Tag Archives: Football

Three Lions

Yes, I know the subtitle of this song is “Football’s Coming Home”, and football didn’t, but what am I supposed to do? It’s been a month or so since the end of the World Cup, and I think it’s enough time to be able to reflect on the event that crams 64 games into about 28 days, so here goes.

To start with, staging the finals in Russia has been discussed at length and needs no input from me. No one who follows football actually believed that removing Sepp Blatter and his cronies would make a difference in how FIFA does business, and of course, it didn’t. FIFA makes even the worst dictatorship look squeaky clean, and this was embodied in the opening game. On more than one occasion we saw shots from the V.I.P. box of  a triumvirate of evil; Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Gianni Infantino ( AKA Johnny Baby) and someone who I assume was Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other and chatting. To be honest, it looked like the supervillain conference scene from a James Bond movie: There’s always one Arab in traditional dress present, Johnny Baby looks like a Bond villain and Vlad the Invader IS a Bond villain.  The scene just reeked of influence, corruption and contempt, so it was no surprise when the hosts, the lowest ranking team in the competition made it to the quarter finals.

Do you honestly believe that their games were fair and square? I’m pretty darn sure that every single official involved with Russia’s game had a visit from a couple of big blokes called Ivan and Sergei who said:

” Mister referee, here is special gift from people of Russia. Is whistle for competition. Is good for use in Russia, it glow in dark, and it stay  warm, so please, keep hold of whistle. Russian winter is very cold and dark, and we want you to be safe and make right decisions in game. last referee who made bad decision sat on park bench in Salisbury, he get very ill. We not want that to happen to you.”

Or words to that effect. You catch my drift, anyway. You might think that not having any kind of television service would be a disadvantage, but far from it, as I used a couple of streaming websites and saw all, or at least highlights of 63 games. I didn’t bother with the third place playoff as it’s the most meaningless game in world football and neither team wanted to be there. I was pleasantly surprised at England’s performance as I’d expected the usual squeaking through the group and then going out in the first knockout round to any half decent team. Thankfully, not being in England I avoided the inevitable hype surrounding a decent run, although by the time the semi final came round, even I was beginning to think that I might be about to experience England’s second appearance in a World Cup final.

Mind you, as a Liverpool fan I had already experienced the result of getting over enthusiastic about a final once this season, so kept my own counsel. I don’t know if the Germans have a word for Schadenfreude, but there was plenty of that to go round, and as well as seeing the Germans finish bottom of their group, I took especial delight in seeing Portugal, Argentina, Spain and Brazil fail to make the last eight. I have nothing in particular against those countries, but seeing Cristiano Ronaldo have to go home early was a delight. I can’t stand the guy for a number of reasons: He thinks he’s Gods’ gift and makes no attempt to hide it, he’s not a team player and doesn’t track back or make any effort to help the team and if he was made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. So, seeing him trudge off the pitch after the Uruguay game looking like you could light a candle on his bottom lip gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. I should point out, as others have done, that the last time Germany failed to make the last eight of a World Cup was 1938. Yeah, I know. They didn’t take that defeat particularly well, so I’d do a bit of planning if I were you. Yes, I know a lot of people were joking about this, but not really joking.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I mean, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to winning in Russia, although at least this time the trip home won’t be quite so traumatic. I am, however, a little disappointed that Germany didn’t play any games in Volgagrad,  although I suppose that would have been a little tasteless.

As an Englishman, the most disappointing thing was England’s performance in the Semi Final. The way I look at it is that if you get that far, you go out and play the greatest game of your life, putting all your energy into the game on the principal that if you lose, you will at least go down swinging, and if you win, hell, you’re in the final, and you might not be fully recovered physically, but the adrenaline rush of being in the World Cup Final is enough to reanimate even the mouldiest of corpses. Alas, this never occurred to the English team, who apart from the free kick never looked like scoring. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were noticeable by their absence, and it just stunned me that they didn’t seem to realise that this game actually mattered.  As with all the other games I made a very strong effort to avoid learning anything about the game, so at least my day wasn’t ruined until the end.

My plans for the final were to watch it at home mid morning, until a friend offered to host me, as he has television service. Works for me, I thought, as long as his other half doesn’t object. In the end, two other friends, also expats announced that they would host a party in their workspace and had bought at 52″ T.V. in honour of the event. They popped by work the day before to buy ham and cheese for Panini, I brought some strawberries, and set off early on Saturday morning to indulge in that most English of activities, morning drinking while watching football.

There were about 18 present all told, most of them locals who were there for the social rather than the football portion of the morning, but my Chelsea loving expat friend and I parked ourselves in prime viewing spots and enjoyed what was, all in all a pretty good game. Of course I was disappointed, but in no way surprised that France won, but I have to say that Croatia ran them close at times, dominating the opening 20 minutes and giving as good as they got. By the end of the game, suitably full of beer and food we stayed to watch the trophy presentation ceremony, and I have to admit that there may have been some coded messages involved.

Firstly, as Putin stood on the pitch awaiting the completion of the podium, he was accompanied by someone who I can only assume was a very expensive Russian prostitute. I don’t know why she was there, as the rain made sure that the pitch was well watered. Maybe she was being rewarded for a job well done. The large flags or Tifos on the pitch were a regular feature of every game, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were being held by what appeared to be extras from a low budget 1980’s sci fi movie, nor why there was a line of female flight attendants standing behind the dignitaries. Of course, all this took a long time to set up, and was done purely for the cameras and the advertisers, no walking up the steps to receive the trophy as Bobby Moore did in 1966 and I did wonder why only Putin had an umbrella while the Croatian president, Johnny Baby and everyone else simply soaked. Talking of all things soaked, did you notice that when the confetti cannons were let off, they shot huge volumes of golden foil into the air? Hmm. A golden shower in Moscow. Nah, it couldn’t have been any kind of sly jab, could it? Admittedly, Putin did have a sly grin on his face, but then again, he usually does, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

So, not a bad way to spend a month. Plenty of football, not too many boring games, a lot of beer drunk whilst watching it and a fun morning to cap it all off. Now what do I do? I have to wait a full nine days for the start of the English Premier League season to begin, but at least that’s a damn sight less time than the 1,572 days 13 hours and 25 minutes until Qatar 2022. Assuming of course it even happens.

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Girls Just Want To Have Fun.

I’m sure you’re all sick to death of me bleating on about how great the kids are. If so, then skip this one. As you know, my daughter is something of an all-round athlete, and now that the softball season is over, her attention has turned to football. There is a regular sequence of events associated with the start of every season of every sport: First, a lack of enthusiasm, followed by the constant refrain of “I don’t want to play X, I don’t want to play X” followed by a slow growing interest leading to active engagement as pre-season practice begins.

This season was no different, except that her initial refusal to play was replaced by a “Maybe” when asked if she intended to play, although this may be due to the fact that  her best friend is one of her team mates. Due to the vagaries of the league schedule,  I have the kids on the weekends when her team plays away. There is only one U12 girls team on the island, so they are playing against teams from all over the county. The first game of the season was against a team based an hour away, and far enough off the beaten track that we could hear the banjo music long before we arrived. I won’t give a match report, except to say that despite a strong showing, her team,  now named “Riptide” lost. Not the best way to start the season, but at least they weren’t crushed.

I missed the second game as my sweetie and I were away for the weekend, making up for the fact that I missed the San Francisco trip. Again, the team lost, 2-1 and my greatest fear was that this  would turn into as dismal a season as her last softball season. Not so: the third game ended up as a victory, with my daughter getting her first goal of the season, so you can imagine how happy I was for her. Again, a familiar pattern emerged. She usually starts any season with some reluctance, but at some point, a door in her brain is unlocked and she realises: “Oh yeah, I’m competitive and aggressive”. From that point on, there is no stopping her, and she throws herself into the game with gusto.

This brings us to yesterday. The torrential rain of the night before, and the constant, often heavy  showers of Saturday morning left me with a sense of foreboding. I  had visions of the pitch resembling the first day of the Somme in terms of playability. I realise that the often knee-deep Flanders  mud didn’t stop some British troops from kicking footballs  in front of them as they left the trenches and walked very slowly towards the German machine guns, but I think it’s a bit much to expect 11 year-old girls to do the same, albeit without the machine guns.

This is not to say that she hasn’t faced similar situations in the past. Two years ago, her team played a game in November under inhuman conditions: As we parents huddled under a portable marquee, swathed in several  layers and  clutching insulated mugs, our daughters slogged through a quagmire in the pouring rain. My daughter has always disliked playing in goal, saying on many occasions that the Goalie always gets the blame when the team concedes a goal, and how she doesn’t like being cold, wet and muddy. However,  I have a picture on my phone from that day of her soaking wet and covered in mud after a stint in goal. She an expression of  unadulterated  joy and enthusiasm spread across her face, the result of the aforementioned door in her brain being opened.

Yesterday was a fine example of the determination that she and her team mates have developed: The team went 0-2 down, fighting back to lead 4-2 before ending the game as 5-3 winners. My daughter didn’t score, but throughout the game she showed commitment and determination, defending with strength and skill, often making important clearances. She does have certain advantages though. She is the tallest girl on her team, as well as being broad shouldered and athletic, although some times these traits work against her.

You see,   there is a substantial height variation among 10 and 11 year-old girls that is truly startling. Some of the opposing players  have been a good foot shorter than her, and referees, most of them dads themselves, presumably take such things into account. At the second away game, my daughter was running with the ball at her feet when an opponent much shorter and lighter than her attempted a tackle. They collided, with the other girl falling to the ground whilst my daughter barely broke stride. There was no malice involved, simply two girls subject to the laws of physics  attempting to control the ball, yet the ref awarded a free kick to the opposition, having, in his eyes at least, see a diminutive  player clattered to the ground by a bigger, stronger opponent. This  happened a couple of times to my daughter, as she quite vociferously told me after the final whistle.

I had to tell her that this is a common occurrence, even in professional football, and that at her  level, referees are often prone to their own biases, even when attempting to apply the laws of the game in as even-handed a manner as possible. However, I  did agree with her about the obvious favouritism of the referee – he being from the same area as the home team. Still,  her enthusiasm  for the game remains undiminished. No doubt two consecutive wins  for her team as well as her goal and sterling performances have helped in this regard. I don’t know how long her interest in the beautiful game will last, but as long as she enjoys it, I will be there on the touchline shouting encouragement and giving as much vocal support as I can. I do have to admit though, that at times I find it difficult to restrain my natural instincts and keep my shouts  “G” rated. It would be very bad form indeed for me to stand on the touchline and, to  the tune of the Pet Shop Boys classic “Go West” chant “You’re shit,  and you  know you are, you’re shit,  and you know you are” at a bunch of young girls.  Besides, I’ve seen some of the dads on the opposing teams, and they’re all  much bigger than I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kicker Conspiracy.

This one may be a bit wordy, so kick off your heels, loosen your corset, unsnap your stockings, sit back and relax. You too, ladies.

As you know (see “World Cup Willie”), football is an integral part of my life. I’m now able to enjoy watching whole games online just a couple of hours after the final whistle and I never fail to keep up with the highlights. The ups and downs of the 20 Premier League teams are a sort of soap opera, although over the past few years, the lack of variety and the inevitability of the top four spaces being occupied by both Manchester teams, Arsenal and Chelsea rather spoil it for the rest of us. Not so this year.

The EPL script writers ( Copyright Men in Blazers) have thrown everyone for a loop by introducing new characters, transforming others and sending some into what can only be described as a death spiral the likes of which one would never believe in real life. The stand out stars this year have been Leicester City, and for good reason. On April 3 2015 they were in 20th place with 19 points from 29 games and seemed a certain bet for relegation, yet one year later to the day, they were top of the league with 69 points from 31 games and barring an implosion of epic proportions are set to be champions. I can’t tell you  how happy it makes me to see them in the top spot. Not only have they upset the old hegemony but they have done it with essentially the same squad as last year and have played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen.  Added  to which, seven years ago their top scorer, Jamie Vardy was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels of the Northern Premier League Division One – the eighth level of English football – imagine the third string of a single A baseball team and you’re almost there. Now, he’s one of the leading scorers in the EPL and set to play for England in the European Championships this summer.

Seven years ago , AFC Bournemouth were at the foot of League Two – 92nd out of the 92 teams in the English professional system, with not even the funds to pay their milk bill, let alone their staff. Promoted as champions from the Championship last year, they are now set to remain in the EPL and pocket their share of the $5.1Bn television deal. You can’t help but love them, and not in a patronising way because they’ve fought like devils, beaten Chelsea and Manchester United and played some damn fine football along the way, and all on a  tiny budget. Their stadium holds about 11,500. Yes, you aren’t seeing things. There are high schools in Texas with bigger football stadia.

As a dyed in the wool Liverpool fan, the  collapse of both Chelsea and Manchester United brought a tingle to my special place, and it has been a delight to see the smug grins wiped off the faces of so many of their fans, as well as the managerial turmoil associated with the spoiled brats of English football not being given their free ride and automatic European Champions League spots.

It’s not all schadenfreude, though. I feel really sorry for fans of Aston Villa who have been treated like dirt by the club’s American owner, a man who cares naught for pride, history or the future and sees no further than the next dollar. It breaks my heart to see a once proud club reduced so, and only hope the fans and players stick together and refloat the sinking ship.

Now you may imagine that I take some delight from Everton’s increasingly poor league position, but not so. I like their manager, Roberto Martinez: He strikes me as a thoroughly decent chap doing his best with a limited budget. I don’t even have any animosity towards Everton fans as the blue half of Merseyside is as passionate about football as the red half. Throw in the performances of sexy, sexy Stoke ((C) MIB), Watford, West Ham and even Tottenham Hotspur who somehow managed to avoid their usual habit of fading fast, and it all adds up to a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable season.

“But what of Liverpool?” I hear you ask. Well, having sacked Brendan Rodgers as manager and replaced him with Jurgen Klopp, we’ve not really done all that well. The thing is, Klopp  has had to spend this season getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, and I expect a grand clearing out over the closed season and next year Liverpool will emerge reborn, ready for a rip roaring season and automatic qualification for the Champions League.  I accept now that our dominance of Europe is over – we steamrollered our way across Europe like  a Russian tank army from the late ’70s until the late ’80s and those days will live forever in football history, but it would be nice to recapture some of the old magic, I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to enjoy it all without the need to get up before the sparrows and been able to pause play to take a comfort stop or make breakfast.

I’m as old as “Match of the Day” and I can’t imagine not being able to see the show, even though Gary Lineker is the archetypal “Mum – safe” presenter so beloved by the B.B.C., Martin Keown is able to do nothing but recite statistics and Jermain Jenas looks like a little kid overawed by being allowed to stay up late and sit with the grown ups. One thing remains unchanged – Alan Shearer blowing up and barely controlling his urge to swear over yet another dismal Newcastle United performance as they slide relentlessly towards relegation. Someone had better load him up on doggy downers – they play Manchester City tomorrow and Liverpool on Saturday. At least that means next year he will be calmer. Unless that is, he joins Manish Bhasin as co-presenter of “The Football League Show” to provide insight into English football’s second tier.

 

 

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