Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fantasy Football Agent

If you're a regular to Some People Are On The Pitch, you'll know that from time to time we like to tell you about some fun games you can play online to consolidate your thirst for football.

If you didn't already know, we have our very own mini-league in the FA's Fantasy Premier League game, and on the same site we have an equivalent league in their 'I Know The Score' prediction contest.

Well now there's an alternative that you can also sink your teeth into. It's a free-to-enter game called Fantasy Football Agent and it's run by Duffman and Sp3ktor over at their Onion Bag headquarters. The game is fiendishly simple to play but requires no less tactical capability than you'd need in a regular Fantasy Football competition.

The first step is to register on the FFA website and join the SPAOTP mini-league (using access code 4135). Once you've done that, you'll be given a virtual budget of £1,000 per week - a sufficient enough sum of 'money' to buy a handful of Premier League players that you can add to your portfolio.

The trick with FFA, however, is that you're not necessarily buying the best players according to skill as you would in any other game - moreover you're buying the players that you think will gain the most coverage in the press. It therefore stands to reason that the more times their name appears in the public domain, the more points you get... simple.

There are no restrictions on how many players from one club you're allowed, nor are you limited to the number of players you can have per position. The only limitation is how many players you can buy with your virtual budget of £1,000. With each player having their own value, all you need to do is decide whether to go for a few high-profile names or a whole raft of more mediocre entities.

Once your players are picked, simply keep a regular eye on your portfolio to see who's doing well and who isn't, and if anyone's distinctly below par, change them for someone else (providing you stay within your budget!)

And that's about it, except to say that Fantasy Football Agent is a rolling competition that runs on a month-to-month basis, so it's not too late to sign up. Just visit www.fantasyfootballagent.com at your earliest convenience and pick your players.

Nothing could be simpler, so what are you waiting for? Become an agent now and show the world your true calling...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 27 February - 1 March

(All times UK)

Friday 27 February

19:30 FC Koln v Arminia Bielefeld, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Flushed with success after a famous victory at Bayern, Koln are destined to lose their next three games starting at home to the admirable Bielefeld.

Saturday 28 February

08:30 Melbourne Victory v Adelaide Utd, Hyundai A-League Grand Final, Sky Sports 3
Now you're jenned up on the A-League, you'll know what to expect from this Australian Championship decider at the Telstradome. These two teams met in the major semi-final and Melbourne won 6-0 on aggregate. With home advantage to the Victorians, surely there'll only be one winner?

12:30 Hamilton v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Needless to say Rangers have had the upper hand over the Accies historically. However, the home side are shooting up the table and have won four in the last five so you never know. According to our man Seb the Rangers fans could give some abuse to the Accies' James McCarthy: 'a young talent who has chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than Scotland.'

12:45 Everton v West Brom, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Interesting game this. Just when Everton looked like their injury problems had eased, they deepened. This gives a bit of encouragement for West Brom. Saying that, the Baggies haven't won a game in the League in over a month and that was against Middlesbrough. They haven't won away since September and that was against er… Middlesbrough.

17:45 Oxford United v Torquay United, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Only three points separate the two ex-league clubs as they jostle for a play-off place.

19:00 Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Sevilla are looking to make it three wins on the spin at Bilbao whose only victory against their visitors in recent years has come at home. The game has 'away win' written all over it which is one of the reason's why it will not be selected as one of the Four To Follow.

20:00 Auxerre v Toulouse Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
A clash between two in-form teams awaits fans of Ligue 1. In the last eight meetings between these two teams, the victory has gone to the home side.

21:00 Espanyol v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
This is the first part of a Barcelona v Madrid double-header. Can Espanyol follow their fantastic win at Barca with another at home to a wounded Real...? No.

Sunday 1 March

11:30 FC Utrecht v Ajax, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
These are dark times for Marco van Basten. His grand plan to restore Ajax to its place of prominence is falling apart and now he finds his team below a club managed by Steve McClaren in the table. Utrecht may be eleven points behind Ajax in the Eredivisie but they're in better form than the Amsterdam club.

12:15 Sheffield United v Birmingham City, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Both teams have only won once in the last five games. But then, with the exception of Bristol City, no team in the top seven are setting the division alight. This game promises to be an uncompromising encounter.

13:00 Bolton Wanderers v Newcastle United, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
A classic Sunday afternoon under-card encounter if ever there was one and a match to avoid unless you have an interest in either team. 4-3 then.

15:00 Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Carling Cup Final, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The Big One. The holders should be congratulated for having defended their trophy right to the final round (even though they were the beneficiary of a most bizarre rule that states that the away goal rule only counts in the second leg after extra time. By rights Burnley should be in this Final). However, their luck must surely come to an end today as Man United run out convincing winners... or will they?

16:00 Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 2

Cut off the supply to the strikers, strangle their midfield, don't give Ribery an inch to move and hit them on the break. That's how to beat Bayern. Not that Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf will take a blind bit of notice. His team couldn’t hold a paper cup. Bremen won 5-3 when they met earlier this season. A similar score line is in store at the Weserstadion. Just don't ask me which way it will go.

18:00 Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Part two of the Madrid v Barcelona double. Barcelona are having a decidedly wobbly wobble and will be extremely anxious to restore some control over their destiny with an unconvincing away win, possibly with the help of a dodgy referee’s decision.

20:00 Real Betis v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Meanwhile Villareal carry on regardless and will hope to repeat the result of this fixture last season when they won 1-0.

20:00 Lyon v Rennes, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
Seventh placed Stade Rennes attempt to string an unbeaten run together and will no doubt meet with the usual outcome against the perennial champions.

Four To Follow

Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Hamilton v Rangers
Chris: Away win; Duffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Away win; Seb: Away win.

Everton v West Brom
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
Chris O: Man United; Duffman: Man United; Sp3ktor: Man United; Seb: Man United

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #102

Stars of FC Hollywood
The 14 Players That Make Up The Bayern Munich Hall Of Fame

...to commemorate Bayern Munich being founded on this day in 1900.

1. Klaus Augenthaler
2. Franz Beckenbauer
3. Paul Breitner
4. Steffen Effenburg
5. Giovane Elber
6. Dieter Hoeness
7. Uli Hoeness
8. Sepp Maier
9. Lothar Matthäus
10. Gerd Müller
11. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
12. Mehmet Scholl
13. Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck
14. Roland Wohlfahrt

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bundesbag Week 21: Goals of the season

Usually, the Bundesbag is written and ready for action on Wednesdays. This is because I like to watch the Bundesliga highlights on Tuesday nights and make some notes before getting down to business. However, this Tuesday, those fine people at the Setanta Sports Scheduling Department chose to move the highlights package to a much later timeslot in favour of something called UFC 95. Consequently the Bundesbag was compelled to settle down with an hour of hot German 24 hours later. And what an hour it was with Bavarians stripped bare, Jens Lehmann hurling items of clothing around plus kinky Frankfurters with orange fetishes.

Let's begin in Munich for the visit of Koln. You probably know the result by now. Bayern were unlucky to have a goal from Klose ruled offside when it looked like the last touch was from a Koln defender. However, few will argue with their 2-1 defeat and deny Koln their moment of triumph. However, you have to question the decision to pick Lucas Podolski for Bayern from the start.

You may recall from Bundesbag's passim the champions' visit to Cologne earlier in the season and Poldi's goal-scoring heartbreak when he put his old club to the sword. Well, things have moved on a touch since then and the German international has orchestrated a move back to his old club. In short, this was a game that Lucas was probably not in the best frame of mind to be involved in and by all accounts was dreadful. He was replaced by Landon Donovan, who wasn't much better apparently and only underlines the assumption that the on loan LA Galaxy player, brought in by Klinsmann, will be on his way back to the Home Depot Centre before long. The whole affair looks bad for Podolski's professionalism, Donovan's ability and Klinsmann's management.

For Koln, it’s a magnificent achievement and a personal triumph for coach Christophe Daum who has never won at Bayern. Fabrice Ehret and Daniel Brosinski scored the goals for the away side who must feel that their Bundesliga future is all but secure for another season.

So much for Bayern, what about Hoffenheim? Could they grasp the nettle and take top spot? In a word, no. The title challengers faced Stuttgart in a local derby which ended 3-3. Demba Ba scored a hat-trick and Mario Gomez a brace (his second was exquisite). Jens Lehmann took issue with a foul which took place within Lehmann's own special area by Hoffenheim's Sejad Salihovic who lost his boot while doing the foul deed. The former Arsenal 'keeper marched over to the offending boot and threw it on to the top of his own goal net. Salihovic was forced to reclaim his footwear himself lest he be booked. I’m pretty sure that in England they have people who do that for players. That's the Bundesliga, keeping it real.

The game ended with a flourish after the aforementioned Salihovic missed a penalty in the last minute that would have won the game. On such small margins are the fate of championships determined.

So if the Hoff's not top, then who? Hertha? No. they lost 2-1 to Wolfsburg. In fact it’s Hamburg who are the league leaders after a pulsating encounter with Leverkusen. Hamburg’s Marcell Jansen put in a virtuoso performance and scored two goals, much to the delight of his coach, Martin Jol. If you haven’t seen it already, check out Patrick Helmes’ goal for Leverkusen. A gorgeous strike which rivalled many great goals last weekend:

Kevin Kuranyi’s opener in the big Ruhr Derby against Dortmund was a cracking volley from an unlikely cross from Altintop. Mo’ Zidan’s equaliser wasn’t as impressive but did salvage a point for BVB. Ex-Dortmund player Diego Klimovicz is settling in nicely just down the road at Bochum. His goal was as spectacular as Kuranyi’s in his team’s 1-1 draw at Bielefeld. Caio’s strike for Frankfurt was a bright point in Eintracht’s 1-0 win at Karlsruhe. It wasn’t as bright as the orange worn by their travelling supporters in protest against their team’s shoddy displays lately (their ultras call themselves ‘Orange Koas’). Brighter still were the orange flairs that they threw on the pitch during the game (that’s the flairs that you ignite, not trousers).

Elsewhere, much was expected of ‘Gladbach’s 19-year-old attacking midfielder Marco Marin when his team were promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of last season. Well it’s taken a little while but the young fella seems to be finding his feet in a team struggling at the foot of the table. At least they were struggling. Last Saturday they beat a poor Hannover side 3-2. Marin scored himself and was involved with most things good in the game. This means that they are 3 (three) games unbeaten and have not lost since the start of the Winter Break. Old stager Oliver Neuville scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute.

‘Gladbach are still bottom but have managed to help squeeze the points difference down there. Only seven points separate 11th placed Frankfurt and the bottom side. Anyone from Bremen above should feel safe, although Werder’s lamentable decline continues as they were beaten by Cottbus.

That’s it, results and tables here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cigarette Cards

In the days before the Internet, Sky TV, cinemas, newspapers and Panini stickers, getting information and even pictures of your favourite players was hard to do. Up until the Second World War, cigarette cards where the only source of information.

Before the turn of the 19th century, a time when cigarettes were wrapped in paper packets, cigarette manufacturers began inserting pieces of card to protect the contents, quickly realising that these would be useful for advertising their products. The early part of the last century, roughly between 1920 and 1930, was the heyday of cigarette card issues, when virtually every packet contained a little picture. Major companies like Wills and Players had their own studios and artists devoted entirely to the production of cigarette cards. It was big business, and massive print-runs often ran into hundreds of millions for each series. Soon these were followed by pictorial sequences which would build up in to sets. The object was to encourage repeat purchases and establish brand loyalty, and the subjects chosen were those most likely to appeal to the predominantly male customer base. Beautiful young women, sportsmen and soldiers dominated the earliest series, followed by ever more diverse topics in the early 20th century as companies competed for trade by offering something new.

Between 1910 and 1940 tobacco importers W.D. & H.O. Wills and cigarette manufactures such as W.A. & A.C. Churchman and John Player and Sons (known simply as “Players”) launched a series of cards in the UK featuring many of the great names in football including several notable Scottish players of that era, players such as Newcastle´s Tom McDonald and Bob McKay, Chelsea´s Andy Wilson, John McClelland of Middlesbrough, Coventry´s William McDonald and Alex James and George Mutch of Preston North End to name but a few.

In the first of an occasional series looking at some of the Scottish players lucky enough to get their own cigarette card, we put the spotlight on two of Scotland’s finest players from days gone by.

Alex Jackson

Alex Skinner Jackson was born in 1905 in Renton, a town in an area with considerable football pedigree. He signed for Dumbarton in 1922 at the age of sixteen but emigrated to America soon afterwards to join his brother at works team Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania. Aberdeen manager Pat Travers managed to convince Alex and his brother Walter to return to Scotland, paying £100 for the pair and in the summer of 1924 the Jackson brothers took the field for Aberdeen. Alex Jackson only stayed with Aberdeen for one season when Herbert Chapman paid the Dons £5000 to entice Jackson to Huddersfield.

He was a big hit with the Terriers, helping them to retain the league title in his first season, as well as two losing FA Cup Finals. In the 180 appearances Jackson made for Huddersfield between 1925 and 1930 he scored 70 goals. He was sold to Chelsea in 1930 for £8500 and stayed there for two years, scoring twenty-nine goals in seventy-seven appearances. A self described freelance footballer available for hire to the highest bidder, Jackson was approached by French side Nîmes with an offer to play for them. Jackson preferred to stay with Chelsea but with the club unwilling to match the wages offered Jackson for fear of breaking their own wage structure, Jackson became disillusioned with league football and gradually drifted out of football, first concentrating on his pub in St Martin’s Lane and playing for Ashton National in Manchester before finishing his football career with Margate and Nice in the south of France.

An outside-left in old terminology (we’d call him a ‘winger’ today) his devastating pace earned him the nickname ‘The Flying Scotsman’ and his immortality was assured when he scored a hat-trick at Wembley in the famous “Wembley Wizards” international of 1928 when Scotland beat England 5-1. By the time he was thirty-one (young for players of that era), he had effectively retired from football. Jackson joined the Army, rising to the rank of Major and was killed in 1946 when the truck he was driving skidded and overturned. He was forty-one.

Hugh Gallagher

When Alex Jackson arrived at Chelsea in 1930 he was met by fellow ‘Wembley Wizard’ Hugh Kilpatrick Gallagher, at that stage at the top of his career. Gallagher, a son of Ulster working-class brought up in the tradition of the Orange Order, was born two years before Jackson in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. He joined Queen of the South in 1921 and stayed with them for only one season having scored nineteen goals in the nine games he played, cementing a reputation as a deadly centre-forward with a “first time shot of a deadly nature”. A move to Airdrieonians saw Gallagher win the first of his twenty caps for Scotland against Northern Ireland. In 1925 Newcastle bought Gallagher for £8500 hoping that the 100 goals he scored in his time at Airdrie would help them retain their dominance in the league.

He scored on his debut against Everton and continued scoring eventually becoming that seasons top scorer despite having joined more than halfway through the season. Gallagher was part of a growing Scottish contingent at Newcastle; the side that won the league in 1927 contained a fair share of Scots, players such as Willie Wilson, Alf Maitland, Roddie McKenzie, Willie Gibson, Bob McKay, Tom McDonald and Jim Park and Jim Boyd. Gallagher himself scored five hat-tricks in that league-winning season and was well on the way to become a legend on Tyneside, as children in the streets could be heard singing

dýa ken Hughie Gallagher, the wee Scotch lad?
The finest centre-forward Newcastle ever had.

When Newcastle sold him to Chelsea in 1930 for £25,000 at the behest of the directors and manager Andy Cunningham (and behind Gallagher’s back) he joined up with fellow Scots and former Aberdeen players, Alex Jackson and Alex Cheyne. Despite Gallagher being top scorer in each of his seasons at the London club, Chelsea failed to win silverware.

A short man with an even shorter fuse, Gallagher could have had a career in the ring as a light-welterweight, but choose football over boxing. Not always liked by his fellow professionals (many under instruction, by any means, to stop Gallagher from scoring) he was nevertheless adored by the crowds. While playing for Chelsea, Gallagher’s drink problems got worse, as did his police record. Declared bankrupt in 1934, he was sold to Derby where he played for two years.

His scoring touch did not desert him, racking up over fifty goals in forty appearances for the Rams. Controversy followed him to Derby also when the club was investigated for illegal signing on fees paid to Gallagher. Although Hughie was never implicated, manager George Jobey received a lengthy ban. Spells at Notts County and Grimbsy followed before he returned to the north-east and Gateshead where his appearances still drew massive crowds. “Wee Hughie of the Magic Feet” played his last game as a professional footballer the day before the Second World War broke out.

Following his retirement from the game, Gallagher occasionally played charity games into his fifties with old pal Alex James. When his wife died in 1950, Gallagher was left with a family to look after. Following a domestic incident which resulted in his children being taken into care, Gallagher, unable or unwilling to face the embarrassing legal proceedings for the maltreatment of his sons, he threw himself in front of the York-Edinburgh express train in June 1957. His decapitated body was found later at Dead Men’s Crossing at Low Fell. He was fifty-four years old.

Hughie Gallagher was truly one of the greats of the game. In his 20 caps for Scotland, Gallagher averaged a goal per game. His twenty-three goals is only bettered by two other legends of the Scottish game, Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A light of hope at Victoria Road

I took the Tube to Dagenham East station last Wednesday knowing what to expect on my arrival at Victoria Road. Though this was my second visit to Dagenham & Redbridge football ground, it would be (I hoped) the first match I'd get to see in its entirety there. That's because my first visit ended in farce back in December thanks to a floodlight failure during The Daggers' match against Exeter City.

Despite being a lifelong West Ham fan, Dagenham & Redbridge are nowadays my 'local' team although I've never before made the effort to go along and support them in person. That all changed last December when a friend of mine, Gary (an Exeter City supporter living in London) suggested we go along to cheer on our respective teams.

Back then, we braved the cold, wet conditions to arrive at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium (arguably the most cumbersome and needlessly long name of any ground in the country) on what was to be a frustrating afternoon. For a start, I arrived late (as usual) which resulted in Gary taking his place at the Away end of the ground and me at the other. Thanks to my lateness, there were only a handful of tickets left on sale and they were for the standing area at the opposite end of the pitch to Gary.

Then, with an hour and a half of isolation stretched out before me, the game was brought to an unforeseen and premature halt. With Dagenham and Redbridge 1-0 up thanks to a Paul Benson goal, the floodlight to my left popped after 35 minutes or so, plunging the nearby corner of the pitch into semi-darkness. After some on-pitch negotiations between the referee and both teams, the game laboured on to half-time but that, unbeknownst to us, would be the last of the action. Knowing that the result would stand if the game progressed well into the second half, Exeter declined the ref's offer to return to the field, and that was that.

The match was abandoned, although none of us in the crowd knew about it at the time. Apparently when the floodlight blew out, so did all the power to the PA system too. We were left to trudge off home in an air of surreal confusion, trying to make sense of what had happened.

Sadly I wasn't able to attend the replay due to illness but that was probably just as well, really. Exeter won the second match, 2-1 - a masterclass in using the rules of football to your advantage, you might say. Anyway, just last week I got the opportunity to watch Dagenham and Redbridge again and I could only hope I'd see a full game this time.

Luckily for me, I did. Last Wednesday night saw The Daggers play host to Wycombe Wanderers and my companion this time would be my good friend and fellow West Ham supporter, Russell. In a revolutionary move on my part, I arrived on time, thereby giving me the opportunity to sit next to Russell in the Carling Stand for the whole match. Genius, I think you'll agree.

Despite a determined approach to the game and some good passing moves, D&R were sadly found wanting up front where the Wycombe defence was solid. For their part, Wycombe weren't making too many in-roads at the other end of the pitch and their reputation as one of the best clubs in League Two looked a little shaky.

Fortunately for them, there was little need to worry. Jon-Paul Pittman fired in a very well taken goal just after the restart to give Wycombe the lead. Following that, The Chairboys returned to their largely defensive duties and managed to hold off the increasingly desperate efforts of the Dagenham & Redbridge forward line right to the end.

Wycombe remained in second spot in League Two thanks to their 1-0 win while John Still's men had to make do with staying on the boundaries of the play-off zone. Fundamentally, Dagenham & Redbridge are a good team that have played above people's expectations this year, but they might need to find that certain something extra if they're to push for one of those play-off places.

Wycombe Wanderers, while far from perfect, look set for automatic promotion this season. If manager Peter Taylor can grab a few more away wins like this one, they might even finish as champions too.

All in all, then, it had been a very enjoyable evening where I genuinely considered myself privileged to see two teams from the lower reaches of the Football League who were showing it off in its best possible light. And not just any old light either - it was a light that remained on for the full 90 minutes to the greater benefit of all in attendance, and for that I was very grateful.

Midweek TV Preview: 23 - 26 February

(All times - UK)

Monday 23rd February


19.45 Wycombe Wanderers v Rotherham United, League Two, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Having seen Wycombe with mine own eyes last week (more of which soon), it's fair to say their 2nd place in League Two at the moment is highly justified. A win in this (one of two matches they have in hand) could see them go top of the table if they bang in five tonight, but Rotherham should be good enough to prevent such an outcome.

20.00 Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The first of two appearances on TV for Hull this week and Tottenham's first appearance in a live TV match for, ooh, by my watch, about six and a half minutes.

Tuesday 24th February

19.45 Arsenal v Roma, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, ITV4
And so we find ourselves in the second phase of the Champions League, and as Stuart Hall used to say, it's a knockout. Roma's last visit to London saw them lose 1-0 to Chelsea in the first round of this competition back in October. You'd be inclined to think they might do better this time with Arsenal having to do without Fabregas, Eduardo, Adebayor, Arshavin, Rosicky and Walcott.

19.45 Atletico Madrid v Porto, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports Xtra / HD3
Speaking of Arsenal, Porto topped The Gunners in Group G last round, and they're currently top of the Portuguese Liga too. As for Atletico, only one win since December 20th suggests confidence might be running a bit low for the Spaniards.

19.45 Inter Milan v Manchester United, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, ITV1 / HD (on Freesat only) Mourinho v Ferguson. There's only one word needed to sum up this match - 'mouth-watering proposition'. Mourinho only lost one game against United while he was in charge of Chelsea, so Fergie's men will have their work cut out tonight.

19.45 Lyon v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Crikey... it says here that Barcelona lost at the weekend. That can't be right at all. While we go and double-check that, settle down for this great match between two teams currently leading their respective domestic leagues.

Wednesday 25th February

19.45 Chelsea v Juventus, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports Xtra / HD1
Ranieri returns to the Bridge, but Chelsea will be looking forward not back with their current manager. Guus Hiddink had The Blues looking a bit more like their old selves at the weekend, but it'll be no easy task getting one over The Old Lady on current form. (Important notice: Follow this match with our SPAOTP Live! service on Twitter. Watch this space for more details...)

19.45 Real Madrid v Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2 / HD1
Memories of the 1981 European Cup final spring to mind, of course. Alan Kennedy scoring the unlikely winner, Laurie Cunningham playing for Real Madrid and those curious white stickers over Liverpool's Umbro shirt logos. Funny the things you remember...



19.45 Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports Interactive
If there's such a thing as a good time to play Bayern, now's it. Three Bundesliga defeats in the last four will give Paulo Bento's side all the motivation they'll need for a decent result tonight.

19.45 Villarreal v Panathinaikos, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports Interactive
Though Villareal battled gamely to two 0-0 draws against Man United in the last round, it'll be the Greeks that have the biggest swagger. They topped Group B ahead of Inter Milan and Werder Bremen, so there - ner.

20.10 Middlesbrough v West Ham United, FA Cup 5th Round Replay, ITV1 / HD (on Freesat only)
Boro' nearly had the better of The Hammers when these two met the first time around on February 14th. Only a late Herita Ilunga goal helped West Ham survive to fight another day, and that day looks set to finish with penalties if our hunch is anything to go by.

Thursday 26th February

00.50 Gremio v Universidad de Chile, Copa Libertadores, Setanta Sports 2
The group stages for South America's equivalent to the Champions League are now underway, and where better to join the action than this Group 7 clash between some of the best that Brazil and Chile have to offer.

11.30 The Big Match Revisited, ITV4
Surprise surprise - nearly all the football in England 30 years ago this week was called off because of the snow, blah blah blah... Still, Mooro always manages to find a decent alternative and he didn't let us down last week with highlights from the 1953 FA Cup Final and the 1976 European Championship Final. To keep the momentum going, this week it's a prime Division Three tie between Brentford and Watford. You couldn't make it up, really...

19.45 Hull City v Sheffield United, FA Cup 5th Round Replay, Setanta Sports 1
Two teams that have recently made drawing a speciality face each other again because of that self same reason. The first match ended 1-1, but Hull could well use home advantage to their, er... advantage tonight. For the sake of their rapidly deteriorating season, they need to.

19.45 Manchester City v FC Copenhagen, UEFA Cup Round of 32 2nd Leg, ITV4
City just couldn't shake off those plucky Danes during the first leg, and had the added insult of conceding a 90th minute equaliser too. Assuming they're now over the pain of that (and the late equaliser they conceded against Liverpool yesterday), City will return to this tough tie hoping their away goals will give them the safety net they need.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

League Spotlight: Australia / A-League

Australasia remains one of the few regions of the world not held in Football's thrall. In his book The Ball Is Round, David Goldblatt pointed to the fact that when the first Australian colonies were founded, the game of Association Football had not developed, much less officially codified. In fact Aussie Rules football was formed before Soccer. Both Australian and Association rules football share their genesis from a previous version of the game now lost to history. By the time future waves of immigrants came to the country, exporting soccer, the native code had taken hold and Football never took its place as the pre-eminent sport like in so many other lands.

However, as we know, the beauty and simplicity of Football makes it a very hard game to resist and slowly the globalisation of the game grew stronger roots Down Under. The 80' and 90's saw a stream of Australian Soccer players migrate to Europe and the Australian national team (the Socceroos) slowly began to improve. Their recent performance in the World Cup captured the imagination of many Australians and the game now probably enjoys an unprecedented level of popularity. On the back of the growth of the sport, the National Soccer League in Australia was replaced in 2005 with the A-League, a new professional league of eight teams.

The league operates a franchise system. Five of the teams formed for the inaugural A-League season were brand new clubs. Only Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Newcastle United Jets survive from the old league. The new teams were Sydney FC, Queensland Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and from New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix. Players you may recognise that have graced the fields of the A-League are Tony Vidmar, Tony Popovitch, Juninho (yes that Juninho), Danny Tiatto and Kevin Muscat.

The A-League season is divided into two parts. A 21-week regular season determines the Premier (regular season) Champion and a top four to make up the post-season culminating in a Grand Final. The four team play-off competition is a novel and different approach to the first v fourth/second v third/final system we are used to here in England. In the A-League the top two play each other in the two legged Major Semi-Final. The winner of that match progresses straight to the Grand Final and chooses the venue for the match. The loser progresses to the Preliminary Final where they will play the winner of the Minor Semi-Final which is another two legged match between the third and fourth finished teams in the Regular Season. The Preliminary Final winners then progress to the Grand Final where the A-League Championship is decided.

The system satisfies the need for a showpiece climax to the season, which is very much at the heart of Australian sporting culture. It also clearly benefits the teams that finish further up the table and therefore provides incentives for clubs to keep going until the last week rather than settling for a play-off spot and taking their foot off the gas.

The winner qualifies for the Asian Champions League along with the winner of the Regular Season. Curiously, qualifiers do not enter this tournament for a whole year. This means that the 2008 champions, Newcastle United Jets, will enter the 2009 Champions League despite finishing bottom of the current A-League season.

This season saw Melbourne Victory take the Premier title. They played runners up Adelaide United in the Major Semi and ran out 6-0 victors on aggregate. United coach Aurelio Vidmar (right) took the defeat pretty badly and went on a Keegan style post-match rant. The only thing was, rather than slagging off the opposition, he slagged off just about everyone who had ever been anywhere near the club, including himself. Fortunately for Vidmar and his players, they got another crack at getting into the Grand Final against Queensland Roar in the Preliminary Final. The Roar were the form team at the end of the Regular Season and overcame the Central Coast Mariners 4-1 on aggregate.

Many people, including me, thought the Roar would er... roar past Adelaide by the force of their own momentum while Adelaide faltered under the wight of their coaches suicidal remarks. However, where Keegan's players failed, Vidmar's players rallied to a 1-0 win and sealed a place in the Grand Final at the Telstra Dome this Saturday morning (UK time). The game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, more details will appear in our forthcoming Weekend TV Preview.

Next season, the league will take on a further two clubs in North Queensland Fury and Cold Coast United. Robbie Fowler has already signed up for the Fury and will be spending the twilight of his career expanding his already considerable property empire banging in the goals down under. Gold Coast have signed this season's A-League Golden Boot winner Shane Smeltz from Wellington Pheonix.

The standard of play? Unsurprisingly the quality does not match that of the major European leagues. However, the League is very much in its infancy and now there is a professional structure in place for young Australian sportsmen (of which there are many) to play football. Given Australia's proud sporting heritage, it may not be too long before the A-League starts to export its finest player overseas and provide the rump of a successful Socceroos team in the World Cup which, no doubt, we will never hear the end of...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 20 - 22 February

(All times - UK)

Friday 20 February

19.30 FC Schalke v Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Big derby game between two giants of the Ruhr. Should be a game that has an impact on the League, but as it is, it's two mid-table teams desperate to get a run of form going. The 60,000 plus Gelsenkirchen crowd should provide a fantastic atmosphere.

Saturday 21 February

08.00 Adelaide United v Queensland Roar, Hyundai A League Preliminary Final, Sky Sports 3
As part of the Aussie's complicated end-of-season play off system (something Duffman will expand upon in these pages very soon) these two come together to decide who will play Melbourne Victory in next week's Grand Final.

12.45 Aston Villa v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The dust has far from settled at Chelsea and probably won't until they have a huge clear out in the summer (if you'll excuse the extended metaphor). For Villa this is a tough period which could make or break their Champions League hopes - their next next three away games are Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool.

17.30 QPR v Ipswich, Championship, Sky Sports 1
An interesting choice of live fixtures, considering Forest play Derby today - one assumes the local constabulary refused the movement of that tie to early evening. So instead we have two teams in reasonable form who are just hovering outside the play-offs. But then it should be a more competitive encounter than...

17.30 Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Yet another team go to Old Trafford to get this game out of the way and concentrate on the rest of the season.

19.00 Barcelona v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Barcelona's come back from 2-0 down last week to draw against Real Betis should have provided the wake up call they need to secure the title. There's unlikely to be any such slip-ups against their struggling neighbours who lie at the bottom of the table.

21.00 Sevilla v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
None of the teams chasing down third spot have shown much form recently. Atletico look best placed to lead a late charge to secure a Champions League spot, but their win in Seville last season was their first here in years.

Sunday 22 February

13.30 De Graafschap v Feyenoord, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Lowly De Graafschap won a famous victory in Rotterdam in early December however they've only won once in the nine games since, failing to score in seven of those. Feyenoord's awful season hasn't shown much sign of improving. Thankfully for them there are enough worse below them to keep them out of any real trouble.

13.30 Fulham v West Brom, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Fulham need to put their uncharacteristic poor midweek display against Manchester United behind them and make sure they can put their flip-flops on sometime in April. As with every week it seems, West Brom could pull out of the relegation with a win here.

14.00 Motherwell v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The number of games before the split is fast dwindling. Motherwell sit in the bottom half on goal difference alone, a situation not likely to improve after this encounter.

15.15 Airdrie Utd v Clyde, Scottish First Division, BBC ALBA
Two crap teams play to the tune of Gaelic commentary - why not see how long you can last.

16.00 Newcastle United v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Don't ask me why, but I reckon this game will be a cracker. A game that really could produce any result - destined for nil-nil now I've said that.

20.00 Deportivo La Coruna v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Both teams are in a mid-season slump despite showing good promise at the start of the campaign. There could be goals here though - the last three games between these two have seen 16 (DIECISÉIS) hit the back of the net.

20.00 Lille v Monaco, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
You ever get that feeling that we've got to the stage of the season where they're packing the schedules with games to fill some kind of contractual obligation? Hmmm.

Four To Follow

Schalke v Dortmund
Chris O: Draw; Duffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Adelaide United v Queensland Roar
Chris: Away win; Duffman: Away win; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Aston Villa v Chelsea
Chris O: Draw; Duffman: Away win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Away win.

Newcastle v Everton
Chris O: Away win; Duffman: Away win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Away win.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #101

Chants in a million
10 Songs From The Terraces We Find Rather Amusing

1. Sung to the tune of '10 Green Bottles':

# There were 10 Alsatians walking down the street,
10 Alsatians walking down the street,
And if Ji-Sung Park fancied one to eat
There'd be 9 Alsatians walking down the street... #

2. Sung by Liverpool fans to the tune of 'The Quartermaster's Store':

# "He's big, he's Red, his feet stick out of bed,
Peter Crouch, Peter Crouch..." #


3. ...or there's the alternative version:

# "He's bald, he's scouse, he'll rob your f***ing house,
Steve McMahon, Steve McMahon..." #

4. Sung to the tune of 'The Addams Family' about Norwich fans:

# "Your sister is your mother,
Your uncle is your brother,
You all f*** one another,
The Norwich family..." #

5. Sung to the tune of 'We'll Meet Again' by Sunderland fans at Aston Villa:

# "We'll win again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when...
But I know we'll win again
Some sunny day..." #

6. Sung by Celtic fans to the tune of 'Guantanamera' about Andy Goram who'd been diagnosed with schizophrenia:

# "Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams..." #

7. ...or there's the alternative version, sung by Birmingham fans to the few Sunderland fans that had shown up to watch:

# "Come in a taxi,
You must have come in a taxi,
Come in a taxi,
You must have come in a taxi..." #

8. Sung by Liverpool fans to the tune of 'Blame It On The Boogie':

# "Don't blame it on the Biscan,
Don't blame it on the Hamann,
Don't blame it on the Finnan,
Blame it on Traore...
He just can't,
He just can't,
He just can't control his feet..." #

9. Once sung about former Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman to the tune of 'Go West':

# "Nayim, from the half-way line,
Nayim, from the half-way line,
Nayim, from the half-way line..." #

10. Sung to the tune of 'Blue Moon' by West Brom fans after their club bought a Swiss defender:

# Bernt Haas, I've gone and Bernt my Haas, I've gone and Bernt my Haas..."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gioco del giorno

Some People Are On The Pitch speculates wildly about the return of live Italian football to UK TV.

The ratings are in and the Milan Derby, screened on BBC3, attracted roughly 700,000 viewers, which is not bad at all for a digital channel.

For those of you based outside the UK, Serie A has been off the air here in Blighty since Five dropped its coverage last season. So when the BBC announced their decision to screen Inter v Milan last week on their digital channel BBC3, speculation grew on the various Italian football forums as to whether this was a prelude to more regular coverage.

The reasons for broadcasting last Sunday’s game are fairly apparent. Presumably the Beckham Factor was the principle reason behind the decision to give Serie A another chance. However, there is plenty on offer for fans of good football so it’s possible that somewhere in the back of the programme controllers' minds, they may look to screen more games this season.

Continued coverage must also depend of whether 'Golden Balls' stays at Milan. When Channel 4 started to screen Serie A back in the 90’s it was on the back of one man: Paul Gascoigne. Of course back then the Premier League had just started and the Italian League was the best in the world. Nowadays, Serie A is blighted by in-stadium hooliganism, atrocious TV coverage and an outdated image here in the UK of being boring and defensive (an image propagated, in my opinion, by large sections of the pro-Premier League English media).

However, fans of the Italian game would argue that the reports on hooliganism are overplayed (and a touch hypocritical coming from the English) and that the TV coverage for the evening games is much better than the afternoon games which Five covered last year. As for the game being boring, on the evidence of last weekend, that simply isn’t true.

Many Serie A fans argue that if a broadcaster screened the Saturday or Sunday evening games, they would be screening the top games with the best coverage. While there is great merit in this argument, there are some obstacles to the return of Serie A to our screens:

Firstly, the ratings. Screening a Milan game with Beckham in it is bound to attract an audience of some description in England but even 700,000 is not sustainable for mainstream free-to-air channels like Five, Channel Four and ITV. These channels do have smaller digital stations but their respective acquisitions budgets will be tiny. The cost of carrying these games is probably too high for the likes of E4, FIVER and ITV4 given the ratings return even if Beckham played every week (which he wouldn’t).

Secondly, dedicated sports channels are covered for live weekend football in the evenings. Sky have been all about the La Liga for years now. Setanta used to cover Serie A and were in for it again, according to James Richardson, however the broadcaster couldn’t agree a price (apparently).

Thirdly, there’s a global recession going on and broadcasters are affected just like everyone else. It’s unlikely that they are going to take a punt on a League that keeps getting dropped.

What Serie A needs is for a broadcaster to believe in the league, invest in the league and give the league time to bed in with a new audience. Said broadcaster shouldn’t be governed by the rigours of the commercial TV market and should be able to afford to take the risk that the league may not pay off immediately. Ideally this broadcaster will not be commercially funded. Ideally it should be the BBC.

Hopefully, the ratings will persuade the Beeb to give Serie A another crack by screening another game. Perhaps they’ll screen another big match involving Milan followed by a non-Beckham game, ideally the Derbi D’Italia. If people are still watching, then hopefully that will be enough for the Beeb to sign a regular deal next season, assuming they can justify the licence fee expenditure.

Of course if Becks finds himself on a one way trip to LA next month, then the likelihood of seeing Serie A back on our screens would be significantly reduced. That’s why UK based Italian football fans had better hope a deal can be done lest they become condemned to watching dodgy feeds on Justin.tv for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bundesbag Week 20: Hats off to Hertha

It's been a fantastic weekend of dramatic results in the Bundesliga and almost impossible to know where to start. Almost, but not quite for this was the week that Hertha Berlin rose to the top of the table for the first time since 2006. Not only that but the team from the capital have never topped the table in the second half of the season (Rückrunde) in the history of the Bundesliga. As if that wasn't enough, they got there by beating the champions Bayern Munich.

Previously I talked about how on loan Liverpool striker Andrei Voronin may return to Anfield if he carries on the way he's going. Well, for the sake of the title race lets hope he stays where he is as it was his brace that clenched the victory. The winner was a shot which he effortlessly slotted past Michael Rensing from a through ball from the excellent Rafael. An exquisite pass for an exquisite goal. 2-1 was the final score.

I'm not sure if there's a German expression for 'the wheels are falling off', however if there is, it could easily apply to the Hoff. Ralf Rangnick's team dropped points at 'Gladbach the weekend before and this weekend they went one worse and were defeated at home to Leverkusen. The multitude of new Hoffenheim supporters looked on in the driving snow as their recently adopted team suffered their first home defeat at their new stadium.

Two of Leverkusen's four goals were scored by the uber prolific Patrick Helmes. His second was from a clever set piece routine. The home side were 3-1 down at half time and the crowd maintained a hushed vigil as they watched Castro (probably the smallest player on the pitch) rise from a corner to head the ball in and complete the rout. You wonder how many of those fans are in it for the long haul and how many of them will bother coming back for the next match. These are uncertain times for Hoffenheim.

They're still second on goal difference, though. Breathing down their necks is Martin Jol who is having a lovely time at Hamburg. His team registered a convincing home win against a dogged Bielefeld. Piotr Trochowski took advantage of a ricket by Bielefeld keeper Dennis Eilhoff. Artur Wichniarek should have scored an equaliser but saw his penalty saved by Frank Rost. A beautiful curling shot from Guerrero settled the match for Hamburg.

Elsewhere, Karlsruhe extended their unbeaten run to two matches after the weekend's only goalless draw at Koln. 'Gladbach claimed a second consecutive point thanks to American international Michael Bradley who scored a brace against Mexico last week, and took advantage of some pathetic defending to equalise against Bremen. BVB drew 1-1 with Cottbus. Wolfsburg recorded their first away win of the season. Frankfurt were their generous hosts, 2-0 the final score.

In the white of Germany, Mario Gomez can't score for toffees. However, he can score for Stuttgart. He got proceedings underway in a knockabout encounter at Hannover. Stuttgart went 2-0 up before the home side fought back to 3-2 only for 'Der Hammer' Thomas Hitzelsperger to strike the equaliser with a trademark long range volley. Why do opposition teams give that guy so much space? It's not like they don't know what he can do.

Finally a round of applause for Bochum who recorded a rare win over their local rivals Schalke. Bochum live within the shadow of the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the upper hand over the years. The scoring was opened by Kevin Kuranyi who suddenly found his shooting boots. However, a glorious strike by the Moroccan and former Schalke player Mimoun Azaouagh got the home team back in the game.

The winner from Christoph Dabrowski was a comedy classic. There he stood, on his own, in the Schalke penalty area when suddenly he discovered something at his feet. He prodded it a couple of times with his boots only to discover that it was a ball. When it became clear that no-one on the opposition seemed anxious to get it off him he decided that the best thing to do was put it in the back of the net which he duly did. What a way to settle a derby.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Scottish Football Weekend Gala Roundup

When I was first asked to write about the Scottish game for SPAOTP, I made it quite clear that predictions where not my thing. I mean, just look at my desperate attempts in this weeks 'Four to Follow'. The only game I got right was the Inter v AC game, and that based on no other insightful punditry other than that - in my opinion - Inter have a nicer shirt than AC.

In another case of over-hyping a fixture, this Sunday's Old Firm derby - about which I waxed lyrical earlier on in the week and predicted a home win - turned out to be a massive disappointment. Sure, there where all the things you'd expect to see in one of these games (controversial decisions by a referee making his Old Firm début, a goal-line stooshie and plenty of bookings) yet the game never really became the end-to-end affairs that meetings between these two teams generally serve up.

Celtic maintain their lead - however slender - while Rangers should feel aggrieved at the penalty not awarded in the second half. Aside from the referee, two others made their first appearance in an Old Firm game: John Fleck made Walter Smith's starting line-up, as did Willo Flood for Celtic. Both played a decent game, but neither remained on the pitch for the entire game, with Fleck substituted for Kenny Miller, while Flood made way for Aiden McGeady. There's one more Old Firm fixture to come this season; we can only hope that there's still the two points between them when they meet again - it should make for a more exciting game than the one yesterday.

By far and away the best goal at the weekend (and possibly the season) was Aberdeen's goal scored at Tynecastle in their 2-1 defeat against Hearts. Darren Mackie, who recently signed a new contract with the Dons got onto the end of a defence-splitting pass delivered by Charlie Mulgrew from the half-way line to volley the ball past Hearts keeper Balogh from the edge of the area. As Mottie would have said: oooh, I say! Aberdeen went on to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, conceding two sloppy goals including one that took me back to a funny incident during my years in goal for my school football team, and which involved a particularly large seagull, a right-back who was not looking where he was going and the old football cliché of 'playing to the whistle'.

Elsewhere, leading Falkirk 2-1 with six minutes to go, it looked as if St. Mirren could finally hang out the bunting to celebrate the first win at their new stadium. It was not to be though, as a handball in the area by Jack Ross had Falkirk's Scott Arfield scoring from the penalty spot to level the scores and a share of the points.

Former Wolves and Reading manager Mark McGhee' has been suffering second season blues with his side, Motherwell. The Steelmen finished third in the SPL last season to round of a great campaign. Their subsequent adventures in European football are best forgotten (a first round exit to French mid-tablers Nancy) and they've been finding this season tough going. A poor run of form at the beginning of the season saw Motherwell struggling near the bottom of the table for long spells, but lately they've been finding their form again. That good form continued on Saturday with a win against Hamilton Accies in the Lanarkshire Derby. A single goal by David Clarkson. was enough to secure the three points.

Derek Riordan continues to do for Hibernian what he failed to do for Celtic, namely score goals. His first-half strike against Kilmanock on Saturday was deflected off Manuel Pascali into the net past Alan Combe. Riordan's effort would eventually be cancelled out by a Jamie Hamill goal with fifteen minutes left to go. Kilmarnock might have won the game had Connor Sammon, deployed alone up front in a Killie side ravaged by injury and suspension not missed from six yards out. The game ended one goal apiece,and Kilmarnock's elusive search for their first win in the league since the end of December (ironically a 4-2 win against Hibernian) continues.

Terry Butcher nearly won his first away game with his new side, Inverness Caley. Thistle got off to a good start, taking the lead through former United player Eric Odhiambo with fifteen minutes on the clock. Things looked to be getting even better for Butcher as United where reduced to 10-men, but substitute Andis Shala, with pretty much his first touch of the ball provided a cross for Lee Wilkie to squeeze the ball over the Inverness goal-line for a share of the points.

A special mention goes out this week to troubled Second division side Stranraer. Effectively living on a week-to-week basis, it is uncertain whether the club will survive to the end of the season when the club hopes to launch a share issue to raise much needed funds. However, judging by the shockingly low attendance at Saturdays game, the Stranraer board may want to consider alternative means to raise money - a crowd of only 277 turned up to watch The Clayholers get pumped 5-1 by Arbroath.

With a monthly wage bill of around £20,000 per month, Stranraer's survival chances where rated at being no more than 50%. But a group of the clubs supporters have come together to help secure the future of the club. The "Save Stranraer FC" campaign, whose focus is to pay the outstanding creditors as a first step towards securing the long-term future of the club, raised over £1,500 in the first week of campaigning; the group now estimate the club's chances of survival to be around the 90% mark, but a lot of work still needs to be done. Despite the overall future of the club looking a little more secure, the future of Stanraer as a Second division side looks anything but: Saturday's heavy defeat leaves them 11 points adrift at the bottom of the table.

Right, that's it for now. If there's any aspect of the game from 'the ither part o' Britain' you'd like us to cover, leave a comment and we'll get right on it!

Midweek TV Preview: 16 - 19 February

Monday 16 February

19:45 Arsenal v Cardiff City, FA Cup 4th Round Replay, Setanta Sports 1

The big question being asked around the Emirates (apart from 'where is the falafel stand'?) is 'when will Eduardo return'? He's played for his country already. Surely the time has come to make his triumphant return to the first team fold. Perhaps a cup tie at home to Championship opposition provides just such a moment for the Croatian.

Tuesday 17 February

19:45 Kidderminster v Cambridge United, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1

Like students outside a Test match venue, both teams are ligging outside the play-offs hoping they can bum a ticket off anyone leaving. Harriers have got games in hand so three points will give them an excellent platform for a promotion push.

19:45 Luton Town v Brighton & Hove Albion, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Area Final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
It's all square after the first leg at the Withdean and assuming Kenilworth Road has thawed out from the cold snap, the Hatters must be hopeful of a trip to Wembley before they drop down to the BSP next season.

Wednesday 18 February

19:00 Aston Villa v CSKA Moscow, UEFA Cup Round of 32, Five
You must wonder how the Russian teams keep it together during their close season. Things don't get back under way in Russia until mid-March with only European fixtures to keep the cold at bay. Villa have just been knocked out of the FA Cup and face a possible season breaker against Chelsea on Saturday. Ever the optimist, Martin O'Neill will figure this is an opportunity to shake off those Everton blues rather than an unwelcome distraction.

19:45 Forfar v Rangers, Scottish Cup 5th Round, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
More David v Goliath shenanigans in glorious HD. Station Park will never look better I'm sure. It's tough to see anything other than an away win.


Thursday 19 February

00:50 Sao Paulo v Independiente Medellin, Copa Libertadores, Setanta Sports 2

I love this competition. I love the football, the atmosphere, the South American city skylines, the fact that it takes them half an hour to kick off because they're too busy faffing around. I haven't got a clue who anyone is most of the time, but it's fair to say that the Colombians face a daunting trip to Sao Paulo.

18:45 Shakhtar Donetsk v Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Cup Round of 32, Five
Shaktar were on a hot streak prior to their winter break having won their last 7 (семь) matches. Tottenham will need their newly acquired grit from their big derby game to escape unscathed.

19:05 FC Copenhagen v Manchester City, UEFA Cup Round of 32 1st Leg, BBC3
Both City and Spurs can feel they've drawn the short ones with February midweek trips to Denmark and Ukraine respectively. By rights, City have the players to sweep aside FCK. However, I think we all know what's coming don't we?

19:45 St Mirren v Motherwell, Scottish Cup 5th Round Replay, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Motherwell are in slightly better form going into this all SPL replay. The Saints moved to their new stadium recently and have yet to win. What better way to break their duck than on the telly.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #100

The 100 Club
10 Clubs From Around The World Celebrating Their 100th Anniversary in 2009



We hope you enjoy this 100th Friday List. Apologies for the very late launch - this was due to numerous factors, some of which were beyond our control.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Old Firm Derby, #382

There are many great derby games in the world of football.

In Portugal, there's the Lisbon derby between Benfica and Sporting. In Italy, you have AS Roma and Lazio. Argentina's Boca Juniors against River Plate is always a fiery encounter, and there's no love lost between Rio's Flamengo and Fluminense, or for that matter, between the two giants of Turkish football, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

But it is in Glasgow that you'll find one of the oldest, and most fiercely contested derby games in world football today. The two teams involved are no longer the power they once where in world football, when, in the sixties and seventies, Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers won European silverware to add to their already impressive collection of domestic honours. That's not to say that the rivalry that was created in the earlier part of the century has in any way waned over the years - there's no such thing as a meaningless fixture between these two sides.

What makes the Glasgow derby stand out from the others is that the rivalry is based not just on economics (such as the Flamengo and Fluminense derby), or politics (right-wing Lazio against left-wing Roma) or culture (CSKA Sofia, the team of the intellectuals against Levski, the team representing the working man), but a combination of some of those, with a dash of religion thrown in. Celtic, the team with the poor Irish Catholic background, against the staunchly Protestant, unionist, prosperous Rangers.

Its hard to believe that from the very first fixture, played in 1888 in such good spirit that one commentator at the time was inspired to write that the teams "got on so well that you would believe that they were old firm friends", the game has somehow mutated into the tense affair it is now. The teams certainly started out with quite a close relationship, playing many friendlies in front of huge gates. But like all good things, this relationship came to an end as the games became bitter, hard-fought encounters with pitch invasions, mass brawls, arrests - even deaths. An activist group that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow has reported that on Old Firm weekends, admissions to hospital emergency rooms increase nine-fold over normal levels, and journalist Franklin Foer noted in his book, "How Soccer Explains the World", in the period from 1996 to 2003, eight deaths in Glasgow were directly linked to Old Firm matches.

Season 2008/09
In the first encounter between the two sides earlier on in the current season, it was two goals from Kenny Miller, a former Celtic and Rangers player back in his second spell at the Ibrox side that helped Rangers win 4-2 at Parkhead. Celtic got their revenge in the return fixture just after Christmas - a single goal by Scott McDonald proved enough in a game played in treacherous conditions.

There's a lot to play for - as always - in tomorrow's fixture: whoever wins, goes top of the Scottish Premier League. Celtic and Rangers lead the table by 15 points from the team in third, Dundee United, so let there be no doubt that one of these two teams will win the league.

Players to watch
Normally it is the league's top scorer Kris Boyd who gets all the focus, but should he play on Sunday, it's 17 year-old John Fleck who may well be the one to make the headlines. He's only played a few games since breaking through to the first team last year, but already he's been widely tipped for a glittering career. There's even talk of a Scotland call-up against Holland next month. An attacking midfielder, he follows in the footsteps of his uncle Robert Fleck, who also played for Rangers before moving south to Norwich. Manager Walter Smith reckons Fleck is ready to make his Old Firm debut, but it's a lot of pressure to heap on a player this young - this is no ordinary game.

Prediction
Predicting the outcome of any Old Firm Derby is tricky; the first thing to do when trying to work out who will win is to throw the form guide of out the window and hope you've got a decent referee who can handle the pressure. We predicted a Celtic win in our 'Four To Follow' competition if only for the fact that Celtic are at home and that Kris Boyd, for all his 20 goals cannot seem to score in the big games. So, a Celtic win - but only just.

Celtic v Rangers
Sunday 15 January 2009
Venue: Celtic Park
Kick-off: 12.30 GMT

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 13 - 15 February

(All times - UK)

Friday 13th February

19.30 Hoffenheim v Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Another bumper weekend of football begins with this tie between the teams currently 1st and 5th in the Bundesliga. The last time they faced each other back in August, it finished 5-2 to Bayer at which point you'd have been excused for thinking Hoff's great start to the season was already over. If after 19 games they still haven't convinced you, tune in for what could be Hoffenheim's revenge.

Saturday 14th February

12.45 Swansea City v Fulham, FA Cup 5th Round, ITV1 (excluding Scotland) / ITV HD (Freesat only) / Setanta Sports 2 (Scotland only)
Those Super Swans dumped Portsmouth out of the last round of the Cup, so why not Faltering Fulham too? Swansea are looking to make it sixteen consecutive matches unbeaten in all competitions with a win here and against a Fulham side that hasn't won away in the Prem thus far, it's entirely possible.

17:30 Watford v Chelsea, FA Cup 5th Round, Setanta Sports 1
The only slight relief for Watford is that Guus Hiddink will be watching this match from the stands rather than the bench. And that's about the only plus point we can think of, Hornets fans. Sorry...

19:00 Real Betis v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
The scoreline's been 3-2 after the last couple of meetings between these two - one in favour of Betis, the other, Barca. Given the latter's cold, clinical 3-1 demolition of Gijon last weekend, we think Betis will be lucky to score at all today.

20:00 PSG v St Etienne, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Paul Le Guen will be hoping Guillaume Hoarau has his shooting boots on against Les Verts. He's second-top goalscorer in Ligue 1 so far but has been a bit quiet of late. A return to form could consign Saint Etienne to the relegation zone.

21:00 Valencia v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Malaga have won only one of the last fifteen matches between these two, so it's 'home win' all the way as far as can see. That said, Malaga's recent loan signing from Inter, Adriano, might turn on the style and cause a shock reversal of fortunes for his side. 'Might' being the operative word.

Sunday 15th February

11:30 Ajax v Feyenoord, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Two teams on a decidedly poor run of form. Ajax are fourteen points behind Eredivisie leaders AZ, while Feyenoord are flirting unnecessarily with relegation. Two great teams to watch in today's live game, then.

12:30 Celtic v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
SPAOTP new boy Seb ought to be giving you his considered opinion about this one, and if you ask him nicely, he might just do so in the not-too-distant future. Meantime, as far as league matches are concerned, it's 113 wins to Rangers, 96 to Celtic. Will the 'Draw' column be the benefactor today, however?

14:30 Everton v Aston Villa, FA Cup 5th Round, Setanta Sports 1
An intriguing tie, this, between two teams happily distancing themselves from all the mediocrity the Premier League has to offer. Given the battling qualities recently shown by Everton in the Cup, this could well go to a replay.

16:00 Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Last September, Real beat Gijon by seven (SIETE) goals to one. A more respectable scoreline is likely for Gijon tonight.

16:30 Derby County v Manchester United, FA Cup 5th Round, ITV1 (excluding Scotland) / ITV HD (Freesat only) / Setanta Sports 2 (Scotland only)
The Clough effect is already bearing fruit for Derby in the Championship, but this match might have come too soon for Nige and his men to cause any serious upsets. No harm in wishing for it, though.

18:00 Espanyol v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
You'd be inclined to think Sevilla should cruise to victory here, but recent form suggests a win is by no means in the bag. Espanyol have been making a nuisance of themselves recently too, so watch with interest if you dare.

19:30 Internazionale v AC Milan, Serie A, BBC3
Yes, BBC3 - the new home of Italian football (ahem). It's the big Italian derby tonight and though Kaka's out because of injury, there's still the draw of Golden Balls himself to lure people away from another re-run of Top Gear.

20:00 Atletico Madrid v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Sky's fifth Spanish game of the weekend. It's just a pity they can't get the rights to Serie A, then there'd be none of this tokenistic nonsense the Beeb are proffering at the moment. Home win.

20:00 Monaco v Marseille, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Monaco are finally on the up and Marseille are still serious title contenders too. A great match to end your weekend - unless you're a Monaco supporter, in which case a slim defeat might well be on the cards.

Four To Follow

Hoffenheim v Bayer Leverkusen
Chris: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Away win; Seb: Draw.

Celtic v Rangers
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Everton v Aston Villa
Chris O: Draw; Duffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Away win.

Internazionale v AC Milan
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Home win.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

World Cup 2010 Round-up: February 2009

With the end-of-year international break now over, it's time once again to plunge head first back into the qualifying competition for the 2010 World Cup Finals.

The last 24 hours have seen a return to action for the remaining teams in Asia and the CONCACAF regions, so let's begin our round-up of who did what with the first of those…

Asia
You'll remember from our last thrilling instalment that we're now in the last qualifying round here and only ten teams are left. Of those, four will earn a ticket to South Africa 2010, namely the two group winners and two runners-up. The two third-placed teams will enter a home and away play-off and the winner of that will meet Oceania winners New Zealand in a further play-off.

In yesterday's Asia matches, there were few goals to be found. In Group 1, Japan and Australia played out an uneventful 0-0 draw to retain second and first places in the group respectively while Bahrain picked up a surprising 1-0 win away to Uzbekistan to leapfrog Qatar into third place.

In Group 2, meanwhile, North Korea did well to beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Pyongyang while Iran and South Korea drew 1-1 in Tehran. That win for North Korea means they now squeeze into second place in the group just behind their neighbours south of the border with Iran dropping to third.

With Japan and Australia cruising in Group 1 and South Korea looking solid in Group 2, it would seem that the balance of power is now shifting away from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who have been two of the stronger Asian teams of recent times. A resurgent Iran and North Korea means there are now some new teams coming to the fore on the continent, but one of them will require a play-off if they're to reach the World Cup Finals next year.

The next matches in the Asian section will be played on March 28th, and with both group leaders sitting out the action, the key games will see Japan host Bahrain in Group 1 while North Korea play the UAE in Group 2.

CONCACAF
In the North and Central American zone (not forgetting the Caribbean, of course), we're down to the final round-robin group of six teams. The top three at the end of qualifying will go through to the Finals while the fourth-placed team goes into a play-off with the fifth best team from the South American zone.

And what better a way to start this final round of CONCACAF qualifying than with a match up between the two biggest teams, the USA and Mexico. They faced each other for the 56th time in Columbus, Ohio with both teams heading in distinctly different directions. The Americans were looking for a third straight shut-out on the trot while the Mexicans were trying not to contemplate the fact that their coach is perhaps more suited to a career at Portsmouth.

In the wet and windy conditions that prevailed, both sides battled away with no real emphasis on playing sexy football, but out of that it was the USA that scored first. Michael Bradley, son of head coach Bob, finished off a decent move just before half time to put the home side in front and it was Bradley again who doubled their lead in stoppage time at the end of the match.

That win leaves Mexico with only one point from their last four qualifiers and back in the same gloomy predicament they ended the last qualifying round in. Can Sven turn things around in time for Mexico before the end of the round or will it be 'adios Eriksson'?

Elsewhere yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago looked to have their away match against El Salvador all sown up inside the first half an hour, but they were forced to settle for a draw. Carlos Edwards (currently on loan to Wolves from Sunderland) gave T&T the lead with a long range shot after just seven minutes and Dwight Yorke added another from the penalty spot twenty minutes later.

But the home team struck back through an Osael Romero free kick eleven minutes from the end and with the El Salvador fans urging a last ditch equaliser in injury time, their wish was granted when Romero scored his (and his side's) second to earn an unlikely 2-2 draw.

Finally, Costa Rica had a rather more comfortable 2-0 win over Honduras in San Jose. A brace from Andy Furtado early in the second half means the Ticos share the lead at the top of the group after Matchday 1 with the USA, and who's to say they won't be the top two when the group ends in October?

Of more pressing concern are the next set of matches to be played on March 28th and 29th. USA travel to El Salvador hoping not to take their foot off the gas like Trinidad and Tobago did, while T&T play host to Honduras and Sven's Mexico side welcome the arrival of Costa Rica in what could be the key game of all three.

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