Posts Tagged ‘Stokies’

The ultimate mercy dash, a well earned point and the pinnacle

May 4th, 2011 No comments

The draw at Blackpool was another well earned away point.  For all their spirit and energy it isn’t hard to see why Blackpool’s situation is so bleak.   Pressing and pegging us back during the first half was positive for them but precious  little was created .  In fact, at half time Jonesy’s miss led to Stoke rueing a missed opportunity.  That miss hasn’t received the media coverage you might expect.  It’s a good job for Jonesy’s own sake we (probably) have enough points to see us safe.  The second half saw us on the front foot a bit more.  We generally had the better of the game and Whelan had two excellent long distance efforts.  Despite the more enterprising second half the draw was still the fair result.  It’d be good for football if Blackpool can stay up…. but I still wish we’d beaten them!  Such are the passions of football. 

There can be little doubt that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world right now.  The shimmy and run to seal Barcelona’s win against Real Madrid was incredible.  Of course, the style of the goal led to comparisons with Diego Maradona.  One factor which prevents Messi from being considered an all time great is his disappointing showing in last years World Cup.  Despite what some of UEFA’s  sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football.  Back in the 1960’s Australia had a runner named Ron Clarke.  Clarke was a masterful runner who broke many world records.  The blemish on his record is that his best Olympic performance was a mere bronze in 1964.  In short he was an expert in racing against the clock but struggled to beat other runners.  Clarke can’t really be considered an all time great because he didn’t perform at his best at the highest level.  Similarly, if Messiis to be  placed in the same bracket as Zidane,  Pele and Maradona he needs to confirm his status by displaying his genius in Brazil in 2014.  Some fireworks in this years Copa America would also be welcome!

The ongoing media spat between Jose Mourinho and Barcelona continues to weave it’s undignified trail into the worlds media.  What should have been one of the seasons real showpieces last week was undermined by childish bickering.  It’s increasingly difficult to imagine the special one working at the Bernebau next season. When, by a stroke of luck, the Catalan Globetrotters finally lost a league game Real Madrid lost too, rendering Real Sociedad’s historic victory   a tiny blot on the magnificence of Barcelona’s season.  Jose will however leave reputation intact.  Real Madrid are known for being difficult employers.  Mourinho’s failings will be overlooked as soon as he starts to seek a new employer.  Overlooked as they may be, we’ll just have to imagine a feasible explanation for the overly negative approach in that first leg.

As dominant as Barcelona have been Porto are the most dominant domestic side in Europe.  Wrapping up the title with five league games remaining they stay on course to end the season unbeaten.  A brilliant achievement that can’t be matched elsewhere in Europe…. even by the Catalan megagiants. 

My ultimate football mercy dash commences on Thursday May 5th.   May 14th is the occasion many of the most optimistic Stokies never actually believed would happen.   As a kid FA Cup Final day was one of the most eagerly awaited dates of the Joe year.  The night before the game I was usually too excited to sleep.  The lush green turf underneath those regal twin towers looked like paradise.  When my red and white mind seized control of my red and white heart I was rudely woken by the realisation that even when we have had great teams we failed to reach English football’s grandest showpiece.  This in itself brings into sharper focus what is happening.  No previous  player has ever played in an FA Cup final while representing Stoke City.  Gordon Banks, Stan,  Alan Hudson, Freddie Steele,  none of them adorned our sacred stripes in this game.  When I board the plane for the UK, it won’t isn’t just to see a football match, nor is it self indulgent laddish wackiness.  This is a piece of history we can be proud to be associated with…. a pilgrimage. We doff our collective cap to shared heritage.  Thousands of football fans never get the chance to see their team in an a cup final.  Others  experience it so regularly they have been de-sensitised and a day at Wembley Stadium is like getting on a bus or buying a bottle of milk .  On May 14th we’ll know how special it is to be involved.  And, despite being novices to this level of grandeur, we have every right to be there.  Let’s make history together.

Marvellous travelling support, marvellous Brisbane Roar, negligent media

February 16th, 2011 No comments

Our finest performers on Saturday were the travelling Stokies, chanting long and loud and supporting the team throughout what proved to be a seriously frustrating afternoon.  We did enough to get a draw but it’s difficult to feel too aggrieved about the late goal we conceded.  We looked unlikely to concede a goal but would get more sympathy for suffering the late killer if we’d made more effort to actually win the match.  We defended well throughout and were on top for long spells but never looked remotely as if we could score.  Neither did Birmingham but if you don’t seize the initiative and get on top you are susceptible to a sucker punch… and so it proved.  While every team you face in this league will cause you problems, the over cautious approach to away games remains a bugbear for many supporters.  The fact is that against a modest Birmingham team we seemed reluctant to commit men forward and appeared content to sit on 0-0.  Clean sheets are crucial but with a touch more ambition we would have comfortably won a match that was there for the taking.  The last three away league games have resulted in depressing defeats and no goals scored, nothing too devastating in that but for the fact that we haven’t looked at all likely to do so.  The approach to our away games is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly.  Failure to do so could result in us being dragged down into the malaise of the relegation struggle.  And our magnificent travelling fans deserve  better than that.  Much better.

Upwards and onwards to the FA Cup.  With all respect to everyone, we can understandably expect to beat Brighton, even with our temperamental FA Cup record.  However, while it’s understandable that some players may be saved for battles ahead it could prove a costly error to take this game too lightly.  There’s a lot at stake.  An FA Cup quarter final isn’t to be dismissed and with the luck of the draw (the luck we didn’t get last year) we could enjoy some very special occasions.  No trying to be clever, lets just win.  It’ll be televised here on a delay on Sunday morning.   Hopefully morning coffee will taste as luxurious as vintage champagne.

Brisbane Roar completed the greatest league season in the history of Australian football by demolishing Gold Coast united 4-0.  Yet another thrilling performance oozing style and panache.  As the regular season concludes this coming weekend, a finals series starts involving all clubs in the top five clubs, the winner of the competition being determined by the winner of a grand final on Saturday March 12th.  Brisbane enter the challenge in very good health indeed.  Hopefully they will remember their lines and win a season they have completely dominated.  Unfortunately the local media aren’t so embracing of the teams achievements.  Coverage in the local newspaper remains limited and the TV companies seem reluctant to offer any extensive attention.  All the more frustrating when the Rugby League and Aussie Rules seasons are yet to begin.  Football can’t, and doesn’t ever expect to match those two in terms in terms of popularity but surely an achievement as comprehensive as winning a national league merits some publicity.

Ronaldo has announced his retirement from the game.   In recent years he has become a figure of fun for his ongoing weight issues but that mustn’t be allowed to cloud over the fact that he was a great player.  A special combination of grace skill and electric pace.  His career was full and varied, we may never know the entire truth about his convulsion in Paris but there is little doubt that Brazil struggled to impose themselves on that night’s  game without him.  The controversy over his appearance in the 1998 World Cup Final was finally put to rest four years later when he cemented his name amongst the games greats by starring in Brazil’s successful World Cup campaign.  His fitness issues came to the fore again in 2006 when looking slow and unfit he still managed to become the highest scorer in World cup Finals history with 15.  On retirement he said “The head wants to go on but the body can’t take any more. I think of an action but I can’t do it the way I want to. It’s time to go.”  An appropriately dignified exit for one of the greatest players of the modern era.

Unsurprisingly Wayne Rooney’s winner against Man City was one of the biggest stories of the football week.  It was a special moment which had all the hallmarks of great goals including opportunism agility and accuracy.  But would it have received the vast outpouring of attention had it been scored by a team that wasn’t Manchester United?  Was Rooney’s winner that much better than than this goal by Melbourne Heart’s Alex Terra?

The friendly against Denmark produced some overdue reasons for optimism, feint optimism though it may be!  Wilshere showed signs that he could finally be that crucial precious English rarity…. a midfielder who can dictate play and help to keep possession.  He should at least be substitute against Wales.  The time is right to start playing youngsters and phasing out the old guard.  We desperately need new players and fresh faces in the team and as Morrissey asked How Soon is Now?

Cup fever, Australian agony,the window closes….maybe on Jose?

February 1st, 2011 No comments

It wasn’t a classic, but all the same, mission accomplished!  For the second year running we are through to the fifth round of the FA cup.  Our hopelessness in the competition has been genuine and legendary but it seems we are starting to change.  On Sunday it took some grinding and battling but in the end Huth’s header and Sorensen’s spot kick saving expertise saw us deservedly go through.  Not that the Wolverhampton public seem too concerned by their exit.  The lousy crowd of 11,967 was disappointing to say the least.  They may well have relegation avoidance on their mind, but all the same,  it was a poor showing.  I’d like to think that had it been a home tie we’d have had more interest than that. 

Whilst attempting to avoid  prematurely evaluating the quantity of poultry, the fifth round draw could have been much harder.  Brighton is a game we will understandably expect to win.  That was the good fortune we lacked three times last season!  If we can get through to the quarter final and receive another favourable draw we could soon hear the taste of  Wembley in our red and white nostrils.  But we are still Stoke in the FA Cup….. more likely we are a goal down to Brighton after ten minutes and laboriously struggle to an 80th minute equaliser then lose the replay on penalties.  That’ll teach us for allowing a rare streak of optimism to infiltrate our psyche!

The transfer window came and went.  For Stoke City it was a subdued affair.  Tony Pulis and Peter Coates made it clear that a deluge of new signings was unlikely and so it proved.  The main focus of our attention was the possible sale of Ricardo Fuller.  For various reasons players do well at some clubs but can struggle at others and for Stoke Fuller has been very good indeed. We’ve managed to keep hold of him which is a relief.  We could debate and consider the reasons for his near departure but the fact is we may never know the whole story.  There are so many factors (many financial) in why a player chooses to leave or remain at a club it’s too hard to speculate on.  Suffice to say it’s good news to keep him for at least another six months.  How Fuller feels himself at staying with us is another thing we may never know fully!  It’d be harsh if any Stokies wished Tuncay anything but best wishes on his move to Wolfsburg.  While his form was sometimes patchy he gave us some great memories.  As for another departure…..  in years to come we’ll reflect on the Gudjohnsen situation and wonder what that was all about.  An expensive and baffling little episode, and again, we may never know the full story about his time with us.   

The most damaging aspect of Gray and Keys comments about females in football is that, being a human being, Sian Massey will at some stage  make a mistake.  That mistake will receive excessive media scrutiny and put increased  pressure on her.  It could lead to some asserting that females don’t understand the offside law after all…. oblivious to the fact that plenty of male officials make errors.  The Sky boys club could have a lot to answer for.

The story of Stoke and Kris Commons sums up the progress we’ve made. Six years ago he left us and some of us were disappointed. But now, despite him being an international and  the prestige that comes with it, very few of us would want him back. This symbolises how far we’ve come.  A talented player, who is still only 27 now isn’t good enough for us.  His move to Celtic also symbolises how short of financial clout the Scottish League is.  For a club of Celtic’s size and stature to buy a player from the English Championship isn’t necessarily  a compliment to the player, it’s a sign of how Scottish clubs are having to make do and mend with little light at the end of the tunnel.

The final of the Asian Cup between Australia and Japan was how a cup final should be.  Neither side was paralysed by fear and both played attacking football, which might not seem to be the case for a game which ended 0-0 after 90 minutes.  They each created chances but couldn’t quite get the finish right,  Harry  Kewell squandering the best chance of all.  Japan’s late winner came from a technically excellent volley but you have to wonder why at such a crucial stage the Australian defence went walkabout.  So a 0-1 defeat for Australia but there are plenty of positives to be taken.  It’s all part of a learning curve and the experience of playing in an international final has a multitude of benefits.  In the same tournament in 2007 Lucas Neill arrogantly inexplicably made public an expectation of winning the tournament without losing a game.  That was based on nothing and when Japan put a poor Australian campaign out of it’s misery  by winning the quarter final on penalties justice was done.  Four years later Australia underrated nobody and did a professional job throughout.  Not quite having the armory to lift the trophy is frustrating but nothing to be too downcast about.  This campaign proved how much  the national side here has improved.    It’s also worth remembering that losing to a team of Japan’s stature is nothing to be ashamed of.  They have much more international experience and in the final perhaps it was that extra experience that made the difference.  From the local perspective it’s pleasing that some of the A-League players made the step up, Brisbane Roar’s Matty Mckay in particular… but I’m biased of course! 

It’s only February but there is little doubt that Real Madrid’s defeat at Osasuna was exceptionally good news for Barcelona.  There many points still to play for but it’s increasingly clear that  it’ll be the European Cup which determines whether or not Mourinho’s season is a success or failure.   Whether he stays at the Bernebau for a second season remains to be seen.  Mourinho has already been saying how much he misses working in England but who in the Premier League could realistically afford to employ him?  The only real possibility would be if Man City failed to reach 4th spot and the owners wield the oilstained axe.   But it speaks volumes for the stature of the self proclaimed special one that should he feel the blade on his neck in Madrid it’ll hardly dampen his employment prospects. 

One of the weekends bizarre football moments came in Germany where Arjen Robben clouted teammate Thomas Muller.  Here it is in installments!

Stoke, Liverpool, Nigeria, England, Montengro

October 6th, 2010 No comments

Excuse the title of this post…. I fancy a job working for The Sun!  Like before, the international break comes at the right time for Stoke City, except this time it’s very different reasons.  What a difference a month makes!  Four unbeaten games and we are a quarter of the way to the magical 40 points mark.  On Saturday against Blackburn we played well, and unlike at Newcastle, we attacked them from the start.  It’s great that Walters got off the mark.  In the first half he really looked like a man who had recently joined a Premier league club but had been hit and miss….. and the pressure of the situation seemed to be showing.  Snatching at passes and being over eager to make an impression.  That goal will lift a huge weight from his shoulders and now the monkey is off his back he can relax and go onto better things with us.  I, like many other Stokies, would be perfectly happy with him if he scores the winner in every game he plays!   A pleasing aspect of the Blackburn game is that it was physical and combative but there was nothingmalicious involved and the players didn’t act and roll around.  Pennant clearly isn’t match fit but in bursts his pace and, most pleasingly, the quality of his crosses were great and could prove to be a very productive asset.  All in all a good day for Stoke City.  We finally got the clean sheet we’ve needed and we rarely looked like conceding at all.   We are up to seventh now which is thrilling.   We may not stay this high for long so let’s enjoy it while we can!!   Great work Stoke!   More of the same please.  

At Anfield on Sunday something strange happened.  Amid the talk of financial incompetence and lawyers accountants and consortiums a football match broke out!   And in the game itself something stranger happened.  Roy  Hodgson’s players look totally demoralised.  I can’t believe Torres isn’t preparing to leave in January.  The brand name Liverpool FC should be enough to stave off the threat of administration and in that instance their history must be a relief….. unlike the burden it appears to be on the current players.  In administration Liverpool FC would cease to be an FC and would become merely a company in administration.  The sale of Torres and Gerrard would surely be ordered and a huge slice of their football dream would leave with them.  There is much melodrama on viewing their current plight.  The biggest cliche being that the current owners have ‘ripped the soul’ of of Liverpool.  That might be an appropriate expression of withering self pity but in reality the soul of Liverpool departed on February 22nd 1991.   Having wrestled with his sanity for the previous two years and in the wake of one of the greatest FA Cup ties ever played, Kenny Dalglish rersigned.  Their greatest player, having gone on to be a successful manager, leading the club and it’s fans with dignity through the tramatic aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, decided he was no longer able to deal with the stresses the job brought.  Liverpool ceased to be the dominant force in English football on that day.  It can’t help that Man Utd gleefully took over their reign.  When Alex Ferguson said his greatest achivement was “Knocking Liverpool off their fu^*ing perch” it was a reflection on 26 years of frustration.  Now it’s Liverpool’s turn to feel envy, and if the Blackpool game is any pointer  it may get much worse before it gets better.

FIFA have suspended Nigeria because of government interference in the game there.  Now, they are following their own rules in taking this action but some questions have to be asked. Has this action been taken now that Africa’s World Cup is over and any response will be less of a hot issue with the potential to backfire?  Is it right to deprive the people of Nigeria the chance to support their national team because of administrative meddling?  If the Brazilian German or English FA had a similar problem would Sepp and the old boys club be prepared to take on the might of a football nation with that power and, more importantly, capacity to generate income?  If FIFA are capable of taking such strong action will they take it to address the issue of racism which is still depressingly prominent in some areas of the world…. or will they continue to pay empty lip service to the subject?  

Kevin Davies finally got picked for an England squad!  For several years his name has been mentioned regarding an England call up and it’s finally come to fruition.  It’s pleasing to see a solid professional who has quietly gone about his job and played the game with the minimum of fuss down the years get some recognition.  Unlikely though it is that he’ll get his first cap it’s still a memory he can treasure from a long  career.   Montenegro will be no pushovers.   They are yet to concede and have won both of their games so far.   As is often the case the main problem with England will be defending as a unit.    Too often one clever ball leaves the defence flat footed and this causes problems.  Against solid underrated opposition like Montenegro our back four need to stay awake. 

I haven’t seen Gary Lineker’s documentary about whether England can win the next World Cup but he could have saved the effort of making the programme by asking me and I’ll tell him now…. no we can’t.  Brazil will be favourites obviously but will they handle the pressure?   Many South American football rivalries are borne of historical moments and Brazil are still haunted by 1950.  Imagine if Argentina met  Brazil in the knockout stages and knocked them out. The rest of  the tournament wouldn’t matter.  As far as they would be concerned they will have won their own World Cup. The European team with the mentality to go to Brazil and win it will be Germany. They will also have their exciting youngsters all matured by then too. The whole mindset of the English game needs to change to win a World Cup. And there is little chance of that happening.  Unlike many, I wouldn’t object to a winter break in principle.  But the players wouldn’t be restingon a beach….they would be whisked across the globe for money spinning friendlies so it wouldn’t actually be a break at all.    While the clubs stubbornly refuse to take action for the greater good of the game this is how it shall be.