Archive for January, 2011

Thuggery, an opportunist politician and tepid rubbish

January 26th, 2011 No comments

Sometimes when Stoke play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.  If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend.  A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping.  When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when I locate one.  Saturday nights game against Fulham was certainly not one such occasion.  In fact, quite a while before Ryans red and Dempsey’s penalty out us out of our misery I just felt pleased I hadn’t wasted a large amount of money on travelling to West London to watch such a depressing display.  Only Begovic emerges from that dull rubbish with any credit.  Mark Hughes couldn’t have been too pleased with his own players after the game either.  Only scoring twice against a team as off form as we were was pathetic.  The only positive thing to come from the game was that the pre match handshake between the managers puts an end to their childish spat.  At the end at least I was lucky enough to be able to go straight to bed instead of enduring a long journey home.  And those journeys home are doubly painful after a ‘performance’ as hopeless as that one.   

An exciting A-League derby game between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart was ruined by an act of vicious thuggery from Kevin Muscat.  There was so much wrong with that violent assault on Heart’s Adrian Zahra it’s hard to know how to start to condemn it.  Zahra will miss the remainder of this campaign season with ligament damage but may be ready for the start of next season.   Earlier this season Perth Glory’s Michael Baird served a two match  ban for diving.  If a dive was a two game how long should Muscat spend away from the game?  Although at this stage it wouldn’t  be inappropriate if his club asserted some firm self governance and sacked him. 

At Molineux  on Saturday it was back to the 80’s.  Some may find it hard to believe but there was a time when Liverpool were every bit as dominant as Man Utd have been for the last seventeen years.  It was common back then for sides to try to rattle them physically, which wasn’t particularly fruitful as that Liverpool side were perfectly capable of handling the physical.  In fact at times they got their retaliation in first!  So seeing Wolves attempts to get over the top and lean into their opponents was something of a nostalgia trip!  And it really was a nostalgia trip because Liverpool handled that threat and imposed themselves on the game and won convincingly with ruthless efficiency.  At certain points in the last ten years Bob Paisley has turned in his grave….. at other times he’s been spinning.  But on Saturday he’d have quietly smiled.  It was 1981 again!
Any politician wishing to be regarded as an everyday down to earth type can use football as a thematic peg to hang it all on.    In early 1995 as leader of the opposition,  Tony Blair was the king of the photo opportunity.  One such opportunity manifested itself by way of a speech criticising the size  footballers pay packets.  Predictably, his speech made headlines and was one small segment of Blair’s inexorable march to number 10.  In the aftermath Tommy Docherty asked a significant question which remained unanswered… “So what’s he going to do about it?”  A question of chilling simplicity yet great relevance.  It was clear that Blair was going to become prime minister, when he reached office what did he do about it?   Last week British minister for sport Hugh Robertson, with justification, attacked football’s administrators and declared that action is needed.  A Culture, Media and Sport select committee has been talking to people within the game and will report its findings in May.  Whatever the findings we can reasonably suspect Tommy Docherty’s question may have to be repeated…. what’s he going to do about it?

Amid the constant surge of praise for Barcelona, one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in Europe at the moment is Borussia Dortmund.  Most of their games are entertaining.  Their stadium is always filled with a sea of bright yellow creating a passionate din  and they play exciting fast paced football.  Despite their dominant league position they do have streaks of vulnerability which is endearing to the neutral as it must be infuriating to their fans!

Turkish Delight and Brazilian brilliance

January 19th, 2011 No comments

Our win against Bolton was solid if unspectacular.  After edging ahead we rarely looked likely to relinquish the lead.  We were on top all over the park.  The only phase of the game that Bolton got involved in was the period after half time when they looked as if they had received the proverbial rocket up their collective backside, but we soon extinguished that fire.  Keeping clean sheets is a priceless habit and Bolton couldn’t find a way through, this in itself was the most pleasing aspect of the game.  Another great positive was the performance of Tuncay.   He was instrumental in our attacking play often adding those quirky little touches that gave our game an extra dimension, and his pass for Ethers run, which led to the penalty, was simple but perfect!   The real endearing thing about Tuncay is that he smiles when he plays!  In a football world where players can look thoroughly indifferent after reaching a European Cup Final, it’s refreshing to see a player who actually looks as if he enjoys playing football.  Some of his supercilious fellow professionals could do with following his lead.  Another memorable point from the game was late on when the black bin liner blew across the pitch.  Not as amusing as the halcyon days of a dog on the pitch but  memorable all the same.

After a comprehensive victory it may seem overly niggly to pick fault BUT is there any chance at all of our players improving the free kicks at goal?  Wilson’s on Saturday was dire.  They either go into the wall or fly miles over the top.  Pennant hit the bar away to  Bolton but apart from that there has been  no threat at all.  For a side that doesn’t create much from open play a free kick gives a great chance to get a shot on goal but after each one I can’t be the only aghast Stokie pondering what they do in training all week.  If the time spent practicing Rory’s throw ins, (which are increasingly looking a spent force) was taken working on free kicks on goal, and shooting in general for that matter we’d increase our scorability, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all!

It’s quietly pleasing to have made some progress in the FA Cup.  The game at Cardiff certainly wasn’t a cup classic but you can’t do more than win.  Several of the fringe players got a much needed game and came through.  Soares involvement was a surprise as I’d totally forgotten about him!  It all provides more experience for Ryan Shotton too who appears to be one of our bright young things.  Walters leaague form is patchy but scoring those two goals won’t harm his confidence at all.  Wolves away next and it would be preferable not to face a Premier team away.  However, I don’t like to focus on omens too much but in the last two seasons the team that has knocked Cardiff out has gone on to lift the trophy.  Is that a reason for optimism?  No, probably not. 

Despite being a lover of football traditions, it’s foolish to deny that the FA Cup has lost much of it’s polish in recent years.  Seeing games played out on front of half full stadiums and managers clearly regarding the whole competition as a nuisance isn’t an inspiring spectacle.  The FA holding this years final on a weekend of a full Premier League programme hardly suggests that it’s a priority for anyone.   But that  shouldn’t  stop us dreaming!! 

Such was the media furore surrounding Avram Grant’s position at West Ham, their game against Arsenal had the air of a public execution.  Each close up shot of the beleagured gaffer greeted with a comment about his impending sacking.  By half time Grant had become little more than a figure of pity.  The mismanagement of his proposed dismissal from the powers that be at Upton Park is as haphazard as it is disrespectful.  Treating the manager with that kind of contempt is ludicrous.  Allowing the approach to Martin O’Neill to become public was clumsy and damaging, esspecially as they were to be in a live televised game later that day.  If you want to sack a manager you sack them and pay them off.  That O’Neill has rejected the offer leaves Gold and Sullivan with some much derserved egg on their faces.  Amazing that after undermining Grant, David Sullivan had the audacity to come out and call for everyone to support him…..  even in the glib world of football speak that was a bit rich.  As for Martin  O’Neill, At 58 O’Neill has one big job left in him.  Methinks West Ham isn’t it. But if Dalglish doesn’t fancy it long term it wouldn’t be a huge shock if he was to turn up at Anfield.

Steve Bruce has expressed his disappointment that Darren Bent has chosen to join Aston Villa.  Shouldn’t he have balanced that with showing his elation at the size of the fee?  18m which could rise to 24m.  Despite the initial shock of the fee, if Bent injects the goals that Villa’s forward line is missing it could prove to be a shrewd investment.  Houllier will be painfully aware of the ramifications if Bent doesn’t succeed at Villa Park.  

One of the best moments of the weekend’s football came here in the A-League, Alex Terra’s goal for Melbourne Heart against Perth Glory was spectacular.  You could drag out the well worn cliche about ‘if a Brazlilian had done that’…  but for the fact that Alex Terra actually  is a Brazilian!

A bigot, a hindrance worth winning and talented indifference.

January 11th, 2011 No comments

Back in 1993, our legendary striker Mark Stein assaulted Stockport defender Jim Gannon.  There is no doubt that Stein did strike Gannon (albeit lightly) but what was overlooked by the media, is that Stein had reacted to what Judge Peter Northcote described as ‘extreme provocation’.  The aforementioned provocation manifested itself by the way of racial abuse.  The judge then seemed to dismiss this by telling Stein that this was ‘A burden you must bear’. In the modern age such language would rightly be deemed unacceptable, but it was hardly smiled upon then.  The fact is that Gannon’s bigotry was largely ignored by the press but his vile tirade is a matter of public record.  In court, Gannon’s lawyer said that, yes, his client had abused Stein verbally, calling him “a short, ugly, black, bean-headed tvvat”, but argued that that was the language of the football park…. the same lame justification Jimmy Hill used when defending Ron Atkinson’s racist comments about Marcel Desailly.  Despite this, he stands in a strong position to be appointed manager of Port Vale.  Are the board at Port Vale aware of the incident?  Are they aware of how inflammatory it would be to employ someone who has a record of racially abusing a player based in the same city?               

The festive period was generally healthy for Stoke City.  Following the efficient victory at Blackburn with a defeat at home to Fulham was infuriating of course, but much of that was nullified by the win over Everton.  Despite phases of the Everton game being played in our half, we stifled them and they created very little, especially in the second half.  The ref, for some reason, didn’t award Everton the penalty they should have had in the first minute, and we capitalised on our good fortune.  It’s particularly pleasing that Jonesy opened the scoring.  Against Fulham he was off the pace so to respond in such style was a much needed boost for us all.  Our second goal ended the match as a  contest and all that was left was to play the game out in uneventful safety.  It was also encouraging that against Man United we made them sweat for the result a little bit more.   Admittedly only a little bit, but after the previous visits it’s a huge improvement!  It was fantastic to spend a few minutes in dreamland after super goal machine Whitehead’s equaliser.  It didn’t last longer than a few minutes admittedly, but seeing their anxiety increase in the final minutes showed that we hadn’t rolled over and had put in a strong showing.   On reflection, the best thing about the fixture away to Man United  being over is that we know we don’t have to go there again this season! 
It was a return to the pre Premier league days to be listening to the Cardiff game on the internet instead of watching on television……  hearing the familiar tones of Nigel Johnson were like visiting a dear old friend.  It sounded as if it would have been a decent game for the neutral, but we aren’t neutral!  Our inability to get a winner means we face a replay next week.  If anything symbolises the FA Cup’s waning magic it’s that both Tony Pulis and Dave Jones admitted the extra game will be a hindrance we could both do without.  But nevertheless, it’s a hindrance worth winning, if we were to totally disregard the FA Cup it would be an arrogant mistake.

Despite going behind early Liverpool were the better side in the first half of their tie with Man Utd, until Steve Gerrard undid all his teams good work with that stupid violent attack.  Despite Dalglish’s protestations that vicious assault got the red card it deserved… and with it went Liverpool’s FA cup hopes for 2011.  Whatever is wrong with Torres?  He has the demeanour of a man who would prefer to be elsewhere, maybe Liverpool should grant him his wish and re-invest the proceeds from his sale into rebuilding the team.  There is a precedent.  Groundhog Day could occur, in 1987  Dalglish used the money from the sale of Ian Rush to Juventus to buy Beardsley and Barnes and revamp the team and their playing style, he could do worse than repeat that policy.  Nobody can deny Torres’ immense talent but if his recent performances reflect his attitude, they would be better cashing in and acquiring the services of a striker whose interest level rises above indifferent. 

The Arsenal v Leeds tie was a crash bang wallop of a tie.  8,500 Leeds fans travelled to London to watch a game being shown on TV.  That’s impressive.  Despite the amusement felt at the  2004 and 2007  relegations, their return to the Premier league seems to be a matter of when not if, but with support like that it may not be too far away.

In Qatar the start of the Asian cup has generated unparalleled levels of indifference.  Seeing an international tournament played out to empty stadiums hardly gives FIFA’s choice for 2022 any more credibility.  Australia started with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over India.  The most enthralling point of the tournament so far is that India have a player with the second best ever name for a footballer…. Climax Lawrence!!