Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Deja Vu all over again: Shrewsbury Town versus the Mighty.


The New Meadow has not been a gay place for Pool

I went on a lovely reflective walk today and was going to write a load of stuff about things and that but when I got in it turned out Armand is now a free agent. Armand! A free agent! And we need a striker! We don't score that many and super Armand scores goals! And he's fucking brilliant on his day. In fact, every day is Armand's day such is his Gallic indifference and glorious nonchalance. His all round fucking wonderful and woefully misunderstood genius. Sign him up. Death to the non-believers. 

CJ Hamilton is pretty shit hot on his day, but this isn't it as he's not playing. The sometimes sublime, sometimes so subtle you forget he's there Sullay comes back in. I bloody love him however much he's the player to blame when it goes wrong. Dan Kemp starts, he has linked really well with Madine when I've seen them on the pitch together. Dan Ballard and Jordan Gabriel make a high class pair of incoming defenders along with a giant keeper on loan from Reading. 

There's people in the ground, the crowd an ambient hum on a frozen evening with snow around the edge of the pitch. 

Nothing happens in the first 8 minutes aside from what usually happens in an uneventful league 1 game.  Some fouls, some jousting for possession and generally sizing each other up. Then Pool have a nice little spell, Jordan Gabriel striding confidently through the middle and setting Kemp up up for a shot which he hits straight at the keeper. Kemp then turns provider as he releases Gabriel wide, a move from which Pool win a corner. Garbutt swings it deep, through everyone. Then it's Madine, winning a long ball, controlling it and spotting the keeper out of position then from 35 yards, striking a volley that's not far away at all. 

Gabriel misses a pass and the ball rolls out of play. The Shrews fans manage a weak cheer of derision through their chattering teeth. Moments later he makes another error as he tries to set Pool on their way, attempting but failing to turn his man and being forced to dive in a concede a free kick to prevent them capitalising on the moment. From the free kick, the ball goes in, comes out again, then goes back in - there's a right old scramble and Pool clear whilst the locals claim some sort of skulduggery. 

There's something of the 1940s about this game. It's how I imagine wartime football to have been. A small crowd, icy pitch, the players breath steaming in the air. Everyone grateful for the escape of a game of football but a looming sense in the background that there's something else on the crowd and even the player's minds. 

Ethan Robson is the next to make a double mistake, first presenting possession to the Shrews then conceding a needless free kick. They lift it in, Madine flicks it on, Garbutt knocks it down, great play but at the wrong end and again, it's Marvin who belts it away. Shrewsbury are asserting themselves and try to thread a pass through the middle, Ballard shows his class as he steps across and muscles the intended receiver out of the way, controls and clears to a Pool player. 

The new keeper has looked sound. He's taken a couple of crosses very well then plucks a shot from the edge of the box out of the air, holding it impressively where others might have palmed it away. Shrewsbury come again, they put a lovely move together which is first repelled by a great Dan Ballard header at the far post then another sharp save from Walker when the tricky, stocky and skillful Daniel Udoh picks up the clearance and has a mazy run and shot. 

Kemp teases his man wide on the right, he's going to skin him, but he doesn't, he just stands there then rolls the simplest ball across. It's so simple no one sees it coming and it nearly reaches Madine but for a lunge from a Shrews defender. It drops nicely for Anderson but he sees glory, leans back and hits it as high and wide as he can... 

I might have said at the beginning that Sullay is magic but his tackle just inside the box really isn't. Whalley puts the ball past him and Kaikai just trips him, like a kid in a game on the rec where's there's no ref, pissed off that his mate has beaten him. It's a really poor tackle and clearly a penalty. 

A low penalty to the right and Walker saves it, it bounces out and they lash it back at goal, Walker sprawls to his left and stops it again... it drops again to a Shrews player who tucks it away with barely a challenge on him. I think it's Udoh. 

Pool huff and puff but can't put any meaningful pressure on. In fact, a Daniels free kick that whistles just past the post is close to making things worse... 

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It's not been vintage stuff. Madine has looked isolated, Sullay and Keshi might as well not be playing. Shrewsbury look very well drilled and their organisation needs testing more than we've done so far. We need to give them more to think about up front. We're a goal down and whilst sometimes there's an argument for keeping your powder dry, plan A hasn't looked much like working tonight. Whilst Sullay has been poor, I'm leaving him on and taking Keshi off for Yates at least... (simply cos Sullay is better wide than Keshi. We'll see. 

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Pool have a brighter start, Kaikai with a little shimmy and low cross that could have caused problems if we'd have got runners but we don't. Garbutt whips a free kick from 35 yards, it dips and the keeper sprawls and turns it round the post. The corner causes a bit of chaos. I wonder if you can have a bit of chaos - it's either chaotic or it's not surely. If chaos is an absence of order, then surely any measure of order means it's not chaos. What's the word for the point between 'order' and 'chaos' but that isn't described by either? Anyway, whilst I'm musing the ref blows for a foul on the keeper. 

Shrews fans in the safe standing section bat some balloons around halfheartedly. Nothing like a party in subzero temperature during a major pandemic to lift the spirts. 

Sullay wins a free kick wide, it's whipped across by Garbutt, there's half a chance at the far post but we fiddle around with it trying to work a perfect angle for a shot that is never going to come and they break like lightening. They're going up the left then switching it to the right, now turning it across for a snapshot that draws a quite fantastic stop from Walker, going down low to his left and saving his new team again. 

Then here comes Critch's subs... It's obviously going to be Yates but it's also Mitchell, Ward and.... Turton. I can see the first three but Turton? Shrews make some changes of their own but I'm captivated by Steve Cotterill and his semaphore. He seems very keen to get the number four over to someone but it's like watching a frustrated dad playing charades, trying to convey the name of a film from thirty years ago to some teenagers who've never heard of it. Cotteril always reminds me of an angry leisure centre manager who used to be in the RAF. I can imagine him wearing a polo shirt with the name of the centre sewn in it and getting really cross at a kid who has put the wrong amount of chlorine in the pool or retreating to his office to take the order for the vending machine really seriously. 

Dougall picks it up in midfield, one touch, two touches then a brilliant blind cross which Madine flicks, drawing a good save from the keeper. Turton puts a cross in, it's turned away for a corner, Garbutt swings it to the far post, Keshi comes in but the ball cannons off his ample thighs and just wide. There's a booking for a furious Gary Madine who, as the replay rolls looks to have been dragged to the ground. It's not been the goal machine's night. 

Pool put some pressure on. Yates juggles it and tries an ambitious effort but it goes sideways instead of goalward, Turton overlaps put puts a lollypopped cross in instead of a driven ball. Both full backs are getting much further forward. There's another burst of instructions from Cotterill as they make a third sub. More defensive strength as it clear they're going to shut up and challenge us to break them down. 

Madine cuts it back to Keshi, he strike a shot that looks nice when it leaves his foot, but he's way out and  it's deflected wide. From the short corner, Dougall lifts it to the far post, Marvin is sliding in desperately but the ball is bouncing into to the snow behind the goal, the big man an inch away from having the key touch. 

The pressure doesn't last and Shrewsbury assert themselves again, Critch goes for Bez, hoping his chaos (he is chaos) will unlock the game... Leon Clarke has come on for them and is doing a brilliant job of holding it up and linking play, looking like he's not even trying but winning everything. They take the piss in the corner for a bit till we finally win it back. Bez runs about a bit, Demi has a mad shot from a mile out. They take the piss some more in the other corner. There fans manage a semblance of a chant. Bez fouls someone. Demi runs about a bit. Pool launch one more attack, a tough tackle in midfield winning it, we're playing out the back, spreading out to Bez who will turn and run, but instead, he miscontrols it and lets the ball go out of play and that is basically that. 

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A poor performance from Pool, who stripped of CJ looked lost for ideas. If last year we were too reliant on Feeney to Armand, there's not really a lot to say we're not over relient on CJ this season. He's the only player in the top 20 players in the division for both goals and assists. i.e. - our only player in either of the charts. Without his searing pace we looked lost and whilst Kemp ran about and Keshi crashed into people, neither of them looked like they could replicate his impact. Sullay runs hot and cold and was definitely cold tonight. I'll even accept it was his fault to a degree, which I normally don't. Madine didn't do a lot, Yates did very little when he came on. Bez at least showed for the ball but when your praising someone one for running about as opposed to having any discernible impact it's a sign your scraping the barrel a bit. The centre backs and especially Sam Walker being the pick of the players tells its own story, especially when Shrewsbury hardly threw the kitchen sink at us. 

It mystifies me why Demi Mitchell gets sent on the right side - he's totally one footed and looks good when he races down his natural flank but completely out of his depth when running down the other, watching him trying to shift the ball on to his left foot when he's beaten someone is painful, yet on the left, he can go past someone and cross like a dream. Why not play him where he's clearly better and knows what he's doing? That extra touch is why I don't like playing players who aren't good at it as inside out wingers. That 'extra touch' is what defines Critchley's Pool when we're not very good. Shifting it sideways, one extra pass in the move, no one really taking the initiative. 

I don't like the way every defeat has to be a sign that we need 5 new players and every victory means we're winning the league but this game exposed our weakness which ironically is the same weakness we had last year. A well organised and physical side who don't show huge ambition are beyond us. If someone comes at us and takes the game to us or tries to pass it about, we can play against them but like Accy the week before, we just had no answer to their well drilled defence. 

Certainly a striker is needed, but I can't help thinking we also need to show a bit more guile and a bit more ambition going forward. What CJ does is go for the jugular, every time. He scares defences and Shrewsbury's defence were anything but scared because we really didn't go at them. We didn't drag them out of shape or force them into anything particularly last ditch. I don't really get irate about mistakes players make, they happen, but I do get frustrated with the overall attitude of a side and today, it was all too measured and too easy for Shrewsbury. Like we were waiting for something that never came. 

Just like last year... 


Fuck it. Get Armand in*

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*poe faced miserable doubters who express miserable sentiments about Armand like 'one good season' and 'doesn't fit into Critchley's style' and 'will you ever get over him, he's shite' or 'for fucks sake, he's not coming back we need to look at players like [insert name of form player here]' will not be entertained in the comments section and maybe encouraged to seek their after match reading in other blogs, which are readily available. 

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Postponed (other)



An empty pitch

In lieu of there being any football worth caring about being played (i.e - no Blackpool match), today the blog machine will churn out some random information. I've not achieved that much in my life, largely I think because remembering stuff is a bit boring. Football has always been the exception. From a young age, my mind has accumulated and retained seemingly random information about football in a way it has refused to do with other things. 

Remembering the periodic table or a language would have been useful, but that never stuck. Knowing that the league's second highest goal scorer in a season is George Camsell who scored 59 goals for Middlesbrough is useless but it stuck just fine. I've known this since I was 7 and I read it in a book. I can't remember where I put my keys or that it's my sisters birthday but George Camsell and his goals are always there. This is how my brain works and now, for lack of anything else to write about, I'm finally going to put some of this to use in a boxing day blog because, frankly there's nothing else to say about the shite going on now. 

I'm going to put together some of the best things I've learned this year (i.e. more useless knowledge) into a seamless and fluid feature that hardly anyone will read. Why? 

Why not? What else is there to do? 

Useless fact 1 

It's Christmas and that means driving home (normally anyway) and driving home means Chris Rea. Chris Rea's hometown is Middlesbrough and his family ran a cafe near Ayresome Park where the Middlesbrough squad would go after training. It was at Rea's where their hotshot centre forward, Brian Clough would meet his wife Norma who would stay by his side for the rest of his days, the anchor to Clough's eccentric genius. Whilst double checking my useless information for accuracy, I discovered Clough's career started when he was spotted by the aforementioned George Camsell. There's another piece of information to insulate myself from knowing anything helpful in life to add to the collection. 

Useless fact 2 

Clough was very keen to keep his players grounded and to remain connected to the real world. His own active support for the NUM and the brilliant story of him sending Mark Crossley to play Sunday football or getting players to walk his dog are examples of how Clough stood apart from other managers. 

Clough, to the best of my knowledge, never asked his players to engage in agricultural labour before a match though, which was what Aston Villa's players had to do at their second ground. The pitch was presumably a basic field, rented from a farmer and it so happened that it was where the farmer kept a haystack. For some reasons that history doesn't explain the haystack remained firmly in situ for at least a portion of the time Villa played there and had to be removed before a game and replaced afterwards. 

Where it was moved to and why it couldn't stay there no one reports. In fact, the story only seems to occur in one book, but the scrupulous (in fact, sometimes it's if anything, a little too painstaking) research involved in the rest of the book suggests that it's unlikely the author would simply make up the story. (and how the hell would you dream that up anyway?) 

Useless fact no 3 

Villa's haystack dates back to the pre-professional era and many of the games more idiosyncratic qualities had been ironed out by 1935. That didn't mean the players earned very much though and second jobs (or even retaining amateur status and football being the second job) weren't uncommon By far the most glamorous example was workmanlike Millwall defender Len Tyler who worked as star Robert Dunat's body double during the filming of the Hitchcock classic '39 Steps'. 


Len Tyler of Millwall and the film industry

Useless fact no 4 

The 39 Steps features a degree of railway action, the protagonist escaping the city on a steam train to hide out in the wilderness. In the early professional era, steam trains were how players got around and thus arriving at away games was subject to the whims of the transport network. In the pre floodlight era that sometimes involved shortened matches if a side arrived late, in order to squeeze the game in before sundown. 

An extreme case of train chaos involved Aston Villa (by now haystack free) and saw them get hammered by Burnley in January 1889 after fielding just 8 players to he opposition's 11 after Villa changed trains in Manchester and conditions were so foggy, part of their team got lost. To add insult to injury, when some of the missing players finally turned up the referee wouldn't allow them to play. Mismatched numbers weren't uncommon early in the professional game and stories of teams borrowing players or goalkeepers changing positions to make up the numbers are relatively common. For me, it would add a certain frisson to the modern game to see one of our players have to turn out for the other team to make up the numbers or the sub goalie having a go up front. 

Useless fact no5 

We mentioned floodlights (or the lack thereof) above and one of the great pioneers of the English game, Herbert Chapman was a great champion of such an innovation. He had lights installed at Highbury many years before the FA allowed their use and friendlies and training took place under them. 

Chapman himself was a player who remained an amateur for most of his career as he saw more financial security in becomimg a professional in another trade and saw career in mine engineering as his way forward in life. He had, however, already been swayed from this path by football management by the time WW1 came along wherein, Chapman, in possession of a diploma in his first choice profession (which presumably included knowledge of explosives) and a reputation for organisation gained through his football career was put in charge of a munitions factory a job he undertook with success for several years. 

Chapman is likely the only England manager (he took charge of the national side twice) to have also managed a bomb making plant. 

Herbert Chapman - he got things done. Including high explosives...

Useless fact no 6 

Accrington was one of the hardest hit towns in the first world war, the decimation of the Accrington Pals battalion being a poignant reminder of the scale of the slaughter which would go on to inspire a song and a play in their memory. 

Accrington Stanley used to play at Peel Park which was in 2011 subject of a fascinating archeological dig and during the research into the artefacts turned up by the excavation it emerged that the UK manufactured clay pipes (the smoking kind) as late as the mid 1970s. Imagine that. Concorde in the air, computers beginning to be used in industry but you could still pop to the shop and buy a clay pipe... 

Ok, that's not strictly football related but it's certainly useless. 

If you want to find out what's underneath a long demolished football ground, you can do so. This is what I call interesting. Others may disagree.  

Useless fact 7

Unsurprisingly, one of the other artefacts unearthed in the Accy dig alongside the smokers detritus was a peg that was used to hold the goal nets in place. 

Even in the early professional era, playground style arguments abounded about exactly whether a ball had passes between or beyond the posts until in the early 1890s one bright spark had the idea of a net. 

And what a bright spark he was. John Alexander Brodie witnessed an argument at an Everton game in 1890, thought 'I can fix that' and then by 1891, the FA had made goal nets compulsory for everyone. Not satisfied with that, he went on to have long career in engineering, racking up plenty of achievements, the crowning glory of which was the construction of the Mersey Tunnel in 1935.

I bet he didn't have a blog or a problem with retaining useless shite instead of relevant information. 

Imagine building this and it NOT being the most famous thing you did?

Useless fact no 8

Sticking with Merseyside, and returning to the first fact in the piece (George Camsell's 59 goals) Dixie Dean's 60 goals in a league season are the stuff of legend. Such was Dean's prowess in the air, he was reputed (falsely) to have a metal plate in his head. The useless information I gained this year pertains however, to Dean's death, which took place at the 1980 Merseyside derby. This was the first game the aged and sickly (by now, the owner of just a single leg) Dean had attended in 7 years and was to be his last act. His lunch companion that day, with whom he shared his final meal? 

Bill Shankly. 

Useless fact no 9: 

One of the saddest things about Bill Shankly's life was that he was ostracised by Liverpool at the end of his career and instead of visiting Anfield or their training ground, he'd instead visit Goodison and spend time at Everton's Bellefield training ground. I knew that already, but what I didn't know about Shankly was that initially his brother outshone him as a football manager. Bob Shankly rose quicker than Bill, who was mired in the English lower leagues and was challenging for honours with Third Lanark and winning the League with Dundee in 1961, before taking them to the semi finals of the European Cup in 1962 - a full 3 years before Bill won the FA Cup with Liverpool for his first major honour in the game. 

Useless fact no 10

On the topic of brothers - the name Herbert Chapman has already been invoked, no trawl of English football history can overlook this most modernising and consistently successful of managers, but hands up, who knew his brother was also a footballer and a rather more successful one than Herbert ever was? Harry Chapman was man of the match in the 1907 FA Cup final and had a long career in the top flight, unlike Herbert who flickered only briefly at the highest level, mostly playing out his peripatetic career at a host of lower league and non league clubs. 

Useless fact 11: 

Finally, on the topic of the FA Cup final and finally, introducing the mighty tangerine Wizards, this year was the year I learned that as well as being the winners of the most famous game in football history, the suppliers of the first Ballon D'or winner from the UK, providing 2 players to the 1966 World Cup winning squad and having the best record in play-offs of any team plus many other wonderful things, the Mighty also have the distinction of fielding the last ever amateur to play in an FA Cup Final. Bill Slater played for for Pool in their 1951 Wembley defeat but also worked at a university and steadfastly refused to become pro so as to not be beholden to football in a way that could jeopardise his better paid and more secure long term job prospects. 

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There we have it - a team of useless information. A one to eleven of pointless facts. What does it show? Nothing, but a small slice of the vast knowledge to be gleaned from football history. Most of it is perhaps as useless as I've labelled it but there's something poignant about the misty past, especially at this point as we stand on the possible brink of another interruption to the game and the potential financial collapse that it will bring. 

There's a balance in football. Nothing is permanent but yet some things are. It's changing yet changeless. The past was not roses and yet it was glorious.

In the past we see today and vice versa - the game of the 1880s and 1890s is riven with accusations of 'unsporting behaviour' and 'rowdiness' in crowds. There's a very disturbing story of a 1930s footballer who suffered horrendous barracking from the crowd towards the end of a career tailing off into obscurity and was driven to putting his head in the oven and ending his life. The reaction to footballers playing on in WW1 bears some passing resemblance to the recent debate about whether or not football should continue in a pandemic, with the financial security of clubs no small consideration. 

Even impermanence is permanent, the article above bears names like Third Lanark and Accrington Stanley - clubs who have been to the wall and in some cases, not come back. Many, many more could be cited. Bill Shankly managed Workington Town, long since voted out of the league.

Terracing at old Bradford Park Avenue ground

Herbert Chapman managed Leeds City, expelled from the league for financial irregularities and ultimately replaced by Leeds United. Chapman was banned from football as a result (but rehabilitated a year later. when it was recognised the board were the main wrong doers) He'd go on to manage Arsenal who managed a MK Dons style leap into a higher league than they had any right to not long before he joined... Crooked chairmen, a badly run game, corruption and contract wrangling - would never happen today eh?  

What is evident is, from the very early days, football has had an almost unique grip on the imagination of many. There's a seemingly endless number of reports, stories, legends, facts, statistics. British (most specifically, English and Scottish) football is unparalleled in this regard. We've had more teams, playing more football, for more years than anyone else. There's a richness and depth to the game we cannot afford to lose. It's a unique thing and on any given winter Saturday since 1888, you could find some hardy souls braving icy rain, squinting into encroaching evening gloom, and later luminescent floodlit brightness but probably thinking the same thought... 

"Why do I care?" 

The looms of the mills around places like Peel Park have long since fallen silent. The steam trains are museum pieces. The tuberculosis that claimed Chapman's life is no longer a threat. The world has changed but across the country, football is a constant background to our lives.  

Not today though. 

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NB: If you enjoyed this piece - I urge you to get a copy of the wonderful book 'When Footballers were Skint' by Jon Henderson which was the source of fact 3 and many, many more other stories of life in the game before the maximum wage. It sounds a dry topic perhaps, but it really isn't - it's warm, funny, sad and fascinating in equal measure. Henderson strings together disparate stories brilliantly and gives voice to players beautifully, allowing their character to really shine. 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

No room for politics?




Is he really going to write a blog about an advertising board for discount carpets? Why, yes he is! 

In the latest cutting edge piece of high wire reportage from the leading blog named after an ex Scarborough left back I am going to attempt to dissect the changing face of football and what it stands for in the modern world from the starting point of my favourite advertising hoarding. I'll try and keep it light and frothy, like a cappuccino from a food outlet in one of the mega new grounds in the brave post Bovril landscape of mega moneyball.

Honestly. Christmas has come early dear reader. It's the present you didn't know you wanted... 

My favourite advert at Bloomfield Road is the earthy and traditional 'Terry's Cut Price Carpets" board. You know where you are with signage like that. Just in case, you are thinking it's some kind of retro kitsch ironic hipster thing, let me assure you it's not. A man, called Terry wants to sell you carpets. At a cut price. Simple.
 

There's something gloriously old fashioned about its directness, its basic two tone colour scheme and uncomplicated message expressed in an unfussy font. Whilst as early as the 1920's Edward Bernase was coming up with psychologically manipulative forms of advertising, the football grounds of my childhood were generally simple places with exhortations to call a plumber or buy a second car the only interruptions to the visual landscape of crush barriers, fences and dilapidated corrugated iron roofs.

Terry and his discount wares feels like they could belong in almost any era since advertising boards first appeared around our stadiums. A local business for local people. People need carpets from time to time and cut price ones at that. Just gazing at it, you can smell pies, see ghostly balls getting stuck in the mud and shiver at the omnipresent sense of casual violence lurking down red brick alleyways. It says 'carpets' as a Gary Briggs tackle said 'football' - it's to the point. It does the job.

Briggsy, about to tackle the photographer

What we'd never have predicted even in the sponsored tight fitting nylon 1980s was the level to which football itself has become a brand and the degree to which other brands seek 'synergy' through their endorsement of all things vaguely connected to the game. 

My son has just laughed at the name 'The Tony Macaroni Stadium' and naming rights are just one aspect of the onslaught you're subjected too when engaging with football. Watching top level games on feels a bit like Tron as inevitably, you end up slack jawed, dribbling and watching the vivid animated boards around the side of the pitch with their often cryptic branding. More than once I've looked up a phrase or a company just to work out what the hell it is. Job done.

Evil marketing executive 1, Fleshy consumer brain 0. (*)

Sometimes sponsorship baffles even when you do know who the brand is. For years, the champions League meant Clive Tyldsely, Andy Townsend and Gazprom. As, to the best of my knowledge, I don't think I can actually actively buy anything from Gazprom, it seems weird that they spent what must be a pretty penny getting their name in my face. Why? Presumably a demonstration of the power of the Russian state and their importance to Europe's gas supplies. 

"Sergai?" 
"Yes Dmitri?" 
"These western Europeans don't give the motherland the respect we deserve..." 
"Let's give them a reminder that we can turn their cookers off anytime" 
"How will we do that?" 
"Lets buy their football" 
"Hi, I'd like to buy some...er...Gaz?"


Football has become a geopolitical tool in the global marketplace. Got a dodgy state with a poor human rights record? Buy a football club. Everyone loves a football club. Brand the fuck out of it and associate yourself with something positive. Yes, Manchester City, I mean you. Sorry Newcastle. You're stuck with cheap trainers and big mugs for a while longer. 

Not that long ago, I listened to a really interesting podcast about the Chinese state involvement in UK football. The gist of it was that whilst the state had encouraged most investors to pull back when it realised that it's a (big) mugs game, money continues to pour into Wolves because with much to be made from upgrading the UK rail industry, Wolverhampton is a very convenient place for a Chinese business with interests in high speed rail to own a football club and possess political and social good will, what with it being the heartland of UK rail manufacturing and all... 

Clubs themselves have realised their global potential and one of the strangest sights of all is the self promotion they indulge in during games, when presumably people are watching them because they've already bought into the 'brand' of the club by being there or watching through a TV screen. 

"This means more" scrolling around Anfield raises my blood pressure. Nothing makes me want to go a bit Raul Moat more than the self regarding self mythologising belief that somehow Liverpool fans feel more connection, more joy, more pride in their team than any others. In fact, given Liverpool's low proportion of local season ticket holders, if football is an expression of pride in a place or location, you could make a pretty solid argument that "This is a day trip" or "This means less" would be more apt. 

What is going on here isn't the promotion of goods or services. There's no phone number, no Terry to speak to about fitting, no call to action. It's not an advert in that sense at all. Instead it's an invitation to believe in an idea. It's a subtle message, reinforcing the experience of the consumer, suggesting that, rather than watching Liverpool swat aside another underfunded club and simply achieving what their bank balance has bought them, we are, in fact, taking part in a quasi religious spiritual ritual. 

It's an invite to 'Reds' across the globe to stick with the brand, from Dublin to Dubai because like Coke triumphs over all other brands, there's something uniquely authentic about the Liverpool experience. It's not for those who live in the shadow of Anfield or are familiar with Merseyrail yellow. It's for the global floating supporter, reminding them that Anfield is Mecca or Lourdes and thus just bathing in the cathode rays beamed from L4 is like a draft of holy water. 


All clubs have their versions of this. My own twitter header (above) is me, buying hook line and sinker the rebranding of my own club. Because, for everyone, watching your own team does indeed 'mean more' and all stadiums are the Theatre of (someone's) Dreams. Even Priestfield.

TV football isn't just scrolling adverts pitch side. It's a 24/7 business these days with rolling news and endless speculation on what will happen next. Why is this? Why are we all invited constantly on multiple channels to wonder about 'the implications' of everything? Why are things that have always happened in football, that are inevitable effects of playing the game, from thigh strains to management changes, from fluctuations in form to the minor details of team selection now subjected to so much scrutiny? 

It's impossible to consume football just about anywhere without an invitation to bet. You can bet on just about anything and gambling has become intertwined with the game like an invasive plant chokes a previously well kept garden. Once it's there, you can't get rid of it, without pulling to bits the rest of the foliage. 

What does gambling need to encourage people to take part? Information. Gamblers are desperate for a tip, an insight, a sense of the inside track and all throughout the media (often on platforms sponsored by gambling companies) 'experts' spew data, opinions and hunches relentlessly. Whilst having a flutter is the one vice I don't find remotely tempting, I can think of the many that I do and wonder what effect it would have on me if the simple escapism of football was so completely bound up with something that tempted me. I've had mates and family that gambled too much for their own good and whilst I don't want to be a puritan, I'm not sure gambling companies have these people's best interest at heart to say the least.

It's a vicious circle. Football needs the money from gambling companies to maintain its aura of elite glamour. Without it players wouldn't be paid as much and then the big money investments from abroad wouldn't seem so attractive. Somehow, in an alternative universe where the game was still funded in a 1970s style, I can't imagine Etihad Airways adorning the front of an eggshell pattern Manchester City kit, not the same logo featuring on the bizarre paisley style pattern of their third kit which seems to solely exist as a fashion item, such is football in the endtimes. 

Nothing disrupts the corporate messaging. I there find incredibly hard to understand how people can frame 5 seconds of players ostensibly showing solidarity against racism in a way sanctioned and endorsed by the authorities as some sort of existential threat to society. If its a gesture that is dangerously 'Marxist' surely the FA and the Premier League would be worried that as a result impressionable football fans will be throwing away their credit cards and rushing for a copy of the little red book and demanding gulags, great leaps forward and iron curtains instead of a free bet with Paddy Power (t's + c's apply, begambleaware.com) or guzzling down the latest official coconut water from the clubs official coconut water partner. 

When we stop and think about our own ideology, it doesn't need Karl Marx to tell us that something is wrong with the way allocate the resources we have. You can dismiss him completely from your mind but still wonder why global wealth is such that whilst some luxuriate on their choice of inherited yachts and own entire islands, others struggle for fresh water from birth.

Whilst it's melodramatic perhaps to compare football to those circumstances, the global reach of a few 'elite' leagues has undermined the foundations of many leagues the world over. Football thrives in some countries and struggles in others. Wither Eastern Europe and Hungary, the land of Honved and Puskas, wither African football with ever declining crowds as mega leagues strip away player after player, wither the global game and hail more or less the same 8 teams in the Champions League every fucking year. Who is going to chuck money at a league no one watches? Who is going to watch a league with no players of quality? How is that league going to maintain its quality with no sponsorship income? What's round and bites? 

Football and gambling justify their own relationship by the same argument that justifies so many things that do harm. It makes money and money makes jobs. It's an 'industry.' Open cast mines in national parks make money, money makes jobs. Chemical factories discharging their waste into rivers maximises profits and to hell with those downstream. Profits secure jobs and people need jobs so we overlook the people getting rich on destruction... 

In the same way, the wealth of the game is a good thing, for wealth is good. Who cares that ticket prices rise, the make up of crowds change, the game becomes hidden behind a paywall, fixtures are rearranged and rules changed according to the whims of the TV companies. Who cares, because it makes money and money is everything. 

Where does the money go? Where does all this wealth that pours into the game end up? All the money from the fixed odds machines on high streets in towns where there's little else to do?  All the money from the exploitative multinational brands that line up to stick their name on anything that moves to distract from their supply chain? If this money is an inevitability can we not think of anything better to do with it than ever increasing wages and ever more absurd transfer fees? 

Just as the chemical company doesn't need to care about the dying fish, withered trees and poisoned water it leaves in its wake till eventually the law forces them to, the elite football leagues don't need to care about their impact on the global game or the parlous state of grassroots football. It's not their job to do so. Wealth is good. People need jobs. Etc. More adverts. More money please. Bigger stars, more money, more adverts. Wealth is good. Repeat. 

There's no doubt room to expand the allegory but you don't have to look far beyond the football pitch to see the ideology the game rests upon. One that is, as I've written about at length before, designed to keep the finances flowing in the same direction, whilst giving just enough of a hint of opportunity to keep everyone else interested. It's a construct maintained by careful messaging and reinforced through the overlapping messages of brands who share the same interests in maintaining a status quo. As I said, this allegory could run and run... 

If 'there's no room for politics' in the game, it's going to be a long old road to strip away everything ideological and leave us with just the football. The football pitch has become a blank canvas for the mega rich to sketch their values upon. Not everything ideological is so considerate as to label itself as 'political' 

I just want to watch some lads kick a ball about and hope my team wins.
 
In retrospect the main mistake I made was not buying a mid ranking championship club, one with Premier League potential... y'know Derby, Watford, that sort of team...

(I also need a new carpet.) 

Happy Christmas. 

(*) full credit to the ever fantastic SAFCBlog for the 1 game emergency loan of the scoreline involving things that aren't football to illustrate a point technique. 



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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Big Sam's Bloomfield Beginnings


3 points from the last 6 games? We'll piss it! Just defend lads. What could possibly go wrong?

This story begins with me on the phone to Owen Oyston. I'm insistent he shouldn't have got rid of Billy Ayre and even more insistent that as he hadn't given the messiah enough (any) money to spend, he should take the blame for our struggles, not the King himself. We've stayed up again as well, Billy crafting another against all odds survival on the back of a 4-1 last day miracle win. I listened to that game on the south coast of Scotland, radio twisting in the air in search of signal and each goal celebrated between me, the sea and some bemused seabirds. It's strange how vividly I remember it and yet, I wasn't even there. 

Owen is charm personified on the Radio Lancashire phone in that has brought us together, he mollifies me, soothes my fury with such slickly spoken sugary platitudes as 'I can hear the passion in your voice, and trust me, we both want what's best for the football club.' Like a sociopath, he disarms me and I ring off without furiously demanding he leave or reinstall the King which had been my intention. It's a lesson in life. These people get where they get by being like this. 

Years later I read that Billy was relieved of his duties as the chairman, (yet to be accused and subsequently convicted of rape) had been flirting with Peter Reid (who'd returned to playing after losing the Man City job and was drifting down the leagues) and thought wrongly he'd got his man. According to legend, Owen wanted the king to return to being a number 2 to work alongside the star name. How true that is, I suspect we'll never know for certain. 

What I really didn't expect next was us to go for an ex Preston and Bolton centre half I didn't know a thing about.

Sam Allardyce? Who the fuck is he? I'm too young to remember his playing pomp (If clattering forwards can be described as a 'pomp') and all I could tell about him was he'd managed a few games as caretaker at Preston and done a season in Ireland. Surely this guy can't be Billy's replacement? You've swapped the best manager in the league for this? He's got a shit tache as well. Yeah, Billy had a tache, but it was a good one. Sam looks like a car salesman in the wrong career. All ill fitting suits and sweaty palmed promises you know he's no good for. In his tracksuit he wasn't much better, like a bloke who goes jogging on a Sunday but nips to the pub after 400 yards. No good can possibly come of this. 

What was weird, was Owen did seem to make good on his oily assurances to me. Whereas the seasons before, we'd been threadbare and relied at times on the likes of Chris Speak (2 games in his entire football career,) Neil Mitchell, Andy Gouck and even coach out of retirement Neil Bailey as well as buying the players ourselves (Oi, Owen, give us back that money for Andy Watson if nothing else...!), in the Big Sam Era we almost immediately went out and signed Tony Ellis. Tony fucking Ellis. Who saw that coming? Not me. I'm still slightly taken aback by it, 26 years later. 

Not only Ellis, but players like Mickey Mellon, who'd actually played for West Brom in the first team, Andy Morrison who was highly rated at Blackburn, Les Sealey from the real Manchester United, Phil Brown, who I'd actually heard of and more. It didn't matter that Sealey turned out to be really shit, the rest of them proved to be quite good and in the case of Mellon and even more so Morrison and Ellis, absolute top drawer players who have had few equals to this day.  

I've long since ditched my programmes (and how I wish I hadn't) so I don't know what games I saw in that first season of Allardyce. What I do know is, the first few I saw were quite boring and I swear he played Dave Bamber at centre back for one of them. The one game I do clearly remember was a 0-0 draw sometime towards the end of the season against Crewe who were, at the time, a serious proposition - Robbie Savage, Neil Lennon, Danny Murphy, Ashley Ward and Dele Adebola all on their books and in Dario Gradi, one of the most wily managers in the lower leagues. It was a fascinating game. The best 0-0 I've ever seen and I remember being struck by the fact that clearly, some of the Crewe players were very, very good, but the way we'd nullified them, the way Allardyce had utilised our players, shouting from the touchline and directing things, was just as worthy as their talent. 

The real story though comes in the second and final season of his reign. We only go and buy Andy Preece! Andy Preece! He's an actual Premier League player whose been on Match of the Day. He's someone my mates who don't support shit Div 3 teams have heard of. Not only that, but we've added the brilliant Steve Banks and Marvin Bryan - two astute signings from the lower leagues who will remain firm favourites long after Sam leaves the building. We will go on to add Rick Holden (yes, the Rick Holden) who is the best crosser I will see for years. We also pay real cash money during the season for Lee Philpott (oi, pisspot, that's shite!) and David Lineghan, who isn't quite Andy Lineghan but looks pretty similar and also has graced the top level in the recent past.

We only went and signed a player who had had a poster in 'Match' AND wasn't over 35. 

When you look at how Allardyce is received today, it's interesting to reflect on how good Pool are in this season. Pool are barnstorming for a lot of this year and as well as the above, the side features at various times, the mercurial skill of James Quinn, the sublime fox in the box Andy Watson and the classy Mark Bonner. It's a real silk and steel affair and we're an absolute pleasure to watch, not least because we give as good as we get, we earn the right to play and play we do when we're on top, which for much of the season is most of the time.  

Andy Barlow at left back was solid and unspectacular but Marvin Bryan on the other side hared down the wing like he'd invented a new position. A sort of winger cum fullback. We could call it 'wing-back?' It'll never catch on. Linighan and Morrison were a stone wall. Darren Bradshaw the cement. Mellon pinged it about in a way we wouldn't see till Richie Wellens, Philpott went down one wing and crossed, all too briefly Rick Holden went down the other and Preece, Ellis, Quinn and sometimes Watson made hay. 

We really were good for much of that year. Like a heavyweight boxer who is deceptively nimble on his feet. Tough, strong but more than good enough to put teams to the sword. Athletic, muscular and exciting to watch. We gloriously beat the Clampets twice in 10 days, home and away. We hit teams for 3 and 4 and almost never (at least till the end of the season) fail to score. The stands ring to the not quite rhythmically correct 'Allardyce's Tangerine Army' - his name doesn't quite doesn't fit, but we're playing so well, we have to sing it. 

Big Sam smokes tabs in the dugout. He prowls the touchline with a B+H on the go, or furiously chewing gum. Who couldn't fail to grudgingly love a manager who smokes? I'd warm a lot more to prefect Ole or boring Frank Lampard if they sparked up once in a while.

We fear no one. We beat Bradford, crucify Crewe, smash Swansea, batter both Bristols, carve up Carlisle and we even take a point away from home against the only other team who seem to be able to hold a candle to us in Steve McMahon's Swindon. Nothing can stop this tangerine machine. Not even an irritating bald Scouser. Not even having a shirt with 'Rebecca's Jewellers, Southport' on the front. Nothing... 
The Mighty Quinn. 

Nothing will stop us, it seems, except a total implosion and implode we do. We implode like a matchstick spaceship in a black hole.

Who knows what happens? Does Sam bottle it and try and defend his way to what seems like a nailed on promotion? Why does he bring in Eric Nixon, who is utter shite and play him ahead of Steve Banks who really isn't? What happens to the Preece, Ellis, Quinn (and Watson just in case...) a front three who couldn't stop scoring, but who stop scoring enough to win games? Where did the rock like defence go? We just can't buy a win and can barely scrape a draw as the season ends in a car crash sequence of 2 points from 18 that sees us slip into the play offs on the final day. Margins so fine that reading the sequence back, you're tempted to believe that if you just read it again, we still might get that crucial point. 

Lets not speak of those play offs... We're usually so good at them as well.  

How does something that looked so promising, so assured and so strong fall apart like that? I don't know, but as I stand on the South Paddock on a May evening, shell shocked at the Bradford smash and grab job, I feel closer to crying than I've ever done or ever will at a football match. Allardyce will soon be relieved of his job amid rumours of losing the dressing room to dark forces. Owen Oyston won't be on Radio Lancashire to field calls this time because a week later he's headed for a prison cell, his alleged misdeeds confirmed for certain in a court of law. 

The club will take 11 years and 5 managers to get back to this point and Allardyce will need to go to Notts County to rebuild his reputation after the sacking. Rebuild he does and in the 24 and a bit years since, there's barely a failure (arguably, no outright failures at all) on his CV but despite a good number of promotions, taking Horwich to Europe, pissing off the likes of Wenger, getting all pally with Fergie and landing jobs like Everton, Newcastle and of course, the tragicomic England reign, ultimately, trophies have eluded him.  

At Pool he was idiosyncratic, bloody minded and everything he'd become was there. He'd sit on top of the dugout to get a better view, he'd bark and wave at refs like a man possessed. He'd sometimes have a mad big mobile phone though I can't remember seeing him actually using it. He'd sign central defenders just because they were available (and his son was...) He was never worshipped like Billy Ayre, but he certainly had a midas touch with players than couldn't be denied. Even Andy Gouck was good under Allardyce. 

There's a sense that across his career, just like that first job, he's come close, that he's got something special about him and maybe should have done more but that he has perhaps cost himself the shot at glory he so clearly aspires too by insisting, as he did in those final months at the seaside, that trying not to lose is better than trying to win.

Is that fair? I don't know, but I do know, believe it or not, whether or not you see football as a moral crusade or an art form, whatever you think of the man and his teams, I definitely, 100% certainly, saw a Sam Allardyce side who were worth watching and went out to win games, (until, disastrously, for whatever reason, they didn't)


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Saturday, December 19, 2020

This year Christmas really IS cancelled - Accrington Stanley vs the Mighty



This time last year I wrote a blog entitled 'Christmas Cancelled' when we lost to Shrewsbury in the pre Christmas game. As if Christmas would ever get cancelled though. Lol lol lol. Ho ho ho. That's not going to happen. Not in a month of Sundays! 

Last year's Boxing Day game against Accy at home was a proper sickener and the away game I can barely remember as I came as near to suffering serious heatstroke as I ever have - my main (sun fried) memories are

1) Me getting a bit arsey with some lads as they pretty nearly trampled my (considerably smaller) lad underfoot but not arsey enough for them to notice me being arsey cos they were pretty big lads so I just contained my arsiness to generally muttering and glaring and imagining their hangovers in the morning. 

2) getting ready to be frisked and realising my pockets were full of sherbet (actual sherbert, not euphemistic sherbert from my lads sherbert dib dab that had, unknown to me exploded in my pocket ) and wondering how I might explain the large quantities of white powder to a steward who didn't look in the mood for chatting and probably, seen as some of the lads around me looked quite 'alert' might jump to a different conclusion. 

3) the sun. the never ending sun, beating down non stop, inducing a sort of horrible throbbing nausea, a sort of fever dream through which I could sort of see Ryan Hardie loping about up front like he was playing for a different team and Ryan Edwards playing right back like he was walking a tightrope. 

4) A game that seemed to last for years where we were mostly a bit shit till Matty Virtue scored in the last minute which made it all worth it. 

5) Going to Accrington Asda on the way home and buying a 6 pack of ice lollies and me and the lad eating them all in about 5 minutes in the car park under the shade of a tree. 

Here's a compendium of pictures to remind you what we're missing. Try not to cry. I'm getting fed up of this. It's the small things that make life worth living like....

...Pints. Sunshine. Football...




Today, we're on the telly, it's not a heart and soul, blood and guts physical experience but one of distance.  That effect of that distance is emphasised by Accy being one of those grounds where you are right on top of the players, where you can see just how physical high level football is and whilst it might fit some people's ideas of 'tinpot' I think, like seeing a band in a tiny cellar, shorn of all the pyrotechnics of stadium show, there's a lot to be said for seeing football in this sort of arena. It's one of my favourite things about League One, that you can be at the Stadium of Light one week and the Crown Ground the next. It's weird how little grounds can seem louder than ones with 10 times the fans in and how much where you watch from can affect the way you watch the game. 

There's none of this to reflect on these days. A pitch is a pitch is a pitch and the mood of a club is impossible to judge on telly in front of an empty stadium. There's always a buzz at Accy and a sense of occasion but not today... 

We've been on a roll and seem to have got both spirit and skill but I'm anticipating a difficult game. Coleman is as canny operator as there is at any level and Critch is still learning the artform of management to add to his undisputed mastery of the craft of coaching. Accy are a good side and they don't play with the expectation that some of the other good sides play with. They take nothing for granted, fight for every ball and earn every point. That's not easy to play against and they're on decent form this year. My mystical senses tell me the game will be decided by someone unexpected and I'm hoping it's something like the ball going in off Marvin's arse or similar. How's that for top grade analysis? 

Team news sees Matty Virtue in which is good as I like Matty Virtue. Even better, Madine and Yates start together and Dan Ballard plays in a side that definitely has a physical bite to it. The mystery is Sullay disappearing completely, not even making the bench - he wasn't at his best on Tuesday for certain, but he's always an option if you need a bit of magic. Presumably Keshi will play on the left where he did a good job when moved there last time out - I like him a lot but it feels like he's never quite found his spot in the side, not quite a midfielder, not quite a striker and maybe cutting in from wide will suit him. He certainly adds a bit more combative edge than Sullay, but I bloody love Sullay. 

---

It's raining as the players trudge out accompanied by subs and staff bedecked in thick club issue coats, hoods up looking like puffer jacketed monks. Nottingham looks bigger than he ever did in a Pool shirt, the rule being that former players grow a bit or get a bit faster when they play against you. Pool are bedecked in angelic white versus Stanley's devilish red, Not lonely this week Jerry jumps as he realise he nearly forgot the knee taking, then we're off with a long ball leading to a goal kick... 

Tiny moments for each side in the early stage, Accy building a move from a Keshi mistake but getting crowded out and Madine putting pressure on the Accy keeper forcing a slightly wild clearance. It's notable that John Coleman doesn't seem to entertain ideas of Nottingham as a total football centre back as he (playing on the right of a three) makes several 'industrial' clearances in the first five minutes. 

A few more not quite moments, a lovely little chip from midfield puts Dion Charles through but it's a tough job for him to control it and it rolls away from him. At the other end, Garbutt puts a corner in dangerously but it's headed away from inside the six yard box. From Accy's first corner, Nottingham gets some space at the far post but can only head straight at Maxwell. 

Then a bizarre moment as a direct free kick puts McConville through, all he needs to do is slip it home but I think Marvin gets a touch and Maxwell chucks himself at his feet and between them, they scramble it away when it looked certain Accy were in. At the other end, Virtue is at his best as he slide in hard and spreads it to CJ in space. The referee pulls it back though and both sides are outraged, Stanley at tackle and Pool at having the moment taken from them. 

Accy are on top but it's CJ's tenacity against the full back that creates the next chance, wrestling the ball away from him and pulling back for Yates who swivels and fires it against the post. In response Accy go up the other end and Bishop and Charles almost bully their way through and might have managed it but for the presence of Dan Ballard who is about as unbulliable as a footballer can be. 

A dicey touch from Maxwell that he gets away with. A sublime bit of skill from Keshi to go past one man  but the second stops him in his tracks, Turton almost away on the overlap but CJ's touch forward is too heavy. CJ crosses it, Nottingham tries to intercept but almost puts into his own net, only for the linesman to rule that it went out anyway... Yates with a Cruyff turn, a stumble and then righting himself on the half way line and spreading play for Keshi but again, it's just not quite the right ball... Keshi gets on the end of a first time cross but can only head straight up in the air. Nothing is quite coming off for anyone. 

Accy come forward, working the ball well on the edge of the box but Pool break them down and Keshi is away, charging up the middle of the pitch then putting Madine through, Super Gaz takes a touch, then another and cracks a low shot that is comfortable for the keeper. A few minutes later, the Goal Machine lashes a stunning half volley just wide and is appealing for a deflection only for the linesman's flag to render his protestations moot. 

--- 

It's been a very tightly contested game, both sides having spells where it looked like they might assert control and create few chances but neither going on and putting that much together. Against Accy you have to stand your ground and we've done so, but we've struggled a bit with the right ball at the right time, everyone from the front six having suffered from a dodgy pass at one time or other. That's a symptom of how little time Accy give you to play I think and what is a really heavy pitch that's getting bobbly and cut up as the game goes on. 

I think this one could come down to stamina. Both sides have given a lot, it's a tiring surface, neither team is backing off and letting the other play and it could be that the team who tires first loses the game
---

Boris is apparently going to announce something, maybe it's that they're going to ban those daft goal kicks with players in the 6 yard box? 

Accy work an odd free kick routine on the box which is probably very clever when it works but just looks daft as it involves literally passing it to Chris Maxwell. 

The wind is howling, Virtue sets Pool on a move that ends with Keshi shoulder charging his way into the box but then crossing to no one. Accy charge away but Dougall is canny enough to impede Charles to block the break. Charles is fuming and Dougall is yellow carded. It's really that sort of game. 

Accy swing in a corner, they've had a little spell of pressure but now Pool break, CJ finally getting to run, almost the entire length of the pitch, before squaring to Yates whose touch is a fraction too heavy and lets the keeper get close enough to smother the shot. 

McConville is put through and is just about to take his shot, when Turton (who is solid as a rock today) slides in with an unbelievable tackle. It's that sort of day, a wet pitch, nothing falling and sliding tackles are the high points - and why not? Who says football is only about attacking? I fucking love a good sliding tackle. I was shit at dribbling but I could tackle the flashy twats who were good at it and I love watching players defend well as much as I love watching players attack well. 

Accy get a free kick right on the point where the penalty box meets the touchline, Nottingham meets the ball at the far post but squeezes it over the top onto the roof of the net

The rain is swirling, and the game descending into chaos. 

Maxwell stops an effort from Charles, a ball lifted over the top, the little lad chasing through and sliding in, striking it with his stretching leg, Maxwell throwing out a leg of his own to stop it, then getting up to claim a second effort that he clutches tight to his chest. 

Virtue spreads a beauty of a diagonal ball, CJ hares away and whips it across, but Yates can't make it and Accy get it away for a corner... 

A weird moment where I think 'I fancy Bez for this' - his chaotic style might work in the chaotic condition and Critch obliges within seconds as if I'm mind controlling the match. Bez's shiny white kit is a contrast to the greying mudstained shirts of the lads who've been on for the whole game. 

More scrappy football ensues, lots of wayward passing and heavy challenges and then Bez has a snapshot which is low, hard and well stopped by the Accy keeper. Pritchard responds for Accy as he puts in a horrible ball, leaning back, and stunning a fizzing ball right across the face of goal that is begging for a touch but doesn't get one. 

The lights of the Pool coach twinkle in the gloom behind the empty terracing. To the sodden and battered bodies on the pitch it must look so enticing. Calderwood and Critch shout and point on the touchline. Mike Garrity walks up and down on the cinder track in front of the stand, behind the advertising boards and remembers when he was allowed in the technical area. 

Accy make a chance, Charles on the turn and shooting just past the far post. Pritchard has a couple efforts from the left hand side cutting in, one effort deflected wide, the other slammed wide without a touch from us... Charles again gets on to a flick and has an effort from the near post that is deflected away from goal for a corner. 

Virtue comes off after an afternoon of honest endeavour (what else would you get from him), Grant Ward on looking even more pristine. He reminds me of classy dressage horse as he seems to glide over the sodden pitch more gracefully than the others. 

The game ends as much of the last ten minutes has been played, an Accy free kick and then a corner gamely defending by the manful Pool. Critch and Coleman have a right good natter on the touchline, it looks good humoured enough and we all exit the magical world of a football match into the harsh reality of a shite winter where it turns out that Boris hasn't finally announced the Indrek Zelinski signing has at last got over the line or that the Ormerod money has been found after all these years, but that Christmas is all but cancelled. 

Oh well. At least we've not lost to Shrewsbury at home this year. There's always that. 

--- 

I think that's a good point. I've seen teams with better players but few better teams (in the sense of 'a group working together') than Accy. Every single Accy player gave absolutely everything and knew exactly what they were doing. We matched that effort and as I said at the beginning of the article, Coleman was canny enough not to let us play for a second. CJ has rarely been shut out as well as he was today. Madine was marshalled effectively and having chosen an industrious midfield over flair and finesse, we didn't really have much else to offer. 

It's easy to say 'oh, it's Accy, we should win...' but plenty of sides fall into that trap and we didn't - On a horrible pitch, in awful weather, we were never going to get the passing game going and I am sure, earlier in the year, we'd have been bullied out of that game but happily, we gave as good as we got. 

Virtue did ok for a first start back and is a good option to add to the midfield strength and presence when required. Again, the stars were at the back where it really wasn't easy and I'd say, once again Maxwell had a good game, taking the ball from cross in a crowded box and being quick off his line several times. I was also pleased to see Garbutt getting stuck in, showing he's not just a classy looking passer but a proper full back. One moment where he stood his ground against the massive Bishop and levered him off the ball summing up that he's no soft touch. 

It's one of them as Saint Brett would say. It was a proper tussle, a right old fight, a game that from the outside, if you don't follow either side, you'd probably have said was crap, but I enjoyed cos it was played with total commitment. It can't be all sexy football, one touch, first time passing on a summer afternoon.

Sometimes you have to go to Accy, get covered in shite and be happy with a point.

______________________________

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

I scared the cat : the Mighty vs Hull City

This lad tho. 

I'm getting a bit tired of the blogging. I started it cos I liked writing about stuff that happens at football matches. I read one of my early ones and I didn't actually talk that much about the game, more about the surroundings, journeys, weather, opposition crowd, the general atmosphere and else that crossed my vision and hearing. Since then it's become more of a shit knock off Evening Gazette report and less about capturing the essence. More detail but less vivid. But then, what's vivid about sitting on a couch watching a screen?

Just imagine being there. It's a crisp, cool, still night, mid December, the cold in your nostrils, your breath coming out in clouds and your hands thrust deep in your pockets as you stride towards the ground. We're playing the top of the league. Coming from wherever you come from and seeing the white floodlight haze in the distance, outshining the garish colours of decorations on every other house you pass. Reaching the ground and that thronging crowd that seems to circulate round the base of the stands. Police horses shuffling, flanks steaming. Scanning the ticket, the funny little moment where you push the turnstile and a tiny part of you wonders if it will turn. 

Then you're in. Under the stand and there's expectancy and chatter. It's coming up to holidays, people are busy, planning, drinking, having parties at work. Snatches of conversation about reckless nights out and hungover regret, what the fuck to buy her for Christmas, "we'll have to meet up, have a few scoops mate, give us a bell yeah?!" and  "fucking hell, it's gonna clean me out this Christmas..."

Then, up to your seat, nodding, 'alright mate' as you pass by people you know and people you don't but see every week. The team on the screen. More chatter, 'I'd have played Yates and Madine me', 'I dunno mate, maybe he's resting them and swapping them about...' Then, the drum, the singing, the north filling up, the away fans posturing, giving a few volleys of some song you don't know and the north answering with one you do. 

The warm up ending, the last players leaving, the fucking sprinkler is going, even though it's pissed down for days, maybe some lads with forks, walking the pitch looking at stuff only they can see, prodding and tamping at what seems like random. Songs playing, subdued calm before the storm... 

Then, you're on your feet, 'c'mon you Blackpool fans, put your hands together...', the applause now drowning the PA and exploding to a roar as you hear... 'The Seasiders! Drum going again, urgent this time, players jogging on the spot, bouncing, stretching, the ground now a cauldron of noise, nerves, anticipation and just a hint of dread. 

This is football. This is what it's about. Not VAR or XG, not contract sagas or primadonna complaints about schedules, not twitter spats and fan TV and fucking pundits talking shite. None of that. Football, now and in the moment, anything could happen, tragedy, triumph, and all in between... and as the ref blows, the crowd rises again and we're off. It's us, vs top of the league and I wouldn't be anywhere else for all the money in the world. 

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Except it's not quite like that is it. 

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Critch has gone with one in the middle again. What have Gary and Jerry done? It's like a teacher keeping two lads apart cos of the influence they have on each other, except the influence in this case seems wholly positive. It's back to lonely Jerry but also back to Luke Garbutt's free kicks, Ethan Robson's midfield class, Ollie Turton's glorious checking back and Keshi's barrelling runs.

Early pressure from both sides, Hull head past the near post... Pool respond with a bit of CJ action. Both sides are chucking everything at this and there's no time on the ball for anyone. 

CJ runs onto Robson's ball, there's a back heel back to Keshi whose effort causes some gratifying calamity when the keeper drops it and then seems to dive into the post as he scrambles to redeem himself. 

Anderson again on the edge of the box striking it again but this time it ricochets square to Sullay who lays it on to Garbutt. The classy one strikes it well and it arrows just past the far post... 

Hull put it over the top and somehow aren't offside. No matter though as Maxwell is out and taking it quickly from the Hull forward who shows the first touch of a brick. 

From a corner, Hull clear but Sullay dinks it back in first time, it's nodded across goal where it strikes Tom Eaves and forces the keeper to sprawl backwards. I'm convinced its gone over the line but the ref says no, the spoilsport. An own goal from the poundshop Andy Carroll who always scores against us would have been grand. 

Pool have had the better chances but then Maxwell makes a rare bad clearance, gifting Hull possession, one pass and a strike from the edge of the box and a good diving catch and we've got away with it. Hull put a bit of pressure on but we break like lightning, Dougall to Sullay to Keshi then CJ, striding into the box and shooting, low, hard but at a defender... Then Hull come again, a quick ball from the right, lethal looking angle, falling just right for a first time snapshot, Eaves (of all the people you don't want to see there) is running onto it but there's Marvin with a sliding challenge that is as good as anything you will see anywhere in any game. He just gets up like it's just another thing and gets on with loping about as he does.  

The game takes a breather, a few long balls are traded. Hull strike one from deep, Maxwell watches it wide. Pool have a nice move where we pass across the back, going nowhere, one side to the other and back then explode into action, up the pitch in quick passes but Keshi doesn't quite read Sullay's ball at the end. 

Then Hull score. swung in from the left, Wilks gets goal side of Garbutt, it looks like his first touch is heavy but he stretches brilliant and hooks it beyond the keeper. It's a great finish. Imagine the hollow sound if fans were in and the roar of defiance as we kick off... 

Sullay makes space beautifully, he's not been great, but that was a nice touch, he slips it through for CJ who darts onto it and the keeper sprawls at his feet.

Dougall takes a free kick from deep, very quickly spotting CJ in space... Hamilton doesn't disappoint chasing it into the corner then pulling it across for Keshi who turns, runs across the box, I'm thinking 'fucks sake Keshi, just have go' but eventually he spreads for Garbutt arriving from left back. The classy one takes a few strides forward, all the time in the world and crosses, low and hard to the far post, Sullay sticks out a foot hopefully but it's lonely Jerry at the far post to tap it home. Fucking get in!

Imagine the bedlam! 

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I was going to write something about Yates up front on his own, that goal's fucked that up. 1-1 is probably fair. CJ again has been good, I've enjoyed the way he's worked across the line and appeared in the middle at times. For his faults, he just keeps going... Keshi and Sullay have been a bit peripheral and Yates hasn't been seen in the box aside from his tap in. For once, I don't know if I'd stick or twist. Aside from my perennial wish to see the goal machine I'd be tempted to give Dan Kemp some time if Sullay/Keshi don't get more into the game. It's one of those where you can see us winning it or them smacking two goals in quick fashion...  

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Second half starts with us looking weirdly languid and letting them run through the middle. Marvin slides and cuts out a through ball but they come again, working it left where they've acres of space for a shot which Maxwell does well to save. 

A procession of crosses and corners follow which only end when Maxwell gets a crack on the head and what looks like a cuddle from the ref as he checks his health. Hull pressure soon starts up again, a strange moment included where they're racing free, Gretarsson gets walloped in the face and emergency treatment then the ref restarts by setting up a perfect drop ball for them to whip it straight in. Nothing comes from it though.  

It's ten minutes before we have an attack and a further five before anything resembling an effort, Sullay putting it across the box but half a yard behind Yates. Then it's the mighty Goal Machine for Sullay, 2 up front and the dream team united once more. 

Hull keep coming, Keshi sliding in dangerously conceding a frightening free kick they can't take advantage of, Marvin blocking on the edge of the box and the ball ricocheting into Maxwell's hands

Then, a huge kick forward, Madine is there and his presence alone is worth an assist as he just leans on the defender and distracting by the Goal Machine their centre half just lets the ball goes through. Keshi picks it up wide, cuts inside and then smashes it home, a beauty into the bottom corner. So far Keshi has been poor but that's an absolutely storming finish. Imagine the roar, it's one of those that comes as a shock and is immediately followed by renewed tension... 

And Hull come again. A horrible ball to the near post scrambled away. Chaos from a corner, Marvin heading it out as Maxwell comes to catch. A long up and under and we're looking shaky but in the end holding firm. Hull are passing on the edge of the box, looking for a way through, spreading play. 

Then Madine is about again from a floated Garbutt free kick, rising, flicking it into the 6 yard box, it comes off someone and strikes the post, bounces out and of all people on the pitch drops to Marvin who looks like a schoolkid as he tries to very carefully side foot it home but sees it blocked away. 

Then Hull attack some more. Pool mistakes abound, players are getting tired, Virtue replaces Robson, it's scrappy, heavy touches, wild efforts. Marvin is a force of nature. You can tell Yates is knackered when his legs get bowed and he trudges rather than sprints after the ball. Woodburn comes on. The minutes go down further. Gretarsson gets another smack in the face then an evil moment where it hits the side netting but looks for all the world like a goal as the Viking desperately intercepts a cross. We can hang on here... We can do this. Just imagine that crowd, each clearance cheered, the nerves, the hoarse voices. 

But we can't. A corner, a big lad up from the back and a header. Maxwell goes after it but to no avail. The net bulges. It's that sort of header. Imagine the deflation, that horrible tinny cheer of away fans. Seats kicked, programmes thrown down. People turning for the exit. 

Then...  from a free kick, the ball is bouncing around, Marvin goes up and shows vision to find CJ with a header, he's free, in acres of space and striking it hard at the near post but the keeper is there and it's a corner. Garbutt goes deep with the delivery, Madine goes round the back, nods it back across and someone is on it, it's over the top, corner? No... That's it surely. If that stopped the leavers in their tracks, surely now they're heading down the steps. 

Then it's Keshi with a little diagonal change of direction, Woodburn first time, Madine the same and it's CJ!!!!! YES!!!! It's one touch brilliance and CJ bursts through and slips it home. I FUCKING LOVE THIS TEAM! 

Oh my fucking days. Imagine the crowd now. People falling down the steps in the North. People going over rows of seats. Strangers hugged, 20, 30 seconds of just screaming, pure screaming, jut joy, elation, total and utter release. Breathless, dizzy fucking mental joy. Then a breath and turning to their fans and regaling them as they leave. Then Tony Parr with "The Seasiders' goal scorer on 93 minutes, no 22 CJ HAMILTON!!!" and we'd be off again. 

Hold on Pool. It's Marvin heading away. Again. In the real world I've had a bollocking for jumping about and shouting and scaring the cat. It's nearly over... Nearly over. C'mon.... 

IT'S OVER! 

What scenes there would be. Players applauding the fans, socks down, fists clenched. They've given everything and we couldn't have asked for more. One of those nights when you could stay in the ground forever. 

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What a game. I don't know where to begin. Marvin has been immense and Gretarsson not half bad either. Like a brick wall and a glacier or something though I'm not sure how that would work in practice. Fuck the weird metaphors, they've been simply fucking brilliant against some of the most horrible angular, rough but pretty fucking decent forwards they'll face. 

The rest of them, I don't know. No one has stood out especially but on a night when we've played against as good a team as we will likely face and when it's not especially gone for any of our forwards, the work rate and belief to keep going, keep trying has been the main thing. CJ was up against a decent full back but he kept coming short, moving, trying the middle, coming out right again, kept showing time and time again and he got the reward at the end. Keshi was having a really quite poor match but then shifted onto the left scored one and made one and really put a shift in defensively in the last part. 

Hull were decent. They'll probably think they didn't make enough of their possession and create enough chances but you can tell a decent team by the way they hold themselves, move the ball around, move off the ball and so on and that was a decent side. Top 3 without a question. Only Charlton and Ipswich have had that same vibe this year. Maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get that. Fuck knows though. Live in the moment and fuck all the over thinking and endless dissection of everything. What a game, what a way to win it. 

Credit to Critchley though, his subs have been questionable at times, but tonight he's got it right. Madine made a difference and was part of both goals when he came on, Woodburn part of the third and Keshi improved with the switch. 

I haven't got any more in me. What a game. 

Just imagine if we'd been there. 




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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 ...