Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Squad review: 20/21 Fast, fast and faster.


Squad Goals

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I did an end of season squad review. It was very thorough, professional and highly analytical but it's become very swiftly outdated.

Fear not! I've come up with another one, aided by knowledge gained from my extensive football career (you'd have to read the old ones for the story of that) and the fact I sometimes half listen to podcasts whilst doing other things, in which they use phrases like trequartista. Thus, you can rest assured, that having read this, you'll have some tidy insights you can pass off as your own. 

GK:

Chris Maxwell: 
Just about the only player who was at the club before Critch that Critch likes. (Apart from Ollie Turton.) I'm imagining the little impish one on the mobile, very early in his reign. He's saying something like 'Dave*, it's Neil, yeah, all good mate, righto, I need a goalie who can kick and pass. It's not like I'm going to have one of those in league one. What've you got for me?'

He's looking out across Squires Gate at the shambolic training ground and the shambles of a kickabout, where Armand is having a snooze, Jay is marching about pointing and stuff and Jamie Devitt has got tangled up in netting. Critch sighs inwardly, thinks 'what have I let myself into here?' and then... his eyes settle on the keeper. He's just palmed the ball away, then leapt off the ground, made himself available for the full back, taken the pass and curled it out to a man free on the wing. 

Critch's eyes narrow in satisfaction. He nods to himself and says 'Hi, Dave* listen, forget the keeper. Can you get me what you have on the other 10 positions instead? Cheers fella.'

He takes his note book and puts a big tick next to first position on the empty team sheet and nods to himself knowingly before marching off to fill a white board with lines and arrows and think about laminated motivational quotes. 

Maxwell - Proper class. 

*Dave is an imaginary football agent. 

Alex Fotjijcek:  He looks really Slovenian if you're allowed to notice that. He seems pretty good from the blurry footage of the Southport game and most of the other match he played but then he did a really daft thing in the second pre season game and I went from thinking 'he's grand, he'll do as a back up" to, 'he looks really shaky' - which is an example of why keepers have it harder than anyone else as he's only made one mistake but that's lodged it's way into my head and stuck there. 

Jack Sims: He looks like the third choice keeper at a league one club who hasn't had much experience of being anything else. Bit harsh that he got slated at Anfield when the entire side looked like a school team in the second half. Goalies get a lot of stick don't they? 

Defenders: 

Ollie Turton: Ollie 'how is he still there?' Turton as all his ex teammates call him is Critch's concession to reason. He's the pragmatic weight to a team of dreamy punts and purist philosophy. He's the ballast in the balloon. He might be functional, but without him, we'd drift off into space and all freeze to death. Ollie Turton anchors us to reality. That's the sort of analysis that you're here for. 

Teddy Howe: I like the fact his teammates call him Bundy. He's got the strength of a discarded ice pop wrapper and the pace of a cheetah. If there was a competition to 'take a player of your choice home and give him a good feed' amongst the nans of Blackpool, then our Teddy would be the pick of every entrant. Imagine him, tucking into a good hotpot and a bit of pickled cabbage, then two helpings of jam roly-poly with Enid looking on proudly.

'That'll put hairs on your chest" she'd say... "That'll stop those nasty lads pushing you off the ball" 


I think we've possibly underrated him a little bit. He's not ready yet, but he showed a lot against Barrow, he's faster than you think, and you think he's fast, he uses the ball well when he's going forward and gives his all. With a few steak dinners, and a few nights reading 'how to play at wing back' the lad could be very decent

Michael Nottingham: "He's retained Nottingham?" was what every Blackpool fan thought on reading the news. What Critch sees in him is pretty clear. He's clearly a model pro, he's dead fit, his rangy stride and long legs are handy as is his height. He's absurdly quick, something which seems more apparent than it did before when he looked rank average under McPhillips and Grayson and he's really committed. I don't think Critch really is that fussed about centre backs. It's a weird position, in that to play well at it, you don't need to be that good at football, just bursts of pace, jumping and concentrating, grappling and not getting pushed over. I think he sees Notts as having the attributes, and the right attitude to be coached in getting better. He also looked shit hot against Liverpool tbf to him. 

Marvin Ekpiteta: He's a big lad. Him and Notts aren't getting bullied for height any time soon. I like Marvin. He seems an uncomplicated, honest player and his delight at the first win was written all over his face. I think we might take him for a very decent journey. He's not a player you think 'he's too good for us' but he's maybe a player who'll grow with us because of that. He's also quite entertaining to watch as he often seems beaten then pulls out a challenge that only a player with legs that long and sometimes seemingly double jointed hips and knees can do. 

Jordan Thorniley: Seems like a proper ol' fashioned centre half. Which is sort of the problem. He seems like the centre half for another team. I like the look of him but he's a bit like a defensive Ryan Hardie of last year. You see him and think 'ah, that's what he does. Not sure the rest of the team are down with that particular vibe tho'   

Demitri Mitchell: Dead fast, daft hair, seems a bit flash to me, raised as I am on Cook, Hills, Evans, Crainey etc. To have this kid flying down the flank and looking like he's got several credit cards in his shorts pocket and a manicurist in the dressing room is frankly a culture shock. What I really like about him is his use of the ball. He seems able to cross, run and play the short pass. He's very, very exciting. In most previous Christmases, he'd be our big present but this year, he's one of many. 

James Husband: Dead good at defending, maybe not good enough for Critch at marauding forward and overlapping and all that. The perfect fullback for a promotion winning side in 1999 or whenever it was that *actual* full backs were last a thing. I'd like to see him at centre back at some point because, whilst he's no flying wingback, he can step out of defence and is comfortable with the ball in a way that you average centre back isn't and he's also, as I already said, good at defending. He might struggle in a back 4 though. 

Nathan Shaw: He's not really a left back, but I can't see him playing left sided striker either. I know I'm supposed to be salivating over signings, signings, more signings and signings, but I find myself hoping that we don't sign even more players because I like Nathan a lot, and I don't care if 'he's not ready/it's a risk/we need to show even more ambition' - I want to see this lad get a chance. He's got something. He's got plenty. His delivery is excellent, he's got the ability to use both feet, he's very careful and mature with possession, he's deceptively good at beating a player in a tight spot, defying what looks to be an ungainly physique. He's got what I loved about Le Tissier, a real grace and style in a body that doesn't look like it's going to play that way. He's also really good at switching play and in a world where everyone is absurdly athletic, I like that he's a bit slow.  More of Shaw please. I just like watching him play. 

Luke Garbutt: Maybe Sadler has a thing for left backs? Perhaps he rang Neil and said

"Look, Neil, the one thing Simon did right, was get loads of left backs. Left backs upon left backs. Couldn't move for them. It was great" 
"But Simon, I watched the videos, he only ever played one of them. What was all that about?"
"Neil, don't ask questions. Just buy more left backs" 
"But why?"
"Dont...ask...questions......" 

*click* 

He's an ex wunderkind at Goodison and I'm assured by fans of other clubs that he's "a great signing" and he's great on twitter videos and that. 

I have no idea, I can't remember playing against him, but I suspect it means my dream of seeing Nathan Shaw's languid style and golden vision are on ice for a while yet. I think in modern football, I'm contractually obliged to write a bit about 'great to club showing ambition' and all that stuff. 


Midfielders: 

Jamie Devitt: He's actually not in the squad so he doesn't count but I like to imagine he's behaving like a kid who's allowed to stay off school but his mum's working and hasn't got time to deal with him. He just eats cereal all day in the canteen, watching the telly till Critch comes in and tells him off for not clearing the bowls up and getting milk down his training top. I am forever grateful for having finally seen him play. He fulfilled my every wish for what he'd be like. A proper mixed bag of a player, terrible mistakes that had his team mates baffled, but just the glimmer that he could bag one from 30 yards any time he picked the ball up. 

Ethan Robson: Top signing. He does everything well, has a haircut that's on the right side of smart without being a daft affectation or a Frank Lampard cut and floppy enough to suggest he has a personality, without seeming like he's all 'look at me with my hair.' He seems to have more time than anyone else and just be able to find and make space naturally. He's also surprised me by being a really exciting dribbler and a proper tackler at the same time. He's dead good but also probably not dead good enough yet to get nabbed by some fun sponge of a club who are 16th in the Championship and going nowhere but just want to take our players cos they can and then stick them in their reserves. I'm looking at Rotherham with a hard stare. 

Matty Virtue: I've decided that if I was to run one of those catalogues doing discount sportswear you used to get in football magazines before Sport Direct was a proper thing, I'd get Matty Virtue to model the stuff. He's got that feel about him. He'd be really professional, wearing all the different anoraks and jogging bottoms, posing willingly all day without being a knob about it. You know who he is by now and what he does. I rate him a lot but he's probably not in the starting line up till someone gets injured, which they probably will and he'll do fine and score a few and tackle a few and pass to faster lads a few times.   

Keshi Anderson: He's quite small I think, but he looks bigger than he is. He's a bit like a horse that is swishing from side to side in a stable in a way that makes you not want to be in there with it. He's a dodgem car knocking over someone who stepped on the rink (what do you call a dodgem car area? a track? an arena?  - put your answers in a bottle and throw them out to sea. If I'm meant to know, they'll find me) He's a barrel, going down some rapids. 

A class act so far who's covered every blade of grass. There's a whisper out there that he always starts like that and doesn't keep it up, but who's to know? He looks permanently a bit cross, so god knows what he looks like if he's got an actual cob on.  

Grant Ward: If Keshi is a kicking horse, then Grant's a beautiful thoroughbred. Watching him run is a joy, he covers the ground with grace, gliding with the ball at his feet. He's not quite a playmaker or a box to box midfielder, but a little bit of both who I think is growing into his role and growing on me a lot. He's athletic and always looking to probe, he's very comfortable with the ball and has his head up and if he and Keshi can work out not to do the same thing, they'll be horrible to face as they'll scare defences by running directly at them with our wide men outside them. Last year we seemed incapable of attacking the heart of a defence. This year, we seem well set up to do so. He also takes a good corner. 

MJ Williams: He's solid and has lovely flowing hair. I think he was brought to make the team look more cultured. I don't know if he is cultured or not, but I like to think of him reading an improving book, possibly a bit of Sartre or something and having a taste for unusual teas. I imagine whoever is rooming with him saying 'Mike, wanna a brew?' and him saying 'Yeah, do us one of them rose and hibiscus ones' and the other player looking a bit taken aback. I also think he might have been bought as he can play centre half and pass as a defensive plan b for if 'put two massive lads at the back' doesn't work out and to help kill games. 

Cameron Antwi: Where's this lad been hidden? Who knew we had a lithe, energetic and intelligent midfielder who could play the Kante' role* with discipline and no little skill? Get him in the EFL cup games if he's not going on loan. 

*I'm sure the 'Kante role' is a modern affectation and is basically a midfielder that tackles a lot and is decent. Like Nobby Stiles or David Batty for example. It sounds good though. Makes Antwi sound classier. 

Forwards: 

CJ Hamilton: Alongside Maxwell, the key player who I don't think we can live without. This lad is that impressive so far, I don't want to jinx him or write about it in a public place where people from other clubs can see it. I often rail against the money in the game, but the influx of foreign players mean someone like CJ is still in Div 3 at 25, where 25 years ago, he'd be a league higher. If he keeps playing like he is, then we'll be a league higher and trying to hang on to him. He can't possibly be as good as his best every week, but I think, no matter what, he'll terrify defences and open space for others. Two feet, pace that's absurd without looking like he's trying and surprisingly good footwork and technique for a player I originally had down as 'dead fast but that's it' on first sight. 

Bez Lubala: Gets the ball and runs. Like he's on a magnetic course to the goal. Runs and runs. He doesn't seem the finished article but could be a bit of a raw gem. My prediction is that Bez will get a bit of stick, until he turns a game around with two goals in the last 10 minutes and then everyone will love him. He seems very lovable. 

Jerry Yates: Some had him down as the new Ormerod, I've got him down as the upgrade on Chris Long at the moment but with the potential to step up to Brett levels in time. He leads from the front, he demonstrates the ethos of Critchley team - every ball is chased down, he plays for the unit, not for himself. He needs a goal and I'm sure one will come. His penalty taking suggests he's not unduly worried but his touch looks a little like he's trying slightly too hard which is an odd critique to make of a player in a lot of ways. I also think Yates is a player who will shine with a crowd. He's wholehearted, he's full blooded, he'll put keepers under pressure. On telly, that effort doesn't shine through as it does in the ground and those kind of players are charged by the energy of the crowds appreciation of them playing the way they would play if they were wearing the shirt. 

Gary Madine: The return of the real goal machine in his 10 minute cameo against Swindon was most welcome. Where was the uninterested fella who'd trotted about in pre-season and against Barrow? Who is this intelligent deep lying forward using his strength to win and shield the ball then his excellent all round vision to link with the explosive and tricky players around him? Why, it's the real GOAL MACHINE! 

Madine in the middle, Yates wide? It might just work. He's like something you find in the cellar that you bought, didn't quite work out how to use it, then stuck it down there. One day you get it out and properly read the instructions and it's an epiphany! It's not crap after all, it was you, not using it as it was intended! 

He'll probably mostly come on when Yates is knackered though. 

Oliver Sarkic: Looked grand early in preseason. I don't know enough about him to say much. I don't really know where he's supposed to play, but I hope it's not as a 'false 9' because despite all the leading clubs playing it, I'm still deeply sceptical about the practice. Seems like hipsterism to me. Need to see more of him to remember what he does but it feels a bit like we bought him, then bought someone better to play where's he's supposed to play. 

Sullay Kaikai: C'mon Sullay. I feel like he's a forgotten man, even though he's played most of the games. He used to be *the* man, now he's way down the pecking order of people we get excited about. Like a Christmas present you've grown out of perhaps. He's Premier League skill level at times and I suggest you watch what he does when he drops deeper. He's got a terrific eye for a pass. What he's not done is ghost past three or four, looking entirely unstoppable and then put it in the top corner. That's the thing with Sullay. He can do that and he can look unplayable. If he looks playable but competent, then he's under performing. We have very high standards for him and I don't quite know how his free roaming style fits into a Critch side and whether playing in a more disciplined formation (albeit one that swaps at will) will be the making of him or will crush the unpredictable life out of him. I think we might see a lot of 'Bez for Sullay/Sullay for Bez' substitutions cos they have different strengths and different faults.

Basically, the key question is thus: is Sullay the new Fonz or just waiting to destroy the division? 

Dan Kemp: Looks good, little lad who can player football really well. I like to think he's Gary Madine's new best mate, so unerringly did Super Gaz find him in his cameo and against Barrow. I like to think of the two of them enjoying a ride on the teacups at a fairground, or going to the pub (Gary has a lager and Dan a fizzy drink) but given as the world is deadly again and fun is banned, they probably don't do that. 

The boss: 

Critch has managed a handful of real games and a hand full of preseason games. In every one, aside from the Blackburn game where he just chucked a load of random leftovers on the pitch in any old order, to try and play in a storm, there's been reasons for optimism. 

He's definitely proved he can coach and motivate and that he's no pushover, having cleared out the squad with a certain quiet ruthlessness. He's shown he can drill a particular style and also, to some extent, adapt, having got us playing in a more direct manner after the lovely, but slightly ineffectual way we dominated possession but failed to make too many chances in the first game. 

He's shown he's going to favour the players he signed - which is not a critique, just an observation. That seems right, really. If you buy a player, then give them the time to bed in and come to terms with what you want. 

How will he react when we're outside the window and things aren't going his way? What will he do if someone chucks a strop and he can't send them on loan or release them? Who knows. We cannot say. Similarly, it feels like we'll play a variation of 4-3-3 all year, but we can't know for sure if he's open to tweaking the formation more fundamentally against particular opponents or as a response to a bad run. We can't say if he'll stick stubbornly to particular players or be prone to panic and chop and change. It's all just guess work, but he's accounted well for himself to date and talked with increasing clarity and confidence to the cameras. 

He's done a remarkable job in turning the side from a bit of dreary squad into one where you can't see how all the flair and skill can fit into one team, but we'll see if he's able to coach a side to go for the jugular in the fullness of time. There's no doubt our main issue was pace and movement and now, we've got fast, fast and faster players who run about all the time. Can they put the ball in the net enough? Hopefully. 

I can't quite pin him down. There's something enigmatic about him. He looks like a fella whose most exciting thing in his week is a game of golf on a modestly priced course somewhere near Warrington but he's got this pixie-ish glimmer of mischief in his eyes. He reminds me of someone (no, not Paul Daniels) who I can't put my finger on.

There's a sense that if the Blackpool squad were recast as mythical beings in a fantasy world (and why the hell not?), whilst CJ would be a winged horse, the Goal Machine a minotaur and Ollie Turton, a steady league 1 right back, Critch would be some kind of guide figure who knew more than he was letting on who you just had to trust. 

It's all good. 

utmp


Saturday, September 19, 2020

A Crowd! Goals! The Mighty vs Swindon




Fucking Covid. Track and trace doesn't work. It's a NATIONAL DISGRACE!

Except it does.

On the very day when I get sent tickets to go and see the Mighty I get told I have to isolate. I've been tracked and traced. Not only am I in the select few who can watch live football, I'm also in the select few for whom the system works. I should buy a lottery ticket.

I know I could go, but mostly, I don't want to kill anyone and even if Covid is a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese to give Bill Gates control of the world via phone signals and dead bats it's all a moot point. I've been sent home from work and people I work with and who are more important than me (and who I probably can't afford to bribe) go to the game.

Therefore, whilst I spend an hour or so planning to dress in a fake nose and glasses or as a devout lady of the muslim faith, I send my tickets back and I'm stuck at home with the rest of the iFollow plebs rather than basking in the exclusivity of the Bloomfield sun and watching the greatest spectacle on earth live and in the flesh. 

Fucking Covid. 

----

In the opening few minutes Swindon are looking the better footballing team. Pool are driving long passes and Keshi being really irritating, a proper horsefly footballer, kicking away the legs of their best player and inciting Anthony Grant (who has a bit of a feel of a black Andy Morrison) to square up to him. You'd hate him if he wasn't ours. You love it that he is. 

A Robson free kick swings and hangs, Marvin leaps but it just doesn't quite come off. The curl of the ball and the timing of the jump work against each other and it's one of those moments where what you visualised doesn't quite emerge. 

Pool can't scramble the ball away and Swindon punish them with a couple of swift passes and Jonny Smith is running at Mitchell, beating him all ends up, but he curls his shot just wide, kissing the outside of the post. 

The game is alive. Ethan Robson is by far Pools' best player. Crunching tackles, simple balls and raking passes. No one else is really clicking but I wish I was there. The small crowd looks weird and though everyone is spaced out and it's clearly the sound of a small ground, the shouts, the applause and the heartfelt attempts to get a bit of chanting going make all the difference. 

Hamilton has a couple of moments where it looks as if it might open up for him but either the ball isn't quite right or he's bundled out of it. 

The game is muscular and high paced. It's like a Premier League game but without the extra yard of pace or bit of guile that makes a lot of effort into a good game. Fitness might count for a lot if it keeps going like this. He who tires loses. 

Pool's first really nice move of the game takes 25 mins to emerge. Keshi bursts through by force of character, then runs hard, driving up the middle, he exchanges a one two with Yates before releasing Ward who crosses well but finds no one quite able to finish. The loose ball is picked up by Lubala but he gets caught between crossing and shooting and the chance has gone curling harmlessly out of play. 

Swindon respond with their own rapid foray forward but they too can't muster a shot despite a dangerous ball across the box. 

Good work from Ward winning the ball in midfield leads to another half chance. The ball is worked round and eventually returned to Ward in the corner, he does really well to produce a lovely deep cross that is 6 inches too deep for a back peddling Bez to head with intent, having to settle for ballooning it over the bar whilst falling backwards.  

You can feel the game turning to Pool and the crowd are urging them on. Oh, that feels good. The surge of noise and the players responding. It's an electric thrill beyond compare. C'mon Pool!... Another move is only undone by a slip from Hamilton and Yates not quite reading a lovely through ball. 

Swindon look like our fans worst fears about us. Tippy tappy playing out as they give away possession under excellent pressure from first Yates then Hamilton but Lubala can only shoot weakly, shaping like he was going to crack it, but scuffing it instead. 

The game swings back to Swindon and in the second of a couple of nice moves, a deep cross to the far post is nodded just wide after their winger sent Turton to chase shadows. It's improving as a game and we're being tested.  

Ward releases Hamilton who teases his man, flirting with the idea of crossing, toying with the idea of taking him on, before pulling it back. We indulge in a short spell of "give everyone a pass on the edge of the box" - a game we played a lot of against Plymouth before Yates loses patience with that and works a bit of space but can't keep his effort down. 

They're good players but c'mon, don't over football it lads. Scent the blood, go for the neck! 

A minute long move that starts with a Mitchell run and ends with the same player putting in a perfect cross sees Hamilton leap and not quite reach it... Grant Ward is sliding in and definitely scoring until Anthony Grant makes a perfect block 

At times you can see why we wanted him, but at others, he looks a bit heavy and not the light and lithe style Critch loves. 

Then...

Bez is in possession on a run to nowhere in particular but his effort has dragged the defence out of shape and the ball pops to Hamilton who is away in a fraction of second. He's free, 12 yards out on an angle and he smacks it home as if the keeper wasn't there. 

1-0! We fucking scored!!!

Chissy responds to our first goal in over 300 minutes by telling the nation off about behaving themselves in relation to Covid. It's 50% Partridge, 50% deputy head teacher. 

It's almost 2 when another great Mitchell run ends with a neat ball to Lubala who quickly lifts a simple ball across that Yates cant quite bundle home. 

Moments later Anderson is doing brilliant work to feign a shot but then stroke a pass to Bez. This time Lubala's cross to Yates is even closer to being forced home. 

The half is nearly done but it's Anderson again, he's grown into the half and is looking great. He plays a right wing cross and Nottingham of all people has a free header, all he has to do is glance it but he's a centre back and it shows as the ball pops over the bar.  

---- 

Pool didn't start well and Swindon were really good in short spells but the goal has given us real confidence and we've looked really dangerous in the final ten minutes. 

Bez is a bit of a chaos engine. I question a lot of his decisions but I love his energy and he's grown into the game as have a number of Pool players. If Kaikai is motivated by the sort of desire Bez has shown today, then whether or not Bez is the answer will be a moot point because if Sullay's talent had this sort of application then we'd be up by Christmas with both him and CJ in the side and firing. He's like a little Armand. A totally different player, but he does what he does and he keeps doing it, even when it's going wrong. He's got a sort of wind up toy quality, haring about in unpredictable ways and though he's not looked quite up to scratch, I think he's got a bit of something about him that has its own merits even though it's not as slick or aesthetic as it could be. 

----

A long ball forward and Hamilton is too quick for his man and at the byline. He'll pull it back now. This lad is something else though and instead he simply cuts back between two players and hammers it past the keeper at the near post. So easy. It's like a goal from a computer game when you've got the fastest player on the pitch and there's nothing the other team can do. Who the fuck is Cristiano Ronaldo? How's that for hyperbole eh? Don't care, he's class. Love him. 

His first hatrick chance comes shortly after as the Swindon keeper punches weakly at a corner and the ball drops to him but he can't keep it down. 

The pesky villain Brett Pitmann (a kind of poor man's Billy Sharp in terms of scoring against us and not signing for us) joins the action and time looks to have taken its toll on him. He looks slightly rotund. He has the aire of a man who fixes photocopiers for a living and a penchant for a donut. He's not quite up their with Steven Fletcher in looking alarmingly like a real person but he's on his way.  

Lubala is heading for goal, beating one but fouled by the second. Anderson steps up. He's looked like he wants to make a point all afternoon and he narrows his eyes, visualises the net bulging, takes a long run and strikes it harmlessly into the north. Please let Robson take a free kick. 

Swindon don't really muster a proper attack in the first 15 minutes but shaky passes from Nottingham are what twice gives them the nearest thing to an opportunity. 

Like the first half, nothing much happens for a bit. Both sides mount the start of attacks but the teams cancel each other out. I distract myself by observing Chissyisms and note 'picked his pocket' and 'one of my hobby horses' though this week, he only says 'on the island' once. 

Suddenly Swindon have a little period and maybe we're not as comfortable as we thought. Hallam Hope side foots, hits the inside off the post and rolls right along the goal line but not quite in. We let them walk it across our box and they didn't really have to work for that. I'm edgy again. 

Lubala does well beating one and then showing awareness (not always what we've seen to date) to not take on the second but to slide Mitchell in. The left back who has played really well brings a good stop from the keeper but a square pass would have left Yates with a tap in. 

Hamilton is again denied a hat trick as he races on to a ball that breaks kindly after a crunching Robson 50/50 tackle but despite his pace, the keeper just gets their first. He doesn't even look like he's trying to run as fast as he does. He just goes faster than everyone else. 

Hurray, it's the the GOAL MACHINE! The knackered Yates comes off after doing everything but score. 

Great work immediately from our Gaz winning possession just inside their half. He feeds Hamilton who unselfishly finds Madine again but the ball across isn't quite right to Kemp and though Robson gets a shot from the edge of the box it doesn't quite turn into what looked like a certain chance for a third.  

Great hold up play again from Madine though 30 seconds later and he links with Kemp nicely. This is more like it from him. I like this Gary Madine a lot.  

The ref falls over! The crowd (the CROWD!) cheer then Hamilton falls over too and the prone referee whistles for a free kick from the floor. What a moment. Look it's Gaz! He's like a tank idling as he waits, then he steps back slowly and accelerates into his kicking stride - its like the pull back and release of a cannon and his shot is going in! He's going to score! 

The wall blocks it and the perfect image in my mind crumbles to dust. Never mind. Head up Gary, go again. 

Ward who has been excellent today, clips deep ball from close to the right hand corner to find the arriving Robson who smashes it brilliantly on the volley against the bar. The ball bounces down but not over the line. Robson deserved a goal. He's been great every minute of every game. 

Madine and Kemp are like best friends forever as they play lovely one touch football. What's Gary had on his cornflakes today? Kemp runs around in the corner, we're doing that thing of still chasing down everything. Notts (a centre back) runs the ball down in the corner of their half in the 93rd minute like a winger and we look in good shape. 

The final whistle blows

----

Applause rings out, all is good in the world. The sprightly little imp that is Neil Critchley is all twinkly eyes and smiles as he shares a joke with the Goal Machine and hugs and handshakes with the rest. Big Marvin and Bez look like kids as the little lad jumps in delight and the big lad hugs him. We won! 

CJ actually didn't stand out so much apart from the two moments where he really did and that's why I rate him. He's intelligent enough not to just run every time and to use his team mates and sometimes do the simple thing. Grant Ward and Ethan Robson were probably my pick of rest for the whole 90 minutes. Ward looked really classy today and where against Plymouth I felt he was one runner/silky player too many, he really found space and probed and prompted today. Yates has absolutely worked his socks off and done what he does. He needs that goal. Everything seems to go just behind him or not to bounce quite right or be 2 inches too high.  Mitchell looked really good going forward, a genuine touch of class and exactly the right fit for what we need. No one was bad (though Bez has to match sheer effort with a bit more learning, and I'm sure he will) - I'm warming to Ekpiteta who has looked calmer in the real stuff than he did in pre season.  

The one question is. Where was Sullay? 

Swindon didn't look a bad side but I don't think they could keep up with us. They did well for half an hour but only really managed one effort after that point. Again, for a dodgy defence we did well and we imposed our game on them and once we'd got them pinned back, they couldn't get out. 

Fucking Covid. I could have been there.

Y'know what tho? I've been in an awful mood for the last two days. I've been raging and ranting and stuck in the house, feeling like I'm under home arrest and forced to log into a computer terminal for ten hours a day, then just stare at a wall. It's shite and maybe I'm a compliant drone and this is all a test to find out who is and isn't and I'm failing in my duty to march to the nearest shop draped in a confederate flag and cough all over everyone in the name of sweet freedom and liberty. I dunno. I'm a simple being. Such things are beyond me.  

Right now, none of that matters and I'm happy cos the Mighty are off and when we're good, we're very good. 

That will do nicely. 

Hope I ain't got Covid. But who cares about that? We won. 

utmp



The Golden Egg - RIP Macclesfield and a lot more.

This piece is a work in progress (though it reads as a 'complete' piece, comments or contributions are most welcome. 


How do you respond to the circumstances? How do you react to the death of clubs and the parlous state of many others? Football is a whole world and it feels permanent and rooted deep in the fabric of the world. 

And yet...

Part 1: Woolworths FC

Football is in danger of becoming like the high street. A ghostly place where names that once were famous are no more, replaced by boarded windows and whitewash. Betting shops and vape emporiums are all that break the monotony of the multinational brands, the centre ever contracting, the fringes falling into a decaying, crumbling miserable post everything entropy.


any town.


Football is a mere symbol for other more pressing social concerns. An every growing inequality and the margins becoming more extreme. Apathy and distraction rule the waves. Does football matter at all? No. 

But Yes. With a capital letter. If a world can't even organise a game, then what chance have we got for the real stuff?

Macclesfield have gone, following Bury into oblivion. Pheonix clubs may rise. but it's a long road back and when you're locked out of your home, the street is cold. Other clubs teeter on the precipice and a long winter of uncertainty and existential dread awaits.


any town


Belts have been tightened. Leagues have legislated to deflate wages but only the lowest earning players take the hit. Like independent traders in the shadow of chain stores, they're brought to ruin by trying to compete in a market that is rigged against them. The answer of 'be less ambitious, offer your customers less' only strengthens the hold on the market of those who are dominant.

Hands are rung and bad ownership and bad governance is cursed. It IS a curse but it's a product of the long term circumstances and the structure of the game. 

What sane person is going to see the prospect of trying to take Rochdale, Accrington, Grimsby, Leyton Orient, Swindon Town, Northampton, Halifax Town (or whoever) to glory as realistic or advisable?. Football is money pit  and there are smaller risks and higher rewards elsewhere.

"We've got Simon Sadler, he knows what we're after - but if he goes, we're fucked" as the Blackpool chant sung to Slade's 'C'mon Feel the Noize' (sort of) goes.

The authorities seek desperately for someone, anyone, to take on clubs. It's like an animal shelter with too many dogs and not enough adopters. Give the mutt to the dodgy guy and let it live or lethal injection? Money launderer or electric chair? The choices just aren't there cos who wants the mangy dog? Who wants to sink their money into a hopeless case? Sure, there's kind souls out there, but there's only so many people who want to blow their hard earned money on vets bills. Like dogs, there's other causes than football, other sorts of profit and other more worthy philanthropic missions. There's more to the problem than a fit and proper test will fix. 


investment opportunity

And what do we do? We blow hot air and sit on our hands whilst nothing happens and nothing changes. A whole world of campaigns and bright ideas, of optimistic noises and earnest newspaper columns, blogs and podcasts and nothing actually happens.

The churn goes on, the gap gets bigger, the wages expand and contract and all the while we shout into the wind and all the well meaning words are blown away, lost in the white noise of analysis and pseudo controversy. Drowned in the sea of rolling news designed for flashbulb attention spans who need something new. Something new. Something new. 

The FA have essentially washed their hands of the domestic game and show no interest at all in it.


The EPL is a corrupt behemoth whose malign influence is global. They're like an ever hungry beast that won't stop eating till it bursts or it finds it's devoured everything and there's nothing left to gorge on but itself.

The EFL are incompetent and have their hand tied behind their back by structures, forever in the shadow of the higher tier and hamstrung by the ambitions of half their members to escape. A governing body that is run by people who don't really want to be part of it. Who thought that is a good plan?


The game is rotten. The money that has been grabbed and jealously guarded for so long stinks the place out. It turns the stomach and eats away at the memory of anything that might once of been true about the game in terms of romance or escapism or locality and place. The sheer beauty of Bale's football is less important than the size of his wages or the saga of his agent.



it's easy to lose sight of what matters

It's become such a tired and tiring media driven sponsorship and branding exercise that people have forgotten that it was ever anything more than that. And no, back in the day, it wasn't perfect and in fact, it was often shit but fuck me, it wasn't this grasping, self important circus that it has become.


That's not the fault of Kevin De Bruyne or James Rodriguez. It's even not the fault of Manchester United fans, tempting as it is, to blame them.

It's the fault of the people whose psychopathy (an alternative term for 'business acumen') dictates that they don't care about the sport as a whole in any way, shape or form. It's down to those who plot, scheme and ultimately legislate to break away. Those who set up structures that ensure the winners get the most money. Those who create competitions that all but guarantee those with that money can perpetuate their success ad infinitum. 


They've done that and feel entirely justified in having done so, because consumers like big names and big names cost big money. But that's ok. Because brands like to sponsor things consumers like and to enable that to work, that means closing the door on competition and doing away with upsets and romance. It means telling the world that less competition is more competition and doing it with a straight face. 

These actions have created a discourse around football that sees us discussing net spend and dissecting tiers of financial payments as if they're sporting achievements. Who made 4th place important and survival at all costs the default mode of half the top flight? Who made escape at any cost the default mode of half the second tier. Who sucked the carefree absurdity out of football and made it serious, po-faced and anxious?



Fifth place club and top four.


'the parachute payments are over!'

What Covid has highlighted is blindingly obvious. The elite don't care. (You can read into that what you want on an allegoric or social level.)


It shouldn't be a surprise given the direction of travel of the last few decades, but in the world of #footballfamily and saccharine sentiment I naively thought we might just possibly have had a modest re-balancing of finance to help secure the long term future of the broader game.

After all, the big clubs owe their global appeal to being part of the famously (historically) competitive English game. A structure, famed and revered around the globe, whose strength comes from a combination of tradition and depth. That's precisely what separates English football from say, the MLS or the Chinese Super league.


It seems daft in hindsight but I stupidly thought for a few weeks, there was a small chance that the EPL might realise that. It might acknowledge that it isn't successful in complete isolation. It's, at least in part, successful because it piggy backs on what went before and what still exists around it. 


The EPL failing to acknowledge its global appeal is at least in part down to the wider football culture, the unique 'authenticity and tradition' of the whole English game is like Noel Gallagher denying the Beatles helped him write his songs.



"Lennon? mate, totally irrelevant, never heard of him."

But no. There is no sense of belonging to a wider community. No debt to the past or acknowledgement of the existence of a wider framework for their success. Because there's no legal requirement to do so, there's not a second of thought to any moral imperative. It's all about the money. The money right now. As much of it as possible, all to them. 

They only care about maximising their revenue to service the wage bills of elite clubs. 

Which in turn creates the brand image of those clubs and the league.

Which in turn satisfies sponsors and advertisers who know their money will be connected to the glamour of superstardom. 

That's it. That's the entire moral or ethical code of elite level football. Take as much as you can and spend it as wildly as you can. Fuck lower league clubs, fuck non league clubs and fuck grassroots. 


"Sorry football. No, we, the elite cannot afford to give you 1%, 3%, 5% or 7% of 'our' money because we've got our own costs to service and pockets to line. We're not like you. We're not your brothers. Tighten your belts and eat your gruel and if some of you die of malnutrition, don't blame us, blame yourself and your own lack of ambition."


It's not quite the text of a press release from the EPL but it's more or less the subtext of every statement they've made on money for a long, long time. 


RIP Macc. RIP Bury. RIP whoever is next. 


"It's just a few bad owners. There's no real problem. Clubs just need to manage themselves. Move along, don't look at the balance sheets, look at a glossy package of highlights and have a sit in an executive box and a smoked salmon canape instead. There. Isn't that nice? Haven't we made football much better, much shinier, much glossier? Who needs Macclesfield and Bury anyway? How many executive boxes do they have? Hmm? I bet you'd have to eat a pie there and that would be disgusting. Probably don't even serve Chablis..."


It's high time we stopped playing ball and accepting things as they are. We, the fans, the people in the game, those in the media who aren't blind to what is happening are cursed by our own addiction. We love football. We love it so much that no matter how poorly it's run, the weekend is not the weekend without football. 


That shouldn't be an excuse. Look at it this way. You're an addict. So sort out the dealer who is giving you a shit fix. It might be better to get clean, but if you're not going to do so, at least get the good stuff. 


Calls to action, especially in words and online always have a certain shrill quality, they get blown on the wind and forgotten. They get lost in the noise. Remember, we love football. Remember all it is and all it can be. A stupidly simple game that satisfies like no other. 


If enough people can care enough the balance of power can shift. If lockdown showed anything, aside from the complete antipathy of the elite towards the fate of the 'everyone else', it showed that the spectacle of football is the occasion and the game is a mere facilitator. 


We have the power. Without us, they are nothing. There's answers that can fix the problem that are in the hands of the football authorities, but there's other options we don't need to grovel for. 


Part 2: Action 


EFL clubs should refuse to play the FA Cup, boot the u23 teams out the EFL trophy and ban the Premier League from the league cup. Let's just stop pretending the opportunity to be patted on the head by a media that is mainly hand in glove with the hype and shite is worth anything anyway.

At best, lip service is paid to the plight of anyone not fortunate enough to be feeding on the teat of multinational capital and it's all just an opportunity to get the shit kicked of you by City's kids and watch as your efforts and dedication are made to look pathetic by the power of money so big, you can barely imagine the numbers involved.



All in favour of giving Nathan Shaw a squad place?


What's the fucking point in being in cups and league pyramids anyway? It's sooner or later going to be Jeff Bezos Utd vs Chinese Government FC. That sounds far fetched but given the sums of money involved in the top echelons and the rate at which that money keeps inflating, they'll be the only powers rich enough to influence the English game. We might as well just give up pretending we've got any hope of taking any joy from not really competing in that world. 


The game as whole has plenty of money, even in these viral times. It's just ever more wrapped up in satisfying the gnat like attention spans of armchair fans salivating over the next hype infused pseudo soap opera event (or as we used to call them, football match)


And all the while it gets further away from the reach of Accy, of Rochdale, of Rotherham, of us, of everyone who ain't on the gravy train and that's frankly most of football. The train has got a LOT of gravy, but not much room for passengers.



Why don't people say 'sailing the gravy boat?'

And yet... people keep buying into it. Shelling out money to support the empirically verifiable effect this all has on football. Arguing that 'it's not as bad as all that', when the evidence is incontestable. It's not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of fact. The gap is wider, the winners are less varied geographically and in terms of club size. Clubs are in greater financial trouble in greater numbers than since who knows when, whilst a few clubs are making sums of money (and spending sums of money) that are unprecedented. All of that is there, in black and white. It's not my perception, it's honours lists, league tables and publicly available accounts that scream it loudly and clearly. 

If you think that's hysteria, a Government report in June, stated very clearly that at least 15 league clubs were in a perilous state. That's a lot of clubs to lose. We're not talking 'need to sell their players to balance their books and probably get relegated as a result' trouble. We're talking 'no club, ground bulldozed, Phoenix club starts in the park' type issues. 

Why the fuck anyone who follows a team that isn't in the top 6 gives good money to support the way football is, is beyond me. You might as well just get a wad of crisp tenners every month and stick one of them each in envelopes marked with addresses like 'The Glaziers, Old Trafford' and 'Roman Abramovich, a superyacht somewhere' 


It sometimes feels like football fans maybe don't actually want football to be football. That maybe they don't subscribe to the ethos that a good game of football is a competitive one. I'm beginning to think people like power games, global politics, fashion shoots and celebrity gossip more than a bunch of lads having a kickabout. The latest absurd Premier League kits, like the City Paisley print one and the Utd zebra print kit kind of back that up. Football has become a catwalk.  


It's a delusional pursuit football. It always is, it always was. Most teams won't win in any given season Even winning or losing is essentially pointless. Support is an illusory feeling of participation in something. Our choices of who we support are essentially arbitrary decision based on the luck of our birth, family history or preference of colour, an accidental encounter or whatever. Only proper knobheads actively choose their team. I support Blackpool because my dad took me and it is where my entire family are from as well as where I've worked for nearly 20 years as well as lived. I have a very soft spot for Everton because my Auntie's ex boyfriend took me there a few times. These things chose me. What is there, really to celebrate about the success or failure of either club that reflects on me?

The relentless selling of the game as vital, as every match as important, crucial, serious ties into its positioning as a commodity rather than a sport. Selling something requires you to demonstrate that people 'need' it. If people don't need it, you have to make them think they do. Football has done a remarkable job of transforming itself from a dowdy game, into a global phenomenon onto which people project their identity. People on social media will rage about the 'need' for their club to spend £100 million or face a 'wasted' season. People will actually cry in frustration at their club finishing 5th instead of 4th and insist that the only way to solve this crisis is to pay someone £80,000 a week to get them over the line.

Success matters, for success breeds money and money is the key to more success. Listen to a phone in after any match. It's a joyless, humourless and angry experience and by and large the calls will split into two simple camps. Firstly, people furiously decreeing that player X or Y is a disgrace and needs to be immediately replaced with a big name player for lots of money and unless that happens, it's a disgrace and a betrayal of everything the club stands for. Secondly, smug fans of a club who've done well, talking about how the big name players are worth every penny and maybe speculating on how their value has increased. 

For me, the best moment of the last game I watched was the referee falling over and giving a foul whilst sat down. I can't be alone in finding the constant demands that eye watering sums of money are spent, quite alienating. And yet... What else are supporters supposed to do? When the top league (and hence the pyramid) is set up in such a way that success is rewarded with money and thus becomes self fulfilling, there really is no other way to get success other than spend money. Football fans want to win. They always have, but now the stakes are raised and the business of competing is far more serious. Clubs are like corporations, entire departments dedicated to wringing every penny out of supporters and scouring the globe for every possible market to find more.

It's little wonder that as fans are bled dry and new fans bred who have no obvious connection to the club, locality or the occasion of a live game that the way we support teams and what we expect of them has changed. Observing fandom has become strangely similar to the bizarre experience of going online and watching people arguing over which brand of phone is better or not. Genuine anger can be expressed over which phone has the better processor or the sharper screen and insults traded over 'what sort of person' thinks that Apple, Google or Samsung is the best and what, consequently, that says about them.

Similar arguments can be witnessed between fans, siding with or slating players and ranking various assets in order of value. Fans have always had 'banter' and its ranged from humorous regional stereotyping to full on knife fights and murder. What's new, is the idea that somehow, like a choice of phone, a choice of football club reflects 'you' and thus, when accused of being 'shit' rather than chuckle and respond with another insult or wry comment, or a fist, this kind of fan internalises it and demands angrily that his club fixes their 'shitness' immediately. The fan is either bitter that they've spent an exorbitant and ever increasing amount of money in an increasingly sterile and joyless stadium or they've never been to the stadium, perhaps never even the county, or even the country and to them, the club is a brand they've adopted and they're angry the brand hasn't kept up it's standards. 

In this context, it's hardly surprising some younger fans seem to hitch themselves to players. It's an even more direct form of iconography and the world is full of CR7, Messi and Mbappe loyalists. Such a notion seemed absurd a generation ago, but given the level of branding around individuals and the constant lauding of their skills and wealth, it's hardly surprising. 

Football is just a game. It's a game played against an invasive media backdrop that constantly hypes it up as 'mattering' and demanding an emotional response. Everything is important and the answer to everything is money. 

Where that leaves the clubs without any is a matter of no concern. They've got no money. They are therefore unimportant. 

It's a game that is wallpapered with analysis and facts. A game which has dedicated TV and radio channels aplenty, has spawned podcasts and servers full of online articles and yet by and large, it manages to hide the facts of its issues. You can easily find out the last time Tottenham beat a team with an S in their name on a Tuesday night with an Argentinian on either subs bench. You can look at a heat map telling you the left back played at left back easily enough. These things are treated as insight and given value. Hours are spent on them, whole days go by debating the relative value of player A and player B or the possibility that player C might be intending to move clubs and therefore what will happen to player D. 

There's nothing wrong with that. I can bore for England on my team and how it's playing and what I think of the players or formations. What is problematic, is when we're in a time in which many clubs are facing an existential crisis and many of those that aren't could be but for the whim of their owners, we shouldn't ONLY be talking about that. 

If you ask why are Liverpool starting a season where they were quite brilliant and finished way ahead of everyone else with more money from the Premier League than anyone else and what impact that has on the spending habits of the rest of the teams, then there's generally silence. I've listened to my share of football phone ins, podcasts and read my share of newspapers - I've very rarely heard that question asked. 

Ask why clubs are being wound up for less money than a third or fourth choice GK that never plays earns for chucking himself about in training for a bit, and in the main the football media is simply not geared up or prepared to give time to that question. We have a largely shallow media that hasn't adapted to the serious business football has become. Everything is 'that's the way it is' and on to the next event.

Why? Money, viewers, advertisers, sponsorship and market share. Football is a big earner for the media and don't bite the hand that feeds. Who cares about Bury and Macclesfield anyway? They don't get on telly much do they?  


It's common sense! Give the biggest clubs more and that will make things better FOR EVERYONE! OBVIOUSLY!!! ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD QUESTION THIS!!!!!

I don't understand why we (those of us who actually watch games in the flesh) are financing this delusion. 

More of us watch football outside the Premier League than within it. Even then more of us watch teams within the Premier League that have little or no prospect of success in the short or medium term future than watch the top 5 or 6 clubs. As John Nicholson put it, in his brilliant book 'Can we have our football back' - What's the point in Everton? (and indeed anyone below them.) 

By paying for Sky or BT we're actively paying for the teams above us to receive extra money (for that's how the prize money is allocated and the prize money comes from TV.) This not only makes them better but also increases the costs for our side of keeping up with them. It seems really odd. It's like finding a TV programme you like, and then paying the wages of a bad writer to spoil the episodes every week or entering a running race, paying for your opponent's steroids and clean urine and then weighing yourself down with a lead vest. Why would you do that?

And what do you get for your money? A stack of analysts to tell you what you should be able to work out yourself from watching the game. It's fucking football not the large hadron collider, metaphysics or the writing of James Joyce, I don't need 5 people in a studio to explain it and I'm a rank average human. You don't need it either.


It's football - We'd got it by the time we were 8 and why grown adults need it spoon feeding to them is beyond me. You kick the ball towards the goal and the lad in the green shirt can use his hands. That's more or less it. Offside can be a bit tricky but give it five minutes and you've got it. Don't kick it over the lines on the edge or trip people up. That's the penalty box. Now you understand football. The end. 


It's as if we've come to believe that without the TV companies and their money, football simply couldn't function. This is a kind of collective insanity. A kind of Stockholm syndrome where the TV companies assert their power and we, supporters (especially those of us who don't support the top few clubs) accept we're trapped, even though the door is right there and there's nothing to stop us walking through it. 


There's nothing wrong with TV, there's nothing wrong with paying to watch TV, but there is something wrong when the appeal to foreign TV markets is the driving principle behind the governing bodies decisions and TV companies can dictate everything from fixture lists and kick off times to (seemingly) the division of the game into 4 quarters to increase the potential for in game advertising. 


That's not the only fundamental change to actual game. The actual game should be off limits to broadcasters but the tying of refereeing to TV technology is an example of where it steps over the line and ceases to report and inserts itself at the heart of the spectacle. 


It seems like a naked power grab, a crude attempt to dilute the live experience, and attempt to undermine the idea that the paying spectator is the most privileged viewer, being at the game the ultimate experience and replace that with a situation in which the TV viewer actually understands more about what is happening than the person there. 


The shame of a game where the experience of a casual viewer in Newcastle (South Australia) takes precedence over the experience of the actual supporter in Newcastle (England) should be palpable, but it's not evident at all. The outrage at VAR was spread throughout the division, took in all clubs, matchday fans protested, even some of the usually inert media and pundits spoke against it but the EPL was stubbornly resistant to criticism. Because it's their game and they can do with it what they want. 


It's about 'getting it right' - Guess why? 

'because a lot of money rides on these decisions' 


"Money. Again. As much of it as possible. Right now. And if the game has to change because of that, then that's the price we'll have to pay. In fact, it's not a price we'll pay, because we don't even like football. All we like is success, branding, global reach and opportunities for synergy. So fuck football and fuck what fans want because we own it and there's nothing you can do about that. If the physicality, pace and chaos of football occasionally throws up a mistake and if that mistake might perhaps lead to one of our leading brands losing market share, then we'll drive the physicality, pace and chaos from the game..."


That's again, not quite a statement from the EPL and various clubs but it could well be. In a world where people can read rhetoric for what it is, that's how people would read their words. 


There's no reason to accept this. 


We don't need video dementors stopping the game and splicing together slow motion replays at pixel blurring levels of magnification to see whether the rules were followed by the width of a blade of grass. It's not that important. A game is a game is a game. It makes no sense at all to spoil a game in the name of improving the game. To actively make the game worse to make it better is a surreal masterstroke of deception and the game is clearly worse for VAR. 



Exclusive images from inside Stockley Park as VAR rules on offside call


We need to demand more from the media. Many of us are as glued to that as we are to games and those with a platform and a voice need to start thinking deeper and speaking louder. We need to stop acquiescing with the tightly controlled and heavily spun shallow coverage of football that mistakes 'lots of shallow stuff' for depth. 


All the shite, the liquidy verbal excrement sprayed around, coating the pages of newspapers, sticking in the speakers of radios, sliding down our TV screens and yet no one seems to ever say anything about why the game is, beneath the glittering surface, in a pretty troubling state. 


Very few people seem to ever say anything like: 'Good question Alan: The reason why clubs like Charlton, Oldham, Southend, Wigan and so many others are desperately scrabbling from day to day, the reason why loads of Championship clubs, even big ones, even reasonably successful ones like Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and even, in the non too distant past Leeds United are saddled with creaking finances and teetering on the brink of calamity, playing chicken with creditors catching up with them or selling their assets because their spending is vastly outstripping income and become a millstone of obligation and debt isn't simply 'bad ownership' alone."


'The reason is something like this Alan - we've collectively waived any sense of governance or oversight in favour of a model where everything is ok as long as there's enough money to generate a buzz around a select few teams. And we in the media (that's me and you Alan) feed that model by generating that buzz, cooing and fawning over it because it pays our wages. We've never really gone to task over the slow but steady diversion of the funds towards the top and every time a club goes to pieces, we treat it like a two day story, feign some tears and then get on with churning out crap about Paul Pogba's fucking agent or shitty graphics about what bit of the pitch Gareth Bale runs about on, as if showing people what they can already see in infrared was insight akin to the latest picture from the Hubble telescope"


"All of this apathy and tutting helplessness feeds into the false belief that football is beyond management, that somehow it has just 'become' this way. As if nature itself has formed the circumstances in the manner of a river carving rock to make a channel. This in turn creates supporter apathy and a general belief that things are just the way they are because that's the way they are, even though it's actually relatively easy to see that's not actually true and demonstrate that far from natural forces, the water of progress has flowed in man made channels"


"It's actually very easy to trace the development of the Premier League back to individuals and to see the various human decisions that were taken, first to form it, then to give ever less of the ever growing TV cake out to the wider football party, whilst choosing to collude with Uefa to make European competition favour the sort of self created 'elite leagues' and to cram the fixture list full of the kind fixtures that suit TV companies and sponsors alike."


"That's what happened and it's still happening now. In fact Alan, those driving the game at the top are only going further in that direction and there's no reason why, if we actually care about football as a competition and a social spectacle (and what other reasons are there to care about it if it's not those Alan?) we should be putting rocks through their windows and making their lives hell because they don't give a shit about football, they don't give a shit about supporters and the game is a mere platform for their ambitions, egos and a canvas upon which to paint the names of whoever gives them the most money" 


"To be quite honest Alan, Football has become an allegory for the general hands off liberal governance of the world which actively propagates multinational monopolies which in turn strangles localism and disempowers individuals by removing their choices from them as local markets wither, reducing their consumer and employment choices alike forcing them to engage with global forces for their needs, whether they wish to or not. In case you didn't follow that Alan, the big clubs are the monopolies and the little clubs are the local shops and businesses that fold as a result of trying to compete with them"

"Whilst we may not be empowered as individuals to dismantle the systems that govern us as a nation or species, it should be entirely possible to disentangle football from this situation, for it is ultimately ONLY A GAME and one that regardless of the scale of financial rewards many millions wish to play and watch. A game is an escape from the rules of daily life, not something that should serve to magnify and re enforce them. Maybe global finance is an inevitability and maybe it's not. But football does not inevitably have to be global finance and the only reason it feels inevitable is because people tell you it is. It's merely a sport and requires only a pitch and a ball and two goal frames. To envisage and thus create a better game, should not be so hard."

3) The nuclear option. Change nothing. Accept it can't be changed. Start a new game. 


If you want what there is, there's a veritable feast of overpaid talent sponsored, pampered, primped and preening. Hyped up and juiced. Ready to go. Have them breathlessly forced down your neck by sycophants whose careers depend on the circus they've hitched their wagon too. It's all yours for a flat monthly fee. Go for it. Fill your boots. I'm not judging. 


But you could have the football itself. You could have the game, the sport, the competition. Simple and magnificent. Run according to simple rules that create stability, With money spread in such a way that creates competition and marketed for the masses via free to air TV. A simple structure where it isn't the end of the world to be relegated. Where the difference between 20th and 21st or 43rd and 44th didn't mean an entire restructure of the club and finances. I reckon we could put it together in a few days and it would work, at least on paper. 


We could literally just walk away and create a new football. If the FA don't care, the EFL are just incapable of a decision or consistency and the EPL just a global brand with the morals of the kind of cunt who justifies offshore tax havens and putting the competitors out of business by fair means or foul then...

Why don't we just make a new football league?


A better one. If costs are controlled then investment by sane people is thus more attractive. Where the football is unpredictable and we put it there for anyone to see, where it is part of a national routine, maybe a game on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon but not dominating TV channels and eating up lives like a fucking freakish inward looking cult of obsession. 


A league where windfalls (let's imagine we get a sponsor or two) are reinvested in savings for supporters, grass roots, and community and players wages are fair, reflecting their skill but not costing clubs their very existence. 


A league where, yes, perhaps the absolute superstars will go abroad and the very elite players choose other options but is that so bad? If you want that, (and who wouldn't wish to see great players play football sometimes?) then it's there. You'll be able to see them. They're just moving leagues, not being sent to Pluto or the Gulag and being erased from history.

If you want to watch Mbappe or KDB or whoever is en vogue that year, then you can subscribe to it should you wish to. If you want to see superstars, does it really matter if the team of global mercenaries are badged with 'Man City' 'New York' or Guangzhou Evergrande? If the answer is 'but Man City feel more 'real'' then it's just evidence that the emotional appeal of the Premier League is down to the history of the English league. The team who plays for Manchester City or whoever it maybe has, with a few notable exceptions, very little to do with any tradition within the club. There's precious little lineage or local identity at play now. Yes, Foden, Yes Trent, Yes, maybe even Ole and a couple of kids, but mostly, it's a shopping basket full of star players, star coaches, star kids poached from other youth systems and paid for by finance that has little or no relation to the place. So, really, does it matter that much where that match takes place? 


A football stadium. Does it matter where?

Was it that awful in the 90s when we watched Italian football and noted that they had a few more superstars than we did? Why do we have to gather them all here? What's so worthy about that? When did 'beating other leagues in international TV rights' become the sole goal and why? Who thought that up and how did they make us all complicit? 

Is having 'the Premier global sporting brand and most marketable league on Earth' worth sacrificing the rest of English football for? That might be hyperbole, but when you list the number of clubs who are in worrying amounts of debt, then it seems less so. The reason for that is simply that the above ambition has been the driving force of the dominant institution in English football for 28 years. 

Football couldn't have stayed in a late 80's timewarp. The Premier League and investment has brought a faster pace, it's brought players who have thrilled and it's made stadiums safer. All of that is fine and good. That doesn't mean we should forever accept that the only way for football to be managed as a sport is thus.  

To repeat again. The success of the Premier League is largely down to what it was borne of. Not the machinations of chairmen or TV executives, but that it took a product that already had immense cachet and gave it a sheen of glamour and monetised it in a way that no one had previously considered. 

The global appeal is based in the fact that English football is the ultimate in 'authentic football.' It's reputation comes from it being the mould from which all other competitive football was formed and it's depth and history gives it a presence on the global stage that no league can compete with. 

The marketing and monetisation has led us to a point where precisely what give the English game it's unique position is in danger. That should lead us to stop and think about whether we're at a point where once again, we need to carefully think about the structure of the game and the rules that underpin it financially. It's had nearly 30 years 'as is' and if they continue in the same direction, the outcomes are starkly obvious. 

What would some competition do to a marketplace where the main product is used to being literally the only game in town? What if there was a more authentic experience? What if it turned heads? What if supporters actually looked at it and said 'why aren't we in that league, this one is shit?' 

I wrote an article recently about player wages. It was illuminating to research it and one stat in particular seems a good place to end. I want you to think in business terms here. I want you to think about efficiency and 'bang for your buck' and all the sorts of phrases that are used by the people who tell you football has to be this way because that's the way it is. If you are my age or older, think back to the old days. If you are younger, go and look up some late 80's football. Choose a decent game to watch or remember, cos there were some. Maybe watch the highlights of Arsenal vs Liverpool in 1989 or Everton 4-4 Liverpool in the FA Cup or whatever floats your boat. Perhaps Liam Brady, Glen Hoddle, David Rocastle, Kevin Sheedy in midfield. Maybe watch the way Alan Hansen linked the midfield and defence or a highlight's clip of Neville Southall being possibly the best keeper who has ever, ever lived. Watch a young Gazza or Chris Waddle. You get the idea. Don't choose Wimbledon and go 'Oh look, football was shit lol' 



How much better is modern football than Chris Waddle? (5 marks, show your working out)

Ok, you've done that. Now, having pictured that think about how much better the game is. It's clearly got more technically skilled players but it certainly had plenty then. English clubs ruled Europe in the early to mid 80s. It wasn't as if the English game was complete shite but we'll accept there has been an improvement because if nothing else, progress to the future usually improves the sport.  

Is it a bit better, a lot better, marginally better or infinitely better?


What number would you put on it? 


Is it 50% better? 17% better? 123% better? Twice as good? Three times? Maybe even some of you will prefer it as it was? I don't know. 

What I'm willing to bet is that you won't say it's 3714% better. 

Why that number? That is the inflation rate that has applied to top flight wages since the dawn of the Premier League. Just ask yourself. Is that a good use of money? Apply the logic of business and question that model. 

If production costs increased by 3714% and the product wasn't unrecognisably better then you'd ask questions. 


The IPL in cricket is an example of what is coming to football. To service the levels of inflation, sooner or later the game will have to find a further new market. It will have to ramp up the drinks breaks, the sponsorship, the constructed narratives and the control over the media. People will watch the global franchise tournament that is the end game of where we're heading. We probably can't stop that and maybe, why should we even try. It's not what I want and I think it's not what millions want either. Unless we stop believing in the authorities that let us down, time and time again, then there's a real danger that's all there is going to be left. The cricket authorities have done little for test cricket or long format domestic cricket. They've just bowed to the money and the broader game is looking exceptionally anaemic. Sometimes it looks as if the cricket bodies treat long form cricket as an irritant in the way of more franchise matches and global short form tournaments. 

Would football really be that different and are we that far away from the sort of invitational super league or FIFA 'ultimate team' style franchise tournament that I can't but feel that the sort of global money that influences football would see as a new golden egg. 


The game doesn't belong to them. It's not their goose. It belongs to us. 


We could make it literally so. Hand wringing won't get us there as it's only got us here so far. Why do we need the FA anyway? We all know the rules by now. 


RIP Macc once again. You had a bad owner but so have so many of us. It's weird how they keep cropping up. Almost as if football attracts them above decent people because it's a hollow, moral free, empty vacuum of greed. 

utmp




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 ...