Category Archives: Manchester United

Reality Bites

In a week where it seemed every discussion on football concerned off-field matters, it was nice to see the game come back yesterday with a healthy dose of realism. Whether it be lunatic plans to turn the Premiership into a U2 tour, or hyperbolic panic over whether lost legends would be appropriately commemorated, it seemed to have slipped everyone’s mind that it is what takes place on the field that keeps us, as fans, so attached.

I experienced a slight feeling of surprise that a match actually took place at all in yesterday’s Manchester derby, such was the speculation surrounding it’s unique preamble. Yet once the whistle went, it didn’t take long before I, as a football fan, and a neutral on this most partizan of occasions, was back in the place I know best, a place I could feel comfortable again.

Having taken in the parades, the mascots, the adapted kits, and the wonderfully observed (much to my surprise, I must admit) minute’s silence, this match, far from being weighed down by any emotional baggage, instantly became a classic tactical battle that could have been played out in any era of the game – one that was won, hands down, by Manchester City’s Sven Goran Eriksson.

Manchester United could probably have been forgiven for believing that things would go their way in this match, given the massive wave of sympathy that flowed in their favour, but City turned up with a spot-on attitude and a classic underdog’s gameplan, and upset both the script and the odds.

It took around ten minutes for the game to settle into a pattern that was never really broken. All of a sudden, Manchester United found themselves banging their heads against the brick wall that was City’s five-man midfield, expertly marshalled by man-of-the-match Dietmar Hamann, a realist’s footballer if ever there was one. Any thoughts of the occasion were lost, as suddenly United found three crucial points in the Championship race drifting away from them.

Immediately afterwards, over at Stamford Bridge, the worldwide audience got a timely taste of just what could be coming in their direction in 2011. If they’ve got any sense or taste, they’ll be writing their letters of opposition in Kuala Lumpur right now.

Quite why Chelsea and Liverpool even bother to fulfil this fixture is a mystery to me, neither of them ever has any inclination to win it, so they might as well just take a point each and save us all the misery of sitting through the worst 90 minutes of the season. As dull, turgid, pointless, meaningless 0-0 draws go, this was up there with the best of them.

Between them the two sides mustered one solitary goalbound effort in the entire match – and that was a Peter Crouch header so tame that the big man could have picked himself up, made his way to the goal and saved it himself if he so wished.

My initial thought was that new rules ought to be brought in to enable these two to be docked points for this display. My second thought was that if some yank wants to walk on at the end of this, and insist the game be settled by a session of “added-time Multiball!”, then I for one would be in favour. Bring it on, it would actually be better than this.

Then I paused for a third thought. I realised that this was great. I had endured 90 minutes of total crap, but in a silly way that only hardened football fans can understand I had thoroughly enjoyed it. This was football reality, the game brought down to it’s bare bones, and a match that will bring absolutely no new converts to the game.

After this week’s insane proposals, it was exactly the sort of game that needed to be showcased to a worldwide audience. After all, if you’re going to market a product, then you must be honest with your customers about exactly what they’ll be letting themselves in for, so well done Premier League for not keeping the truth locked away.

Anyone watching Chelsea v Liverpool in one of the exotic locations the Premier League has lined up will surely now feel feel far more threatened by English Football coming their way than we feel by the idea of losing it.

A day that, if Sky Sports and the Premier League had had their way, was meant to be full of emotion, passion, and excitement ended up being dominated by arch-professionalism and heavy strategy. Good. It reassured me that you can take the football out of England, but you’ll never take England out of the football.

Jamie.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Chelsea FC, Comment, England, English Premier League, FA, Football, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Munich Air Disaster, Opinion, Sky, Soccer, Sport, Sven Goran Eriksson, Television

Munich: A City Fan’s View

Something about the Munich air crash has been brewing within me for some time. In fact, I suggested the idea of writing up on this site a controversial City fan’s view around a month ago.

I’ve avoided actually doing it because wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to say. Did I want to point out that United arguably exploited the disaster to create a kind of club founding-myth (something that was suggested in the Manchester Evening News as early as 1959)?

Did I want to say something about the hypocrisy of some of the things coming out of the club and its sympathisers in the media, given how little respect fans of United (and every other club, including City) give to the memory of the Hillsborough disaster? (I always find a good test of how offensive something is, is to remove the word ‘scouse’ and replace it with ‘black’, and think about whether a “respectable” broadsheet paper would publish it. But that’s another issue.)

On the other hand, did I want to write an apology to United for what some City fans might do – or for what they might have done without the sustained pressure from inside and outside Eastlands? Did I want to muse on the rights of football fans to say what they like inside the ground, given what Sol Campbell said earlier this season about abuse?

I don’t know. There are too many issues I want to explore and I don’t really think, on reflection, that it’s appropriate to base a discussion of them around the anniversary of a tragedy.

National newspapers don’t necessarily like complexity, so for most of them this week has been about one young man – Duncan Edwards, who died at the age of 21 and a few months, younger than I am now. His death has been made to stand for the whole Munich crash: the end of a great team, and the cruel way in which youthful promise was taken away. Not many events in football have this kind of symbolic power.

Generally, it is football itself that inspires us. So although a moment of silence on Saturday is only proper (and I sincerely hope it is observed), the best way to honour those young men, many of whom were from the very city whose two great clubs are meeting, is to play a great game of football.

“To say that these men paid their shillings to watch 22 hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink… for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your mates and your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were, cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swapping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its art.”  — JB Priestley

Harry.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Comment, England, English Premier League, Football, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Munich Air Disaster, Soccer, Sport

Munich memorial: Parker and his possible darker motive

With the Munich Memorial / Manchester Derby coming closer, there is a sense of unease in Manchester.

MPs, including the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe and the MP for Manchester Withington John Leech, are calling for caution when the match occurs on the 10th February.

However, it is the role of the Official Man City Supporters’ Association Kevin Parker, who wants a minute’s applause instead of the proposed silence, which is threatening the occasion.

It is natural to be apprehensive with such a sombre occasion coming up, and with 3,000 City fans travelling to Old Trafford. It is also true that the behaviour of several people could light the blue torch-paper. Being a Manchester United all my life, I have often been subjected to the Munich chants and the slurs from ignorant City fans, who perhaps forget that one of their own, Frank Swift, was also killed in the tragedy.

Even so (and this may seem misguided and naive to some of you), the majority of City fans I know fully realise the significance of the event, and wouldn’t dare cross that border between deep rivalry, which I am all for, into an area that would constitute an act of sheer provocation.

And this is why the unease that is being created and voiced is misguided. The handful who could use the occasion to provoke will be out-numbered by the many who will be respectful, and I fully believe that the acts of the majority will stifle that of the minority.

However, for City fans, where’s the trust? Where’s the responsibility? If I were a City fan, I’d be incredibly upset and angry that the head of my supporters association doesn’t trust the fellow fans of my football club. City fans are in danger of being tarred by the same brush.

The fact that Parker has called for a minute’s applause is arguably attempting to protect the provocative and ignorant few, and also misses the point completely. How can you celebrate the lives of Duncan Edwards, Geoff Bent and Roger Byrne et.al with an applause, when their chances to achieve were so tragically taken away?

An applause celebrates a fulfilled, detailed history (perhaps the idea of the applause, a modern take on mourning in this country at least, could also represent the possible inherent lack of respect currently present in football, but that argument is for another day). But the Busby Babes who perished in the Munich Air Disaster do not have one, because they were never given the chance. It is a time to mourn, not celebrate.

This is an event for an entire city, not just for a sect of fans. Parker’s belief that a minute’s applause would be better for the occasion and for Manchester as a whole, could well represent a more selfish motive.

However, it doesn’t help matters when you sport your advertiser on a commemorative mural…:

Mural AIG

What d’ya think? Utter rubbish? Good point? Provocative in both senses of the word? Tell us!

David.

(Image: © MEN, taken from The Daily Mail)

 

 

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Comment, English Premier League, Football, Manchester City, Manchester United, Opinion, Soccer, Sport

G14 is now no longer

The G14, the group of the fourteen biggest clubs in Europe (although technically there are… or should I say were, eighteen clubs), is to be disbanded after UEFA and FIFA agreed to listen to their bones of contention.

Instead, a new body called the European Clubs Association, will represent clubs of Europe at European and international level. The intention is to make this new body the sole independent organisation representing over a hundred clubs throughout Europe.

One issue, the payment of compensation to clubs whose players compete in World Cups and European Championships is set to be resolved, with the clubs finally getting their way.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, as you’d expect, is putting a positive spin on the announcement, believing that “clubs… are at last to become a part of the pyramidal football organisation.”

I can’t help but feel that this is finally an acknowledgement of the power big clubs now hold; an admission that they can no longer be ignored – full stop. We shall see.

What do you think? Tell us!

David.

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Allardyce leaves Newcastle by “mutual agreement”

Sam Allardyce will not be the Newcastle manager for the Stoke City FA Cup replay after all — he has been given his cards; or rather, a “mutual agreement” has been reached, which ends his reign at the club.

Nigel Pearson, Newcastle’s first team coach, will take over for the away game against Manchester United. The cliché “baptism of fire” is so often used, but you’d struggle to find a more appropriate occasion to use it.

David.

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Filed under Alan Shearer, Barclays Premier League, Football, Manchester United, Newcastle United, News, Sam Allardyce, Soccer, Sport

Here to save us all – The FA Cup.

Here we are once again in the first week of the new year, a very appropriate time for football’s annual shot at redemption: The FA Cup, to begin in earnest with its third round.

These are dark days for football. Greed is a necessity for success; rampant violence, criminality and generally vulgar behaviour amongst players are tolerated by the biggest clubs; the rich/poor gap is wider than ever, and trophy winning is reserved for a priveleged few. In addition, satellite TV continues to saturate the airwaves with an insane number of matches, and erode the atmosphere at grounds by bamboozling the already over-fed supporters with its bizarre range of kick-off times.

It’s all a far cry from the days that this particular weekend in the football calendar always reminds us of. Yet it is surely the FA Cup that provides the rest of the footballing nation with its one chance to get their own back; to redress the balance; to turn back the clock and yet dream of a brighter future, even if only for a day.

This is of course because anything’s possible when the Premiership megacelebs and the part-time cloggers get thrown into the mix together. In truth, giant-killings, which in the past were almost inevitable, are now very few and far between, due to the increased professionalism of the bigger clubs (at least on the pitch). But there’s always a chance, and my goodness how football needs someone to prove that to us this weekend.

Nowadays, that chance tends to present itself as the big clubs increasingly treat the early rounds of the cup as an annoyance, and large amounts of first-teamers get dropped. Whether you call it arrogance, or a panicked desire to wrap players in cotton-wool with that we-dare-not-miss-out-on-all-that-cash Champions League fixture on the horizon, it still provides David with the chance of a lifetime to slay Goliath.

Some may argue that it rather takes the shine off a giant-killing when the famous team appears to have announced with its team selection that it doesn’t care. I disagree. Firstly, you can still bet your life that the favourites don’t want to lose, and secondly it makes no difference to how good the score sounds in the classified check.

Manchester United‘s adoption of this risky strategy has seen them involved in a couple of spectacular near-misses in recent years. They could surely have fielded a 5th team that could beat Exeter City in 2005, and yet back to Devon they all went after a 0-0 draw. Having failed to learn from that mistake, United promptly made it again 12 months later at Burton Albion, where they once more escaped humiliation in a replay.

Another such near miss brings us nicely onto this years fixtures. Two years ago, when Luton Town were 3-1 up and playing Liverpool off the park, live on the BBC, the classic cup upset appeared to be on the cards. Liverpool spoiled everyone’s fun by storming back to win the game 5-3. The two clubs meet again on Sunday, with Luton now in a far worse position; threatened with relegation to League Two, and finances in a mess. Yet their impressive home record this season demands respect, and with Liverpool‘s manager appearing to think that the aim of his job is to get his best players on the pitch as rarely as possible, who knows what set of misfits The Hatters might come up against?

Let’s look at where else we can pin our hopes for a dose of footballing equality:

The other three members of football’s royal family all have fascinating draws. It says a lot about the state of football today that if Aston Villa, currently plumbing the depths of 7th in the Premiership, were to turn Manchester United over at home, it would be regarded as a major giant-killing. It would probably come as an almighty shock to Villa fans as well, given their team’s abysmal recent record against the champions. Nevertheless, it’s by far the best chance we have of seeing one of the big four sent packing early.

You can bet that Burnley is one of the last places Arsenal would fancy spending a sunday afternoon. Yet however intimidating an atmosphere the Turf Moor fans create, it’s difficult to see the Premiership leaders slipping up here. The new Burnley manager Owen Coyle once famously helped a second division Bolton dump Arsenal out in a replay at Highbury, but is yet to get his side going in the short time he’s been in charge, despite being dubbed ‘the new Bill Shankly’ by his chairman.

No game this weekend quite encapsulates football’s plight like Chelsea v QPR. This one is fascinating for all the wrong reasons, as it brings together football’s two richest clubs. Chelsea, the cup holders, have earned their status thanks entirely to the riches of Roman Abramovich. Poor west London relations QPR are now making an attempt to catch up with the Joneses; not content with the billions of Formula 1’s hierarchy, Rangers have recently brought on board an Asian businessman with even deeper pockets. They are however yet to spend any of this loot, meaning their chances of winning this local derby are still extremely remote, but their surging league form of late suggests the players may be playing with a greater incentive (I wonder what that could be?). Couple this with Chelsea‘s injury crisis, and maybe it’s not so clearcut.

The remaining non-league sides Chasetown and Havant & Waterlooville have seemingly impossible tasks against in-form welsh outfits Cardiff and Swansea respectively. In fact you could say they Havant a prayer. Sorry.

Realistically, we will probably have to settle for slightly smaller potatoes, in the shape of mid-table Premiership sides slipping up. Here are the third round fixtures I think have the best chance of producing a surprise result:

Bristol City v Middlesbrough – This is a repeat of a fourth round tie from last season, when Boro needed penalties to see off the league one version of City after twice narrowly escaping with a 2-2 draw. Since then, City have been promoted and are finding the Championship a breeze, where as beleaguered Boro edge nearer to the Premiership trap-door. Southgate is a sitting duck.

Huddersfield v Birmingham – Huddersfield are yet again failing to meet expectations in League One, languishing in mid-table. Which leaves them in a perfect position to put all their energies into this. With no promotion on the horizon, The Terriers’ large following, in their excellent stadium, will be desperate to make the most of the big occasion. Alex McLeish‘s side, with a must-win relegation battle in the league to fight, will not appreciate this distraction.

Ipswich v Portsmouth – A tie in which something has to give. Ipswich unbeatable at home, Pompey saving all their best for the road. If it goes to a replay, we’ll be no nearer sorting it out, given Harry Redknapp‘s side inability to find the net at home, and the Tractor Boys still searching for a first away win. The Premiership quality should be the difference, but anything can happen here.

Stoke v Newcastle This is the ‘you-wouldn’t-want-to-be-in-his-shoes’ game of the weekend. Sam Allardyce needs this game at the moment like he needs, say, his best central midfielder to get banged up for a fortnight. Surely it’s too soon for Joey the jailbird to make an appearance here – if he does he will be a brave man, because the Britannia Stadium, both its players and spectators, will be merciless. If Newcastle escape with a draw they’ll be absolutely delighted.

Jamie.

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The Week in Wagers: 5th-11th January

Every week, we will try and (remember to) bring you a couple of possible earners that have caught our eye on Betfair. In case you’ve never used Betfair before or use other betting websites, it couldn’t be simpler. Simply register, and if you want to back for a win, you BACK, and put in your stake.

However, this is where Betfair is a little different, because YOU can also become a BOOKMAKER by backing for a negative result – by LAYING. However, you have to watch out here as if the result goes against you, you have to pay out the winnings. I haven’t ventured towards that end due to fear of being on the end of a shocker, but if you’re more steely than I am, maybe you’ll make yourself a bit of money.

Best of all, it offers the best odds around, meaning you’re daft to go anywhere else. I got 70/1 for Padraig Harrington to win the Open on the final day, while the others were offering just over half that. Anyway, do have a look – odds at time of posting will be in Betfair terms (which are slightly different) and in the normal 5/4 etc form. Of course, these can obviously change from the time of posting.

So, this week. Since we’re in FA Cup territory, we’ve had a look at potential shocks as well as the odds for the winner. There are definitely some enticing opportunities available.

Chasetown v Cardiff City is definitely the most romantic of the ties, with the British Gas League Midland Division Chasetown at 11.5 back (10-11/1) to knock out Cardiff, so it’s definitely for the ones whose heart rules over their head (me included…). However, if you’re of a more rational composition, you can 12.5 lay (11-12/1) – just watch out, mind. A replay is 5.2 back (4/1) which is also attractive, considering Chasetown are at home against an out-of-form Cardiff side.

Swansea City v Havant and Waterlooville is yet another potential shocker, and has fantastic odds, too, with Havant being at 17.5 back (16-17/1) to win and at 22 lay (21/1). I’d say this lay is a lot safer than the Chasetown opportunity, but it is the FA Cup…

Fulham v Bristol Rovers is also worth a look, with the Rovers at 9 back (8/1) to beat Hodgson’s new but struggling Fulham.

Meanwhile, Stoke City v Newcastle United, while not as attractive odds-wise as the above three, is perhaps your most likely source of a shock this weekend. Come to think of it, the odds are rather strange, with Stoke at 3.4 back (12/5) to Newcastle‘s 2.7 back (11/8) – very close indeed. Still worth a punt, mind you.

Finally, are the odds for the winner, which are currently ridiculously high for some sides who have a realistic chance of going all the way. Aston Villa, while facing Manchester United this weekend, are at 42 back (41/1), so maybe now is the time to put a couple of quid on just in case; while Manchester City are at 38 back (37/1).

If you have any more suggestions, feel free to comment.

David.

 

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