Tag Archives: Premiership

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

Sod Newcastle, a real football team needs saving

So we’ve been hearing all week about football’s crisis club. An ongoing story of failure and disaster, which now appears to have reached breaking point, caused by continued mismanagement and a desire for quick success being allowed to override the need for long-term foundations to be laid.

Well actually, no, we haven’t. Instead the column inches have been clogged up with the latest renewal of the pantomime called Newcastle United. So lets quickly recap what everyone, interested in football or otherwise, now knows: A staggeringly rich football club, and its latest in a long line of staggeringly rich owners, keeps failing to use their staggeringly vast resources sensibly enough even to bring just enough decent football to keep the fans quiet. Oh how my heart bleeds for their plight.

Or to put it another way, who gives a toss? More importantly, who gives a toss when there is a case out there more deserving of our sympathy? A case for whom the kind of press coverage Newcastle have received this week could mean the difference between footballing life and death.

For Luton Town, the game is nearly up. Already in administration, a situation which has cost them ten points that currently make the difference between a place in the relegation zone, and being within shouting distance of the play-offs, Luton yesterday lost their manager. Yes, they lost their manager. You don’t hear it put like that very often do you?

For Kevin Blackwell, his job had become impossible. In making his final preparations for Luton’s home game against league one leaders Swansea on friday, Blackwell discovered that five of his players had been sold by the administrators. Having already endured the administration and points deduction, along with FA enquiries into the dodgy dealings of the club’s previous owners, and not having been paid for two weeks, you can begin to understand how Blackwell reached the end of his tether.

Yet, despite all this misery, the team has continued to show the most incredible spirit in it’s performances on the pitch. Luton’s home record has been one of the most consistent in the country this season. Promotion, not relegation, would be uppermost in their mind without the ten point penalty, and even since it was imposed, Luton have shown enough good form to suggest that survival would not have been a problem. In fact, before yesterday, Luton had lost only once in 13 games, an extraordinary performance by players who, of course, are also not being paid right now.

In addition to this, they knocked Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup in the second round, before trumping that by earning a magnificent and improbable draw against Liverpool (should that be crisis club Liverpool?) in the third. The latter result has earned Luton a potentially life-saving replay at Anfield, but unless a new owner can be found for the club with some speed, this could prove to be a short reprieve.

Salvation for Luton is currently forming in the shape of a consortium led by (former) TV celebrity Nick Owen, a lifelong fan. Everyone in football should be hoping that Owen succeeds. Firstly, he is exactly the type of owner that a football club like Luton should have; a genuine fan, someone who would perform every action with the best interests of the club in mind, someone who would genuinely be in touch, and have sympathy, with the thoughts of the supporters, and someone who would leave the running of team affairs to the manager and his staff.

More importantly though, clubs like Luton simply must not be allowed to just disappear out of the league. They are part of football’s history, were a trophy winning club in the recent past, and are a hugely important institution in their local community. For clubs of Luton’s stature to suddenly cease to exist has massive implications for football, threatening even to the Premiership royalty that so sadly, and with blinkers firmly fitted, ignores their situation.

Lest we forget, Luton currently find themselves in such dire straits largely thanks to the allegedly illegal transfer activity of the clubs former owners – activity which was brought to the attention of the FA, The Football League and the national media by their then manager Mike Newell. Newell was admonished by virtually everyone in football, he lost his job, and has not worked since. The courage he showed in speaking out, with no support whatsoever from within the game, has been rejected and forgotten. This tale tells us everything we need to know about the way football is being run.

If the takeover goes through at Luton, and stability can be restored, Blackwell might be persuaded to change his mind about leaving (he’s decided to keep working with the players until February). Considering the job he has done with the team in such trying circumstances, this must be regarded as a necessity for Luton.

Although even if they hang on to Blackwell, the depleted squad is going to find it tough going for the remainder of the season, and bringing in new players is a fast-disappearing possibility with the days of January ticking by. Another example of how the smaller clubs are punished by the ridiculous transfer window rules, which were of course imposed in an attempt to curb the spending power of the super-rich.

The owner, directors, caretaker manager, players, and fans of Newcastle United should open up a newspaper today, wade through the ten pages of headlines about their own club, and seek out the small print. Hidden in there, they might find a football story that will make them sit up, take stock, and put their ‘problems’ into perspective.

Lets look at the facts: They will have no problem finding a manager, that manager will have millions of pounds to spend, they will continue to get 50,000+ gates for every league game regardless of how the team play, and they have no chance, repeat no chance, of getting relegated.

Could be worse couldn’t it? Newcastle, if you’re listening, you can’t continue to enjoy the luxury you do without the help of clubs like Luton Town. I suggest that the very least you could do is stop whining for five minutes, and wish them luck in their bid for survival.

Jamie.

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Filed under Alan Shearer, Barclays Premier League, Comment, English Premier League, FA, FA Cup, Football, Football League, Liverpool FC, Luton Town, Next Newcastle Utd Manager, Nottingham Forest, Sam Allardyce, Soccer, Sport, Swansea City