you a report on how the game panned out after the event, but for now just remember you can follow your own FA Cup trail by watching the action unfold at http://www.itvlocal.com/facup and http://www.itv.com/football.

Harry Redknapp, be warned - your grip on that lovely silver trophy is about to get that little bit weaker...

Weekend TV Preview: August 15-17

Friday

19:30 Bayern Munich v Hamburger SV, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
If Bild were English they'd no doubt have used the headline "HAMBURGLED" after Real Madrid made their last minute raid on Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart. Nevertheless, despite the Dutchman's absence this is a cracking game to kick-off the Bundesliga season and Klinsie's reign at Bayern.

Saturday

12:45 Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The Gunners kick off the Premier League with this lunchtime kick-off. They entertain The Baggies, who have a better a squad and better manager than they did last time they were up.

17:20 Bristol City v Derby County, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Last week Derby proved they're rubbish in whatever division they play in. A hammering on TV could see them early favourites to go down again.

17:30 Sunderland v Liverpool, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Having shown themselves up midweek against Standard Liege, this season's "Emperor's New Clothes" get a chance to show themselves up against a nicely settled Sunderland.

There's also an unconfirmed Brazilian Campeonatos match, at 22:20 on SportsXchange.

Sunday

13:30 Chelsea v Portsmouth, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Portsmouth have picked up a knack of starting campaigns well, so this should add some spice to this fixture. A not-so-gentle introduction for Luis Filipe Scolari to the Premier League.

14:00 Dundee Utd v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Having been spanked last week by the new boys you really want to knuckle down and give it a go in your next home game. Who's it against...? Oh!

16:00 Manchester Utd v Newcastle Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
I have a feeling this is the season you see the return of "Knockabout-Fun" Newcastle. Strap yourselves in Toon fans - the rollercoaster starts with this cracker.

There's also an unconfirmed Brazilian Campeonatos match, at 20:00 on SportsXchange.

20:00 Marseille v Auxerre, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Marseille started appallingly bad last season, but became unstoppable after. They started this season with a stomping 4-4 with Stade Rennes last week, while Auxerre got a decent 2-1 against Nantes. Should provide good entertainment.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #74

One-match wonders
16 Premier League Seasons And The Teams That Were Leading The Table After One Match

1. Newcastle United (2007/08)
2. Manchester United (2006/07)
3. Charlton / West Ham (2005/06)
4. Arsenal / Bolton (2004/05)
5. Blackburn (2003/04)
6. Fulham (2002/03)
7. Bolton (2001/02)
8. Charlton (2000/01)
9. Chelsea (1999/2000)
10. Wimbledon (1998/99)
11. Manchester United (1997/98)
12. Nottingham Forest / Man United (1996/97)
13. Newcastle United (1995/96)
14. Liverpool (1994/95)
15. Aston Villa (1993/94)
16. Norwich City (1992/93)

...and our thanks go to Russell Napier for giving us the idea for today's 'Friday List'. If you've got some suggestions of your own, don't forget - we'd love to see them and if at all possible we'll publish them on SPAOTP with our thanks. Just drop us a line to info [at] spaotp [dot] com and we'll do the rest...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Premier League Preview Podcast

Ladies and gentlemen, these are exciting times.

At this very moment, the Olympic football tournament is enthralling a worldwide audience in Beijing, China. Throughout Europe, qualification games for the Champions League and UEFA Cup are already sorting the men from the boys as the quest for continental domination starts its long and arduous journey. And across Britain, domestic football is exploding back into life with the start of the new Championship, League 1, League 2, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League campaigns.

Yet for all that, one football competition par excellence remains dormant, waiting for this Saturday to arrive. Then, and only then, at the stroke of 12.45 pm BST will the referee blow his whistle to herald the start of the match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion and, more importantly, the 2008/09 Premier League season as a whole.

The wait is almost over. Millions of fans around the world will finally put an end to their wonderings over who will thrive, who will score, who will be relegated and who will earn the right to become the next big footballing superstar.

Yet you, yes YOU, currently find yourself unprepared, uninformed and uninspired with only hours to go before the big kick-off.

Go on - admit it… you do, don't you?

Well worry no more. Help is at hand in the form of a wonderful podcast that's been lovingly crafted by Duffman and Sp3ktor, two members of the SPAOTP writing team who, by way of a proper day job, run our excellent sister site, The Onion Bag.

Together, they've researched all the close-season news stories, studied the form books and generally ignored The Sun to collate the ultimate preview to the new Premier League season, just for you, our valued and rather well turned-out guests.

So download their brilliant new podcast, listen attentively and enjoy. We defy you to be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Premier League Kit Parade (Part 3)

Yes folks, as sure as night follows day and Great Britain follows Swaziland in the Olympic medals table, it's now time for Part 3 of our look at the new shirts being worn in the Premier League this season. Before we start, a quick 'hello' to all of you joining us from Fifastadt.de who, like us, enjoy finding out about the latest garments being worn in the world of football. Nice to have you with us.

So to begin, a curiosity. This might be a unique happening for 2008/09, but Manchester United start the new campaign with only one new shirt to show off, and it's this white, red and blue away offering from Nike. In case you're wondering, their red home shirt was brought in last season on one of those old-fashioned 'two year deals', so they'll be wearing that one again this time around. How very quaint!

Anyway, this away shirt of United's looks like a decent design to us. We're not sure about the red and blue highlights as we're probably used to seeing Man U in white and black away from home, but nonetheless it seems to reek of Nike's usual high production values and should be a fan's favourite in a very short space of time. Oh, and don't be surprised if a new Man United third strip comes out during the course of the season, but for now, that’s all there is from Old Trafford.

And so to Middlesbrough who, after a one season break, have returned to one of their all-time favourite designs - a classic that should never under any circumstances be discarded: the classic red shirt with a white band across the middle. Last year's all-red affair was decidedly uninspiring, but the white stripe's back and it looks pretty good to us.

Then there's the new away shirt which also returns to former values in the form of a blue-and-black-striped creation. This looks rather nice and is a hell of a lot better than those rather iffy looking kits featuring gold and ecru that have been concocted by Errea in the past.

And that reminds us - why Errea? They've been supplying Middlesbrough's kit since 1994 and to be honest they rarely seem to come up with the goods. Isn't it time for a change now, Mr. Gibson? For the time being though, these are a couple of reasonable shirts to be going on with.

Next up it's Newcastle and like Man United, they're keeping their home shirts from last year. Instead, they've got new away and third shirts to show us and these aren't too bad either. Away from home, Newcastle have come up with yet another new colour to add to the many they've worn in the past, and it's purple. (Sorry if it doesn't show up too well in the picture.)

It's pretty standard fare from Adidas - a plain front with those three legendary stripes running down the sleeves - and it looks nice and slick… but that colour… will people want to buy and wear it in their droves? I've a feeling purple could polarise opinions amongst the fans, but for the likes of us that aren't, we don't mind it too much at all.

To continue the slightly controversial tone, Adidas have also produced a silver third strip for the Toons. (Note - that's silver, not grey.) Again, rather nice and a lot better looking than the other silver/grey shirt Adidas have produced for 2008/09 (see Part 2 - Liverpool), but dare we suggest that white band across the middle looks somewhat Middlesbrough-esque? Don't complain to us, Newcastle fans - it was just an observation…

Next up it's Portsmouth and they have a new home shirt that pares down the old design to feature just blue and gold. All the white trim has gone and what's left is a simple but effective shirt which should please more than it offends.

The away shirt, however, may divide your opinions. Some have called it a rugby shirt, others a cricket shirt, but either way it's… well… different. As you can see, the shirt is white with blue sleeves, a big chunky flyaway collar and a blue panel around the bottom.

For our money, this is exactly the sort of well-executed inventiveness we want to see more of in football shirt design, and as a result, we love it. Admittedly there's a practicality issue around that big collar flapping up in your face while you're running, but apart from that it looks modern, looks distinctive and for all that has our unequivocally wholehearted support. Top marks to Canterbury for showing the way forward.

Finally today, we turn our attention to one of the Premier League's new boys, Stoke City. Renowned for their red and white stripes, Stoke's new home shirt doesn't disappoint and this new version sees Le Coq Sportif widening the middle stripe to give us something a little bit different. It looks great with its simple but very pleasant styling and if it isn't snapped up by the truckload, we'll be very surprised.

The Potters' away shirt is yellow, a colour they haven’t used for quite some time. With blue trim around the collar and under the sleeves, it provides a strong contrast to the home kit and takes us back to a time in the mid-70's when seemingly everyone's away kit was yellow and blue (think Derby, Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal, etc…)

While not the most exciting of offerings, it certainly ticks all the important boxes so we've no real reason to grumble. A good effort on both counts from Le Coq Sportif and one that Stoke fans should be rather happy with.

That just about wraps it up for Part 3 of our new shirt perusal for the upcoming Premier League season. In the fourth and final part coming soon, we'll be finding out what the good folk at Sunderland, Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham and Wigan will be wearing, so stay with us for that…

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