Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New England Kit - Your thoughts

So now all the dust has settled and every shred of fake imagery has been eradicated from our memories, what do we think of the new England kit? Quite radical, don't you think?

As you'll know of us by now, we here at SPAOTP like football kits in all their various colours and designs and this one is certainly worthy of special attention. Gone are all the red flashes, gone is the navy blue trim... hell, gone are the navy blue shorts too.

There's only one word to describe England's new outfit, and that's 'white'. That in itself is likely to divide those people that believe England should always wear the blue shorts, but let's face it, England have played in all white before on the odd occasion and it's never been much of an issue.

The other key factor about this new kit is the styling of the shirt. Many years ago, Umbro shirts used to have a tag sown into them that said "Tailored by Umbro in England" and in exploring the company's origins you get the feeling that Umbro wanted to reintroduce that 'tailoring' aspect once again.

The new version of the shirt is cut in at the sides and on the shoulders to accentuate the shape of the chest better, it has a flappy collar that doesn't really flap that much and air holes to increase ventilation. All in all it has a more traditional look which, from some angles, makes it look like a polo shirt or even a vintage shirt from the early 1900's.

But that's what makes it so distinctive and utterly different from what's preceded it in recent times. Despite the fact that you, our humble audience, have already chosen England's 1982 World Cup strip as your current favourite, it seems Umbro have happily abandoned all the extraneous colours and styles in favour of something more simple and dignified.

So what are your thoughts? Does it meet your own high exacting standards? Are you planning on buying one, or do you feel it's a massive disappointment? We'd like to hear what you think, so leave us a comment to give us your feedback or vote in our online poll below...

What do you think of the new England home kit for 2009?
Excellent
Good
OK
Poor
Terrible
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Photo courtesy of blog.umbro.com.

Monday, March 30, 2009

ArenA Diary (Notes from Holland v Scotland)

It all started out so positively.

A lively start to the game saw our midfield dominate completely, with our two holding midfielders able to close down the opposition and steal the ball from under their feet. Given time on the ball to pause and look for our wingers getting into forward attacking positions, their defence-splitting passes found their target with consummate ease, like a hot knife through butter. With no answer to our incisive, relentless attacking play, it was no wonder that we were 5-0 up at half-time, cruising to a victory our stylish play deserved.

The second half promised more goals, but with another important 'must win' game next week, the manager decided to put the foot on the brake: the defence sat further back allowing the opposition to come forward more, hoping to catch our opponents on the break. But the trust that the manager placed in our two center-backs proved well founded. Apart from two scary moments at the end - a ball through the middle of the park was allowed to get through was followed shortly afterwards by a teasing cross that found its target, both expertly saved by the keeper who, despite the one-sidedness of the game, kept the concentration levels high - we deserved the win.

So that took care of my daughters hockey game. Later on that evening, I had the pleasure of sitting amongst 52,000 Dutch fans in a packed Amsterdam ArenA to watch Scotland get pumped 3-0 by Holland.

I'll not bore you with an intricate breakdown of the game because quite frankly, from my seat - section 117, row E, seat 36, roughly level with the corner flag - I was not up high enough to see the formation throughout the game. Instead, I'll share with you my thoughts as the game progressed.
  • Scotland fans are the best in the world. Holland fans are pretty good too. The atmosphere outside the ground before the game was cracking. Lots of booze, lots of men in kilts, lots of men (and women) in orange. No hassle, no fighting, no segregation.
  • I nearly cried three times during this game. The first time was when 'Flower of Scotland', the national anthem was played. If I hadn't torn my vocal chords to shreds singing along to '500 Miles' by The Proclaimers just 5 minutes before the anthem was played, you'd have heard me above everyone else.
  • The second time I nearly cried was when I heard the Dutch starting eleven.
  • Ross McCormack and Nigel de Jong are two of the 'chunkiest' players I've ever seen.
  • Jings. That's Arjen Robben. And there's Dirk Kuyt. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Oh, and there's Wesley Sneijder and Mark van Bommel. And that's Robin van Persie walking 50 meters from where I'm sitting. I wonder if he can hear me. Robin! Robin! Robin! Roooobiinnn. You're a fanny! Naw, he didn't hear me. Most of row E to A did though. Flying the flag lads, flying the flag.
  • Reading the papers after the game, every British paper said that Caldwell's goal should have stood, while every Dutch paper said the goal was rightly disallowed. So much for unbiased reporting.
  • It was a poor game for the Dutch also. The result flattered them, the 2-0 coming through poor defending, not classy Dutch play. Aside from those goals, Holland had very few chances.
  • I understand now when football pundits describe Dirk Kuyt as some kind of deranged labrador. The man runs around from left to right, up and down and back again chasing, and never quite getting, an imaginary stick.
You can forgive George Burley this game. A squad decimated by injury, patched together at short notice. Injuries to Stephen McManus left Gary Caldwell without his Celtic team-mate in the heart of the defence. Cristophe Berra, formerly of Hearts and now of the Wolves was brought in to replace him, a move fraught with danger as Berra had yet to start a competitive international for Scotland.

On the right, Graham Alexander had a torrid time against Robben and failed to act when Huntelaar got free to score, while Naymsith took over from where Alexander left off when Robben switched wings in the second half. Alan McGregor should have done better with the two goals conceded from open play. There are some that argue that McGregor was impeded for the second goal (I couldn't see from where I was sitting), but one wonders how well Craig Gordon would have dealt with the crosses that McGregor wouldn't come for.

Of the midfield (McCormack, Fletcher, Brown, Ferguson, Teale), only McCormack got time and space, managing to make some progress going forward but the final ball - as always - too poor to be of any use. Teale, I'm ashamed to say, I've never heard of, Fletcher (the only 'top level' player in the squad, shown left) and Brown where both poor, and Kenny Miller should have done better with that chance he had in the opening minutes of the first half.

No-one expected Scotland to win this game. A 3-0 defeat is progress of sorts (it was 6-0 last time out), and the pressure is now on Burley and his men to get a win against Iceland on Wednesday night. Nothing short of victory will do now for Scotland and the hope is that Burley will at least put out an attacking 4-4-2 if he wants to get out of Hampden, let alone the qualifiers alive. The hope is that our defensive options are more plentiful, though you'd have hoped that the back four that lined up against Holland will have less trouble with Iceland.

The only question then is who to bring up front with Miller. McFadden is out, Kris Boyd is still sulking, leaving only Garry O'Connor (himself only just back from injury) or Chris Iwelumo (whose height we could have used on Saturday and whose shameful miss against Norway could mean the difference between getting out of this group or not ).

All is not lost, but we've got to pick up points from the remaining games. Iceland and Macedonia have still come to Hampden, as do Holland in the last game of the qualifiers. By that time we can only hope that there's enough distance between us and the team in third to make the final game against the Dutch a formality. We certainly would not want a repeat of Saturday night at Hampden, otherwise expect the tar and feathers to be out.

Oh, and the third time I nearly cried? That would be towards the end of the game, with 5 minutes to go, 3-0 down, and the stadium starting to empty. From high above me to the right, in amongst the Scotland support, a lone bagpipe could be heard playing 'Flower of Scotland'. It brought a lump to my throat, so it did.

And I make no apologies for that - football does that to you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: March 30th - April 1st

(All times - UK)

Monday 30th March

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

With only one win in five, Woking's Conference status is in doubt. Cambridge are on a hot streak and would probably be top were it not for the fact that Burton are having a stunning season themselves. However, a rare win would see the home side out of the relegation zone.

Tuesday 31st March

19:45 Northern Ireland v Ukraine, U21 International, Sky Sports 1

The qualification for Denmark '11 begins before the Finals of Sweden '09 which does not take place until the Summer. Given the obvious fixture congestion it seems odd to have a round of friendly internationals burdening the international fixture computer, but there it is.

20:00 England v France, U21 International, Setanta Sports 1
Quite why it should be necessary to inflict said friendlies on a TV audience is equally baffling. For this match the question on everyone's lips is 'will Matt Derbyshire get called into England's senior team?'

Wednesday 1st April

10:00 Uzbekistan v Australia, World Cup Qualifier, British Eurosport 2
Yay Eurosport: Heroes of the unemployed. The Socceroo's visit to Uzbekistan kicks of this Asian Qualifier double header and provides the starting point of a top day of international football which does not stop 'till 4 in the morning (in TV Land the day officially runs from 6am to 6am). We here at SPAOTP are thinking of calling it the Wednesday Wall Of Football, or Wednesday Madness or Big Wednesday. Any suggestions? The Aussies are unbeaten in the group and six points ahead of their hosts. Avoiding injury will probably be the priority.

12:00 South Korea v North Korea, World Cup Qualifier, British Eurosport & British Eurosport HD
The Big One (sort of). The home side have dominated this keenly consisted fixture in recent years. Needless to say the South Koreans have benefited from exporting their players to foreign leagues and have a robust domestic league. The north have more pressing concerns like famine and oppression on account of them being ruled by a nutter. Having said that, the North are only two points behind their neighbours at the top and have played a game less. With the chasing pack taking points off each other, the prospect of both Korean nations going to South Africa is becoming more of a reality.

17:30 Scotland v Albania, UEFA U21 European Qualifier, Sky Sports 2
So here we go then. The road to Copenhagen starts here. Well actually, the Scots have just returned from Albania for the reverse fixture last Friday and have a 1-0 away win to show for their labours.

19:45 Northern Ireland v Slovenia, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 3
The Ulstermen sit proudly atop their group after that fantastic knockabout win over Poland. Nigel Worthington's men will be an entirely different proposition to the team that caved in against Slovenia last October.

19:45 Scotland v Iceland, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 2 & HD2
Our man in Scotland, Seb (who in fact lives in Holland) had some pretty strong words to say about George Burley after his team were beaten 3-0. A home fixture against Iceland should prove less of a challenge assuming the away side's travel company doesn't go bankrupt and they can't make the trip.

19:45 Wales v Germany, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1
Right so losing at home to Finland is not ideal preparation for meeting the Germans. However, John Toshack is a good manager and will know how cumbersome a German defence can be. Especially now that they are missing Hertha Berlin's captain Arne Friedrich due to injury. Could be an upset at the Arms Park.

20:00 England v Ukraine, World Cup Qualifier, ITV1 & ITV HD
Depleted after what was supposed to be a warm up match against Slovakia, England are looking for goals without strikers. Darren Bent is called up but fans should not be surprised if the 'Crazy Man' finds Steven Gerrard standing next to him come Wednesday night. A fact that will make Messrs Bent, Owen and Davies feeling even better about themselves I'm sure. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have the Bundesliga's in-form striker Andrei Voronin with a point to prove perhaps.

02:00 (Thursday morning) Brazil v Peru, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1
Hard to see anything but a Brazil wine here. Peru are bottom, the ban by FIFA, who got the nark with the Peruvian Government for interfering with the national FA, was lifted just before the start of this qualification period. Striker Claudio Pizarro is in bother with the Man and faces a lengthy ban if found guilty of acting as a player's agent which is forbidden. It's a bad scene all round for Peruvian football and an away win would be a minor miracle.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 28 - 29 March

(All times - UK)

Saturday 28th March

12:15 Wycombe Wanderers v Shrewsbury Town, League Two, Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports HD1
And welcome to an internationally-flavoured Weekend TV Preview which starts, naturally enough, with an intriguing League Two clash between these two play-off chasers. A win for Wycombe could push them up from fourth to second in the table but Shrewsbury are unbeaten in five. Shrewsbury put 7 (SEVEN) past The Chairboys in the LDV Vans Trophy last October, but this one has 'Draw' written all over it.

14:15 Iran v Saudi Arabia, World Cup Qualifier, British Eurosport 2
Our whirlwind tour of international football starts in Tehran where Iran look to boost their qualification prospects by beating a fast faltering Saudi Arabian team. A win will see them top the two Koreas in Asia Group 2.

15:00 Wales v Finland, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Two teams very much cut from the same cloth at the moment. Both have already permissibly lost to Russia, both have beaten Azerbaijan 1-0... the difference is Wales have beaten Lichtenstein 2-0. Class like that will be key in Europe Group 4.

17:15 England v Slovakia, International Friendly, Setanta Sports 1
England get the day off from World Cup duty and instead warm-up for next Wednesday's match against Ukraine with a friendly against the Slovaks. The Fighting Jondas (probably the best nickname for a national team ever) are no mugs and are currently leading Group 3. England have the chance to succeed where Northern Ireland failed last year - speaking of which...

17:15 Northern Ireland v Poland, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1
It's all pretty close in Europe Group 3 so it's not too late for the Northern Irish to get their qualification campaign back on track. That said, there's a bit of doubt creeping in about Nigel Worthington's tactical nous, so keep your fingers crossed he knows something about the Poles that we don't.

19:45 Netherlands v Scotland, World Cup Qualifier, Setanta Sports 1 / 2
Lots of talk this week about Archie Gemmill's wonder goal against the Dutch in the 1978 World Cup, and rightly so. Our man Seb will be at the Amsterdam Arena tomorrow hoping one of the current Scotland team can re-enact it, but frankly a tap-in from one yard out will be valued just as much by the Tartan faithful if it means the Dutch lose their first qualifier.



19:45 Republic of Ireland v Bulgaria, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1
The Irish are level on points with Italy at the top of Europe Group 8 so all eyes will be on the crunch match between these two in Bari next Wednesday. Meantime, there's the small issue of third-placed Bulgaria to deal with, not to mention the specific threat of one Mr. D. Berbatov. Will he be affected by Man United's recent demise, we wonder? Probably not, we surmise...

22:00 Argentina v Venezuela, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 2
Diego Maradona finally gets a chance to experience a competitive international some three months after he took over the reins at La Selección. Friendly wins over Scotland and France will have given him and his side more than enough confidence to deal with third-bottom Venezuela and just as well given Argentina's prolonged pre-Christmas malaise.

Sunday 29th March


16:00 Weymouth v Barrow, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Back in the Conference National, Weymouth look to arrest their run of eight straight defeats against a team even lower than them in the table. Hope springs eternal.

22:00 Ecuador v Brazil, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 2
Finally to Quito for something of an enigma. Brazil are second in the table, but six points adrift of leaders Paraguay. A cause for discontent among some, but Dunga's men can at least claim to have kept clean sheets in their last five qualifiers. Then again, they didn't score in three of those five games... Having said that... oh to hell with it - away win.

Four To Follow

Wycombe Wanderers v Shrewsbury Town
Chris O: Home win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Home win; Duffman: Draw.

Wales v Finland
Chris O: Draw; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Away win; Duffman: Draw.

Northern Ireland v Poland
Chris O: Away win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Home win; Duffman: Away win.

Republic of Ireland v Bulgaria
Chris O: Draw; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win; Duffman: Home win.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #106

Auch bekannt als...
12 Nicknames of Former German Football Players

1. Der Kaiser - Franz Beckenbauer
2. Der Afro - Paul Breitner
3. Ennatz ('Zebra') - Bernard Dietz
4. Eisenfuß ('Ironfoot') - Horst-Dieter Höttges
5. Das Kopfball-Ungeheuer ('The Header Beast') - Horst Hrubesch
6. Der Ausserirdische ('The Extra-Terrestrial') - Oliver Kahn
7. Die Katze ('The Cat') - Sepp Maier
8. Der Bomber - Gerd Muller
9. Der Boss - Helmut Rahn
10. Volkswagen - Karl-Heinz Schnellinger
11. Der Blonde Engel ('The Blonde Angel') - Bernd Schuster
12. Der Terrier - Berti Vogts

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who Are Ya? - The Scotland National Team

There's not many managers who enjoy an international break. Rafa Benitez for example, would be fuming at the temporary halt in league procedings that may at best disrupt Liverpool's cracking run of form or, at worst, give him an injury crisis to deal with. Sir Alex might have different views on this, perhaps using the time to restore calm and, above all, discipline back to Old Trafford. Either way, international breaks are like taxes: a necessary evil, best dealt with quickly and without fuss.

With Scotland due to play Holland in the latest round of 2010 World Cup qualifiers, we take a look at one of the sides in action in the Amsterdam Arena on Saturday as tonight, Matthew, we’re going to be: the Scotland national team.

So, who are ya?
Well, we’re Scotland and we are the oldest national football team in the world. We made our first appearance in a game against England in 1872, a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. Since then we’ve made eight World Cup appearances, qualifying for the first time in 1954 and again in 1958. After a wee absence, we managed to qualify for five World Cup Finals in a row, namely in 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990. Although we didn’t qualify in 1994, we did make it to France in ‘98. We’ve also been at the European Championships in 1992 and 1996.

Just don’t ask how we did in all these competitions; Scotland have never qualified for the second round in any tournament they’ve entered.

Any past glories?
The 5-1 win in 1928 by a team later called the 'Wembley Wizards' is as good a place as any to start. There’s Scotland beating newly-crowned world champions England 2-3 at Wembley in 1967. Or how about being undefeated in the ‘74 World Cup, where we lost out on goal difference to Zaire? And beating World Cup winners France twice in last years unsuccessful Euro 2008 qualification rounds wasn’t exactly shabby either. Shame about those defeats to Georgia and Italy though...

Plenty of low points, surely?
Though some say the ‘78 campaign was bad (and it was), two words will sum up Scotland’s international misfortunes better than anything else: “Berti” and “Vogts”. With other national sides getting a foreign manager, Scotland got on the bandwagon and appointed former Germany World Cup-winning captain Berti Vogts as manager in 2002. He started off badly, a trend he continued during his tenure at the helm. Home defeats to Norway and Hungary are forgivable; coming from behind to draw 2-2 away to the Faroe Islands isn’t. Two years, a 1-1 draw to Moldova and a 27-point slide down the FIFA rankings after he became manager, he resigned; Walter Smith took over, results improved and all of Scotland held a party.

Obviously, disappointment at not making the Euro 2008 finals was massive. Good performances against France were offset against struggles with the Faroes, Ukraine and Georgia. No-one expected Scotland to beat Italy, but in the 2-1 defeat in the final game, Scotland showed that they can compete with the very best teams in the world.

However, Jock Stein's fatal heart attack at the end of the 1-1 draw against Wales on the 10th September 1985, a result that guaranteed qualification for the 1986 World Cup, is probably the lowest point in the Tartan Army’s history.

Have you heard of...
Henry Waugh Renny-Tailyour? No? Well, The Royal Engineers player scored Scotland’s first international goal (and also our first away goal) back on the 8th March 1872 in a friendly game against England. It wasn’t all good news though - Scotland lost 4-2.

Or how about Ally McLeod? He took Scotland to Argentina in 1978, whipping up enormous excitement by asserting that Scotland would come back with at least a medal. He started a wave of enthusiasm and pride for the Scottish team that included a UK Top 6 song, 'Ally’s Tartan Army'. Despite going with a strong team that included Kenny Dalglish, Archie Gemmill, Joe Jordan and a young player making his debut in the dark blue shirt, Graeme Souness, upon arriving in Argentina things went from bad to worse.

A 3-1 defeat to Peru in the opening game, followed by a 1-1 draw against Iran meant Scotland had to beat group leaders and 1974 finalists Holland by three clear goals to qualify. They scored three alright, including 'that' cracking solo goal by Archie Gemmill, but the Dutch scored twice, meaning Ally’s Tartan Army were on the first plane home to Prestwick. McLeod only lasted one more game, eventually being replaced by one John ‘Jock’ Stein.

Stand up if you hate...
England have always been our traditional enemies - the 'auld enemy', in fact. Over the years there's been some exciting and hard-fought encounters, but since the British Home Championship (and the annual Scotland versus England game) stopped in 1984, meetings between the two sides have been sporadic, with the last game back in 1999 when Scotland beat England 1-0 at Wembley through a Don Hutchinson goal.

So, what's happening now?
George Burley is Scotland’s 21st manager, taking over from Alex McLeish who left to become manager of then (and soon-to-be again) Premiership side Birmingham. His term as manager got off to a slow start with a 1-1 draw against a strong Croatia team, followed by a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic. Two friendlies didn't exactly set the heather alight either: a dire 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Argentina showed there was still much work to do.

Burley's focus is now on getting Scotland to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - assuming it’s still held there by the time qualification is assured.

With three games played so far in the World Cup qualifying games, Scotland find themselves second in the qualifying group with one win (Iceland 2-1), one draw (Norway 0-0, a game more famous for the incredible miss by Wolves striker Chris Iwelumo from 20cm out) and one defeat (Macedonia 1-0). They take on Holland on Saturday - a team undefeated so far in the group.

What does the future hold?
Even if World Cup qualification is not achieved, Burely has a good squad on which to build. In Craig Gordon and Alan McGregor he’s got two great (and potentially the UK’s most expensive) keepers. If you’re looking for experience, Christian Dailly, Gary Naysmith, Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller can provide you a backbone from defence to attack. If you’re looking to build on the younger players, Heart of Midlothian’s Christope Berra recently made his debut, as did Cardiff City's Ross McCormack. Birmingham’s James McFadden scored 13 times in his 37 appearances so far. Rangers FC Hall of Fame inductee Barry Ferguson MBE captains the side.

A hot prospect for the future is Hibernian's 21-year old Steven Fletcher, Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year and top scorer in the Scotland under-19 side which reached the 2006 UEFA Under-19 Football Championship. He’s been tracked by Real Madrid, but it's looking more likely that a move to England is on the cards.

Encouraging to note also is that of the 20 players currently in the U-21 or U-19 sides, only four play for either Celtic or Rangers, suggesting that perhaps the youth system is working at clubs outside of the Old Firm.

The only disappointment so far has been Kris Boyd, currently top scorer in the Scottish Premier League who has vowed never to play again for Scotland while George Burley is in charge.

Anything you'd like to add?
Some interesting trivia for you. Did you know that:
  • All the players in that first game against England back in 1872 came from one team, Queens Park?
  • Or that up to 1909, Scotland used to play in pink, the colours of the honorary President of the Scottish Football Association, Lord Rosebery?
  • Or that Kenny Dalglish is Scotland’s most capped player and is, together with Aberdeen-born Dennis Law, joint top scorer with 30 goals?
  • 149,415 people crammed in to Hampden Park to watch Scotland take on England in 1937, an attendance which remains a British record to this date?
  • Or that 147,365 people turned up the week before that to see Celtic beat Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final and that this is the record attendance for a club match in European and British football?
Lastly, George Burley is the third former Ipswich manager to manage his own country. Your trivia question - who are the other two?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Clough'

I'm one of those who likes to read obituaries. I think most people who like sport do given the fact that when you're reading a paper from the back - as any right minded gentleman should - they're the first thing you come across after the sport.

On the other hand I don't have much time for biographies. On the face of it, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm being deliberately difficult, but they aren't the same thing. Biographies and memoirs are made to be sold, they need a constant stream of drama and salacious encounters to excite the interest of the buying public. Obituaries, on the other hand, are usually an account of the achievements someone made in their life.

Timed to coincide with the release of 'The Damned United', if the cinema release is a biography, ITV Sport's documentary 'Clough' is an obituary. A mix of library footage cut with comments from his family, friends and former colleagues, it follows his career from joining Derby County, through Leeds United, to winning two European Cups with Nottingham Forest.

A section of the documentary is devoted to David Peace's novel, the work of "faction" from which the film takes its name. When released, the story was presented as an imagining of events behind Clough's 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United. However, the book was greeted by those who survive as a flawed portrayal of what actually happened - a feeling echoed in the courts when Johnny Giles successfully sued the publishers for libel; a justice not available to Brian Clough or Don Revie. The producers of the film are at pains to stress that the film is far more sympathetic to Clough and even market it as a true story.

The documentary focuses on the key highs and lows of his career - and hence almost entirely restricts itself to the seventies: his fued with Don Revie, the successful years of his working with Peter Taylor, and the FA's appointment of Ron Greenwood as England manager. Yes it's nostalgia, but it doesn't allow itself to become overly sentimental. The final section includes a sequence that cuts from Brian Clough as manager of Derby to his son Nigel arriving at the club over 35 years later. This sequence graphically highlights the way the game (and in some ways, society) has changed over the intervening years. There's little said on whether the changes to the game are good or bad. Rightly enough that's left for the viewer to decide.

'Clough' is on ITV1 at 10.35pm, Wednesday 25 March.
For more information and to see a classic clip of Brian Clough locking horns with Don Revie in a classic TV interview, visit the ITV.com website. Our thanks go to all the good folk at ITV for allowing us to use their archive photographs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bundesbag Week 25: Breaking Babelfish

Well, if someone has to blink in this title race, it may as well be the leaders. As Manchester United will tell you, if you are going to have a momentary wiggins, it's better to have a four point lead at the time.

Perhaps it's inappropriate too compare the Hertha Berlin with one of the biggest, most successful clubs in Europe. But within context, Hertha have set themselves such high standards that the comparison is as much deserved as the pressure is immense. Their defeat was at Stuttgart (2-0 with goals from Cacau and Khedira). Markus Babbel's team, their 4-0 drubbing against Werder last week aside, are enjoying a decent second half of the season and have thrown themsleves into the mix for a European place.

So what next for Hertha? Well, the last time they lost, the team bounced back with three wins in a row. Next week they are at home to BVB who look to have half an eye on the holiday brochures. Perhaps its time to see what babelfish makes of the German translation for 'bouncebackability'.

Inevitably their lead was going to be cut. It was just a question of how many teams would capitalise? Well pretty much all of them except Hoff which is not a tremendous surprise. Their 2-2 draw against Hannover was their fifth in a row and sees them drop to fifth on 44 points, a clear 4 points away from the chasing pack.

As Ralf Ragnik’s team cling on to the final European spot, Bayern, Wolfsburg and Hamburg can only be separated by goal difference. The champions are second although a hard fought victory against Karlsruhe is hardly convincing. Mind you Franck Ribery was in good form by all accounts and his pass for Sosa’s goal was a worthy match winner.

It’s difficult to analyse Wolsfburg within the context of the whole season since their extraordinary run since the season restarted is at odds with their showing in the Hinrunde. Take their away performances for example. The Wolves have only won three away from home all season which is not terribly impressive. However, when you consider that all off those wins have happened in the last few weeks, that is pretty impressive. Their most recent away day frolic was at Bielefeld. A 3-0 win continues their phenomenal run of 7 (seven) straight victories in the Bundesliga. The question is, much like Hertha, how will they react to defeat or even to dropping points, assuming they do of course?

The final team on 48 points is Hamburg (or Martin Jol’s Hamburg as we call them in Blighty). They visited an increasingly disgruntled Arena Auf Schalke and escaped with 3 points thanks to a brace from Guerrero. Schalke may be joined my Oliver Kahn as their general manager shortly which may liven things up in Gelsenkirchen.

Elsewhere: Bayer’s disappointing form continued after a home draw with Frankfurt; Alex Frei’s goal at the Westfalon was enough for Dortmund to halt Bremen’s resurgence in its tracks; and Koln’s 2-0 win at Cottbus went some way to offset the disappointment of last week’s defeat to local rivals ‘Gladbach.

Speaking of which, Borussia Park was the venue for the big sechs punkter against Bochum. At stake was a place outside the bottom three. Buoyed by their improving form, the ‘Gladbach fans were in optimistic mood which lasted about half an hour when Dennis Grote’s stunning strike scored the goal that eventually won the game. It’s back to the drawing board for Hans Meyer and his men.

That’s it, results and tables here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 23 - 26 March

(All times - UK)

Monday 23 March


19.45 Dagenham & Redbridge v Brentford, League Two, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The Daggers need at least a point here to keep hope of play-off place alive. Brentford are still six points clear but have a big pack following should they slip up.

Tuesday 24 March

19.45 Histon v Stevenage, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Histon have halted their run of bad results with a 4-1 win over Grays. Stevenage are right on their tail though, taking eight wins in the last nine and unbeaten since early December. There are teams close behind waiting for either team to drop points and take their place in the play-offs.


Wednesday 25 March


22.35 Documentary: Clough, ITV1
Fascinating look at the managerial career of Brian Clough. A full preview of this will appear on this site tomorrow.

(Picture courtesy of ITV.com/football.)


Thursday 26 March

00.50 Aurora v Gremio, Copa Libertadores, Setanta Sports 2
Aurora Cochabamba have an extremely cool name, but have yet to set the tournament alight losing both their games so far before facing the current top team in Brazil. At 2574 m above sea level, the atmosphere isn't as rare as the Bolivian capital La Paz but could still have an influence on play.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Drawing Conclusions

There's certainly more than a passing similarity between the English Premier League and the Scottish Premier League.

For example, both are dominated by a small cluster of teams, both are divided roughly equally into three tiers, each separated by only a few points this season, and neither of the two teams at top of the league failed to capitalize on the misfortune of the other.

In England, Chelsea lost away to Spurs and Manchester United lost away to Fulham. In Scotland, Rangers only managed a draw against Hearts, while Celtic messed up their chance to extend their lead at the top of the SPL when they only managed a draw against Dundee United.

In a weekend in Scotland's top flight when only one team playing on Saturday managed to collect maximum points from their fixture, the table remains very much 'as you were'.

On paper at least anyway, the game of the weekend took place at Ibrox between Rangers and third-placed Hearts. Kyle Lafferty and club-captain Barry Ferguson put last year's losing UEFA Cup finalists ahead going into the second half, but two quick strikes in the space of three minutes from Karypidis and Palazuelos levelled the scores with 20 minutes left on the clock. A share of the points was probably a fair result, but the boos heard around the ground at the end of the game suggest all is not well at Castle Greyskull.

So when Celtic took to the field on Sunday, they new that a win against a faltering Dundee United would take them 5 points clear of their Old Firm rivals, but Gordon Strachan's side failed to capitalize on Rangers' result; the final score, 2-2 (Celtic were saved by Lee Naylor's equalizing strike nine minutes from time) keeps the gap between first and second to three points.

It's a result that suits Rangers (and neutral fans) more than it does Celtic, as it keeps the race for the title exciting. With Hearts and the rest of the chasing pack so far behind that any talk of an other team finishing second ("splitting the Old Firm" as it's called in Scotland, something that has not happened 6 times in the last 20 years) will have to wait until next season.

Elsewhere, Terry Butcher's Inverness Caley Thistle's good run of form which saw them beat Rangers, Hibs and Kilmarnock since the former England captain took over came to a sticky end when they went down 4-0 away to Falkirk. The win for John Hughes' men was only their third since January and keeps them at the bottom of the league, but they do remain in touch with the safety of 11th place - Caley are now just one point ahead.

There where no goals in the remaining fixtures. Neither Kilmarnock and Motherwell or Hamilton Accies and St. Mirren could score a goal between them, while Hibernian came close but failed to score against 10-man Aberdeen.

For Aberdeen, a season that can best be described as 'pffft' continues to disappoint; an embarrassing exit from the Scottish Cup in midweek to Division One side Dunfermline (incidentally manager Jimmy Calderwood's former club and the second season in a row the Dons are eliminated from the Cup by lower league opposition) have once again lead to calls for his resignation from some sections of the support, but it's unlikely to result in Calderwood's resignation.

While never popular with the fans, he is the club's most successful manager since Alex Ferguson and under his stewardship the Dons have seen their highest league finishes - as well as a return to European football - for some time. It remains to be seen whether Calderwood and assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl will remain with the club after the season has finished. He has been linked with a series of Championship sides recently, as well as with a return to The Netherlands, where Calderwood both played and managed.

The question as to who should take over if Calderwood does leave remains. The challenge at Aberdeen is to match the expectations of fans desperate for success with the reality of a remote club with limited funds. With many of the players that the club have targeted in the past preferring to play with teams in the lower half of the Championship due to the higher wages on offer there, attracting talent north will always be a struggle.

Added to this is the fact that there remains very little to play for in Scotland. The dominance of the Old Firm is such that mounting a serious challenge would require a great deal of investment, not to mention luck. Interestingly, Aberdeen are the last non-old Firm team to win the league, back in 1985, making them Scotland's equivalent of Blackburn Rovers.

With the number of goalless draws, the teams in the SPL would all do well to follow the example of Highland League champions Cove Rangers who nearly managed to score more goals in one game than the entire SPL put together this weekend. Their 8-0 win over hapless Fort William, arguably the worst team in British football today, was nothing unusual. In the last year or so, Fort William have been on the receiving end of two 10-0 thrashings, one 11-0, a 13-0 and no less than three 8-0's. If it's goals you want, you could do a lot worse than to check out the Highland League. We'll have an in-depth review of that soon.

Ok, that's it. For the SPL results and tables, have a look here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 20 - 22 March

(All times - UK)

Friday 20th March

19:30 Borussia Monchengladbach v VfL Bochum, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
A 'sechs punkter' if ever there was one. 'Gladbach are on the rise and have opened up the Battle of the Bottom of the Bundesliga. In a few short weeks, the home team have moved up two places to third bottom and only goal difference separates them and their guests.

Saturday 21st March

12:30 Kilmarnock v Motherwell, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Killie look set to spend the Scottish Clausura in the lower half of the table. Motherwell are level on points with Hibs who occupy the coveted sixth place.

12:45 Portsmouth v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The bottom of the Premier League is not for the faint hearted. Only West Brom look doomed and they could yet turn it round. Pompey are hovering over the relegation trap door and a defeat may see them faced with the ignominy of being below a team that is managed by Tony Pulis. Everton eat teams like Portsmouth for breakfast and will be eying up the back of Aston Villa's neck 'ere long.

17:20 Crystal Palace v Reading, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Reading manager Steve Coppell celebrated his 1,000th game as a manager in the midweek. Close to 600 of those games were for The Eagles. Expect a warm reception for the great man at Selhurst and a dire match that will probably end in a draw.

17:30 Newcastle United v Arsenal, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Newcastle find themselves in a similar position to Pompey earlier in the day, facing a top team at home. Arsenal look like their slump is at an end and are set for a strong finish to the season. The Magpies could easily go down this season.

19:00 Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Atletico Madrid are watching Villareal's fourth spot with jealous eyes. The home side should be happy to continue in the Champions League this year but will need to sort out their domestic form if they want to come back for more next season.

20:00 Marseille v Nantes, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Now is the time to get involved in Ligue 1. Three points separate the top four teams in the table. Marseille are in second after an engaging 3-1 win at PSG last week. This week they welcome a poor Nantes side. Only their nerves can stop them winning, you feel.

21:00 Sevilla v Valladolid, La Liga, Sky Sports 2
Sevilla will be anxious to maintain their six point gap between themselves in third and the aforementioned Yellow Submarine. Valladolid should cause them few problems.

Sunday 22nd March

13:30 AZ v Feyenoord, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
A tough choice for subscribers of Sky & Setanta. AZ are playing in a style commonly associated with the Dutch game and are top of the League by a street. Feyenoord have recovered somewhat and are unbeaten in four. Despite their dreadful season, UEFA Cup football is not entirely beyond their reach.

13:30 Wigan Athletic v Hull City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Two gruff Geordies on the bench, two well-matched sides on the pitch. Bonkers Phil Brown would have targeted this match as winnable before he had his breakdown. City supporters will hope his tormented soul can be stitched back together and inspire his lads against a decent Wigan side. Good game this.

14:00 Dundee United v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The newly crowned CIS Cup holders can now concentrate on the League. Which is as well since any points droppage will open the door for their Old Firm rivals. United have only managed recent wins against St Mirren and Falkirk who are rubbish. A definite Away Win on your pools coupon.

16:00 Liverpool v Aston Villa, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
The Big One. Rafa has his contract and won his power battle with the Liverpool board. Buoyed by their fantastic performance at Old Trafford, the Reds must follow up with a win against a team that, despite their current form, are formidable opponents. Victory for Villa may have a positive effect on their morale and give them the spark to reignite their season.

18:00 Barcelona v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Having paid a visit to Kwik Fit, the wheels are back on Barca's title challenge. This is bad news for Malaga who are having a pretty good season, giving that they were in the Second Division last year. They sit handily in sixth place.

20:00 Toulouse v PSG, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
The Parisians should have gone top last week but were denied by Marseilles and their own indiscipline. Now they have to go to Toulouse who are only three points behind them and will fancy a crack at the title themselves.

Four To Follow

Crystal Palace v Reading:
Chris O: Draw; Sp3ktor: Away win; Seb: Away Win; Duffman: Draw.

Wigan Athletic v Hull City
Chris O: Draw; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home Win; Duffman: Home win.

Liverpool v Aston Villa
Chris O: Home win; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home Win; Duffman: Home win.

Toulouse v PSG
Chris O: Home win; Sp3ktor: Away win; Seb: Away Win; Duffman: Draw.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #105

This time, we'll get it right...
12 Players From The 1986 England World Cup Squad Who Went On To Become Managers

1. Peter Shilton (Plymouth, 1992-95)
2. Glenn Hoddle (Various including England, Chelsea, Tottenham, 1991-2006)
3. Alvin Martin (Southend, 1997-99)
4. Terry Butcher (Various including Coventry, Motherwell, Sydney and currently Inverness CT, 1990 onwards)
5. Bryan Robson (Middlesbrough, Bradford, West Brom and Sheffield United, 1994-2008)
6. Ray Wilkins (QPR and Fulham, 1994-98)
7. Mark Hateley (Hull City, 1997-99)
8. Viv Anderson (Barnsley, 1993-94)
9. Terry Fenwick (Portsmouth and Northampton, 1995-2003)
10. Peter Reid (Man City, Sunderland, Leeds, Coventry and currently Thailand, 1990 onwards)
11. John Barnes (Celtic and currently Jamaica, 1999 onwards)
12. Kerry Dixon (Doncaster Rovers, 1996-97)

Champions League Quarter Final draw (kind of)

The draw for the quarter finals of the Champions League has taken place at UEFA headquarters as Europe's best teams awaited their fate in the competition.

Last year's beaten finalists, FC Vulva of Sweden were drawn to play this year's surprise package from Russia, Titanium Membrane. The Russians have only reached the quarter final stage once before in 2001 when they were knocked out by Taramasalata of Greece, so they'll be hoping to avoid a similar upset this time around.

A clash between the giants of Europe is on the cards between Italian club Inter Fiore and Spanish champions Atletico Supporto. Many of the neutrals will be favouring the Italians to win, but the Spaniards are renknowned for their ball control and may have the upper hand as a result.

Elsewhere, the Germans of SV Grosse Wichser will meet Destituto of Portugal at a packed Manfredmanstadion in their first leg tie while Caramel Brulee of France play Turkish side Erectile Dysfunction in a match which looks set to be anything but a let down.

All ties to be played on April 14th and 13th 2009.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SPAOTP's Virtual Museum of World Football #2

Johan Cruyff's Modified Netherlands Shirt (as worn during the 1974 World Cup)

It's a story that's often been told, but we'll tell it again for the purpose of admitting another object into our Virtual Museum of World Football.

In 1974, the tenth FIFA World Cup Finals were held in West Germany. Football was exploding into the worldwide phenomenon we know today thanks to the exploits of those skilful Brazilians four years earlier, and the hunger to find new footballing heroes was unquenchable.

Luckily, the Dutch were sending their best ever team of players to the World Cup and one man amongst them had the necessary skills to demand everyone's attention - Johan Cruyff.

By 1974, Cruyff had become one of the big names in world football. With Ajax, the club he joined as a 10-year-old, he'd achieved almost everything it was possible to achieve. He'd won the Dutch League, the Dutch Cup, the Dutch Footballer of the Year title, the European Footballer of the Year title, the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

It was hardly suprising, then, that such an amazing talent was attracting the attentions of some of the world's bigger clubs. In 1973, Barcelona offered Ajax around $2 million - an incredible fee at the time - and it proved too big to turn down. Cruyff joined the Catalans and promptly continued scoring goals the way he'd always done for Ajax and his country.

Cruyff was now the subject of numerous sponsorship deals and big-money advertising contracts, one of which would go on to pose a dilemma for the Dutchman. Sportswear company Puma had paid Cruyff a lot of money so that he'd promote their football boots and other equipment, and it was his intention to repay their generosity by remaining loyal to their brand.

Unfortunately for him and Puma, the Dutch football team had reached the 1974 World Cup and had their own agreement to wear Adidas apparel. Cruyff knew that he couldn't be seen to honour his contract with Puma by wearing another manufacturer's kit, so he used a little ingenuity to get around the problem.

Adidas had made a set of orange shirts for the Dutch team that featured the company's trademark three stripes in black running down the sleeves, but Cruyff had realised that it was actually possible to unpick them from the shirt. He therefore removed one black stripe from each sleeve, and in so doing rendered Adidas' most recognisable device depleted.

It was enough to allow Cruyff to take to the field with a clear conscience and Puma to rest easy in the knowledge that their star man wasn't showing misplaced allegiances.

As such a well-known example of football ephemera, it's only right that Cruyff's customised Netherlands shirt should take its place in our Virtual Museum, so let's put it in a glass case alongside Bob Stokoe's red tracksuit bottoms and admire the true genius of a real Dutch master. Johan, we salute you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bundesbag Week 24: Tor! Tor! Toronin!

It's official - Hertha Berlin are interested in winning the Bundesliga. Few people were convinced by their indifferent start to the season and when their surging run of form in November came crashing to an end around Christmas time, even more were left shaking their heads. Now, however, it's all coming good and that's largely down to the free-scoring exploits of Andrey Voronin.

The Liverpool loanee was on target again at the weekend during Berlin's 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen and though his winning goal was a little fortuitous, it was nevertheless good enough to maintain his team's four point lead at the top of the table.

In a very even game, Voronin attempted a shot on goal five minutes into the second half, but his rather average attempt was spilled by Leverkusen goalkeeper Adler. With Voronin still running in on goal after the shot was taken, the ball bounced back off his arm (a contentious issue in itself) and went in from close range.

A little slice of luck for the league leaders, then, but few would begrudge Hertha a win going by their recent performances that have seen them drop only four points out of the last 21 available. Matching Hertha point for point (and beyond) are a resurgent Wolfsburg who were one of five teams to bag four goals this week. Against a woeful Schalke (whose defence was practically non-existent for large parts of the game), they were able to be a little slack themselves while relying on the prolificness of Brazilian striker Grafite who bagged two in a 4-3 win on Friday.

Depsite crashing out of the UEFA Cup last week, Wolfsburg head on up to third in the table following their victory over Schalke and are now level on points with Bayern in second place and Hamburg in fourth.

Bayern were no doubt assisted ably in their 3-0 away win at Bochum by the sending off of Marc Pfertzel for a very dubious foul on Sosa in the penalty area. Far be it for us to suggest Sosa has learnt a thing or two about diving from his coach - suffice to say he successfully earned Bayern a penalty and Pfertzel his marching orders.

Despite the penalty not being converted, the one man advantage undoubtedly helped the away side consolidate their 1-0 lead which was soon doubled and then tripled thanks to goals from Lahm and Dimichelis in addition to the 32nd minute strike from Ze Roberto.

Martin Jol will be pleased to see his Hamburg side still hanging in there. A comfortable 2-0 home win over Energie Cottbus means they've now created a two point gap ahead of Hoffenheim who now find themselves in fifth. Hoff started well enough and ended their recent goal drought when Carlos Edwards scored after ten minutes, but Eintracht Frankfurt got their equaliser through Michael Fink just after the restart and went on to lay siege to the Hoffenheim goal right through to the end.

Despite looking more like future Europa League fodder than Champions League challengers, Hoffenheim will be glad to get their fourth successive draw behind them and will no doubt look forward to the visit of Hannover 96 next Saturday. An added bonus also came in the form of a 4-0 trouncing of near rivals Stuttgart away to Werder on Sunday. Markus Babbel has transformed the fortunes of Die Roten since he took over as boss there, but his team's nine game unbeaten run came to an abrupt end at the Weserstadion.

It was Diego who made the initial breakthrough with a brilliant free kick on 34 minutes before Pizarro followed suit with a great long-range effort eight minutes into the second half. Stuttgart were left with no option but to go on all-out attack, but the resulting defensive gaps led Markus Rosenberg to grab two goals in the last half hour to cut short Babbel's march up the table.

Elsewhere, bottom club Karlsruher were cruelly denied a vital point when Zlatko Janjic scored a late goal for fellow relegation strugglers Arminia Bielefeld. That 1-0 result sealed a fourth straight defeat for Edmund Becker's team who remain three points adrift of Cottbus. Borussia Monchengladbach, however, appear to have turned a corner after they beat FC Koln 4-2 away. The North American pairing of Rob Friend and Michael Bradley accounted for three of The Foals' goals, and though Miso Brecko pulled two back for Koln, it wasn't to be their day.

Finally to the only other game we've not yet mentioned which proves that 'mid-table' and 'mediocrity' need not go together in any football-related sentence. It took place at the AWD Arena and saw visitors Borussia Dortmund take an early 2-0 lead over hosts Hannover thanks to an Alexander Frei penalty and a Florian Kringe goal from open play.

A quarter of an hour later, Hannover scored twice themselves - one either side of the break from Stajner and Bruggink - to level the score at 2-2. Kringe and Frei then hit back with another two in the space of three minutes to restore the visitors' two-goal advantage before Hanke pulled it back to 3-4 and Mikkel Forssell scored from the penalty spot within the last ten minutes to finish the game at 4-4.

Quite an exciting game to finish with and all the more remarkable for the fact that it took place between two teams going nowhere in the Bundesliga at the moment. All of which just goes to show that you don't necessarily need a blonde pony-tailed Ukrainian to bag you a few goals, but it does help if you can find one.

That's all for now - results and table here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scottish Football Roundup

With only a few more rounds of games to go before the frankly absurd league split in April, Celtic and Rangers took some time off from putting even more points between them and the rest of the league by competing in this years Scottish League Cup final, also knowns as the 'Co-operative Insurance Cup'.

As always between these sides, it was a mighty stramash with the two goals that won it for Celtic coming late into extra-time. Darren O'Dea got proceedings off to a start when he looped a header over Alan McGregor in the 94th minute, and Aiden McGeady settled the matters from the penalty spot after he was brought down by Rangers' Kirk Broadfoot, who was also sent off for his troubles. The win earns Celtic their 14th League Cup (only 11 wins behind Rangers now in this competition) and some much needed good news for manager Gordon Strachan who had been on the receiving end of criticism from his own fans.

And while the cats are away, the mice do play. With neither of the Old Firm in league action, the teams chasing those all-important third and fourth places where having their day out. Of the teams that make up the top-half of the table, only Aberdeen won this weekend. They eased their way past Hamilton Accies, Chris Maguire getting on the scoresheet on the half-hour mark in a game played in blustery north-east conditions. Aberdeen remain undefeated at home since October of last year, while for the Accies their terrible away form continues - they've recorded only two wins on the road so far this season. They'll be wanting to get themselves into the top half of the table to assure themselves of survival in their first season back in the top flight, but their performances in the league so far have surprised many.

Third-placed Hearts lost out in the Edinburgh derby, going down 1-0 to a Hibernian side desperate to regain some form and remain in the running for that sixth spot come the league split. It was an exciting encounter, with both teams reduced to 10-men before the break. Hearts keeper Janos Balogh was first to the dressing room, if not the ball, as he slid in on Stephen Fletcher - missing him by as much as 30 feet if the Hibs forums are to be believed.

Not long afterwards the red card made its second appearance of the day as Hibs defender Souleymane Bamba was dismissed for bringing down Christian Nadé on the edge of the box. The winning goal for Hibs came courtesy of Stephen Fletcher; the Scotland international attempted a header but he only managed to get his shoulder to it, looping the ball over Balogh's head and into the net. Hearts remain in third place, while Mixu Paateleinen can enjoy his first ever Edinburgh-derby win since becoming manager of Hibs.

Elsewhere, Dundee United's slump continues as they lost 2-1 away to Motherwell. United's season had been going well, the Terrors recovering from a woefull start to the season to fight their way into third spot. But with only three wins from their last ten matches (and all of those coming against teams from the bottom half of the table), United have slipped back to fifth spot, level on poins with New Firm rivals Aberdeen.

For Motherwell, the season is finally beginning to pick up after a poor start and early elimination from European competition. John Sutton fired the Steelmen into the lead on the half-hour, Francisco Sandaza equalized for United after the restart, but the points where secured when Dave Clarkson, Motherwell's top scorer this season scored with a header from close range.

Terry Butcher continues to do what he does best, namely saving teams from impending relegation. Since taking over at Inverness Caley Thistle, he's steered the club out of the relegation spot with wins over Hibs, Rangers and, now for the second time, Kilmarnock. All the goals where scored in the first half; Foran and Black put Caley 2-0 up with only 20 minutes played. Simon Ford got a goal for Killie just before the break.

That's it for now, results and table are here.

If there's a topic about Scottish football you would like us to cover, whether it's a team or player profile, a season in review or just anything to do with the game north of the border, drop us a comment and we'll get right on it!

Midweek TV Preview: 16 - 19 March

(All times - UK)

Monday 16th March

20:00 West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Welcome to another week of TV Previews here on SPAOTP. We start with The Baggies' trip to Upton Park which, in the past, has often gained them an unlikely win. Despite West Ham recently making 7th spot in the table their own while playing with reasonable flair and confidence, this won't necessarily be the nailed on three-pointer a lot of people may think it'll be. Hammers beware...

Tuesday 17th March

19:45 Arsenal v Hull City, FA Cup 6th Round, Setanta Sports 1
At last - Chelsea get the chance to size up the two teams they may end up playing in the semi-finals next month. 'May' being the operative word... if this one ends up a draw, the resulting replay will probably mean the Final gets played at the start of next season. Best hope that The Gunners keep up their recent tendency to score goals by the hatful - or Hull, depending on who your allegiances are with.

Wednesday 18th March

19:45 Aberdeen v Dunfermline Athletic, Scottish Cup 6th Round Replay, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
And just to prove such tardiness doesn't only happen in England, here's an example of same from north of the border. These two teams drew 1-1 at East End Park on March 7th so it's all back to Pittodrie to see who'll play Falkirk in the semis.

Thursday 19th March

00:50 Guaraní v Boca Juniors, Copa Libertadores, Setanta Sports 2
Before you ask, Guaraní were the second best team in Paraguay last year. Now we've got that straightened out, we can also tell you that they're currently bottom of Group 2 having lost both of their opening fixtures against Deportivo Cuenca of Ecuador and Deportivo Táchira of Venezuela. A visit by Boca, therefore, won't exactly have them dancing in the streets of Asuncion tonight.

12:00 The Big Match Revisited, Series 2 Episode 12
As if the site of Glenn Hoddle's moustache last week wasn't exciting enough, this week the action goes up a gear with highlights of the 1979 League Cup Final between Nottingham Forest and Southampton. There are goals galore and some legendary players turning on the style, plus for all you connoisseurs out there, the rare sight of one of those footballs that had the red stripe going round the middle.

19:45 Kettering v Oxford United, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Kettering, currently tenth in the Conference table, play their 47th game of the season at home to an Oxford side only two places above them. The U's are looking ominous, though - they've lost only once in their last eleven games and appear to be putting in a kick for a play-off spot. With good luck and a following wind, they might just manage it too.

20:00 Aalborg v Manchester City, UEFA Cup Round of 16 2nd Leg, Five
Finally to Denmark where Mark Hughes will no doubt be hoping his side can get an early away goal to finish off the tie at a stroke. Ah, it could have all been so different had Aalborg not fired Bruce Rioch as manager last October...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 13 - 15 March

(All times - UK)

Friday 13 March

19.30 VfL Wolfsburg v FC Schalke, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
Wolfsburg have been on fire (in the League at least) since the winter break and have been pretty much unstoppable at home all season. Schalke have been unable to maintain any form this season and will probably be happy with a point. Previous encounters suggest that's what they'll get as this fixture has finished as a draw the last three times of asking.

Saturday 14 March

12.30 Hibernian v Hearts, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Five games until the start of the Scottish version of a Clausura, finds Hibs wobbling above the cut-off line on goal difference alone. Hearts are comfortably third and are the form team in the SPL, but as the cliche goes - form counts for nothing in local derbies.

12.45 Manchester United v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Despite an amazing win against Real Madrid this week, in my opinion Liverpool just aren't as good as everyone says they are. Manchester United, on the other hand, are.

17.20 Doncaster Rovers v Birmingham City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A tough fixture for Alex McLeish, with Donnie coming into the game on a run of four straight home wins. 39-year-old Doncaster goalie Neil Sullivan has conceded just four goals at home since the beginning of November. For the benefit of younger readers, Sullivan is the guy picking the ball out of the back of the net for most of the top ten of those 'Greatest Goals of the Premier League' DVDs.

21.00 Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Bilbao have had a rollercoaster season and right now the ride is speeding downwards. Not a good time to face a Real team chasing down Barcelona and looking to make up for their midweek Champions League exit.

Sunday 15 March

11.30 Feyenoord v PSV, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 2
Feyenoord's season has shown some improvement in recent weeks but then it couldn't really have got much worse for them. PSV's season is petering out with them currently marooned in fifth spot. Historically, one of the major ties of Dutch football is, this season, not much more than a mid-table scrap.

13.30 Bristol City v Cardiff City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Cardiff have a pile of fixtures to get through before the end of the season, and while on paper they could gain automatic promotion if they win their games in hand, the play-offs look more realistic. Bristol have genuine play-off ambitions themselves and will go above Cardiff, for the moment at least, with a home win.

13.30 Chelsea v Manchester City, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Battle of the Bling, Clash of the Cash or however Setanta are marketing it sees City looking for their first away win since August. Knowing the bizarre nature of the club, this could be the place they get it.

15.00 Celtic v Rangers, Co-Operative Insurance Cup Final, BBC1 Scotland (Sky Channel 971)
The two giants meet for the 13th time in the League Cup Final. Rangers currently lead 8-4 but it's Celtic that go into the game as slight favorites, despite being knocked out of the Scottish FA Cup last week by St Mirren. The only thing you can predict from this final is that it won't live up to the hype.

16.00 Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
This is the time when Villa really do need to hold their nerve. Arsenal could take their precious fourth spot from them on goal difference before this game kicks off and with Liverpool and Manchester United their next opponents it would be easy for their heads to drop. Arsenal's run-in is just as bad though, but Villa will need a win here to maintain pressure.

18.00 Atletico Madrid v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Atletico are putting their coats on, making their excuses and are looking to follow Valencia out of the Champions League qualification party. Villareal are still holding fourth spot, and probably don't aspire to much else this season.

20.00 Almeria v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
The way Barca tore apart Lyon midweek you wouldn't believe they were in the middle of a mid-season crisis; their win last week ended a run of one point from a possible nine. Almeria are mid-table at the moment but much like the Premier League, three points seperates the eight teams above relegation, so they're not safe yet.

20.00 PSG v Marseille, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
Second plays third. It's heading towards a fantastic "heure de grinçant derriere" in France as PSG sit just a point below Lyon. The champions have to play both these teams during the run-in, so a draw here wouldn't be the end of the world.

Four To Follow

Manchester United v Liverpool
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Home win; Seb: Home win.

Chelsea v Manchester City
Chris O: Home win; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Away win.

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

PSG v Marseille
Chris O: Draw; Duffman: Home win; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Home win.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #104

Rain didn't stop play...
10 Football Games You Can Play In Your Own Home

1. Subbuteo



2. Striker (or for the really posh, World Cup Super Striker with subs and floodlights)



3. Wembley



4. League Championship



5. Soccerama



6. Penalty!



7. Fantasy Manager



8. Top Trumps



9. Logacta chart soccer (for the nerds)



10. Kick-Off



Some People Are On The Pitch wishes to thank Paul for suggesting the above list, and if your want to wallow even further in nostalgia, feel free to visit his website - www.oldfootballgames.co.uk.

If you've got an idea for a Friday List, why not do the same? Contact us at info [at] spaotp [dot] com and we'll do our best to show it to the world...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

World Cup Bid 2018: Belgium and the Netherlands

If a friend of yours said they were about to bet thousands and thousands of Pounds (or indeed any currency of your choice) on a horse that had a 12/1 chance of winning, you'd probably do all you could to talk them out of it - probably just after you called their sanity into question for being so stupid. As it is, that's pretty much what the Benelux countries (including Luxembourg) are about to do, only no-one will be able to talk them out of it and no horses will be involved.

When Sepp Blatter proclaimed that any joint bids for the 2018 World Cup would only be considered if there weren't any better ones from individual countries, you'd have excused Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for withdrawing their bid and forgetting all about the idea. Yet those same three countries working together in tandem were the first to submit their bid to FIFA and remain determined to show that the smaller countries of the world can host a World Cup just like the bigger ones.

You have to say they have a point. In the interests of equality, there shouldn't be anything wrong with allowing small countries to work together in the name of hosting such a big event. What FIFA have a problem with is the sheer logistical mess that's generated from having two sets of stadia, two sets of administrators, two sets of transport infrastructures and two sets of everything else that's probably complicated even to begin with.

But that's where the Dutch and the Belgians hold a trump card because back in 2000 they proved they could organise a large-scale football competition in the form of that year's European Championships. Everything went off smoothly in retrospect and the end result was a tournament that was regarded very highly among those people who saw it.



This time around, the Netherlands and Belgium will be joined in their bid by Luxembourg, but only from an administrative point of view. The Benelux triumvirate will put on a united front during the bid process, but the smallest of the three countries will only host a FIFA congress and won't be gaining automatic qualification to the finals as co-hosts.

So all seems above board and ship-shape… what's not to like, then? Well if there's any chink in the armour of this, one of two joint bids for the 2018 World Cup, it's that old chestnut of having enough decent-sized stadia. It's a factor that will probably crop up time and again with all the bidding candidates, but Belgium and the Netherlands are already onto this potential banana skin too.

In Brussels, a need for a 60,000-seater stadium has already been identified and any one of three plans could be chosen to achieve this. It's possible that the former Heysel Stadium (now known as the King Baudouin Stadium) will be upgraded but if that's not suitable, a new stadium could be built either in Heysel Park or the Schaerbeek region of the city.

Similarly over the border, a new 80,000 capacity stadium for Feyenoord is likely to appear just a stone's throw away from their existing one, while other Dutch venues are also seeking to upgrade, replace or create stadia that can hold the sort of crowds only a World Cup would provide.

And all these sites will be accessible via a very impressive set of transport links. Whether by road, rail, sea or air, the Benelux countries are easy to reach no matter where you're arriving from around the world. No problems ensuring the stadia get filled, then.

All of which leaves us with the feeling that this bid isn't quite the misguided foregone conclusion we thought it might be. These two founding members of FIFA from back in 1904 (oh - and Luxembourg) clearly know what they're doing, they've got everything worked out and have got their priorities right too.

When you think about it, Sepp Blatter's belief that two countries shouldn't co-host a World Cup is a load of rubbish, especially if those two countries happen to be among the most ardent soccer-loving countries on the planet. Given half a chance, the Netherlands and Belgium could actually surprise a lot of people by hosting in 2018. It's just a pity the short-sightedness of FIFA's top man might prevent it from ever happening.

Do you think Belgium and the Netherlands deserve the chance to host World Cup 2018? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think, or perhaps register your vote in our online poll at the foot of the page.

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