Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Squad - expert review pt 2: Defenders

In the previous blog in this series, I cast an expert eye over the goalies. Today it's the turn of the defenders, an area I have equal or perhaps greater qualification to discuss having given up goalkeeping in my early teens, whereafter I favoured playing centre back. I was often 3rd or 4th pick for 12-a-side games on the rec so anyone questioning my judgement really should wind their neck in and accept that those of us who've played the game to such a high level have a deeper understanding of it as a result of our experiences 

Ollie Turton

Our Ollie is an odd one. He's decent enough if played as a classic right back but not quite good enough to play as the utility player that Larry seemed to want him to be. 'Not as good as Danny Coid' seems an apt description. I find Turton hard to write about. He has few distinguishing mannerisms. He's broadly competent at what he's intended for but unremarkable. Reviewing him makes me feel a bit like those people who review functional things on Amazon. 

"This door mat is great for for wiping your feet on. I tried it as fruit bowl, but not so good at that: 3 stars" 

"This plastic plant pot is great for putting plants in but it's not so good for drinking out of due to the holes in the bottom. If I could give it 3.5 stars I would" 

"This dessert spoon was adequate for apple crumble and custard but when I attempted to use it as a golf club I found it sadly lacking: 3 stars"

Teddy Howe

Fast as lightning this lad. I know cos I saw him play. 

For Reading.

As a Reading player he seemed like the ideal man to play on the right of a back 5 as a marauding wing back. For us, who knows? Doesn't look like he'd belong in a 3 and Feeney has been undropable on the right whilst points have mattered. Had the season not been nuked by a virus, Howe would have probably got a chance as Critchley experimented. Otherwise, we've not yet worked out Howe he fits in. (you get this for free. Shut up) 

Ryan Edwards

I like to think that Larry left Critchley a note saying 'look after Nathan for me, he's a nice lad, sorry about Big Joe, try not to hit him, he's not doing it on purpose and don't, whatever you do, play Ryan at right back' 

Like Turton, it's harsh to judge Edwards on what he did when playing out of position. Especially when the world and his dog could see playing a player, whom the phrase 'big lumbering centre half' could have been coined for, in a position that draws upon almost none of his natural attributes wouldn't work. To be fair to him, though he always seemed to be teetering on the edge of calamity, his application and experience seemed to just about get him through and that's to his credit.

At the centre of a back three, he looked decent. He reads the game well, and whilst not blessed with pace, having Tilt alongside him seemed to work, a kind of calmness aligned with chaos. It's slightly surprising that considering our early season form coincided with Edwards at the heart of the defence, we've never seen him there since. He drifted to the preriphery of the squad, perhaps a victim of deficiencies on paper as opposed to in his actual performances in his natural position.

Ben Heneghan 

Big Ben is not as good as I want him to be but too good to not want to keep. Look at the lad. He's massive and athletic, he wins the ball in the air without looking like he's trying and strolls about doing pointing and being really good at that backwards running that defenders do. There's a real player there, but I feel like he needs to play alongside someone rather than be the fulcrum of the defence and I'm not sure we have that player. Putting a real footballing centre back in the back three would take the pressure off his distribution. 

If we're going to play 'we'll score one more than you' I'd persevere with Husband alongside him and someone else equally as mobile on the other and leave Ben to just head it away in the middle. Like it or not, that's a big part of League One and I can't see many players being as good at it as Heneghan is. 

Taylor Moore

He is the 'someone else' I refer to above. The lad is sheer class. Rugged, powerful but composed on the ball. How he isn't in Brizzle's team mystifies me. Maybe Covid cost cutting will make him available for less but I can't see how there aren't Championship clubs lining up for his services. Rumours of West Brom seem perhaps a tad above his level, but that's how good he is. 

He's truly adaptable too. He could play in the middle, on the flank or, if we wanted to evoke memories of Big Sam, in the middle of the park as an Andy Morrison tribute act. He looks comfortable running with the ball, but perfectly capable of giving it a belt when needed.

Sign. Him. Up. Get Bola in his ear about the dangers of turning your back on regular football.

James Husband

My 9 years olds first football related joke was 

'Is Husband's wife called wife?' 

Boom. Tish. 

It's taken me nearly a year to stop calling him Stephen. One mad tackle aside, I think he's been spot on. There were games when we were marooned in the midseason doldrums of mediocrity where his desire and energy stood out a mile. Add this to the fact he was stuck out on the left side playing two positions for no reason whatsoever and I think he's had an excellent season.

He made a difficult position kind of work (everyone else who has done it has looked exposed) and when shifted to left side of a three maintained his ability to surprise with well timed forward runs. As a left sided centre back, I don't think he's the man for a team built on miserly defence, but absolutely the man for a team who want to play intense, athletic football on the counter attack. 

Marc Bola: 

The Bola that left us looked like an Arsenal graduate. Full of confidence and skill, he was the player who impressed me most last year and his departure seemed inevitable and well earned. 

What ever has happened at 'Boro has done him no good at all and he looks to have lost his positional awareness and confidence to put in the right ball. He didn't get many games to be fair and those he played were in the unlucky left wing-cum-fullback role that did no one any favours. 

You'd imagine Bola will be going back to 'Boro but if you subscribe to the multiverse theory, then somewhere there's a Blackpool side in 20/21 ripping teams to bits with the pace of Bola and Howe the basis of their explosive counter attacking style. Not sure that somewhere is our dimension though. 

Jordan Thorniley

This is a weird one. Held in huge regard by fans of the massivest club going, a regular a division above, he got a few games, in which he didn't distinguish himself and disappeared thereafter. There must be a player there and it's odd that Larry signed him and showed so little faith in him. He seems an odd fit for the way we play - a bit small to play in the middle, but not really the attacking option you'd expect for flank either. 

Callum MacDonald

I wasn't sure whether to include him as defender or a midfielder but his performance against Peterborough was one of the invididual highlights of the year. You can see why he's not made it at a higher level but also why he was at Derby in the first place. He's got excellent technique and applies himself brilliantly, making good choices more often than not. He's not the biggest, quickest or trickiest though.

Why Larry didn't trust him is a mystery, when Dunn and Critchley got a tune from him and almost every time Larry DID give him a go, the side looked better for it. When we managed a randomly good cup performance away at Reading in the middle of a period of abject mediocrity in the league, it was no coincidence that MacDonald played. 

In every winning side, there are stars and there a players who just do a job well. I think MacDonald feels like one of those latter types. He's good enough defensively to interchange with a full back and offers decent delivery when he gets forward and gives everything. 

Michael Nottingham: 

Barely played and gone on loan, Nottingham is a bit of anachronistic player in that he's quite good at defending but not much else and there's only so much room for that in 2020. He'll never let you down for effort but I think he's reached his peak as a player and I'd guess we've seen the last of him. 

A word for those who are no longer with us. 

The most notable departure was Curtis Tilt. Rotherham and aspiration aren't words that always feel comfortable putting together but Tilt feels that if he can make it there, he'll make it anywhere and so he's gone to the New York stadium to sit on the bench. Good riddance said many, but whilst he was heart in the mouth, incomprehensible slips, frankly unpickable for a short period of this year, I think (Moore excepted) an on form and focussed Tilt was the best defender we've had on our books since homecoming. He went with my good wishes. At least his paddy at Larry was passion. 

Nick Anderton headed for Carlisle. He's a trier and he has a sleeve tattoo. He seemed to be the living embodiment of the sort of player Gary Megson would probably like. Imagine an entire team of Nick Andertons. I can't decide if that would be terrifying or terrible. Again good luck to the lad. 

Rocky Bushiri came and went and whilst many would prefer to forget him he is perhaps a useful reminder that the plan 'Just get some Prem kids on loan' isn't always as foolproof as you'd hope. He wasn't ready for the job he was asked to do but there was ability there. I thought Larry might have tried him on the right of defense because whilst the middle didn't work because he lacked the focus/positional sense/awareness to play it successfully, he did have the odd flash of football in him. Never happened though. Should have had me instead of Dusty Miller as his go to man. 

The summing up bit. 

Without the loanees we're weak. Edwards did ok at the outset but is he the fulcrum of a promotion winning defence? Heneghan and in particular Moore are huge players to lose. We've got some quality on the flanks and it does seem curious that Critchley is being linked with a left sided full back. That said, I'm not sure how anyone can really speculate with any confidence about signings as club finances are completely up in the air. Is Thorniley a mistake borne of January madness or will he come through and prove himself the player Wednesday fans said he was? Only time will tell. 

With that blandishment I'll bid the defence adieu and wind up another exciting edition of the blog about which everyone says 'he goes on a bit doesn't he?' 

If you missed it, you can read up on our massive goalkeeping stockpile here. 

Next time: look forward to a comprehensive expert review of the midfielders, fully informed by my later career shift from defence to midfield in 5-a-side.  


Friday, May 29, 2020

Stop saying 'bail out' - Damien Collins MP and 'saving football'

A jungle is an ecosystem. A lion doesn't eat everything for the sake of it. It would grow fat and get eaten if it did. Whether or not it had a crown, which frankly is a mental thing to put on a lion. 

This blog references 'When Sky Invented Football' podcast. It's grand and you should subscribe. It's the best football podcast I've heard in ages.  

I'm coming out fighting for this one. Towel in the corner, gumshield in... I'm on my best behaviour as well. Writing in proper sentences and everything...  

The episode in question concerned Damien Collins MP and his plans to save football from itself. It seems he and Steve Baker MP, alongside Charlie Methven from Sunderland had all inputted into the process. I'll be honest. That's not my ideal dinner party line up. I have prejudice. We all have. I apologise and promise to curb my instincts and give a fair and unbiased reaction to their thoughts.  

I'll start by saying there's significant merit in them and some overlap with my concerns and thinking about solutions. A strengthened financial regulator and local fans being able to audit finances are key points I agree with. The ambition to see the German model become a part of the English game is welcome as were many other sensible and measured points. 

Here's the thing though. I can't bring myself to endorse this as anything other than a sticking plaster for the immediate situation (welcome as it is) because it doesn't get to the heart of football's problem with itself and unless we address that, the sticking plaster is pointless. One thing that sticks in my craw as I'm listening (to the point it's inspired all this) is the repeated use of the phrase 'bail out' to describe the idea of the Premier League paying any money to EFL clubs. 

It might be unfair to single out a seemingly innocuous phrase in this way from a well meaning and well thought through attempt to bring financial sanity to the game and rescue clubs from the brink, but, this is 28 years of hurt, disenchantment and unfairness we're talking about. I've heard this phrase used all over the place and in the midst of otherwise surprisingly refreshing ideas, it had a particularly nails scraping on the blackboard effect. 

Since when did football fans do 'fair' and 'measured' anyway? 

Here's some reasons why the Premier League aren't 'bailing out' any clubs in any meaningful sense and why we should think of any 'rescue package' (to used more inaccurate nomenclature) as more akin to war reparations or attempts to right the wrongs of colonial history... Melodramatic? Maybe, but I think fair, given the evidence I will lay out below. 

In 2018/19 Liverpool announced a £42 million pound profit and a turnover of £533 million. They received £152,425,146 in total from the FA in the form of TV rights, international rights and various other incentives. The figure that stands out to me, is the payment of £36,451,842 'merit payment' - a disgusting marketers term for 'prize money'. 

Liverpool got £36,451,842 for finishing second. They didn't WIN anything yet were rewarded with a figure of such astronomical size that I had to count the numbers to make sure it was right. Liverpool's total payment (that's money they were paid for simply competing, not money they earned through the turnstiles or selling shirts, transfer dealings, sponsorship etc) of £152,425,146 is greater than the combined turnover of the ENTIRE League One clubs combined. 

Lets just breathe. What I am saying is not, 'Liverpool earn too much money because they are a big club and it's not fair because little clubs don't have as many fans' - I am saying Liverpool are GIVEN more money that the entire third tier EARN, on top of their considerable revenue generating power that comes from being a big, historic and successful club. 

Liverpool are alloted that money because at some point we decided to reward teams for being 'popular on telly' instead of simply rewarding sporting merit in the form of trophies. We decided that it was ok, to allow a system whereby the big clubs would have a competitive advantage over the smaller teams further enhanced by the financial system in place. Liverpool received £45 million more than 17th place Brighton and already have turnover that exceed the Seagulls by £400 million.

It's like having two X-factor competitors, one with a backing track and a mic and the other shouting from behind the stage, then pretending it's 'competitive' and the one with the advantage 'deserves the rewards that go with winning' (and calling it a 'great spectacle' to boot) 

Guess what happens next? - in the 2019/20 table, Liverpool are a long way ahead of Brighton! Who knew that would happen? Anyone have punt on Brighton to finish above Liverpool? 

Yet Brighton themselves have a turnover that just about equals the entirety of League One... Are we spotting a problem yet? Brighton aren't fundamentally a 'big club' - They've rarely spent much time at the top table and plenty of time picking up crumbs off the floor and yet their earning power vastly exceeds any clubs from a similar level that not so long ago they were at. 

Are we yet seeing what is at the heart of football's financial problems? It's like a mind bending painting (put the effort in and imagine!) where a series of weight lifters are lifting weight disproportionate to their size. The biggest one has two balloons on a cane raised above his head and is being feted and showered with prizes whilst the weakest is sweating trying to lift the weight of two articulated trucks, getting nowhere and being lambasted by the crowd for 'not trying hard enough' 

What are the losing weightlifters supposed to do in the circumstances? Give up? Has the winner really earned his victory?

It's literally easier for the already rich clubs to compete and every year it gets a little bit easier. 

Let's drop another fact in the mix. The League One clubs earn NO prize money from the league AT ALL. Not even for winning it. Not a penny. They receive approximately £1.5 million in TV revenue and the excruciatingly named 'solidarity payments' as a grudging acknowledgement that the other half exist. It's a bit like throwing 50p from the window of a Bentley at a refugee and shouting 'there you go, one day, you can be like me!' or giving the losing weightlifter from earlier a bit of chalk for his hands, whilst giving the winner an even lighter cane as you do so. 

Let's add in the Champions League for it is relevant. Liverpool earned 111,000,000 (euros - almost £100,000,000) for winning the Champions League. It's safe to say Brighton didn't enter that.   

Surely it's fair to recompense clubs for the extra games in Europe? Perhaps, but it certainly doesn't cost that much to stage and travel to those games + they get extra income through the gates. They are, effectively already recompensed. 

Lets add ANOTHER fact. Clubs currently get £15 million just for reaching the group stages. That money would pay for the entire wage budget of 2.272 League one clubs. That is a fact...

What of it? Liverpool as they are fond of reminding us, haven't won the title for thirty years and thus we have to play through a pandemic to make sure they do. English clubs face few barriers to group stage entry and receive further cash everytime they win a game within it (the groups often contain at least one 'weak' side from a European nation without the luxury of a £9.4 billion TV deal)

The top clubs (we've established are rewarded lavishly and disproportionately) can 'fail' and still scoop significant 'prize money' - even if Klopp hadn't licked Liverpool into shape and they'd finished 4th and lost all their games in the group stages would still have a) got another go at it next year... (why?) and b) been £40m better off than Brighton - Less than £145m (which was the gap in income) but never the less a significant sum. 

To sum up the disparities at work - League One clubs recieved 1.5 million (plus the odd bit of cup revenue) for their existence. Every other penny was earned through turnstiles or commerce. Liverpool (with considerable commercial advantages) received £250,000,000 just for playing in two of the tournaments they were part  

So, what we are undeniably seeing, is a system that distorts the nature of the game. One in which the already successful (or those with the external resources to buy into that elite) become part of a self perpetuating cycle of riches. 

There is no way into this group of teams by sporting merit alone. No matter how good your 'measured growth plan' is. The money within the game (which, prior to the the 'split' was distributed centrally and in a fixed and fair manner) is 'trapped' at the top. It's not trickling down as (some readings of) economics would suggest it should. How can it? The river has been dammed. The lower league water bed is dry. We don't need bailing out. Precisely the opposite. We need the water to flow downstream, like it should. 

We didn't dam the river! We need to blow the dam up. Now. We're literally dying down here. 

Thus, to return to the original point, whilst Damien Collin's proposals are well thought out and sound radical, they don't address the single biggest issue in the game. It is not 'bad ownership' that is ruining the game. It is a financial model which means that 'bad' ownership is really, the only alternative for a football club to attempt to achieve it's core purpose (winning matches, promotions and ultimately the league) - Without that purpose, it isn't football. 

Forest Green may knit yoghurt, share falafel and do communal yoga, but without the football, it would just be a picnic park. Shrewsbury may have had 'a great day out' but they were gutted when VAR (don't get me started) robbed them of a goal against Liverpool. Blackpool might have been 'on the best trip' in 2010/11 but it hurt when we went down as much as it does anyone else when it happens to them. Football fans of all teams want to win. 

There are terrible owners. I am a Blackpool fan. It would be insane to pretend otherwise. I'm saying no more on that. There are property speculators and sociopaths and all sorts of weird types who are attracted like moths to football's light only to smash it and leave clubs and by extension communities in darkness.

Yes, Collin's ownership proposals would help that. I agree wholeheartedly and applaud Collin's assertion that 'we need stable finances to attract the right sort of owners' - yes, we do. We really, really do. (see my writing on the Newcastle situation for an expansion on that) - but, the fact remains that many clubs are in difficulty, not because there owner wants to flog the ground and build houses or is convicted criminal who wants to run off with their revenues, but simply because they want to live the dream and it got out of control. 

That's the point of football. To try and win. As we saw above that dream costs incredible, eye watering sums of money. That are literally given out to a small pool of clubs that are at a considerable advantage even over the clubs in the same division as them who in turn are at a considerable advantage to the clubs in the division below who in turn are at... It's that painting again... It's the little guy straining every muscle, urged on by the taunting. Trying to lift that impossible weight... 

The club owners can either choose to try (and possibly do both themselves and the club an injury) or they can just not bother trying at all.

Supporters in general have one demand of players and by extension clubs. They expect them to TRY. If the team isn't trying, then that is the one thing that will really cause a crowd to turn on their team. That applies to the board as well. Fans will be patient, but if they feel a board of directors isn't trying to compete, then fans will mutter, grumble, boo, chant, protest, then they'll eventually (some of them) give up and walk away. This is true. A football club the fans perceive not to be trying their absolute best to compete is an unhappy place. 

We know as a football fans you can't expect to win every week. I'm a Blackpool fan and we've never won the league (but we have had a Ballon D'or Winner,  England's 1966 MoM, won the most famous match of domestic football ever played anywhere in the world and we've got Armand Gnanduillet and thus are magical in ways most of you can never understand....) and we might never win it in my lifetime, but I have to believe it's possible, however unlikely. More to the point, my 9 year old son has to believe it MIGHT happen. 

People are impatient, people tell themselves all sorts of things to justify doing what they do (and what others do if they believe it will fulfill their dreams. It's perfectly possible to understand why a club might invest significant sums of money into achieving what they and their supporters dream of doing. It's literally how business works - you dream of giving your customers a product they love to buy. But I could throw the life savings of everyone in my town at competing with Amazon and I wouldn't stand a chance. Find another niche you might say - Amazon have already got the online shopping world sewn up. Fair enough... I'll set up a poorly read football blog with no obvious income stream and populate it with dense articles about obscure players and finances. That's my ticket out of the ghetto sorted! 

But what does the football club owner do? He can't 'find another niche' - The owners of clubs who've tried and failed to break into the elite or fallen from the top table at the wrong time, the small but ambitious clubs, looking to build on success and grow, the teams whose investment has taken them so far and can see 'the next level' in sight - what are they supposed to do? Go and play cricket instead? They are football clubs. Their very purpose is to compete with other football clubs. 

We can talk about community ownership and be misty eyed about the 'value' of clubs to the people who support them. I know the value of my club. I am writing about it at gone 11pm on a Friday night because I love the absurd nature of supporting them. I see, week in, week out, the hope, the elation, the grumbling, the sheer excitement and total disappointment that it brings to thousands upon thousands. To those in the stand and those far away for whom it's totem of home. 

But... and it's a big one this... they aren't purely community or social facilities. It isn't 'a culture hub.' A youth club doesn't have to 'beat' the youth club up the road to satisfy it's core purpose. It can do what it does That can be different to the next one.. The theatre doesn't have to put on 'a better play' than the next theatre. It just has to offer something distinct and of quality. It can attract a totally different audience with a play that has totally different qualities. That's not an option for a football club. It can do great work, it can be run for better or worse, it can be managed cleverly or poorly, but ultimately it has to try and win (and it does have to win *sometimes* or it will decline terminally) - it can't 'pivot' to another approach. It's trapped by it's purpose and trapped in a rigged system. Of course it overspends to try and compensate. What else can it do?  

Every football fan wants one thing. They want their team to try and win - that is the glue that bonds the community - black, white, rich, poor, Tory, Labour, Christian, Atheist, whatever... the one thing that unites us is (and it's absurd, but 132 years of history are the evidence) that we want to win. We understand that we often don't and sometimes we know for almost certain we won't, but we need to know we might. That's how little football fans ask for. Just a possibility. That's it. 

The authorities that run the game have failed to respect that simple fact and it is that which is ultimately leaving clubs in a position where they must live at the edge of their means (even with well intentioned owners) and take gambles that can cost a community dear. The grotesque inflation of the leading teams finances can only have negative consequences for those below. We should ABSOLUTELY curb spending in League One, but if we don't do it at the top, then the job of the regulatory bodies will be a nightmare and the flame of competition will grow ever dimmer. We'll see even less teams able to dream, to win, to excite and the game will be worse for it. 

If we are serious about financial control (and the thought Damien Collins put into his proposals suggests he is at least making more than the usual token effort) then there is one simple way to do it. Curb the money given to Premier League clubs for simply existing and impose a salary cap. This will free up money for the broader game, open up competition and reward sporting merit above simple brute force spending. 

If public money is to be spent rescuing clubs, we have to rid ourselves of the illusion that football is beyond regulation or that the money is 'tied up' and big clubs 'need it' - they haven't earned, they stole it and built a system that rewards them for that year after year after 28 years. 

I repeat. If public money is going to be spent supporting football clubs then we need to rid ourselves of the illusion that football is beyond regulation. 

The Premier League should not be untouchable whilst the rest of the game continues to adapt to what it has done to it. The primary driver of this crisis might be Covid19, but ultimately (to use an insensitive but apt metaphor) football has a serious underlying health condition that I have (to torture the metaphor) diagnosed very clearly above. 

I'll be happy to put my taxes into supporting the game at every and any level when the entire sport is made to look at itself, stop messing about with different governing bodies and look after itself holistically, not simply protect the interests of the few. 

If we're going to talk about community when speaking about football politically then we need to make the phrase 'football family' mean more than expressions of  mawkish sentiment on twitter. There are clubs dying. If my sister is skint, I'll help her out. That's 'family' - I won't lecture her on how my 'market value' is such that I am entitled to ignore her completely whilst burning cash in front of her and at the same discussing the words 'values' and 'integrity' with an entirely straight face. That would be a frankly psychopathic way to treat someone I consider 'family' 

It makes you think eh? 

I commend Damien Collins for his efforts to address this issue and am surprised he got so much right. I'm not well disposed to lectures on football from politicians but it was a decent effort as they go. 

What says a lot is, despite his unwillingness to countenance questioning the Premier League and all who sail in her, he seems to care and understand a damn site more for the game than the shower who run the FA. 

I got through the entire piece without saying 'tory' or making disparaging remarks about charlie methven. I deserve a drink. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The squad: Expert review - Part 1 GK's

'I've got 6 keepers FFS!' 'Well, I'm spending 200% of our turnover on player wages alone YOLO'  

I've been writing a lot about the end of football as we know it and it's starting to make me miserable... what better thing to do than review a load of players ignoring the fact I haven't seen them in the flesh for ages and many of them might never play again in tangerine, could soon be out of work and heading down the labour exchange with the rest of us soon. Ignore that last bit. It'll only spoil your vibe. Turn that frown upside down. Stop slumping at the back. Think football. Us. 'The lads' 'Our boys' 



It's fun again! It's like the Y2K bug never happened. 

I miss the innocent days when I would write things like 'Feeney, running in his odd upright way like a kid holding an ice cream at waist level' or 'Maxwell, prowling the edge of his box like a slightly unkempt and testy panther' and that was that. 

I liked that version of me. It was wide eyed and innocent, in love with a simple pleasure. Not all 'Oh, the end of the world is nigh' - that me is hard work. It takes at least 15 minutes of research to maintain the illusion that I know anything about anything. Can't be arsed today. Miss football, miss tangerine, even miss some of our frankly rank average journeymen really quite a lot

Even Ollie Turton.*

There will be no scores. It's not Strictly Come Dancing for fucks sake. You can make your own mind up. What do you want me to do? Chew your food for you? 


We seem to have about 50 goalies to review. That's too many, especially as 4 of them are probably good enough to be a keeper in our division, and that seems a bit excessive, especially now we can't have nice things or pay players more than 50p every fortnight.

Goalkeeping is my area of expertise (No1 in same school team as THE Neil Whitworth played for albeit 8 years later no less...) - Expect therefore, genuine insight in this section

Jak Alnwick: 
I don't have a lot to say. He's a good keeper. He's calm, steady, reliable. He's the sort of keeper that people who fancy themselves as a Sky Sports analyst cos they coached an under 9s team for a week will say 'yeah, but he got caught out on the second goal, should have been at the near post' and I'll think 'yeah, but I was our yr 7 school team keeper and you fuckers blame the keeper whatever he does' and I don't think he did much wrong at all. He could be a bit more assertive and maybe take crosses a bit more, but I think the defence know what he's up to and he has a lovely smart hair cut and rather purposeful manner. If he was a pie, he'd be an a decent steak and kidney one. I'm not going to compare all the keepers to pies. That would be ridiculous.  

Chris Maxwell: 
I love the lad. Keeper should be a bit odd and he is. Fidgety, always moving, you can tell he over thinks stuff and needs to keep busy to keep the thoughts at bay. Whereas Alnwick looks well coached and largely moves like a computer sprite programmed to do what goalies do, Maxwell looks like his own man and he's capable of some absolutely blinding, take your breath away, how did he do that, fucking hell I thought that was in stops. He's also clearly got a mistake in him but it's (closed) swings and roundabouts (or are they open? who knows anything any more) and in a few games, he has become one of my favourites. A really class keeper will make saves that feel almost as good as goals, where you've been through the whole mental anguish of visualising the ball in the net and it takes a moment to realise he actually saved it. Maxwell can do that. 

Mark Howard: 
This is harsh, cos Howard clearly was a decent keeper in the boycott years and seems a nice lad, but when he came back from injury, everything seemed to go through him. It was like he'd got the goalie version of the yips or just hadn't got his body working in tandem with his reflexes. I remember playing outfield in games on the rec where I'd turn round to whoever was in goals at the time and go 'you dived round that ffs' and sadly, I felt a bit like that with Howard. Probably came back too early and suffered. Keeping is ALL about confidence. I know, I'm a fucking expert. Yr7 school team m8. Should be on Sky. 

Chris Mafoumbi: 
He looked a bit crap in one of the pre-season or LDV games and Larry clearly never fancied him - he was great last year though. I thought he was the standout player in the run in (aside from Nya Kirby) and looked to me (an expert) like he was growing into being the first choice. Here's some totally unsubstantiated guesswork. At the Reading game (home) I was in the West, so closer the keeper's warm ups than normal. Mafoumbi literally looked so bad, it seemed he was taking the piss. Even Joe 'on paper, he's got everything' Nuttall scored every time past him. I watched him closely thinking 'this lad was decent last year' and to my mind he seemed to be literally not trying at all.  

The next day he went to Morecambe.

Maybe he fell out with Larry or Steve Banks. I hope it was Larry cos I don't like to think of Steve Banks being anything other than happy. Fuck you Eric Nixon. Fuck you you mop headed shitarse cunt. 

That just came out. Still hurts. Sorry. 

I'd be happy with him as second choice in a financially restricted world where we could only have Alnwick OR Maxwell. 

Jack Sims:
I can't really say much about the lad even in my genuinely expert capacity. He doesn't look physically ready to be a first team keeper yet, but he did a grand job when he came on. His kit looked a bit too big (I know all about that, cos we didn't have a goalie shirt and I had to wear a massive blue rugby top instead) and Armand had to go and give him a cuddle, but he was like a teenager (he is a teenager) shrugging off his mum and getting on with it on his own because 'god, Armand, there's people watching, let me go to the goal on my own!' 

One of the best bits of a really crap middle of the season was the way we got behind the lad and he pulled off some decent saves. Did himself proud. 

Miles Boney: 
He hasn't played, but seriously, how many keepers does one team need? Feel like I'm going to go for a piss after this and find a Blackpool keeper in the airing cupboard there's that many of them. 

That's it for now. My judgement is: We've got loads of keepers, Maxwell is the best cos I like messy things that have genius in them. Perfection is overrated. Listen to Sonic Youth. Real genius isn't neat and tidy. 

Alnwick's a good un though he's a bit more MOR. More of a Kaiser Chiefs or something. Mafoumbi could do a job. 

Critchley will probably get some kid no one has heard of instead of any of them. 


You'll never guess what's coming next time. 

...the attack!

No, it's obviously the defence ffs. I'm just writing words for the sake of it. Like all football related things are doing now. What's your problem? Yes, it could have been shorter and I could have put in a heat map and stats and said proper stuff but you can see that elsewhere and then pretend you know about things because you read a number once or copied an opinion. Cut and paste it and edit into something else if you like. Start Dave Burgess's Right Foot and we can have a twitter war over who is 'the third best Blackpool FC related blog' 

Bring it on. 

Love and hugs MCLF 


*dunno what I've got against Ollie Turton. If you were going at him, I'd probably be all 'give him a break, he's alright at right back, just gets shoved about all over and looks worse than he is - the curse of the utility player - don't blame him cos Larry bummed him for no real reason than he was allergic to play two left footers in the same team' but what are we if not contradictory?

What else do we have but our endless thinking and indecision? Christ, I miss football and this echoey hipster German stuff isn't cutting it for me. Too much space for my own mind. Not enough crowd to drown myself in. Stop reading now. There's no more. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Can we afford football?

This article is about Blackpool, but only because that's what I know. You can alter the maths slightly, change the names and it's about any league one (or league 2) club. What it isn't about is whether Liverpool's summer transfer plans have been dealt a blow or which club is threatening litigation to who over their prize money. It's a thousand times more concerning than that. - It's about whether we're facing up to the incredible difficulties facing funding football beyond the TV world and whether the measures taken to ensure clubs survive might be more extreme than we think... 

Above is Ben Garrity. He's a little known midfield player who signed for Blackpool from 7th tier Warrington Town. He's the star of the piece in some ways, though he barely gets mentioned. It is the likes of him who maintain my interest in football. A young lad who has played football up till now, mainly for the pure love, getting his chance at a dream and a life in the game. He's never played for us. He might be the next David Eyres or Brett Ormerod, a unlikely legend in the making... or he might be Rory Prendergast, that lad from Blyth Spartans, that kid Ollie signed from an American university who was quick and nothing else - a damp squib that fizzles out. 

More than anything else, I'd love to find out... I'm worried I never will.

At the beginning is a load of crap satire about current affairs. You can just scroll to the main bit if you're short of time. It won't spoil the point I'm trying to make. I'm leaving it in cos it's my blog and I'll write in an irritating way if I wish.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Void it now

Footballers doing bad things. Getting paid loads of money to roll around on the floor, spit, and grunt monosyllabic responses to earnest young men and women asking them earnest questions in an enthusiastic manner. 

They're a terrible influence on the youth of today, with their tattoos and their funny little eyebrow shaving things and their toxic culture of anodyne masculinity. 

It's fun to poke and prod at their education. How dare they be really fucking good at something and not simultaneously really good at other stuff at the same time. Did you know clever people like Brian Cox or Mary Beard are also so good at football they could probably get a game for at least Charlton Athletic. They just don't want to. It's beneath them. 

There's no Charlton Athletic players who could anchor an entire series on the universe or write at length about the gender politics of the late Byzantine empire. That's because footballers are inferior creatures, not built for thinking, built instead for heading and running and jumping, for kicking and sliding and leaping. Essentially little more than cattle. 

With this opinion in mind (which must be true cos literally loads of people think it and that's serious truth in a post truth world) you'd hope that the likes of Troy Deeney and Danny Rose would be held up by the general population as beautiful anomalies. Heralded as triumphant examples, proving that free will does exist and we aren't all simply programmed by our DNA to follow fate in a slavishly algorithmic way or entirely en thrall to our circumstances and social role. 

You'd think that a footballer who said 'hang on a minute, is it a good idea to all go running about and doing the jumping, sweating, breathing, grabbing, grabbing, verging on homoerotic ballet we do every week at THIS point in time' would be lauded. 

You'd think people would say 'Good lord! There's a footballer who is thinking stuff. A footballer with feelings and thoughts! Who isn't saying 'y'know what Alan, we'll just take each game as it comes and to be fair, the gaffer has been great' but is instead talking, about what they actually think. 

You'd hope that people wouldn't just respond by saying 'oi, cattle, get back in your field and do what yer told, you get loadsa money and that's as far as I'm prepared to think m8' 

You'd hope that people might be put off the spectacle of ghost football if they knew that some of the players didn't really want to be there. You'd hope that people themselves, the sort of people who look down upon footballers might think twice and question why some of them seemed uncomfortable about being asked to play a sport in which close proximity is part of the very nature of the beast. 

That a game, where some of the players (for it's not just Rose and Deeney who've said this, and in the media trained, media silent world of 21st century top flight football, we can presume they are the proverbial tip of the proverbial iceberg) are literally frightened, might not be great viewing. That's not even taking into account that football in empty ground is complete shit anyway. 

You'd also wonder, if, as we're so quick to jump on footballers for their nightclub indiscretions and their less wise tweets or their choices of home furnishings, if we're so quick to castigate them as appalling role models who should act more responsibly and realise their influence on young minds, then WHY IN THE FLAMING FUCK ARE WE SO DESPERATELY TRYING TO GET THEM TO MODEL THE ONE THING WE DONT WANT GROUPS OF YOUNG PEOPLE DOING IN THE NEAR FUTURE? 

Is it just me? Send kids back to school, but tell them not to kick a ball around. Tell teenagers not to work out their testosterone by wrestling with each other, tell kids not to congregate in groups or gather together with people from outside their family or their little cluster. 

Send them home, not to work out their energy on the local park or on the five-a-side pitch or in the street but to sit in front of the telly to watch a group of young men, from different cities, performing exactly what they're not allowed to do, on telly. Live. 

But it's a business and they need the money. So do crack dealers. Go and buy some and smoke that instead if you can't live without football. Whack on a video showing your kids a load of addicts tieing the belt then mumbling about drifting off into cotton wool and numb bliss. Tell them not to take smack though. It's bad for you. 

But Hendo wants to play. Fuck off. 

Void it. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Football - your first and purest love

'Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being' (Camus) 

Remember things? 

Remember undergound public toilets with steep steps down to their shadowy echoing depths? Remember rampant homophobia and it being ok to sing racist songs in the playground? Remember short shorts? Remember when cars were all different shapes? Remember Bukta and Admiral and Barry Davies? Remember when Micky was football's best known Hazard? Remember those plain generic football kits you could get for PE at school that were cut like it was still 1978, even though ten years had passed? Remember Top of the Pops and guessing who was miming or not? Remember when paedophiles were just known as 'strange men?' Remember ha'penny sweets in 10p mixes? Remember when people used to come to your house and light up a tab without even asking, even though your your mum and dad didn't smoke and they'd happily get them an ashtray? Remember Brian Moore? 

The old days. Entwined with your memories of your first and purest love. Football. 

Do you miss it? I do. I miss the faint frisson of danger and the simplicity of it all. Football starting at about 1.30 on Saturday with the first bit of team news and over by the end of the drive home or 'Sport on 2.' Competitions that made sense (like the winners of each league playing each other in Europe) and divisions whose names were easily understood. Beautiful old trophies instead of brash oversized tacky ones. One game a week on telly, and the rest of them played at the same time, so you'd get a glorious, manic, fizzing rush of so much football all at once, instead of these days, where it's like having to drink a pint in a series of sips spread across 3 days so by the time you get to finish it, it's gone all flat and warm.  

Thing is, as much as I miss it, I don't think I'd flick a switch and have it all back, just like that, just as it was. I remember Bradford, the vaguest of memories at the time, but rendered vivid by the pictures in one of my football annuals of a stand replaced by a primal nightmare of flame and smoke. I remember sitting on a square sandstone block outside my house as Hillsborough unfolded, minute by shocking minute, the unmatched Peter Jones using his brilliance to evoke a scene that my 9 year old mind didn't know was possible. I remember pictures of the 'new Ibrox' and explanations of how not one, not two, but three disasters had been the part of the impetus for this most modern seeming of stadiums. 

I remember it being years and years till I saw European football. I remember Manchester Utd's European Cup Winners' Cup campaign being heralded as some kind of cleansing and renewal for the English game, after Heysel and charging fans and collapsing walls. (A knockout trophy it took just 5 games to win I can't help but point out, when the contemporary football world is tying itself in knots about how to fit all the matches in) I read about the Burnden Park disaster and the injuries at the White Horse final, marvelling at the pictures of an impossible seeming number of people massed at the edge of the pitch and on the banking all around. I came to understand that these things seemed to happen with a surprising regularity.

I still miss the old grounds though. Even though I know that their threadbare and creaking state was due to a woeful lack of investment that in part was due to the social stigma that football faced prior to Gazza crying it back to fashion again. I miss the old Bloomfield Road tremendously. The history soaked shambles of ground, the tinderbox wooden stand and odd corner with what seemed like a shed balanced above the tunnel, the vast yawning Kop, weed strewn and crumbling, but seemingly permanent, rising out of the earth itself, more of a geographical feature than a stand, the whole place a hotchpotch of corrugated iron and stanchions all held together by layers of thick paint. The new ground is nothing on it. It's fine. It's breezeblock and mostly uniform. I like it, don't get me wrong, I love it even, but it's just not the old place. 

That doesn't mean I want the old place back. My nan was lovely and I adored her beyond measure and without reservation, but eventually she reached a point where her passing was inevitable. That happens. One day I might have my own grandchildren and that'll be different, but it'll be what happens. Things change. The new replaces the old. I still miss her but it's the province of weird tech billionaires with proto fascist ideals, unresolved issues and enough money to dream the impossible to try and extend life beyond what is natural. It's ok for things to be fond memories and no more. 

The clock cannot rewind. I want to lie in my childhood bedroom and fill the time up with nothing but dreaming, free from obligation and worry, but now as I write, my own child is dreaming his own dreams about 4 yards away and I have to accept that the world has turned and I am grown... 

I can't freeze the world at some point in about 1989, when everything was as it was before my infant eyes grew cynical, before I knew what it was to really hurt, to have a heart broken, before I knew the hollow emptiness of a come down or the hollow greed that underpins the world, before I was tired and wished the end of the day to come quickly so I could close my eyes and escape, harbouring a secret desire to sleep forever. 

The idea that football has turned bad, simply because it 'isn't what it was' is wrong.

Each generation sees changes. The amatuer game gives way to the professionals and we move from Corintthian values to hard nosed professionalism. From a gung ho kick and rush and may the best man win, to a Scots inspired world of tactics and passing. The game becomes famous, Steve Bloomer changes hands for literally thousands and his image adorns cigarette cards and hair tonics. Offside turns tactics on their head and George Camsell and Dixie Dean plunder 119 goals between them in a single season's worth of games. 

Wizards of Dribble, clown princes, wild men, team men, solid pros and loose cannons, golden visions, lions of vienna, champagne charlies and chopper 'arris's all come and go, el Beatle glides through a decade and a half of rock n roll football, leaving the image of the game changed forever. Floodlights rise and bathe crowds in light, bringing magic to industrial nights in industrial towns across the nation. Players come from diverse backgrounds as migration becomes normalised. TV cameras bringing pictures into homes, making stars of many, ever sharper focus bringing ever more opportunity for ever more lucrative worship.

Football has always evolved and it should always carry on doing so. The beauty of football is, for a simplistic game, it seems to be able to spawn a remarkable number of variations in how it should be played. That's part of the joy. Long ball, short passing, WM, wingless wonders, the high press, counter attacking, physicality versus skill, team vs individual. Things go in cycles, what was new once, becomes old, and returns in the guises of a new idea or a brilliant innovation only when it's been forgotten and condemned as old fashioned. Even VAR has its roots in an idea from the 1890s of an extra referee sat in the stands who could rule on contentious decisions from a different angle. (it was widely loathed and swiftly abandoned...) 

Fashions change, grounds change, styles of play change, boots change, haircuts change, balls change, chants change, what we eat at grounds changes, everything changes. Football evolves and that is fine. 

It's more than fine.

It's fucking brilliant. What else do we still do, that we've been doing, more or less without a break since the Victorian era? 

I think there's one aspect of longing for the past that isn't nostalgia though.

Throughout football history, the game has been competitive. Whether by accident or design, the glories and failures have been shared out. Football has been a hard sport to stay at the top of, a genuine challenge to dominate. The reason why Liverpool are venerated so highly, is that they managed to stay at the top of the English game for so long at a time when it was truly hard to do so.  I've written at length on this before, both about the statistical evidence that demonstrates the game has reached a period of stasis (and who likes stasis?) and the means by which to reinvigorate it and I don't intend to revisit that now. 

What I want to do in this piece of writing is make a suggestion to those of us (and there are many) who think the same. It's too easy to paint us as the luddites. Dreaming forever of times gone by and bemoaning lost grounds and clinging to our late 80s (or whatever decade you recall most fondly) replica kits like comfort blankets. We're accused of wanting to 'take the game backwards' or 'undo the progress.' 

The truth is somewhat different. All we want is football to be competitive. We don't recognise that having 5 or 6 teams who hoover up all the trophies and look set to do so for the next decade is competitive or progressive. 

We don't accept that the 'quality' of the game has improved by creating a vast disparity between sides whose resources were once far more equally matched. We think the quality of a football match comes from the competition between the players and whilst throughout history, there has always been mismatches, if those mismatches become baked into the very structure of the game and repeated year after year and the governance of the game seeks to make these mismatches permanent there is something rotten at the core of football. 

The pragmatic truth is - those of us who remember terraces and players earning relatively sane amounts of money, unpredictable cup competitions and teams from unfashionable towns getting into Europe are aging. I'm in my forties and I'm acutely aware that even people in my friendship group have little or no memory of anything other than the financial arrangements as they are now. They don't see that 'something has changed' - they might be vaguely aware that things weren't exactly as they are, but they don't look on he pre-Premier League era with the same eyes as I do - it doesn't evoke the same fluttering memories of young love, it's just some blurry footage of weird kits and grounds they don't recognise. They fell in love with the game in the late 90s or early 2000s, when, despite what we may think, it was and (is still) football. It's still enough to get your heart racing.

Imagine telling someone their girlfriend wasn't as nice as yours. Telling them 'our football' is better than 'their football' is kind of like saying - 'oi, you can't have her cos she's mine, but you should fancy my bird not yours, yours is all plastic and fake and mines the real thing

Railing about 'how it used to be' isn't going to appeal to anyone under about 35 years old, anymore than someone blathering on about the 50s or 60s appealed to me in the 1990s. I wasn't likely to ditch my Nirvana records, just so I could listen to Bill Haley or Herman's Hermits. No one in the Hacienda was likely to be persuaded to go to a milk bar followed by some jiving because 'that's what we used to do' 

We can't give up on the game and retreat to what was once but is no more. We need to coalesce round simple demands - maximum ticket prices and a salary cap would be my suggestion (as above, I'm not expanding on this except to say, the two things go hand in hand.. I've written about it elsewhere, at length and I'm painfully aware my blog suffers from overwriting at the best of times.) We need to put those demands across in such a way that they speak to everyone. 

You might get misty eyed over Peter Reid in short shorts or the smell of the pies at Highfield Road. That's fine, but to the next man, that means nothing. 

To put in terms a teenager of today might grasp instantly, without the 'once upon a time, there was a land where everything was better' or 'things were better before the war' attitude - FIFA is extraordinarily popular and not simply because it recreates the game in extraordinary detail. What makes FIFA satisfying, is the way you can take your club on an adventure - you can win the league and the cup in a fairytale land. What if real football had a bit more of that magic? What if it was a bit more unpredictable, a bit more tense, a bit more meaningful? What if there were a few more fairy tale runs and unlikely teams winning things? Who didn't enjoy Leicester? 

That shouldn't be too much to ask for and as both Martin Calladine (in 'The Ugly Game') and John Nicholson (in 'Can We Have Our Football Back) make plain - the route to achieving this is not a difficult one, in theory at least - and if something is theoretically straightforward, but difficult to imagine in practice then it needs a shift in mindset to take place. The latter book should be read by anyone who cares even in passing about the game. It lights a fire in the heart and in the cold of the modern world, that can only be good for you. 

Calladine's splendid tome asks (amongst many excellent + at times very funny observations) - if the NFL and the golden children of the free market in the USA can be committed to the competitiveness of their sport and apply a strict and fair salary cap, then why can't the authorities in England do something similar?

The notion that 'this is the way it is' or that 'it's just modern football' is a lazy cliche that doesn't cut it when placed against an example of a sport that manages to be both highly commercial and highly competitive. There is a model in place. We just choose to ignore it. What is the health of the game if it can be described as 'predictable' and 'a parade' - What is the role of the game's authorities if it isn't to ensure the health of the game? 

'But it's such a big business - surely, they've done a good job, there's so much money!?' I hear you protest. - Overseeing the inflation of wages and costs to a point where any form of community or local ownership is unthinkable and it cost the price of an oil empire to compete, isn't really a triumph of governance, but a failing in their obligations... It's a question of perspective. See the above comment about mindset. Repeat after me: 'It's only a game' 

In a strange way, FIFA offers a simulation of 'old fashioned', pre Premier League Football when less fashionable or glamorous teams could dream of breaking into the big time, because from time to time teams like them did. It recognises that a world in which most of the teams couldn't win anything, would be a pretty poor set up for a game. The game would be pointless to play from most perspectives and we'd begin to wonder why they bothered including all the other teams at all. Why can't actual football realise that as well? 

No one would expect the league to suddenly turn on its head or for Manchester United and Liverpool to drop out of the professional game. Big clubs will still be big clubs. They just might not win everything ALL THE TIME. 

We're asking for something realistic, we're asking for something that can only be good for the game itself and good for those who watch it. If the joy of playing the game is to win matches, then it can only be good for the vast majority of those within the game and those who love it to make the game fairer thus give people more hope of winning next week. That's not nostalgia and we can't let it be dismissed as so. It's exactly the opposite. It's forward thinking. It's about how even when it looks like your team are utterly hopeless, 'there's always next year...' and about how every football fan should be able to feel that way. 

We're a fifth of the way through the 21st century. The sad truth is, no matter how many righteous books and lengthy, earnest blogs are written - to really get anywhere, we need a decent hashtag... Suggestions on a postcard please! 

If we can't dream, what can we do? 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Season Review - A fantastic damp squib!

So, it seems, the season is about to end after all the speculation and we won't get to say goodbye. Given the spectacular levels of what young people call #awkward at last season's final game lap of honour, it's probably not a bad thing.

You can recreate the experience of an average final day by asking someone to blow a whistle choosing to either #clapfornathan or rush to your car. Why not ask some of your family/housemates/socially distanced neighbours to add depth to the experience by shouting 'absolute shite Blackpool' a few times in the background whilst you mutter to yourself 'not bothering next year...'

It's the strangest of ends to what was (despite long periods of mediocrity) a fantastic year. The 2018/19 partial season was an incredible celebration and then a strange experience - the team, the manager, everything just didn't seem quite 'ours' - This year was like a reset button, starting from the beginning made all the difference in how we felt the ups and the downs. There were plenty of downs, but what matters was, we felt them. That alone was fantastic. Experiencing (a lot of) frustration and (occasional) elation go hand in hand in football and this year, unlike the long years that preceded it, I felt both.

People found their places in the ground after homecoming scattered everyone to the four winds and the character of different stands asserted themselves. I spent most games in the largely sedate surrounding of the South stand, but contented myself with soaking up the fantastic spectacle of the North. It's hard to imagine that last year, this part of the ground was housing away fans.

On the pitch it was a damp squib. It seemed to be fizzing with explosive potential early on as Fonz, Super Gnands, Sullay and Feeney looked capable of cutting open sides at will whilst a well organised defence blunted the opposition. This proved to be an illusion as we lost our way somewhere around losing a lead to Coventry and despite a brief recovery when Larry remembered (then promptly forgot again) to play two players on the left, we never really looked convincing. We went from seeming like a nailed on playoff candidate, to reminiscing about 'good old Terry McPhillips' in a few months as we trudged to defeats against functional sides like Accrington and Shrewsbury. You know it's not going well, when seeing a former player play a single pass is the best thing to happen in ages.

It's not like Larry didn't try to fix it. He fiddled with formations and brought in (and was willing to play,) some tricky and skillful players. For whatever reason, it just didn't seem to work out. It felt as if he refused to see the obvious solution to what was palpably evident on the pitch and his stubborn refusal to play MacDonald (a player he signed) goes down as one of the most mystifying attitudes I've ever seen in Blackpool manager. I've always felt Larry had an eye for a player - it seemed that hadn't deserted him, but his willingness to unshackle the talent at his disposal just wasn't there and once Sullay stopped firing (and Larry's urgency attempting to get him back seemed to result in a recurring injury) the side just never looked like unlocking anything.

David Dunn then proved a surprisingly adept caretaker manager (who knew?!) and we caught a brief glimpse of Critchball (as I'll never be calling it again.) We got an all too brief experience of the skills of Kieron Dewsbury-Hall and Connor Ronan. The wins over Bolton and Ipswich, the Fleetwood first half and the second half fightback against Tranmere contained as much excitement and promise as about 15 games worth of latter era Larry part 2. I was really enjoying the prospect of seeing the last few games, without real pressure, as the new man tried to assert his philosophy and we got a picture of what we'd need to make it work next year.

I've nabbed this picture but I love it so much I don't care. 

There's so much uncertainty about Neil Critchley. Has he the presence to win the respect of senior players? Is he pragmatic enough to match his undoubted coaching prowess to the physical slog of league one? Will he be someone who steps out of the shadows to be force in his own right or (like Ray Harford, Paul Clement, Brian Kidd and so many more) be 'a great coach' who isn't quite a no1? No one can say. What we do know from his 2 games (and from David Dunn's games in charge) is we have a management team that will want to play the right way, on the front foot, with skill and movement. 

We, (even ignoring the Corona carnival) face next year with a massive set of unknowns. Our best players are loanees, our best striker is out of contract. Who comes in and out could be fascinating. We've got a lot of players in contract, but few that you'd expect to be the foundation of a top six side. There's some who might flourish under Critchley and some who you wonder 'who would want to take him off our hands?'  

Still, this year was never really about all that. It was about getting the new era underway and as much about what happened off the pitch as on it. As yet, we haven't seen the training ground or a new east stand and both (especially the latter) will be probably a while in the pipeline. It's probably a mark of being a Blackpool fan that the more you hear about the training ground plans, the more you wonder if they'll ever exist. In Simon we trust though and the buzz seems to suggest a location somewhere in town and the pace of progress reflecting the quality of the plans being drawn up. We'll get it right and it'll be brilliant. 

What we did see direct proof of was encouraging, as the club did its best to operate like a modern football club should. Some didn't have perfect experiences 100% of the time and questions were asked about one or two things but what is undeniable is, the custodianship is 100% more professional. The pitch alone speaks of the fact we have someone in charge who cares about the club. There's many other little details, too boring to list but just walking into Bloomfield and dealing with the staff shows how a lick of paint or a bit of effort can make all the difference. Stuff like the flags around the ground are tiny details, but those details have, for so long, been overlooked. 

In short, we aren't a shambles. Next time we progress, it might be because of the management, not despite it. We could have leapt from frying pan to fire and found an egotist maniac who used football as a way to gain attention, we could have struggled for a buyer, we couldn't have dreamt of having this security and quiet confidence in the future at the end of last season. The football may have been lumpen at times (ok, was lumpen at times) but I wouldn't have swapped this year for the world.

It wasn't all bad either. As alluded to above, we played some ok stuff at the outset and Larry didn't have the luck. He got things wrong, but we also seemed to have a run in which nothing quite bounced for us. For me, personally, the highlight was the game at Rochdale, where I spent the entire game in some kind of transcendental bliss state, sat just inside the edge of the shade, temperature perfect, whilst the sun rendered the pitch a brilliant green and bathed a Tangerine Army chanting its way through 90 minutes - the whole season seemed to lie before us like a yellow brick road to Wembley and despite the outcome of game itself being frustrating, it felt like the perfect day out.

Doing away games with my lad for the first time was amazing. His wonder at the Stadium of Light and his insistence on sitting at the back and thus becoming an honorary mucker, jumping around cos he hates Preston with a big grin on his face (despite not really ever having considered how he felt about Preston before that moment) will live long in my memory as will Matty Virtue's stunning goal and the freezing temperatures.

We saw some dismal home performances, but I loved the Friday night against Lincoln (my first game under the lights for years and the lads first night match ever), the last minute Nuttall winner against Bolton, the brilliant Maxwell save against Ipswich and the battering of the Cods to name but a few. To bring us up to date, I left the Tranmere game exhilarated. We'd lost, but we'd played 45 minutes of intense football and I hoped it was a lesson to Critchley in both League One reality and who in our squad was up to it. He seems an intelligent man (you don't work with Klopp for so long if you're an idiot) and I was sure he'd learn from it. 

What happened next, no one could have predicted. Just before the biggest home gate of the season (which I was really looking forward to) football stopped. I was going to go right up to the point of cancellation - I had my doubts but someone said to me  'you'll be fine, it's outside after all! - maybe don't take the lad...?'

How little we all knew eh? This advice (from someone whom I trust, both in terms of judgement and knowledge) seems like innocent words from a bygone era. Poignant words evoking a golden time before we all developed expertise in epidemiology and angry curtain twitching judgement of others.

The ticket still lies in my drawer, never to be used. Another friend had a ticket for a Nirvana gig that never happened after Kurt ended his days. Perhaps my pair of Row X South Stand tickets will be a similar cultural relic of a historic non-event one day. 

It's at this point where the new stewardship really made me proud. We've all got a story or five about Oystonomics - of penny pinching and extreme pragmatism - it would have been easy to imagine the club of old shuttering itself against the storm. Would the all new 'Back in Love' 'Backing Blackpool' regime prove any different. Simon Sadler, is, after all, a hedge fund expert, not Robin Hood. A sailor on the high and stormy seas of global capital, not a tofu love frog. 

The highlight of the season for me, isn't KDH and his rockets, Connor Ronan's best Wizard Wes impression, Super Gnands being superb, Feeney having the season of his life, James Husband's utter and constant commitment or anything else on the pitch.

Effort from a wholehearted player - what more can you ask for?

The highlight is seeing the work of the community trust and others, everyday during this strange time and knowing the club is playing its part. It's not simply me being sentimental, though seeing food collections, the club communicating to kids and society at large, players phoning the lonely and the vulnerable is moving. It's seeing something that is cast iron proof that our ownership recognises that the club is more than business. That it's willing to fund something that has a reward other than profit. 

When you see giant clubs cutting their staff and making sociopathic decisions, there's a real pleasure in knowing your team has just quietly got on with it. I'm not suggesting that the club is the second coming of Jesus - compared to the sacrifice of many, what the club has done is small beer, but it's done it.  The choices it made were socially responsible, not self serving. A football club without football is an interesting existential conundrum - what we've seen suggests, that at least in some small part, our new owners words about it being a community asset, where what happens on the pitch isn't the sole purpose of his stewardship aren't hollow ones.

Where we go next, is anyone's guess. It seems so long since 'we need a pacy striker' or 'is Spearing a vital cog or does he slow us down?' were the key topics of debate. Change the names and this is true of any club. Football itself is in existential crisis, funding, finance and furlough dominate discussion and supporters, like the rest of society have distractions they couldn't have conceived of just a few short months ago.

I am, on balance, glad we aren't limping to the end of the season on iFollow, though part of me would have relished the distraction. I'm missing things like trying to decide if Gary Madine (goal machine) is a big lump or brilliant exponent of the art of the target man, hampered by carrying an injury but ultimately, I think the decision to stop the game is the right one.

I'm not qualified to speculate what happens when we try to begin again or when we should do it - the thought of empty grounds till December makes me genuinely sad as does the prospect of losing some historic names from the pyramid. I'm simply not going to muse on what could, should or will happen, because to be honest - what do I know? What I am confident of, is this (relatively) short term crisis could and should be a chance to realign the whole of football with the interests of fans in the long term. We can only hope.

It does seem as if we are one of the luckier ones (at last) - It's never wise to be over confident, but all the evidence seems to say that we're a club that has some decent foundations. Whenever the game comes back, we're at the start of something. If football is facing a new era of financial prudence, then having one of the countries most highly regarded youth coaches at our helm and a calm, quiet owner can only be a good thing. Who knows what the next Blackpool starting line up will be, or when it will run out in front of a crowd at Bloomfield, but whoever and whenever it is, I'm looking forward to it.

Plus, don't forget - if the Premier League ends up gifting the title to Liverpool, we've got the 39/40 title to celebrate.

Keep washing yer hands and cracking on - we'll get through this.

As we say: 'The future is bright - the future is TANGERINE'


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Depressingly predictable

Bashing the Premier League is, like rap music, skateboarding and doing the twist, very trendy. I'm too white to rap, crap at skateboarding and twisting again like we did last summer is out, given that last summer took place in an entirely different social context. 

So, buckle up for another polemic against the Premier League. I would argue that it's entirely justified and timely - the pernicious effect of having a body dedicated to governing the interests of the 'elite' is evident in the current debate about salary caps. 

I'll grudgingly admit I was sceptical about Rick Parry's ability to offer anything to the EFL other than being good at filing things and saying 'Alan, I don't want problems, I want solutions' or whatever else it is a CEO does but I was encouraged by his frank statement about the need to curb club spending on wages and the impact of parachute payments on the lower tiers

What is obvious to everyone watching this saga unfold, is that any actions by the EFL should be mirrored by the Premier League. We've got to see the game act unilaterally if we want the game to prosper and be all it can be (and what football fan wouldn't?)

The response of the Premier League (to essentially do one of those professionally sympathic listening face that bosses do whilst Parry was talking, then to explain carefully that it can't help because of some research or statistics it had made up on the spot) amounts to little more than an expression of its own power. It has a situation that suits it and it doesn't care. It is shrugging its shoulders and saying 'yeah, but what you gonna do about it? Make me?:

A partial salary cap is madness in terms of competition. The last 30 years of football have seen the formation of what is essentially an elite cartel, dominating trophies and qualification places on the back of a recurring cycle of 'win - increase turnover - raise wage bill - win again - repeat' 

If you doubt my insistence that football is less competitive read my compelling* stats filled 2 part analysis of the decline of excitement and unpredictability here

*Long winded

If we (football as a whole) accept that it's fine to allow the top teams to continue as they are but force everyone below 20th to limit wages we're only going to see more of the runaway titles and dominant performances of recent years. The sort of gaps that Liverpool and Man City have opened over the rest of the league in recent years are testament not simply to the brilliance of their managers and players but to their financial superiority. Pay twice as much as everyone else for long enough and you'll win the league sooner or later.

A partial salary cap will limit the ability of championship sides to build squads capable of competing against 'the elite' and leave them even more vulnerable to having their talent poached by the top clubs. 

It will also make relegation from the Premier League a disaster for any side hoping to keep its squad relatively intact and make it very hard for any side in the top flight who fears relegation (most teams from Everton down) to plan long term, knowing that they're almost certain to suffer a total exodus of players in the event of finishing in the bottom 3. This in turn is likely to doom them to a period of struggle wherein returning to the top flight is made much harder. 

Effectively, the stakes of relegation are raised and the response is likely to be increased spending to try and protect against it which really, goes against everything the cap should be achieving. 

None of this will be the fault of the EFL. The blame lies firmly at the door of the Premier League whose main interest is protecting the glamour of its brand. It cares not one but for the wellbeing of football as a whole, because it isn't football. It's raw and pure greed disguised as sport. It's the same self interest as bankers and disaster capitalism just with a (sweatshop produced) club scarf draped around its neck as cover. 

Football is the national game and as such, should have national governance. It should be overseen by one body who have its interests at heart. It shouldn't have an arbitrary divide between the top twenty and the rest. There is no spectacular drop off in attendance or interest in the game to justify the imbalance in funding received by clubs. There's no excuse for the fact the most important group leisure pursuit in the country can't organise itself into a sustainable system because it's divided up into different bodies. 

It's also not a case of trying to protect the dying old fashioned traditions of lower league football. Attendances outside the top flight have grown at a faster pace than Premier League attendances since 2003 (Championship up 8% compared to the the Premier League's 16% growth) - League 1 and 2 are no stranger to 5 figure attendances and the likes of Bradford and Sunderland sometimes post bigger attendances than Premier League teams like Bournemouth. 

Interest in the football league is high. 

More people watched games outside the Premier League than within it in 2018/19. Football that isn't the Premier League is technically more popular with fans than football that is.  

The fact that the five year (2013-18) average attendance for leagues 2 and 3 is respectively around 7.5k and 4.5k per match  makes a compelling case for the sustainability of a professional football pyramid. With figures like that, it's frankly astonishing that the game is allowed to be in the mess that it is. The crisis is not one of income for most teams, but of outgoings. The outgoings are driven up by the excess of the top sides and the need to compete. What trickles down isn't wealth, but debt. 

The duty of the football authorities should be to ensure the health of the game overall. Lower league football isn't opera or some quaint local tradition that requires government subsidy and legal protection. It simply needs to operate within a system of regulation that is fair and allows for achievement without the need to mortgage the future of the club against success. The attendances alone should provide a strong foundation for a broad based pyramid. 

A salary cap is huge step towards that and stirring the pot thus could reinvigorate competition and see a new era of excitement and unpredictability but with depressing predictability the Premier League aren't interested and we 'lower league fans' face a future where the Premier League is even more detached from us and we're even more powerless to protect our assets from poaching. 

While we're on the point, 'lower league fans' is a phrase that reeks of the arrogant complacency of those who support the sides who are now financially immune to relegation and see themselves as a different species, as if many of the 'lower league clubs' have never been anything but. My own 'lower league club' provided the UK's first Ballon d'Or winner, won the most famous game of domestic football ever and provided the only Englishman to win a MoM in a world cup final and but for ill timed injury, would probably have also provided the captain of the team. 

Unfortunately for us, no one thought of the Premier League in the mid 1950s otherwise we might be now, looking down on the likes of Liverpool (relegated in 1954 and therefore locked out of the money party) and clinking glasses with other top sides like Huddersfield and West Brom - it's all a matter of timing.

Luckily for all the Liverpool fans in Taunton, Tulsa and Tokyo, the league in the 1950s didn't financially penalise sides outside of the top flight (or top four) and they were able to build again and become a force by the mid 60s which in turn laid foundations for their European exploits and global appeal. Wouldn't it be nice for everyone to have this luxury? Who is to say that a in a alternative 1950s Premier League, it wouldn't have been the seaside glamour of Blackpool, packed full of England stars renowned the world over, who'd have gone on to be part of the self sustaining elite? It's all a question of timing. 

Let's return to the popularity of football outside the 'elite.'

Significantly more than half the active football supporters in the UK (i.e, those who watched a game at a stadium) watch football outside the top flight.

With that context in mind - here's a sobering stat to finish with. 

If the Championship does end up with (as reported) a wage cap of 7k per week then assuming all its sides paid this wage, to all their players (and used a full allowance of 23 players) then the total wage bill for the division would be as follows: 

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