Engerland out

England lost 3-2 to Croatia. It was all the sweeter because they (somehow) managed to claw themselves back to 2-2. It was undeserved and would have been a travesty if it had finished at that. One dodgy penalty and one (just one) nicely worked equaliser could not hide the truth: they were by far the worse team on the pitch. Hence, all neutrals could only applaud when Croatia sealed a fine win with a great goal in the 77th minute. And the timing was impeccable – giving England just enough time to mount a miserable attempt at a come back and prove just how bankrupt they really were.

Alan Hansen on the BBC called it right at the end: they could have lost by six or seven. Croatia looked liked scoring every time they attacked. They hit the bar, got a huge save out of Carson, and generally looked menacing. In contrast, England were bereft of inspiration, resorting to hopeless high balls towards Crouch in the last 15 minutes. It is like they reverted to national football stereotype at their point of worst crisis: simple, crude, inept, brainless, neanderthal football.

Every time I see their national team and, most of all, listen to their commentators, I cringe. John Motson is the worst. He is unashamedly biased and one-sided. He inevitably mentions 1966 at least three or four times every game. He will resort to “Come on England” when he has nothing else to say. He seems incredulous when the other team (whoever they are, they are all Johnny Foreigner to him…) scores or even manages to get beyond the half-way line. He will always patronise them – “This must be a significant victory for Croatia” was one example tonight. Why? Why John? Because they are a “little” soccer nation who just live for the day they can beat England? They’d already qualified for gods sake, they couldn’t care less. They’ll meet better teams in the European championships for sure and have many more “significant” victories. But he stupidly thinks the whole football world revolves around England. 

Motty was on perfect form tonight. Completely abandoning any attempt to describe the action in front of him, he resorted to imploring them to do something – anything – to turn it around. We would have got more insight from a three year old.

The truth is: English national football has always been bad. They have made one final ever – and that was 41 years ago, at home. They made a semi-final in 1990 – perhaps the worst football world cup ever. They have failed to qualify for many major tournaments over the last 40 years (1974 and 1978 being infamous, with 1994 another failure). Incredibly, their press and commentators always declare them favourites before every tournament! Incredible, because they have absolutely no reason to ever think they could ever win the World Cup. None.

And so, we have a whole summer without any English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh team in Austria/Switzerland. That will only be good for the tournament.


Definition of self-delusion

England are 2-0 down, at home, to Croatia, in a do-or-die game to qualify for Euro 2008. Croatia have just attacked to almost score a third. England luckily get the ball at the half-way line and John “Motty” Motson utters the immortal phrase: “…and England have drawn them out…”!!! England have drawn them out! Ha ha ha ha….I pissed myself laughing. That’s the funniest thing I have ever heard.

(If you detect schadenfreude, that’s because it is.)

Can’t wait for half time, to listen to Shearer and Wrighty et al….classic! The best pleasures in life are free.

Ireland’s new football manager

When Ireland played Cyprus recently, myself and the brother were sitting in €70 seats that we hadn’t paid for – they were freebies. I wouldn’t have paid to go. I even resented going for free in the end, it was that bad!

16,000 people did just that and failed to turn up for the game – many were people who’d already stumpted up the cash for tickets. But next time around, they just won’t put up the cash at all, if they feel they’ll have to watch some pathetic display.

In the World Cup campaign coming up, the potential loss to the FAI in terms of revenue would be the 16,000 vacant seats (conservatively) multiplied by the average €70 per ticket, by 5 games, making close to €5.6m in lost revenue. (Okay, that estimate is a guess…it could be worse!) 

My point is: it is worth it for them to pay for a big-time manager. With Croke Park available, it is essential that they fill it to capacity. And to do that, they need a credible manager with a track record. 

It won’t be O’Leary, because no matter what you think about his managerial qualities (and they are mixed) he would be too much his own man for the FAI to control him. Brady never showed any great qualities when he managed Celtic, and he would be too close to Dunphy and Giles too. Omar Troussier is too outlandish and unpredictable. Hiddinck would be too expensive and has a lucrative job with Russia (or Chelsea, if it happens).

Paul Jewell would fit the bill – he has experience, respect within the football community, and knows the Irish players. I wouldn’t say he’s my favourite for the job – but he’d be closest to ticking all the right boxes.

The latest news on this farce is that the FAI will appoint an expert committee to do the appointment for them. My problem with this is, who is selecting the “experts”? Of course: the same old muppets as usual, Delaney et al. It is a merry go round again. 

Ireland vs. Cyprus

My brother managed to get two free tickets for the Ireland vs. Cyprus game at Croke Park tonight, so we went along in hope to see some positive soccer. It was a rare opportunity to see the boys in green and you know what they say about looking gift horses in the mouth…

But, oh God.

Oh God.

I thought a 5-2 hammering away was enough embarrassment. But to watch, live, in the stadium, a 1-1 draw, and only because we squeezed out a totally jammy goal in injury time…simply terrible.

Cyprus deserved to be 2-0 up by early in the second half. They looked composed and controlled on the ball. They made the best chances and prevented us from testing their goalkeeper for most of the game. We looked good for the first 20 to 25 minutes of the second half, but after that…nothing. They took their goal really well and should have won. How we managed to score at all is a mystery. The 1-1 score is a travesty.

But I’m not one of those people who booed Staunton at the end. It is miserable enough for this proud man – with his fantastic service in an Ireland shirt over the years – to watch his team humbled again. But to have little shitheads and gurriers shouting abuse at him, that is too much. What have these 12 and 13 year old little morons ever done in their lives, aside from stealing bags of crisps at their local Aldi? It is disgraceful and unhealthy when they think they have the right to ask for the sacking of a hardworking and decent man like Steve Staunton. Most of them would be too stupid and lazy to clean that man’s boots.

Having said that…I do think the time has come for him to resign. He is in way above his head and has lost the plot. The young players in the team need to feel part of something worthwhile. We need to start afresh. He needs this job like a hole in the head. He is better off out of it and hopefully he can redeem some of his reputation somewhere else. But it is painful to watch him and his team now.

Did Dida do dat?

What is it with Italian footballers? They have to be the wimpiest bunch of poofs to ever set foot on a football pitch. It is no wonder the Italian army lost every single war they ever fought. There was the time of the first Italian-Abyssinian war in 1895, when a bunch of warriors dressed in grass skirts ceremonially blew kisses at the Italians who ran back to Italy, crying. And in World War I they were on the allied side – and lost. And in World War II, they switched to the German side – and lost. Twice.

Now we have Dida, an apparently strong and able-bodied man, stretchered off the pitch after a harmless stroke of a fans hand. (And, before you say he’s Brazilian, yes I know he’s Brazilian, but he plays for AC Milan, an Italian team…) He even – comically – attempted to run after the fan before his legs crumbled beneath his own weight. His reactions are so slow I wonder why he’s a goalkeeper. Is this a new, previously scientifically unknown state, where a slight slap to the face results in several seconds of activity before falling to the ground in a heap? I suggest that medical science starts calling it the Dida Syndrome.

When this kind of thing happens, one usually says “give that man an Oscar”. But his feigned injury is so contemptable and ridiculous that, based on it, he wouldn’t be awarded a role in the Rathmines & Rathgar Musical Society’s presentation of “Anything Goes” as Billy Crocker.

Theories as to what happened:

  1. The fan’s hand had been sprayed with a toxic dose of acid which reacted with Dida’s skin after a few second’s contact
  2. Dida fell in love with the fan, instantly, and fell over when he realised the love was unrequited
  3. The fan was a secret agent for the Iranian secret service and he was using radioactive material to infect him
  4. The sheer obnoxious smell of beer, sweat, and dirty underwear overcame our brave hero once it wafted by his head

 Here’s a joke: What do ambulances sound like in Milan?

Answer: Dida, Dida, dida, dida….

Try saying “Did Dida do that?” very fast, several times. It sounds like “dodididodododadadido”.

FA Cup Qualifiers

It’s that time of year again. Men with dogs, freshly-cut grass, middle-aged men in tight-fitting jerseys, car boot changing rooms, the giddy excitement, the echo of whistles and shouts across the village greens…It is FA Cup qualifying time!

Ah, the romance and the dreams. The splendid, evocative names of old England, redolent of warm beer and the spirit of 1940. It is all there in the list of names of the teams playing. What an institution it is. It would be a minor miracle if any of these teams make it to the FA Cup third round (when the big teams enter) but there is always the hope and the dreams. Perhaps Brimsdown Rovers can overcome the Burnham Ramblers and win a game against Ramsbottom Utd? Or maybe Lordswood will meet Shortwood?

The names of the clubs are fantastic. They are uniquely English. I stopped looking at the fixtures after the H’s, but here are some of my favourites up to that point! You can get the full list here.

Bacup Borough
Ramsbottom Utd
Oxhey Jets
Bemerton Heath
Biggleswade Utd
Borrowash Vics v Biddulph Victoria
Brimsdown Rovers v Burnham Ramblers
Brierley Hill & Withymoor
Cradley Town v Gedling Town
Crook Town
Daisy Hill
Flackwell Heath v Moneyfields
Flixton v Bootle
Frimley Green v Colliers Wood Utd
Glapwell v Dudley Town
Glasshoughton Welfare v Liversedge
Glossop North End
Gornal Athletic v Meir Ka
Norton & Stockton Ancients

Red card suspensions unfair?

There have been a flurry of red cards at the start of the Premiership season. One in particular caught my eye: Dave Kitson of Reading was sent off after just 37 seconds as a substitute, against Manchester United. By all accounts he deserved the red card and hasn’t decided to appeal. He gets an automatic three game suspension, which means he gets banned for 270 minutes for his 37 seconds of infamy. (“Infamy! Infamy! They all have it in for me!!” Caesar in Carry on Cleo).

Suspension is a disproportionate punishment for such offenses. Suspensions punish entire football clubs, robbing managers of essential players at critical times and depriving supporters of their favourite players.

Red cards can change games, depending on when they occur. A red card in the first five minutes is clearly different to one given in injury time at the end of a game. Some may be ‘awarded’ (what a strange term!) for a mistimed tackle or a rush of blood to the head, or maybe for two minor yellow cards. Yet the punishment is rigid: a three game suspension.

And red cards range from the absolutely deserved to the highly dubious. It seems too crude a mechanism to distinguish between merely incompetent players and the deliberately dangerous ones.

Players do need to be protected from rash or dangerous play, so red cards are an essential part of the game. But referees should only have to decide on the instant an incident happens whether to enforce the rules and send a player off or not. To have that instant decision turn automatically into a three game suspension is asking too much of them.

I’d prefer to see a system where referees send players off, but only a panel of judges, armed with the referee’s report, eye-witness accounts, player’s explanations, and video evidence, should decide on the suspension. That might lessen the foolishness and unfairness.  

Five stages of a transfer saga

All football transfers happen in stages and I have been struck repeatedly at how monotonous and regular this procession of media reports, rumours, and denials can be. They are so predictable and regular as to almost form a law of nature. It reminded me of those famous five stages of grief and bereavement of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

The first sign that a player is being sold is always the “official denial” by the selling club that they are prepared to sell, or even contemplate selling. Like Middlesbrough saying, adamantly, that Yukubu has not requested a transfer. Other famous denials include Manchester United denying that David Beckham was going to Real Madrid, or Southampton saying Gareth Bale was not for sale (he was).
A club saying a player is “not for sale” is the biggest lie of them all. All players are for sale, at the right price and at the right time.

Managers typically get very angry in the second stage of a transfer. This is usually when they get pestered by reporters endlessly needling them about it. Or it might be that they want to turn up the heat on the negotiating team.

Fans turn their anger towards the chairman for trying to sell their prize-possession. All around, rumours fly and heated debates rage. Rarely, a player himself gets angry, such as Gabriel Heinze getting angry because he cannot join Liverpool.

Behind the scenes, despite the public anger, the hard bargaining has normally started long before anyone else knows about it. The golden rule is: money talks, bullshit walks. Agents, like “super-agent” Pini Zahavi get involved and want their slice of the action, including up to €4.5m for selling Aiyegbeni Yukubu to Middlesbrough, reputedly. Other clubs get dragged into the sale, trying to drive up the price. It is all unseemly and chaotic, but with only one ultimate aim: maximum price for the seller, minimum price for the buyer.

This is the stage when the deal gets done, is made public, and reality begins to sink in for the fans and clubs alike. The reaction of fans of the sellers on hearing the news resembles the full five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. But depression is the predominant feeling.

There comes a time when everyone gets over it. The deal has been done, the player has moved on, and other distractions fill the airwaves. Healing begins.

Steven Gerrard dreams on…

What is it about footballers and stupid quotes. Here’s a new one from Gerrard:

“I’m not going to start making any unnecessary predictions about what’s going to happen this season and the last thing any of us need to do is build hopes up too much. But without doubt, if we all perform to our level each week, we have the players to push United and Chelsea all the way. ”

It was unnecessary, and it is building things up too much.

Right man for the job

Eriksson: An insipid, passionless, dreary, win-nothing, has-been spoofer deserves a club like Manchester City. But their fans have suffered enough mediocrity, they hardly deserve more of it, do they?

Yes, actually, they do. And that’s me speaking as a totally unbiased Manchester United fan. 

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