Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Keshi, take a bow... : the Mighty vs Barnsley


I'm not sure how today will go. The problem is two-fold. a) a prediction might end up accidentally being a curse and b) it's difficult to account for the essential 'Blackpooliness' of any Blackpool side. 

Years of experience has told me to imagine the opposite of whatever I think will happen. So, whilst part of me thinks we'll beat them, part of me also thinks we'll lose. Usually I can weigh the two parts and come up with a definitive feeling about the game but right now, they're in a position of complete stalemate and thus a draw is the only thing I can conclude. 

I think that's probably as clear to anyone as XG and that. Basically, you put a finger in the air and sense the feeling of the gods. 


The above quality analysis outlines a typical expected set of outcomes that arise from arriving at Bloomfield thinking 'we'll murder these useless cloggers' 

Below we analyse what is likely to be the result of thinking 'shit - we're going to get battered today'


I think most Pool fans would probably recognise there's a grain of truth in this system of thought. 

That said, the fact the seaweed and tea leaves speak of 'a draw.' isn't the end of it. Do I trust myself or second guess myself again? Is there an opposite of 'a draw' - Every action (i.e predicting a draw,) has an equal and opposite reaction. So there must be. But what is it? I hope it's not that the match doesn't happen because everyone gets stuck at a petrol station, society grinds to a halt and by this time next week, we're sharpening sticks and fighting for the fattest pigeon in order to feed our families whilst dismantling our furniture so we can burn it and stave off the coming winter chills for a few more hours. 

Hopefully not. But it would at least be a bit of a novelty. 

I fancy a fairly similar line up, Jezza or Gaz for TJJ who needs a break to reflect on his game and come back firing. I wonder if Carey will get a bit of time anytime soon. I also wonder if Barnsley is the most Yorkshire place on earth. It seems more Yorkshire than Geoff Boycott discussing frugality with Nora Batty whilst drinking a massive pint of mild very slowly in a flat cap whilst mill workers and miners file past on a dour terraced street with a brass band playing. It's therefore weird that they're now all fancy and continental. It seems not unreasonable that someone should have passed a decree that Paul Heckingbottom had to manage them forever just because we knew where we were with them then. 

Anyway. We're all none the wiser after this ridiculous and frankly shite opening bit. All we've learned is I've got fuck all idea what will happen today. What will follow, will follow. Cos it's Blackpool. And that's the way we like it. 

C'MON YOU POOOOOOOOOL 

---- 


Critch has picked the same team two games running. That's weirder than if he had stuck Sarkic in central defence. We knock it forward. Tyreece John-Jules doesn't win a header. Hmmm. Barnsley put us on the back foot with a passing move of rare, swift beauty, a veritable white rose of one touch mobile football. This could be a long afternoon. 

John-Jules is back in my good books with a clever flick over his shoulder. Bowler is doing that thing where he looks like he's lost it then you realise he's through. Maybe it won't be so bad after all. Keshi bursts through, going wide, cutting in, squeezing between two players and squaring to Lavery who should do more than hit the keeper. Lavery himself explodes down the right and puts in a lovely cross that's turned away for a corner with John-Jules lurking dangerously.  

Barnsley create a moment of abject horror, the ball lifted across the box and then headed back across it, with pinball speed, it looks as if the ball might drop for a Tyke but one of our players levers it away. 

Chris Maxwell drop kicks and lands it right where Lavery wants it. He's a cross between a Ferrari and a tank and he nearly forces himself through, the ball breaks for Bowler, he's is stopped, but now it's with Dougall who slips John-Jules away but the keeper is out sharply and smothering it. 

We're playing well, Kenny is back to his kingly bast and he spreads it well to Anderson who finds Garbutt coming from nowhere and who has two efforts but can't smuggle the ball past the keeper. Closer. Keshi has it wide left, there's not much on, he's going nowhere in particular but then he pulls out a trick, a miraculous little flourish, a perfectly weighted back heel into the path of Lavery who cuts inside and puts the ball just inside the far post. A beautiful razor blade precise finish. Yes! 


It's a sensational goal. Keshi's assist was ridiculous, like something from Brazilian beach football and Lavery's finish is as deadly as the bite of a funnel web spider. We're on fire at the moment, the ball is threaded to John-Jules, he hits the keeper, it rebounds, we pass it about and it finds its way to Garbutt. The ball is lofted across, John-Jules, smarting at his earlier poor finish launches himself into a spectacular effort but only succeeds in putting off Josh Bowler who is coming in unmarked and ends up blasting it over the top, possibly because there's a reasonable chance he might have ended up with Tyreese's boot in his face. Barnsley have been quiet but then a swift interchange and they're in, it's hit smartly, hard, low and across towards the opposite corner, just about a perfect hit that screams 'goal' but Chris Maxwell springs across, stretching and falling and turning it away. He used to play for Preston and they gave him away but he's now above them in the league and he's alright now.
At some point an alarming announcement about missiles is made but squint as I do, I can't make out any rocket launchers. ---
We've been good, there's a sense of us playing with a bit of, if not exactly swagger, definitely a bit of verve and invention. We're trying stuff, we're varying the way we go forward. We're much quicker to move the ball and it's good to see. We've been better than them in the way Huddersfield were better than us. Marvin's distribution has been a real positive, Sterling has looked assured and very good on the ball, always ready to receive and not needing an invitation to go forward. Just before half time I decide Ryan Wintle is my new favourite player because he's the only one of our lot wearing black football boots. I've also noticed we've put in a lot of clever little spoling fouls high up the pitch to stop their moves forming like Huddersfield did to us. Either Critch is reading my blog or, more likely, seen as I'm constantly berating him for idiotically picking winning teams, he noticed that all by himself. ---

Early in the second half two things stand out. 1) Chris Maxwell is unbelievable good at time wasting and 2) Richard Keogh is twice brilliant defensively. He makes one perfectly timed tackle but it's the time he gets run at and instead of entering into a footrace just anticipates what their lad will do and runs to where he will be instead of chasing him and blocks off the cross. 

They're looking a bit handier this half and flash an effort not far over the top. That rouses us and Keshi looks to add a goal of the season to his assist of the decade, slaloming through a crowd and driving it low and just wide.  


The irrepressible Anderson then slips away Lavery who hits the keeper again. If he could finish like he did earlier every time he'd have had a hatrick by now. To be fair, if he finished that well every time, he'd have about 20 this year already and Dixie Dean would be anxiously wondering if he was about to be usurped in the record books.


They're pressing. They're winning a corner. John Jules is heading clear, Keshi is into the tackle, the ball bounces weirdly, it hits him in the face, he stumbles, but Keshi is made of strong stuff and he's springing up and he's running, inside his half, over the halfway line, drifting wide then arrowing for the middle, he's gone for what seems like miles, he's absolutely brilliant and only a ball a yard too heavy for Garbutt robs us of a second utterly brilliant assist from our sensational no 10. I don't know if it's me, but he seems to have slimmed down and gained a yard of pace. Last year he always reminded me of a man in a barrel falling down a waterfall and clattering off rocks with his squat stature and combative style but he seems a more svelte, more graceful figure this season. Less muscular and more athletic, pace more explosive and therefore seemingly with a little more time of his own making.


Barnsley come into it again. Marvin is good but Keogh is like one man defence for 5 minutes. He heads, he blocks, he slides. He springs up and points at things. It occurs to me that I may have written less than charitable words about him once upon a time. I feel bad. I shout 'Keooooooooogh' to make up for it. No one joins in. It serves me right. They're messing around, fiddling it across the box. Marvin steps out and makes a sensational challenge. I love Marvin. 

Garbs takes a free kick 40 yards out on the left. Lavery darts and gets the header wrong. I think it's harsh to knock his finishing because he makes what would be a tenth of a chance to some players into more than a half chance for him. He just keeps turning up. He's horrible to play against. Fast, strong, deceptively good in the air because of his spring loaded leap.


Keshi gets clattered on his ankle and limps about. We're playing those defensive triangles and then we pass to him. He's on one leg so, not surprisingly he loses the ball. Barnsley pass and pass and then slip it through but Marvin makes one of those insanely well timed challenges where he seems to turn into liquid as he slides in gracefully and nips the ball of the the toes of the forward.


Barnsley gain a corner. Barnsley waste the corner. Styles lashes it away in a proper tantrum. You love to see it. The Tykes are getting tetchy. A pointless foul is committed on Sterling. Garbutt takes the free kick deep from the right Marvin rises. Lavery is on to the knock down but it's wide again.


Madine comes on to join Lavery. Nasty. A bull and a wasp. Madine wins hearts with some shithousery including a terrific tumble to the ground looking all hurt and innocent after he's just bundled someone over but it isn't the Goal Machine's best ever display. He does have a far post effort saved late on but the ball doesn't stick to him like it can do and we come under increasing pressure.  


Barnsley press more, they slide a funny flat ball across, a player darts to the near post, he hits it hard but Maxwell brilliantly anticipates and flings himself forward into the path of the ball and it bounces away - he was like an ice hockey keeper almost. He's just fucking magic. A minute or so later he tips over a horrible hanging cross at the last minute and from the corner they rise at far post and head one that goes just past the near. It's getting tense. Critch goes for 5-3-2 sending on wor Jimmy and Demi Mitchell.


Demi is looking really good. He seems to have borrowed the magic boots that Josh Bowler sometimes wears. The ball is velcroed to his feet as he races about just taking it where ever he wants. Bansley still press. Keogh has a sliding tackle from heaven to block a chance. The ball breaks, they run through. Some one goes down but to everyone's delight there's a yellow card for a dive as he went down with no one actually within two yards of him.

 

There's one more half chance. There's another Keogh slide. One last side parting sweep. There's flares burning. Chris Maxwell lying on the ground having seen the ball past his post. He kills time. Demi has another touch with his magnetic boots. There's the whistle! YESSSSS!



----

That was a deserved win. We did have to hold on a bit at the end and thank fuck we have a brilliant keeper but there's a lot to praise. Lavery is tireless (though to be fair, he did look tired by the end,) Marvin continues to be superb, both full backs played a big role in giving us width, Bowler is a delight to watch even though he's also deeply frustrating at times, the midfield pair were excellent with Dougall in particular distributing the ball really well but for me, the star men were Keogh who was brilliant second half and Keshi who was magnificent for an hour and showed invention, daring and constant innovation.

 To think we started without Yates and Mitchell, without Grettarson, without Stewart and others and played well, again beating an established championship side and being the better side should give us cause for optimism. The best thing was, we made chances and the crowd really warmed to that. Mistakes were made but the atmosphere was never darkened. There's something really admirable about how these players continue to grow and really admirable about how Critchley keeps feeding them with whatever it is you feed footballers with to make them better. Keshi and Marvin were 4th division players when he took them. Keogh was finished. Lavery had never played league football. They were utter class today. Again.

All hail the impish one...

utmp


 
You can follow MCLF on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe directly by email on the homepage

If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand.



Sunday, September 19, 2021

'20-21 - the Book*' needs you... *there will be a better title...


Tangerine innit?

I hope this isn't a self regarding thing but I have had the urge to write something longer (readers cry, 'longer? for fuck's sake lad, your shite is long enough as it is...') about the season just past. Saying 'I'm going to write a book' feels like something a bit pretentious. I suppose it is. Sorry and that... 

If you just want to cut my usual over long stuff - you can contribute here. Otherwise, you can read on... 

Why? 

It was a unique season that will (hopefully) never be replicated. It was a difficult time for many but also a season full of joy. I think there's a danger it will recede into a distant blurred memory of endless ifollow freezes, grim announcements and too many weekday beers and that the individual and collective performances will be lost. I think the players and staff deserve better than that and so do we. We held together and they produced something magic. 

What? 

I intend to write a season diary (thus far I'm about 10,000 words in and we've just beaten Burton away...) I won't just be copying and pasting the blog wholesale, but it's the draft so to speak. The problem is, a season diary where you just listen to me tell you about endless matches on video could get very boring. I will try my level best to be succinct and make it read well, but no one wants to read an entire book about a boring middle aged man on his couch. The 'witty' observation will get weary. (believe me, I'm bored of myself) 

What I want is to include the voices of other fans. I'd love people to contribute their experiences of both the football and life in general during the last year.

For me, the football and the connection to other people it gave me were a godsend. Weeks blurred together, the news was full of doom and darkness and football held things together. It was more than football somehow. I witnessed people talking about stuff online and sharing their feelings, I watched as people raised money and I took part in something bigger than me every Saturday and Tuesday at a time when my world felt very, very small. 

I'd like to contrast my writing with short vignettes, little images from other people's bubbles and maybe, if possible, a little bit of detail about some of the other stuff that went on outside football. I can't do that without other people. I can't include everyone's life story but I would like to have some sections that go a bit deeper into some things beyond the pitch. There was more to being a Pool fan than just applauding Jerry and Big Gaz this year in a way that probably won't ever be the same again. 

It'd look a bit like this... 

Me: "blah blah, Jerry scored, blah blah, the Viking ran into the post, blah blah, Critch didn't make any subs blah blah, waffle, Bez on a unicycle, blah blah.... Another win!" 

Contributor "My sister had lost her job on the Monday and I couldn't go and see her, so I was in a bit of a state but this game was the one thing that week where I smiled" 

"My little lad knocked over and smashed a vase when Jerry scored but I couldn't shout at him as I was jumping around too"

How? 

I'm not asking for money to get this off the ground. I love doing it and it's a privilege to write about Pool and I get a lot from doing it. I just want it to be taken or left according to whether it works for people or not and to write what I want, not what makes money or gets 'hits'. Asking for money would make it something else and I don't want that.

Instead of money... any stuff on the following would be massively appreciated. 
  • How you watched games. The little rituals and routines you developed. 
  • Did the football help you? How? 
  • Observations about particular games or players. (I'd be happy to use tweets - I read a book recently that used tweets in a 'diary' style really well - we have some brilliant, funny and knowledgeable people on twitter) 
  • Did you get involved in anything positive around the club or supporters groups during the pandemic? I'd love to include some of this because it was brilliant and deserves credit as much as anything else.   
  • Summat else I've not thought of. 
I'm happy to write up anything you've got to say - don't worry about expression or owt. We're all just dickheads with different skills and I'd really like as many perspectives as possible not just wordy gobshites who fancy themselves with a typewriter (i.e. me) 

You can contribute by clicking here. You can do so anonymously or with credit.  

When? 

I will be asking for money to buy the book. I haven't got a clue how to get a book published and I'm a bit 'DIY' in nature so we'll see. I've also got no time. I will do it though! 

What about the money???- You just said you didn't want to make any but now you are charging me you two faced shyster...

As above, I don't want to make money from this personally. It's been a pleasure to write and to get read by people and it is definitely the kind words of Blackpool (and other) fans that have given me the confidence to try this. I don't want it to be something other than what I want to do. I can't lose money doing it though but I'd put any profit above costs (and I won't be Oyston-esque about costs!) to something good, like Blackpool Food Bank or mental health charities. I'll work this out when I've actually got a book but that's how it will work. I also don't want the effort and time of working out how to pay contributors so it's easier for me on a selfish level. 

Cheers for reading.

Go well. 





Saturday, September 18, 2021

The screaming joy of Richard Keogh: Middlesbrough vs the Mighty


We're on the way. The bleak open views and quarry blasted hillsides of the Pennines have given way to the encroaching east coast flatlands and we're upon Darlington. There stands the Northern Echo arena, a stadium that sunk a grand old club and that now towers above the nothingness it surrounds like a great rust striped white elephant. As I'm contemplating hiring some of the optimistically (desperately?) advertised office space, I notice a kestrel, hovering in line with the roof stanchions, so close and still I can see the way its splayed feathers play the air like fingers of a concert pianist on a grand piano. We drive onward. A football ghost town left behind. 

Boro is reassuring. In a world where the certainties of yesterday are long forgotten, it's one of the few places that feels like it always has done, at least to the outside eye. They don't mine coal in Wigan anymore and the Glasgow shipyards are TV studios and fancy flats. Newcastle's riverside is a drunken haze instead of wharfs and barely any trawlers sail from Fleetwood docks. But Middlesbrough still feels like a chemical town, the highrise A-road cutting through Victorian town centre splendour and giving panoramic views of famous bridges and science fiction factories, all pipework and brutalist concrete slabs. 

I park. I pay the meter. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Press. Print. 

"You don't have to pay today mate, it's weekdays only" 


That's £3.40 Middlesbrough council didn't expect. I hope they spend it wisely. They owe me a win. Pool owe me nothing because they given me more than I could have asked for in recent times, but none the less, I'm hoping for something a bit more convincing than the soggy paper bag of a performance from Tuesday. I just want to see some fight, spirit, believe, aggression and intent. What will be will be. 


The Riverside is one of the better new grounds and the concourse is soon full of Blackpool fans. I'm not sure about adding a distinctly Liverpool flavoured song to our song book, but the noise is great and who am I to decree what we sing? I've only ever started one chant off, a quick burst of 'Oh, Andy, Andy...." in the West Paddock in a game against (I think) Burnley that I was so gratified that others joined in with that I never attempted such a feat again. Allez, Allez, Allez... 

Talking of combative midfield players that can dictate the middle of the park, Kev Stewart isn't on the bench. I'm worried about him. Jerry is on the bench though. I'm sort of worried about him a little bit. I'm hoping Keshi and John-Jules will be a fluid interchanging untrackable beast with two heads and Bowler and Lavery can profit from the space such confusion creates. 

--- 


Things don't start well. We look rushed and unsettled and are a goal behind in what feels like no time. Boro take a short corner, work it deep, swing in a curling ball that arcs perfectly onto an overlapping Boro player appearing from deep. He wasn't offside, but everyone else surely was. Ryan Wintle has his arm in the air for about 10 seconds. Maxwell runs out of the goal as furious as I've ever seen him. Pool players surround the referee, the implore him to look at the big screen, as if somehow the officials will decide unilaterally to bring in VAR to the championship today. I add 'there were 4 of them a mile and a fucking half offside' as loud as I can in order to bolster the appeal. It's to no avail. 

We struggle a bit to make an impression on the game. It's like we've just carried on from where we left off in the last match. This is a Neil Warnock side. You don't simply walk through such a team. Colin himself stalks the touchline. I say 'stalk', it's more of a bandy legged waddle these days. From a distance he looks like someone's nan. He's gone very pear shaped in his dotage. I always think his touched up face has the slight feel of the reconstructed face of burn victim under one of those clear plastic masks they wear. His skin is too smooth, his hairline weird as fuck. My lad thinks it's hilarious that they're managed by someone older than his grandad.  

Lavery races away and pulls out a back heel, it's worked deep and Wintle strokes a cross, Boro get a touch but only to skim it across the box to John-Jules in acres of space. He kills it stone dead, he shifts inside and leaves the lad who has raced across staggering, he lines up his shot and... puts it into the crowd behind the goal. I have my hands on my head. He has his hands on his head. Everyone has their hands on their head bar the Boro fans behind the goal who have them wide apart in mockery at how far he was from so close. Chin up lad. Come on. 

We play a bit like we're playing in treacle. We're ponderous at the back and there's not a lot of movement. Boro seem content to sit back and wait for us to make a mistake then pour forward. They hit the post with a thraking effort from outside the box that has Maxwell well beaten. We work it forward and we lose it. We work it forward and somehow manage to get Marvin in possession on the edge of the box several times when it would seem like anyone else on the team would be a more sensible option. A sloppy pass from Ekpiteta proves the point and we're lucky to get away with another swift break. We work it forward and then we go backwards. Bowler running with it seems like the only way through, but he's not brought his magic boots today, just the boots of a mere mortal. 

Keogh takes it. He looks forward. Nothing shows. He shouts and Kenny snaps into action to take the ball from him. it goes back to Keogh. He controls, one of their lads charges him down. He shifts it sideways under pressure to Garbutt. Garbutt drives up the pitch. He gets tackled. The ball rebounds off him and out of play. Boro have a throw. That's the first 40-ish minutes of the first half in a nutshell. Critchley is making weird zigzag gestures with his arms. He's shouting. Positively hopping up and down. I'm getting the impression he's not especially chuffed. I think wild zigzagging arms whilst bouncing is Critch-speak for 'start fucking moving' 

Late in the half, possibly inspired by the calmest man in football losing it a bit, we rally. We find a bit of space. We seem to collectively calm down somewhat. Keshi has a run, Bowler has a run. We defend a corner well even though the man behind me says out loud 'if this goes in we're fucked' which strikes me as tempting fate. We win a corner of our own. Lavery darts to the near post, he swivels, he connects, it's just over the top. Heads again in hands but it's been better. 

--- 

Me and the fella to my left conclude that Critch won't make any subs. This doesn't stop me wanting to see Yates on for John Jules. The young lad is a good player but he's not making much headway. He's not winning anything in the air and his nuanced style isn't really finding the space it needs to work. What we've not done is utilise the width of the pitch. We've looked static and unable to shift the ball quickly. Even though I spent last week swearing that Yates and Lavery are incompatible, this game seems ripe for their hard running. 

We've not done too well, but we've not done disastrously badly either. Wintle has again impressed, Keogh has been really tidy, Lavery has come closest to unsettling the Boro backline and Dujon Sterling is likably committed and has scampered down the right to decent effect a few times and stood up in the tackle well, undaunted by an early skinning from Boro's silky skillful left winger. 

--- 


Obviously, there are no subs. There were never going to be. It's Critch for fuck's sake! 

We're off down the right, in comes a cross, Lavery darts, it evades him, John Jules stretches, he meets it, but it flashes wide. It's a good start. We're on our feet. The noise turns up. We can do this. 

We're going forward again, the ball is in the box, Marvin nods it down, there's hacking and it's bouncing about and it's falling to Shayne, who is exactly who you'd want it to fall too, he's stuck his foot out, he's poked it, it's rolling, the keeper is wrong footed, it's still rolling, the defence are flat footed and looking horror, it's rolling, it's taking an age and it's striking the base of the post... 

The noise goes up another notch. 

Keshi is fouled. The free kick is tapped short. Keogh strides forward. What is he doing? Why give him the ball? He's approaching the box. He's bound to turn in a circle and either lose it or pass it backwards. But no, he's spotted something. He's scooping a fucking outrageous dinked ball over the top to Marvin, who is controlling it, turning and (no really, he is) slamming the ball home. 

Pandemonium

I lose myself and then find myself as I realise how loud I'm screaming a guttural cry of joy. I look down and see Crazy Uncle Richard is doing exactly the same. It's as if we're screaming at each other. He's absolutely unbridled. It's pure delight. I fucking love it. The whole team is in front of us and the place has gone mad. What a fucking moment. Keogh to Marvin. Goal. Who needs strikers? 

Breathe. Another round of the Ally-Ally-oh. Another chorus of Tangerine. More Seaside! More Barmy Army! I fucking love this. I fucking love it. We never stop. 

Boro skid forward, like an out of control car with broken brakes, they swerve left and right, the ball comes to the nearside about 12 yards out, a driven shot, a sprawling Pool player and a diving Maxwell keep it out. A wake up call? Just a reason to get louder. We clear the corner. Louder still. 

Gary Madine replaces John-Jules. Oi! Oi! Oi! 

Can we hold on? We get a corner on our side. A bit of relief. Madine is close to it, but he's being held down clearly. Nothing doing though. We get another corner on the other side. I watch Big Gaz, idling on the edge of the box, like nuclear submarine waiting to dive. The ball is delivered, Madine goes but it never reaches him, there's melee at the near post, a touch sends it towards goal, a Boro player dives in, the ball skews off him and the net billows. Lavery runs away as if he touched it home. I don't know what happened but I don't care... It's electric. I'm weightless. We're all weightless. This is what we live for. 

Boro bring on their exotic Argentine no 10. It's not long before he hits a stupidly good up and down fading, dipping, swerving effort that looks for all the world like it's going in before it strikes the underside of the bar. They force a stop from Maxwell. More songs. A sub. Where you going? On the piss. Shirtless Jerry is serenaded on to the pitch.  

They force a stop. We break. That's the pattern. Nothing Maxwell has to do is too terrifying and it feels like we could get a third. Keshi storms away. Bowler storms away. He even passes it. They launch it into the box, we head it clear. They launch it again, we head it once, twice, it comes back. Gary Madine does the best defensive header I've ever seen, nodding it firmly across the box onto the the very blade of grass that the full back needs it to just run up the pitch. That radar... 

They bombard us again. Jerry has it by our goal line. He whacks it away, over the halfway line. Their full back comes out to meet it to launch it again but he's put under pressure by... Jerry Yates. He's chased his own clearance and nearly made it as well. That is why you never, ever, ever slate Jerry Yates. It doesn't matter if he's scored. He does that. Normal strikers don't do that. Shirtless Jerry does. We love Shirtless Jerry.

There's 6 minutes of injury time. 6? Where's he got that from? There's balls into the box. There's Maxwell catching it. There's a breathless run from us. There's basically just a jumble of things. We win a corner. Garbutt is fist pumping in time to the chanting. Wintle implore us for even more noise, his face breaking into a grin as we respond. There's Madine, holding it up for a good 10, 15 seconds as he does. The injury time lasts way longer than 6 minutes. It's past 5pm. We're still playing. Is this ref taking the piss? They break. It's a really fucking terrifying break. Gabriel shadows his man "For fuck's sake, FOUL HIM!!!" Gabriel does. It's an excellent foul. They don't make anything of the free kick. Still we play. Will this game ever end? 

It ends. Pure joy erupts. 

--- 

Critch again is positively King Billy-esque at the end (there's no higher praise. Billy was one of the greatests humans, never mind Blackpool managers, ever) as he applauds and then carried on the wave of his emotions, punches a clenched fist in the air. We roar. We roar again as he thumps his fist against the badge on his tracksuit top. He's special this lad. Surely, by now he's earned more than to be doubted after every game that he doesn't win. He's just so focussed. So intense and yet so measured and calm at the same time and these moments where he lets out what must burn inside to drive him are fucking great. There's nothing cheap about Critch. Nothing but hard work and polite, carefully spoken steel. 

We sing. We file out. We float away home. 

I haven't the heart to dissect it. It's not the point after such a brilliant day. Not everyone was perfect, but fuck it. Sometimes you should just enjoy life. That was fucking fabulous. 

utmp





You can follow MCLF on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe directly by email on the homepage

If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Ollie Turton derby disaster: the Mighty vs Huddersfield Town



The preview was going to be all about our old right back. No, not Dave Burgess. The other one. The one we loved to moan about. No, still not Dave Burgess. The one we loved to moan about and blame for stuff until they played their part in a promotion winning team. No still not Dave Burgess..... Look, it's Ollie fucking Turton obviously. You know that, I know that, let's crack on. 

I was going to write about my deeply held belief that Ollie Turton is the UK's least remarkable footballer. He's like the model sprite for a right back in a computer game before the attributes and characteristics of each individual right back have been added. His lack of strengths is mitigated by a lack of weaknesses. He's just all round average. Which, as it happened, was exactly what we needed. 


I would have written about him prancing about in the warm up in Huddersfield's training top that looks like somewhere between a cycling top and a baby gro. I would have written about how I hope he gets a decent reception and then we destroy them. I would have written about he still marches about with an old fashioned upright gait a bit like he's off to bravely take a seat in a Wellington bomber and fly over Germany. (for some reason I nearly typed Burnley then??? - I know it's a strange and hostile land, but bombing them seems a bit extreme) 

I would have written an awful lot more about an awful lot of things but then, I saw the team. Keshi isn't in it. Odd. Is he on the bench? Yes, he is. Shayne plays instead. Ok. But what's this further down? Do my eyes deceive me? Is my mind playing tricks? I'm sure that says "Gary Madine" It can't. Gary Madine is injured. He's been left out the squad and all of that. Look again. It DOES say "Gary Madine!!!" 

Gary Gaz Goals Goal Machine Maz Madine is on the bench. 

Stop everything. Add 15 points on to our projected total. The messiah has risen from the sunbed. 🧡

---


Pool press early on but Huddersfield are a bunch of muscly rugby league defenders and keep our sprightly forwards at bay. Garbutt hits the worst free kick ever managing to somehow neither cross or shoot. I think he's invented a new thing. 

Huddersfield have given us the respect of trying to stop us play, which Fulham didn't bother with to their cost. They're a stodgy Christmas pudding of a team but they're reasonably effective. John-Jules looks lively so they just foul him a lot because that's easier than defending.  

Our first effort takes 20 minutes and comes from yet another foul. There's a loopy dead ball delivery, Dougall with a header well wide wide. They match it within a minute, missing by quite a lot but still, it is at least an effort. It's that kind of game. 

Patience is needed and patience is almost rewarded as Lavery stuns a header just wide of the near post. Bowler goes clear twice, once from a simply obscene threaded John-Jules ball but both times he fails to make anything of his moment. 

Dougall brings a good stop from the keeper picking up the bits and pieces from a corner  Kenny then clatters one on the half volley from a mile and a bit away and catches it sweetly. It's going in until it isn't, thudding into a defender and bouncing wide. 

Huddersfield move up the pitch with a ponderous but deliberate manner. We sometimes don't seem to be able to stop them even though none of their players seem discernibly fast or tricky and their passing looks pretty routine, but yet, they advance. Fortunately, good as they at going forward in that inevitable manner, they seem to practice either over hitting the cross or heading it wide in training so not much alarm is caused. 

Their manager has white leggings on. Jodhpurs you could say. He's very flamboyant in his gestures till he decides he can't be arsed anymore and goes and sits down. Both sets of fans are insisting each other are 'fucking shit' 

We break quickly but the final ball isn't quite there. Jerry ties their defender in knots but his ball is poor. Lavery races into the corner and makes it but he can't find John-Jules. At the fourth or fifth time of asking, the ref finally books the lad charged with the cunning tactic of tripping John-Jules if he so much as thinks of joining in with the game. It's at least 3 fouls too late. 

Pool control the closing stages until Huddersfield wander up the pitch and crack a deflected effort just wide. It would have been an absolute sucker punch. It missed.  

--- 

It's been a tough half but we've been marginally better than them. Jerry and Shayne don't quite look right together. They say you should never marry someone too similar to yourself. Maybe the same goes for strike partners. I think John Jules could have had a big impact on that game if he didn't keep getting fouled. He's again looked technically gifted and prompted stuff, but he's like someone's little brother joining in with the big kids who just take his legs if he embarresses them. I'm not especially impressed with the ref who seems to be mates with the big kids and in on the joke. 

--- 

So, we got the break at the end of the first half. That's a good sign. If it was going to be one of those days that would have gone in wouldn't it? So we'll be fine. Lets go!

John-Jules goes for a run. He goes past a couple and then runs out of ideas. Nice try I suppose. Get into them etc. Hang on, they are breaking. Here's Garbs, he slides into the tackle, he makes it. So that's ok. But the ball doesn't break for him, taking a weird spinning bounce as it pops up, perfectly for them and their lad skips on, Garbs climbs to his feet, stumble, gets up again and falls again and they go on unimpeded, it's cut back, knocked about, it's hit hard, it clips someone (Marv?) and it arcs past Maxwell in the corner. It's a lightning break and a good finish. A very good finish. Maybe they do have one or two ok players. 

We don't get too bothered by such things though and we rattling forward again, we can come back against Bournemouth then we can manage it against the glorified Rotherham that we're up against today. It breaks for John-Jules and some big lummox just whacks into him, no attempt to take the ball, just a completely cynical barge. Ref isn't arsed cos he likes stripes or something. 

We have a corner though, Garbs lifts it to the near post, Lavery darts, twists and it loops up, just over the bar and onto the roof of the net. C'mon, we've got this. They're nothing special. 

They have a corner. I like watching Keogh at corners. He's so intense. He does this little dancing twinkle toes thing to get him ready to jump. The ball is delivered. I'm still watching wor Richard. He jumps but it's over his head and... fucking hell, it's in. I don't really know what happened or, more to the point what didn't happen. It wasn't Keoghs ball, but no one else seemed to want it and their lad just ran in and scored. Maxwell is very pissed off as if he was blocked off but the linesman is impassive. The linesman is shite all night but I honestly don't know if that was a foul or just a goal.  

Hmm. Then we make it worse. There's some calamity in the corner and Marvin tries to football his way out with some turns and some skills but their striker just watches him with a kind of wry amusement at the idea of Marvin skinning him and pounces as he clears, the ball hits him, rolling straight to another player. Maxwell is on to the danger, making a good stop, but it rolls out to a third forward who lifts it over the top of the keeper and into the net.  

At some point Ollie Turton enters the Ollie Turton derby. I don't really care anymore. He can fuck off. I clap him anyway. We should all blame him for old time's sake. Their fans hilariously sing about an ex chairman. My sides ache with mirth at their originality. Some brave souls chant in the North but no one is really feeling it. People start to drift away. 

We kick it long at little lads. Jerry goes off and Keshi comes on. Keshi is smaller than Jerry. Eventually we bring on a big lad and then stop kicking it long for a while. Gabriel looks out on his feet. To be honest, a few of them do but he is shattered

Sterling comes on and is lively enough. Bowler has a run and a dribbly shot. Bowler runs through everyone then crosses it backwards. Bowler has a run and lashes one just wide. Madine holds one up and heads one weakly at the keeper. The rest of the people go home. Huddersfield are very happy. We are not. 

--- 

When you lose, it's tempting to say exactly what went wrong but I don't know if anything went massively wrong other than we didn't play very well. Huddersfield weren't especially great in my humble opinion. They were brilliant at disrupting play and getting in early fouls that went unpunished. They didn't let us run and every time we worked some space, they just cut the free player down in a deep position, got back and regrouped. 

Once they got a goal, they had a bit more about them, but the big difference for me was their physicality. They levered Yates and Lavery away from danger with ease, Jerry especially so and John-Jules who had the technical skill to hurt them was neutralised in a cynical way. We had no answer to it. Bowler didn't make the greatest set of decisions, but he was closest, outside of Lavery's efforts (both near post corners) to scoring or creating something. 

Wintle worked hard and Dougall had a couple of decent efforts, but they looked a bit samey in midfield and if anyone was missed, I think it was Kevin Stewart who offers both a bit of muscle in midfield and a thoughtful presence. 

Ultimately, we got blown away by a combination of clinical finishing, bad luck and a few mistakes. It happens like that sometimes. We looked like a young group of players who were a bit lost once it started going the wrong way. We are a young group of players.

After the high of Saturday, it was flat. The players, the crowd, everything just felt a bit humdrum. It didn't have that crackle of something special for whatever reason. We can say what we could, should or would have done but it won't change anything. We've been given a lesson and the lesson is possibly, trying to play football doesn't always win the match. Shit happens. Get behind them. They'll surprise and delight us again sometime soon. 

utmp. 

You can follow MCLF on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe directly by email on the homepage

If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

How long left? The Mighty vs Fulham


Some people rage about the international break as if a week or so without football is like having your methadone cut off by a corrupt GP with a vindictive streak. I quite enjoyed it to be honest. There are other things in the world. You can do stuff with your Saturday like. 

- linger and watch a boiling egg, thinking how weird it is that it looks exactly the same on the outside at the beginning and the end and yet somehow, everything has changed about it. 

- contemplate the nothingness of now in comparison with eternity and try and get your head round the question "what came before the big bang?" 

- go for a bit of a walk or maybe stick some tunes on

I chose a combination of all of the above and what's more, I wasn't without football. Football is everywhere. It's under the bed, it's lurking in the corner of your eye, it's waiting outside of the shower to attack you...

I don't give a fuck about some shitty has been Portuguese sex pest. Fuck off out of my shower you absolute needy always there life stealing game and let me enjoy something else for fucks sake... 

We've had transfer deadline day and some of our boys have even been abroad and scored goals like proper top level players. Also, even though there's been no football, some of our players are more injured than they were before, but that's to be expected at Blackpool FC. I know we want FIFA to face up to the appalling human rights breaches faced by workers in Qatar but at some point, we're going to have to get Amnesty down to Squires Gate to see what's going on. 

Betting on next injury absence is as follows: 

2/1- Callum Connolly spontaneously combusts and singes Jimmy Husband and Richard Keogh in the process. 

5/1- Ryan Wintle in a freak accident involving scaffolding, a quarter of a pint of tomato feed and a rhino. 

20/1- Mike Garrity accidentally runs over the entire left flank of the team on the car park whilst rooting in his footwell for a packet of pear drops that have fallen out of the little tray by the gearstick

(Be gamble aware and when the fun stops. Stop!) 


Anyway. Fulham. Jumped up third division team who if you ignore Berbatov, Van der Sar and all that (and Best, Marsh and all that (and actually, come to think of it, their current team and loads more players and all that)) haven't ever had anyone of note apart from Johnny Haynes and Udo Onwere* and play in a ground with some sort of bungalow in the corner that, when you think about it, sounds like it's a the sort of place a disgraced celebrity would run away to. You can imagine the headline "Craven Cottage" being applied to some coke fueled kids TV presenter accused of sexual harassment being discovered at his secret air b+b hideaway. 

I've digressed. You don't not pay me for this. The game: 

*Just before we get to the game, Udo Onwere is now a top sports lawyer who has represented Rio Ferdinand amongst other people. He was also the player a former chairman cited as an example of the sort of backing he'd given managers when this blogger rang radio Lancashire about 25 years ago to complain about the former chairman not giving the managers a chance to do well. For younger fans wondering what the fuck I'm on about, Udo Onwere was essentially not very good and a similar situation would be like Sadler bigging up Ollie Sarkic as a top signing. Now, the game. For real. 
--- 

Critch has picked the wrong team. Everyone says so. Why has he done that? The big (little) idiot. I decide playing Keshi on the left is practically the stupidest thing anyone has ever done. 

Pool start well though. Keshi is probing, Bowler is haring down the wing. There's balls into the box, there's neat, quick play, there's cut backs and really quite fabulous pressing with Fulham losing the ball and us on the front foot quickly, looking purposeful, incisive and absolutely mad for it. This is terrific, they were supposed to be really good, but it's us that look top of the league!

We pressure, we press, we hound. Garbutt is miles up the pitch. Jordan Gabriel looks like he's never been away. Lets talk Ryan Wintle. How the fuck is he so good so quickly. He's sort of like Matty Virtue but smoother. Sort of. He's getting stuck in, but here he is now spreading play and putting Keshi away. I like him. Him and Kev are good together. It looks balanced. We look balanced. 

John Jules puts the keeper under pressure, he just makes it. Jerry sniffs around a low ball, again, the keeper is just in time. Keshi lashes it from distance. Heads are in hands, It dipped, it swerved, it snuck wide. It deserved to crash into the back of the net and send the stands into ecstasy. We keep the pressure on, so much so that I swear the Fulham keeper has a lie down and some treatment just to break up the play. We've been relentless. They've broken once, a good, fast break it was, but the shot at the end was hurried and well wide. We just look more composed than them. 

The play resumes and their cunning plan works a bit. They're a bit more in the game for a while, but we're on top form, blocking everything. Nothing really troubles Maxwell. Fulham are sharp when they do attack, but they look a bit shocked that we won't simply let them play. Wintle is still razor sharp in midfield. One particular trackback and tackle on Mitrovic brings the ground to its feet. Marvin is in terrific form, sweeping everything that Richard Keogh doesn't get to and to be fair to cuddly Uncle Richard he gets to a lot. 

We take charge again. It's frustrating though. Everything isn't quite coming off. Garbutt pulls of some skill so filthy that I practically need a shower after watching it to set Keshi away. How he does it, I can't explain. He's boxed in on the touchline, and then suddenly he isn't and Keshi is cutting inside and skidding it across the face of goal. It's like a card trick of a skill. I'm not sure it actually happened. Maybe Luke is a magician. Perhaps he cut Bez in half? Let's leave that there.  

Keshi is fucking great today. Again. He's notionally on the left, but he's also in the middle. He's barrelling about as he does, getting stuck in. He reminds me of a squat little terrier in that mode, but then he's a slalom skier as he weaves in and out of defenders. If Keshi slaloms, Bowler ties people in knots with his pace and slippery footwork. The problem is, he ties himself in knots too sometimes. He goes so fucking fast he hasn't got time to look for the pass, he misses Jerry where a bit of composure might have seen a few half chances as whole ones. He's electric but electricity is dangerous and a few times he gives the ball away. One time, he gets it, runs all over the place, beating people for fun then passes it out of play for no reason. He looks like me, trying to master skill moves on FIFA, my middle aged hands not adept enough to press all the buttons whilst also moving the little stick. 

---

There's not been one grumble around me. Not one. The ground rises together at the whistle. That says it all. We were really good. We should be ahead. I'm worried we've not made the pressure pay. We've been so close to forcing the chance but not quite picked the right pass. The machine is working though. John Jules is a clever thing, slipping passes, turning and finding space to run into. He's done well. Jerry has drifted, stopped, stuttered, checked his run and gone the other way. How do you mark him? They've both played well, but maybe not quite as a pair. 

--- 

Fulham will come out better. They're good after all. They have good players and that. You wouldn't know it to be honest, but that was probably just 45 minutes out of character. This half will be a test. No question. 

We win it back on the right. We keep winning the ball back. Bowler is running, Gabriel is going outside, Bowler is going inside, he's going to offload it, but he doesn't, he just keeps going, it's like watching a really sharp knife cut through a sponge cake as the defence part, he's like a speedboat with a bow wave casting aside the weeds and driftwood as he hurtles into the box, towards the goal, will he over run it? No, he fucking won't... he pokes it ahead of him, then slides and hooks it into the net. What a goal. What a fucking goal! What a player! 

It's chaos. It's loud, it's belief. This is what this team can do, We aren't here to make up the numbers or for a little jaunt to the second tier and back down. We're beating the leaders, deservedly so. 

What have Fulham got? Surprisingly little. I realise I don't actually know who manages them since Scott Parker went to Bournemouth to not be able to beat us. I spot Marco Silva on the touchline. It makes sense that they're not very good. The man's a fraud. He just dresses well and points at things. He's like a shit Arteta and Arteta is shit. Artell is better than Arteta and he manages Crewe. How do these frauds get jobs in Premier League? Solskjaer for fucks sake?  Silva is a bit good looking in a 'bloke someone in their mid 40s who works in accounts would have a fling with in Portugal, getting all carried away with his suave charm and sensitive side only to find he's emptied her bank account on the sly' kind of way. I'm not convinced he knows anything at all about football other than he know Richarlison and his main achievement in English football is that Hull got a bit less shit for a few weeks. Everton dumped fat Sam for doing ok, but kept Silva for ages cos he was fancy. This is a long winded way of saying 'Fulham don't really have a plan B'  

They hit back quickly though, a looping ball from the right isn't cleared and it's falling at the far post, the defence is all flat footed at the near post, one of their players is lining up to shoot and from nowhere, Josh Bowler appears and calm as you like, just take it away and sets us going the other way. I'm actually struggling to describe how happy I am with him. I remember writing earlier in the year that he's going to frustrate, but he's stolen my heart. 

Yeah, they attack a bit more, but it's, dare I say it... comfortable. Here's a ball over the top though, here's footrace between a pacy forward and ... oh...shit... Richard Keogh! Fuck! They're in now... But what's this? It's only Richard Keogh, gliding across the turf, not just getting there and wellying out of play, but getting there and turning a sensational first time pass back to Maxwell, all acute angles and perfect weighting. I'm on my feet. Richard Keogh. Take a fucking bow. 

Time rolls by. We're still playing well. Marvin is still possibly the world's best defender footballer. They whip a low shot just past the post but Maxwell has it covered. He dives and lies there, his arm out all along the turf, palm fixed in place. I wonder if keeper sometime wish the shots that go wide like that had just crept inside the post. 

I keep looking at the clock. Time doesn't seem to pass until suddenly there are ten minutes left and the nerves hit me. We've given everything. Wintle has gone off to a real reception and Dougall has entered to another. Jerry and Shayne have swapped to similar noise. Lavery is haring about manfully but Fulham are looking for the kitchen sink and whilst they may not have found it yet, there's definitely some plumbing starting to fly our way. Is this the worst image I've ever used? I don't know and I don't care because we've got to hold on. 

A ball flashes across goal. A cross comes in. I turn to my lad and say 'Richard Keogh has played really well hasn't he?" and not 30 second later, he does his trademark wander up the pitch and loses the ball. Fulham storm up the middle, but we snuff it out. That's this team. They've got each other's backs. Wide left, they screw a cross in and Maxwell springs, pivots and throws up his hands to let it go by. It corkscrews about 2 yards past his far post and I'm nearly sick in my hands. This is hard going now. 

Bowler hares down the middle. He's a bowling ball (see what I've done there?) and they're skittles scattering. Keshi has the freedom of Blackpool outside him. Fuck it, Keshi actually has the freedom of Lancashire outside him but Bowler has a strike (fucking hell, sorry) in his mind and he pulls the trigger and lashes it over the top. A pass and the game was over. You can't tame this sort of player though. The instinct is everything. When a player does the impossible, chiding them for not doing the possible every time is missing the point of why they're special.  

They get a corner. They get some more crosses. Keogh is heading. Marvin is heading. Marv is shouting, indicating the line to hold. A ball floats over, Keogh can't reach his man for once, there's a header, bottom corner, shit... the world nearly implodes... but there is Maxwell, flinging himself low and turning it away. It's a superb stop. He is the best keeper in the world low down. I don't give a fuck. He is. It's hilarious that we got him for nothing. How did that actually happen? 

Jimmy Husband comes on for John Jules. It's really striking how much Jimmy talks and how much the rest of the defence listen. He's straight on for a free kick and he marshalls everyone and then calmly shields the ball past the post. I get a bit stroppy that he doesn't get the reception he should when he comes on but then I decide it's probably nerves, not antipathy for the topknot god. 

Somehow the ref finds 5 minutes? Five? Where did he get that from? There's barely been a pause this half. They are camped in front of our goal. They nod one at Maxwell. They shoot one at Maxwell. The ball bobs and bounces about in the box horribly and finally they head another one at him, it loops, it makes me queasy, but Wales' rightful no1 stretches, back peddles, takes it above his head on the line and doesn't stumble over it and we breath. Then we let our a mighty roar. Fucking hell... 

---


It was a tremendous effort. From everyone. From 1 to 29 and all in between. The players go to the north mostly but Jordan Gabriel goes to all three stands and celebrates like he means it in front of each one. It's so good to have him back. How on earth have we found Ryan Wintle? He looked like he's always played for us. He was terrific, a good range of passing, short and long and real presence in the tackle. His performance possibly explains how Crewe looked so good against us last year at Bloomfield. 

The forward play was mobile and pacy, players swapping, coming inside, going outside, making Fulham's defence look really quite leaden footed. John Jules didn't quite have the break he might have had but he was inventive and instinctive but also pleasingly much more physical. My favourite thing he did was a really quite poor ball out to Keshi, dropping it short, but then racing 30 yards to charge a defender down to win it back. He conceded a free kick, but he got his body involved. I hate to evoke Ellis Simms but there were shades of how he started to really use his strength as well as a glorious run on the turn which got cut short and deserved more that was worthy of Sullay (there I go again) at his very best. 

It one of those, where I could go through everyone and explain how good they were. Let me just put this in context. I've never seen Mitrovic in the flesh. I've seen him on telly looking fucking mint. My impression of him after today is 'not all that' - that's how well the centre halves did. I said it above, but I'll say it again - the team was balanced and that made all the difference. 

Once again then, Critch picks the wrong team cos he's an idiot but it somehow turns out right. We really do all know fuck all. Long may he keep making stupid selections. The fucking magic little calm talking carefully spoken cheeky grinning twinkly eyed imp. 

Oh Blackpool. We love you. 

utmp 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Keepy Uppy (A review)

The BBC seem really keen to tell us that the Premier League is fabulous and that it's just getting better by the week in their new documentary 'Fever Pitch'.

It's weird that the BBC want to tell us that when their role is to tell a story with balance as opposed to further the mythos of what was and remains an exercise in ideology and greed. Whilst it's undeniable that the riches of the Premier League have brought things like stadium developments and funded some community work, it's equally true that, judged purely in sporting terms (assuming that good sport is defined as 'competitive' or 'dramatic') the Premier League has been a bit of a disaster if you follow any of the 86 clubs who have almost no chance of winning anything ever. 

I bring good news though. You don't have to watch the BBC to get the inside track on the Premier League. One of the famous Adrians who are sometimes on the radio and support West Brom has made a short documentary about it. At a slimline 33 mins it's probably quicker than reading one of my articles and a damn sight more colourful to boot.

It's a great primer on the basic issues created by football's 1992 breakaway act. For fans who don't really grasp the impact the Premier League has had, it's a perfect summary. The more world weary amongst us might think it's going nowhere they haven't already been in the first few minutes, but bear with it. The insight from the likes of Andy Holt and Keiron Maguire is as sage as you'd expect but the unlikely star (outside of ever avuncular presenter Adrian Goldberg) is posh Sunderland baddie Charlie Methven who demonstrates a clinical understanding of the games issues and expresses them with clarity and precision. You might already know about what he talks about but he absolutely hits the mark.

The highlight for me (outside of a terrific scene in which football finance and greed are expressed by literal slices of cake) is the exactness with which Methven explains that notions like glory and joy (exemplified in a moving account of West Brom's 1968 FA Cup win) are no longer of any interest to those who run clubs as the FA Cup adds little to "the capital value" of a football club.

Who needs tears of delight? Who needs the once in a lifetime joy of a giant killing or the pride of small town glory? Why should football be a game for the nation where we can all hold on to the belief that one day it might be our turn?

What does that compare to the sheer wonderment we all feel when we know that finishing 17th has secured the capital value of our club for another year? After all, as the famous song goes "Que Sera Sera whatever will be will be, we finished 17th, looks good on the balance sheet"

This isn't a documentary that will change your life if you already know a little bit about football finance. What it feels like though, is the tip of an iceberg. It feels as if there could be hours more content here. It feels like Goldberg, an established presenter and skilled content maker could tell a hundred other stories and his guests could take us much further down this road and, the further we travel, the more the key points this piece identifies will be emphasised. The game is crammed full of bad owners, basketcase finances and fans fed up of the ceiling they can't break through and the stagnation of the league tables. 

It feels like the media we need. The questioning the game deserves. A timely reminder that football itself isn't the Premier League or the FA or for that matter, the top 6, the EFL or the circus of hangers on that surround it. Football is what we want it to be. Football can be different. You may or may not agree with the individual elements of the manifesto the documentary concludes with, but that's almost less important than an exercise in imagining that the game could be run in a different way.

It's also a crucial exercise in reminding us that, for all the worthy work of fans associations and the laudable approachability of the people running the fans led review, the battle for the soul of football will require radical action. Tweaking the edges of the way fans are treated and making a few minor adjustments to the size of the crumbs that drop from the top table for the rest of football is a start, but it's a long way from creating a situation where most clubs are stable and success is a prospect we can all dream of.

People like me write shit blogs about it. Some people write good books about it. There are excellent podcasts about it, 
It's all a bit niche though.

What Goldberg has done is take a series of seemingly quite complex issues and compressed them into an easily digested and engaging half hour without diluting the meaning and value of his message. It deserves a platform. These things need saying and he says them in a straightforward way that gets to the point quickly. 

This isn't moaning. It isn't 'it was better in the old days.' It's a simple challenge to those who govern football to make some simple, but radical adjustments in order to improve the game. If we can accept VAR and insane rescheduling and stupid rules about who gets into what competition and every visible surface being branded with betting ads and all the other shit ideas they've inflicted on us, them we have a right to talk back and ask for some competition as a bare minimum as reward for our continuing loyalty to the game. That's the sort of message you'd hope the BBC would have the courage to broadcast as it is literally in the interest of the national game and thus, the nation. 

More of this sort of thing. It's what I would like to pay my license fee for. Not puff pieces on how Rupert Murdoch saved the day. 






Sunday, August 29, 2021

Don't panic...


There's no match blog this week cos I didn't go to Millwall as I'm a lazy, good for nothing part time fan that deserves to be ejected into orbit on a one way trip to the sun. 

I thought I'd attempt to write something sort of slightly sensible instead as we're heading for two weeks of no football and a chance to draw breath and think about how we've done to date. 

Post match on Saturday, despite the performance showing more spirit than a big bottle of meths, there has been an understandable gentle gnashing of teeth. We haven't won yet (except against Middlesbrough reserves in the probably soon to be discontinued cup.) There are also clearly some issues we didn't necessarily expect with recruitment when Ben Mansford was stood outside his hotel the day after the playoffs, the egg from his celebratory English hotel breakfast smeared around his mouth, shouting "we'll get Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe, that sort of player. Just you wait. You'll piss yourself with delight, where do I sign the super league forms?"* 

'So Neil, Firmino, Salah or the other lad. Or all three? Pass me the ketchup will you?'

*He may not have said these
exact words 

Everyone knows what we need most. 

The obvious problem is the lack of right back. Until we have one of those (if for nothing else, to blame for not being a good enough right back,) then we'll continue to bemoan the lack of it. It has had an impact. I'm not Opta and I don't have a heat map or graph that looks like an exploding nebula for you to prove my thoughts, but my take is that he's played reasonably well defensively (yesterday's James Husband impression was the exception, not the rule) but he looks (understandably) a bit lost trying to skip down the flank like an actual full back might. 

That, to me, a shite blogger with no UEFA coaching certificate in a brown envelope in the loft, has left us a bit imbalanced and undermined a little bit our attempts to Brazil it out from the back. Several times I've seen us shift the other team with the sideways defensive passing and then noticed how we haven't quite had the out ball on the right as Connolly is being studiously defensive in his duties, which is fair enough because he isn't (to my mind) playing in his best position. Playing out of position is a bit like driving someone else's car - you don't take the risks you might in your own. 

It's good to have a right back. If for nothing else than to complain about him... 

The best is yet to come? 

We're rumoured to be in for a flying wing back from Chelsea, one who presumably will do the flying down the wing thing with the relish of Douglas Bader. Hopefully he'll have legs though. It would, to be fair, be a striking blow for equality if he didn't and it never stopped wor Douglas who achieved more in an average week than a hundred people with legs do in a lifetime, I mean, I have legs, but I've never flown a spitfire or tried several escapes from Colditz, so who the fuck am I? He can be as legless as Jerry on a night out with Gaz for all I care as long as he's a right back. This wasn't the searing analysis I was aiming for. Lets try again. 

Not replacing our loan players yet has been an issue but we may take some heart when we remember that last year, the best ones didn't sign till later on. Whether we thought we didn't need them and later decided we did, whether it's the case that sometimes you just have to wait for the players to be available or possibly that it's wise to play a few games before you know exactly what you need most, I have no idea but either way, we've got a history of bringing the better loans in later. 

If we look at our most vaunted loan players in what I'll call (to avoid mentioning certain names,) 'the post boycott era', Moore, Kirby, KDH, Ronan, Ballard, Simms, Gabriel and Embleton all signed at least several games into the season and some a lot later than that. Only Ben Heneghan was a genuine season long loan who worked out to some extent and second time round, even he wasn't there from the outset. (I can't recall when he got there first time cos I didn't give a shit about it all then) 

Established 1887:  

I'm still not quite over this one. Are we sure it happened? 

A lot could be said about the lack of established signings and it's certainly possible to imagine a world where we went out and bought 3 nailed on quality championship players and had started somewhat better than we have.  

There's a few things to look at here.

Firstly - we've shown so far that when we spend money, it's going to be on 'moneyball' type targets.

That means broadly that we'll look at:

- Young, hungry players who have performed at a lower level and deserve a chance at a higher level but won't cost much because their pedigree is lower league. 
- young hungry players who haven't made the grade at a higher level and have been released.
- players who are being misused in some way and are undervalued at their current clubs who could be better utilised in another position or system. 
- players whose value has dropped due to issues like injuries or clashes with their current club.
- players from outside the league who have the potential to step into it and are really cheap as they might be shite really even though they look grand against postmen and butchers and that.   

What we almost never do, is go and target someone in the same division who is established in the job we want them to do. We might, as fans, want that to happen, but there's very little evidence to think that's something we're likely to do. 

No, I've no idea why I'm here either? 

If we look at the signings last year, we can clearly see this in practice. Ignoring Sarkic (a signing that broke that mould as he seemed to be an established player in the division we played in with no known obvious issues) and the stopgap signing of MJ Williams who was also a League 1 regular, most of the others fit one or more of the above categories. 

- Yates was playing on the left for Swindon on loan and under appreciated by his parent club Rotherham 

- Dougall and Stewart were both discarded by their clubs due to injury. Whilst clearly being 'good enough' they'd been cast aside and were without a contract.  

- Marvin was a mid table league 2 defender. CJ a mid table league 2 winger. Both had some promise but neither were the obvious 'next big thing' 

- Keshi was also a league 2 player who had additionally apparently fallen out with Richie Wellens. 

- Maxwell had a reputation for being 'a bit dodgy' and was floating about going on loan. He was signed before Critchley, but the decision to make him a long term acquisition was Critch's

- Mitchell was a left back that couldn't defend with hardly any pedigree to speak of outside of youth team football. 

- Grettarson was a player who no one had heard of and who had little experience of playing on actual grass. He was trailed as 'an international' but the reality was he'd been capped once. 

- Embleton was a wonderkid who his own club has seemingly forgotten about after an injury. Sunderland fans I asked about him felt he was at best... 'ok' and at worst 'crocked.'

- Garbutt had a reputation for quality but a history of injury undermining his progress. He'd had lots of loan moves but never forced anyone to really make Everton an offer they couldn't refuse, probably because he kept breaking down. 

We could perhaps mention others above, but we can see the pattern. None of these signings were obvious. None of them were akin to signing say, Grant from Lincoln, Oliver from Gillingham, Piggot from Wimbledon or whoever else was playing really well for teams in and around our division.  

The signings weren't all successful, we've already mentioned Sarkic and sadly we've not seen the best of Bez Lubala who firmly fits in the 'player who achieved at a lower level' mould and is probably the most disappointing bit of business of the new era. (I'm not counting Joe Nuttall as he signed before the fancy recruitment people with their graphs and tick sheets came in.) Obviously, Embleton's efforts will ultimately benefit Sunderland and our other loan players have moved on, but I'd argue there's a real core of players in the above list that have proven our broad policy correct. If we were to sell all the players listed above tomorrow, we'd definitely recoup a lot more than we spent on them and we could easily cover whatever we spent on Bez and Sarkic for good measure. 

Worth a few quid with or without shirt

So far, whilst Garbutt hasn't shone defensively at left back, (and obviously, players like Stewart and Grettarson have been injured) only CJ really has looked like he's actively struggling with an additional leap to the Championship. Even if CJ is struggling, it's also important to remember a key fact. We got promoted. Even if someone like Hamilton isn't able to contribute this year, he's been part of achieving that key goal and thus can't be regarded as a failure overall.  

Even more moneyball? 

This year's signings follow a similar (and arguably more extreme in some cases) pattern.

It's too early to judge them all but... 

- Shayne Lavery has come from Linfield and has already shown he can more than cut it in the Championship. 

- Josh Bowler fits both the 'injury risk' model and the 'needs a bit of refinement' model and thus far is my favourite signing for about a decade I think. 

- Sonny Carey has come from non league and in the (albeit relatively unimportant) games he has played, he has not looked out of place. Whether he can force his way into a championship side is a matter for debate but he's without question a player with significant potential. He's not Ben Tollit or Ben Garrity or that kid we bought from Blyth Spartans. He doesn't look like a fish out of water, which, to a greater or lesser extent most of our more extreme punts since Brett Ormerod signed from a then very much non-league Accy have done. At worst, I think he might turn into a Curtis Tilt level player, which is to say, he looks like he's got a decent standard of football ahead of him. 

Probably better than Craig Sutherland

- Reece James is an established player from the division below and has had a rocky start to an extent but played very well against Millwall in a different position than we've seen him to date and one that isn't his best where he hasn't yet played. There's therefore some as yet untapped promise in that signing. 

- Callum Connolly also is from the division below (in terms of actual experience) as well as fitting into the 'players released from a higher level' group and as yet, hasn't had the chance to show what he can do in his natural position. That said, he's shown leadership and tenacity and as above, I think he's defended pretty well, if not always been the jigsaw piece we need overall. His willingness to do his best to play that part is to his credit.  

- Richard Keogh is supremely good at pointing and to be completely fair, he's looked ok (and perhaps better than that) when we're not playing against nippy technical front three. Surely Critch has realised now there's a time when you don't play him. He's also the player who may well be this year's stop gap and the one signing who we won't be looking to potentially make a profit from. He played too 6 month stints last year at different clubs and who is to say he won't do the same this year. With centre backs options including Marvin, Grettarson, Connolly, Casey and Husband, if Keogh plays 25 games across the season, it will mean he's playing well (or everyone is injured again) 

- It's not fair to analyse players like Casey yet but let's do it anyway. He looked decent enough in his actual position and a bit laboured at right back in the two games he's played.

- We'll have to judge Casey in time as we will the loan signing of Ryan Wintle, a player who fits the model of 'team at the same level don't rate him' so much it's almost painful. Imagine being signed and then let go again? We did that with MJ Williams who helped get Bolton promoted so it's not always the worst thing in the world. Wintle was part of the Crewe side that looked incredibly committed and knocked us of our stride at Bloomfield last year. He likes a tackle and a long pass which sounds almost exactly like what we miss when Kevin Stewart is on his bi-monthly periods of recuperation. 

But I want a WOW signing! 

It is frustrating that we don't go and sign players that immediately get the pulse racing. I still recall the jaw dropping impact of signing Tony Ellis, but then, I was pretty excited when we signed Chris Malkin too. When we look at the fact we are very rarely, if ever in the market for players that are playing at our current level, it's actually quite remarkable how many of our signings have been hits as opposed to misses. 

Wow! It's Chris Malkin! (actually, still not over this one either...)

This bodes well for our longer term future, even if it's frustrating right now. In order to progress, we can't simply rely on Sadler's largesse. I don't know how much money he has but he's seemingly prepared to put a lot of it into infrastructure. What that leaves for signings is anyone's guess but unless he's seriously rich (and some would argue, seriously stupid) then it can't be enough to just go and buy a championship team. The championship is a horrendous league in terms of finances. Whilst almost no one in the lower league makes any money, losses are generally fairly constrained. A few million here and there. An extra few hundred grand can make a big difference to a playing budget. 

The championship is not like that. To just cling on to the coat tails of the established clubs costs 7, 8, 9, 10 times the sort of average wage we've paid out over the last two seasons and to do that, whilst finding funding for a training ground, improving the infrastructure of the stadium and so on would challenge the deepest pockets. There are clubs paying players the kind of money we earn from our entire season ticket sales. We shouldn't underestimate the effort that has gone into retaining players like Yates and Maxwell on improved deals. I have no idea how much that has cost but it won't be cheap if we've done it to stave off established championship clubs. 

The costs rise and, yes, so does the income, but we're playing clubs with parachute payment riches and average gates three times our own. We all get the same TV money but others get a lot more than that on top as well and they set they going rate for an established player. 

To overcome that ,we must achieve a model similar of buy low, sell high and repeat. We must mark ourselves out as a club where players feel there is a pathway to success, where they'll get a chance to play, high quality coaching and an opportunity to progress, either with us, or via the transfer market. We haven't yet cashed in on any of our significant assets (the perennially falling over Jordan Thompson the only significant sale of the Sadler era to date) but when we do, the algorithm is fairly straight forward. If we sell one Marvin or one Jerry, then we get to seed 10 more Marvins or Jerrys. If we can maintain a record of identifying more successful players than we do complete duds, then that will eventually develop our finances to a point whereby we are looking higher up the league for the diamonds that need a little less polishing than those we have taken to date do. 

Now. 

To return to the immediate, it feels as if we do need some 'quality' - However we dress it up it seems bizarre that we don't have a right back and haven't been able to identify even a stop gap player to fill that position. It's also clear that having taken risks on players with a history of injury has left us nowhere near able to field our best XI for long periods, perhaps inevitably when we consider how our play is based on a kind of relentless, unforgiving intensity that requires players to be at top condition to successfully execute it. 

The frustration we feel with the shortcomings of the squad is perhaps enhanced when we look at the incredible spirit that there clearly is. This is a tight knit group of players. The players who've broken into it and had most impact so far show the same personal qualities as the players they've replaced and visibly share the ethos of the squad. The most exciting thing is that it doesn't feel as if we've hit the ceiling of achievement for some of the players who've been there from the beginning if we can put the right players around them. That is what makes the need for a bit of extra quality feel urgent. 

Remember this?

Neil Critchley is possibly the most dignified man in football. He may sometimes dither over a sub or two but he reflects and he learns. He's more forthright than he was, he's got braver and whilst he's not called everything right this year (Keogh against Coventry for example), he's also inspired some tremendously spirited performances. The players are more than playing for him. The players will run themselves into the ground for him. Whether or not he's able to play the way he personally wants to is unknown. We can mix and match formations anyway we like, but without a right back and with no fit taller player up front and with serious problems maintaining any sort of partnership at the heart of midfield due to injury, any manager is going to be forced to put out a side that looks like a compromise from time to time. 

What Critchley unquestionably does, is make most players better. We've listed quite a few already without mentioning Simms, Ballard, Gabriel and also without mentioning the reinvention of Grant Ward and the surprising love in between Gary Madine and the Critchley way.

The other thing he does, is relentlessly search for the right way to play. He doesn't just settle for a formation and stick to it. He might appear stubborn from any short series of games, but after he's given things a go, he'll chuck that formation in the bin and try something else. The much criticised (and frankly absurd in retrospect) experiment with Michael Nottingham is a good case study of Critchley in miniature. He's very difficult to predict, he'll try something out. He'll stick to it for longer than you or I might, but once he's decided it doesn't work, he's ruthless. I'd say that's a real strength of his. He gives mistakes time to turn into something that works because for every mistake that's doomed to fail there's also an idea that just needs patience to bear fruit. 

The counter punch to Nottingham is Grant Ward. "Why on earth (said some bloggers not a million miles from here) would you use a winger in central midfield? Why not just get a fucking central midfielder? Grant Ward is just a pretty player who doesn't really DO anything...." Yet, here we are, in a division higher than when we (ok, me) thought that, absolutely gutted because he's out for a long period and it's difficult to remember when Grant Ward was anything other than the driving metronome who keeps us ticking over. 

'We wish him well'

The end bit with some rousing words

I don't know what we're going to sign over the next few days or weeks (I say weeks, because arguably our key signings last year were free agents) but what I am 100% sure of, is that if we can plug the gaping hole at right back, pick up a bit of class on loan and get the squad something like fit as a whole, we will more than stay up.

Whoever comes in is going to be walking into a genuine culture of quality, a culture where players get better, because they believe they will get better, because they believe in what they are doing. Football might be a results business, but sometimes results mask the real work. Every great side doesn't just win. They work incredibly hard. They lead each other. They don't give up. In Yates, Dougall, Maxwell, Marvin and others, we have those leaders. We have those players who set the tone. Who give everything and accept nothing less from each other. I've recently been reading back on last year for something and it's hard to reconcile the spirit of this team with the damp squib of a side that started last year. Some of our players have grown immeasurably since then. We've learned so much. We will continue to do so.

Seeing how rapidly Ellis Simms matured from a bony kid loping about out of his depth to giving one of the all time great Pool striking performances of my life against Oxford away shows what Critchley and the culture he's fostered can do to a player's development in a short space of time. Look at Jerry picking up Shayne Lavery when he missed against Coventry. That's a player playing for his club and not just himself. Look at Jimmy hugging Grant Ward when his achilles went. That's a teammate. Look at Keshi barrelling through midfield on his own against Millwall trying to make it happen against all odds. That's what you want. Players, backing themselves. Taking risks. Look at the sheer fucking joy of watching Josh Bowler. What more do you want? Look at goal Lavery scored by sheer force of bloody will. His body on the line. What's not to love about this lot? Anyone coming in to that and playing in front of the north stand or the relentless noise of our away fans can't fail to feel they're *somewhere*

We're going to be ok. It's going to be fucking brilliant. Bit by bit, we're going to get there. We'll find a way. It's what we do. Summat about processes and trust. Blind faith innit. 

utmp

You can follow MCLF on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe directly by email on the homepage

If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand.













Follow on Twitter!

Get MCLF in your inbox!

Subscribe with a feedreader!

Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...