Posts Tagged ‘Brisbane’

Win required, retirement, Blatter’s bluster, Rudi’s challenge, supporting football.

November 7th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s season so far has been dogged with a chronic lack of goals.  Those who felt a stroke of good fortune was required have been granted their wish.  Asmir Begovic’s goal against Southampton was a gloriously crazy way to start any game!  To take the lead after a matter of seconds, to a goal so bizarre  was the kind of good fortune any team experiences once a decade at the most!  Initially Southampton seemed unsettled.  We pressed forward and looked capable of adding to our lead.  However, when Ryan Shawcross squandered a great chance of adding a second it was  ominous.  Shawcross should have done better.  It could be argued a defender shouldn’t be expected to finish clinically but, as a professional footballer, he should have made contact to get a shot on target. From that point Southampton grew in confidence and their equaliser on the stroke of half time wasn’t a shock.  The second half consisted of both teams trying to carve out an opening with neither creating enough to win the game.  While we can have no complaints about the result it’s frustrating to have failed to win another home game.  It was particularly disheartening to gain only a draw from a game in which we had such a marvellous, albeit outlandish, start.   It’s a simple request, but soon, as soon as possible, we need to start winning games of football.

Mark Schwarzer’s retirement from international football came as a surprise.  At the age of 41 he has 109 international caps…. an Australian record.   Having experienced two World Cup campaigns with the national team there seemed every possibility he’d again play on the biggest stage next year in Brazil.    Australia will miss his presence stature and experience.  Schwarzer himself might have made a mistake when he still has a World Cup left in him.  In June he may come to rue this decision.

Joe Hart in another keeper in the news.  Did Hart’s omission from Manchester City’s starting line up really merit the media attention it generated?  His form has been erratic for months.  Manuel Pellegrini’s decision was relatively straight forward.  Costel Pantilimon performed steadily against Newcastle in midweek so keeping him in the team was a sensible decision in the best interests of the team and the club as a whole…. including Hart himself.  Off form he can use the time away to rest, recuperate and return to his best.  The press have exaggerated the importance of this.

Roma’s perfect start to the season finally reached it’s conclusion when they drew 1-1 at Torino.  Winning the first ten games of any season is impressive for anyone.  The odd thing is after such a dominant start the leaders find themselves only three points ahead of second place Napoli who, worryingly for Roma, are only ahead of Juventus on goal difference.  Manager Rudi Garcia has made a staggering start to his reign in Rome, he now needs to ensure his players can maintain their brilliant start and remember they are still on top and the team to beat.  Also, at the start of the season they wouldn’t have turned down the chance to be three points clear after eleven games!

Brisbane Roar’s 3-0 victory over Melbourne Heart was the archetypal game of two halves.  At half time nobody watching could have guessed the second half would be something of a stroll for Brisbane.  In the first period Heart wasted several great opportunities to take the lead and at half time there was a feeling they may have blown their chance.  To see the hosts effortlessly glide to victory in the second half was a huge surprise!  After the game it was disappointing to get chatting to several football fans who rarely attend A-League matches because they consider the quality of football on offer to be poor.  Of all the reasons not to go to matches the perceived low quality of play is lame.  Not least because the A-League is improving.  It isn’t, and has never claimed to be, a rival to the European Champions League.  It does however have some decent matches and holds it’s own as a national competition.  To dismiss an entire league on the basis of poor quality is to suggest the only football worth spending time on is the absolute pinnacle.  Why watch Brentford when they aren’t as good as Chelsea?  Why watch Piacenza when you can watch Milan?  For that matter, only Bayern Munich Barcelona and Real Madrid would attract crowds at all.  Is this a healthy scenario?

Sepp Blatter has pledged to seek explanations from Qatari authorities regarding the continuing controversy surrounding the 2022 World Cup.  His posturing and talk may be an attempt to recover some integrity.  If his organisation is to regain any credibility at all he needs to assert governance and strip Qatar of hosting rights and re-open the bidding process….. before resigning.





Bore draw, futile posturing, becoming the greatest, the end of an aura

December 13th, 2012 No comments

While some 0-0 draws are absorbing and entertaining the same can’t be said of Stoke City’s game at Villa Park on Saturday.  In fact at times it was difficult to watch.  Villa pressured us early on but lacked the craft to create anything substantial.  Stoke were unadventurous and we seemed to have settled for a 0-0 draw from the start.  Dull though it undoubtedly was there were some positive aspects of our performance.  We displayed characteristic tenacity to gain a point.  Organised and  disciplined, we rarely looked likely to concede a goal.  We’ve now conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team.  As has been the hallmark of Tony Pulis’ reign… we are hard to beat!  A defensive record like ours is impressive for any team in any league in the world… some additional attacking drive into our approach would be most welcome.

An infuriating aspect of the match was Ryan Shotton’s sending off for two yellow cards.  The first yellow was avoidable, not giving the ball back for a free kick was foolish. Ryan’s second yellow was an absolute travesty. Fabian Delph cheated for no reason other than to get a fellow professional sent off.  For too long authorities have talked of removing diving from the game but decisive action is yet to be asserted.  Shotton now has to serve a one match ban while Delph’s horrendous anti football hoodwink goes unpunished.  If they aren’t prepared to act administrative bodies should spare us their futile fatuous empty posturing.

Having charmed much of Europe it’s now increasingly likely Michel Platini’s idea to stage the 2020 European Championship across the continent will come to fruition.  The plan has proved to be unpopular with one poll stating that 82% of fans oppose the proposed format.  The reason this formula was even suggested was borne of UEFA’s decision to expand the competition from 16 to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament considerably more complicated and much more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggests  UEFA’s number crunchers are seemingly oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

On Sunday Brisbane Roar were beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers.  Brisbane are a much different team than the one that won two consecutive A-League titles under Ange Postecoglou.  Style panache and fluidity have been replaced by disjointed nervous vulnerability. During much of Postecoglou’s reign Brisbane carried an aura of invincibility, an aura borne of one simple factor… winning games of football.  Since Postecoglou was replaced by his assistant Rado Vidosic, the players have lacked the previous years technique and, more significantly, the hunger that drove them to be crowned champions.  Hopefully Vidosic and the players can address the flaws and Brisbane can launch a defence of their title, but the point has to be made, Brisbane Roar have well and truly lost their aura.

Few can deny that Lionel Messi is the outstanding player of the modern era.  Messi combines agility with skill and, of course, goals.  The method which leads to many of the goals brings inevitable comparisons with Diego Maradona.  Amid the unquestionable brilliance  he has another requirement to fulfill in order to be truly regarded amongst football’s all time greats.  Despite what some of UEFA’s  sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football. At a World Cup players are out of their comfort zone and face different challenges.  if Messi is to be  placed in the same bracket as Zidane, Pele and Maradona he needs to confirm his status by displaying his genius in Brazil.






Deflated, me and Ken, a good luck and a thank you

May 10th, 2012 No comments

In many respects, the 2011/12 season has been a decent one for Stoke City.  It started as early as July when we faced Hadjuk Split in the Europa league.  Over two legs we deservedly knocked out a side with a healthy European pedigree.  Drawn in a tough group we made it through in relative comfort.  There was no disgrace in going out to a side of Valencia’s undoubted class.  In the FA cup we reached the quarter final again.  For the first time in our long history we have reached the last eight three times in a row.  Most importantly of all we were never in serious danger of relegation.  For much of the campaign we’ve looked more likely to snatch an unlikely European  spot than to go down.  So overall another steady season.  With those factors in mind the question has to be asked, why do so many of us feel so deflated?  It isn’t because of our style of play.  Neither is it because we have started to expect too much.  The primary factor is a matter of chilling simplicity… our performances are too boring.  Erring on the side of caution isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but to do so at the expense of almost everything else becomes tiresome.  Our attacking play constantly lacks fluidity and we’ve rarely played well for an entire 90 minutes.  Any team with a competent defence can handle our forward play.  A series of balls hit long, usually to Peter Crouch, who may or may not flick a header onto a teammate.  The teammate in question is double marked and stifled.  Our midfield rarely pushes forward quickly enough to effectively support the attack so within seconds the ball comes straight back at us and we are under pressure again.  We aren’t creative enough we aren’t positive enough.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to Tony Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here.  In 2012/13 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaching games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required.

Kenny Dalglish is the greatest footballer I’ve ever seen in the flesh.  For that matter There haven’t been that many better players on TV.  He carried greatness on into management, continuing Liverpool’s dominance by building a side capable of playing enthralling winning football.  While he was their manager, if I attended to a match at Anfield I’d try to get a ticket near to the dug out.  For most of of the game I’d be awestruck watching Dalglish watching the game and barking instructions.  In addition to his football prowess, the way in which he led his club through the traumatic aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster saw him grow in stature as a man.  For all that, even I, as a Dalglish propagandist, have to say that  his mismanagement of the Suarez/racism affair  was so far wide of the mark he embarrassed himself. Seemingly oblivious to the scale of the issue at stake Dalglish looked isolated and  desperate.  The Suarez affair has cast a filthy shadow over Liverpool’s season.  A series of self inflicted wounds that grew deeper with each botched public statement.  It’s understandable that a manager needs to stand by his players but Dalglish’ blunt refusal to accept his players wrongdoings left him looking out of touch with modern football and the modern world.  Even after Suarez returned to action following the eight game ban the manager dug himself deeper into the hole by claiming he shouldn’t have been suspended.   This misplaced loyalty has left a huge stain on the perception of Liverpool Football Club.  In the last twelve months Dalglish has started to undo his own legend.

If the successful candidate had to be English, Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England manager is the correct decision, albeit a surprising one.  Harry Redknapp was the overwhelming favourite.  On SKY’s Sunday Supplement show someone even referred to “When Harry takes  over ” while Capello was in office!  The point has to be made that Harry hardly helped his own career possibilities when he stood in court announced to the world that he’s  thick.

Roy Hodgson has experience of taking teams to tournaments who are technically inferior.  Anything England achieve in Polkraine, will be almost entirely based on a rigid formation.  We can’t outplay them BUT we can outnumber them. Squeezing the opposition in the middle of the pitch, narrowing angles, stifling opposition creativity.  Hodgson is known to spend much of his time on the training pitch working on shape.  His players have to constantly repeat drills to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected both as individuals and for the team collective. There will be little scope to make a tactical blunder. Good luck Roy.

After leading Brisbane Roar to two A-League championships in two full seasons, manager Ange Postecoglou has left to join Melbourne Victory.  In the early seasons of the A-League I used to dream of 50,000 packed into Suncorp Stadium to watch a grand final.  Ange fulfilled this dream twice.  Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp total football Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privelige.  It’s appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts!  Thank you Ange.  You were magnificent.

Nearly safe, the approach at the Bridge, costly indiscipline, Harry’s challenges,

March 7th, 2012 No comments

Two consecutive home wins have lifted much of the  the gloom and Stoke City are now in a strong position to reach the magical 40 points mark and confirm a fifth consecutive season the Premier League.  Against Norwich on Saturday we retained possession with more confidence than previous matches and Etherington’s masterful strike broke the visitors stubborn resistance.  Having displayed  characteristic tenacity to get ahead we never looked like losing the lead in the closing minutes.  Throughout the game we were on top all over the pitch.  We still aren’t creative enough, but few can deny we deserved the points.  With that in mind, Norwich manager Paul Lambert’s claim that the whole game hinged on the throw in that led to Matty’s winner is lame to say the least.  We were indeed lucky to get the throw but Lambert would be better off addressing  the slack defending that allowed Jerome to flick the throw on and Matty the time and space to pick his spot!  My grapes taste sweet Mr Lambert, how about yours?

Our next game is away to Chelsea.  There will be intense media scrutiny on how our opponents respond to the departure of Andre Villa Boas.  Much of our focus will be on how we approach the game.  Too often we have gone to away games overly consumed with the strengths of our opponent.  While fully aware that every team you face will cause problems, we must remember the problems we can cause them!  Chelsea are not the team they were and  lack confidence.  If we can unsettle them doubts will creep in and maybe we can squeeze mistakes and take advantage. Most importantly, we mustn’t accept defeat before a ball is kicked.

It’s hard to work out who the ideal candidate for the manager’s job at Stamford Bridge would be.  To remove Ancelotti and replace him with AVB was a costly time absorbing exercise.  Had they used the same energy and resources to support their managers they may well be in a stronger position.  In all this it could still be AVB who gets the last laugh.  He’s only 34 years old and still has the potential to become one of European football’s big hitters.  In five years time he may be in a position to reflect on his 257 days managing Chelsea as a learning curve…. and he won’t even be 40.

Discipline is a vital element in any successful football team.  Players must be able and prepared to stay on task and fulfill responsibilities to their club and it’s supporters.  In the last minute of Brisbane Roar’s game against Melbourne Heart at the weekend, a high price was paid for the previous weeks indiscipline.  With the score at 1-1 Brisbane spent the final ten minutes laying siege to the Heart goal.  For all of Brisbane’s possession, Heart defended with admirable composure and rugged tenacity.  Just as it seemed Heart had weathered the orange storm, Brisbane were awarded a penalty.  A precious opportunity to reach the top of the table with three games of the regular season remaining.  Mohamed Adnan, the Roar’s Bahraini centre back, stepped forward to seal a priceless victory.  Heart keeper Clint Bolton saved the spot kick.  While not wanting to belittle Bolton’s save, the point has to be made that Adnan’s penalty wasn’t the best.  It was ideal height for the keeper who gratefully palmed the ball away.  That Adnan was taking the penalty at all was due to the regular taker,  Henrique, serving a suspension.  In the previous game in Perth, when Roar were 3-0 ahead and cruising to victory, Henrique inexplicably slapped an opponent and saw red.  I don’t doubt that had Henrique played he’d have scored the penalty with ruthless precision.  That he was unavailable is due to foolish indiscipline which has proved to be costly.  Players need to be aware of the full implications of their actions.

The appointment of Harry Redknapp as England manager  is seemingly inevitable.   The excellent job he’s done at Spurs combined with a clamour for an Englishman at the helm appears to have secured him the role.  Not that anything will be confirmed yet.  The FA have acknowledged that the new manager may not be  announced until the end of the domestic season.   Whether Harry is suited to the job is hard to tell.  There is no doubt he communicates well with players.  One point that has to be raised however is that  his achievements at Spurs are the result of working closely  day to day with players and having the time to spend with them individually and collectively.  Managing England can be thankless task with many hours of isolation involved.   Also, Redknapp’s biggest strength is working the transfer market and that facility is unavailable at international level.  But, whatever happens, don’t call him a “Wheeler dealer”!!   *Warning, contains bad language*

In December when the draw for the European Championship was made it was surprising that much of the media regarded England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a mere formality. Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems. The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group. If France’s impressive win in Germany is a pointer it will be a tough challenge for the England team… whoever the manager is.

Looking ahead to 2014 FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke has publicly criticised Brazil’s World Cup organising committee for their 2014 preparations.  This led to the Brazilian Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, demanding Valcke be replaced as the FIFA representative they have to predominantly deal with.  As a nation looking to establish itself as an economic superpower a smooth World Cup is crucial to Brazil’s credibility.  For the sake of their own integrity, instead of lashing out at Valcke, they would be better advised to take the steps to ensure that they will be ready in June 2014.




An RIP, a lethargic start, and a cacophony of FA Cup emotions

April 12th, 2011 No comments

The most frustrating thing about Stoke on Saturday is that we started so sluggishly.  We were up against a team of genuine quality, but allowing them to totally dominate us proved suicidal.   We did however score two brilliant goals.  Hopefully Jonesy’s blast will bolster his confidence and lead him and us to a bright finish to the season.  Despite having spent most of the first half frantically trying (and usually failing) to clear the ball, at half time we were only 2-3 down and alive in the game.  For large spells of the second half we matched our opponents.  We imposed ourselves on the game and kept the ball well in their half.  We couldn’t quite force an equaliser and our spirited resurgence proved  fruitless.  The truly costly aspect of the game was the lethargic start.  For most of the first half we were dreadful, and for that reason it’s hard  to feel that we really deserved anything from the game.

Sadly, Friday April 15th marks the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.   Policing at football grounds has, for many years, been a sore point amongst supporters.   It was  former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police John Stalker in the 80s who said he was aware that many police knew that football matches were one time they were “Let off the leash”.      On the 31st January1989  we had an FA Cup replay at Barnsley. Thousands of Stoke supporters arrived late due to traffic congestion.   Outside the ground a crush developed and people were getting hurt.  Initial action was to send a police horse running in to the crowd which  only added to the chaos.   To ease the congestion the police opened one of the huge exit gates which allowed the crowd  to get into the game for free. This was the response  the same force used two months later at Hillsborough.  Had there been more Stoke supporters on the away terrace that night we could have suffered that awful disaster.    Same situation, same police force, same reaction.   We, like all football supporters, were actually riding our luck,  not just on that  night, but for years before.   There was very little consideration for the issue of crowd safety over crowd control.  It could have been any of us  with the loss of life…..  and the same scandalous tabloid allegations.  RIP the 96.

Paul Gascoigne and Jimmy Greaves will soon be touring the UK with a roadshow.  This will consist of them both telling stories from their playing careers and discussing openly their well publicised alcohol problems.  The end of the shows will consist of no-holds-barred question and answer sessions.  Showing admirable resilience Greaves has been tee total since 1978.  Paul Gasciogne’s story however has been a much more painful one.   Living out his traumas in the full glare of the media couldn’t have helped him.  I can’t be the only one to fear the worst when seeing his name in a headline.  It is however pleasing to learn that he’s been dry since Christmas.  Hopefully Gazza’s found himself a new focus that can help maintain his sobriety and prevent his life from unravelling again. 

We now look forward to Sunday April 17th and what could prove to be a very special day in our lives.  There are reasons to dislike the semi finals being played at Wembley but this isn’t the time for that debate.  The important thing is that we have reached a stage in the FA Cup that we haven’t reached for 39 long barren years.  In 148 years of history we have only reached three FA Cup Semi Finals.  39 years ago our dreams were brutally shattered.  The game was delicately poised at 1-1 when Arsenal’s John Radford was put clean through on goal but  clearly offside.  Inexplicably, the linesman kept his flag down and Radford gleefully scored to bury our hopes of reaching the final for another 39 years.  Following much confusion over Radford’s goal it transpired that on the far side of the pitch from the useless lino, there was a man in a white coat selling programmes to the crowd.  Stoke wore white that night and the flag carrying cretin thought the seller was a Stoke player.  This allowed Radford to put us out of the cup and generations of Stoke City fans to carry a chip on our shoulder the size of Heathrow Airport!  Surely on Sunday we can’t suffer such a deep injustice?  By the way, I have never ever seen Radford’s horrible goal and I’m not sure it was even televised at all.   But if anyone has a copy and can upload it to You Tube it’d be fantastic to see.  I must be a masochist! 

By the time our game against Bolton kicks off the first finalist will be decided.  It’s fair to say that if Manchester City are as poor as they were at Anfield their loathed red neighbours will effectively receive a bye to the final.  Why did Mancini start without Silva or De Jong?  Their sole consolation is that they can’t play so badly in two consecutive matches.

Our game against Bolton will be an intense tight affair.  Two evenly matched teams playing with a huge prize at stake.  Ties like this are often decided by a moment of  inspiration.  We’ll be hoping It’ll be a Fuller or Etherington making the difference as much as the Bolton fans will be hoping it comes from an Elmander or Davies!  It is great that one grand old club will be in the final. Stan and Nat will be watching proudly from above. Stan with a glass of fruit juice and Nat with a pint of brown ale!  I’ll be in the Pig n Whistle pub in the centre of  Brisbane, anxiously watching the clock and begging our players to take the sacred step 148 years of predecessors have failed to take.

Hearing Abide With Me has always brought a lump to my throat. From childhood, 2.45 on FA Cup Final day symbolised a huge slice of football heritage.  The huge noisy crowd gathered doffs it’s cap in reverence.  When The song starts the mood isn’t just about the game on the day.  We reflect on, and celebrate, the glorious history of the competition.  Cardiff’s shock win over Arsenal in 1927.  It’s George Mutch’s late dramatic winner in 1938.  Stan’s final in 1953.  Nat Lofthouse’s controversial goalkeeper charge in the 1958 final and Bob Stokoe’s ecstatic dash across the lush green turf to embrace Jim Montgomery after his Sunderland team embarrassed Don Revie’s Leeds.   If we win at Wembley we will have the chance to carve our name in history.  The memories Sunday may bring could live with us all forever.  In years to come we could cry tears of joy and reflect fondly  on that day in April 2011 when we finally, after so long, reached an FA Cup Final.  Players might find this hard to believe but that means more than money… much much more.   Come on Stoke.   Our time is now.

Ending 39 years of hurt, brilliant orange and stepping down from the perch

March 15th, 2011 No comments

For the first time since 1972 Stoke City are in the semi finals of the FA Cup.  I watched it in the pub and it was a good turnout for a  Sunday night midnight KO.  The cup has retained enough magic to persuade people to go to work with a hangover!  We started the game at a furious pace and it was refreshing to be able to keep the ball in the attacking third.  If the nature of our play was a refreshing change, the source of our first goal was very familiar!  The Delapidator providing Huthwho responded with another powerful header.  As our very own Berlin wall wheeled away in delight that could be the first time we’ve ever seen him smile!  Perhaps the most pleasing thing about our performance was the way we bounced back after experiencing adversity.  Piquionne’s goal shouldn’t have counted but the baffling thing is how none of the officials saw the handball.  We immediately tore into them after the break and were (fortuitously in my opinion) awarded a penalty.  One question that has to be asked is why Etherington took it when Higginbotham was on the pitch?  It was great to hear the crowd’s support for Ethers afterwards…an example of  the unity we need.  That miss could have proved fatal but we continued to grind away and it Higginbotham who regained the lead for us with a sweetly struck free kick.  For one awful moment I feared the ref hadn’t seen the ball cross the line but there was nothing to worry about on that score.   All that remained was to cling on for 27 more agonising  minutes.  A few near misses came and went.  Then some close misses came and went.  When the fourth official held up the board to say four minutes of injury time it might as well have said 40.  The minutes ticked painfully away and eventually we became FA Cup semi finalists.  Shortly after the end of the game a mate came to tell me we’d drawn Bolton in the semi.  This was the thrill of a lifetime.  I’m not one to prematurely evaluate the quantity of poultry.  Any team you face will cause you problems but we all know, without being arrogant, that it could have been much worse.  Will we ever have a better chance to reach an FA Cup Final?  I don’t doubt Bolton fans will be asking themselves the same question.  Hopefully this will bolster our league form too.  We really do have the taste of  Wembley in our nostrils!

TEAMS CAN’T TOP US  FLOODS CAN’T TOP US.  So said the banners from the River City Crew… an exuberant group of Brisbane Roar fans.  The occasion was the Grand final of the Australian league, AKA the A-League.  Since the league started in 2005 many of the headlines have been grabbed by financial issues. It’s frustrating at times to spend time discussing receivership and takeovers when corners and free kicks are a  more favourable conversation topic.  Thankfully, the football grabbed the media attention at the weekend.  Rightly so.  Seeing over 50,000 packed into SuncorpStadium for a football match brought a lump to the throat.  A noisy sea of orange with a pre match performance by Brisbane band Regurgitator.   It was a special occasion even before the teams  walked out onto the pitch.  Fittingly, the game itself was a footballing classic.  Brisbane’s opponents were Central Coast Mariners, a team who lack the style and panache of their opponents but play with purpose and tactical discipline.  Central Coast had  most of the early exchanges but Brisbane played their way into the game with intelligent possession football.   Half time was 0-0 but it was a gripping encounter.  The second half consisted  of  huge rainfall and Brisbane hammering the Central Coast goal.  Attack after attack yet each wave of orange was stifled by increasingly impressive defending.  Full time was 0-0 which led us into extra time.  As extra time started it felt as if we’d been in the stadium for hours and hours, the 4pm kick off time was a distant memory.  But kick off time  came and it really was 4pm again because Central Coast were the better side.  This time however they scored.  The vast majority of the crowd were stunned into silence.   Central Coast smelt the disbelief in the home crowd (and team) and had the audacity to score again.  This wasn’t meant to happen.  As the game was played out to a background of  fluorescent orange silence I reflected on the Liverpool team of 1988.  Despite being a great team they found the FA cup final  just one game too many.  They had the style and the skill but couldn’t  raise themselves one last time to secure the double… remember too they were up against a solid underrated opponent in Wimbledon.  For Liverpool 1988 see Brisbane 2011. As I sat pondering this and wondering if any of the hundreds streaming out of the ground would return next season, Brisbane broke and scored.  the orange came to life again!  There was two minutes to rescue an entire seasons work.  Piling forward a late corner was won, the final chance to save the season.  The corner was deep and a Brisbane head met it to send it into the top corner of the net.  Pandemonium.  The ferocity of the ensuing mental was raucous and heartfelt.  The whole stadium embracing itself with joy!  Impressively, despite the hive of activity, not one drop of my beer was spilt, that’s class!  With three minutes of extra time left Brisbane were 0-2 down but had again bounced back to save the unbeaten record and take us all into a penalty shootout.  There was no doubt Brisbane would win the shootout.  And they did 4-2.  Central Coast were devastated.  All that remained was to see captain Matty Mckay lift the trophy that resembles a toilet seat (honestly) then to the pub for some serious celebrating!  Then on to watch an FA Cup quarter final between Stoke and West Ham.  Two games in one day and they both worked out right!  I love football.  HAPPY DAYS!!!

Against Milan  Spurs played with admirable discipline. Discipline they have lacked for so long.  Throughout the tie Milan had far more possession yet created little worthy of mention.  In the second half at White Hart Lane Spurs seemed to accept Milan’s territorial superiority and responded accordingly by sitting deep.  Pato was a livewire, making darting runs across the width of the frontline but Ibrahimovic was subdued.  For a player of his stature to be so uninvolved in a game…. when he’s the kind of player you need to turn the game your way  was baffling.  Not that Arry will be complaining.  For many years Spurs have had talented sides but often fallen short because of careless defensive errors.  Twoseriously big  European games against Milan and two clean sheets.  In the competition’s current format Arry is the first English manager to take a side to the quarter final.  This is Arry’s finest hour.

The last decade has been awash with media speculation regarding Alex Ferguson’s retirement and successor.  There have again been suggestions that this could be his last season.  One report suggested that if Man Utd win the league again he’d be ready to abdicate.  Of all the words devoted to the subject in the last ten years, the idea he’ll bow out in May is by far the most plausible.  He once stated his finest achievement was “Knocking Liverpool off their f#^#ing perch” Should his team  stay on top they will have won 19 titles to Liverpool’s 18, by far the most poignant indicator of their absolute dominance.  It would be entirely appropriate to step down from the perch.  Fools learn by their mistakes, wise people learn from other peoples.  Ferguson will be aware of the pitfalls of retirement.  Bill Shankly died with a broken heart.  A heart broken from seeing his beloved Liverpool go onto greater success without him.  He had to suffer the indignity of Liverpool’s directors asking him to stop turning up at the training ground….  his regular appearances  undermined Bob Paisley  because the players used to call Shankly ‘boss’.  Brian Clough managed two seasons too long.  In his autobiography Clough states clearly that the right time for to leave was after the 1991 FA Cup Final defeat to Spurs.  Of course it’d hurt to go out on a defeat but Wembley was a fitting stage for a manager of his stature to leave the game.  Instead Old Big Ed signed out on relegation and degrading tabloid tales of excessive drinking and a catastrophic Shredded Wheat advert.  Ferguson is different.  His passion for the game is obvious but football isn’t his entire life.  As well as football he has an interest in politics.  One thing which frustrates him is that visiting all the places he does professionally means there are few opportunities to  experience them fully.  There is still a keen interest in learning to play the piano properly.  In addition to these interests he has a family he’d  love to spend relaxing time with.   Alex Ferguson may well choose to step down from the perch.  As he approaches 70 he’d  find the bottom of the cage an invigorating place.

What a difference a week makes!!!

November 16th, 2010 No comments

Inn his wisdom Harold Wilson once said that seven days was a long time in politics.  He should have triend being a Stokie!!  Seven days on it all feels so much brighter for us.  Two deserved victories and we can breathe a little easier.  The Birmingham game was one of our more hair raising days.  From being two goals up and in total control we were suddenly clinging on for a point.  Then We somehow bagged a crucial winner and the three points we seemed to have gifted away a quarter of an hour before.  It was a fantastic win albeit with a 2nd half littered with faults.  But after the awful run of defeats a win was a win and that was that.  Fuller’s goal was a real masterpiece. I don’t doubt that if that goal had been scored by certain other teams in this division it would have received maximum media exposure.  At the end of the Birmingham game the players must have felt fatigue abundance.  It was exhausting enough just watching it on television! 

There were few faults on Saturday against Liverpool however.  As accomplished a showing as we’ve had since reaching the Premier League in 2008.  An impressive showing that earned the win we thoroughly deserved.  In the first half we overpowered Liverpool and outfought them.  The significant factor in respect to our evolution as a team is that after going ahead we out-thought them.  Stoke left little traps for them to fall into and on winning the ball back broke forward with confidence to keep our increasingly bedraggled opposition on the backfoot.  Pennant and Etherington carrying the ball forward and, just as importantly, keeping possession when getting closed down.  We stifled their threat in relative comfort.  Our control was so comprehensive that Jonesy’s late goal just gave the scoreline a more realistic complexion, and so we achieved our first victory over Liverpool for 26 years .  Some may choose to emphasise that this Liverpool isn’t the Europe conquering powerhouse we defeated 26 years ago but to under estimate the scale of this result is to miss some salient points.  Two of Liverpool’s players returned from South Africa with World Cup winners medals.  Gerrard Torres and Reina alone would be  worth 60m pounds in transfer fees.  Torres was in excellent form before we stifled him, his finishing, as ruthless as it is graceful, had returned and less than a week before he’d scored two classy goals to see off the champions.  On Wednesday at Wigan Gerrard’s brilliant through ball had been met with a superb run and finish from their dynamic frontline leader.  That we limited Liverpool to hopeful potshots and overhit through balls is a healthy testament to both our players application and workrate and Tony Pulis and our coaching staff’s attention to detail.  The corner is turned and the elephants in the red and white room are evaporating.  We go to West Brom with a chance to win three games on the trot for the first time since promotion.  It’d be a great way to cement and celebrate the turning of the corner!  By the time Jonesy scored darkness had given way to appropriately bright rays of sunshine here in Brisbane.  Coffee tasted as luxurious as vintage champagne.  As much as we gripe some moments are golden.  This was a moment for us to be proud of our team.  What a difference a week makes!
The FIFA mismanagement of the investigations into the  bribery for votes allegations continues.  The top table are, as ever, self governed by an indecipherable set of ethics.  It seems that the Sunday Times and BBC’sPanorama expose have seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged the England bid.  This is a baffling, depressing set of circumstances.  Strangely,   Blatter and his sycophants seem particularly aghast by the cloak and dagger nature of the findings.  It does put the suits in a pickle.  A spot of mock shock and futile gestures won’t be enough to extinguish this fire, yet the England bid is suffering.  Those running the 2018 bid have felt the need to write all of the FIFA committee members to apologetically point out that they have no control of the British media… despite the articles in question being excellent pieces of journalism exposing deep seated corruption.  So instead of being active in publicly addressing the skullduggery involved they sulk and take their embarrassment out on England’s bid.  If ever there was a misplaced case of misplaced shoot the messenger it’s this.  Whoever hosts the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, expect the allegations of wrongdoing to continue.  This will run and run… and while the ruling body lacks the will to address the situation the brown paper bags will continue to be surreptitiously passed under tables in darkened rooms. 

Brisbane Roar remain in fantastic form.  A 2-1 win away to Melbourne Heart cementing the place on top of the league.  This is the best Brisbane Roar side in their (admittedly short) history.  The game against Perth glory has been re-arranged to take place on Wednesday 24th November.  Bearing in mind the Ashes starts here on Thursday 25th and the whole city will be have poms swarming all over it and Robbie Fowler plays for Perth that is a rare piece of sharp marketing from the club.  If current form is maintained the larger than average crowd will see some stylish football and a Roar win…. hopefully Robbie Fowler won’t get a touch of the ball!!

Fabio Capello’s selection of Jay Bothroyd is a surprise but primarily indicative of the dearth of English talent.  That’s nothing against  himself who has been in good form, but it’s common sense that international players have regular experience of playing against top level opposition.  The England set up has been hit by the traditional flurry of injuries that accompany get togethers which doesn’t help.  Andy Carroll has stated he’s desperate to recover from his injury and face France but when there such a lack or emerging talent he must know his chance won’t be too far away.

A freezer fiasco but reasons for optimism

October 21st, 2010 No comments

Bolton v Stoke City on Saturday was a game of rarity.  It marked an unusual occurence which renders it truly memorable.  In years to come it’s significance will resonate in my heart and soul… because I was unable to watch it!  It was shown here in my beloved Brisbane on a delay on Sunday morning at 11.30am.  I had hoped to nip to the pub to watch but this was the weekend of moving house and the plethora of associated tasks. This meant our cable TV and internet had been cut off on Friday, it meant that as the telecast started I was lifting a freezer onto a ute in sweltering heat, the same freezer which compounded my misery by falling onto my left foot.  Daniel Day Lewis could make a sequel to his first Oscar winning movie and play the role of me, sweating profusely, writhing in freezer induced agony and not watching the Stoke game.  He’d better be quick, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are expected to make Stokeless in Seattle! 

I finally saw the result at 7.15 in the evening, whilst resting an icepack on the freezer damage, and realised my dream of us winning three consecutive Premier League games had been scuppered again.  Onto the backburner completely for a while.  I eventually watched the highlights.  Frustrating to get nothing from a game in which we were worth at least a draw but that’s football it happens.  We continued our impressive woodwork record.  Conceding a winner so late is always galling.  But upwards and onwards.  Next upwards we face the evil empire from Old Trafford.  On current form they are not the force they were only last season but anyone who seriously thinks they will be there for the taking should think again.  The ongoing Rooney situation is an unwelcome distraction for them but if we start slowly and save our most potent attacking until an hour in we could be three down and game over.  However, with our current squad we are capable of putting them under pressure.  I’m not saying we’ll beat them but we can certainly put them on the backfoot and stretch them.  It’s time to remember that while we have to respect opposition, as esteemed as they are, we mustn’t be overawed.  Live TV  with hundreds of millions watching throughout the world.  It’s the kind of occasion we craved for so many barren years.  Lets enjoy it.  And let’s hope our players have no regrets on Sunday evening.  And I can definitely watch this one, I won’t be moving white goods at 10.30 on Sunday night.  Over to you Tone!!

Brisbane Roar are in good from.  Despite dominating Newcastle on Saturday only a draw could be wrung out.  Kids were allowed in for free and the crowd still only limped to 10,191.  If the current form is maintained when the finals series comes around in February they can break the 20,000 mark.  Only two and a half years ago the seasons climax attracted crowds of over 30,000.  Can they be lured back?    Unusually there was also a midweek game when Brisbane beat Central Coast in style and comfort but I didn’t attend as I went to see ‘Modfather’ Paul Weller instead.   He did some Jam stuff. 

So FIFA representatives have demanded money for votes.  We’ve  never been so shocked since being told Max Boyce is Welsh.  There is talk of the top table delaying the vote.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to just stop the guilty parties from participating?  Blatter has shown rare humility by admitting this latest kerfuffle has tarnished FIFA’s reputation.  Could there be some connection in the previous weeks suspension of Nigeria or am I speculating widely?  They announced there will be an investigation into these allegations.  I’m sure the accused are deeply terrified by the prospect of a $200 fine and being made to sit at the back of the bus on the way to the next conference.  The entire bidding process has become rather filthy.  The Russian bid leader has slated London for it’s social problems which contravenes the FIFA directive about commenting on other bids.  William Hague has tried to maintain a stiff upper lip by insisting the English bid will behave in a decent and proper manner.  There will be many twists and turns before  December 2nd.  Or whenever the final votes are cast. 

Not a huge shock that Wee Gordy has left Middlesborough.  Sometimes for whatever reasons it just doesn’t work out for some managers at some places.  The baffling aspect though is that at first I thought Middlesborough’s fans were shouting that they want ‘Moggy’.  How is a cat supposed to be able to manage a football club?  A strange demand from the Teesside hoards.   The tale got odder when it transpired the Moggy demand was actually ‘Mogga’ a request for Tony Mowbray to manage them.  Honest!  They want him.  Eight passes across their own penalty area and moaning about Stoke when they get beaten.  At times the word surreal is inadequate.

It’s good to see Steve Tilson back in the game at Lincoln.  In dire circumstances he managed Southend with loyalty and dignity and as a result got the ultimate managers reward…. the sack.  He has the chance to resurrect his career and after the trauma of his last year at Roots Hall he deserves some good fortune.

A week in the life of football – Chelsea, Tony Pulis, Man city, QPR, Brisbane Roar and more!

August 31st, 2010 No comments

The international break arrives at the right time for Stoke City.  Two weeks to take stock and for the new players to train together and prepare  for the challenges ahead.  The performance at Chelsea had some positive points.  We got some much needed luck when Lampard wasted his penalty.  After going behind we stayed strong together and the floodgate remained locked.  Whelan’s long shot was nearly one of the goals of the season.  It’s disappointing that after grafting so hard to stay in the game we clumsily gifted them the decisive penalty, it’s hard enough going to Stamford Bridge without helping them out.  Jonesy and Walters looks as if they could become  real stars for us.  Walters has shown quick feet in the box and can give our attacking play an extra dimension.  Only three games played but an encouraging start for him.  Overall on Saturday we showed resilience and if we continue as we have in the last game and a half we will soon get some points on the board.  But with two home games to come we really do have the chance to get points on the board…. and that chance mustn’t be wasted.  

It occured to me the other day that Tony Pulis has spent more time managing Stoke than anyone since the great Tony Waddington.  In November it’ll be eight years since his first dugout appearance at Walsall.  We are a much different club than we were then. I, like many thousands of Stokies, love being in the Premier League. Long may we stay at football’s top table. 

It’s amusing that after Manchester City’s masterful dismantling of Liverpool, they came down to earth with a reality induced bang against Sunderland. Wasting first half dominance and succumbing to a late late penalty is the kind of thing the Man Citeh of old would have done. The Tevez open goal miss was astounding! The ruthless winning mentality Mancini needs to instill is a quality money can’t buy…. however much you might have.  Overturning a culture of hard luck stories and glorious failure is his biggest challenge.  If he could spend a few million on some resilience and the knowledge his side could turn an even game into a winning one he’d do it in a shot. 

Talking of big money takeovers, are QPR finally starting to justify the vast sums of money the club has at it’s disposal?  For a while the only difference the high profile gold encrusted owners had made was Naomi Campbell in the directors boxes and extortionately high ticket prices.  Elsewhere at Loftus Road, their late comeback at Derby suggests Neil Warnock may have instilled some of that resilience into his players. He might have to lend some to Mancini!

Barcelona have carried on where they left off last season.  The effortless win over Racing Santander was as every bit as easy as the 3-0 scoreline suggests.  Racing Santander held out for three lengthy minutes until Messi put his side ahead.  It was game over from that stage.  At 0-2 down they missed a penalty but they rarely looked capable of troubling Barcelona for sustained periods.  The self proclaimed ‘Special one’ will be only too aware that the season has barely started and already his new team are two points behind their  nemesis.  Barcelona only lost once all last season so Mourinho won’t be allowed many more mishaps.

On Friday Brisbane Roar beat Wellington in a patient measured performance.  Three games seven points and no goals conceded.  Things are looking good.  Another pleasing thing about the game here is that two players who dived at the weekend have been suspended by the FFA.  (Football Federation of Australia)   It’s a common sense measure that appropriately punishes cheats.  It would be good to think other administrative bodies in the game could adopt the same rule for diving and implement it as swiftly and effectively as it has been here.  Is that really such a pipe dream?

As a football fanatic and shameless football propogandist I can only look on with feint amused detachment at the Pakistan cricket match fixing scandal.  I take no great pleasure in seeing a sport facing this scale of corruption (even a sport that isn’t football) but the pompous sanctimonious way in which the media swoon with mock horror at any level of inappropriate behaviour when it’s football related….and often refer to nurses wages in the process, is as melodramatic as it is empty.   The way rugby is seen as a beacon of righteousness is especially nauseating.  There have been times when a footballer has shown dissent on the pitch and some have shook their head and mentioned that it wouldn’t happen in rugby.  This overlooks the ‘bloodgate’ scandal of last year.  Or Lawrence Dallaglio’s drug scandal of 1999.  Or the accusations of inappropriate behaviour made towards England’s team in New Zealand.  I can’t and wouldn’t ever pretend football is a game of moral purity.  But in the future it would be pleasing if we are spared the head shaking and the pretending to be shocked to the core from the press the next time a footballer’s ethical mishap is exposed.

Australia hopes….but doesn’t expect

June 7th, 2010 No comments

In recent years it has been exciting to watch Australia come to prominence in football.   I’ve never known this country as ecstatic as it was on reaching the second round last time.   Finally, after years of administrative haggling, football finally had the profile it deserves.   It also brought the realisation that football, and the World Cup in particular, provided a stage bigger than anything previously experienced.  

This is my home and a place I love dearly so while I can’t quite say I support Australia I do honestly wish them well.  Until they play England anyway!   A good campaign for the national team is good for the game here which, obviously, is good for any football fan.   Each time I walk through my beloved Brisbane the profile of the World Cup is growing. Shopfronts proudly displaying the green and gold and bars advertising live TV showings are more prominent each day.  How many are prepared to stay open until 4.30am to show some matches remains to be seen!!

Anything Australia achieve in South Africa, and contrary to some peoples views I think they have a good chance of reaching the second round, is almost entirely based on a rigid formation.  You can’t outplay them BUT you can outnumber them. Squeezing the opposition in the middle of the pitch and narrowing angles will stifle opposition creativity and help to get on top of them and grind them down. Another advantage of this is the KISS method. Keep It Simple Stupid. If in doubt kick it out.  There will be little scope to make a tactical blunder.   In the build up the media attention is largely focussed on Harry Kewell and will he be ready for the Germans on Monday morning.   It’d actually make more sense not to play him in that.  Why risk another breakdown in a game where Australia will likely be beaten anyway?  The extra days would mean he’s much closer to full fitness when the more realistic goal of beating Ghana arrives on Saturday night.   It’s crucial to use the whole squad and everyone plays a role in a healthy campaign.   But a big injury to Tim Cahill would make a serious dent in the hopes.   He’s crucial.
So next Monday morning at 4.30 it’ll be interesting to see footballs true believers out in force.    And it’s a public holiday so everyone can catch up on much needed sleep afterwards!!