Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A jigsaw with no picture...

Image result for Simon Grayson
'Dunney - how about this... give it to Feeney, he crosses it and the big lads jump? Either that or 2-3-1-2-1-1 with the goalie off Big Gary and Jay between the sticks? 
Once upon a time (in a far off land called about 6 weeks ago), when things were good and the Pool were riding high in League One,  it looked as if Larry had hit on a fairly reliable formula.

Even then, there were doubts and doubters. Not all were entirely taken with how one dimensional we seemed, reliant on a steady but predictable route for goals, working the ball wide to Feeney who whipped it in for Gnanduillet. We seemed to be playing with an imbalanced set up said the doom laden pessimists and would get found out. The optimistic fools countered by saying what we lacked in left sided width, we made up for in pace, strength and guile with Fonz, Kaikai (remember him?) and big Armand seeming good enough to give most sides something to think about.

There's little doubt that early in the season, in some games, most notably Oxford at home, we picked up results that didn't really reflect the performances. Some saw this as a sign of the shortcomings of the side, others would see it as testament to Larry's ability to get a result where it mattered.

A little unambitious Bolton shaped blip was ironed out with what was, in my mind, the best performance of the year against Peterborough, where Callum Macdonald seemed to give us hitherto unseen options. We could pass left! We could pass right! We could even occasionally run down the middle! Things were going ok. Fleetwood (amongst others) were dispatched with a minimum of fuss. Larry even showed a bit of swagger in an interview, stopping short of outright dissing Joey Barton as 'a faux intellect in a truckers cap, who manages a jumped up Sunday league side, who got his arse handed to him by a tactical masterclass in both football and playing the media' but seemed to be going someway to re-endearing himself to the tangerine masses by kind of intimating as much.

Matty Virtue finding a Premier League goal to suit the Premier League ground at Sunderland was the last really exciting thing to happen in the league. Christmas was more disappointing than it had any right to be. A decent performance away at Reading in the cup offered a flicker of hope but was followed by a really flat home display.

8 games slipped by with just 2 draws to show for it and a grand total of 1 league point.

What went wrong?

Here's a theory.

Perhaps Grayson has shared the misgivings that some fans had earlier in the season about the flawed nature of the squad. But... maybe he's been briefed to give the players he inherited a chance and early on found a formula that worked well enough and he seemed to be getting a lot out of some previously inconsistent and/or limited players. This has to be to his credit to a certain extent as Feeney has never looked as good, Armand scored his career record by Christmas and Fonz seemed for about a month to be the player that Fonz always could be but never is.

I don't think 'Be tough and rugged then give it to Feeney, he'll put it on Armand's head' was a tactic that Grayson especially wanted to play, but early on he was smart enough to realise that it was probably the logical way to go with a squad that wasn't endowed with super silky skills and also not stupid enough to know that it wouldn't get found out in the long run.

There are signs that he's been trying to find a different way to set up and has been willing to use different combinations of players in the search for a different formula. There have been games, where Larry has changed the players around during the game, where we've switched formations and made subs and seen little impact. To an extent, Larry's tactical issues have seemed down to the players not really being able to adjust to anything outside plan A.

What Larry can't really be blamed for (...if we accept the admittedly entirely made up but feasible idea his brief was to 'give the squad a chance....') is the lack of creativity in the middle - time and time again, we've come up against stubborn sides (the likes of Shrewsbury, Rotherham, Accrington) who don't concede easily and can match big strikers with just as big or bigger defenders and have a simple but direct plan and had no answer.

What he can be questioned about is despite giving plenty of game time to most of the squad, is his strange aversion to playing Hardie and Macdonald (who brought balance and pace to a slow imbalanced line up) and his unwillingness to give our homegrown young players more than a few minutes in a non competition. What has to be said in his defence, is up until Christmas, that his choices seemed to be bringing results and the players showed spirit. Most games seemed to have 20-ish minute patch where we looked like we could really play a bit and the main concern was that those patches didn't last.

Christmas has changed that and we've seen some quite uninspired displays where we've really struggled against sides that haven't offered much themselves. The concern has grown from 'we aren't bossing games' to 'we were shit, Larry is shit, everyone is shit'

Come January and we've seen a slew of signings but performances haven't improved yet. It has to be said, we've seen more signings in January than you'd see in a fair few summers. When you look at the side, it feels a bit like Larry doesn't really know what to do with them. The Wycombe first half was really incoherent. It looked like a bunch of players who didn't know where each other would be.

Grant Ward ran up and down in the middle like the middle was the wing. Fonz seemed to be glued to the right touchline with Bola playing in a strange hinterland between full back and winger that suggested he wasn't sure whether to stick or twist. The two centre halves both made mistakes and the back four as a whole seemed unfamiliar with each other. Nuttall was Nuttall was Nuttall and Gary Madine must have baffled as to why no one had come up with the idea of crossing the ball to him.

In the second half, we hit on the madcap idea of bringing an actual winger on to the widest pitch in the league and we looked dangerous for a period.

The question is, do we blame Larry for trying something different? The decision to start with 2 strikers, the very tricky young kid, Fonz and Ward and Bola pushing on seemed to show intent. The way we set up seemed to suggest Larry felt he could hurt Wycombe, that we could actually attack.

The fact we couldn't and didn't doesn't suggest that there wasn't intent on his behalf. This wasn't Bolton, where a lack of adventure seemed apparent. This was a side that actually looked quite forward thinking on paper. He also went a bit crazy and played some of the players he'd signed! Larry! Calm down!

It just didn't work.

Were there signs of hope? Maybe. To say that isn't to deny the flaws that were clearly evident. A diamond is still a diamond whether it's on the finger of a beautiful model or in a cowpat.

Ronan looked like the sort of player our midfield is begging for, Madine has a couple of brief moments where he looked class, Dewsbury-Hall was an absolute bundle of energy and though I was a bit concerned he was slightly headless, he shut my doubts up by scoring. Nuttall missed two good chances but (and I'm really stretching it here) his movement in the last 20 minutes was very good, drifting across the box, finding pockets of space and at least he was closer to scoring. Aside from an early mistake, Thorniley looked tidy enough. Grant Ward at least didn't look crocked and has pedigree and showed one moment of outrageous control killing a high ball. Feeney hasn't been great recently, but in his 20 minutes had his full back on toast and put some decent crosses in.

Yes, that's a bit desperate, but what do you want? Me to put my head in the oven and leave a note saying 'Joe was offside again, couldn't face anymore....'?

Can Larry work something out with this lot? I don't know. There's promise but there's also questions. Why didn't we play till the last twenty minutes. Why did we jog gently into position when we had three absolute units up front that seemed ideal for Mark Howard to launch it at quickly. The selection was proved wrong, but I'm not going to crucify Larry for that - as I thought it showed some ambition and he's frustrated me previously on that front. What concerned me more was that we didn't show urgency, energy, a willingness to go toe to toe with a side that have climbed the table through those exact qualities.

I still think the striking position is odd. Madine and Gnanders? Strange mix. Madine and Nuttall. Hmmm. If Super Gnando is off elsewhere, then we really need a pacy striker who will hustle and bustle and run channels and there isn't one in the squad. Either that or we need to relearn how to get Fonz and KaiKai playing off Madine because Joe Nuttall isn't the answer. He might be one day. I live in permanent hope. I will not give up on him, (till he signs for Morecambe.)

Signing Husband permanently also seems an odd call. He's a good left back and he's got a brilliant attitude, but we don't really play with full backs most of the time. Bola and Macdonald are both superior going forward but inferior to him defensively. He deserves a medal for the running he's done this year up and down the flank on his. He's slotted into a back three before and looked ok, but seemingly that slot is covered by Thorniley. It's odd to have signed him permanently at just the point it seems we've signed two players to fill the positions he could fill.

Then there's the thorny question of whether Jay Spearing is a football god who can do no wrong or just a terrier who slipped his leash and jumped the hoardings and likes to run around biting at the ankles of the opposition, barking and having little discernable impact. I think the answer is neither. I think he's a very good player, but one who if we are serious about promotion, we need to be thinking about rotating in some games for either a more creative player or a player with more physical presence. If you're going to play a small player in midfield in League One, it usually means that they're skilful - Spearing has many qualities, but dribbling and passing in an attacking way are not his game.

I'm not sure the signings address this point of balance in midfield physicality and Spearing seems still the lynchpin come what may. Ronan looks good, but he's smaller than even Spearing and unless we're total footballing now and I've missed the Ajax masterclass the players all attended (and if so, why did we have a floodlight pylon's worth of height up front) then I'm not sure that midfield pair has presence enough and I'm not sure we can afford to leave a player of Ronan's obvious intent out when we've scored so few goals.

Ultimately, I think we've signed some really good players, who either impressed in a poor display, or come with real pedigree and we should give them a chance. What I can't see is how the pieces go together. Perhaps Larry can. I hope so. I'm starting to have some doubts, but I've been proved wrong before and I also think if I can't see how the pieces go together, someone else coming in would struggle to work it out. Larry has put this squad together and I think he has to be the man to try to get a tune out of it. It's got potential and suddenly, it's quite hard to guess how we'll line up or how we'll play. Sometimes that's a sign that the manager has lost the plot and is flailing wildly, sometimes it's a point of change and you find the moment where it clicks into place.

In Larry we grimly place uncertain hope because we're idiots in love with a stupid team that almost always lets us down but we love them to death anyway because what else would we do? 


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Jurgen the drama queen

Apparently the FA have given the Premier League teams a winter break then cruelly sneaked in replays to the schedule. 

Presumably that's because if they put them anywhere else - like a week with a Champions League Game, then Jurgen would be saying thinks like... 

"No guys, but seriously, I am asking, it's like what I'm saying about football, so when you having pints, some is good but too many and everyone is like boom, that's too much and you are you know regretful. Am I right?" 

...with his perfect teeth and weird hair and irritatingly disarming charm. The professionally likable twat. 

Image result for Jurgen klopp
"So, I was like, 'you expect us to play again?', and they were like, 'you have a half billion pound turnover' and I was like 'yeah, we didn't make that playing Shrewsbury' and then everyone laughed"
Anyways, according to Jurgen and the people's most real, genuine, sentimental down to earth, history and tradition filled club, the FA Cup replay is a BIG SURPRISE. 

Having an empty week of Premier League fixtures is within the gift of the FA to ensure happens. Ferry across the Mersey FC's job was to beat Shrewsbury to ensure they didn't need a replay that would take place in that week. 

I don't know when the first ever FA Cup replay was but I do know that the final of 1875 went to a second match so Tarby and Cilla FC have only had 139 years to grasp the concept of not winning meaning playing again. 

Image result for fa cup 1875
Royal Engineers 1875. They had to play a replay AND be in the Army. They managed.
Here's a whole load of things Klopp could have done, instead of having a big strop and choosing to show what he thinks of English lower league opposition: 

1 - Picked a team good enough to beat Shrewsbury. He didn't, so deal with it, without whining. 

2 - Used some of the insane money that Liverpool raise in revenue to sign some players to cover the game. I believe these signings are called 'loans' or 'signings' and teams do them to ensure they have enough 'players' to play 'matches' or 'fixtures' 

3 - Given Liverpool are about 20 points ahead in the league, used his (huge) squad carefully and given the players he used the next game off. I find it hard to believe that Origi, Shaqiri, Lallana, Lovren, that Japanese lad, the dead good kid who scored against Everton, probably some others who play sometimes and Adrian are suffering burn out from playing the odd game here and there.

Image result for adam lallana
'Shattered - played 10 minutes last week, exhausting'

 4.  It has to be noted that Liverpool have TEN players out on loan. Am I missing something here? 
Q: A manager can't find enough players to play the games.
Does he...
A: Send some of the players he has to play for other teams
B: Use them to play the games? 
Is Klopp likely to boycott a meaningless champions league game? If Liverpool win their first 4 games in the group, will he send the kids and have a night watching Eurotrash and chuckling to himself in the bath about how the woman who sang 99 red balloons is German and how to work that into his next quirky press conference. You see, because he is German and Liverpool are red and 99 somethings. It'll have to wait...

Is he fuck going to do that. Because that would be 'disrespectful to the competition' and would endanger Liverpool's precious brand exposure. Literally millions of dyed in the wool Scousers from Korea to Kidderminster would feel cheated out of their money having literally walked all the way to the front room and spent an entire 5 minutes setting up Now TV. Some of them might even have done the washing up quickly to get it out the way. 
But fuck the cup, fuck Shrewsbury, fuck anything that doesn't keep the balance sheet ticking over and the brand growing. 

Image result for taiwan
A place they haven't heard of Shrewsbury

Liverpool: the team that couldn't face playing Shrewsbury for fear they'd lose a game sometime. Like the kid who wants the game to stop as soon as he's not winning.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Dead dreams: The Mighty versus Reading.

Image result for FA CUP Blackpool

There are times when life weighs on you, the crushing force of mundanity and routine threatening to squash you like a beetle under a jackbooted foot.

It's at times like this when you need the world's greatest ever football team, clad in beautiful tangerine, under the lights, on fresh cut turf.

There was a storm promised. Yet here we are, under a dark sky for sure but with not much more than a breath of wind. The pitch will be sodden, our breath will steam in the air, there'll be slipping and sliding but we should have a match on our hands. 

And whisper it, but he might be playing. We might see him again. He was a magician in a long line of magicians, a history of Matthews, Green, Suddick, to name but a few. His name will go alongside them. He scored *that goal* (and that goal and that goal and that goal and so on) and we will never forget. 

Even if it's just off the bench. He might be here.

And so might some of our new heroes, Grant Ward, Jordan Thorniley, who knows what the future in tangerine holds for them... Perfect back stories to be Blackpool players. One needs a comeback, the other needs a chance. We ended the last game I was at, sighing ruefully that we needed new faces - and here are a few. New faces, new hope.   

And so, we can forget, for 90 minutes, the lead boots of life and instead, dream of Wembley, of what just might be, if everything goes out way and we play out our skins for tonight and a few games more, the road opens up before us and we can take it to who knows where. Just for the hell of it. 

We can forget spreadsheets, bank balances, key targets, shopping lists, dark mornings with the sadistic electric shock buzz of the alarm and the gnawing feeling that one day, we'll be found out and it'll all collapse around us. Tonight, instead, this is the FA CUP and its slick green grass under bright, bright, lights 100,% sold gold, fucking magic. Who even are Reading anyway? It's the sort of place you forget has a football team. We are going ALL THE WAY.

Walking to ground a black cat streaks across the road in front of me. I'm not sure if it's close enough to count as in my path and I can't remember if it's a curse or a blessing. Lucky for it, it times the run to perfection. 

At the ground, it's confirmed. He is here. On the bench. 

We go with a team that shows few surprises and new faces remain on the bench.

The atmosphere is flat before kick off. It feels more like a theatre auditorium than a football ground and then finally the crowd kick in and we're off, on our feet, welcoming onto the pitch... 'the Seasiders!' 

We're having a good opening, getting the ball wide, as we do and crossing, from both left and right, which we don't always. Virtue heads just over, Guy shapes a lovely ball in and it's all Pool for a while. 

They have a right winger with pace to burn, he gets away from Husband to collective insightful muttering of 'fucking hell, he's a bit fast' 

They're coming into it now. They move it quickly, they have good touch. This is what a Premier League legacy is supposed to leave. An academy that coaches young players to work the ball around like this. It's hard not to think of £11 million quid sometimes. 

They favour working the ball around in the middle and get 3 shots off from about 18 yards in quick succession.

They get some decent wide positions and it feels lucky they don't cross well, everything looping out of danger. 

We're on edge...CMON POOL! We're breaking, but we look a bit ponderous, every pass half a second slower than it could have been. Fonz is being watched, a quick lad hangs close to his every move. They've clearly been told to shut him down. 

Husband runs right across the face of the box despite being implored to shooooot. Not for the only time in the game he seems to want to shift the ball onto the other foot, but needs about ten yards to do so. Feeney swings in a cross, just behind Ganduillet who jackknifes like a big truck to no avail and its wide. 

I'm sat at the side, which I'm normally not and I notice the subs warming up. Sean Scannell trots past, clapping the crowd very gently, when he receives a smattering of applause in return his grin is one of such gratitude, my hard heart melts. 

I notice the way Jordan Thompson keeps encroaching on the pitch to warm up.  

Then HE gets up to jog up and down and do a few stretches. If Sean Scannell got the same reception I think he'd probably burst into tears. 

Spearing touches one off for Callum Guy to shoot low and hard and not quite into the bottom corner.

We are doing OK.

Then the clown car falls apart, and we're left sitting on the pitch holding the steering wheel looking at the ruins around us.

Tilt gives the ball away in the way only Tilt can. He hares back, retrieves it and Heneghan tidies up. Only he doesn't, he make it worse by playing his clearance straight to them. 

We survive this mistake, only for them to finally whip in a dangerous ball and Jay Spearing to inexplicably take a touch to control it and have it whipped from him and buried by one of their interchangeable fast and skillful young players.

The half ends after Gnanduillet flashes a header over and opinion around me ranges from 'that's was shit' and 'sort it out Grayson' to 'we had a lot of pressure, we just didn't score' 

We come out and there's an irritable few minutes. I'm getting tetchy as I wanted to see a change at half time. We're once again asking James Husband to be a left winger and a left back, but without playing him as a wing back and I don't understand why. Feeney is having one of those games where he can't beat his man. Things are turning a bit grey...

But it doesn't take much to have the crowd roaring and as Matty Virtue throws himself at a loose ball in the six yard and draws a good stop.

There's a chance for Fonz.

Then we sort of run out of ideas. Gnanduillet chases a few down, tries a shot from the edge of the box that's always going over but he gets a round of applause for trying. We just haven't got the snap and zip they have. They seem to be defending high and we, when we get the ball always appear to turn away from goal. We seem more scared of being offside than of not scoring.

I'm glancing at the clock and it's ticking down. The dream is dying as they always do. We always wake up and face reality.

Grant Ward comes on and seems to run quite quickly, which is useful, in a team who don't always run very quickly. Jordan Thompson comes off, for Spearing who is on a yellow after a scything challenge in the first half.

Thompson is not on form - He stubs a perfect crossing chance along the ground. He leaps at a cross in the box and manages to kind of head it with his legs towards the corner flag. He looked so good in the half time warm up.

Then they score. Howard saves an effort, it's hard to tell whether it's a good save or whether he should have held it or pushed it around the post and they pop the ball in. The dream is dead.

The dream is dead, long live Joe Nuttall.

Enough words have been said about Big Joe, but I think it should be said that he does little wrong and throws himself at a cross in the box that squirms over the top. It would have been too little, too late anyway, but it might have been something.

And anyway, he's coming on. No 26, Charlie Adam.

He has Bloomfield spellbound for his 3 minute cameo. Yes, he might look like an average bloke, moderately fit, instead of superhuman, but oh, that left foot and that brain. He's also tangerine and he hates Preston.

He make exactly one pass, a neat drilled ball out to the flank. But he buzzes and shows for the ball, moving, finding space wanting it and even has time to applaud the North whilst the game is going on.

The cries of 'sign him up' are deafening. A grumpy bastard near me says 'well, he could have come to us, but he chose a few thousand quid a week instead' and a serial realist mutters 'I don't know why they're chanting - we DID try to sign him'

I wonder if these people have souls.

At the final whistle, it's all about Charlie. How could it not be? There's a moment of comic agony, where Callum Guy (who made one of the worst passes I've ever seen towards the end of the game, trying to switch play and nearly missing the stadium, but has, to be fair shown some nice touches and endeavour) turns to applaud the north and is oblivious to the fact Charlie is behind him, for a second he looks touched by the warmth afforded to him. He realises soon enough what is happening and melts away whilst Charlie takes the adoration.

Someone else will come along soon. We'll fall in love again. It was worth it just to see that one pass.

Charlie Adam's Tangerine. 
Some bloke stealing Callum Guy's applause

Friday, January 10, 2020

The last real human to play football.

Image result for charlie adam ronaldo

That Charlie Adam meme. Where people laughed at him for looking like a person compared to an effeminate version of Barbie's dream hunk Ken. A normal slightly Shane Macgowan esque-bloke versus a plastic doll, with sprayed on hair, unrealistic muscles and probably a weird sexless groin.

The smooth crotch of the 1961 original Ken Doll
Image result for ken barbie doll groin
Ken: Footballer Edition. £39.99
The smooth crotch of the 1961 original Ken DollThe smooth crotch of the 1961 original Ken Doll
We're not going to think about Charlie's groin, that would be wrong.

We will think about:


We will wonder how someone can even call themselves a footballer, without a dedicated personal grooming ritual and considerable amounts of cosmetic work. It's a fucking disgrace. It's like he thinks he gets paid to kick a ball about, score outrageous free kicks and belt them in from ludicrous distances like the football god he is. Who does he think he's kidding? This is FOOTBALL!

Image result for footballer aftershave
The museum of 21st century football. Exhibit A
And football is a lifestyle brand opportunity. His club could have probably got themselves an official men's grooming partner if he wasn't so busy running the midfield. He's letting them down. He's shaming them. By looking old. By looking horribly normal. By getting to early middle age and looking middle aged.

Ask yourself this: How are the heroic sponsors supposed to flog mens grooming products to other men, who aren't footballers, if their heroes don't play their part and appear as timeless, ageless, lithe, athletic specimens? This is the business he's in! Does he not know that? He's supposed to make men watching him feel inadequate, not look like one of them.

He's not supposed to go out there like some bloke from the factory with a bit of a hangover and score goals and spray 45 yard passes onto a 5p piece. That's no good. Not in the era of super modern football. 

Next we'll be back at the bad old days, where nearly all footballers looked like normal people and the ones who didn't were the ones who stood out. Where those who had a skincare routine and got their roots done were thought of as 'a bit vain' or 'a bit flash' - these are enlightened, metrosexual, gender fluid times, where we've reached a point of glorious equality. Men now share the same shame as women about their physical inadequacies and sales of cosmetic solutions are through the roof. Does Charlie Adam really want to endanger this glorious progress by his outrageous statement of having his own teeth?
Image result for alan cork sheffield united
Alan Cork. Your mate's dad. Circa 1996
Think of the dental technicians and the hairweave clinics. Where would they be then? Think of all the 'specialists' feasting on the worries of young and middled aged men who want to achieve perpetual youth. It would be like Thatcher and the mines all over again. These are people's jobs we're talking about here.

Do you want to go back to the 80s? Like some dewy eyed romantic?

They might cite: 'Jan Molby, facing up to Peter Reid in a Merseyside derby. A bloke who looks like he'd struggle to get round the golf course even with a golf buggy and a break for a Dunhill between holes versus a fella who looks like he's not only got rickets but he also does a cash in hand window cleaning round.

These weren't exceptions. John Barnes was an unbelievable player, but he got fat. Gazza was even better. He got fatter. Ian Rush looked like he worked at Pilkington Glass in St Helens. Pet Nevin seemed so skinny and underfed his shirt would billow behind him, like an orphan in borrowed clothing'

An out of touch backward looking fool might suggest: 'Matt Le Tissier's skill was so out of tune with his wonky nose, crooked teeth, shit haircut and bulky squareness that anyone who didn't fall in love with the sheer improbability of his body producing the moment of sublime impossibility is dead to any poetry or art. If you don't adore Le Tissier you have no soul and you are dead to me.' 

I don't want to alienate younger readers, but none of these players even had sleeve tattoos.

I know! What were they thinking? Running around, looking average, winning European trophies and getting picked to play international football. All whilst looking decidedly everyday. All without even making a definable fashion statement!

A whimsical nostalgist might say: 'It was romantic to look on a football pitch and see blokes with bald heads and beer bellies from time to time. It meant that if you dreamed a little, you were out there playing, not some unobtainable ideal seemingly from another species, consisting of 30 hours gym work, plus a personal macrobiotic diet programme, plus 30 thousand pound's worth of cosmetic surgery, manicuring and eyebrow threading'.

That whimsical dewy eyed aging nostagist, feeling their own paunchy belly, running their tongue along their own crooked teeth, eyeing their screen through their own tired, baggy eyes, their own hair having long since thinned to non existence might say

"Go on Charlie lad." 

They might raise a pint to being the last of your kind. 'The last of the actual humans to play the people's game, before it was taken over by the fashion robots from another world. The last of the normal people who didn't care about pearly white teeth and just wanted to hear the roar of the crowd and lose themselves in the out of body experience of playing the greatest game in the history of all games.'

They'd of course be wrong. It is, of course, an absolute outrage, that a footballer hasn't presented themselves as a fashion icon. Utterly wrong.

The FA should intervene.

Image result for charlie adam blackpool
Still God. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The FA Cup - from magic to misery.

The FA cup isn’t dead, it’s just severely anaemic. It’s an underfed great beast, prowling the plains with its ribcage showing, a tragic indictment of our treatment of life’s wonders. It’s like watching one of those bands that plod on for years, shorn of their original members, to the point where there’s only the bass player from the third album left and a load of session musicians.

The third round of the FA Cup should be the highlight of the calendar. It should. Not just because ‘it used to be special’ but because it’s brilliant. The moment when the restrictions of who play who are lifted. It essentially involves getting all the teams in the game and putting them in a bag, giving it a shake and then there’s a purely random game to play. Will it be Hull City vs Doncaster? Forest Green Rovers vs Newcastle? Manchester Utd vs Woodley Sports? Who knows!

That should be fun. That should be the best weekend of the year, the one where all the rules are thrown out the window. It should be like going to the train station and discovering that for one day only, all the trains go to weird and wonderful places or going to the supermarket and discovering a whole load of exotic products in place of the usual dreary essentials.

It’s a holiday from normality. That should be pounced upon by one and all. A technicolour day amongst all the grey days of menial drudgery. A day when the clocks melt and the league tables dissolve.

Image result for melting clocks"

Instead we gripe and moan about fixture congestion and the impact on league form. We treat it like unimaginative middle managers concerned about the impact of a long weekend on productivity.

The FA Cup is viewed with a surly kind of acceptance by most teams now. It’s something they have to do. A kind of unpleasant obligation. It’s like visiting a cantankerous aging relative, you go, but with as little commitment as possible and once it’s over, you leave as quickly as possible.

This year, the excuse of many managers appears to be

‘Ah, the first team players are injured and sick anyway, it’s not the cup per se, it just so happens that we’re having to put out the youth team to cope with fixture congestion’

We know that’s not true. We know what they really should be saying is:

‘Why would I put my assets out in this game, to get kicked and tripped, when even if we win it, there’s little or no benefit to the club, when, even if we get to the final at Wembley, we’ll get litle or no cash out of it.’

The sad truth (and it is a sad truth,) is that the top clubs are never going to care about the cup whilst football is the way it is. It doesn’t net them significant prize money and it doesn’t lead to qualifying for the champions league, which in turn leads to significant money.

Whilst this might lead to the next tier of teams taking the cup seriously, these teams are far too busy trying to protect their Premier League status or getting the highest finish they can (they earn more from finishing a few places higher in the league than they do for winning the cup.)

If we move down to the next league, then the prospect of getting into the Premier League is a far bigger pay day for the teams in the middle or above of the Championship. The Championship play off final has replaced the FA Cup as the most keenly awaited one of game of the year and it’s telling how every season it is greeted by a fanfare of hot air about being the most financially lucrative game of football in the world.

This is also sad. Two sides who weren’t good enough to win their league, which isn’t even the top flight, playing in a one off game is more important than the actual FA Cup final, a competition in which all the teams in the country compete with the beauty of randomness meaning in theory, the top flight League leaders can end up playing an 11th tier bottom of the league side.

What you are left with is now league 1 and 2 sides and the odd non-league side, who appreciate the pay day (which is often less than it could be, given the apathy of many higher tier supporters to the cup.) If these sides win their tie against a famous name, it often is somewhat tainted by the fact they were playing against a second or even third string side.

What is even more tragic is, aside from the odd blip when Roberto Martinez total footballed his Wigan side to relegation and the FA Cup in the same year, or Portsmouth snared the cup, shortly before financially imploding, the winners of the cup have become less varied. Even though the leading teams treat at least the first 3 games of the cup with a sullen attitude akin to a schoolkid being chided to focus in a home economics lesson, giving grudging attention to something they really don’t want to do or see the point in, they still go on and win it most years. 

Image result for Stan Mortensen cup"

That’s the real misery. The cup, the one in which Wimbledon outmuscled Liverpool, the one in which Keith Houchen’s diving header took Coventry to their greatest ever moment, the one in which Stanley Matthew’s wing play set up Stanley Mortenson for a hat trick in one of the most famous games of football in history is a faded photocopy of itself. It’s a byline to the season, coming after the league (which may well have always been the case) the top three, the ‘battle for fourth place’ the ‘battle to survive,’ the ‘battle to escape the Championship,’ the ‘worlds richest game’ and everything that goes on in the Champions League.

Until the Premier League and Europe are devalued and football stops acting like it’s two thirds business, one sixth branding and one sixth football then we are stuck with this. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to remember what it used to feel like. The harder it becomes to remember an era when being a ‘football fan’ wasn’t synonymous with financial dullardry. Football is supposed to be an escape from the real. FA Cup third round day was once, not so very long ago, the best, most fantastical date in the football calendar. It is no longer and for that, we should look long and hard at what we actually want the game to be for.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Rotherham vs the Mighty: Should have known better...

Rotherham is the fastest growing economy in Yorkshire according to a sign on the way in. Being from Lancashire, I'm legally bound to say something like 'that's like being the least irradiated fireman at Chernobyl'

We're standing at the end of Millmoor Lane. The boy says 'it's really creepy, it's kind of sinister' and it is. The ghost of football past. 

Bill Shankly once had a bit of a tantrum here. Emlyn Hughes was player manager for two years. The Chuckle Brothers, no less, spent many an hour here, watching their beloved Rotherham United. Shaun Goater was a deluxe Armand Ganduillet for them. I hated Shaun Goater. I guess that's how opposition fans feel about Super Armand Football Genius. 

The thought of the surviving Chuckle Brother alone genuinely makes me sad. Honestly.

Unloved and abandoned, Millmoor's corrugated iron roofs and stern brick walls make me a bit weak at the knees. It's football as it was. 

Football as it is, in Rotherham, is the New York stadium. Why it's called the 'New York Stadium' I don't know. Perhaps it's because Rotherham's economy is set to outstrip that of the actual New York.

We arrive in hope, rather than expectation. I'm using reverse psychology today. We've been poor in the last few weeks and we never beat Rotherham. They're always big and bullying and they always beat us.

Therefore, this is the day we win. I'm mildly certain of it. Almost 100% vaguely hopeful.

The team news is odd. We seem to be going with a policy of no width and Gnanduillet up front on his own, which is an odd way to go about it. A big lad and no wingers. Still, in Larry We Trust. We must.

The New York stadium is slightly strange. It's steeply banked and gives off an impression of being made of Lego. There is actual human waste smeared on the wall of the toilet cubical. The steward who greets me on the way in tells me off for 'stinking of beer' even though I've only sipped a single pint whilst reading the programme and am with a kid. Even more confusing is his instruction that we can 'sit wherever, but you must move if someone else wants to sit there.' I decide not to question this bizarre instruction.

Everything that could be sponsored is sponsored. They have a stand sponsored by pies. The PA is crystal clear and the PA man is more mid Atlantic voiced radio presenter vibes than South Yorkshire. Honestly, give me Tony Parr talking for a week over this guy. 

"No 1 - sponsored by Kelly's Sandwich emporium, the Rotherham keeper!, No 3 sponsored by Gary's Auto's for all your MOT needs, it's the left back! no5, sponsored by KSV Vasectomy Clinic - she need never know!... etc... "

I watch the warm up. We play a compelling but mystifying game with bibs against no bibs but I get confused because Jay Spearing has a different coloured bib on and he keeps passing to Big Armand who hasn't got a bib on. So it seems to be bibs vs no bibs plus Jay Spearing in a different coloured bib. Every now and again the coaches lob another ball in. I wonder if this is better than actual football.

I watch the keepers warm up with Steve Banks. He doesn't age. He looks like he could go and play if we needed him too.

My attention goes back to the outfield players. This passing game, confusing as it may be, makes some of our players look brilliant. Spearing is superb at it, KaiKai looks like a premier league player, he's divine in his close control. Rob Edwards is not.

I watch the keepers again. Jack Simms lets one between his hands, Howard dives over one. Steve Banks is drilling drop kicks at them and to be fair, they both stop far more than they let in.

Then suddenly, inexplicably, I notice that Armand Gnanduillet has his shorts round his ankles and is recieving some sort of attention from Phil Horner. It seems only in keeping with his sense of style that he is wearing zebra print undergarments. The passing game has stopped. Armand is now returned to a fully clothed state and performing a set of leaps, catching the ball on his chest for one of the coaches, like a performing seal catching fish. Then, the passing game resumes and I wonder if I dreamt the last 60 seconds.

Then we're off.

They're running at us with a worrying degree of intent. They're pretty good it seems. The number 10 can turn on a six pence and has control and pace. The number 17 looks like a player who would be playing at a higher level if it it wasn't fashionable to buy players from abroad. They all look pretty competent at football.

The ball is flashing across our goal. Spearing is sliding in, Turton is blocking and trying to run out from the back, Heneghan heading. They seem to win about 45 corners in a row.

When we do get a chance to break, it breaks down or we snatch at it. They don't give us much space.

They score. It seems a bit too easy. A floated corner and an easy finish. We've defended stoutly but this moment we just melt.

Goal music. Loud, awful goal music. Rotherham. FFS.

We have a go anyway, even though there's no point as it's Rotherham. What was I thinking?

The ball is floated to Gandulliet, he nods in. The celebration is vaguely hesitant. Offside? Something else we didn't see, then we go mad. I was right after all. Today. We. Will. Do. Them.

For 3 or 4 minutes we boss the game. Then, normal service is resumed and they take control again.

We get to half time intact and it feels like we've done well to do so, but a matter of time if things carry on.

Larry clearly concurs.

'Nuttall is on' I say to the fella next to me as we run out doing that weird running over the little discs routine that no one else seems to do. 'No, it's Tilt' he replies. Then we realise it's both Tilt and Nuttall.

Without wanting to be a tactics dickhead, it looks like we've gone from 4-5-1 to 3-5-2 or 5-3-2. Kaikai has come off. Again. Thompson is hooked as well, though he did beautifully float the ball across for the goal, he has also been responsible for losing the ball several times. Despite the song.

Anyway, second half. It should be taken as a given that in between what follows, Rotherham played  aggressive football with not inconsiderable skill and intent. Their manager in a bobble hat screamed at them. Ollie Turton and Jay Spearing repelled them. They brought on Kyle Vassell, he got applauded. Someone charmingly shouted 'If you score against us though, we'll knife you' - the linefolk (non gendered term, to avoid triggering anyone) had got grief in the first half, the female from us, the male from them and this continued. The ref, I thought let play run pretty well. We've had some right jobsworth's in the last few weeks and I thought this lad was ok, whatever the merits of his decisions, he didn't want to be a star.

Nuttall has five or six attempts to win the ball. In various ways, he doesn't. Gnanduillet flicks on, he runs towards it. Not quite quick enough. He runs round the ball. He jumps but not convincingly. He wins it, he loses it again. He runs at it, but somehow, he doesn't seem convinced he's going to get there.

Then finally, he does something good. He's involved in a little triangle on the right with the excellent Matty Virtue and then we work the ball around to the other side, sweep a lovely low cross to the far post and Nuttall is racing, stretching and not quite making it.

Gnanduillet is putting a shift in suddenly. I don't know if he's desperate to make a point to Nuttall, but he's charging and harrying, crossing low for the charging Virtue to meet at the near post.

He's winning balls in the air and closing the defence down. We're singing his name.

Another nice move ends with Nuttall charging through and this is it, surely, he'll put his laces through it and we'll sing his name forevermore... but he inexplicably tries a deft little cushioned pass to Gnanduillet who looks baffled as to why on earth big Joe didn't just twat it.

And then... he's free again, clean through on goal, no choice but to shoot and he hits the most terrible shot you can imagine, no conviction, no belief and it slices away, struggling to make it out of play and I'm literally turning away, head in my hands. It's a painful moment. It hurts writing about it.

The difference between Super Armand and big Joe is palpable. Armand doesn't care if he misses. He'll go again. He'll trip over his own feet in front of an empty net, but he'll pick himself up and try again. When Gary Lineker missed two sitters for Everton on his debut, Peter Reid later told him 'I knew you'd be fine, as you didn't look bothered about missing' - that's Armand.

It's not Big Joe though. He looks done in. He looks like his head's gone. I can't bring myself to berate him, though enough around me can. Gnanduillet tries to get into his head, to gee him up, but it's not working. They actually did ok as a pair today in some ways, seemingly having worked out that going for the same ball isn't a winning tactic. Please 2020, bring us a partner for Super Armand. One that will pull a defence about and run and run and run.

Tilt is belting out from the back, his arms pumping like the pistons in a vintage engine. I remember how much I love an on form Tilt. Virtue is winning 50/50s. Why don't we sing Matty Virtue's name? He gives everything. Fonz is losing the ball, then chasing, chasing, chasing and winning it back and setting up a move.

We're battling.

I inwardly mock the way they announce their substitutes

"Coming off for the Millers - no 8 - Highly combative but yet skillful midfielder, sponsored by Dave's Wheeliebin Cleaning Services - to be replaced by no 25, another equally rugged player sponsored by Smith and Son Divorce Lawyers -  she's playing away? Get it sorted!" - all delivered in the same voice that you can imagine announcing "next up on Smooth Sound, Kenny Loggins, followed by the Golden Love hour"  

But then, Spearing slides one too many times and it's a clear foul on the edge of the box. Their  manager and his hat go on a curious walk around as if he doesn't want to watch the free kick then settles in his area to study it. The wall groups itself. Howard points, it rearranges itself. The whistle blows.

They score. It seems to bend in the air a little which foxes Howard but who cares. It's Rotherham and of course they've done us. Of course they have. That music again. I want to kick the seat in front of me. I tell myself it's not over but it's Rotherham, so clearly it is.

We fashion a shot from Spearing who has played well, aside from the free kick. Dropping to him on the edge of the box after a bit of penalty box ping pong but it's straight at the keeper. We get a bit sloppy and kick out a few times. Feeney comes on, but he can do no more than run into the corner and get crowded out.

The whistle goes.

The fella next to me says 'new faces' knowingly and I concur. I wonder if Larry will lay into Big Joe or just let him sit there and think about whether he wants to be a footballer. I wonder if some of them could have tried any harder and I don't think they could. We were better second half, but some of the pieces just didn't fit the jigsaw.

On the way out, a Rotherham fan chats to me. I tell him, I rated their no10 - he tells me 'he didn't get a shot off today though' and I suppose that's the way of it - you always see your own sides' misses and the other side's danger. I think they'll go up. They looked like they knew exactly what they wanted to do and how to do it.

'You were a lot better than Peterborough' he tells me, which is scant consolation. On the way home, I listen to a bit of 606 and wonder if the callers are mentally ill or just there are more deathly boring people in the world than I imagine possible.

Rotherham FFS.

At least the solitary Chuckle brother will be happy. You'd have to be dead inside to resent that.

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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 ...