Friday, 29 April 2011

Something For The Weekend - 29/04/11

Dear William,
(I can call you William, right?) I know you've proably got other things on your mind right now but over the weekend when you and Kate are chilling out after the Big Day, here's five of the best football posts from the last week which you may have missed (what with all the preperation and that).
Regards,
WAATG
PS Aston Villa; Really??

Brighty's Vested Interest
By Magic Spongers - Follow on twitter @magicspongers 
And here we were thinking we could go on holiday. If you haven’t read this latest piece of tripe by Mark Bright, please take a moment to do so while Magic Spongers cracks its collective knuckles and prepares for a bit of Brighty-panning, the nation’s new favourite sport. Full article >>

Fernando Torres: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Ignore The Drought
By Twisted Blood on SB Nation - Follow them on twitter @Twisted_Blood and @sbnation
Football's obsession with personal statistics, particularly goals scored, is as vexing as it is understandable. In a sport sadly lacking statistical nuance and analytical depth, it makes sense to focus on one of the few quantifiable achievements available to a player. But the fact remains that despite Fernando Torres' well publicised drought - insert your own El Niño joke here - Chelsea have been significantly better since he slipped into the No. 9 shirt. Full article >>

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Plough Lane

This week's trip down Memory Lane sees us visit Plough Lane with Natter Football. You can follow him on Twitter @natterfootball
 
Nostalgia tends to distort and glamorise, of course. That’s particularly true, I suspect, when much-loved but now departed football grounds are ‘revisited’ in the mind. Memories, vivid and half-baked alike, come flooding back against a backdrop of stands and terracing that reached up into the sky (always packed, of course) , of a greener than green pitch, tasty food and toilets that never leaked.
And there’s Plough Lane, the home of Wimbledon Football Club for 79 years, and my spiritual home for a small part of that time. No matter what tricks nostalgia tries to play on me, there’s no avoiding the bitter truth: Plough Lane was an absolute dump.
Happy days at Plough Lane
Mind you, when I first came across Wimbledon FC our ground was revered by home fans and visitors alike. But in those days we were giants of the non-league world, dominating the amateur Isthmian League and later the semi-professional Southern League.  With two, seated stands, terracing at both ends and with crowds of 3-4,000 most weeks, Plough Lane  was something to be proud of.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Something for the Weekend - 22/4/11

As we head into the Easter break, here are some things you might have missed from the last week. Put your feet up, grab a Creme Egg and tuck in...

Barcelona and the MLS Aesthetic
By footbolintellect.com - Follow on twitter @FutbolIntellect
"When I watch football it is art." Football presents us with plenty of ‘proper‘ ways to play the game. The Brazilians emphasize creativity and rhythm. The English, a direct game based on precedent. The tacticians focus on victory at any cost, and the ‘Arry Redknapp’s tell us not to worry and to let the players play. Recent media coverage, however, might lead you to believe that this variety of styles is a relic of the past. Full article >>

How do you solve a problem like Paul Ince?
By Saha From The Madding Crowd - Follow on twitter @WilliamAbbs
His early coaching success now a distant memory, Paul Ince found himself out of a job once again this month after leaving relegation-threatened Notts County. With several of his former Manchester United teammates having enjoyed relatively straightforward routes into top-level management, is it circumstance or something else that's holding back Ince's managerial career? Full article >>

 Inside The Mind Of The Football Blogger, Part 1
By Gav Stone of Les Rosbifs on twohundredpercent.net - Follow them on twitter @LesRosbifs and @twoht

After the 17th website this morning, searching for Englishmen who play in the Canberra State League in Australia (there are none), something dawned on me. What the hell am I doing? Why am I spending hours on end searching for information about men who probably don’t exist (they didn’t) for an article that will only be read by a few people? (As a guide, a similar article on Englishmen in the New South Wales State League has been read 106 times). Full article >> 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Why the problem is Newcastle, not Michael Owen

Michael Owen's entry onto the pitch at St James' Park the other night - his first game there since he left in 2009 - was marked by a chorus of boos and The Toon Army waving ten pound notes at their former player (on a par, as insults go, with Newcastle fans waving keys at Sunderland supporters).

Their Owen-focused anger was, no doubt, fuelled to some extent the previous weekend when former chairman Freddie Shepherd gave a newspaper interview saying: "It was probably the worst deal I did at Newcastle. That is just being frank. We paid £16m for him but didn't get £16m of value."

He's not the Messiah; he's a very naughty buy

Wow! Now, let's be frank ourselves, Freddie was the master of bad signings (Marcelino anyone?), so this must have been an absolute stinker. However, if anyone really made Owen a poor-value signing it wasn't the player himself, it was Shepherd.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How do you replace Arsene and Sir Alex?

Back in January Apple announced that their inspirational CEO Steve Jobs would be taking a medical leave of absence - his third since 2004. The following day the company announced another set of record-breaking quarterly figures (sales rose 71% seeing net profit hit $3bn) yet that wasn't enough to calm investors and across the week shares fell by 5% knocking $15bn off the value of the company.  

Apple's success over the last 14 years has been inextricably linked with one man and so, just like with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, there is considerable concern about how the firm will fare when Jobs steps down for good; so much so that a month after the announcement about his health a third of Apple shareholders voted in favour of a motion calling on the company to reveal details of its succession plan.

iPod therefore iAm

Apple's board refused citing potential loss of competitive advantage and the fact that they have a strong 'management bench'. Indeed on all three occasions Jobs has taken a leave of absence the company's COO Tim Cook has temporarily replaced him with little disruption.

Of course as we all know football is a strange business, as despite being a business club owners routinely fail to treat it as such. The employment and (almost always inevitable) sacking of managers is a case in point.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Highbury

Our latest look through the history books takes us to Highbury with Graham Burt of goodfeetforabigman.com. You can follow him on Twitter @gdfeet4abigman

One of the few claims I have to a rather small amount of fame is that I am one of the final people to have run out of the changing rooms on to the hallowed turf at Highbury.  As a fully-fledged member of the Arsenal Scotland Supporters club and a reluctant but sometimes handy goal-keeper I had the honour of being selected to play in a tournament featuring all the supporters clubs from around the country.

Unfortunately heavy rain meant the competition was curtailed into a penalty shoot-out, during which I conceded all five shots and suffered the ignominy of having a nine-year-old girl scoop one beyond my grasp.  In retrospect, given the state of the goal-keeping at Arsenal since the move to the Emirates, it seems quite appropriate.


Despite my hopes of Highbury glory being royally quashed I fulfilled a dream that day.  Walking out on the same beautifully manicured grass (although rather soggy on this occasion) that Cliff Bastin, Charlie George and Dennis Bergkamp had all graced in the previous century with the North Bank rising up in front of me was just incredible.
I had first visited on the 6th April 1996 to watch Arsenal take on Leeds.  Despite having grown up as an Arsenal fan, most of my life had been spent in north east Scotland and the only ground I had visited was Pittodrie in Aberdeen.  For those of you not initiated in Scottish football, Pittodrie was built as close to the North Sea as possible in an area that has less verve than an England press conference.

In contrast, walking down from Finsbury Park and having Highbury's beautiful façade appear through the houses was just magical.  A lot of Highbury's (and now the Emirates') charm was always that it sat right at the heart of its loyal fan-base with the whole community buzzing on match days.

Then there was the stadium itself, which oozed class.  Although I didn't know it at the time Highbury's East stand was a listed building with its marble halls and Art Deco style.  At the sprightly age of ten I was overawed by the feeling of history and tradition when entering the stadium.  Desperate for an Arsenal win, I was overjoyed when Ian Wright popped up twice to send me home happy. 

I returned many times before Highbury was finally decommissioned in 2006.  Fittingly the final years of the stadium's tenure played host to a golden age at the club and which have left me with some of my most poignant footballing memories.  Being a goalkeeper, top amongst them was probably seeing Jens Lehmann brilliantly tip Raul's shot onto the post to preserve a first leg lead in the Champions League tie against Real Madrid in 2006.  You could hear the whole stadium gasp when they saw the slow motion replay on the big screen.


Building the Emirates was an engineering and logistical marvel.  With the modern propensity to move new grounds out to quieter areas of towns and cities it was an incredible feat of organisational power that has enabled such a footballing palace to be constructed again at the heart of the community the club has served since it moved across the river in 1913. 

The benefits of the move are obvious.  By allowing a further 20,000 fans to attend every home match, once debts are paid off from the building of the ground, the revenues will allow Arsenal to continue to compete at the top level.  The move was a necessity and the grand new stadium is befittingly of a club like Arsenal.

Despite this, a lot of fans, I believe, still harbour regrets about leaving Highbury.  Although it was never particularly noted for its atmosphere, sometimes being dubbed 'The Library' amongst away fans, its compact nature gave it a close and intimidating feeling that the Emirates sometimes struggles to recreate.  Maybe partly because of the more airy nature of the new stadium, or the recent, sometimes aggressively corporate focus, Highbury will always be remembered fondly amongst Arsenal fans. 

Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Ninian Park, Cardiff

Friday, 15 April 2011

Something for the Weekend - 15/4/11

Here's our round up of the best on the net from the past seven days. This week there's been a shed load of really good writing out there making the choice really tough. But here's the five we've chosen, please read them. Like the shampoo, they're worth it...

Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal Takeover: The Managerial Revolution
By Calum Mechie for Good Feet For A Big Man - Follow on twitter @calumcm and @gdfeet4abigman
In 1941, the American political theorist James Burnham radically Trotskyed his Trotskyism with the publication of his seminal Conservative text The Managerial Revolution. Here, Burnham posits that capitalism is disappearing but communism is not replacing it. Instead, he claims, society is becoming governed by the new class of ‘managers’ (hence the title) – a broad grouping of educated bureaucrats who have organised society in such a way as to take power into their own hands. Full article >>

Eye off the ball: Media Alibi
By thegoalline.com - Follow on twitter @thegoal_line
The relationship between media and players is a curious one at best.  Languishing in the media’s ranks are ex-players who will always back their colleagues through thick and thin.  Journos have vested interests, criticising players might mean their paper doesn’t get the exclusive a season or so later.  Examples of this are legion and often a paper that lost out to a rival on such a thing might be sharpening the blades for the player in question. Full article >>

Roy of the Rovers predicts the future of football
Obscure Football - Follow on twitter @obscurefootball

Predicting the future of football is, sometimes, a hard task. Some predictions have been correct and others have been wrong, but one comes from an unlikely source. Whilst the “Glo-Ball Report… Date: 2092” feature in the ‘Roy of the Rovers Yearbook 1993′ may have been a light-hearted joke in 1992 but, in a sport where marketing and money has become more important, it is far more relevant in 2011. Full article >> 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Ninian Park

For the latest in our Gone But Not Forgotten series we're back in Wales, although this time we're taking a trip to Cardiff as Dan Walsh, owner of OneMatchBan.com, tells us about his memories of Ninian Park. You can follow him on twitter @OneMatchBan

If Ninian Park could talk, it would tell tales of Papal visits, world title fights and reggae masters. It would also boast about the days when it would regularly accommodate an audience of 50,000 people. But most of all, it would talk about the football club that resided there for a century, before it was knocked down in 2009.

Situated on Sloper Road, in the Canton area of Cardiff, Ninian Park was the home of Cardiff City FC between the years of 1910 and 2009. The club achieved many things during that time, enjoying many ups and enduring many downs. People travelled from all over the South Wales Valleys to see their team. They saw it as their home and, when the time was right, they could project the noise of a hundred male voice choirs, creating an intimidating atmosphere.

Ninian Park in 1938

The Bluebirds, were a fledgling outfit in 1909 when Walter Bartley Wilson, the father of the club, rented a rubbish tip from the Cardiff City Council. Wilson was desperate to see professional football in South Wales, but had big competition for public attention from the already established sport of rugby.

Monday, 11 April 2011

So exactly how bad are Manchester United?

So, having briefly opened up a double-digit lead in the title race, Manchester United enter a week that could define their season a healthy seven points clear of second-placed Arsenal.

Of course, this team could still win nothing in which case it will be consigned to the dustbin of history but even if it does pick up a bauble or two, well, then the headlines have already been written; this will officially be the worst Manchester United team to win the title. And that must be true, because it's what the men from the papers say.

Take Matt Dickinson of The Times, on Sky's Sunday Supplement following Manchester United's 4-2 victory over West Ham he was emphatic in his conclusion: "It's a remarkable success story even though we are going to write this is the worst United team to win the title. This is the worst of Man United's teams to win the title - I don't think there's any question of that."

 You're shit 'cos we say you are.

But exactly how bad are United this season? Well, seeing as the treble is still 'on' let's start by comparing this year's vintage with the 1998/99 United. So far The Red Devils have played 32 games and their record reads like this: W 20 D 9 L 3 F 70 A 32 GD +38 Pts 69. After 32 games of the 1998/99 season the glorious treble winners also topped the table with a record which read like this: W 19 D 10 L 3 F 72 A 32 GD +40 Pts 67.

Er, hang on a minute... I don't know about you, but that looks like a very similar record to me. In fact, if my maths is right, this year's United has so far accumulated two more points that the treble winners at the same stage of the season. Golly, some might even say they're better. 

What about the first Manchester United team to win the Premier League, way back in 1993 when dinosaurs still roamed the Sky Sports studios? Well, after 32 games they were top on goal difference from Aston Villa with a record which read: W 17 D 9 L 6 F49 A 25 GD +24 Pts 60.  Gosh, they were even worse than the useless treble winners.

And get this: over the course of the 42-game season they scored just 67 goals - three less than United have already managed in 32 games of this campaign and, let's not forget, after 15 games of that first Premier League season United lay in 10th place. I would say that was a pretty 'bad' side.

In fact, of Manchester United's 11 title-winning teams, five have had a worse points total and seven scored less goals after 32 games than the current league leaders and, while this United side has the third worst defensive record, both of United's and all 18 title-winning sides only three (Arsenal's Invincibles, Chelsea in 2004/05 and United in 1993/94) had lost fewer games at this stage of the season than United have now.

Of course, some will say that this spewing up of facts doesn't take into account the quality of other title contenders this season and that this year has been poor all round, serving only to underline further Manchester United's lack of quality. However, take the 1996/97 season, then after 32 games United (who were top) had a record like this: W 18 D 9 L 5 F 63 A 36 GD +27 Pts 63. Stinkers on every level - fewer points accrued, fewer goals scored, fewer wins, more conceded and more defeats than so far this campaign.

But, hey, I bet that was a really competitive year, right? Well, er... wrong. While that team ultimately notched up 75 points they actually needed only 69 to win the title as Newcastle in second (and Arsenal and Liverpool in third and fourth) could only manage 68. Although they didn't know it at the time United were champions after 34 games - two more than it has taken them to get 69 points this season. So, were the 1996/97 champions really a better side than this year's United?

Undeniably the best ever. Maybe.

Of course, in the pantheon of champions, this United team, should they win, would not stand atop the highest pedestal but it's hard to see them on the lowest one either.  What Dickinson and other journalists are guilty of is something the author Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News calls the 'bias against truth'.

In his wide-ranging critique of the shortcomings of the British media, one of the problems Davies identifies is a persistent failure to provide context for stories - thus creating the aforementioned bias. Not only does this affect the decisions about which stories are printed, he suggests, but also how the stories which are printed are written. As Davies argues, this leads to a preference for: "[...] the current over the historic; for simplicity rather than complexity; for certainty rather than doubt."

Now, to be fair to Matt Dickinson, he did say United's season was "a remarkable success story" but this was quickly brushed a side to make room for the pre-determined narrative; "this is the worst United team to win the title".

It's far easier to take that line off the shelf and articulate it with confidence than it is to make a proper case based on the facts; that would require looking back over 18 years of Premier League history, it might be complicated and it might create doubt. And we can't have that now, can we?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Something for the weekend - 8/4/11

As ever, here's our weekly round-up of five of the best pieces (in our humble opinion) you may have missed this week. Enjoy!

Politics and Personality in Sport: In the Commercial Era, Does Tradition Matter?
By Cris Wolfrey on Just Football - Follow him on twitter @chriswoolfrey
In the last piece I wrote for Just Football I retold the story of Matthias Sindelar, the Austrian footballer who symbolised, in part, a nation’s defiance of their Nazi occupiers; an archetype of Austria’s considered and poetic passing game. Sindelar represented not only the Austrian football team but Austria’s intelligentsia and their consciousness expressed through sport.Full article >>

Rooney’s broom
Twisted Blood - Follow on twitter @Twisted_Blood

What is a football club? Let’s first adopt a strictly material attitude and suggest that a football club is the sum of all its parts: players, staff, stadia, training facilities, badge, whatever. So Manchester United is Sir Alex Ferguson plus Wayne Rooney plus Ryan Giggs plus Paul Scholes … plus red shirts, white knickerbockers, and an eye-watering soul-sapping maelstrom of debt. Or, in abstract terms, any football club F consists ofp1, p2, p3 … pn, where p is a component part of F and n is the total number of distinct component parts. Full article >>

Tottenham Hotspur’s Catch 22
Eleven Against Eleven - Follow on twitter @ElevenAgainst11


Tottenham Hotspur’s stratospheric rise to European stardom has been a truly remarkable and quite romantic tale this season. But just as the club is beginning to establish itself among Europe’s elite clique, it could soon find itself thrust aside by the financial powerhouses within the Premier League. Sadly, this season could be as good as it gets for Spurs. Full article >>

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Rooney, swearing and The Civilising Process

So Wayne Rooney swears into a TV camera, the world stops turning and Muammar Gaddafi is no longer the most vilified man in Britain. Almost. Maybe the Manchester United striker should be punished and  maybe he shouldn't but talk to a figurational sociologist and they'll probably tell you the reaction to Rooney uttering those few (almost inaudible) words is the logical outcome of The Civilising Process.

Norbert Elias, the German-born father of figurational sociology, wrote Über den Prozess der Zivilisation in 1939 although it was effectively ignored for thirty years before being re-printed in 1969 when its first volume - A History of Manners - was also translated into English.

Just in case you haven't seen it...

In his magnus opus Elias set out to explain the historical evolution of the concept of civilisation from medieval times to the 'modern' day. In so doing he argued that the concept was socially constructed, developed and reinforced and that over time the values and terms connected with it went from being socially-imposed (socigenetic) to self-imposed (psychogenetic).

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Roker Park

Here's the second in our Gone But Not Forgotten series where we look back at football grounds that are no longer with us. This time we wind our way down Memory Lane to Roker Park with Charlotte Henderson, who also writes for Arsenal View. You can follow her on twitter @lottiehenderson


Roker
Park
was the home of my beloved Sunderland AFC.  I only got the privilege of visiting the stadium twice as a very young girl and my first time in the Roker End changed my life completely.  If only I knew then that I would suffer such amazing highs and so many heartaches by supporting Sunderland would I still have gone? You bet your bottom dollar I would.

Roker Park saw its first game 1898 and closed its gates in 1997 as the club moved to the all-seater Stadium of Light.  While Roker Park wasn’t the type of high-class stadium that is built these days, it was a place that had character, magic and of course the famous Roker Roar.

It was graced by the likes Bobby Kerr, who lead us to victory in the 1973 FA Cup final; Bobby Gurney, Gary Rowell and the players I grew up with like Paul Bracewell, Gary Bennett and one of my heroes Kevin Ball and of course how could any Sunderland supporter forget Bob Stokoe whose statue stands outside the team’s new home?  I salute him every time I pass it.

Back in the day

Roker Park had a capacity of over 60,000 after years of work and upgrades but on some games would hold 75,000 (and on one famous Wednesday afternoon 75,118 watched a match against Derby County.  There were stands like the Fulwell End, which is still mentioned in songs sung by a certain club up the road, and the famous Clock Stand that was there from the very beginning (the street built there now is called the Clock Stand Close).
Roker Park was also the second ground to have floodlights installed (what would we do now without flood lights?) and not a lot of people know, but it was one of the first choices as a stadium for the 1966 World Cup and staged a quarter final.

And of course there is the famous Roker Roar - you can guess where that came from.  There’s a story, possibly mythical, that after the replay with Man City during the glorious 1973 Cup run that BBC technicians were sent back to look for microphones as they were convinced it was too loud.  Now that’s saying something

I have so many fond memories of the few times I was there and from stories I have heard, walking towards Roker Park and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and shivers down my spine, the sense of pride as you watch everyone singing and cheering as they make their way there.

Of all the games I have been to, I have never experienced atmosphere like it including derby day at the Stadium of Light (and anyone who has experienced a Tyne-Wear derby will tell you - that is an atmosphere) and a trip to the San Siro.  In those days, everyone was up on their feet - you almost felt like you were swaying, feeling everyone dive forward when there was a goal or in reaction to tackles or shots missed.  It seemed scary to a small girl but was it was also a terrific buzz.

Back to the future

The chanting was so loud you could hear and see every single person from the old men who had gone for years to the young boys at their first games.  Everyone knew the words and if they didn’t they soon learned them.  Maybe it was because it was terraced that it had such an amazing atmosphere or because we also didn’t have so many televised matches or maybe its just Sunderland supporters in general.

One thing I will say, and every Sunderland supporter I know agrees, is that Roker Park had soul, it had character and it holds so many and such different memories for each one of us.  If it wasn’t for Roker Park I don’t think I would have the passion and pride that I have for my club and football in general.

Now we take our memories and carry the Roker Roar on to the Stadium of Light where new dreams and memories are made!

Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Vetch Field, Swansea

Monday, 4 April 2011

Berlusconi: the football-politician facing relegation

Goals from Pato and Antonio Cassano at the weekend saw AC Milan put their cross city rivals Inter to the sword and maintain a three-point gap at the top of Serie A. Which is all rather nice for the club's owner, Italy's billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who is currently in a spot of bother over his extra curricular activities.

The perma-tanned PM has recently been charged with procuring the services of the then-17-year-old prostitute Karima El Mahroug for sex and abusing his office by asking police to release her from custody over a separate incident. Now far be it from me to suggest that Mr Berlusconi has done anything untoward, but as his ex-wife Veronica Lario (who almost predictably he met while she was performing in a play topless) will tell you, as football club owners go he's always taken a keen interest in youth development.
 
I did not play football with that woman

If found guilty (and the trial will be presided over by three female judges so, for me, all bets are off) Berlusconi faces three years for the sex charge and four to 12 for abuse of office. It is interesting to note, then, that after several barren years, AC Milan are now mounting a serious challenge for Lo Scudetto.


Things all looked a little different back in July last year for both Berlusconi and Milan. Then, with the scandal that is currently engulfing him yet to rear its head, and after several years of dramatically reduced investment in the club (partly as it was unsustainable and partly in preparation for FIFA's financial fair play rules) he said that the club's "list of players is appropriate to compete with any other team" (translation: "Don't expect me to spend any money this season").

Shortly afterwards, however his long-time supporter Gianfranco Fini quit the government to create his own party Futuro e libertà per l'Italia (Future and Freedom for Italy) in a move knowingly-designed to destabilise Berlusconi's government and what do you know? Somehow the cash was found for AC Milan to sign Robinho from Manchester City for €18 million and Zlatan Ibrahimović on loan from Barcelona (with a view to signing him for €25 million at the end of the season).


Then in January - right around the time the Italian constitutional court weakened the laws granting temporary immunity to Berlusconi, thus paving the way for this week's trial - the club bolstered it's title challenge by signing Cassano, Urby Emanuelson, Mark van Bommel and Dídac Vilà. OK, none of these is truly big league signings, but the timing is none-the-less interesting.

Perhaps Berlusconi has just come to accept that in football you have to speculate to accumulate, or perhaps it's a rather transparent attempt by a politician losing popularity to try and buy favour, after all it wouldn't be the first time he'd used football for his own ends. Berlusconi's entire political career has been founded on the success on i Rossoneri.

His company Fininvest bought AC Milan in 1986 and Berlusconi and his management team then set about revolutionising the running of the club by implementing a business model similar to the one used in the myriad other business interests he had at the time from TV companies like Italia 1 to the chain store Standa. Modern innovations like automatic ticket booking were introduced, commercial spin-offs and customer loyalty were maximised and of course big money was spent on players like Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkard and Marco Van Basten.

In the eight years between his buying the club and Berlusconi's entry in to politics, i Rossoneri won Lo Scudetto three times and the European Cup twice (they would win a fourth title and a third European Cup just weeks after his election victory in 1994). Essentially he had made the team a metaphor for Italy - Berlusconi was saying: "AC Milan, a once great club, was failing. I modernised it and made it the best in Europe. Elect me and I will do the same for the country."

Furthermore in 1994, when he launched his political party, Berlusconi borrowed the language and symbols of football. Announcing his entry into the political sphere, he said he "had chosen to take to the field". The party itself was named after a football chant - Forza Italia. Candidates were called Azzuri, just like the country's footballers; local branches of the party were called clubs and the widow of Gaetano Scirea, one of the glorious 1982 World Cup team was put forward as a candidate.

Silvio, I wouldn't do that if I were you

None of this was an accident and, while the man himself might quibble about the definition, in two key ways Berlusconismo mirrors fascism; firstly through the creation of a charismatic leadership figure and secondly through a synthesis of business and state and the former of these at least has created problems for both AC Milan and Italy as a whole.

In his book No Milan, Inter fan Tommaso Pellizzari outlined how Berlusconi has ultimately made it hard for even Milan's own fans to support the team, arguing: "If at first the Milan of Berlusconi was subjectively odious (that is, odious to us Interisti and to others scattered throughout Italy), thanks to the presidentissimo, it has often succeeded in becoming objectively odious, ie, independently of the team you support." 

Just as in the mid-Eighties Berlusconi made Milan a metaphor for Italy, now the man himself is seen as the metaphor for the country. His success in recasting Italy in his image means the country is increasingly perceived as some huge Carry On film - a country in love with football and trashy TV full of topless women. However, it's an image many Italians are unhappy with and  more than a million protestors - mainly women - took to the streets in February carrying placards saying "Italy is not a brothel" to protest against Berlusconi and his attitude towards women and calling for his resignation.

This week's trial then is not just about Berlusconi, it's about the whole country and whether it can finally shed its tarnished image and reposition itself as a serious player on the international stage. Perhaps, with the protection of immunity gone and with the population turning against him, Berlusconi is playing a game he can no longer win.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Something For The Weekend - 1/4/11

You can't be expected to spot all the good stuff on the internet, so here's five things you might have missed this week. So, grab a cuppa and some biscuits, put your feet up and enjoy.

Milton Keynes Dons: a force for good in English football?
By The Seventy Two - Follow on twitter @The72football
There were seven of them. No, eight. Nine. Forty-seven, it seemed like at times. All pushing forward. All going for goals. All ending up on the losing side. As Xavi recently said, “sometimes, in football, the result is the imposter”.
Peterborough United dominated for long periods at the Stadium:MK last Monday and still returned back to Cambridgeshire with nothing except the moral high ground. Not just given their side’s expansive, attractive, attacking approach, either. Most visiting fans leave Milton Keynes with a sense of superiority, regardless of the result. The place has no history, no tradition… But this is well-chartered territory. Full article >>

Captain Caveman: The De-evolution of John Terry
Despatches on a Football Sofa - Follow on twitter @gregtheoharis

So much for Fabio Capello’s thunderously ominous pronouncement that the aggrieved John Terry had made a “big mistake” after the former had seemingly conspired to promote a mutiny in the ranks during last year’s World Cup. Apparently, some of the squad weren’t happy with the head coach’s disciplinarian methods and Terry used a press conference to publicly challenge the Italian’s authority. At the time, Capello’s swift rebuttal was largely commended and it seemed a fractious power struggle had been avoided. The father had reproached the son and a tentative détente had been achieved. Full article >>

Player Prejudice: The blinkered nature of football coverage
Polly's Pause For Thought - Follow on twitter @DominicPollard

We, as football fans, are naturally highly subjective. We often have preconceived ideas about teams and players which will inevitably detract from our ability to make fair and accurate judgements. This unavoidable instinct extends beyond simple, negative prejudices against rival clubs or unpopular players, often it is applied in a positive manner as we lavish praise on someone’s performance when it really is not warranted. Full article >>

Review: The Fix by Declan Hill
By Twisted Blood - Follow on twitter @Twisted_Blood
Theories about why sport attracts the attention it does are as plentiful and varied as Djibril Cissé’s haircuts, though some at least make a little sense. Sport has been proferred variously as an alternative to war — which is why I take a bayonet to Champion Hill — as a channel for the unhealthy energies of young boys — your John Terry joke of choice here — and as the opiate of the masses — on which this, this and this. Rather charmingly, Declan Hill offers a simpler theory: that the attraction of sport is that it is the one arena of life that is free from bullshit. That it is honest, open, fair and free; that the triumph of A over B is nothing more than the reflection of the relative levels of luck, ability, and performance. Or at least it should be. Full article >>

Fantasy Football: My friend and yours only because we have no friends
By Ethan Dean-Richards - Follow on twitter @SurrealFootball

For the happy people, with their places to be and their people to see, fantasy football is just a game – easily forgotten once the going gets tough. But for the tortured souls with unattainable goals, there’s nothing easy about giving up on another Fantasy Football season. Hate begins at home when you use up the last days of your holiday building up the fantasy team that will inevitably ruin your whole football season. Every hour you put into the selection process is an hour you’ll later put into despising yourself for it. Full article >>