Wednesday, 18 July 2012

It's all happening over there!......GRUMPY OLD FAN HAS MOVED...

There has been a new home for the general football-related morosity of the Grumpy Old Fan for a month or so - over at grumpyoldfan dot net.

If you have found this version of the site, which is no longer updated, please do come round and have a nosey over the fence, maybe even post a comment!

The older posts on this site have been transferred to the new site also.

Since moving to the new home, there have been grumps and groans on the state of modern football-fandom - half and half scarves anyone?!?!?!, tales from South-East Spain on supporter-owned initiatives, a wonderful picture of a 4-way work tie, the Catalan influence on the Spanish national side and more.

See you there!


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The times they are a-changin'

Thank you for happening along to this blog - please feel free to mooch around and have a nosey. For the full grumpy experience, however, please go to my new blog site grumpyold fan dot net, where these posts will reside along with newer rants and articles.

Many thanks,


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

One in Ten

This is McFootball.

659 million fans. 1 out of every 10 human beings.

As I travelled home last night, I read the "news" (once Eden Hazard had let everyone rest easy on their seats rather than perching on the edge in excitement) - it was a rather slow news day - that Manchester United were gleefully telling anyone that would listen that they had 659 million fans worldwide. Oh, and that shows that the Glazers, like Guinness, are good for you.

Following the capitulation in the league, leaving bitter cross-town rivals as champions.

Following Chelsea lifting old Big Ears, in a year that United were appalling in Europe.

Following another year of mounting debt and a £71 million-sized black hole and the news that a long-term target and ego of the year chose to live in London, rather than the North.

Following all these and more, was the wonderful news that all is well at Old Trafford, cos we have considerably more fans than anyone. Richard Arnold, United's commercial director, might well have been sticking his tongue out and waggling his hands around his head, shouting "na na - na, na na", I'm not sure - but that is the vibe that I get from reading this.

"We finished the season in first place, and city finished winning on goal difference," he said. That's second place then, mate.

"Competitors come and go. The one thing that remains constant is Manchester United," he continued to opine, going on to tell us what a great job he and the club were doing to win fans all around the world, because United are so great.

Now, I gave my season ticket up about 6 years ago. I saw that lovely Rooney volley against Newcastle in the last game I attended as a paying customer. Since then, I have contributed the princely sum of £3.50 to the club, in the form of a pint of liquid refreshment a couple of years ago, whilst there as a guest of a friend at my one and only time in Old Trafford since.

That is about 350 pence more than about 658.5 million of those fans then. Put together.

Yet these fans are courted, cherished and celebrated. This is McFootball. The big challenge now is not to look after the local, long serving, paying fans - they will probably be there anyway, buying tickets and going to games.  No, the chalenge is to come up with ideas how they can make a few more of those millions spend a little more of their hard-earned on chasing the United dream, buy the tv plans, spend at the megastores and look ubercool in red.

Except this grand, old club club, as we all know, is much less than cool. Probably just about the most uncool football club on the planet.

Mind you, despite how sad it is that United have to report such "findings", they are obviously not alone in doing so. Take FC Barcelona, everyone's current favourite club, no?Alongside their wonderful current brand of football, they go around telling the whole world how great they are, usually just in a game of one-upmanship aagainst Real Madrid, how they are "mes que un club," Along with this recent upward trend in the actual footballing-stakes, they have found an upsurge of millions of admirers around the world that posture in their shadows and laud them as the greatest ever, wishing that every club could be run in the same way - from tactics, to academy (oh La masia, of course) to business (without actually knowing too much about any of them in a lot of cases). Despite all this - they are also held up as every inch the coolest football team. I find it all a bit mawdling, to be honest.

More than a club? You are just another football club, Senor Barcelona. Just like any other. You just happen to have hit a very purple (and blue) patch. Unless by "more than a club", you are counting all those basketball and hockey and whichever other teams bear your name and whose trophies reside in your museum. Perhaps more than just a football club, then.

Old news, but I found the Unicef shirts a little too much to stomach as well. Nice gesture, but we all know it was only to soften the blow of them realising that they had to act like every other club and sell the space on the front of the shirt like everyone else. Do a quick two-year hit for charity, everyone loves us, then BANG, and the dirt is gone. We can sell to highest bidder as the ad-free shirt no longer exists.

"But we represent a whole nation, the nation of Catalunya" is another attempt to justify the claims - the Espanyol fans that share your city put it quite well "Qatar is not Catalunya" - the shirt went to the highest bidder, no matter where the money was coming from (and there are plenty of rumours about the Qatar Foundation to cause worry).

Furthermore rumours abound that naming rights of the Camp Nou are under discussion - giving more credence to the thought that everything has a price in McFootball. History, tradition - even coolness.

Not got a particular axe to grind with these clubs. Just McFootball. But like our favourite fast food, we all love our junk football as well.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Withering Heights

Fine lines cause crow's feet around the eye of the beholder.

To my tiring eyes, Chelsea were about three minutes away.

Then again, one poor spot kick away.

And then again just a lottery penalty kick away.

Just those, tiny, tiny incidents away from losing the champions league final with the most withering and weak of performances I have witnessed in a Champions League final.

The kind of display that would have made their supporters scratch their heads and hang them in despair thinking, WHY?

It us understood and right to be applauded if you can beat the finest team Europe has seen for many years over two games,home and away, as they did with Barcelona. In those circumstances, use any means at your disposal, negative or otherwise. Of course, there can be as much to admire in defensive work as attacking.

But WHY get all this way to a one off final and then spend the whole match solely ensuring that the other side didn't score. And not even (perhaps Ashley Cole aside) doing very well at it -  surviving, as they did, with a chance in the lottery of penalties, only because their opponents had forgotten something important when bossing a game. Namely, how to propel the spherical object they have been passing around over the correct part of the white line and between the uprights.

With their shooting boots on, Bayern would have been well out of sight. Even without them (how many has Gomez scored this season? and how?) Bayern finally broke through and -but for an admittedly superb equaliser by Drogba once chelsea realised they ought to make a fist of it - Chelsea would have signed off from one of the biggest games that most of those players will ever be involved in, or wore replica kit and shinpads to, with a pathetic pffft.

This was Chelsea, let us not forget. Not Worksop Town. A team with the likes of Drogba, Torres, Lampard and Mata at its diposal. This was also a Bayern Munich shorn of its first choice central defenders. And although they got to the final and obviously a decent team -Barcelona at their pomp, they are not. (I realise that neither are Chelsea - but they surely had more to offer than that.)

Yet we awoke to stories of brave Chelsea heroes and pleas for interim manager Di Matteo to be given the job long term. "What more does he have to do?" are the cries of the permanently stressed out London press.

Or even - "this is how England should play in Euro 2012 and we can win it!"

It has brought to mind a certain derby match "title decider" that Manchester United gifted to Manchester city. United would not play for a draw - "never done that in my life" said Sir Alex. But the sight of his side ceding territory and possession and dropping deeper and deeper to defend the status quo was sadly not indicative of his statement.

Those fine lines appear again, though. But for a lapse of concentration on a corner, United would be champions now - and it would be down to a performance not unlike Chelsea's last weekend, and most unlike a United performance. A disappointing and withering attempt at getting a draw - but was that more understandable because only a draw was needed?

Fair play to Chelsea, though. Their name is on the big old trophy and despite being a million miles away from the best in England this season, they are the Champions of Europe.
We probably could have dispensed with the 120 minutes of football match, though, and gone straight to a penalty shootout.

That is why Mr Abramovich does not seem to be rushing to give the job to Roberto. He will feel that his money should be buying something a little more certain. Not a Euromillions ticket.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

you can't be neutral on a moving train

A great spectacle for the neutrals.

Last weekend’s ending to the premier league season will have many words written about it, eulogising the greatest ending to a season ever, etc. Some will be succinct, others poetic. Some will be bitter and others will gloat.

The words above may not appear verbatim, but there will be an inference to that theory - that the pair of matches involving the Manchester clubs, the to-ing and fro-ing of the league title, right in to the dying seconds - and the relegation battle and "race" for third place - whilst being varying degrees of heaven and hell for the various sets of fans, was great stuff for the watching neutrals. But is it truly possible to be neutral when it comes to football?
Even at a park game on a Sunday morning, I will instantly take sides and find a reason to root for one rather than the other - they look a bit portly and ageing, I'll back them; that team's kit looks too much like manchester city's, hope they lose; the captain loves the sound of his voice too much, go for the opposition - I can't just sit or stand there and watch without investing some interest in to it and picking a team.

The FA Cup Final was a dilemma. Year by year I pick a favourite team in the final - but 2012? I have no time for Liverpool, yet the modern Chelsea also turn my stomach - or some of their players...or one at least...

It never used to be that way with Chelsea for me - perhaps we know too much about today's players and it taints our opinions. I would have chosen Chelsea for the win without hesitation in the past - I used to like those Zola and Vialli chaps - hell, we all did, didn't we? Further back in time, I always thought it was quite becoming - nay exotic, almost - that they used to have a striker with a girl's name. (Kerry Dixon to the under 30s out there).
Still. When it came down to it - rather them than the old enemy. Can't brush away all that history.

Champions League Final - thought there might be a chance I could be neutral on this one, until I heard the "breaking news" that John Terry, despite being suspended, would be allowed to lift the trophy should Chelsea win (insert loud shouts a la Jim White on Sky Sports News for full effect). Deal sealed, come on Bayern.
The Europa League Final - well, the whole of Britain seemingly wanted Athletic Bilbao to triumph. The Channel 5 coverage of them sweeping all-comers aside (once the country had woken up to the tournament, when the high-profile Manchester teams dropped in to it) was a joy to behold. We all had new darlings to root for and to cheat on our other halfs with.
So, was there anyone who was actually neutral on the "greatest final day" in this, the Premier League's "greatest ever season"? I haven't met anyone that has any slight interest in football who has purported to be neutral this last weekend. Yet the whole Manchester duking it out for the title scenario ought to have only got the city of Manchester excited, oughtn't it? Shouldn't it have been a strictly local affair?
No longer. And not just because of the "Anyone But United" mentality that usually ensures neutrality goes out of the window. No - QPR gained a whole new raft of fans for the day, Sunderland too.

But then, the whole country has disliked Manchester United for a long time now, creating this ABU nation. We all know someone who claims to support them and spends many moments rubbing noses in the fact. The geographical location of fans is a weak argument in the modern game, but it still has the power to upset - especially when so many local clubs are suffering. The "club's" commercialism, polarising manager and relentless pursuit of silverware in this televisual age have all added to the mix, creating friends and enemies simultaneously in very large numbers.
Pretenders to the red throne have come and gone over the 20 years of the Premier League (I know football didn't begin then, but it is the accepted yardstick for the all conquering tv era), but United have come back time and again - I'm sure that most of the country have prayed for one challenger to stick and to really threaten the United dominance. Be careful what you wish for.

The Mancunian Way

Mancunians seemingly appear to have a chip on their shoulders. It manifests itself outwardly in a bravado and cockiness. A belief in always being right - or at least, not caring if anyone thinks they are wrong. A fast, clipped style of speech, with shortened vowels, the local tongue serves to make the listener think that the speaker is supremely sure of himself and what he is saying. It also serves to differentiate the true mancunian from those in the various mill and hill-towns that orbit the city.
One thing that causes them consternation is that there is another large industrial city 30 miles away that the world seems to love more. The scouse wit, music and football are the modern disputes, where trade and industry once stood. But for all the bravado and hipster talk about Mancunian music (which I love), Joy Division, New Order, the Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, Hollies - the Beatles trump them every time (and I'm not even a fan).
To the greater reaches of the country, Manchester feels left out and tries to propel an image of coolness after years in the doldrums. It clings desperately to an image of the hacienda and the baggy revolution of the Madchester scene, whilst trying to project a more modern image to the world as well. The victorian powerhouse still feels that it is owed a debt from the time it was the city that made the money that London spent.

So, the fact that the city of Manchester has probably long punched above it's weight in our London-centric country, has created the character of its people.

United were obsessed with catching Liverpool on titles. Knocking them off their perch. It hurts that the years of domestic success have not propelled them too much closer in European terms. manchester city now have that obsession. They want to be top dog in the country and they have the resources to make it happen. That it will come at the expense of their cross-city rivals will make it ever sweeter for the fans.
Voices are heard on the morning commute - "it's really good for them, because they haven't won the league for so long..." ; A caller to Talksport yesterday morning revealed that he was overjoyed for them, as he had a great affinity for city, even though he was a Huddersfield Town fan. His reasons? Denis Law left his club for city and his own team once lost 10-1 to them.
The blue-half of Manchester have long enjoyed being the plucky underdog. Everyone's favourite clown, they have been loved because of their glorious failures as they stumbled in the dark reaches of the oppressive shadows that are cast by the powerful monolithic presence across town. "God loves a trier. They deserve success for all they have been through over the years." Like a little lap-dog, they have consistently revelled in this petting, believing everyone liked them more. They very nearly fell for their own joke against QPR, until the true superstar in the team, with no real knowledge of this byline of city tradition, stepped up in the dying seconds.
I don't expect this feeling towards them to last too long. A sea-change is occurring, with them encouraging jealousy and dislike at an astonishing rate, like a lottery winner flashing his wad. Because, if you think that a new name on the trophy is refreshing and it is great that the reds are to be usurped by the once plucky underdogs, then just watch this lot go.

Beware all now that there are two Mancunian clubs at the top. The ABU nation could quite easily become the ABM nation - Anywhere But Manchester. After all, Manchester not only has the former-richest club and perhaps biggest club in the world as a resident, but also the new richest club in the world and latest Premier League champions.

If the blue moon really is rising, the mancunian streak in their fans will let everybody know about it all too soon. Like United's fans they will be brash, bold and loud. But rather than the loveable Eddie Large and Curly Watts of the past, they really will be the Gallagher brothers of the now (x40-odd thousand.) They will also multiply and replicate throughout the land as their success continues.
A match-goer at Goodison Park informed me that there had been a loud cheer during Everton's game against Newcastle United, at the news that QPR had taken the lead against manchester city - his reasoning was that their fans were already getting up his nose (of course, to offer balance, later Sunderland fans enjoyed the schadenfreude of seeing the last-seconds drama of the blues tearing the title out of red hands).
Remember the lemon-sharp bitterness of Mike Summerbee last season after Rooney's overhead kick won the derby? He embodies the fans that have suffered for years at the hands of the reds - they will revel in this glory (and they do have every right to, I can't deny them that). Remember Niall Quinn's most biased of co-commentary slots during the derby last month? On the red side - remember Gary Neville's one-eyed United playing days and hilarious tantrum resulting in a sending off a few years back? And Alex Ferguson's flippant "noisy neighbour" comment. All results of the Mancunian pressure cooker as the temperature has slowly risen.
The repercussions? United will do everything possible to stem the blue tide - it was only goal difference this time, no panic stations just yet... so if the two are to duke it out at the top of the table regularly, a mancunian monster may well have just been created.

If you managed to be before, you may not be able to be neutral any more and may have to make your choice - who is the least worst? Perhaps though, the best idea for all non-fans would be to try and learn to become completely neutral  - let their rivalry become parochial and localised and everyone else can just ignore them? Or you can hope that a third team or more can join the fun - imagine the sky coverage on the final day then...

Whatever. I wouldn't be able to be neutral - if I didn't have one already, I'd have to pick a side.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Looking California, Feeling Minnesota

As it says on the club website:

" 'The club set up in protest to Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United' is a statement often used to describe FC United. But while there is no doubt that FC would not have happened without the American invasion, it was the catalyst, the final straw, but not the sole reason."

Many reasons collided at once for a minority group of militant Manchester United fans who had grown disillusioned with the modern game and it's trappings: kick off times dictated by TV, escalating ticket prices, matches taking place in soulless "theatres" and the perceived ever-widening distance between the club and the local community as it sought, ever more avariciously, new global revenue streams.

An idea, first floated when Rupert Murdoch's BskyB attempted to buy the club in the late nineties, was resurrected as a last resort. Start their own club. Supporters as members - each with a vote. Reasonable ticket prices. FC United of Manchester was born in 2005 and the club began it's odyssey in the 10th level of football.

Manchester United were my club. Whilst to the pedantic I am not, strictly speaking, a Mancunian, I was born just six or seven miles from the city centre, in Ashton-under-Lyne, the town that gave us world cup winners Sir Geoff Hurst and Simone Perrotta (with Jimmy Arnfield being born just a couple more miles away, in Denton). With that proximity, I was destined to be either a Red or a blue. With family ties, and particularly an elder sister who rampaged with the team in Division 2 in the seventies, my Red allegience was set.

Eventually, after years of attending matches, either paying on the gate to get in the Stretford End or the E stand seats behind or later with a season ticket, the same problems that irked the militants rose their head for me. Added to the mix, a further child born, I was skint and low on free time - the season ticket and plastic seat gave way to the comfort of the sofa, I'm afraid.

A big part of my football fan education, however, had also taken place in the non-league. As a young kid, if not going along to Old Trafford, I would attend matches in the old Northern Premier League with my grandfather, watching Mossley AFC at Seel Park. They would be taking on such evocatively named teams as Witton Albion, Frickley Athletic, Stalybridge Celtic, Northwich Victoria, Kidderminster Harriers.

The attractions of non-league are the local rivalries, the reasonably-priced beers at the club-house (with a view on to the pitch), the family atmosphere and the fun. Sometimes it is like a trip back to a bygone age. The word community is the most appropriate - and a real attachment to the town that the club represents. FC United are seeking to make those deep roots with the community and have devised excellent plans for a ground and sports facilities in the North Manchester suburb of Moston.

FC United of Manchester brought all those old names and experiences back, mixed with larger crowds and the songs and colours I knew and loved - and a cracking atmosphere. It was a long road that was being travelled for many disparate reasons, so by God, the supporters (nay, members) were going to make the best of the journey. But it still wasn't quite United for me and I retreated back to the side-road of my sofa, with little excursions every now and then to keep the engine ticking over - always keeping an interested eye on their progress.

Football itself seems perpetually at a confusing crossroads. As the leagues further down the pyramid search for sustainability and look to offer a sleeker package to keep people coming through the turnstiles, changes are occurring outside the Football League which have a similar resonance to those within. Clubs are going out of business, or struggling desparately to make ends meet.

Clubs are, despite the odds, still an attractive investment for some. But, for fans, ownership appears to be a lottery - with no effort on your part whatsoever, you could be a winner and be landed with a Sheikh Mansour. Or, more likely, you could end up with the Venkys or a George Reynolds.

It is the old adage of the theory of evolution -the survival of the fittest. Every club must find a way to adapt and swim against the Premier League/Sky tsunami. Alongside the supporter-owned models of AFC Wimbledon, FC United, Ebbsfleet United and the like, there are those that are helped with heavy investment in the teams such as Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town.

Another survival route is "sponsorship" deals by Father-clubs, such as that by Manchester city, whose reserve team has for many years used Ewen Fields in Hyde, Greater Manchester to play their matches. Hyde (United) gave up their ground's colours, red turning blue, as well as the "United" part of their name (and Manchester United-like club crest) in return for their soul and investment in the ground along with the honour of continuing to host matches for the ridiculously named "Manchester city Elite Development Squad."

Echoing Crawley and Fleetwood's successes, Hyde FC have now found themselves just recently promoted as Conference North champions and will ply their trade in the Conference for the first time next season.

Then again, unfortunately there are the Northwich Victoria and Darlingtons of the world...

Thanks to an ill-fated relocation and financial difficulties that have plagued the club, Northwich Victoria found themselves expelled from their promotion position in the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League this season, leaving another place up for grabs. This was gratefully (but also humbly) accepted by FC United of Manchester.

As is the way with teams that sneak in to competitions at the last minute (famously Denmark in the Euros, of course), FC United made light work of the play-off semi-final last weekend against Chorley, before a crowd of almost 3000, setting up a final this weekend against an age-old name in footballing terms - Bradford Park Avenue.

It is very much a case of the old versus the new. Bradford Park Avenue have been there, done that. They have experienced league football, reaching the heights of the First Division and drifted down through the league. They suffered the ignominy of being voted out of the league in 1970 and liquidation a few years later. Numerous homes and starts and false-starts now leave the club in it's current position and a battle-royale against the upstarts from Manchester.

Ironically, considering the involvement of a club that holds 3pm Saturday close to heart as the correct time for football, the game now kicks this Sunday, 6th May 2012 at 2pm. The final was originally scheduled for Saturday at 3pm, but police concerns over the amount of fans attending and coinciding with a Bradford City match have resulted in the (unpopular) change.

My son is a footballing worry to me. He plays the game, he wears the shirts, but he has no interest in watching. I need something to spark that interest. The roar of the crowd, the songs, the thwack of the ball as it is cleared up field, the screams of "man on", the wrapping up in a preposterously coloured scarf and hat in the winter and the dressing down and carnival atmosphere of the warmer months - he needs to experience all this before he is lost to WWE or whatever acronym fake wrestling goes under nowadays. Maybe now is the time to think about starting again with him? To re-enter the fray at non-league level?

Or would that make me a gloryhunter?


Monday, 23 April 2012

That wasn't in the script....or was it?

Both Manchester sides have contrived to drop the hot potato of a comfortable lead in the league over the last few weeks.  

Just as the prize seemed to be in sight; just as bookies were debating with themselves whether 8 points in either team's favour would be the right time to think about paying out early for that all-important good publicity - we are left with the situation that the clubs' managers Ferguson and Mancini predicted some weeks ago. They both said points would be dropped - they duly have and we are now facing the showdown that Sky TV could not have hand-picked any better. If you ignore the remaining fixtures involving Swansea, Sunderland, Newcastle and QPR, the Manchester derby is now, pretty much "winner-takes-all" or loses-loses-all.  

Let the hype begin....

Paul Scholes has brought about a composure and touch of guile to the United midfield, that they were in dire need of up to Christmas. His return from retirement could be seen as a reason that United have kept in touch with their noisy neighbours. How his aforementioned composure and guile would have assisted them on what became a very tricky night out in Wigan last week. Being the old-stager he is, though, he couldn't do three games over seven days and was not even on the bench that night - United floundered.

If Carlos Tevez had behaved differently in Munich. If his manager, rather than sit in a lofty perch proclaiming that the player was finished at the club. If they could have worked out a way around their little episode and have brought him back in line making the appropriate apologies and noises - the title might already have been city's by now. However, seeing the goals dry up and the magic of their early season form start to dissipate, Roberto Mancini began a slow descent back down the ladder from said perch to dine on humble pie and send out an SOS to Argentina's newest golfing legend. city are in touching distance again.

Based on historical results in the fixture, unexpectedly, the second half of United's game against Everton on Sunday was pure footballing drama. Everton had no real reason to be busting a gut in such a manner (why did they not do so in the FA Cup semi-final?), but bust a gut they did. With the help of some calamitous defending from United, they assisted the setting up of a glorious shoot-out next Monday. No-one can claim that this year will be a boring title run-in - we have an extra, unexpected cup final to enjoy.

Monday night's Manchester derby has now become the footballing equivalent of a heavyweight fight - how Sky must wish it could be a box office one-off and that they could charge us all a pay-per-view fee.

Is this what was planned all along? When Sir Alex was suggesting, nay, telling everyone who would listen that "points will be dropped" before the end of the season, or even before the derby - could there have been more than kidology at play? Surely, looking at the fixture list running up to the 30th April, United would still have a healthy lead, wouldn't they? It goes without saying that Mr Ferguson knows more about the game than I, and he was correct again. 

The great man is so famously stubborn, though, a little part of me has entertained the thought that having to win away at city is not only the best scenario for TV, but it is also just the way he would have wanted it.

Anthony H Wilson once claimed that the British were light years behind the Spanish and Portuguese when it came to televising football matches, citing the Euro 2004 in Portugal as an example. Sure we were functional, we followed the game expertly and could rely on on a multitude of angles - there were even some nice little animations and sound effects when a goal was replayed. 

The Iberian directors though, Wilson opined, knew that football was theatre. They not only gave replays of the major incidents. Suddenly, we saw players screaming to the heavens and waving their hands, cajoling and encouraging team-mates, berating and gesticulating at each other - all in glorious slow motion. The various emotions on display from all parties when a goal was scored - players, coaches, fans and even the referee in states of ecstasy, despair, anger was a joy to behold.

When we invited the game in to our living rooms on a regular basis - the football world turned on its axis, but football needs stories like that which will unfold next Monday night in Manchester - or even that which occurred at the Camp Nou last Saturday night - whether by fluke or by grand design. The media feeds voraciously on it.

There was a period of time when I was a little obsessed with South American writing. I didn't always understand magic realism and I often got lost weaving my way through the rich language of the likes of Garcia Marquez, Allende, Vargas Llosa, Galeano. But I enjoyed the intricate stories where lots happened at the same time as not much. However, I never really got along with Jorge Luis Borges. After my attention has been drawn to a short story of his, that he wrote along with Adolfo Bioy Casares, I may revisit him. 

The story is called Esse Est Percipi. Stick with me - it ties in...

Our protagonist is wandering the city and notices that the River Plate stadium seems to no longer exist. Alarmed by this, he later meets the president of a football club. To break the  ice, our hero congratulates him on his team's recent performances and recounts the build up to a recent goal, pass by pass and player by player. The president replies "yes, and to think that I invented all those names." 

The story unravels that football no longer exists in the form that we thought. It exists solely in the radio and newspapers - the media are making up the scorelines, the stories, the drama and the theatre.

"...everything is, along with the gamut of sports, belongs to the genre of the drama -performed by a single man in a booth, or by actors in jerseys before the tv cameras."

Borges and Casares' short story Esse Est Percipi is lovingly transcribed here: it's not too long, and a good read. 


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Action Replay

Disclaimer - sorry about adding my two-penneth to this meandering story, but who’d be a referee, eh?

It doesn’t matter what level of the game you are at – it is a challenge that there must be fewer and fewer queueing up to take on each year.

Soccer referee uniforms clipart images free download, football clipart free
At the top of the tree, you have matches with a myriad number of cameras staring at you and watching your every move and decision, for those with the benefit of a thousand replays to berate and debate. “No hiding any more”, we are told on countless phone-ins. “Top-flight referees are now professionals and so should be held accountable for their mistakes”. (So should the bankers of the world, but that hasn’t happened).

Still, although professional players will charge the ref down, swear and gesticulate aggressively at decisions where they think they have been wronged – those cameras are on hand again,  perhaps like in a late-night town centre, a cctv-like deterrence to any of said actions going too far. (perhaps not - see last summer's English riots).

Further down the food chain, to local Sunday leagues and the like, the referee is not afforded such security – whether or not heated moments progress to anything physical, the intimidation must be real.

Back at the top it’s one, usually ageing, bloke in the middle of a very large pitch, trying to keep up with a new breed of footballing and athletic machines and making instant decisions to incidents as they perceive them.  This last week alone has given plenty of ammunition to all those in the game and led us once again to everyone’s favourite debate. Video evidence and goal-line technology.

The Chelsea-Spurs game last weekend obviously harbours the major talking point and the reason why our red-tops are in overdrive again. The goal that was that wasn’t. That was. or something.

The problem at that time was that Martin Atkinson was so sure in his own mind that the ball crossed the line, that he decided he did not need to speak to the assistant on the line. These "Refereeing Assistants" are employed to "assist" - hence the enforced name change from linesman, no? Why did he not just do that? It may have saved us from all this brow-beating.

Was it because the Spurs players were surrounding him, pleading with him to do so? After all, he can’t be seen to be swayed by a swarm of players in to casting doubt on his own decision – however, if that is the case, I wonder just how much was he swayed by Juan Mata’s reaction, celebrating the “ghost” goal?

[one other thought springs to mind. The Chelsea players were very quick to come out and say it wasn’t a goal after the match (how could they say otherwise?) - poor Frank Lampard must have been having nightmarish flashbacks to the world cup - hey, don't fret, Frank,  this time it worked out in your favour.
 It is, however, still sad that common decency and the old corinthian spirit is so lacking in the game that no-one held their hands up at the time it happened. (a la Di Canio or Fowler). True, no-one would really have expected anyone to do so, how could they face their team mates should they lose - in the argument for technology, we are always being told there is too much at stake in today's game - therefore, whilst human frailty exists, it is ripe for exploitation. Win at all costs).]

No vast amount of money needs to be spent on a “hawk-eye” system or Ice Hockey-style red light on the goal - surely it is not such a frequent occurrence to warrant that, is it? (I’m happy to be put right on that – my thinking is that it is over-hyped so much when it does happen, that it is highlighted with a bright yellow Stabilo Boss marker and trumpet fanfares - but I am sure there will be tabloids printing lists titled "why we need goal-line technology - NOW!" which will prove me wrong.)

For better or worse, we have now gone so far that the modern professional game exists in its current form because of television – perhaps television can be used in this instance to help the much maligned man in the middle.

How long would it have taken the fourth official to see, with the help of 23 cameras and instant replays, and to indicate to the Mr Atkinson that he called it incorrectly? Seconds? The free-flowing game of football would not be hampered too much - the players would still be arguing amongst themselves in that time. Rugby League has elevated a similar situation with regards to tries to a whole event in itself as part of the game. That might be a tad too far, though and makes me shudder at the thought of goal celebration music.

I believe it is right for the authorities to take their time on this, and I am not just being a luddite. Once the pandora’s box is opened, it will release numerous questions and cause all sorts of ramifications. The game is played at many various levels and the beauty of football is its great simplicity - top to bottom. Once you stop using jumpers for goalposts, the game works on the same principles throughout. At what level of the game is a decision made to stop the use of technology or cameras?

Where does this leave the lower leagues referees? Once the cameras or tech disappears, will the game be governed and refereed in a whole different way?

UEFA have experimented with extra goal line officials in the Europa league, of course - something that many mock - but they are in the perfect position to assist and are in constant communication with the referee - they have helped with decisions on penalties and more in the past, also. Hawk-eye can’t do that part of the job. So do the cameras have a say on other decisions on the game? Which ones?

Gordon Taylor at the PFA had this to say, echoing most people’s views: “In this day and age, the technology is available and we should use it. We’ve got to do all we can to ensure that, in sport, justice is done.” True on the last part, but presumably that will then mean that all the rules are re-written so we can go back and punish those players properly that are seen to be cheating, diving etc. and that red and yellow card offences can be revisited more easily?.....(more on “cheating” to come at another point!)

As mentioned earlier, with every opportunity taken to try and fool the referee and win penalties, free-kicks, and take advantage of one man being in charge of the game - it is getting more difficult with each passing match.

As you can read above - as a humble grumpy old fan, I don’t have answer to this - sorry Sepp and Michel. Good luck with that. However, neither do I have an answer to why anyone would still want to be a ref...(answers on a postcard)


Sunday, 8 April 2012

piensan que es todo...

Well - that's an Easter weekend where
we have seen manchester city confirm their implosion in 2012 - in this season, where it seemed a cakewalk for them to wrap up the title. Let's face it, all the other usual challengers are very much in transition and have been under par.

Mind you, United's recent run of 34 points from 36 is very impressive and certainly not under par.

Unfortunately, we once again are talking about both refereeing decisions and not-so-super Mario.

 - QPR had a hard enough task going to Old Trafford, but we might as well have finished the game the very instant that Lee Mason made the penalty decision and waved the red card to Shaun Derry - the fact we had 75 minutes left to endure of a one-way traffic training match was farcical. Although let's not only blame the ref - how did the linesman miss that Young was offside.

And what to say about Chelsea's offside goal against Wigan?....Poor Roberto Martinez speaks out for once against referees - so it must have been a really poor decision -  and now faces a wait to see if he's going to be charged by the FA.

And Senor Balotelli's red card - he should have gone for his awful tackle in the first half...

The last few weeks do still have a few things to keep them interesting, though. The "race" to finish in places 3 and 4 - yes, that's right - 3rd and 4th are the new 1st apparently - until someone can prise that trophy away from Fergie's No More Nails coated hands. And no-one seems to want to stay in the Premier League at the moment - although the aforementioned men in black might have the biggest say on who stays up!

A few days break coming up, hence my hasty recap post. Got some important swing-football to play in the garden with the little lad - now he's lost his footballs, tennis balls and "shufflecocks" (sic) to the neighbours one too many times as well as emptying our little blossom tree plants of all their pretty white blossom with his caseys, that's all we're left with. Well, that and Table Football for when it's raining and his mum says we can't stay outside (or foosball, or futbolin, or babyfoot - I'm confused - just what do you call it? - please send answers in!)

what's in a name?

As a little way to refresh my Premier League weary eyes, you'll have noticed I've had a brief virtual sojourn over to Spain, resulting in my last couple of posts and a couple of published articles for the nice folk over at - my last post on RCD Espanyol's old home at the olympic stadium can be found here: elcentrocampista - grumpy article they make my witterings look reasonably professional and if they can do that and you are interested at all in Spanish football - look no further. Just let them know I sent you.

Hasta la proxima,


Monday, 2 April 2012

Mi Casa es tu Casa

West Ham want it, Leyton Orient want them nowhere near it. (We are all going to pay for it).

The Olympic stadium - another bloated, over-budget stadium for our glorious capital city. With the debate still raging, Orient's chairman and pub-game promoter, Barry Hearn, has been taking to soap-boxing on the airwaves -giving his views on how a move to the ground for West Ham will kill his club and informing anyone that will listen that the stadium is "not fit for football".

It is hard not to feel sorry for him as he passionately and ever more desperately pleads on behalf of his club and fans.

The belief that the ground is not fit for football stems from the usual complaints over stadia built with Athletics in mind. Think Juventus and Bayern Munich, to name two.

Those pesky running tracks and the gentle slope of the seating.

Manchester city overcame the problems with the re-structuring of the commonwealth games stadium before they moved in - but that was a much smaller affair. The Commonwealth Games is the Anglo-Italian cup to the Olympic's Champions League.

Some years back I travelled to Barcelona for a few days with my Dad - it was "the wrong weekend" and Barca were away from home. After the obligatory tour around Camp Nou - we stood in awe at the number and variety of trophies in the cabinet. Who knew there were so many hockey tournaments that Barcelona had won? - we decided to head across town to see if we could score tickets for the Espanyol-v-Las Palmas match.

Not exactly a fixture to set pulses racing, but a foreign match experience in any event. It was held at Espanyol's then home - the olympic stadium at Montjuic. The beautiful, but very impractical legacy of the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona.

The trail had to be one of the most surreal, but pleasant journeys to a football stadium. Unfortunately the cable-car crossing was closed at the time,  which really would have elevated the transport to new heights, so to speak. Instead, it was the metro, followed by a funicular (cutting out a few kms criss-crossing the hillside) which left you with a very pleasant stroll through tree-lined avenues. Eventually, the spectacular sight of the Olympic torch towered in to view.

As someone used to the packed tram from Manchester City Centre and a walk past the Lou Macari chippy and terraced houses on Warwick Road, it was a very exotic experience.

Espanyol had left the comfy, but atmospheric surroundings of their la Sarria ground in the late 90s. The local government had pressured the club for some time, desperately wanting a permanent use for their very own white elephant stadium. Mounting debts left the club with little choice but to sell to developers and lodge at Montjuic.

Once outside the Stadium, we relaxed in a shady park (and that isn't shady like edgy, like Stanley Park, but leafy) and pondered how to secure a ticket over a cool cerveza. We needn't have worried - the match was far from a sellout and the oldest ticket tout in town had spotted us a mile off and made his way over towards his prey.

I knew enough Castilian Spanish to partake in a conversation with said gent, who eagerly took our cash, flashed 3 season ticket cards at us, beamed a toothless smile, and escorted us through the ticket barriers - once safely through the two checks, he waved an arm in a cursory gesture to the swathe of light blue seats that backed on to us (I think, to indicate we could sit where we wanted) and walked off, straight out through the barriers - presumably to go and spend his newly earned money at the local bar!

Montjuic was truly huge. There was no gasp as you walked up the steps to see the lush carpet of green spreading out below. No thrill as the crowd at the opposite side of the ground flashed in to view. Just awe at an absolutely huge bowl of a ground and open space, with an enormous orange running track circling a faded green patch of grass some distance away.

Two gigantic banners, emblazoned with the club crest, covered each end of the ground behind the goals - the places where the ultras would usually whip up the fervour inside the ground - seemingly because those seats would actually be furthest from the pitch and no-one in their right mind would want to sit there. It also served to "herd" the spectators together along the sides of the ground, rather than have small pockets of fans here or there. The capacity without the banners would have been around 30 thousand to large for Espanyol to fill.

Without any sort of roof, other than on the main stand, probably just enough to cover the two or three rows of club directors and vips, the Sun beat down relentlessly.

We were lucky in a couple of ways - the game was an enjoyable 3-2 win for the home team, and, despite the very, very shallow incline of the seats, the crowd was so sparse that we had no-one in front of us for 10 rows or so. Why did we not move further forward, you ask? Well, the shallow incline and the and running track, combined with the obligatory perimeter advertising boards conspired together so that should the winger be sprinting along the touchline, we had no view of the ball whatsoever - and could certainly not judge whether a tackle was well-timed or not!

A quick beer at half-time (word of warning "sin alcohol" is not point of sale advertising of the evils of beer by the catholic church, like on cigarettes by the government, but "without alcohol") and not a pie in sight - nice bag of sunflower seeds, anyone? The damn things littered the stadium by the end of the match!

The Espanyol fans didn't want to reside at Montjuic in the first place, and finally got their way after twelve years on top of the hill, they moved again, much further from their traditional heartland, to the working-class suburb of Cornella-El Prat.

The new stadium opened in 2009 and is an outstanding FOOTBALL stadium. Absolutely a modern masterpiece which should be the envy of many. The supporters are right next to the pitch and the focus is all on the green carpet in front of them. Aping the much-loved and missed Sarria stadium in which they used to reside, with very modern twists.

Atmosphere is building as the fans begin to feel at home and attempt to remind the world that "Catalunya es mes que un club" - that there is more to Catalunya than the other club down the road, as a banner at the ground defiantly states. So far, results have not exactly gone the way they might have expected with the re-emergence of the twelfth man, compared to their relative successes at the desert-like Montjuic. This may come. As I write, the club are hovering just below the Europa League places.

Many clubs have found that moving home across town needn't be the displacement of their soul that purists may think. Franchising and moving wholesale out of the town or city they traditionally represent (a la MK Dons) is abhorrent even to the non-purists. But, with careful planning, fan bases can be renewed and reinvigorated within the local community - much like Espanyol, who are attempting to forge new relationships in their new surroundings - no easy task when a footballing goliath shares your city.

But the clubs must be thoughtful in their application of these plans. Larger clubs muscling their way in to other’s backyards can never be a good thing either. There are many sensitive choices to make.

Whilst an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, those few years back in Montjuic, the whole thing was a little soulless. It was serene and pleasant - much like the journey to the ground - probably, in fact, much like an Athletics experience, rather than a footballing one.

As Barry Hearn would attest: The 1992 Olympic Stadium was not fit for football.


pics are from the excellent blog - check the site out for much more on Espanyol and all Spanish clubs stadia, throughout la liga and beyond - extensive photos and write-ups

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Once bitten, twice shy...

pic from

Aaah - here we are, two corking semi-finals in the much-maligned FA Cup - two derbies to stir the soul and raise the passions in two football mad cities - that's more like it. And the winners of the ties will get the chance to battle it out on a special one-off day at Wembley in the Cup Final.

Except, obviously, it isn't a special one-off day, because they'll have just played there to earn the right to play there on a special second-time-in-a-month day in the Final.

I know this has been going on for a while. I know that big fat over-budget white elephants don't pay for themselves. But it just doesn't feel right.

80,000ish scousers will have to find a way to get down to London, from the various parts of Wales and the North West that they live. The cost of the tickets is astronomical, the travel likewise. And half will have to do it again four weeks later (although, not quite half, as the corporates will have a much healthier share of the final, naturally). If Liverpool make it, they will be repeating a trip they have made very recently in the League Cup.

Manchester had to do the same last year, city making the trip twice in quick succession.

The London club's fans have it a little easier, travel-wise, of course - but Wembley semi-final tickets carry Wembley semi-final ticket prices.

It is the voice of common sense nagging away at everyone that surely Old Trafford and the Emirates stadium would be more appropriate.

But football does not exist in a common sense world and the old reliable cash-cow fans can still be milked, even in these semi-skimmed economy days. The tickets will be sold, the money will be found and all will seem rosy down wembley way.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tales of Scotland, League One, Financial Management and the Pub.

Reports stated recently that Glasgow Celtic are said to be "in talks" and hoping to apply for a berth in England's League 1. That's Division 3 in old money, lest we forget. Presumably in an effort to show just how much they would like to be in the English League, whilst also thinking they would only be that far down the pyramid for a short time.

The reports have naturally since been dismissed by both the League itself and Celtic officials. But it is a question that has, and will, keep rearing its head as football clubs and leagues - or Brands - search for ways to continue to survive and, if possible, prosper in difficult times.

Newton Heath Library

Difficulties with financial management at clubs is not a new issue. (as an example, in 1932, now mega-monolithic Manchester United had to be saved from extinction by James Gibson, a local businessman, who wiped their debt clear - the club having already been saved from financial ruin a couple of times before - oh look, they are in millions and millions of pounds worth of debt again!).

However, it is an interesting anomaly that today, many clubs are still facing ruin, some chasing dreams that look like they can no longer come true, at a time when fans and the sporting media are so financially savvy.

Each club will have business directors, fans groups are well-versed on the financial side of football (some taking control of clubs, or at least placing themselves in positions where, should the worst happen, they may be able to step in) and the sports pages are also regular haunts for financial news, and vice-versa with sports news making the financial and business pages. Successful businessmen are usually the people in charge of clubs, drawn like moths to the flame - but football can't be run by the same model as successful businesses and the majority have their wings severely singed.

Football is such a global game now, that the song "we support our local team" has become less of a stick to beat opposition fans with and more a sign of insularity. Clubs need more and more money to just tick over and chasing that money involves getting the "product" out to as many people as possible - not just looking inwards at the locals.

It is clear that, for the long-term health of the game, something radical needs to be done. That awful phrase "thinking outside the box" seems the only appropriate way describe it.

So, that is what Celtic and, if they survive their current predicament, Rangers are looking to do.

The Scottish League can no longer contain, nor sustain them. They are far too big in comparison to the other teams, causing a real imbalance. It has been said in some quarters that some clubs are losing fans, not to the Old Firm, but from Scottish Football altogether as there is absolutely no competition in the league. The familiarity of the same two teams battling it out for the title each year, whilst all the others share points between themselves, is breeding contempt.

Many of the other leagues in Europe, of course, have the self-same problems - but not to such an extent, perhaps, at the moment. A European Super League looks inevitable at some point - it just remains to be seen, when, in what form, and with which teams involved.

As for Celtic applying to join the English league - if the league don't want them - start them off in non-league - see how much they really want to make the move. It will probably only take them a couple of years longer to get where they think they should be and once they do make it to the league, they will at least have earned it. 

Just think of what a tremendous boost it would be for the economy of many English towns and their off-licences - it could even save the English pub!

That idea about toll roads could come in as well, but keep it with the state - fans pay to cross the border, national debt would come down sharpish.

I do, however, recall with dread the condition that Manchester was left in the morning after Rangers played in the Europa League final, a couple of years ago. Walking across town was like walking on the dancefloor at the Ritz nightclub, feet sticking to the ground, and there was an overpowering frangrance of stale beer, cigarette ash and vomit seranading the nostrils of the early morning commuters.

Now, obviously, a game against Stalybridge Celtic is not going to cause 100,000 ticketless fans to cross the border wreaking havoc in Stalyvegas, but I do suspect there would be sellouts galore - a great cash boost for the clubs. However, I still get a picture of the wild west when a stranger comes to town: kids being dragged off the streets, shutters being closed, a hush falling over everyone as the massed hordes make their way to the ground.

A lot like how my elder sister describes watching tommy doc's united away from home in the seventies.

I await the next move with interest...


Saturday, 17 March 2012

On and off the pitch - Athletic ruled....

Athletic Club de Bilbao are well and truly en vogue at the moment - or should that be a la moda? (or, of course, the basque equivalent, which I am unfortunately not equipped to translate!)

van-Basten like...
The team, currently standing in 7th position in La Liga, well and truly outplayed and outclassed the English champions in both legs of their recent Europa League clashes - both on and off the pitch, causing a stir around Europe and drawing much praise for their high-tempo, direct - but skilfull - take on Barcelona's pressing game, and the boisterousness of their fans.
As is befitting a club with so many connections to the English game, England - it's press and it's people, was particularly enamoured by Athletic's performance - and not just the "anyone but United" brigade.

Athletic are a club with a red-and-white striped kit, taken home by a basque traveller from a trip to Southampton; they proudly bear the anglicised moniker "Athletic Club"; their most successful manager was an Englishman, one Fred Pentland; Howard Kendall is a fondly-remembered ex-manager; their ground, San Mames, is often referred to as "English" in style, being very close to the pitch  - and the team are known, certainly in Spain, to play in a more English style, with a direct approach, built around a tall centre-forward. The connections are numerous.

With all this in mind, the two games against United were the biggest to come around for some time. The champions of England coming to town - a time to test themselves against a different style of opposition to the usual Spanish teams and to show their calibre to the watching football world, in an entirely different spotlight to that in which they struggle to be seen because of the traditional big two El Classico teams.

Judging by the response of the players after the games, Fernando Llorente for one calling the feat "increible", this clearly meant a great deal to all concerned.
Athletic Club de Bilbao were brilliant over both games. It was a breath of fresh air to see a team attack Manchester United so vibrantly and freely at Old Trafford - many others withdraw in to their shells and look to limit the damage they expect to be caused. Not Athletic. Back home, whilst not quite reaching the same heights they had in Manchester, they still proved formidable opposition - and could quite easily have score three more goals than they had. Even though a United fan, with the game seemingly out of our grasp, when Andoni Iraola found himself tap-dancing around the penalty area and clipping his shot wide - I was actually willing him to, if not score, at least bring a save out of David De Gea.

The Basques attacked from the off, pressing with a very high line when not in possession. United looked suprised by how relentless the pressure was. No reckless challenges were made, just constant harrying until the opposition hurried a pass and gave the ball away. Whilst in possession, their passing was crisp, they always had space and a couple of options to pass to, and they invariably found their man. Take the pass for Fernando Llorente's opener at San Mames - Fernando Amorebieta played a searching diagonal pass from well inside his own half, floated towards the corner of the United penalty area, which Llorente just had to jog a few yards backwards (unnoticed!) - the easy part - and then execute a van Basten-like volley past De Gea - who surely was not expecting a first-time hit from the frontman.
The stadium exploded with joy. The already raucous fans dared to believe once more that they could make some headlines of their own and could defeat the mighty Manchester United. They needn't have worried at all - the heart that los Leones displayed throughout the 180 minutes, matched with their tenacity and not to mention their technical ability was a sum total that would have steered them past anyone in this mood.
Shambles Square, Manchester
And boy did those supporters deserve the performance they got. 8000 made the trip to Manchester last week - they swamped the city, taking in the sights of the Town Hall and having pictures taken next to traditional black cab taxis, also turning the shambles square area of Manchester into a veritable bay of biscay of red-and-white. And they sang and roared and sang again - even seranading Old Trafford to the sound of "You'll Never Walk Alone" to wind up the home fans.
Back home, they made more noise in their more familiar "Catedral" as opposed to the "Theatre" in Manchester. They even found time to give an ovation to Ryan Giggs (who was quite anonymous in the game, really) and to Wayne Rooney's fine goal. Easy to do when you are coasting, true, but a fine sight nevertheless.

The Basques are a proud people - and this was the perfect opportunity for them and the team that probably represents them the most (Real Sociedad fans will beg to differ, naturally!) to showcase what they are made of around the world - they did this with relish and aplomb.
Whether this form can be transferred back to La Liga for the rest of the season remains to be seen - I can't quite see how such energy could be expelled every game - but following these performances, quite a few more eyes will be watching Athletic and their Leones than even were before.

Keeping hold of their coach, Marcelo Bielsa, and the myriad talents that make up their squad will now, unfortunately, be a very difficult task.