Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

So here we are then. The end of another year. Where on Earth did it go, one has to ask?

So much has happened, so much forgotten and so much still fresh in the mind. Manchester United became World and European champions... Portsmouth won the FA Cup against Cardiff City, of all people... Spain won Euro 2008 (of all people)... Fabio Capello actually got England winning again while George Burley... well never mind.

Reading went down, Hull came up and went up, and up, and up... Teams lost their sponsors while others lost their managers on a regular basis... and at the end of it all, we find ourselves clutching onto those many disparate memories which soon will fade altogether. 2009 is almost upon us (at least here in the UK, in any case) and who's to say what we'll see next year?

All we know is this year has been one when SPAOTP almost came to an end back in May but has since been reborn, redesigned and rejuvenated - largely thanks to the two new friends I made back then who have joined me in writing the articles you see here every week. They are Duffman and Sp3ktor, and I can't thank them enough for all that they've done in helping to keep this particular ship afloat.

Not only have they worked their backsides off to produce so many wonderful posts, but they've given me more friendship, motivation and more often than not bloody good laughs to make me more proud of Some People Are On The Pitch than I've ever done in the two-and-a-half years this site's been running. Without them, this site wouldn't exist - of that I've no doubt.

So give them your thanks, but also give yourself a hearty pat on the back. You, our much valued visitors, give us the reason to write so much thanks to your comments, camaraderie and support. We love what we do because you seem to like what we do, and that makes us very happy indeed.

A good note on which to end 2008. I think. It's been fun, wouldn't you say? Let's all hope for more of the same in 2009...

To all our friends, visitors and co-bloggers around the world, we sincerely wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

Best wishes,
Chris O.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year TV Preview: 1 - 4 January 2009

Thursday 1 January

15.00 Altrincham v Northwich Victoria, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
It must be, ooh, less than a week since these two last played each other, but hey - it's 2009 so that means 'out with the new and in with the old'... Yes, these two teams played each other as recently as Boxing Day 2008 with Altrincham picking up a narrow 1-0 win over The bottom-of-the-table Vicks. Expect a wider margin of victory in this one.

Friday 2 January

20.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Wigan Athletic, FA Cup 3rd Round, Setanta Sports 1
Our first taste of FA Cup Third Round action this season - at least on TV, anyway - and this should be an absolute gem of a match. Spurs, always capable of putting in a good Cup run and playing at home, against a Wigan side who are on a run of three straight wins and are up to seventh in the Premier League table. Add to that the fact that Harry Redknapp is looking to win the FA Cup for the second consecutive year and you have all the makings of a really fascinating match here. Enjoy...

Saturday 3 January

12.30 Hearts v Hibernian, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
At the moment, Hibs look the most precarious of the sides in the top six. Defeat here could have them tugging at their hooped collars.

17.25 Preston North End v Liverpool, FA Cup 3rd Round, ITV1/HD*
In any other season you'd say Liverpool might be susceptible to being turned over in a fixture like this, but right now? Highly unlikely, although a draw isn't out of the question, perhaps. Expect Stevie G to lead from the front (or, at a push, from the cosy confines of Southport Police Station via his mobile).

19.00 Barcelona v Mallorca, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
The only football Sky Sports has this weekend is from Spain starting with this seemingly one-sided affair. Mallorca have only won once since the end of September; Barcelona's form is considerably better.

21.00 Valencia v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Third-placed Atletico are on fire at the moment and scoring with reckless abandon, fourth-placed Valencia are going the other way after a series of indifferent results. Has the makings of a really good tie.

Sunday 4 January


12.30 Inverness CT v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Cally are in a woeful run of five defeats in a row that's seen them drop from mid-table to second from bottom (OK, fair enough, that's not that far in the SPL). Rangers have been up and a down a bit lately but you can't see them messing this one up.

13.30 Gillingham v Aston Villa, FA Cup 3rd Round, ITV1/HD*
After back-to-back Third Round exits at the hands of Manchester United over the last two seasons, Villa fans will be pleased with this draw. Much will depend on Martin O'Neill's Champions League aspirations as to how desperately he chases this competition. Well worth a watch for some definitive Third Round action. Stay tuned as after the game you're immediately whisked away to Soho Square for ...

15.20 FA Cup 4th Round Draw, ITV1/HD*
Just like the third round draw, but takes just half the time.

16.00 Southampton v Manchester United, FA Cup 3rd Round, Setanta Sports 1
ITV revert to type and give United pride of place in the scheduling. The cameras might be there in case there's a repeat of the "grey kit" match from 12 years ago when United were taken apart 6-3. However, what's more likely is a repeat of what happened the last time United went to Southampton in the quarter finals in 2005 - walking away with a 4-0 victory. Surely Macclesfield Town v Everton would have been a better choice.

16.00 Real Madrid v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Madrid fans expect to be battling Barcelona for the title instead of scrapping with the also-rans for a Champions League spot. Victory here against one of their many rivals should help put their season back on track.

18.00 Sevilla v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Sevilla hold the fiercely contested second place in La Liga by a solitary point. They should consolidate it this weekend with their rivals playing each other and them facing the team currently nailed to the bottom.

*ITV HD is available on Freesat only.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #93

American Rivalries
9 Competitions Held Between Rival Teams In The MLS

1. Brimstone Cup (Chicago Fire v FC Dallas)
2. Rocky Mountain Cup (Colorado Rapids v Real Salt Lake)
3. Honda SuperClasico (Chivas USA v LA Galaxy)
4. Atlantic Cup (DC United v New York Red Bulls)
5. Trillium Cup (Colombus Crew v Toronto FC)
6. El Capitan Clasico / Texas Derby (FC Dallas v Houston Dynamo)
7. California Clasico / Interstate 5 Rivalry (LA Galaxy v San Jose Earthquakes)
8. Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup (pre-season) (Colombus Crew v FC Dallas)
9. Heritage Cup (from 2009) (San Jose Earthquakes v Seattle Sounders)

Imagine special trophies being awarded for matches between rivals in British football... Which games do you think deserve a special cup and what would the match / trophy be called? Let us know...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 12

# "On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A chart that uses mince pies to show how well World Cup winning teams did in their first match after winning the World Cup." #



And that completes our Twelve Graphs of Christmas series. We hope you've enjoyed it and that you enjoy your Christmas holiday even more so. From all of us at Some People Are On The Pitch, have fun, enjoy yourselves but above all, be peaceful to one another. See you on the other side...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 11

# "On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A chart showing the number of times certain swear words were mentioned by Joe Kinnear in his first press conference as manager of Newcastle United." #

Monday, December 22, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 10

# "On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A graph showing the six lowest points totals for teams finishing bottom of the Premier League during the last ten seasons." #

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 9

# "On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A graph showing Spain's position in the FIFA World Rankings between January 2007 and the present day." #

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 8

# "On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A collection of Christmas tree decorations showing the number of goals scored by various First Division clubs on December 26th 1963." #


Bumper Christmas TV Preview: 20 - 30 December

Some People On The Pitch loves Christmas telly. Since the beginning of the season we've been doing these TV previews which we hope you've found diverting and informative. So we thought we'd round off the football year on the box with a bumper Christmas Special. We asked Noel Edmonds if he'd like to contribute by giving a small child a free subscription to Setanta and were hoping to get the X Factor's Alexandra to sing us a Christmas carol. However, Noel is booked up 'till August, Setanta are too tight and Alex has taken out an injunction on us. So instead we decided to stick to the usual formula. Merry Christmas.

Saturday 20 December

12.30 Hamilton v Motherwell, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
A look at the form guide for both teams does not exactly suggest a surfeit of quality here. The Accies have scored six goals from their last seven to 'Wells' two. Expect a tense basement battle of interest to Scottish football fans only.

12.45 Birmingham City v Reading, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Second meets third and two ex-Premier League teams anxious to get back in the top flight before the parachute money runs out and they end up like Charlton or Watford. Should be a decent game between two quality sides.

17.20 Sheffield United v Crystal Palace, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Warnock took Palace to Bramhall Lane last year for an emotional match at the club he loves. His players made it a day to remember with an away win which reduced the annoying swine to tears. This year, it will be different.

17.30 West Ham United v Aston Villa, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Martin O'Neill rested his key players for Thursday's UEFA Cup trip to Hamburg and paid the price. You can appreciate why, though, as the Claret & Blue derby is one of the great English classicos and the Hammers are begging to rouse themselves under Gianfranco Zola. A competitive fixture between two attractive teams awaits whoever has the wisdom to watch this game.

19.00 Real Madrid v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Juade Ramos was able to shrug his shoulders and say 'what can you do? I've just got here' last week after going down to Barca. This week is different. Real are at home and despite Valencia's position in the league this is a game the Madrid fans and president will expect to win. No pressure then.

20.00 SM Caen v Lyon, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Lyon are going through a slight blip in form and have not beaten their hosts in their last three encounters.

21.00 Espanyol v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Or 'el classico alternativo' as it's not generally known. Barcelona and Madrid's other teams are involved in battles at either end of the table. Atletico haven't lost in last six games and Espanyol haven't won in the same. Only one winner then?

Sunday 21 December

10:30 Liga de Quito v Manchester United, FIFA Club World Cup Final, Five
Ecuador's first representative in the World Club Cup face a United side as menacing going forward as they are comical at the back. Especially if Gary Neville is playing. This game has goals written all over it and should be the perfect tonic on a Sunday morning after the night before.

13.30 West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City, Premier League Sky, Sports 1/HD1
The Albion must fancy their chances at home to a City side paralysed with uncertainty as the transfer window approaches. In fact, if Big Sam starts working his mojo at Blackburn straight away even victory will not avoid the dreaded 'bottom at Christmas tag' for Tony Mowbray's men.

14.00 Falkirk v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
It will not surprise readers to learn that Celtic have the upper hand in this fixture. However, the Bhoy's form in the league is slightly less than stellar right now so the home side have a chance. At least they would if they weren't in such a terrible funk themselves. They last won a game in November and that was against Motherwell.

15.30 PSV v Feyenoord, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Any other season and this would be a tasty fixture. However, Feyernoord are having a dreadful season and PSV are below a team managed by Steve McClaren in the table. Still, the Eindhoven club have had the better of the head-to-head in recent years and a win will give them a chance to overhaul Twente when they play host to them on Saturday.

16.00 Arsenal v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
No doubt this fixture is being billed by Sky as the answer to all sorts of questions. The Gunners will be chomping at the bit to have a go at Jamie Carragher. Meanwhile, Robbie Keane will be desperate for a chance to stick it to an old foe lest he find himself wearing the white of Tottenham again.

19.00 Villarreal v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Eight points clear at the top of La Liga and on the sort of hot streak that you'll only find at a pyromaniac's naturist colony, Barcelona are already well clear of the chasing pack going into the Christmas period. Villareal have beaten them before, but we can't see it happening this time. Three points to Barca, wethinks...

20.00 Real Betis v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Bilbao fans call their San Mames Stadium 'The Cathedral' and just as well for they'll need somewhere to pray for three badly-needed points. Real Betis are similarly struggling in the league, so expect a monumentally mediocre battle of the makeweights to ensue.

20.00 Monaco v Bordeaux, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
The equivalent fixture last season was a 6-0 rout in favour of Bordeaux, but we wouldn't bank on that happening this time around. Both teams are in unpredictable form, so excuse us as we play our 'comme ci, comme ça' card on this one.

Monday 22 December
20.00 Everton v Chelsea, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Despite doubts over Scolari's tactical shortcomings, you can rest assured they'll do alright tonight. The Toffees have notched up just one win over Chelsea in the last ten years, thereby putting a bit of pressure on Liverpool to win if they're to stay top of the Prem for Christmas.

Friday 26 December

12.45 Stoke City v Manchester United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Hurrah! Boxing Day football! - a day when thousands of people across the country will stagger out in a hungover state to watch their local team play in cold, wet and probably windy conditions. Not sure why it gets such a good press really. United to win.

13.30 Feyenoord v NAC, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
'Mary Poppins' on ITV1 or this - you choose. Given the quality of both these sides, we think you'll be choosing the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious option.

15.00 Burton Albion v York City, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Burton Albion are fast monopolising this channel, but you can hardly blame Setanta. 'New Big 'ead' is leading his team in a manner you'd have expected from his father, and that's surely worth capturing for posterity's sake.

17.15 Aston Villa v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Villa have a fantastic opportunity to consolidate fourth spot over the festive period, playing the teams in fifth and sixth. Part one is the return fixture against Arsenal having taken the three points at the Emirates. Martin O'Neill's men will fancy their chances of completing a famous double.

Saturday 27 December

12.30 Rangers v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Apparently a few people up in Scotland find this fixture moderately entertaining. If that's you, you'll be interested to hear that Rangers have to win this one to stand any chance of wrestling the lead from their opponents. But then you probably knew that anyway...

17.45 PSV v FC Twente, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
The aforementioned clash between third and fourth. Despite our earlier sarcasm, Steve McClaren is earning a great deal of respect in Holland and promises to make this another decent season. Three points in the Phillips Stadium will be another feather in his cap.

Sunday 28 December

11.30 Ajax v ADO Den Haag, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Ajax are the only team in the Eredivisie that haven't lost at home this season. We can only think their quality comes from the cosmopolitan nature of their squad which contains players from Brazil, Uruguay, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Serbia, Denmark, South Africa, Cameroon and Croatia. English players not good enough for you, eh Van Basten? Pah...

12.00 Newcastle United v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Who needs King Kev when you've got Joe Kinnear? Not a sentence we ever thought we'd find ourselves writing, but fair play to him - he's slowly but surely getting The Magpies playing as a team unit again. That said, we fancy Liverpool to take the points here. Sorry and all that.

16.15 Blackburn Rovers v Manchester City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Your last chance to see the poor, impoverished version of Man City before the cheque book to end all cheque books comes out in January. Darius Vassell: now might be a good time to start packing...

Monday 29 December

19.45 Blackpool v Wolves, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Blackpool have surged into your collective attentions following our recent revelation that they actually supplied two members of the 1966 England World Cup squad. Sadly the days of Alan Ball are but a distant memory, as they'll probably find out against the Championship leaders today.

20.00 Manchester United v Middlesbrough, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Just think - Middlesbrough might actually be playing the world champions by the time this fixture rolls around. Let's hope, then, that they don't parade the trophy around the stadium in a lap of honour beforehand. The less of that sort of self-regarding nonsense we see, the better we like it.

Tuesday 30 December

20.00 Hull City v Aston Villa Premier League Sky Sports 1/HD1
Part two of Villa's crusade to establish a new Big Four sees them heading to the KC. Hull, however, love being on the telly and will more than likely dictate the way the game is played. Could have the makings of a real corker.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 7

# "On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A range of Christmas stockings depicting several Premier League football teams and the number of managers they've had since 1980 (not including caretaker managers)." #

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #92

Oo-er - sounds a bit rude...
12 Football Players With Names That Send A Chill Of Fear Into Every Football Commentator

1. Rod Fanni (Stade Rennais and France)
2. Joaquim Manuel Sampaio da Silva a.k.a. 'Quim' (Benfica and Portugal)
3. Stefan Kuntz (Kaiserslautern and Germany)
4. Johan de Kock (Utrecht and Netherlands)
5. Francisco Arce (Palmeiras and Paraguay)
6. Julian Dicks (West Ham)
7. Danny Shittu (QPR and Nigeria)
8. Nwankwo Kanu (Arsenal and Nigeria)
9. Christophe Cocard (Auxerre and France)
10. Gottfried Fuchs (Kalrsruher and Germany)
11. George Koch (Rapid Vienna)
12. Ralf Minge (Dynamo Dresden and East Germany)

Know any more? If so, leave us a comment and tell us - because we're immature and puerile, nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 6

# "On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A series of Christmas crackers showing the proportion of matches won by Sven-Goran Eriksson at the last six teams he's managed." #



(and before anybody repeats the gag, Sp3ktor's already asked when we're going to do a Sven Diagram...)

Bundesbag Week 17: Klopp-trap

The unofficial Autumn Championship may not be the most prestigious title in world football. However, it is Hoffenheim’s title and no one else’s. Mind you they clinched it in a pretty unconvincing way with a 1-1 draw against Schalke who were down to nine men.

The Bundesbag was bold enough to predict that the Hoff would come unstuck in this fixture and was proved right in a way (although in a more accurate way I was wrong, but never mind). The leader's Herculean yet fruitless display against Bayern in the last round may have left something of a scar and the Winter Break has come at a good time for the Hoff. When they return at the end of January, it will be in their swanky new stadium.

One team who will be less pleased about the break will be Hertha who are on fire. Their 4-0 (gerd) mullering of Karlsruhe puts them in third place. Berlin coach Lucien Favre will have mixed feelings about the prospect of a sabbatical.

Another club worrying about the immediate future is Hamburg. Their manager Martin Jol refused to rule out a return to England with Sunderland and Croatian striker Ivica Olic has been linked with a move to Liverpool or Bayern. It was his compatriot Mladen Petric who scored the only goal in their win against Eintracht Frankfurt. Petric’s team are behind Hertha in fourth and can be relatively pleased with the first half of the season.

Leverkusen on the other hand have been disappointing of late. Bayer have only won once in the last four games. A 1-1 draw with Cottbus put an end to a less than impressive December.

Since we’re at the bottom, shall we talk about ‘Gladbach? Not looking good is it? Their opponents Dortmund last Friday were reduced to ten men after the wee man Tamas Hajnal was sent off in the first half. BVB were a goal up at the time and rather than steadfastly defend their lines for the remainder of the game they went up the other end and scored another two goals. Kudos to Jurgen Klopp for having the courage to send his team on the attack. Boodos to ‘Gladbach for being crap. 3-1 was the final score.

Elsewhere, mid-table Bremen beat mid-table Wolfsburg 2-1. Hannover and Bielefeld couldn’t separate themselves and settled for a 1-1 draw. Koln coach Christophe Daum can look forward to a stress-free Christmas after winning at Bochum 2-1. On the other hand his opposite number Marcel Koller’s festivities will take on a more sombre tone… unless he gets sacked, of course, then his problems are over.

Finally, Marcus Babbel’s new job is going really well. He hasn’t lost yet and watched Sami Khedira score two goals at home to Bayern, the second being a well deserved, albeit last gasp equaliser against Bayern. The result denied the Bavarians the Autumn Championship but hey, it's no big deal right?

That’s it. The Bundesliga returns on January 30th but the third round of the German Cup kicks off the week before. It's been a fantastic half-season with the promise of more great attacking football to come. Thank you for reading the Bundesbag. Results, tables and assorted gubbins are here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 5

# "On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A graph showing the number of top-flight teams based in the capital cities of various European countries." #

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 4

# "On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A graph showing the progress made (in terms of points won) by Sunderland prior to Roy Keane's dismissal on December 4th 2008 compared to that leading up to the same date in 2007." #

Monday, December 15, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 3

# "On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...An illustration featuring different sized Christmas trees to show the number of points dropped at home by Premier League teams on their way to winning the league title." #

Midweek TV Preview: 15 - 19 December

(All times - UK)

Monday 15th December

19:45 Charlton Athletic v Derby County, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It's not often you see the words 'Charlton' and 'win' in the same sentence but last night's BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards came up trumps for us. Good old Sir Bobby… Anyway, The Addicks are now twelve games without a win and looking to turn things around against a floundering Derby side. Stranger things have happened…

19:45 Motherwell v Kilmarnock, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Just two points separate these two teams and neither are very far away from Hamilton who currently occupy the relegation spot. Both teams are currently on a very poor run of league form, so expect this to be a gritty (and dare we say 'dour') battle.

Tuesday 16th December

19:45 Blyth Spartans v AFC Bournemouth, FA Cup 2nd Round Replay, Setanta Sports 1
Your ever-insightful SPAOTP was onto something during the Weekend TV Preview of November 28th. All the signs were there - a dodgy Bournemouth side and a Blyth team giddy with thoughts of 1978's glory run to the Fifth Round. In the end, Blyth battled to a goalless draw at Bournemouth so it's back to Croft Park where a winner must be found. The victors will face Blackburn at home in the next round, so that's practically a bye to Round 4. No pressure, then…

19:45 Shrewsbury v Brighton & Hove Albion, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Area Semi-final, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Shrewsbury are really racking up the goals in this competition. A 7-0 win over Wycombe in the second round followed by a 5-0 win over Dagenham and Redbridge in the Quarter Finals far outperforms any of Brighton's exploits up to now. £5 to win on The Shrews please, Mr. Coral…

Wednesday 17th December

16:00 Fiorentina v Torino, Coppa Italia Round of 16, SportsXchange
It's been ages since either of these two teams have won the Italian Cup, and as far as we can make out Torino's wait will go on for a while longer yet. These two teams are currently at either end of the Serie A table with Torino teetering on the precipice of relegation. We'll take Fiorentina to play Lazio in the Quarter Finals.

19:45 Hamburg v Aston Villa, UEFA Cup Group F, Five
Only pride to play for here. Both teams are assured of a place in the knockout stages, so who wants to win the group? Anybody?

20:00 Roma v Bologna, Coppa Italia, Round of 16, SportsXchange
'Il Grande Un', as they say in the Apennines. The form book tells us Roma are looking for their eighth straight win on the bounce while Bologna are looking for their fourth straight away win on the bounce. We'll give you a clue here - SportsXchange is on Sky channel 456…

Thursday 18th December

10:30 Manchester United v Gamba Osaka, FIFA Club World Cup Semi-Final, Five
Gamba Osaka's 1-0 win over Adelaide United yesterday means the Red Devils play the AFC champions in this second Semi-Final of the competition. Pachuca of Mexico plays Quito of Ecuador in the other semi, so we won't necessarily be going through the motions of a 'Europe v South America' final this time. Of course we might, but let's keep our fingers crossed it doesn't come to that for the sake of this weak excuse for a competition.

19:45 Altrincham v Burton Albion, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
That'll be Nigel Clough's Burton Albion, of course, and the same Burton Albion that's flying high at the top of the National Conference right now. Despite Altrincham's mid-table mediocrity they're still a tough team to beat at home so this should be an excellent indicator of Burton's ability to finally cross the line into League 2.

Friday 19th December
SPECIAL PRE-CHRISTMAS BONUS!
11:00 Last 16 Draw, UEFA Champions League, British Eurosport
12:00 Last 32 Draw, UEFA Cup, British Eurosport
Now that the antipathy over those meaningless group games has faded away, it's time to concentrate on the real deal where Europe's concerned. Yes from now on, it's a knockout (to quote Stuart Hall) and here's where we find out who'll get the chance to knock out who. Much waffle between the unscrewing of all those plastic balls as usual, so don't be scared to Sky+ this and fast forward all the boring bits later. If you're reading this David Taylor, we're very sorry indeed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 2

# "On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A Christmas pudding showing the proportion of matches Newcastle United have won in the captial (i.e. London) during 2008." #


Saturday, December 13, 2008

The 12 Graphs of Christmas: Day 1

If there's one thing this blog site's been lacking recently, it's graphs and charts. So let's rectify that by leading you into the festive season with a daily football graph that hopefully makes you feel Christmassy in a very special way.

Altogether now then - one, two, three... # "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...

...A yule log depicting the representation of clubs among the 1966 England World Cup squad." #


Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: 12 - 14 December

(All times - UK)

Friday 12 December

19.30 Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
A tough trip for 'Gladbach - BVB are undefeated at home this season. However, they have drawn six out of those eight games and the visitors will more than happy with a point at this stage.

Saturday 13 December

12.30 Dundee United v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
A chance for United to cut the gap to seven points between second and third. Rangers have only won once here in the past five years.

12.45 Middlesbrough v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
This fixture has become a stumbling block for Arsene Wenger's men in recent seasons. The thought of the Riverside being a bogey ground should give a bit of confidence to Boro after a string of disappointing results.

17.20 Preston North End v Birmingham City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Preston are improving and will be certain for the play offs if they can sort out their away form. Good job they're at home here, having won five of their last six at Deepdale. They should give a good account of themselves against The Blues.

17.30 Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Tottenham are frankly useless against Manchester United. Last season's draw ended a run of six consecutive wins at White Hart Lane for United. Victory for 'Arry here really would make him a miracle worker.

20.00 Rennes v FC Nantes, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Ordinarily this fixture wouldn't get us too excited, but Rennes are third in the table at the moment and lowly Nantes will be bubbling over following Ivan Klasnic's late penalty winner against the mighty Lyon last week. That said though, the game to watch this evening has to be...

21.00 Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
El Clasico. You don't really need me to big this up do you? Juande Ramos takes the reins at Real following Bernd Schuster's unsurprising midweek exit.

Sunday 14 December

11.30 Vitesse v PSV, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Tough times for Vitesse, after 50 years in the top flight of Dutch football they could be going down this season. In recent years, the club could have gone bust were it not for a bail out from the local council. PSV haven't exactly been electric this season with teams like Twente, AZ and NAC shaking up the top positions from the old familiar teams, but the Eindhoven side shouldn't have much trouble here.

13.30 Portsmouth v Newcastle United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The jury is still out on both managers in this fixture. Both teams go into this with very similar form so it could easily go either way.

16.00 Hoffenheim v Schalke, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Duffman had a feeling that Schalke will take this one, in his increasingly forward looking Bundesbag this week. I wouldn't presume to debate him on this matter. The Bundesliga goes into hibernation this weekend, awakening at the end of January - an excellent match to mark the end to the first half of an intriguing season.

16.00 Chelsea v West Ham United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Apparently, if matches finished at half time, West Ham would be fourth in the table - Chelsea would be top. Chelsea are on a run of six wins against the Hammers. It probably won't end here.

19.00 Sevilla v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 1 (2nd half only)
Fourth plays second. Bit of a cock up on the scheduling front, it seems, as we only get half of this tasty tie but get all of...

20.00 Atletico Madrid v Real Betis, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
... which hardly sets my heart racing, to tell the truth. If you have the option, switch over to...

20.00 Lyon v Marseille, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
This really is Le Grande Un as, after Lyon's shock last minute defeat to Nantes, Marseille could go top. Suddenly, it's all to play for in France. Zut alors!

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #91

My cup runneth over...
13 International Cup Competitions That Are No Longer Played For

1. Balkan Cup
Played between 1929 and 1980 and won by (amongst others) Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria.

2. Afro-Asian Club Cup
Ran from 1986 to 1998 involving the champion clubs in Africa and Asia. Winners included Al Ahly (Egypt), Daewoo Royals (South Korea) and, curiously, Thai Farmers Bank FC (Thailand).

3. Tournament of Paris
Friendly club competition that ran annually from 1957 to 1993. Typically involved two French teams and two from abroad. Often won by Paris Saint-Germain - other winners include Fluminense (Brazil), Valencia and, er... Romania.

4. Copa Iberoamericana
Club competition held just once in 1994 between the Cup winners of Spain and South America - Real Madrid and Boca Juniors. Real won 4-3 on aggregate and the matter was never spoken of again.

5. Blaxnit Cup
Club competition that ran from 1967 to 1974 involving four teams from either side of the Irish border. Winners include Coleraine, Shamrock Rovers and Linfield.

6. World of Soccer Cup
One-off contrived nonsense played in Australia and Singapore during the summer of 1977. Competition was split into two sub-competitions played in both host countries. Aside from Australian and Singapore, Arsenal, Red Star Belgrade and Celtic also took part, of which the latter won outright.

7. Mitropa Cup
A sort of European Cup for Central European teams, if you will. Lasted from 1927 to 1992 and involved clubs representing the likes of Austria, Hungary, Italy and Czechoslovakia, amongst others. First winners: Sparta Prague; Last winners: Borac Banja Luka (Yugoslavia); Most frequent winners: Vasas (Hungary).

8. Copa Interamericana
Competition to establish the best club from CONMEBOL (South America) and CONCACAF (North and Central America). Ran on and off from 1968 to 1998 and was usually won by South American teams. Only Club America, UNAM Pumas (both Mexico) and DC United (USA) broke the trend in four of the competition's eighteen outings.

9. Latin Cup
Lasting from 1949 to 1957, the Latin Cup took the league-winning clubs from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal and aimed to find a Champion of Champions. Winners included Real Madrid, AC Milan and Benfica.

10. West African Nations Cup
Regional sub-division of the African Nations Cup held between 1982 and 1987. Won every year by Ghana despite the efforts of other competing countries such as Nigeria, Liberia, Togo and the Ivory Coast.

11. ECO Cup
Member states of the Economic Cooperation Organisation competed in this largely irrelevant tournament on six occasions between 1965 and 1993. A rare opportunity for the lesser lights of Western Asia to grab some glory, the most successful of which were Turkey and Iran - the least successful of which included Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Azerbaijan.

12. Trans-Tasman Cup
Occasional bully-off between Australia and New Zealand, held on six occasions between 1983 and 1995. Usually a two-legged challenge match, a single-leg version took place in 2005 as a schools competition.

13. Melanesia Cup
Tournament to find the best Melanesian football-playing country, of course. It ran from 1988 to 2000, usually on an annual or biennial basis, and was won by Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Wouldn't it be great if you had the power to invent a totally meaningless and uncalled-for cup competition? If you had the power, what competition would you create, what would you call it and who would it involve? Leave us a comment and spill the beans...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

League Spotlight: Czech Republic / Gambrinus Liga

Time now for us to shine our League Spotlight on another country and today our subject is the Czech Republic.

Yes, the Czech Republic - birthplace of the Skoda motor car, Martina Navratilova and most importantly Jan Hammer. There's more to the country than that, though. The Czech's have a long history of football playing which occasionally bubbles up into some notable high points. As Czechoslovakia, they won the European Championship in 1976 and after the split from Slovakia they were runners-up in the 1996 equivalent.

But what about the clubs - what have they ever achieved and who are the big teams to follow at the present time? Join us as we give you all the key facts you need to know with the aid of our handy SPAOTP Czech List... (Oh go on then, groan if you must...)

Fact #1: Top flight Czech clubs play in the Gambrinus Liga. To be honest, we're not quite sure what Gambrinus is or what relevance it has to the Czech Republic, but at least it makes a change from being called 'Prymera Leega' or some other variation on the norm.

The Gambrinus Liga comprises of the best 16 clubs the country can muster and amongst them are a few names that are undeniably well known along with quite a lot that you won't have even heard of.

Fact #2: Currently top of the league are Slavia Prague, one of four clubs based in and around the capital.

Fact #3: Slavia are the reigning Gambrinus Liga champions and managed to reach the group stages of the Champions League last season too. Unfortunately for them, they were in the same group as Sevilla (who went on to win the group) and Arsenal (eventual group runners-up) who spanked them 7-0 at the Emirates Stadium. A good campaign while it lasted, then.

Think of any famous Czech players and the chances are they once played for Slavia. Karel Poborsky, Pavel Kuka, Patrik Berger... they've all been there - in fact one well-known player, Vladimir Smicer, has even gone back there. The former Liverpool midfielder started his career with The Sewns back in 1992 and returned to his first club at the tender age of 34 last year.

Having just passed the half-way mark in the 2008-09 league season, Slavia are already six points clear at the top of the table and have only lost one of their sixteen games so far. Immediately behind them in second place are the little known Mlada Boleslav, situated just north-east of the capital.

Fact #4: From 1919 and for a thirty year period, Mlada Boleslav were known as Aston Villa Mlada Boleslav. Extensive research on our part could not unearth the reason why - not even the official club website could throw any light on it. If anyone knows the answer, let us know through the usual channels, won't you?

Following on behind in third place at the moment are Banik Ostrava who, coincidentally, played Aston Villa in the 1990 UEFA Cup competition. They were beaten in the First Round that season and the same fate met them this season too, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Spartak Moscow. Banik won the Gambrinus Liga back in 2003-04 and though they've not come close before or since, you get the feeling they're not a team to be written off lightly.

Some ten points from the summit at present are Slavia's closest rivals, Sparta Prague. Sparta are regular participants in the Champions League and like Slavia can boast many a well-known name to have graced the national team. From Oldrich Nejedly (top scorer in the 1934 World Cup) through to Tomas Skuhravy and Tomas Repka, they've all pulled on the red shirts of Sparta - even the wonderfully named Petr Gabriel, who, no doubt, is still telling fans he won't be reuniting with Genesis as we speak.

Fact #5: Starting from 2001, Sparta have won the Gambrinus Liga in every odd-numbered year. Therefore if you're the gambling type, now might be a good time to impress your local bookie by betting on them to win at the Czech league title at the end of the current season.

Since the Gambrinus Liga started back in 1993, only four clubs have won the prestigious title and the only one of those we haven't covered so far are Slovan Liberec - currently fifth in the table. They were the first club from outside of Prague to win the league in 2002 and repeated the feat in 2006. Currently without a manager, Liberec have won only one game in their last six and are in danger of being caught by the league's middle order.

Of the remaining teams that may be familiar to you, Sigma Olomouc may ring a bell, especially if you're a Kilmarnock fan. Killie were beaten 2-0 in both legs of a UEFA Cup Preliminary Round tie back in 1998.

Fact #6: Olomouc is the city in the east of the Czech Republic where you'll find Saint Wenceslas cathedral, built in commemoration of the country's main patron saint and star of that well known Christmas carol "Ding Dong Merrily On High." (No not really, but you have to admit, these facts are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel a bit…)

There's also Viktoria Zizkov - currently languishing one place off the bottom of the league table - who knocked Rangers out of the UEFA Cup First Round back in 2002. Their glory was short-lived, however, as they were relegated in 2004 and though they returned to the top flight again in 2007, it seems they may be about to head back out again based on this season's form. Three wins from a possible sixteen does not a successful outlook make in our book…

Player-wise, all clubs in the Gambrinus Liga rely heavily on home-grown talent but often contain a few token foreigners. Most of these come unsurprisingly from Slovakia but look down the squad lists and you'll see a scattering of individuals from places as diverse as Brazil and various parts of Africa.

As for European competition, only Slavia Prague have achieved anything of note this season. They, together with Sparta, were knocked out of the 2008/09 Champions League Third Qualifying Round by Fiorentina and Panathinaikos respectively. As a result of that, they both entered the UEFA Cup instead and here Sparta lost out again (this time to Dinamo Zagreb) but Slavia won their tie against Vaslui of Romania to enter the Group Stage.

By this time, Banik Ostrava had also been eliminated (2-1 on aggregate to Spartak Moscow) leaving Sparta Prague as the only remaining Czech representative in the UEFA Cup. Unfortunately even they look to be approaching the end of their European campaign - placed in Group F, they've already been beaten 1-0 by Aston Villa (yes, them again) and 2-0 by Hamburg. With one game remaining - away to Ajax - their only point thus far has come from a goalless draw away to Zilina of Slovakia and they lie bottom of the table.

And there we must leave the Gambrinus Liga and all its teams. The Winter break has now arrived and the next time they kick a ball will be on February 21st 2009. There the competition will hot up again and who knows - maybe another new name will emerge to shake up the Slavia/Sparta stranglehold. It's about as likely as a Czech team reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, but with the national team seemingly the main focus of this country, perhaps that's not important. The Czechs know how to churn out a decent player or two, and that for now will do just fine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bundesbag Week 16: The midfielder's love of the penalty

Bayern don't like it up 'em, do they? The build-up to last Friday's Big One against Hoffenheim was all about snide remarks between the two camps. The game itself was a cracker and even prompted and unprecedented Bundesbag match report in the early hours of Saturday morning.

However, the sniping has continued after the game which suggests that the Hoff have really riled the champs. Uli Hoeness has criticised both Hoff coach Ralf Rangnik and the club's billionaire owner Dietmar Hopp. Hoeness stated that Rangnik doesn't have the stones for the top gigs and will be the undoing of the leaders if he stays:

"He will still discover the air at an altitude is a lot thinner than the air he is currently enjoying... If there is anything that worries me about the positive development of Hoffenheim, then it is Ralf Rangnick's know-it-all attitude."

Of Hopp he said:

"I respect Dietmar Hopp as a person a hell of a lot and I rate what he is doing but if Hopp took his money and invested in Bielefeld tomorrow, then they would be playing at the top."

In short: We've spent over half a century getting ourselves into the position of top dogs and we're not about to have a bunch of upstart hicks pushing us around.

Personally I think they're scared, however they have no cause to be. Bayern are (or the last time I looked were) a cash rich club with a solid, well-established fan base which reaches well beyond their locality. Hoffenheim are entirely dependent on the fortunes of one man. Should he fall, then his club will surely do the same and be back in the regional amateur leagues as quickly as it took them to get into the Bundesliga... quicker, in fact.

However, if Hopp's master plan works and he builds a proper football club that can consistently challenge Bayern over a period of many years, then you wonder if last Friday's encounter will be the first of many classicos between these two clubs. Are we seeing the beginnings of another great rivalry similar to the great Bayern v 'Gladbach clashes of the Seventies? I'm certainly looking forward to the return fixture, that's for sure.

Moving on, it was an eventful weekend in Gelsenkirchen. Fred Rutten is on notice after a dismal run of results which includes losing to a team managed by Steve McClaren. 'Win your next two games or else' was the stark warning from the overlords at the Arena Auf Schalke. Not the easiest of tasks when you consider that the next two games were against Berlin and Hoffenheim. Anyhoo, you can only beat what's put in front of you, I suppose, and so Rutten's team went out and did precisely that thanks to a late goal by Gerald Asamoah. Funny thing is, I fancy them to do the Hoff.

Elsewhere, having lost their last two games, Leverkusen got themselves back on track while compounding the woes of Monchengladbach. Two goals by Kiesling plus another by the ubiquitous Patrick Helmes at Borussia Park did for the hosts.

If Bremen are anywhere but home or in Munich they must be losing. Karlsruhe were the disbelieving recipients this week (Pizzaro got sent off for behaving like a knob). BVB's run of nil-nils continued at Bielefeld (who would be top of the league if Dietmar Hopp owned them apparently). Mladen Petric continued his great form against Koln. Marcus Babbel's honeymoon continues with a convincing 3-0 scoreline at Cottbus.

Finally, another manager under pressure is Bochum coach Marcel Koller, especially after having been (gerd) mullered by Eintract Frankfurt. Their cause was not exactly helped by their keeper Daniel Fernadez who brought down Martin Fenin. He gave a way a penalty and earned himself an early bath. Replacement keeper René Renno faced up to the spot kick. Crouched in a state of cat like readiness, he looked Nikos Liberopoulos square in the eye and thought bring it on!! Two seconds later he was picking the ball out.

Fernandez was not the only keeper to get sent off while conceding a penalty. Florian Fromlowitz was deputising for the injured Robert Enke in the Hanover goal during the derby game at Wolfsburg. His foul on Edin Dzeko looked a little harsh, especially given the club's goalkeeper shortage. Up stepped midfielder Jan Rosenthal to don the oversized keeper's shirt. He looked Dzeko in the eye and saved his penalty. What d'you think of that, Rene?

That's it, results and tables here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: 8 - 11 December

(All times UK)

Monday 8 December

20:00 Crystal Palace v Southampton, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1

Palace moved up to ninth on Saturday after an impressive win at Pride Park. They'll fancy their chances of temporarily moving into the play-off zone with a win against the young Saints.

20:00 West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Teetering hilariously above the drop zone, Spurs are at the same time contenders for relegation and the Carling Cup. They face a tough but short trip to Upton Park to face the Hammers. Fortunately, unlike their supporters, they won't need to take the District Line.

Tuesday 9 December

19:45 Chelsea v CFR Cluj, UEFA Champions League Group A, ITV1 & ITV HD

It's a measure of the expectations around English clubs that not qualifying for the knockout round with games to spare raises eyebrows. However, Cluj have been a surprise package this season and their intervention has prolonged the outcome of this group which is all to the good for the neutrals. As for Chelsea fans... well if you can't beat the Romanians at home then you don't deserve to qualify, surely.

19:45 Roma v Bordeaux, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Xtra & HD3
Assuming there is a home win at the Bridge, the winner of this game goes through and the loser faces the ignominy of appearing on Channel 5 next year.

19:45 Panathinaikos v Anorthosis Famagusta, UEFA Champions League, Group B, Sky Sports Interactive
Famagusta are another team to have put the cat among the pigeons and will be desperate to stick it to the Greek giants and qualify at their expense.

19:45 Werder Bremen v Inter Milan, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports Interactive
Knowing Bremen, they'll win this game 5-3 and Diego will score a hat-trick. It won't matter a damn, of course, but Thomas Schaaf's men would be my favourite's to win the UEFA Cup if they can squeeze through at Famagusta's expense.

19:45 Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Barca are through by a mile and look good enough to win the whole thing. Shaktar need to win by a cricket score and hope that Basle can do something similar to Sporting...

19:45 Basle v Sporting, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Interactive
... which ain't gonna happen.

19:45 Marseille v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports Interactive
Not much to see here. A dead rubber deservedly relegated to the red button in favour of more meaningful games.

19:45 PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Group D, ITV4 & ITV HD
Not much to see here. A dead rubber deservedly relegated to ITV4 in favour of a more meaningful game. Not that that will stop analogue-only scousers from whinging mind. 'We've not all got Freeeview like.'

Wednesday 10 December

19:45 Kettering Town v Notts County, FA Cup 2nd Round Replay, Setanta Sports 1
You have to admire Setanta's chutzpa for putting on a Cup replay amidst all this Champions Leagary. An away fixture at non-league Fleetwood awaits the victor. Both teams will see this as a chance to get through to the fourth round and some much needed attention and revenue. As the league club, Notts should be narrow favourites. However, the fact that this tie has gone to a replay suggests that there is not much between the middle of League 2 and the top of the Blue Square Premier. Football fans who like to be contrary may be interested in this one.

19:45 Celtic v Villarreal, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports Interactive
Celtic need to win in order to have a chance at a UEFA Cup spot. However, they lost at the weekend and can't even beat Aalborg so...

19:45 Manchester Utd v Aalborg, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Not much to see here. A dead rubber which deserves to be relegated to the red button in favour of more meaningful games.

19:45 Lyon v Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Interactive
A play-off for the top spot and it's the French with home advantage. Both teams are sufficiently vulnerable to go through as top seeds in the draw. Also, there may be some side interest of Franck Ribery wanting to stick it to the French champions.

19:45 Steaua Bucuresti v Fiorentina, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Interactive
What a disappointing return to the Champions League for Fiorentina. At the very least they should be able to console themselves with a UEFA spot. For Steaua its been even worse. Perhaps the two teams can rouse themselves enough to claim their first win? Don't hold your breath.

19:45 Porto v Arsenal, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports Xtra & HD3
Not much to see here. A dead rubber which deserves to be relegated to the red button in favour of more meaningful games... oh wait, there are no meaningful games.

19:45 Dynamo Kiev v Fenerbahce, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports Interactive
Sky really did get the shit end of the stick didn't they? Even the games of minor interest are only of minor interest.

19:45 Real Madrid v Zenit St Petersburg, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Interactive
Probably the most enjoyable part of Sky's coverage will be to see how Richard Keys will big up this assorted bag of nails while at the same time adopting that same blissfully ignorant and condescending tone when talking about non-Premier League players.

19:45 Juventus v BATE Borisov, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Interactive
'After the break, we're off to Juve for another stunning strike by Alex Del Piero who is rapidly becoming Italy's answer to Cristiano Ronaldo. Don't miss that one.'

Thursday 11 December

And on the fourth day, we did rest.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A new look for SPAOTP...

Hello folks...

Before our next post, we thought we'd just say a few words about our brand new redesign.

As you can see, we've been busy with our felt-tip pens and our poster paints to come up with this bright, fresh, zingy new look for Some People Are On The Pitch. We hope you like it.

Naturally it's always a bit of a shock to the system when something you've come to rely upon suddenly looks different as Joan Rivers' husband will testify. We also concede that change is not always for the better, but in this new design we hope you'll get even more pleasure from SPAOTP than you already were.

There's much for the keen-eyed enthusiast to take in. We're now using an even wider column down the middle of the screen so we can fit more in, plus there's a new banner, new menus and a little bit of extra business near the bottom for stuff we couldn't fit in anywhere else.

All in all, we hope you find everything rather more visually appealing than with the old design. And before you say it, we know - it's not quite perfect yet, but we're working hard to iron out the last remaining glitches. Please bear with us while we do so, and thanks in advance for your patience.

And that's about it, really. If you'd like to send us any comments or thoughts about the redesign, even if it's to say what you particularly like or dislike, please feel free to do so - we'd love to hear from you. Just send us an email to info [at] spaotp [dot] com and tell us what you think.

Right then - on with the show, as they say...

Bundesbag Extra: Bayern 2 Hoffenheim 1

In the end it was route one. A lump up the field by Michael Rensing, Luca Toni’s easily won header, a rare moment of sloppiness in the Hoffenheim defence gifting the ball back to the Italian who gratefully put the ball through the keeper and into the net. It was the 92nd minute and Bayern had completed their comeback to deny Hoffenheim the point they thoroughly deserved.

There will be those who will feel that Bayern Striker Luca Toni should have been off the pitch. His first half dive in the penalty area was cynical and deserved a booking. He also had a lot to say to the officials for which a second yellow would not have come as a surprise. However, the ref let a lot of things go in what was a pulsating, committed, fast-paced all-action top of the table clash at the Allianz.

For most of the game the visitors set the tempo. They moved the ball around at speed and their athletic forwards frequently turned the full backs as they powered towards the Bayern goal. In the midfield they were tigers. The excellent Tobias Weis had Franck Ribery tied in knots and Marc Van Bommel was starting to lose his cool. When they didn’t have the ball, Hoffenheim refused to allow the champions to settle. They were hard in the tackle and really rubbed some of the Bayern players up the wrong way.

Despite this, Bayern had the best of the early chances. Both Klose and Toni failed to meet a cross that would almost certainly have resulted in a goal. The Italian also missed a fantastic chance, hitting the side netting instead. Up the other end, Denbar Ba chose to shoot straight at Michael Rensing rather than square the ball to an unmarked Vedad Ibisevic.

After the restart Hoffemheim claimed the goal that was coming to them. Weis went on a forward run and played a one-two with Ba. He placed the return ball at the feet of Ibisevic whose turn an volley from 12 yards gave Rensing no chance.

Seething with indignation at being bossed around in their own place, Bayern played the ball long, trying to bypass the Hoffenheim midfield. For a few minutes Bayern managed to wrestle control of the game away from their opponents and it is a mark of their class and experience that they could make it pay. Philip Lahm picked up the ball and his long-range strike deflected off the excellent Marvin Compper and into the net. It was cruel luck on Hoffenheim but a demonstration on how to convert possession into goals.

As the second half progressed, the leaders began to give the ball away and found themselves chasing the game. However, the pace was unrelenting and you felt that neither team were prepared to settle for a point. Toni missed two clear headers that he would have buried on another day. Hoffenheim had a further chance to win the game in the 86th minute, only to be denied by the bravery of Rensing in the Bayern goal.

It was a missed opportunity which they came to rue when in the dying seconds. Bayern embraced the Christmas spirit and adopted the role of the pantomime villain by cruelly snatching the points and ending a wonderful game in heartbreak for the visitors.

Click here for line-ups and other details.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: 5 - 7 December

(All times UK)

Friday 5 December

19.30 Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
"Das Große Ein" as second-placed Bayerm host table-toppers Hoffenheim. Duffman deservedly bigged this up on these pages earlier this week - should be an absolute cracker.

Saturday 6 December

12.45 Fulham v Manchester City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Fulham are unbeaten in four and considering the oppo has been Aston Villa, Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle you can forgive their fans for feeling rather bullish at the moment. Back-to-back nil-nils for them, though, may not attract the neutrals, but bear in mind that the two fixtures these sides played last season resulted in a total of 11 goals.

17.20 QPR v Wolves, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Wolves are back on the TV just a week after their clash with Birmingham; this one should be a little easier for them. The signs aren't good for QPR: their form is as erratic as ever and they haven't taken maximum points in this fixture for over ten years.

17.30 Manchester Utd v Sunderland, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Ricky Sbragia takes the Black Cats to Old Trafford in his first match as caretaker following the departure of Roy Keane. Sbragia should have a pretty good understanding of the opposition having spent three years at the club as a coach. It's unlikely that will be enough in this tie but stranger things have happened.

19.00 Villarreal v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
You'd be forgiven for thinking this is a great opportunity for second-placed Villarreal to take advantage of the teams in first and third playing each other (coming up next) while they have a nice easy home game against mid-table opposition. However, Getafe's last two results have been a 3-1 win over Real Madrid and a draw at Barcelona. I wouldn't bet against them taking a point here too.

20.00 Nantes v Lyon, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Lyon are already five points clear and look to be cruising to yet another title. They're certainly not going to let the like of Nantes get in their way.

21.00 Barcelona v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Tie of the Weekend in La Liga. Barca put the blip against Getafe behind them and stuffed Sevilla in their own place. Valencia are still in touch with the table-toppers and should provide a tough match for them ahead of next week's El Clasico.

Sunday 7 December

11.30 Volendam v Ajax, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
I'm not too proud to admit that I have never heard of Volendam, but this game probably found its way on to the schedules on the back of the home team's extra-time Dutch Cup win over Ajax just three weeks ago.

13.15 Norwich City v Ipswich Town, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The East Anglian derby finds two teams that have had better seasons than this. Ipswich, while not looking great are jostling in mid-table and staying in touching distance of the play-off spots. Strangely for the Champsionship, the bottom six clubs are in danger of getting set adrift from the rest of the table; Norwich are one of those six.

14.00 Hibernian v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Celtic's SPL winning streak has to come to an end sooner or later. Doesn't it?

16.00 Everton v Aston Villa, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
I defy anyone to call this match, two teams that can pretty much conjure up any sort of result from hopeless to sublime. Could be 0-0, could be 5-4, though with Everton's striker crisis the latter looks much less likely - worth watching either way.

18.00 Real Betis v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports 1 (2nd half only)
Not greatly attractive this one, Betis are in reasonably good form while Espanyol are in free-fall. Looks like a home banker.

20.00 Real Madrid v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Despite the ups and downs of this season, Real's home form has been as dominant as ever. Whether they'll maintain it with one eye on next week's trip to Barcelona against a Sevilla side who are licking their own wounds remains to be seen.

20.00 PSG v Le Mans, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
Despite a promising start PSG have lost ground over recent weeks, they'll hope to get back on track here.

Alternate Sunday viewing may lead you to the U20 Women's World Cup on your Eurosport between USA and North Korea (kick-off 21.15). However, the idea of two teams of 18/19 year old girls running around a football pitch is probably a lot better than the reality. For fans of a certain taste only, we feel.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #90

Chips off the old block
18 Football-playing Fathers And Sons

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=kdrQAmH2yLs




Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bundesbag Week 15: Extra pepperoni

There are fewer finer sights in football than Werder Bremen in full flow. One day, they'll have a decent start to the season and the rest of Europe will see what they can really do in the Champions League as they outscore their opposition until they hit some tedious brick wall of doom like Chelsea or Inter or Real. In the meantime, aficionados of the Bundesliga will have to enjoy their exploits in smug isolation... unless you're a Frankfurt supporter in which case its time to hide under the duvet and rue the day your ever listened to your English cousin who told you Claudio Pizzaro was crap.

The former Chelsea striker is reborn under Thomas Schaaf as a lethal, powerful front man. His hat-trick was the work of a supremely confident man and the best of his threesome was the third just for the flick from Almeida. However, all of them will be on the Peruvian's highlight reel. The final score was 5-0 and means Werder are slowly creeping up the table towards those much needed Champions League spots. Currently occupying the third of those is Hertha Berlin.

Das Capital are having a fantastic season thanks in no small measure to the tubby Ukrainian Andrei Voronin who, by the looks of things, is occupying his slightly withdrawn playmaker role. He is being given the sort of time and space that he would never receive at Liverpool and Premier League clubs further down the table would do well to take another look at him as he has the abilities to open up defences the way he did against Koln on Friday.

The final score was 2-1 but don't let the Voronin love-fest fool you into thinking that everything went Hertha's way. In fact it was a tight game which would have ended 1-1 were it not for the return of Marko Pantelic who came off the bench after a prolonged absence (much of which has been spent under a cloud). His near post header was one of the goals of the weekend. It was a class finish and timely for a striker with a lot to prove since his team mates have prospered while he has been away.

Just above the Berlin club is Bayern who faced a stern test at the slightly faltering Leverkusen. The home side did not take advantage of their chances early doors and paid the price for their lack of vision. Luca Toni was the first to strike thanks to a fantastic cross from the brilliant Ze Roberto. Miro Klose rounded off the win after benefiting from the pink boots of Franck.

Top of the shop are Hoffenheim who made short work of Bielefeld. Vedad Ibesivic picked up his 56th goal of the season contributing to a 3-0 (gerd) mullering.

Meanwhile, 'Gladbach's gloom is now in danger of being upgraded to doom. They were beaten at home by Cottbus. They say there are some wins that are so convincing that somehow three points are not enough. The same could be said for wretched home defeats and if there was any justice the DFB would deduct another three points for subjecting their supporters to such a display.

Elsewhere, the brow line of Hannover manager Dieter Hecking was raised just a notch thank to a tense but much needed 3-2 win against Karlsruhe. The atmosphere between the players suggested that they knew this was a six pointer. BVB haven't been pulling up too many trees in recent weeks but have found themselves in sixth place despite their goalless draw with Wolfsburg who seem to have lost their early season zing. Just above Dortmund are Hamburg who had to settle for a point against Bochum. Finally Stuttgart's new coach Marcus Babbel started his career with a 2-0 win. Simak's chip was sublime and Jens Lehmann saved a penalty.

The Bundesbag doesn't usually look ahead. However, this Friday sees the clash of the top two teams in the Bundesliga as Bayern host Hoffenheim. What's more the game will be televised so try to get yourself down to a boozer. Fun and larks are almost guaranteed and well worth skipping the final of I'm A Celebrity... for.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

SPAOTP Book Review: The Bromley Boys

We've all been there. Sometimes the team you follow goes through a bad patch, which turns into a really awful patch, which eventually becomes the mother of all hell-like patches. Dave Roberts has been there too, and as a way of recovering from such a traumatic experience, he chose to write a book about it.

The Bromley Boys is a full and detailed account of the author's experiences as he followed his local team's progress through the 1969-70 Isthmian League season. As the title suggests, Roberts was a fan of Bromley FC and though it would have been easy to follow other big names from not so far away like West Ham or Crystal Palace, he chose the path less travelled. It would prove to be a journey that would harden the most hopeful of young football fans, full of few highs and many lows.

When Roberts went to see his first Bromley match at the tender age of eleven, he was immediately captivated by seeing 'the beautiful game' at such close quarters. England were still world champions and the last embers of the afterglow from that victory had not quite been extinguished. For everyone that followed Sir Alf Ramsey's men, these were exciting times.

Dave Roberts was undoubtedly caught up in the biggest wave of euphoria for the national game there had ever been. He'd decided to support his local team and do so wholeheartedly, visiting as many games as he could - home and away - while obsessing over the minutest of details surrounding the sport the way only an 11-year-old could.

The young fan quickly familiarised himself with the names of the players and their real-life occupations, the results and fixtures, the people that worked at Bromley's Hayes Lane ground... everything mattered to this small boy, and his hunger for football knew no bounds.

There was, however, one thing that severely dented Dave Roberts' besottedness over his favourite club - Bromley's tendency to not win many games. Most teams lose the occasional match here and there, even the very best ones, but Bromley lost more than most.

And here's the underlying story behind The Bromley Boys. As a young football fan, Dave Roberts watched more Bromley games than most and would without fail retain that anticipation of the next win being just around the corner. This book beautifully describes the feeling that he and many other fans of Bromley FC had when that next win never seemed to come - week in, week out.

It has to be said the author really excels in putting us firmly in the shoes of that 11-year-0ld back in 1969. Many of his experiences, his traits and his interests will ring nostalgic bells for many of you and if you yearn for a more innocent time before mobile phones, PlayStations and satellite TV, this book will provide the looking glass you've been searching for.

This was a time when schoolboys played Subbuteo, read Shoot! magazine and worshipped heroes like George Best, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton through the grubby pages of the News of the World. As a boy, Dave Roberts crystallised that fanaticism into a form that worked at a local level for his local team with all the local people that played for it, despite the futility of rarely seeing his team win.

The Bromley Boys is a wonderful book and I've no doubt you'll enjoy it greatly. It's funny, charming, engaging and enlightening in equal measure. What's more, it brilliantly sums up the lives and hopes of many a football fan that's shunned the glamour of the big teams for the harsh realities of the lower leagues.

If that doesn't apply to you, buy this book anyway. Beyond the corporate glossiness of the Man Uniteds and Chelseas of this world are a bunch of fans who know only too well that Football can often be a tough sport to follow, but follow it they do with great passion and commitment. Dave Roberts is one such fan and the story he tells is one that you'll enjoy reading from cover to cover.

The Bromley Boys is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for just £7.69 in paperback.

The Bromley Boys: The True Story of Supporting the Worst Football Team in Britain
Author: Dave Roberts
Publisher: Portico
ISBN-10: 1906032246
ISBN-13: 978-1906032241


Vote! Vote! Vote!

Friends, Romans, non-Romans... in fact anyone that cares to listen... Some People Are On The Pitch has been nominated for 'Best British Blog' (that is to say 'best blog about British football') in the Soccerlens Awards 2008.

Being the narcissistic types, we crave a bit of recognition for all our hard work writing for you throughout the year. It's not much to ask - we enjoy writing about football, we love interacting with all you splendid folk and we're paid not a penny for our efforts. We do it out of the sheer love for what we do, but a little adulation would be nice.

We therefore ask, nay BEG you to make your humble football-writing servants feel genuinely loved and cared about. Simply visit the 'Best British Blog' page on the Soccerlens website and vote for 'Some People Are On The Pitch'.

It costs nothing and it could stop us feeling downright miserable this Christmas. Thank you.

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