Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best moment of the year.


Memory is a strange thing. What we remember and what actually happened are two different things. 

In my mind, the goal that grabbed a last second draw against Southend was Curtis Tilt's magnificent overhead kick. The fans who flocked on were drawn by magic of a goal, the quality of which symbolised the once in a lifetime nature of the occasion. 

In reality it was a scruffy moment, in which a Southend defender diverted a fairly harmless header from Tilt (at least that bit is accurate) into the bottom corner of his stranded keeper's net. The goal couldn't really have been less befitting of the occasion if both teams had met up at Squires Gate and tried to work out what the ugliest way to end the game could be.  

The overhead kick was, in fact, against Plymouth Argyle about 3 weeks later. 

The mind does strange things. 

What matters is that it felt like an overhead kick, the most scruffy, 'league oney,' lucky, rubbishy goal you could think of, felt like a run from the half way line, mazy, jinking, several one twos played and then a stunning overhead finish. 

That day was magic. It was one of the all time great days. It was the start of another love affair that some of us thought we might have lost the taste for, the rekindling of a flame for some, the release of hurt and anger for many. There's been many, many words written about it but to walk back into a football ground and know it was no longer mired in toxicity and bile was magical. If the word 'magic' has any meaning, this was it. 

Football is a stupid way to spend your time. It kicks you in the face. In a world of guaranteed quality entertainment via a million channels of the golden age of TV, of virtual reality headsets taking us to the past, the future and every other world we could imagine, football makes little logical sense. 

What makes it worth it is the moment when it goes your way for once. The moment of sheer unconstrained release that a last minute equaliser in a full ground brings, the sense of raw throated joy and the strange, exhausted elation on the way out the ground. 

If I'm honest, I'd all but forgotten what it felt like. 

If I'm honest, I'd all but given up on the mighty.

It wasn't being shit, it wasn't the fall from footballing grace, it wasn't the calamitous reigns of jokers like Lee Clarke or McDonald's tactics of elastication. 


I don't mind being shit, it's going to happen sometimes. I don't even mind terrible managers or hopeless players, at least you can hope for better. I'd grimaced through Hendry, frozen on the terraces watching Worthington servimg up dross. I'd loved the against the odds scrap of King Billy's teams clinging to Division 3.

It wasn't even so much about the 'helpful' storage of club funds in other bank accounts in case the club might need them later or the outright farce of the Riga Revolution. Football is full of con men and shady characters and we've always known the fedora wearer was in it for himself. 

It was the criminalising of the supporters, the horrible, petty inability to rise above what was at worse, playground name calling and at best, genuine heartfelt concern for the best interests of the club. The abuse of power, for powers sake. The destruction of lives, just because they could. 

That's what cut the thread. We weren't just an eccentric club any more, not just penny pinching, frustrating, . We weren't just run by meanness or greed. This was something more. 

Going to away games, not knowing if I was happy or not when we scored. 

Losing interest in going to away games. 

Losing interest in even putting the radio on. 

Losing interest in even looking up the score.

Then, that day in March it all changed. 

There's been thousands of better games of football this year, there's been moments that take the collective breath away (Liverpool's comeback against Barcelona for example) but none of them match a misremembered scruffy own goal in the last minute of what would ultimately turn out to be a pretty meaningless game. 

None of them were as important as that moment. 

None of those goals breathed life back into the corpse of a club. 

None of those games were a collective remembering of the strange magic that football can work on the soul. 

Nothing else that happened in 2019 can even come close. 

I can't even imagine how it felt for those who fought so hard to make it happen. All I did was stop going. Some people did so much more. Some people gave up so much to fight the good fight. There it was, right there in the last seconds, everything you fought for. Limbs, primal screams, on the pitch, tangerine!!! 

Taylor Moore. Take a bow. I will misremember your mistake forever. 

UTMP



Saturday, December 28, 2019

Video Assistant Referees and Mutually Assured Destruction


In League One, we don't have VAR. I really, really don't want it. 

The interrupted moment of pleasure, the application of a cold science to a game built on passion and romance. 

Attending a game with VAR is like attending a rave with a sound limiter that cuts out the music at the exact point you don't want it to. 

VAR is the logical outcome of 25 years of over exposure of football. 25 years of people mistakenly thinking it matters because people on telly talk as if it really matters. 

What really matters about football is that it is a howl in the wind, a deluded punt on chance, a recurring hope for the once in a lifetime, the unexpected, the just about possible. 

What really matters is the release, the primal scream and flying limbs of the goal. Being lost in the crowd. 

What doesn't really matter is whether someone called split decision right in the blink of an eye from 40 yards away. 


Even Mike Dean agrees (above)

It's fast, it's chaotic and every moment of beauty and transcendent skill has a twin moment of miscontrol, misplaced pass or mistimed tackling. 

Trying to iron out the imperfections in the game is like complaining that forest floor is covered in leaves. You fundamentally don't understand the game, if you believe error can be eliminated. 

Hearing experts and executives grown fat on Premier League money chatting earnestly about the importance of the 'integrity of decision making' and ensuring no club suffers or benefits 'from unfairness' doesn't need a very strong sense of irony. 

VAR is only there to give a sense of presence to TV companies - to legitimise their involvement in the game, to ensure that TV football is felt to be more and more part of the very fabric. 

VAR is there to ensure we feel more and more like the game itself is facilitated by TV and not the other way round.  

Things people who are wrong say in support of VAR

A) It's important to get decisions right: 

All that happens is you get a chain of regress back to a previous decision and people moaning about how 'that throw in 30 seconds before was never a throw' - which is even more boring than people moaning about a penalty. 

B) There's a lot of money riding on football these days

This, you stupid fucking square eyed morons, is precisely the problem. Football should be FUN. It should be a GAME! Not some kind of Frankenstein's monster constructed from business values, soap opera and a bit of kicking a ball about. 

We've managed for 131 years to cope without having to stop the game for 45 seconds to decide stuff. 

I don't mind people being paid to play football or people putting money into football but when we get to the point where the very highest pleasure in the game is compromised in case one of the monetary interests is in someway compromised by human error, then I think we've really lost sight of what football actually is. 

'Some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over... It is now! (Or, at least it will be in about 90 seconds after we've analysed it all from every possible perspective)' 

How many great moments in football history would be ruled out by VAR? 

How many kids who fell in love with the breathless tumbling moment of pure chaos after a goal would not have been hooked had that moment been reduced in intensity to a cautious applause and then studious waiting and appraising what went before? 

C) It really should be used in big games because big games matter! 

I have no words to describe the mentality of someone who thinks that the bigger the TV audience, the more important the game. 

In fact, I'd like to see the reopening of Stalin's re-education camps, which would serve to re-educate these subhuman specimens until they are fit to be returned to society. I'd say a minimum of 10 years would be fair. 

You might think this is harsh, but the sort of person who believes that Chelsea vs PSV Eindhoven matters fundamentally more than say, the Dundee derby, Blackpool vs Bolton or a clash between two sides at the bottom of league 2 is not the kind of person I think should be walking freely in the world. 

In fact, for the biggest teams, the least actually rides on the outcome. Lose a Champions League final or a Premier League decider and chances are you'll be there or thereabout next year. 

This is simply mathematically true. Look at the evidence and it's indisputable. 

If you drop out the league, or lose the Conference North playoffs or whatever, then there's much less guarantee that you'll have another shot at it. The finances of smaller teams are far more precarious and if you stopped and actually thought about it for a second, instead of just spouting the lines you've heard on the radio, you'd realise there's a far greater case for the 'smaller' games mattering more. 

D) We have the technology, we should use it. 

An argument that was used to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

It's also commonly assumed that having tried dropping nuclear bombs, the results were, by most sensible measures 'a bit shit' and thus despite having the technology still, generally speaking, most people think it's better not to use it. 

Stretching the metaphor further, whilst nuclear bombs do look cool on telly, if you're actually there when they go off, it's not great. 

In the last two games I've attended I've seen I've seen a penalty given against us that very possibly wasn't a penalty, I've seen a stonewall penalty for us not given and seen a goal ruled out for us that very possibly was a goal. 

So what? That's football and sooner or later we'll get a decision our way and tbh, anyone who actually goes to a game knows how sweet an ill gotten goal can be. 



Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day Hangover: The Mighty vs Accrington Stanley




Christmas is never like the cards suggest it will be.

Boxing Day is a grey affair, the rain is on the verge of becoming sleet as we set off. Spray on the motorway makes driving miserable, but it's ok, because we are off to see the Mighty and today is going to be the day we put things right and wipe away the stain of the turgid display last week.

I know we will, because I have faith and hope and after all, hope is important. Without it, what's the point?

Accrington are a good side to play on Boxing Day - they're not important enough to get really nail bitingly worked up about, but they're not completely random either. They're the Fleetwood Town it's alright to admire a bit because unlike Fleetwood, they haven't had it on a plate. They are a sort of perennial ongoing miracle, turning the toughest of deals and geographic locations (Accrington is essentially a railway viaduct and an ASDA between two much bigger, more successful football clubs) into a backs against the wall, never say die club that somehow seems to unearth enough talent in the cast offs it feeds on to be actually pretty decent every year.

We're the Mighty though and I'm confident, we're due a good game, due a good win and there's players in our team I'm sure will come good today. I'm sure they will.

From the kick off we move the ball quite well, get a few crosses in then Thompson bursts into the box and goes down. From the other end, you can see, in the way he looks like he's snapped in half mid air, that he was looking for it and there's a bit of aggro and he's booked. It feels a bit like he was looking for a penalty from another division. This is league 1 Jordan. Stay on your feet son!!!

Thompson and Gnanduillet combine nicely down the middle, we're on our feet but the run collapses under its own weight and we're sat down again.

It's not quite clicking. 3, 4 passes, things starting then a heavy touch. Husband is particularly culpable.

Sullay Kaikai is a full blown superstar on his day, but today it doesn't appear to be his day. He looks rusty, maybe still carrying a knock and as he takes the ball in and affects a shimmy then back heels it to no one, I think 'surely this isn't another one of those days is it?'

But we've got 'Oh Nathan Delfouenso' and he's bursting forward, his laid back gait turned into explosive energy and surely.... we're too good for them? surely...?

The ball is at the back, they've offered little threat, we've been comfortable and Fonz has come deep, he's begging for the ball, almost literally on his knees, beseeching. Instead we go long, instead we go sideways, then long. Fonz just shrugs it off, and turns to trot after play. He's Fonz, he doesn't throw tantrums.

They are neat and tidy and hard. They were neat and tidy and hard at their place too. I suspect Accy are always neat and tidy and hard. They haven't brought that many but they make a noise. If Fleetwood are a chihuahua (a little dog with a complex about its size) then Accy are one of those 50cc bikes that are designed to look like a superbike. The 50 singers and drummer never shut up all game but it's a bit of a hairdryer whine rather than full throttled roar.

Dion Charles, once of this parish, is never going to be a Premier League player but he's exactly what they're about, he runs every ball, he jumps for every header, he shoulder charges, he muscles, he barrels around and he's a nuisance. They burst forward from time to time in an impressively direct way, moving the ball quickly between them.

They make a chance, it's a low shot that Alnwick parries away in a strange way, like a five a-side keeper going down to his knees. You can hear the slap of the wet ball in the stands against his hand or arm (I can't tell) and it's clear straight away that he's hurt. 'Ooh' Phil Horner is on and anyone who has ever played football on a cold afternoon and got in the way of the ball is wincing.

Before long Alnwick has his arm up - he can't carry on and there's a moment of panic as we realise that it's not the dependable Mark Howard on the bench, but the raw kid Jack Simms. After cheering the lad on the pitch, via a big hug from Big Armand and a big arm round the shoulder and words in the ear from Big Ben, we take an intake of breath as Accy hang one above him, their angular, barrel chested players rushing on to it, like bulls on stampede and the kid is coming, he's going up for it in the crowd of charging horns and steam and he takes it. There's a big roar and it's probably the best bit of the game.

Jack Simms has the ball now. He holds it to him, he breathes, calms himself, Turton has found some space on the right, but Simms isn't for letting go. He's a pro, in a real game and he's just plucked a cross out the air - he needs a second to take this in. He holds on to it for an age and Turton is closed down, then he goes to kick it ... and if Alnwick's injury was like something off the park, then this goal kick is classic school team stuff, sliced, it barely makes the centre spot... There's a hum of concern. This wasn't the script.

Somewhere around this point, maybe before, maybe after, Sullay has the ball in the net, but it's ruled out for offside, but the flag seems really late. It surely can't be another one of those days can it?

Then Sullay's on the ground, first time he gets up and gives it a go, second time he walks off with Ooh Phil Horner and we see Sean Scannell again. Oh, Sean Scannell, he's silk spun magic from time to time, but my overriding impression is of a player whose body no longer quite does what his brain tells it to do, who lost a yard somewhere and never quite found another way to play.

They burst through and in a one on one Simms saves well, staying up long enough to foil their striker's attempt to slip it past him.

Half time and we're the better team. Not by much, but by enough for me to think '2-0 - easy, just need to turn up!'. I watch Callum Macdonald and Callum Guy doing a passing drill and I wonder why the former isn't playing as he's got a lovely touch with both feet.

We're off for the second half and it's an explosive start  really dull. They look like John Coleman has made them even sharper, tougher and neater and they start to worry me a bit. We seem to ignore any option of playing from the back most of the time and when we do, it breaks down, sometimes with a heavy touch from Husband, sometimes with Feeney running inside into traffic and all to often with Jordan Thompson turning inside instead of having his head up, then falling over when he runs out of space.

Around an hour we have a 5 to 10 minute purple patch, we play quite well, moving it about, there's a shout for hand ball, Feeney hits one that the keeper tips over, Scannell finds his mojo for a few seconds and plays a divine curling pass that Fonz nearly, nearly gets to before the keeper and we swing a few crosses in and Larry decides it's time for Big Joe.


Big Joe should be really good. He's strong and athletic, he's powerful, quick and he looks like if he puts his laces or his forehead through it, it would stay hit... but Big Joe hasn't been really good. I want Big Joe to score more than I want anything in the world. I want him to shove a defender out the way with his backside, take the ball on the turn and slot it into the top corner and run to the corner flag, soaking up the adulation of Bloomfield Road.

We're losing Feeney in the swap and when we lose Feeney, that's basically it for the attacking threat from midfield. He's not had a great game, but he's run and run as he always does and carried the ball a few times and shown for it plenty more. I don't really know why Thompson is staying on the pitch, why neither of the two Callum's haven't had a shot at rectifying either our imbalance or the lack of presence in the middle, but I'm willing Big Joe to do it.

He trots on to a resounding chorus of low level muttering and grumbling and a Mexican headshake from the West (which is like a Mexican Wave, except without the energy, the waving and consists instead some old fellas sighing and shaking their heads in a domino effect as the realisation that it's Big Joe coming on passes along the stand.)

Nothing really happens for the next 15 minutes. We learn for about the 8th time that Big Joe and Big Armand can't play together. We don't learn much else. Maybe next week eh lads?

Then they score. It happens quickly, ball flashed into the box, one of their nippy, neat, tidy but tough players darts free and heads past the kid. I'm gutted for Simms, to be robbed of a clean sheet so late when he's done well. Their lad runs off, elated and the referee is called over by the steward and handed something. A bottle? No, it's the Accy lad's shirt he chucked off in his ecstasy. The ref ambles back to the half way line with it in his hand and there's a booking but he doesn't care. He's just run the length of the ground in what looks like a sports bra - he doesn't care.

I should go now, but I stay to watch the unedifying sight of us trying to land it on ancillary striker  Rob Edward's head for the second week running in the last few seconds. Nuttall is offside to further muttering and the whistle blows.

Just like last game, it's dancing players and dancing away fans. If Accy are that 50cc bike, then it's doing wheelies round the pitch and I'm stuck watching as the queue to get out is that long. They make a decent noise for their size.

Ultimately, it wasn't a good game. For the second week running, we had no answer to a well organised but quite basic side. The ref wasn't great again, but is that doesn't feel enough to excuse us.

Accy were very well drilled but no single player on their team scared me that often. We clearly need players if we are going to compete, but it also feels like we didn't get the best side we have on the pitch today or last week. The problems we had earlier in the year were back as Feeney, KaiKai, Fonz drifted about but didn't provide much cutting edge - I don't know why we can't play Macdonald out left and Feeney out right, with chalk on their boots against a side like Accy or Shrewsbury - yes, we'd be a bit more open, but we've scored 1 in 3 now.

I don't know whether I blame Larry. I decide to not blame Larry for now but I do think he should surely realise that we need a left and a right side to the team though. I also think we missed Matty Virtue a lot. He doesn't do much that sets the crowd alight (aside from the odd cracking goal), but he keeps the game moving. He does simple stuff, but he does it at pace. Spearing was better today than against Shrewsbury but the midfield just can't pick a lock against defense that is set up for a draw and with Kaikai half fit, we lack the pace to slice through teams

I decide we need a transfer window and wonder where Accy get all their competent footballers from, for the sort of fees and wages they pay?

If they can take 4 points of us when their idea of a transfer fee is John Coleman sending Jimmy Bell to wash the selling team's chairman's car and give him a tip on the horses, then we surely can unearth some diamonds with our new scouting system and our new reputation as *not run by the O****n family* and therefore not known throughout the game as 'one to avoid if you can'

I um and ah about whether to go to Rotherham...

It will get better. It must.

UTMP! 



Hopelessly optimistic...

The hope springs eternal.

It might be one of those days, where the mighty slip their leash and the 50s live again.

Clattering into tackles, second balls bouncing our way, wingers racing away into space, delicious balls curling into the path of onrushing players and strikers turning with arms aloft taking the roar of the crowd.

Winter fires lit, playing to the beat of the drum. A machine, parts milled to precision, one touch, two touch, giving and going. Each pass a little moment of elation, each movement an ecstasy.

It might be one of those days.

We live, for one of those days.

COME ON YOU POOL!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Has the EU ruined football? Part 2 of a stats filled pointless exercise.

Image result for aston villa 95/96"
The last voice of leave - Aston Villa 1996/97
After writing part 1, in which I proposed a football version of 'left behind Britain,' based on a comparative ten year analysis of how footballing power had been coalesced in 3 key urban areas (and Leicester) I was left with a few loose ends in my mind.

It seemed true that 'Brexit Britain' had been locked out of the top echelons of football for a decade, but how far back do you have to go to find a side from a leave voting area actually having something approaching success?

The answer is quite a long way - The last time a 'brexity' team finished in the top 4 was Aston Villa in 1995/96 a full 23 years! Since that point, success has been exclusively confined to a 'remainer elite' and shared between just 9 teams.

Even extending the parameters to a 5th place finish we have to look as far back as George Burley's Ipswich team of 2000/01 - a full 19 years ago.

Image result for George Burley"
George Burley. Admit it, you'd completely forgotten about him too... 
So, emboldened by my new found useless statistics that prove nothing other than that the Premier League has created a less diverse league, in which a few teams from a few places win the majority of things... I decided to look deeper.

I set myself another challenge.

How deeply has football altered since Britain joined the EEC in 1973 (46 years ago?)

I would analyse the winners of the FA Cup and the top flight for the 47 seasons since that date (starting with 1972/73 season, on the basis that with entry to the EEC taking place on 1st January, the majority of the season belongs to the latter era) and the 46 seasons before that, (back to 1913/14, taking into account the loss of 6 years of football to the war) to see if we can identify any particular patterns, but particularly, to see if we can see more 'small town' success in the earlier period.

Why? - Don't ask me. Cos I don't know. For no other reason than, in the slightly paraphrased words of Billie Piper, because I want to.

Image result for 1920 football england"
Crowds gather in anticipation of the outcome of the latest exercise in pointless data mining

Section 1: English league champions of the post EEC membership era. (47 seasons - 1972-3 to 2018-19) 

Manchester United (13)
Liverpool (11)
Chelsea (5) 
Arsenal (5)
Manchester City (4)
Leeds (2)
Everton (2)
Derby
Nottingham Forest
Aston Villa

Blackburn Rovers 
Leicester City

The conclusion is quite clear - since joining the EU, only 8.6% of available league titles have gone to 52% of the country. We can also see that whilst 12 teams win the title, 3 cities, Liverpool, Manchester and London represent 85% of all title winners over the era.

Section 2 English League Champions of the immediate pre-EEC membership era. (47 seasons, 1913-14 to 1971-72, taking into account both WW1 and WW2)

Arsenal (8)
Everton (6)
Liverpool (5)
Manchester United (5)
Wolves (3)
Huddersfield (3)
Blackburn Rovers (2)
Burnley (2)
Sheffield Wednesday (2)
Manchester City (2)
Portsmouth (2)
Newcastle
Sunderland
Tottenham
West Bromwich Albion
Leeds United
Ipswich
Derby 

18 different sides win the title, suggesting football is a third more competitive. Leave Britain accounts for 18 title wins from 47 seasons (38.2%) - a huge proportion compared to the 8.5% of the post EEC era or the 0% of the last 25 years. Whilst Liverpool, London and Manchester still dominate, it is not to the extent of the latter era (53% of titles as opposed to 85%)

FA Cup Winners, 1972-73 to 2018-19

Manchester United 10
Arsenal 10
Chelsea 7
Liverpool 5
Tottenham 3
West Ham 2
Everton 2
Manchester City 2
Southampton
Sunderland 
Ipswich
Coventry
Wimbledon
Portsmouth
Wigan

One-off triumphs for 6 'leave voting' teams represent 12.7% of FA Cup wins during the era.

FA Cup Winners, 1913-14 - 1971-72  

Newcastle United 5
Tottenham Hotspur 4
Bolton Wanderers 4
Arsenal 4
West Bromwich Albion 3
Manchester City 3
Sheffield United 2
Aston Villa 2
Everton 2
Manchester United 2
Wolves 2
Chelsea
Huddersfield Town
Cardiff City
Blackburn Rovers
Sheffield Wednesday
Sunderland
Preston North End
Portsmouth
Derby County

Charlton Athletic
Blackpool
Nottingham Forest

West Ham
Liverpool
Leeds

The FA Cup offers even more stark contrast than the league in terms of the decline of 'Leave England.' We see 23 victories for teams from 'Leave UK' or 48.9% of Wembley winners, a 36.2% increase on the modern era figures. We also again see a wider range of teams winning. 


Image result for bolton wanderers white horse"
The White Horse final of 1923 - overcrowding caused by people from most of the country desperate to see someone who isn't from Manchester, Liverpool or London lift the cup, whilst they still can... 

Conclusions: 


Although, like the previous article, these stats are the result of a pretty pointless exercise, this evidence suggests a compelling narrative - it tells the story of football, once a game where success was once shared by a much broader cohort than it is today.

Here's an interesting stat that illustrates the point well: Since Aston Villa's 1981 league victory, only Blackburn Rovers have managed to break a 'remain stranglehold' on the league championship with their 1995 triumph.

Given as we could reasonably expect that prior to joining the EEC, a 'leave' team would win the title roughly once every 2.5 seasons, to shift to a situation where those sides win the league once in 38 years is quite a change.

Similarly, where the stats show we could expect these teams to win the FA Cup every other year, recent victories have been confined to Wigan and Portsmouth. In other words, in the period since Coventry's 1987 victory, just 2 sides from Brexit voting areas have lifted the Cup in 32 years. To put this in numbers: a fall from 1 in 2, to 1 in 16

 Perhaps after all, we are seeing a situation where Brexit is finally explained

- not by the death of industrial England,
- not by the political machinations of the disaster capitalists,
- not by the abandonment of the working classes by political elites,

but by the subconscious understanding of large parts of England, that until we threw off the shackles of Brussels, we'd have to put up with the same teams at the top of the league forever and ever and ever.

Or maybe we aren't. Still, perhaps January 31st will lead to the unexpected consequence of Sheff Utd and Wolves launching an all out onslaught on the league title. Ye never know.

Image result for sunderland fa cup"
Sunderland, winning the cup despite the best efforts of Ted Heath






Sunday, December 22, 2019

Did football cause Brexit?

disclaimer - this appears to be not about football, but will become about football after about 5 paragraphs. It will help to read them as it gives context to the stuff about football. 


Image result for Division 1 1982"
The Metropolitan elite take on the Heartlands
I think I've found something to say on Brexit, that hasn't already been said. I think it's possibly either evidence of a great conspiracy, a great uprising, or a great irrelevance. You get to decide. That's the beauty of reading what I'm writing. You absorb it and think whatever you want. I don't get to reply to you as I'm not in your head. Unless, of course, I am the voice in your head that is reading this now, in which case....

Anyway... I was thinking, about 'left-behind towns' and all that. I could say 'crap towns' without being sued for the hurt feelings of residents because I am talking about my own culture here maaaaaaaan. Crap towns where 'the big B+Q' is a major landmark and they still haven't filled the hole where they demolished that factory in 2002.

I'm not going to write a lengthy description of 'vape and pound shop filled high streets, where every third window is boarded up and there is an air of despondency so palpable that I can almost pluck it out of the air and roll it between my fingers, before pocketing it and taking it back to London to show my media pals who all make disheartened noises about how awful it all is, and how it's a shame they're all so racist up there, because otherwise someone really should do something.' I'll leave that to the broadsheet newspapers.

Image result for Fleetwood"
Poverty porn. As I used to live opposite this shop, I'm allowed to do this.

Again, anyway... I wasn't thinking about the labour leadership contest, or how Boris is going to sort it out with spit and polish, elbow grease and bit of bloody old fashioned British grit. I wasn't thinking about Keynsian vs free market economics or the collapse of class solidarity or the age divide in politics and the different demographics of cities vs towns or anything like that.

I was thinking about... 

Why crap towns (and crap cities) aren't winning anything in football anymore. It's obvious, really, when you think about it. A large corporate body has taken an extraordinary amount of control and ensured that a) the money market is freely flowing and b) the game is rigged to ensure the biggest players  succeed. (anyway, enough about the EU!) (See what I did there...)

Image result for Sunderland"
Sunderland - not yet the Monte Carlo of the North, but give it time...
I attend league 1 (DIVISION 3) football matches on a regular basis. Having visited 4 different grounds thus far this year (all in 'the north'), it's safe to say that none of these grounds are in what you might call 'hotspots of metropolitan privilege' and, I think, also safe to say that all 4 towns I've visited have, to use a non scientific phrase, seen better days - the fact that 'better' means 'getting your fingers lopped off in a cotton mill or by a rivet gun but at least getting paid' perhaps speaks volumes about the failure of successive governments to do much meaningful beyond offer rhetoric. None of the places I have walked through bore much resemblance to 'a powerhouse.'

Neither for that matter does the place I live or the place I work. Or any of the places I've lived or worked. Ever.

This week, I pondered to myself the role of a football team in engendering local pride and in turn, that sense of local pride creating a positive outlook on life and a subsequent embracing of 'the way things are.' - I also briefly considered the economic benefits of success in football to the local area.

In short - I started an absurd train of thought, which led to the question:

Can the perceived stagnation of top flight football be blamed for Brexit? Is the fact that 'crap towns and cities' were pushed out of the top echelons of the game, the actual cause of where we are* or a symptom of their 'left behind' status.

*It obviously isn't, but bear with me because there's some good stats in this next bit, so I'll maintain the pretence a bit longer if that's ok with you as otherwise, there's no blog post in this and you don't get the stats and we all like stats... 


To explore this, I thought I'd analyse the 10 years of football just past and identify exactly who has been any good and had anything to celebrate during this period.

These are the sides who have achieved top 4 finishes in the last 10 years (2008-9 to 2018-19)

Man Utd
Chelsea
Arsenal
Liverpool
Tottenham
Man City
Leicester

Every single one of these sides is based in a city that voted remain in the referendum of 2016. Not one single team from the leave voting Britain has made it to the top 4 of the premier league in the last 10 years. At the time of writing, the top 4 consists of 4 of those 7 sides.

Also, how is there only 7 teams? 


I decided to broaden the search a little and examined who (aside from the above) had finished 5th...  

Everton,
Newcastle,

Again, we find only sides from remain voting cities in the top 5. 

We'd have to go further, expanding the search to 6th... (excluding the teams already mentioned) 

Southampton
Aston Villa


Finally, we find some leave voting cities represented - most recently, Southampton (2015-16)

As I'd discovered that 'left behind Britain' had yielded no champions, runners up, no qualifiers for the European cup, no top 5 finishers and just 5% (1 for Southampton + 2 for Villa) of all top 6 finishes in 10 years, I wondered if Leave Voting UK was faring better at Cup football. 

Here we have the teams that won domestic (FA/League cup) trophies in the same period. 

Portsmouth,
Chelsea
Man City
Wigan
Arsenal
Manchester United
Swansea
Liverpool
Birmingham

The picture seems to be slightly more positive for the leave voters in the domestic cups, with single triumphs for Wigan, Swansea, Birmingham and Portsmouth meaning 'Brexit Britain' has won 20% of the domestic cup competitions in the last 20 years. 

To compare - I then decided to analyse the last 10 years of the 'proper division 1' (1981-2 to 1991-2) using the same method 

Starting with the top 4 finishes in that period. 

Liverpool
Ipswich
Man Utd
Tottenham
Watford
Southampton
Nottingham Forest
Everton
West Ham
Norwich
Arsenal
Aston Villa 
Crystal Palace
Leeds
Sheffield Wednesday

The 6 teams from leave voting areas represented 9 top 4 finishes (or 22.5% of all available places) a huge jump on the modern data. Clearly it was a better time to follow a side that doesn't hail from a right on trendy metropolitan area.  

Again, I extended the search to 5th place (not including above sides)

Man City
Chelsea
Derby
Queens Park Rangers

Finally I looked at 6th place (not including aforementioned sides)

Wimbledon
Swansea

The data clearly suggests a greater variety of teams achieving something amounting to success (or at least close to) and definitely a great volume of sides from outside the major remain voting urban centres (18.3% compared to just 5%). Only one of these teams is from Birmingham which supports further, the idea that footballing opportunity was spread more equitably prior to the Premier League. 
Putting aside the leave/remain divide - there are over twice as many sides finishing in the top 4 (15 compared to just 7) in that ten year period. In fact, it takes just 3 years from 81-82 to yield 7 different finishers, meaning 3 years of the 80s were as diverse as the entire last 10 of the Premier League.  

Does the Cup winners tell a similar story? Winners of Domestic Cup Trophies (1981-82 to 1991-92) 

Tottenham
Manchester Utd
Everton
Coventry
Wimbledon
Liverpool
Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest
Luton
Norwich
Oxford

Here the pattern is more similar to the modern data but Forest's pair of League Cup triumphs mean that again, 'Leave Britain' is more represented (though less clearly than in the league stats) with 5/20 cup (25%) of cup triumphs

Conclusion: 
Of course football isn't to blame for Brexit. It would be mad to think it was and this is a ridiculous exercise to try and prove a point that I don't even grasp myself.  But football is clearly stuck in some kind of stasis and that stasis is benefiting certain clubs in certain places and preventing others from prospering.

In a game where traditionally attendances have dictated the desirability of playing at clubs (firstly through the simple desire to play for a 'big side' then latterly through wages) it would be odd if large urban areas weren't at the top of these stats, both in the modern and the pre-premier league eras. It seems equally strange, when you compare the two eras that sides from 'less fashionable areas' can't break into the top few places - it suggests a new kind of football version of the much discussed 'left behind towns and cities' - places that simply don't have the facility for economic (or footballing) success that they once had.

It demonstrates that English football's power base is less diverse, its wealth is coalesced into smaller pockets and that some of its traditional players are struggling to cope with that change. It suggests that 'the national game' belongs to a few cities - Liverpool, Manchester and London.

That mirrors the picture in England as a whole - where wealth has been centred more starkly around London and certain other successful regions, whilst the signs of urban decay and post industrial malaise are ever more evident in other places.

Is there some sort of magical conclusion coming? No. Just the same old conclusion as ever - The Premier League has clearly been bad for football. It has undermined the competition within the game, made it less exciting, interesting, engaging and sporting - That in turn reduces its ability to act as a uniting force, as what, really, are we, the supporters, uniting around? All football is a nonsense and a whimsy, but the great participatory dream of winning the league or the cup is something that gives a purpose, however daft. Does 'the great participatory dream of finishing 7th' have the same ring?

There's few things sadder in the world than a town with no reason to exist. A town where the industry got up and left or was strangled to death for political expedience. Sometimes, those towns recover and live again, in a different guise, perhaps because they are close to a motorway or because they have some other resource to draw upon. Sometimes they are just not in the right place anymore and they sink, papering over cracks that grow larger by the year with only the strange ill fitting architecture of regeneration hubs and new build homes that struggle to sell till being snapped up by landlords from elsewhere for 'a steal' to disguise the singular lack of anything representing purpose.

That's the economic reality of stripping out the opportunity for people to 'compete' - to give their lives meaning by earning enough money to give themselves something to enjoy, a decent home, some security, a holiday, a car, presents for the kids, choice in the shops and so on. It's not asking for much, just enough to feel like it was worth it. When you take those things away, make them almost impossible to achieve, then you can't really wonder why people give up, why words about 'dreams' and 'endeavour' and 'hard work will pay off' eventually have little effect.

When you present the same conditions to a sport, essentially making it all but impossible to achieve your purpose in life, you have to wonder how long it will be before we start to see a similar withering of ambition and resignation amongst the teams that have been left behind. It's not asking a lot for the odd team 'like us' to trouble the top of the league once in a while. It won't be the directors or the players that give up, just as it isn't the MPs or the councillors that give up. They aren't the real club - it's us. It'll be the supporters who wonder, what, exactly the point is. A town with no particular reason to exist, with a football team with no particular reason to exist. Oh, the humanity...

The 'greatest league in the world ever' + Wigan
... and before you accuse me of melodrama, then just think that we'll be left with Chelsea, Utd, City, Arsenal, Liverpool and the like, who will lecture us on radio phone ins about being 'traitors' and 'betrayers' and tell us we should 'value what we've got' and that we 'can't turn back the clock' and we 'should understand that it would be much worse if it wasn't like this' and their anger will tell us they'll be much, much, much, worse of without us but they can't bring themselves to reach out from their ivory towers and just work something out that benefits us all.

They should think on...

Image result for leicester city elephant"
An actual Leicester City elephant
And also, the great elephant in the room is now to be addressed, the one I've wilfully ignored... - does anyone else not think it's weird that Leicester, a) won the league, b) isn't in London, Liverpool or Manchester and seemed 'a bit pound shoppy' when I went there once for about 3 hours... AND YET THEY VOTED REMAIN?

Dark forces my friends. Dark forces... Some things just can't be explained. 

Part 2 - how the cup got crap...

UTMP! 


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas cancelled - The Mighty vs Shrewsbury


Shrewsbury is one of those towns which are a million miles from anywhere.

You don't pass through Shrewsbury on the way to anywhere, unless you are going to Newport on the train which no one does because its Newport. It's not near anywhere in particular.

Q: Where is Shrewsbury?
A: It's where Shrewsbury is.


In footballing terms, Shrewsbury are a bit like Rochdale, one of those sides that have always been there but you can't remember having done anything, ever* but unlike Rochdale, they used to have a bloke in half a beer barrel (technically called a coracle) that retrieved the ball from the river behind the ground in a manner that did little to dispel any elitist metropolitan snobbery about the quirky 'Last of the Summer Wine' type antics of rural England.

*They did beat Everton once - Nigel Jemson scored and I imagine life for Shrewsbury is mostly them and Hereford fans arguing in a cattle market about whether that outranks the famous Ronnie Radford inspired giant killing. 

To me, this is, in a way, a match in which family pride is at stake. When I was about 7, I couldn't believe my mum didn't follow any football team and demanded she chose a football team. I presented her with my 'Up for the Cup' football wall chart and insisted she choose a side from it - She chose Shrewsbury on the basis that 'they have a nice badge, with a Shrew on it' -  33 years later, it's the 'me v my mum derby,' despite the fact my mum probably dismissed her declaration of support for Shrewsbury from her mind about 5 minutes after making it. That dismal outcome in the search for meaning still makes it a bigger, more important event than a game against Fleetwood

Shrewsbury's quite fetching shrew badge (1981-93) 

On the way, the sun seems to be pulled towards the earth, the leaden clouds of midday underscored by a golden glow more akin to a sunset than noon. The trees are skeletal silhouettes, the light is ghostly and pale.

Blackpool is blue skies after chilly rain in comparison, but the wind is chill and the litter dances. There's no great buzz about the pre match and we huddle under the stand for warmth after buying a fanzine and becoming an internet celebrity.

The team news is unexciting, though I can't help wondering if Tilt deserves a chance to partner Ben Heneghan on the basis of a decent showing at Sunderland + most of his other games in a Blackpool shirt, bar the 5 or 6 strange anomalies that came before he was dropped. Sullay is dropped to the bench after a knock and Jordan Thompson is in. Thompson is a very good player and also the player probably most likely to feature in a modelling shoot for a budget clothing store but it has to be said, our recent upturn has come to pass without him in the side.

Up to the stand and then we're off, at a canter. The atmosphere lifts as the ground fills in the first few minutes and I can't help thinking we're a big club, we make a decent noise that swirls around, deep and satisfying and we pass nicely, with purpose, side to side, players drifting about, finding pockets of space, one goes, the other drops deep and we're crisp and purposeful and surely it will be just a matter of time... 

This good feeling lasts about 6 minutes and what follows is tortuous.

Shrewsbury are a solid wall. We play around a bit and launch a few crosses into the box. Gnandulliet gets near a few and we make agonised noises as if it's only a matter of time before we score, but frankly, aside from one from the left that the big man makes a good contact with that forces a flying save, there's really not much to get excited about. They force a smart but routine save from Alnwick and generally look snappy in the tackle and worryingly good at shutting down the midfield. It's a scrappy affair with the runs from Fonz being cut off or shepherded into harmless areas and the pressure forcing some loose passes, especially from Spearing.


Half time arrives with them on the attack and it feels like one of those games where they'll score just before the break, despite us being marginally the better side because, whisper it. It might be one of those days.

But they don't and surely, given how little they've offered and how we're The Mighty Pool, Larry will get into them and the second half will be different. In Larry we trust.

It starts well. Matty Virtue with a couple of charges through the middle where it looks as if it's going to open up in front of him and things look generally brighter. We were right to trust Larry. This will be at least 2-0. They're rubbish...

Again, this lasts all of about 6 minutes - they get a penalty as the ball is launched in to the box and something happens involving Gnanduillet and one of them and there's a whistle, a point in the direction of the spot and I've no idea what the referee has seen.

The penalty is straight down the middle and for a second it looks like Alnwick has saved it but as he goes one way he just pushes it into the roof of the net as he goes away from the ball.

From here, the game just unravels into a mess. The best moment is starman Feeney running right across the edge of the box and hitting a good powerful low shot just wide.

Gnanduillet's football genius is even being misunderstood by me (his no1 fan) as he picks up the ball with Fonz streaking free into space to his left, and it's an obvious pass, not difficult and the entire ground are 10 seconds ahead, visualising Fonz bursting onto the ball, cutting inside and striking it on angle into the top corner and then slowly walking away wagging his finger, looking cool as fuck to heartfelt chants of 'Oh Nathan Delfouenso.' - Emboldened, Fonz goes on to run the game and we win 3-1....

.... However, big Armand hasn't picked up on the collective vision and instead, turns like an oil tanker and meanders into traffic, managing to barge a few defenders out of the way before foundering on the rocks and the ball is harmlessly smuggled away by the Shrews and we all slump back into our seats and mutter. Their centre half is excellent all game, the no 6 never lets him out of his sight and matches him pound for pound and more in every battle.

Into the last 25 minutes and Larry chucking on players in an attempt to change things and any pretence at a formation or plan goes out the window as we bypass the midfield 70% of the time hitting it to Big Joe and Big Armand who seem to want to play the same role and cunningly draw the defenders to the same place and even look like they are going to challenge each other for the ball once or twice. There's a moment in which Nuttall flicks on for Armand who in turn flicks it on to someone else who loses it and the ball runs out for a throw. This is probably the defining image of the match.

The other 30% of the time consists of Rob Edwards stepping out of defense to play a pointless pass to no one or Thompson falling over, the odd half chance and not much else. Sullay doesn't manage one run past anyone or convince me he had any idea where he was supposed to be playing and poor old (young) Callum Macdonald's main contribution is to look like his studs are a bit short for the slippy pitch. Joe Nuttall again is the same old Joe Nuttall. He is one of the best flickers on of a ball I've ever seen in the 1/5th to 1/10th (depending on the match) of occasions he wins the ball, but that isn't quite enough on a day like this against a Berlin Wall of a defense. 

The referee is awful, the linesman is awful, Shrewsbury are time wasting and clipping heels and stopping any sort of flow with little or no censure. Feeney is up in the linesman's face after being shoulder barged then penalised because the full back tripped over him when he fell over. Big Armand is clearly body checked by one of their impassively granite defenders, but no one cares because it's obviously one of those days against one of those teams.

Their keeper takes about 6 weeks over every goal kick and it's one of those days.

6 minutes injury time and a big roar.

But nothing happens of any note. Rob Edwards is leaping about up front with the two big strikers already up there but we can't get the ball wide or even into the box and the game fizzles out as it's one of those days.

In the end, when the whistle goes, it's a relief of sorts. I'm struggling to think of an analogy for the game, but I think it's a bit like defeat in WW1 - a horrible struggle against an uncompromising enemy, in which we tried the same thing again, again, again and in the end it just felt hopeless. They were just more horrible than us and dug in and couldn't be broken down. They celebrate with impressive verve, smoke bomb on the pitch, cheery chanting fans in sailor suits giving deserved homage to the efforts of their delighted dancing players before heading back to god knows where ever Shrewsbury actually is.


The way back it feels like that game told us something we knew already, but were probably trying to forget, that outside the enigma of Fonz, we don't have the magic in the side to unlock teams like this, that come to bully and spoil and we don't have anything to change the front line at all. Feeney has been outstanding, but we can't expect him to provide everything and we looked imbalanced again today. Jay Spearing looks at his weakest when he is given space to be 'imperious' and slaps the ball out of play and whilst he's an asset, he's most effective when teams come on to us and he can break up play. Today he didn't need to do that and I thought he struggled. If Ryan Hardie is officially 'not good enough' then we need something to offer pace and incision up front either as an alternative to or a foil to Gnanduillet. Last time we got out this league we had Wizard Wes and today, we definitely didn't.

It was an awful game. It was one of those days. Roll on the next one. We love you Blackpool. We do.




Saturday, December 14, 2019

I can't feel my feet - Sunderland vs the Mighty.

I've never been to the Stadium of Light before and what a ground. How Sunderland are mired in League One and Bournemouth seem a fixture in the Premier League beggars belief. This is a proper big club ground, with proper big club things knocking about, like burger vans, chippies with signs in club colours, and fancy car parks with colour coded match pass schemes.

Snow on the hills on the way across, sleet falling and the brightest rainbow I've ever seen. It feels good to be travelling with expectation.

Prior to today, I've driven through Sunderland once. It seemed like a giant version of Leigh or Blackburn by the sea. Nothing on this visit is really dispelling that impression. Apparently it has a beach. I want to go to Sunderland beach. More than anything. Maybe not today though. I walk up to the Wear and it's cold. The wind whips down the river valley and I hurry back, past the metro. I decide Sunderland is exotic, it's continental almost, with it's beach and fancy public transport. Perhaps, post Brexit, it could become a spot for city breaks and yachting.

Like Monte Carlo, only British
The pit wheel from Monkwearmouth colliery stands outside the ground. They used to tunnel under the sea for miles round here. Brett Ormerod is walking past, he used to run every channel, hassle for everything. I think afterwards I should have asked for a picture. Brett Ormerod. There's no player in the world I'd pick ahead of Brett.

The lad wants to go in the ground. We're absurdly early and the climb to the top of the stairs is absurdly long. The view from the seats is spectacular, the stand and roof frame the pitch like a TV set. We bicker about exactly where to sit.

Not the Crown Ground
The steward is chatty. He's like a TV north east stereotype, friendly and warm. He's the sort of person who should give courses on how to be a football steward. He's bothered that the lad won't be able to see but the lad wants to sit at the back (and in the second half, the steward is telling him to stand on the seats, so he can see - no stupid insistence on people sitting down or patrolling up and down telling people to move their ankles out of the aisles, I've no idea if the rest of them are jobsworths, but this lad is a diamond)

2:55 and the ground is filling up and the Blackpool boys begin making all that noise and it's every where we go as the players come out. There's something good about how we basically know who the team will be and it's started to feel like our team, finally.

The first goal is a stunner, Matty Virtue from outside the box, to the right of the D, is running onto it and viewed from the height we're at, there's something strangely slow motion about the way he curls one into the top left hand corner. It's a an absolute beauty, cushioned perfectly, by the back of the net, and we go insane. For a moment, it feels like the weight of the world has gone and we're floating away. I always like it when Virtue scores - he's just an honest player, no airs or graces. He used to captain Liverpools U23s but you wouldn't know it. He feels like a player from another era - something distinctly undemonstrative, non-celebrity about him.

We're ok first half and we should score again when the ball breaks for James Husband (who I always call Steven) and his low shot is goal bound but big Armand can't get out the way, or perhaps even gets in the way trying to get a touch and we're denied another one.

I can't recall whether they scored before or after that, before I think, and I can't remember much about their goal other than no one was massively at fault and it was the first time I heard the Sunderland fans. I feel sorry for them in a way. They're like an extreme version of so many teams these days - big clubs who've got no chance of winning the Premier League, squandering absurd amounts of money to not really get anywhere in particular. There's something wrong with football that these sides don't get close, that Everton, Sunderland, Leeds, Villa and all the rest of them don't even get to dream of finishing third. That those teams havn't done anything for about 20 years. Have won nothing. But Sunderland were always a bit like that, never really quite doing what it felt like they could. I've always quite liked them. Today they don't threaten that much, a couple of their forwards look good, but there's no inspiration or magic about their team and they huff and puff but just look like there's no real energy to them at all. It looks, for all the world, like they need an Aiden McGeady type player. Where could they find one of those?

Half time and it's baltic, icy wind howling round the upper tier of the stand and the second half can't come soon enough. It's one of those halves that just happen. The minutes slip by without anything quite going right for either team. We're the better side marginally, but they have the better chances, hitting the bar and Alnwick making a rare hash they can't take advantage of.

There's a bit of needle in the game and a few spicy tackles. The ref does little to endear himself to either set of fans and I suspect little to endear himself to the players with his schoolmasterly insistence on pointing to the ground in front of him, so he can book players in a needlessly formal manner. We have one great chance robbed from us as Scannell (on for Sullay, who has either got a knock or Larry is just annoyed with his anonymity) hares clear of the defence but the ref pulls the play back for a clash that happens 10 seconds earlier and was our free kick anyway. There's a shout for a penalty, Gnandulliet trys a piledriver that comes off their defender for a corner and later fresh air kicks at a lovely ball across the box.

They have player sent off and there's a surge of optimism. Joe Nuttall comes on and looks like he's interested, linking player beautifully a couple of times and miraculously not instantly giving away 3 fouls in his first 3 attempts to win the ball but then he completely messes up his one chance to run through on goal with a heavy touch.

The whistle goes and it's a rousing reception for the players. They did well enough, but it does feel like with a bit more cutting edge, we could have had two or three. Larry says as much after the match. They've all been solid, Tilt has played well after his comic capers and surly strops, he's shown some real class at times in this match - Spearing has been superb - watching the match from above gives an insight into how well he gets onto the bits and pieces and how he moves, anticipating who is going to go forward and filling in behind them.

Murmansk can't be much colder
It's a measure of how well we are doing at the moment that driving back, a draw feels only OK. We still aren't playing super sexy football but we are decent. More and more it feels like the players know their jobs and it makes you wonder what we can do with a couple more thought through signings. It makes you wonder and then, knowing what you know after watching the Mighty for so long, you wonder if that's a dangerous thought.

utmp!

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Caretaker


The article isn't about the experimental electronic act 'The Caretaker' though he's pretty good - it's more about the heartstring tugging joy of Duncan 'Big Dunc' Ferguson and the pleasure afforded to wider football world by Everton Football Club's decision to do the caretaker manager thing properly. 

Not music by Duncan Ferguson

There's a few routes you can take when you sack your manager. Everton took the right one. Don't appoint someone straight away - that's boring. Don't appoint the assistant (unless it's Billy Ayre) - they're tainted by association. Don't get 'an interim manager' - that's just a stupid phrase that means 'caretaker manager' but sounds like you're trying a bit too hard to come across as business like.

The right option is always to appoint a legend who will whip everyone up into a frenzy and everyone likes. Instantly everything that went before is forgotten as everyone suspends their collective disbelief in the hope that simply singing his name will prompt a miracle. This can fail (Alan Shearer) but it's definitely the most fun.

However, whatever you do, don't let the bloke do the job long term because there's precious little to believe in these days and the talismanic qualities of the caretaker manager should be best left relatively untested for fear that grim reality be allowed to set in. Trevor Brooking at West Ham being the perfect example of someone who had just enough time to enhance an already legendary status.

Image result for Trevor Brooking
Reputation intact
But whatever the longer term consequence of Ferguson's reign, Everton will always have that match. Apparently, they tackled more than they have in any match for the last 10 years. Ferguson also played a crazy throwback formation (you might have heard of it - it's called 4-4-2) and did insane stuff like look like he gave a fuck and be really happy when Everton scored.

It's on trend in management now, to scowl, to prowl, to be slightly disdainful of such gauche pleasures as celebrating a goal. Instead, you must give off an air of aloofness, as if you are really thinking about whether or not to switch to a formation consisting entirely of left backs playing up front or to rotate your goalkeeper to ensure his electrolyte levels are at an optimum level. Acting like this makes pundits say things like 'know-how' and 'insight' and everyone is happy because your ego is massaged and they can spend hours explaining how a game of football was won or lost using 3d infographics and flogging betting adverts in the breaks. It's also crucial to have a really good coat and to possibly combine this with knitwear or a roll neck.

So, what a delight when Ferguson stuck two up front and added two wingers, two central midfielders, two full backs, two centre halves and a keeper, got them wound up and they won. It doesn't leave that much to talk about. The wingers ran down the wing, the full backs played full back. Everyone did their job. Nothing more to say.

Ferguson looked so happy that I'd fear for him being in the job much longer.

I don't think I can stand to see a downcast Big Dunc, in front of the cameras, mumbling about how 'it's not good enough' and and becoming a bit of a laughing stock. He's better than that. Like Trevor Brooking, he's too important to allow his club to burn him out on the management merry-go-round, to fucking brilliant to be analysed by the new breed of 'tactically aware' journalists who write articles like 'How Klopp has revolutionised the art of the full back' and manage to churn out 1000 words on some kid who is really quick getting forward a bit. If Big Dunc wants to play 4-4-2 then he will play 4-4-2 and you, you jumped up prick who probably ran a newspaper named after your family called 'the Foster Times' and included stories about your dad putting up a new shed and your sister getting a new pair of shoes have no right to question him, for he is Big Dunc and he has done shit and you have not, beyond 5-a-side that you probably only play so you can have banter with all the other journalists who sound exactly like you on your shit podcast.

I feel very strongly about this.

I also feel very strongly that Ferguson doesn't need to be rung up about on 606, with people who read the above journalists making second hand points that they don't even understand complaining about 'tactical naivity' or 'the club needing a proven winner' - If the country is too full, then I'm all for setting these people to sea in an open boat. I don't give a shit what Dave from Surrey thinks. Big Dunc is Big Dunc is Big Dunc. He's beyond critique.

I'd hate to see him deflated, hands in his pockets, his shiny suit dulled, made ordinary. I'd hate to see him shrunk and sad, hands on his chin, slumped in the Goodison dugout looking like a depressed parent sitting in a little primary school chair, despairing that they can't control their unruly child and are facing yet another meeting with the school where they have no answers. It surely would end that way. Spoilt footballers rolling their eyes behind his back, languid sulky performances by superstars not happy about running the channels, grumbling fans muttering that 'he's picked his favourites again' when all he's trying to do is put a team on the pitch that will give the effort he knows the shirt deserves.

He deserves far better. He's a legend. Keep it that way.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The mighty vs the irritant.

I find a certain difficulty in my relationship with Fleetwood Town FC. I like the place (Fleetwood itself) a lot. There's a lot to like about it. I lived there. I lived there because I didn't want to live in Blackpool. I am a major advocate for the qualities of Fleetwood, which include, in no particular order,


- a stunning view from the beach.
- the North Euston Hotel - thus named because for a period, Fleetwood was the terminus of the West Coast Main Line.
- the best chippies in the world, bar none.
- A fascinating set of architectural gems, it being a largely planned town, designed by Decimus Burton consisting of Georgian Style terraces, gardens and man made lakes and amazing streets of terraced houses, each one distinct from each other with it's own architectural flourishes.  I'm not joking when I say, if Saltaire is a World Heritage Site, why is Fleetwood almost unknown? 
- An inland lighthouse, for no apparent reason. 
- A certain quality, that cannot quite be defined, but that is best explained by my mate asking me once 'Why is it 1974 here?' 
- Lots of other reasons.
Yet, I cannot extend that warmth to their football team. It's not hatred, or even dislike, it's just a sort of irritation. A shrug that disguises anxiety. A pretended nonchalance. 

It's not that I'm bothered that they seem to have a desire to deliberately court notoriety and bad boy chic in signing up Joey Barton and Ched Evans. Barton is what he is and Evans is a very good player. It's football, not the moral maze and everyone loves a good villain at the theatre.

It's not that I genuinely fear them - they've will find their ceiling very soon. In a way it's admirable and realistic what they've done - investing in training and community facilities and a tight, neat ground, bringing something to a town that frankly makes Hull seem positively metropolitan (I also like Hull) - It's a far cry from the ego driven madness of the Reynolds Arena for example.

Yet, never the less, they are problematic - they're Accrington Stanley without the milk advert and the heroic back story and the midas touch of John Colman. There's a whiff of Gretna FC about them - there because of the backer and not a lot else. They're not Yeovil or Dagenham and Redbridge, or even Morecambe. They're a bit of a construct. Plucky little moneybags Fleetwood.

That said, fair enough - all teams at some stage or other were 'a bit of a construct' - The teams we now romanticise as 'proper old fashioned clubs' were once the playthings of money men - Sunderland, nothing more down to earth and real than them, were 'The Bank of England Club' - Preston played fast and lose with the registration rules and fielded a team made up almost entirely of exotic foreigners (Scotsmen) and gave them fake jobs at the mills owned by their board as recompense to dodge accusations of excess professionalism, the first £100 transfer was pretty swiftly followed by the first £1000 transfer to the chagrin of the authorities and a press who viewed all this money and professionalism as terribly distasteful so, really, who are we to sniff at the new money and claim to be football aristocrats? (Even if we have history and tradition and won the greatest FA Cup final of all time, provided England captains, can claim 2 of only 22 men to ever be part of an English World Cup winning squad as well as possibly the greatest winger of all history anywhere ever and that's leaving out Jimmy Hampson, Stan Mortenson, that Micky Walsh goal, being robbed of the league title by Hitler and all the rest of it)

I think what it is, is that they are a bit like your little brother, wanting to come on a night out. You've got all your mates and you're off into town and then along comes your little brother insisting he can come too. You just don't want him there. He has a few drinks and he starts to join in with the banter and it just grates a bit. It's not that you hate him all the time, it's just that you don't want to have to deal with him right now, not here. A few drinks more and he is now getting feisty and giving it this and that, and you really want to just wait till he goes to the gents and leg it, because you can't be bothered with him at all. If he'd only know his place, you'd be able to get on very well.

The next bit only works if you've watched the second season of 'The Wire'. If you haven't you can skip it. 

Think Ziggy from 'The Wire'. That's Fleetwood Town FC. 

Blackpool, Preston, Bolton, Burnley, Blackburn are all drinking at the bar, Wigan are on the other side, still viewed with slight suspicion having only worked at the docks for 15 years, compared to the lifetimes of the other lot - but grudgingly accepted by now as long as they remember their place. Then there's Fleetwood, showing off, taking the piss, dancing on the bar with his pants round his ankles, behaving with no sense of decorum or tradition or understanding of the fact that if they carry on like that, they'll get a slap from one of the big, burly old time Stevedores. 

Not the bar from 'The Wire'


The Wire reference is over now. 

Anyway - the convoluted opening is to basically say, until we are out of the same division as them, it's a bit like an annual commitment to playing one of those arcade games where you have to hit stuff with a mallet - they pop up once a year, we knock them down, but then, there they are again. All flares and drums and desperate to be taken seriously. And you know what?

We hate Preston. We all hate Preston. Stand up if you hate PRESTON.

The game seemed a bit stodgy to begin with. It struggled to get going, it was rugged, without really being a proper needle match. We got stuck in, they got stuck in but nothing much went right. Then, a ball from the right, Matty Virtue found some space, miscontrolled it but it dropped to Liam Feeney who belted a diagonal shot home, just reward for being essentially fucking brilliant all year.

Then it seemed we'd score more, Fleetwood just weren't on their game - they were overrun in midfield and we, despite not looking quite as fluent as we can (Gnanduillet seemed a bit rusty after a few games out) found it quite easy going. A couple of beautiful runs from Delfouneso came to nothing, but begged the question of why a player with his close control and ability to explode from a languid trot into a slaloming firework of a dribble has achieved as little as he has. There's no one I want to succeed more with us.

Matty Virtue - who I like more and more each week for his endeavour and willingness to try something from time to time threw himself at a near post ball from Feeney and the ball squirted over the top.

Fleetwood got a bit more control of the game and half time came with a feeling that maybe, we should have scored more.

Not to worry, though because second half, Sullay KaiKai (when he's good he's outrageous, when he's not, he's invisible) squeezed a free kick that looked like a cross straight into the corner of the net and  now we're flying.

The bloke a few rows down is giving it large to Joey, who is stood in his technical area dressed in his weird outfit and 'trademark' cap that makes him look like a cross between a redneck trucker and a skier.

Then, from the left, Pool get free, there's space and time for a delicious cross and time stands still as Big Armand (now linking up play beautifully having had a quick brasso rub from Phil Horner at half time and definitely free of any rust) leaps about 12 feet in the air and nods it in. Only diving headers are better than proper strikers headers at the far post and we're all singing the big man's name because he's mint. Now, there's a Fleetwood fan on the pitch and we can't really even be bothered with the animosity and to be honest, it's quite good fun as the stewards seem baffled by his decision to run and to also change direction when one of them comes near, then there's two Blackpool fans who get fed up with watching him run free and run on and take him down, then the Fleetwood fans want a scrap and it's all a bit feisty but also a bit like when a small dog barks at a big dog and finally the game is off again... 


Now we're utter class. Jay Spearing is dictating things, Matty Virtue is flicking things into the path of oncoming players, Gnanduillet is nimble, strong and lithe, gliding around like he owns the place. Fonz and Sullay are running at them, creating back peddling chaos and when they get the ball, Big Ben Heneghan who is fucking mint is calmly martialling things, pointing, keeping the line tight and heading everything, seeming two cuts above.

It's like when we had them in the cup and LuaLua destroyed them. It's the natural order restored.

Then they score. 

And suddenly it's all a bit tense for a bit as they remember they can play. Madden and Evans link and move, their full backs push on and suddenly they pass crisply, are all triangles, movement, sharpness and we get tetchy. 'Larry! Where are the subs!?' 'Larry, if you're good for one thing, it's making a game killing defensive sub!' 'Larry!'

Of course, Larry responds, because in Larry we trust and the game is killed, What's left of about 4% of Fleetwood's population file off home on the 14 or the tram and there's no repeat of the grandstanding of last year, no bus windows kicked out and thankfully no equine horror stories.

We're delighted and relieved. It's the 'not a derby annual match against out most local football league team' that we REALLY don't want to lose and we won, quite easily. But it's not the gloating ecstasy that would come with a win over PNE or Bolton. It's just a sense of a job done that needed to be done.

So all is well and I can go back to generally quite liking Fleetwood (the place) for at least another few months. 

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 ...