Friday, 27 May 2011

Something For The Weekend - 27/5/11

Well, what a week. What we all already knew has been confirmed. Yup, Sir Alex Ferguson's a miserable old twat. But enough of that, here's the five best footy posts I've read this week.

Ten conclusions to make from Arsenal’s season 2010/2011
By The Arsenal Column - Follow on twitter @ArsenalColumn
1. Mental fragility cost Arsenal the season
There is a valid assertion that with the youth policy, certain characteristics – in some cases, the key characteristics that make up the anatomy of a successful football club – have had to be exaggerated and the others, harder to reproduce. Full article >>

By thecrisfiles Follow him on twitter @IrishChristof

It seems fitting that I have come over to visit the very territory in question that I will write my very first blog about, Northern Ireland.
Having been brought up in a very nationalist part of Northern Ireland in the 80′s and 90′s, I have grown up with a load of lads in my village playing football down at the local park, sporting Republic of Ireland shirts and not the shirts of the state in whic we play this beautiful game. Full article >>

The Champions League Coach: A Young Man’s Game?
By GhostGoal - Follow on twitter @GhostGoal

For many the personification of genius is the wizened portrait of Albert Einstein in old age. And yet, the famous professor was in his early forties when he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. Moreover, his key research on the subject had been done while still in his twenties. Full article >>
The announcement that Peter Ridsdale is expected to become the new owner of Plymouth Argyle at a purchase price of £1 seems to have come as no surprise to anyone other than the Spinmeister himself apparently.  He says “This is not a transaction that I sought or contemplated but, if it is the only route to guarantee a future for Plymouth Argyle Football Club, it is a route that I am prepared to take.“  Very noble of him I’m sure. Full article >>

Champions League Final Predictions
By Surrealfootball - Follow him on twitter @SurrealFootball 

When ITV asked us to contribute to their predictions piece, we were delighted – finally recognition for our writing talent and football knowledge. Apropos of nothing, we’ve decided to pull together some opinions from our favourite writers on the Champions League final. Full article >>

Monday, 23 May 2011

An open letter to CTB

What the fuck are you playing at? Can't you see that it's all getting a little bit out of hand?

I know you've never courted celebrity and so this must be a pisser for you, but that's the world we live in now - you want to taste the honey, be prepared to get stung by the bees. Did you really think that the Press wouldn't be interested in this story?

You're the victim of, what's that phrase the Government uses when Our Boys kill innocent civilians? Terrorism? No... collateral damage, that's it. You're collateral damage in the circulation war.

We've always had a taste for gossip in this country. The News of The World was launched in the 1800s as "a mixture of information, scandal and radical comment". The other two bits might have been washed down the gutter, but the scandal's still there.

Then when mass telly ownership came along in the 1950s, human interest stories became even more prevalent and so the private lives of stars - people like you - came to be considered 'fair game'. What can I say?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Something for The Weekend - 20/05/11

We're back!! Did ya miss us? Blogger killed all the fun last Friday by 'crashing' during 'essential maintenance'. Yeah, whatever... Anyhows, here's our five favourite things from this week.

By - Follow on twitter @FutbolIntellect
I gave up competitive sports in my mid-teens. “A victim of the 90s,” you might assume, but it wasn’t the parents or coaches who turned me away. I was lucky, to be honest. My parents always supported my efforts with fruit snacks and soft drinks, the most a ten-year old version of myself could ask. Full article >>

Marriage of Inconvenience
By Greg Theoharis on Dispatches From A Football Sofa - Follow him on twitter @gregtheoharis 
A year ago, soundtracked by a score of ethereal tranquillity and the desolate scattering of rustling papers in the wind, Nick Clegg went for a walk across this country’s dales and tower blocks. He looked us square in the eye and decried that politics had let us all down. Full article >>

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Filbert Street

This week Leicester fan and editor of the TheSeventyTwo David Bevan joins us for a trip to one of the finest old grounds - Filbert Street (oh yes).  You can also follow him on Twitter @The72football

Former football grounds often take on a sepia-tinged quality, particularly when your club has since moved to the kind of non-descript flat-pack stadium with countless similarities to the new homes of other teams. Strangely, however, my memories of Filbert Street are not of the inside, but of the outside.

That first tantalising glimpse of the floodlights from the brow of a hill miles to the south, Radio Leicester crackling into life, the queue outside the chip shop, the zigzag approach through terraced side streets. All of that remains if you drive that way, park that way, walk that way. But it isn't quite the same.

 The Walkers Stadium lies one monstrous goal kick to the south of Filbert Street. The road remains but the rest is just memories now. I loved it and it all began with a wall.

Filbert Street
At the front of the old Main Stand, a white wall ran along the perimeter of the pitch. I used to sit on that wall and watch a dismal football team hack their way to mediocrity - and I wouldn't have swapped it for the best seat in the house at Old Trafford. Where else could I sit just inches from an event with the grace and poise of a Tony Spearing throw-in?

Filbert Street's character was unquestionable. I remember feeling a tinge of sadness as a child when I realised I would never attend enough games to sit in every seat. What a bizarre thought, but it sums up the variety of the place. In time, I would graduate from the front of the Main Stand to the back of its looming successor, the Carling Stand - via both tiers of the Double Decker to its right and, for one game only, the distant supporters club corner betwixt the North Stand and the East Stand.

Even that one, solitary game brought a moment which I can look back upon now with incredible clarity - during a 3-3 draw with Southampton, Matt Le Tissier walked away from that corner with his middle finger raised to the crowd behind him. It is almost as if he is disappearing into the distance in front of me now.

Not many things in life can accurately reflect the nature of death, but the passing of a football ground ticks a lot of the boxes. We'll never get it back. When they turned off the lights for the last time at Filbert Street after a match involving various legends from the past, it had the air of a funeral. The floodlights were dismissed and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, before fleeing into the night with whatever we could get our hands on. My last memory of a Filbert Street game is the sight of four blokes haring down Brazil Street, gleefully clutching a prized Ladbrokes stand.

The last league game, shortly before in May 2002, brought a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur and the last goal was scored by Matthew Piper, a promising Leicester-born winger who would be sold to Sunderland for £3.5million that summer before injury cut his career short at an early stage. City had already been relegated from the Premier League but Piper's goal was a fitting finale for such a glorious old ground.
My favourite memories? The atmosphere of the 1997 UEFA Cup game with Atletico Madrid. The celebrations that greeted Steve Walsh's barely feasible equaliser deep into injury-time after Dennis Bergkamp had completed one of the best hat-tricks ever seen in English football. Tony James securing City's Division Two status with a winner against Oxford United and the ensuing pitch invasion. Five against Cambridge, five against Sunderland, us against the world under Brian Little and Martin O'Neill.

Way back before experienced taught me better, I used to dream of a 32,000-seater stadium decked all in blue. To be surrounded by other City fans in an impressive new arena. Nowadays, I just dream of Filbert Street.
Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough

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Monday, 16 May 2011

Goals On Film - Lord Sugar Tackles Football

Please note: This post was originally published on 12th May but was then lost when Blogger crashed.  This is a recovered version which includes some minor alterations but no substantive changes and so it does not mention West Ham’s relegation.

On Saturday (May 7th) I spent the evening watching the excellent Uncaged Monkeys which featured, among others, sexy particle physicist Professor Brian Cox and scourge of bad medical journalism Ben Goldacre.

Among the few bits I could actually understand Cox made an interesting suggestion that all opinion is worthless and there's only true value in conclusions based on the rigorous critical analysis of facts.

Fast forward 24 hours and I was watching Lord Sugar tackling football for the BBC. Unsurprisingly there wasn't a huge amount of critical analysis on display. It didn't matter though, because he had an opinion and he wasn't scared to tell us exactly what it was.

Lord Sugar, himself, is not to blame for this; it's simply an indictment of the state of modern journalism which packages complex issues into easy-to-digest but over-simplistic stories. For example, in the first minute Lord Sugar asks “why has it taken so long for alarm bells to ring” setting himself up as a path finder but totally ignoring the excellent journalism on this very subject which has been ringing alarm bells for a decade and more.  One such writer, David Conn, appears in the show (along with Dan Jones from financial analysts Deloitte) but their contribution – especially Conn’s – is so small as to be effectively pointless.

When you couple this with our fame-hungry society you end up with the new phenomenon of the celebrity-fronted documentary which surely hit rock bottom when BBC3 sent Lindsay Lohan (yes, the star of Herbie Fully Loaded) to 'investigate' child trafficking in India.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten – Ayresome Park

Ayresome Park is our venue this week as we join Middlebrough fan Andrew Glover writer of the Ayresome Gates blog for a look through the history books. You can follow him on Twitter @andrew_glover

Everyone remembers their first time. Nervous but excited, eager to tell your friends you had finally done it. To be finally there, up close and personal and after months of asking, I broke my cherry aged six when I was taken to see Lennie Lawrence’s Middlesbrough draw 0-0 with Blackburn Rovers.

It was getting towards the business end of the 1991-92 season and Boro had faltered after a strong start but would go on to clinch promotion to join the first season of the Premier League.

A proper ground

I remember little about the run-in if I’m honest, other than the panic of the last day when it seemed our game at Molineux against Wolves would be called off after a bomb scare. For those last few months, I was too busy falling in love with Ayresome Park.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why QPR should sack Neil Warnock

Despite basking in the glory of their Championship-winning season, QPR manager Neil Warnock was moved to say on Saturday that he feared the sack.

"I'm not totally confident they will stick with me. It's one of those things," he said. Perhaps Warnock, genuinely fears he's going to get the boot or perhaps it was a canny political move on his part to put pressure on the club's owners. Either way, rumours have been circulating  since the back end of last month that the West London club will ditch their current manager in favour of Italy's 2006 World Cup winner, Marcello Lippi.

Oi, ref, do you know my name is an anagram of what you are?

If Warnock is removed, I'm sure there'll be more than a few people out there rolling their eyes and tutting at another example of short-termism from the club's owners Flavio Briatori and Bernie Ecclestone. However, now is exactly the time they should be getting rid of Warnock.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Something For The Weekend - 05/05/11

Thank Crunchie it's Friday and here (ranked in no particular order, AV fans) are five things you might have missed from the last seven days. Take them into the weekend with you and give them a read if you haven't already.

Gone but not forgotten – Il Grande Torino and the tragedy of Superga
By - Follow on twitter @fiveinmidfield 
“The Torino team is no more… it has disappeared…it is burnt…it has exploded”
The chilling words of Vittorio Pozzo, quivering with emotion, and resonating with anguish through the years, mournfully recalled around the world on this tragic day, the day, sixty-two years ago, that the incomparable Il Grande Torino perished at Superga. Full article >>

Why did Leeds sell to Ken Bates, who claims he has no money to invest?
By David Conn on The Guardian - Follow him on twitter @david_conn 
Ken Bates was attempting to "end the speculation" and settle what he derided as "scaremongering" over Leeds United's anonymous offshore ownership by announcing today that he has finally bought the club himself.  Full article >>

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Goals On Film - The Damned United

You thought The Damned United was all about football didn't you? Well, you were wrong, it's a love story. Or rather it's the story of how that love - a marriage, if you will - is taken to the edge of destruction by one man's jealous obsession. That's the cliché the filmmakers would have you believe, anyway.

The man is, of course, Old Big 'Ead himself Brian Clough and the film, based on David Peace's novel of the same name, purports to tell the story of his 44 fateful days in charge of Leeds United in 1974. Yet, that is merely a backdrop to the central relationship between Clough and his long-time colleague Peter Taylor.

We're getting married in the morning.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen, is unequivocal on the issue, saying that in adapting the novel he wanted to construct the film as "a marriage and infidelity story". In essence Clough jeapardises his marriage to his 'wife' (Taylor) because he wanted to sleep with the 'wife' (Leeds United) of the person he most wanted to hurt, the film's other main character - Don Revie.

This narrative - just in case it's not obvious - slaps you in the face throughout the film. It's emphasised at the very start when Clough appears on Yorkshire TV before arriving at Elland Road and the interviewer compares him to a step-father replacing Revie's father figure.

There is a level of physical intimacy between Clough (played by Michael Sheen) and Taylor (played by Timothy Spall). On several occasions Clough kisses Taylor (but let's face it, who didn't Clough kiss?), they feed each other sweets and when they are celebrating winning the Second Division title with Derby County, Clough sings Love and Marriage before asking Taylor - not his wife, who is present - to dance.

Eventually, the pair fall out after Clough's actions lead to them being sacked by Derby (thus disrupting their matrimonial bliss - as Taylor says: "I was happy here. We both were.")

Clough also reneges on a deal to join Brighton and so joins Leeds alone, but it quickly becomes apparent that Clough is struggling in Yorkshire without his partner. Life with Revie's ex (Leeds) and his kids (the Leeds players) ain't so great.

He makes a plaintive phone call imploring Taylor to rejoin him (take him back), but his former partner responds coldly: "It's too late. We're on our own now remember? I think it would be better if you don't ring here again." Ouch...

However,  following Clough's sacking (he was just a rebound shag after all) he convinces Taylor to rejoin him. "I love you, you know?" he says as the pair hug each other. "I know," come the reply, "But you'll only fuck it up again."  And so, his wife takes him back.

You can't fault the film for it's nostalgic feel. The era is lovingly recreated with Chesterfield's Saltergate standing in for Derby's Baseball Ground and Elland Road looking scarily not much different. Michael Sheen, breaking away from his Tony Blair and Blair-lite David Frost performances, is perfect as Clough as is Colm Meaney as Revie.

Watch the film then Google the real-life Yorkshire TV face-off between the pair, which came just after Clough's sacking - they're incredibly similar. (And then ask yourself why we'll never see Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish arguing the toss on Granada these days.)

While this is all well and good, the film is also riddled with inaccuracies and so like the book, which was criticised both by Clough's family and some ex-Leeds players for playing fast and loose with the truth, it's merit is, in my mind, devalued.

The film's portrayal of Clough's pulling out of the Brighton deal is simply not true. In reality, Taylor and Clough joined Brighton together and it was eight months before Clough joined Leeds. Taylor did stay on the south coast and spent two successful years at Brighton before they were reunited at Nottingham Forest (where Clough spent his first season on his own).

Another scene shows Leeds players, still managed by Revie, deliberately injuring Derby players, managed by Clough, to undermine their chances of beating Juventus in their next game in the European Cup semi final. Again, not true; the teams met more than a month before the Juventus game and in between times Derby successfully negotiated their European Cup quarter-final with Spartak Trnava.

Finally, as the film ends we are told that Clough and Taylor won the title and two European Cups with Forest and that while Revie failed as the national boss, Clough was "the greatest manager England never had". Perhaps he was, we'll never know, but that does Revie a great disservice. In domestic terms his record is at least on a par with Clough's as he picked up two titles, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup and a League Cup. But let's not mention them when we want to make someone a hero and someone a villain.

How a film can be based on lives of real people, yet get such simple but important details wrong is beyond me, all the more so when the reality is such a powerful story itself. Perhaps the reason is the film is essentially a love letter to Clough from the filmmakers and that love has blinded them.

Last Goals on Film: Zidane: Un Portrait du 21e Siècle

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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Belle Vue

This week we're charging up the flux capacitor and jumping into the DeLorean for a visit to Doncaster's Belle Vue. In the driving seat is Tony Greenall. You can follow him on Twitter @TonyCSGreenall.

Belle Vue, the former home of Doncaster Rovers, began life in 1922 with a Midland League match against Gainsborough Trinity. However my arrival would have to wait for another 54 years when my Dad took me, as a five-year-old, to see a Division Four fixture against Stockport County. Memories of that game may have faded into the foggy past, but Belle Vue would provide many more until its explosive demise three years ago.

Belle Vue was the venue for my TV debut, stood behind the goal on Match of the Day as David Harle scored the winning goal in an FA Cup third round victory over then First Division Queens Park Rangers in 1984. Pictured with my arms aloft and wearing my parka, my celebrations brought equal parts derision and hero worship at school the following week.

But what makes the ground great is not just the memories of fantastic games such as the incredible 7-5 against Reading almost 30 years ago, or a 5-4 epic against Yeovil Town during Rovers' sojourn in the Conference.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The demise of fanzines and the rise of the blog

When Saturday Comes is 25 this year, so let's all sing Happy Birthday. After three, with me. One, two... Actually forget that, it'll take too long.

To celebrate the milestone, the magazine has been running a series of retrospectives exploring the changes that have taken place during the period. The April edition, in a piece by Taylor Parkes, focused on the changing nature of fan culture or as he put it the 'long road from the proudly ideological fanzines of 25 years ago to the shattering inanities of Soccer Am and James Corden's World Cup show".

The piece has much merit; James Corden certainly figures highly on my list of people I'd like to punch repeatedly and Parkes correctly identifies fanzines' assimilation by the mainstream media.

Come anywhere near me and you will be history, boy

However, Parkes also takes a very downbeat tone, concluding that: "Football's owners have assumed almost total control, not just over how the game is run but how it's watched, discussed, experienced, its place in British culture and it's overriding mood. Football, I fear, is not coming home." Blimey, let's run a hot bath and break out the razor blades.

Essentially, without being explicit, this argument adheres to one of the key tenets of cultural studies - the notion of 'hegemony' as outlined in the work of the Italian philosopher and political theorist Antonio Gramsci. In short this is the ability of a dominant class to employ leadership over a society. However, this leadership is not simply based on the ownership and control of the means of production or a state monopoly of violence.

Consequently, the ideology of this dominant group can't simply be 'imposed' and the subordinate classes do not just blindly comply. Instead hegemony is earned by achieving a complex balance between negotiation, concessions, threats and pressures before opposition can grow too large. Once won, hegemony operates at a level of everyday consciousness - it becomes what's regarded as 'common sense'.

Cultural studies identifies sport and the media as two key ideological apparatus through which the battle for hegemony can be fought. Reading Parkes' article, his conclusion is clear; fans have 'lost' this battle however there is one gaping hole in his argument; he completely overlooks the rise of football blogging - the new fanzine.

It is true that, for a variety of reasons, fanzines have become less relevant than they were. Firstly, the social topography of fandom has changed - the Hillsborough disaster, through the legal requirement for all-seater stadia among other things, lead to a long-overdue revolution in the match-day facilities on offer for fans. At around the same time hooliganism  as part of the match-day routine has greatly diminished.

The majority of fans increasingly felt they had a voice as they were no longer seen as hooligans and thugs - a problem which needed to be contained - but consumers with lots of disposable income which needed to be extracted. To this new breed of fan, fanzines are a thing of the past. Hell, who needs to complain so long as you don't get wet when it rains and you can drink warm lager and pay £1.50 for a packet of crisps at half time?

At the same time, and particularly since the introduction of the Premier League the game itself went through a massive and accelerated process of commercialization. This led to a dramatic increase in the amount of football coverage. Papers from tabloids to broadsheets started to offer sports 'supplements', and use sport as part of their marketing strategy. At a local level, this change manifested itself when 'mainstream' publications acknowledged fanzines' popularity and so went to fanzine writers for comments on club issues and in some cases even offered them columns on the papers.

Thirdly, over time fanzines themselves began to take on a more mainstream feel. Some started running interviews with players and managers from their relevant club. Once this happened it meant fanzines had to tone down their criticism of the club or access to such personnel would be withdrawn (something that also effects local newspaper coverage).

Furthermore, the rise in availability and affordability of high-quality home computers and desk-top publishing packages meant fanzines were no longer cut-and-paste, photocopy jobs sold by smelly old blokes outside football grounds but instead became well-designed, glossy products that were sold in High Street stores like WHSmiths with cover prices placing them in the same bracket as 'mainstream' magazines.

The early Nineties also saw an explosion in the magazine market (not just football and lads' mags but also computer, women's and celebrity titles) and, again, some fanzine writers crossed over to mainstream publications. James Brown who was editor of Loaded at its launch in 1994 began his career on a music fanzine a decade earlier.

Thus fanzines simultaneously influenced and were assimilated by the magazine revolution, culture studies theorists would argue that this was evidence of the dominant classes making concessions, but only in so far as it allowed them to win that particular battle. So far, so Taylor Parkes. However this is the bit he overlooked; there has been a huge change in the nature of media consumption in the last twenty five years.

Back then waiting for Ceefax to scroll through to the right page was as exciting and up-to-the minute as technology got and who had a mobile phone? OK, all those Yuppie wankers maybe, but not real people. Now we're all Yuppie wankers and we can browse the net, get the latest stats and talk to our mates almost wherever and whenever we like (without the hassle of actually having to meet them).

That's you that is

This revolution in technology and social networking has opened up a new battleground in the fight for how football is consumed. Blogging is part of the recent rise in what professsor Clemencia Rodriguez defined, around a decade ago, as 'citizen media'. Essentially Rodriguez argues media has changed from the traditional definition in which “communication is sent from one place and received in many places by a large audience” to one where the recipients have also become also the producers.

The death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009, was initially attributed to a heart attack until video shot on a mobile phone showing him being pushed to the ground by a police officer in full riot gear was handed to The Guardian newspaper. The same year the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran was captured, again on mobile phone, by an anti-Government protestor and quickly uploaded to the internet becoming a symbol for the movement. Earlier this year Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim credited Facebook as being central to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The relatively low-cost of hardware such as computers and video cameras (on phones or otherwise) plus easy access, via the internet, to a means of dissemination has democratised the means of media production and re-opened the battle for hegemony the world over. 

It may seem flippant to compare football blogging to those covering the bloody political upheaval in the Middle East and elsewhere, but crudely speaking from a social and cultural perspective it's all part of the same process. The editors of In Bed With Maradona describe themselves and the site's contributors as 'revolutionaries', a tongue-in-cheek moniker no doubt but one that hints at the idea they believe there is something they need to fight against.

Football bloggers are a disparate group with no leadership structure but they have similar thoughts and feelings on many issues from crap punditry to the still implicit homophobia, xenophobia and sexism within the game and social media such as Twitter allow them to form a loose 'community of interest' to express dissatisfaction with this.

Increasingly football bloggers are defining how they experience and think about the game themselves using their experience and knowledge of, among other things, popular culture, politics and philosophy.

To name just three, Dispatches From A Football Sofa has used The Wire to argue that modern footballers will never have the mythical qualities of their predecessors (spoiler alert!); Good Feet For A Big Man has used New Labour's demise to implore Arsene Wenger to stick to his footballing principles and Twisted Blood used Ernest Hemingway's writng on bull fighting to suggest that bravery is overstated as a quality in a player in a team sport.

These articles couldn't be further removed from the likes of Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen chuckling their way through another Match of the Day performance or the tabloids unquestioningly printing 'Arry Redknapp's assertion that Gareth Bale is an £80m player without questioning how this can be so when he has only one - YES ONE - assist in the Premier League all season.

No, Parkes is wrong. Football's not coming home because it never went away; it just lost its voice for a while.

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