Saturday, 24 December 2011

HUMBUG! Festive Football - keep up with tradition?

'Tis the season to be jolly, apparently. (I keep trying to tell myself this through a chest infection that has laid me low for a couple of weeks now {sobs} and stripped me of my usual drive and inspiration ;-)  )

I obviously don't mean football season 2011-2012. It could quite possibly be the season that city win the league for the first time in my lifetime -  and that would hardly be very jolly, now would it? No, it is the festive time of year where we all get drunk and overeat and pretend we like each other for a few days and then make ludicrous promises to stay in touch and have the best ever next year and we honestly believe it will all be different when we are reading from a different calendar etc. etc.

(side note - could the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world as we know it in 2012 coincide with city winning the league? interesting....)

What this time of year also means is the incredibly exciting Christmas fixture programme. The rest of the world give their pampered players a week or so off to spend with family, but we Brits soldier on, crack the whip and make them play more games than ever for our festive entertainment. 

I have two differing feelings in mind with regards to the football over Christmas and wondered how others feel, as debates for winter breaks rear their heads every year.

I was a strange match-going fan. I was one of the rare ones that found the Christmas games a bit of a chore. Hungover, stuffed and enjoying the short break from work that everyone you know has at the same time, giving lazy time to spend with family and friends, I found that, never one to follow the bloke's mantra of wanting a break from all the family-time, going to a match on boxing day or new year's day was often one of the last things I wanted.

However, festive football very often serves up some spectacular moments, incredible score-fests to pick through with the turkey leftovers. So much so, that in my now season-ticketless state, I have found that not having to shift my none-too-insignificant gluteus maximus from the armchair, the festive fixture list is a veritable Christmas smorgasbord of delights! I can revel in the 7 goal thrillers one minute, press a button on the remote and the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts are just coming to life the next - no need to get cold, fight against non-existent Christmas transport or spend any of the money saved for the sales....

what have I become?....

The effect on a teams season of so many games in such a short space of time is also another great reason to continue the tradition - it really could be make or break time, depending on how the teams handle it.

What are other's views on the forthcoming fixture list? click on the comments line below the post, and ruminate away, or vote in the poll on the right.

ebeneezer twig

Saturday, 3 December 2011

eee aye adios - we're going out ' the cup

Oh, for the days when clubs just played their best players and tried to win things, when you could second guess the manager and pick the team that would be on the pitch in front of you.....

My heart sank yet again last week watching the Carling Cup games unfold - and not only because of United's result against Crystal Palace. The awful spectre of the "bigger clubs" fielding weakened sides and not taking either the competition seriously, nor the opposition.

First we have city. They have one of the biggest squads, probably in world sport, and that bloke with the out-sized scarves was still complaining it was too many games etc.etc. Please just get on with it, it's only a couple of games a week and you have enough players to have two Premier League teams playing each week and both end up top half of the table.
Then - United side v Palace - fantastic result for Palace, that can't be denied. It was, however, against an extremely weakened United side. Ah, you cry - that is what these big squads are for, after all, even fergie commented that 9 internationals would be wearing a United shirt. Well, they must be giving those caps out like confetti - or is it just short sightedness on behalf of international managers, who can't see past a certain number of clubs, and if Fergie et al pick them, they must be good?

There was a stream of players that shouldn't be in a united first team. Yes, I realise these players need game time - something Sir Alex has now also admitted, but that game time should be elsewhere - just how big a squad do teams need? We get to the point where players who have not featured in a competitive game all season are then thrust in to matches against teams with points to prove. How do the players feel, knowing they have little part to play in the clubs season - just happy to pick up the pay-cheque?

(was I correct in thinking that Sir Alex's first apology went along the lines of "I apologies to MY fans..." - your fans!! sheesh - at least I can still wear my Fergie Bar-Scarf with pride....)

Of course, United couldn't have expected such a performance from Palace. They were facing United at the Theatre of Dreams, after all. It doesn't matter which players were wearing the shirt, they opposition are beaten before the step on to the pitch, aren't they? er, no. If ever you need a lift at Old Trafford, just look at a teamsheet like last Wedneday's.

And speaking of them, how about the fans? I know the result will have cockle-warmed the rest of the country and particularly Palace fans, but 50,000 people paid to watch that team.

And finally, Blackburn and the famous forfeit. This one can go two ways - put full strength team out and win the game - what a great confidence boost.

However, chicken out (PUN MOST DEFINITELY INTENDED, I thank you) and play a weakened team, therefore forfeiting (Steve Kean's words) the match. This shouldn't affect morale, we can go back in to the league matches without fear. Win, it's a bonus, lose - so what? But, again, what about the morale of the fans? How good would it feel to be in a cup semi-final, eventually to have been against Crystal Palace, with a real chance of a cup final and possible trophy to distract from a miserable season.

What exactly do we watch football for? Is it to see 38 games of pure tosh and a turgid season-long battle to stay in the top flight, just to go through it all again the next season? Or is it to dream of glory. To have a cup run and enjoy some grand days out? Relegation isn't nice, but the championship looks like a fantastic league - run the risk, as long as your accounts can check out (see Leeds, Portsmouth..)

Trust Mr Yakubu to go and ruin that part of my rant at the weekend and partly show that Steve Kean was right to rest so many players - still, just think - only a home and away leg (against lower league opposition) away from a Wembley final. You'd have taken that, wouldn't you?


Thursday, 24 November 2011

...and to you son, I bequeath...

Ahh, the joys of parenthood. Once you are through all the sleepless nights, whiffy nappies and gotten used to the loss of social life, there remains a couple of important issues to resolve.

Forget the "pretend the kids live at your mother-in-laws to get in to the preferred school" routine.

Nope, the issues that really need to be sorted are those of passing on the torch of football team and music. Now, generally speaking, we are old, therefore uncool. We are on a hiding to nothing trying to get the little blighters to appreciate the remixed audiophile version of Pearl Jam's "Ten" and accompanying replica demo cassette tape.

We also, with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, secretly struggle to promote the whole Seattle scene of the early 90s to their impressionable minds, when most of the protagonists of the said scene were desperate junkies with suicidal tendencies and a penchant for not going near a bath. It therefore leaves us with one true heirloom. The most important gift we can bestow upon those that follow us...the football team.

In my formative years, I lived around 5 miles from the city centre of Manchester. I was to be either red or blue - which one would come down to genes. My father and older sister (a Stretford-Ender in division 2 days) were Reds - therefore, as is natural, I had no choice. It was my birthright.

My first-born was a daughter, now a teenager. She had an impeccable football upbringing, I thought. Born in the early part of the fabled "treble season", she even enjoyed a trip to Old Trafford inside her then heavily pregnant mother's belly as we queued for tickets for the Barcelona home game that were going on open sale.

(how or why she queued for so long with me, I will never know - what a gent I was for asking her to do so! and how amusing when after 3 hours, the steward at the head of the queue saw her and remarked that we could have gone straight to the front!).

The away games were spent with her on my lap in front of the TV, running through the players names, teaching her the songs with all the swearing removed. Trips to open training sessions (where she fell asleep each time) also occurred. This continued for some time until, season ticket secured, I managed to used my Dad's spare ticket to take her to a match. She sat and ate her way through a bag of what I still like to call opal fruits, marvelled at the crowd, joined in with the songs and never asked to go again. (She does, however, display a healthy liking of loud guitar music, which is a good thing, even if I am a little disturbed by the new breed and their dodgy haircuts - even Kerrang! gives out shockwaves gel products as a gift when subscribing!!).

Then the glazers came along for United. And a son for me.

I took the militant decision of not handing money over to pay for uncle malc to buy the club. I thought many more might follow suit, but I realise now, it was just too hard to do. The fact I was skint and had two young kids and little time also had a big part to play in the decision, it must be said.

But what to do now? We moved to the edge of civilisation as we knew it (the outer reaches of Greater Manchester, in the hills beyond Rochdale and dangerously close to the Yorkshire border. The young man is 6 years old, with a wavering interest in football. I rescued him from the clutches of the blues (friends at school) a couple of years ago by singing him a few ditties. "They have songs, Dad?" - suitably cleaned up versions, naturally - "why don't city just go home?" - however, with the challenge for his attentions coming from Star Wars, things are going to be difficult.

He did become desperate for a football kit, after seeing so many friends swanning round the football parties, so eventually, I relented - despite my inner moral protestations. I bought him one for his 5th birthday. His FC United one just didn't cut the mustard with the other kids. But the 30 quid spent did at least cement a connection for him with the club.

It is only now that I realise I have created myself a dilemma of monolithic proportions. I follow United now and not support them - not in the truest sense, as a match-going fan. How can I bestow this gift on to the lad? Will he never have the excitement of walking up the stairs at Old Trafford to see the pitch sliding slowly in to view? Never be swept up in the tunnel under the stands, singing songs, nor listen to the roar as the teams come out?

Try a more local club, I hear people say. I now live further out - support a lower league club in need, pass on the torch that way.

I recently read a post and commented on the excellent  where there was a poll to see if people had "second teams" that they support.

I don't. United are my team. I can't have a second team. As Leo's FC United shirt didn't fit right, neither did FC United the club fit for me. It just wasn't United. I applaud what they have done and have a passing interest in results, but...

I could take him along to Spotland to watch Rochdale. It is local, the club have good links with his school, we would probably have a great time. They may become his team in time, but they still won't be mine. Where is the shared history, the old stories?

what have I done?.......


Monday, 21 November 2011

and I thought I was grumpy......

A little video break for everyone.

I am not the one to want to promote or advocate violence - and that is not my intention.
However, I did wonder after viewing this video - with all the talk about what happens on the pitch stays out there on the pitch and all being part of the game - did any of this lady's rivals shake hands with her at the end of the match?


Friday, 18 November 2011

Nothin' proper 'bout your propaganda

When deciding to have a bit of a rant and moan online, I didn't have the intention of necessarily tackling any weighty issues nor of being very up to the minute with news or topics relying on reminisces and memories instead. A million words have already been written and spoken on this week's particular hot topic, so adding some of my own to the soup of barely read tomes seem superfluous - however, as my musings take the slant of moaning in exasperation about many of the issues that modern football throws up - I just couldn't help myself!

The curious case of Mr Blatter....

Fifa does a lot of work on the Kick it Out campaign. A lot of good work. That is not in question. Our friend Sepp seems to have just picked away at the seams of the campaign in the manner of a child pulling the thread on his school trousers - he has uttered a few ill-chosen words with no apparent thought to the possible outcome. The trousers have fallen down.

With two current high-profile alleged incidents under investigation in the Premier League, the question was there to be asked - the interviewer could probably not believe his luck. Surely, the correct answer to the question, though, from someone at the very top of the world game, no less, should have either been a well thought out condemnation of any acts of racism that may go on - or a politician's answer. Explain how much FIFA are doing to eradiate racism, or promote tolerance. That he had trust that the FA would deal with these incidences appropriately, etc. We would probably have been dissatisfied with a side-step answer - but that is surely better than what was said.

After uttering the words that in effect stated - anything goes - what happens on the pitch should stay on the pitch - it is all part of the game - his people then saw fit to quickly post that he had been misunderstood and to prove it, posted the page complete with a smiling photo of Mr Blatter with Tokyo Sexwale - a black South African minister who had been imprisoned during the apartheid era.

Speaking to the BBC, Sepp has no said: "It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn't envisage such a reaction." Unfortunately, it really does appear that Mr Blatter is slightly out of touch on both this matter and the world as a whole, I'd wager.

I will now be buying in bulk and offering for sale to FIFA a large number of industrial-strength Gripper Rods - with the amount of stuff they are trying to sweep under the carpet, they must be in dire need. Perhaps they could become an official partner for the next world cup.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Hell Classico

And so it was that I sat, slumped at home, nursing a hangover from the Manchester Derby that never happened (see I'll Get Me Coat, above) and a lovely weekend break in Venice that definitely did happen. My wallet confirms this point.

(Side note:as disconsolate as I was when I realised my long awaited trip coincided with the clash of red and of blue, of all that is right and of all that is moustachioed and wrong; you cannot imagine the strange sense of relief that washed over me upon hearing the score, after picking myself off the floor, naturally. Relief seems an odd reaction, you think, to your team being tonked 6-1 at home by cross-city rivals - but at least I had not had to bear the humiliation of seeing the torment as it happened.).

So, still managing to ignore texts, phonecalls and highlights upon my return, I sat methodically and robotically pressing the "channel up" button on the remote, paying scant attention to the various televisual "marvels" that sky provides for our entertainment. I scrolled by second after second, minute after minute and Jamie Oliver show after Jamie Oliver show -until I finally hit upon what I thought would be a gem.

Yep, I'd passed the food channels, ignored the music channels, decided that Blackadder Goes Forth for the 1000th time was over-egging the proverbial and finally got to the sport. I zipped past the darts, flirted with the idea of the tennis and thought that, at this rate, I'd soon be trawling through the underwater battles that shaped world war 2 on the history channel and couples that kill on true crime at any moment - until I was finally stopped in my tracks - by ESPN classic.


Oh yes, I thought, as I read the game to be shown next - The Manchester Derby from Novemer 1993.. city 2 United 3 - Cantona! The perfect cure for the hangover. A reminder of more predictable days, city storming in to a 2 goal lead, only to fluff their lines an allow a United comeback...lovely stuff.

I had 20 minutes of the game before left to work through - and work, initially at least, it most definitely was!

Time blurs everything. In 1992, United were sweeping away all before them and heading towards the league title, for the first time in a quarter of a century. (Later in the season, United We Stand fanzine was seen to publish a cover that stated "Champions at Last!" - only for United to throw the last 3 matches and Leeds to take the title.)

Quite how this was happening with the collection of players displayed in front of me, is now beyond me - and not entirely surprising in hindsight to see how the season ended. Or why Eric Cantona was required.

The match in question - shown apparently without irony remember - on ESPN CLASSIC, was Sheffield United -v- Manchester United. The Blades had taken a deserved lead through Brian Deane and were coasting to a Dave Bassett-influenced win against a Manchester United side boasting such luminaries as Mike Phelan,Clayton Blackmore et al.

By the look of the pitch, the match was being played on some allotments at the end of Bramhall Lane, a 33-year old Alan Cork (him again - looking not a day over 57!) was running rings around Steve Bruce in a slow-motion beer-belly ballet, and the crowd looked like they had not yet realised that the 80s were over. Manchester United came back to win 2-1, inspired by the legend that is Bryan Robson, somehow dragging this team through to get a result - but my, how things have changed. It is hard sometimes not to believe the Sky-esque assertion that football didn't really exist until they grabbed hold of it.

The football on display was not, in fact, "classic", it was dire. It was slow. It was Flair-free. It was ESPN Valium.

However, it was also pre-Sky, pre-hype, pre-million different camera-angles, pre-WAGs, pre-phone-ins, pre-music played when a goal goes in, pre-moisturiser for men. It took a while for it to work its charms, but in the end, despite myself, I loved every minute!


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

I'll get me coat......

So, my little blue-scouse mate, our Graeme, sent me a polite email asking me a simple question that deserved a short, simple answer. I duly obliged with an overblown rant that morphed quickly in to a bizarre trip down memory lane, taking in all manner of football related fluff including my insistence that the October Manchester derby has not taken place yet, as I didn't see it (on holiday), so it surely can't have happened; to the glorious day that my Granddad's team (lowly non-league Mossley AFC) thrashed local rivals high-flying conference team Stalybridge Celtic 5-0 in the cup (he missed all 5 goals buying pints at the club bar); to the state of modern football, players and agents; to championship manager and the footballing talents of Alan Cork.

The whole thing was one long moan, really. For the most part, all we really do as football fans is either moan or gloat. Any 10 minute listen to the buffoons on post-match phone-ins on the radio will give you a glimpse of that. However, a bead inspiration was misguidedly borne out of that rant. I hope it doesn't dry up too quickly!

So a little forum to air some rants, some memories or to gloat and post links to great goals, passes, saves or pictures of footballers with beards (there's that Alan Cork, again).


Being a Manchester United fan who last went to a match when the Glazers took over (athough it was the final of a number of reasons), my current relationship with football is a little bit like that of Roy Hodgson's relationship with his coat. (A man who I can now harbour a soft spot for again as he got booted out of Anfield - well done Agent Hodgson!)

It goes something like:

Little bit of strife, things not going the way planned - penalty to Liverpool -off comes the coat in a hissy-fit, thrown down in disgust in a rather theatrical manner - penalty scored, stare in to the abyss for a few seconds.....time for a bit of reflection.........retreat sheepishly to put said coat back on. (still it beats Schteve McLaren's drink from his bottle of water routine....., god I hated that, and I noticed Alex McLeish does the same thing - goal for villa, open bottle, little sip - goal for opposition, open bottle, little sip - red get the picture)

Even though I am in a self imposed live match drought; even though I have no respect for the modern footballer and his overpaid, metrosexual ways; even though I fear that my footballing world is about to be spun out of orbit by a man who is assisted in causing such by the fact that I have to fill my car with fuel; even though I may struggle to pass on the torch of being a united fan to my son- even with all those factors and more - I can't bring myself to leave that coat lying on the ground for too long.....