Archived entries for Football Column

Underneath the Arch

Much has been made about the FA Cup being marginalised this season due to the venue of the semi-finals, and the particularly bizarre kick-off time of the second semi between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea yesterday. But until 1989 the semi-finals kicked-off at 3pm on Saturdays, the same time as other League games, and with no live television coverage.

The events at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 were heard in intermittent reports on BBC Radio 2 Medium Wave and on breaking news on Grandstand by people tuning to hear updates about a big match. That day the complacency and arrogance of ignoring the previous incidents at the Leppings Lane end in 1981 FA Cup Semi-Final cost 96 lives, and was compounded by lies, denials and “misplaced evidence” by the police, and smears by News International’s The Sun.

Last summer shed a light on later collusions between News International and police forces, but evidence of how their earlier propaganda worked was heard from large pockets of Chelsea fans around Wembley yesterday, who disrespected the “moments silence” for the Hillsborough victims and Piermario Morosini, who lost his life on Saturday while playing for Livorno. The apt response from Tottenham fans, who booed the Chelsea fans and were united in calling them wankers after the referee gave up on the Silence, was the real human element that the organizers at Wembley, who try to manufacturer atmosphere, could never dream of capturing. Continue reading…

Pressure Drop

Before the weekend Roberto Mancini publicly said that the title race would be over if Manchester United were to beat Queens Park Rangers at home as expected, and Manchester City would then go on to lose at The Emirates later in the day. The look of City’s play suggested their players believed it was fait accompli even before they had kicked-off, with an abject performance that had all the ambition in their approach of a mid-table team with nothing to play for, combined with an indiscipline more befitting a team fighting relegation. City have looked vulnerable to pressure at times this season, and they have recently heaped much of it upon themselves. Continue reading…

Play It

At the moment ITV4 are showing re-runs of their old football highlights flagship, The Big Match, from the second–half of the 1982-83 Season. The ITV programme, produced and broadcast by region, that season had the prime Saturday evening slot with the BBC’s Match of the Day shown on Sunday afternoons. Aside from the nostalgia, it is interesting viewing, a small piece in the game’s history from an English perspective and a thin line on a wallchart we can look back to, to see how the game has progressed.

Not that it’s all change. The clocks go forward, the clocks go back, and Hansen and Lawrenson are still together on our screens nearly thirty seasons later, Martin Tyler commentates on the biggest games in the North and there is still a lack of clarity in the game on the interpretation of the Offside Law and no technology to help and see if the whole of the ball is over the whole of the line. Continue reading…

Street Spirit

After Swansea beat Manchester City, a picture that was widely shared last week was the one of the fan in tears, which may have been slightly premature with a quarter of the Season still left. It was an emotion though that was still preferable to the glib reaction that football doesn’t matter from those without allegiance, the ambivalent shrug of the shoulders from fair-weather fans to whom their plastic flags are a fashionable accessory or the cowardice cynicism of those who resent the Great Game.

There are plenty in the chattering classes who like to disparage football at every opportunity, citing the money earned by the very highest paid players with a venom not displayed for any other professions in a free-market economy, with the barely concealed resentment coming either from their feelings of exclusion due to being soulless and having no love of sport, or worse, the fact that the football is largely a meritocracy, allowing both escape and excitement on and off the pitch, regardless of class.

The values of loyalty and passion that came through from that picture are decent ones, and the general decency of the collective football fan was also evident in extremely serious circumstances at White Hart Lane on Saturday evening, when it quickly became clear that Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba had stopped breathing on the pitch after collapsing. A sizeable number of Tottenham fans sung the ex-Arsenal player’s name, with an immediate recognition of the importance of life that is not seen in the sub-cultures many are exposed to, from computer games based on killing to big-budget action films. Continue reading…

The Short Answer

As Sir Alex Ferguson approached his recent 25th year anniversary in charge at Manchester United, profiles revealed he had team selection for six games in advance in his mind, like a chess player going in for the kill. It was news that wasn’t really a surprise to anyone who has noted his use of squad rotation, particularly in the last fifteen years, where United have often had two games a week in the final third of the season. Every Manager, like a supporter, has an eye on the fixture list, and that is even more true when a Manager is about to accept a job midway through the season.

When Mark Hughes looked at QPR’s fixtures in January, he would have seen a number of winnable games at the start, which he would have no doubt thought would get his new club up the table. He would have also seen that his final game of the season is away to his former club Manchester City, where his treatment at the end, after months of speculation – a sacking ahead of a final game he won while his replacement sat in the stands – was a reminder that for all a club’s wealth, money can’t buy class. With that in mind, it would be totally understandable if Hughes had even the briefest of visions of stopping City win the League. Two months later though, it seems more likely then ever that QPR could be relegated that on that last day, in front of not just a packed stadium, but a worldwide television audience, as matters at both ends of the table come to a climax. Continue reading…

Words and Pictures

In an age where media accessibility is such a big part of football, what a Manager says in public is a good indicator of their judgement. In his post-match interview yesterday, Sir Alex Ferguson was honest in his assessment that a Tottenham side, despite being weakened with big absentees, were better than his Manchester United side for the majority of the match and he got his tactics wrong in the first-half. Continue reading…

Different Class

Yaya Toure’s return from the African Nations Tournament back into the Manchester City side has coincided with them getting back into the attacking form they showed at the start of the season. Although it is not a coincidence. A leader in the middle of the park, and the ability to play in either an attacking or defensive role, he gives them an extra confidence, and must be a leading contender for Player of the Season.

However, yesterday, it was the Player of the Premier League who may have made the most important contribution in the League this weekend. Ryan Giggs’ late winner at Carrrow Road yesterday kept Manchester United in title contention, with a total of 61 points, two points of the top, and with a seemingly greater total than the sum of their parts. When they have needed to, United have ground out results this season, going into the weekend with the most clean sheets in the division, and as Giggs showed yesterday, they still have class in the final third to win tight games. Continue reading…

Nothing to Lose

In a blow to the press, a 24/7 sports news channel, website aggragators and talk radio, Harry Redknapp said at the weekend he will no longer talk about the England job until there are any further substantial developments. Redknapp is a good speaker, whether telling an anecdote from his rich history in the game or just expressing a range of thoughts out loud. It can be hard at times for supporters of his club, as well as his employers, when he is sometimes too open – unwisely publically critical of his own players, defensive (and sometimes offensive) about his own club’s fans, and just giving out sound bites to hacks at feeding time – but he is usually entertaining to listen to, with constant analysis of a number aspects of football in a conversational and thoughtful style, more captivating than his regular quips. Continue reading…

Next Exit

Last night footballing minnows Zambia deservedly won the African Nations Cup, winning a thrilling penalty shoot-out, and upsetting overwhelming favorites Ivory Coast. The Cote ‘Ivoire, with a team built on superstars, exited the tournament, despite not conceding a goal – like a famous African version of Switzerland.

As with many a major final it was a cagey affair, which the underdogs had the better of. Unlike many a Word Cup though, the final was played in good spirits, with Didier Drogba showing compassion to an injured opponent early in the game, and fair play throughout.

No African team has of course yet made the last four of a World Cup Finals yet, Gazza and Gary Linekar combining to overcome Cameroon in 1990, while Ghana were cruelly robbed of a place in the last four by a last-minute handball on the line by Luis Suarez. It was a handball that any professional may have been tempted to commit, but his celebrations, still at the side of the pitch despite being sent-off as the subsequent penalty was missed, were less than dignified, and that, coupled with his own club disciplinary record (he was serving a suspension for Ajax after biting an opposing player when he signed for Liverpool) may have given his new club some doubts about him when he was signed last January. Continue reading…

Time for Heroes

The two times England have reached the semi-finals of major tournaments since winning the World Cup in 1966, the Captain has not been greatly significant, as both teams were full of leaders.

In 1990, a squad that included Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce, Steve McMahon and a young David Platt, was partly memorable for the amount of senior players, including Bryan Robson and Gary Linekar, who were involved in the change of tactical shape and selection after the first game in the tournament. The Euro ’96 squad selected by Terry Venables also included Pearce and Platt, as well as Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer – strong characters on the field and in the dressing room. Continue reading…



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