Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Grant Ward is Tangerine

A team needs a heartbeat. Grant Ward is central to all that we are and all that we do.

Grant Ward is graceful, lithe, balanced. He's an aesthetes dream of a player, he glides rather than strides, with a touch of silk that makes what others can't do look so easy, you barely notice the magic at work. 

At Swindon, the ball bobbled and spat like a ping pong ball on concrete, and only Grant could get it under his spell. Not even Sullay's magic feet could tame it and yet Ward made a terrible pitch look like pristine Wembley turf with the ball at his feet. 

Grant Ward is here and there, he's around, he's about and yet it never seems to be to be too much effort, he'll stretch, he'll slide, he'll go in for the 50/50 but somehow, he always seems in control. Nicking it, playing it just in time, yet it always seems that he means to do what he does. Never late, always just in time. 

Tracking back, Mcgeady wriggles and pivots, he weaves his magic. This is no normal footballer, this is mesmerising, this is enough to tie your legs in knots, a conjuror, a hypnotist but Ward waits, Ward shadows, Ward watches and when the time is right, Ward strikes and Mcgeady is left, without the ball, a wizard without the wand.

Ward is racing down the right, 20 seconds before, he'd been filling in at left back. He's straining everything to reach it, he's going up against his man, body to body, a collision, a tumble and Ward comes away with the ball.

In the centre, he gives, he goes. Perpetual motion, showing for the ball, always. Drop deep, touch, run left, run right, move forward, stop, start, stutter, feint, drop a shoulder, find the space. Defender under pressure, a quick sprint, a point, he takes, he pivots and spreads it. Simplicity. It's not simple really, but Grant does it so well, you barely notice it.

Again and again, he does his job. The engine of the engine room, he purrs, and sometimes he growls and from time to time there's a roar as he's lashing a shot from distance or skimming a cross. Mostly though, he's just there. Doing what needs to be done, whatever it is. No flashiness, no ego, no drama. Just doing the job, then the next job, then the next one. On and on. Never tiring, never letting up, never losing concentration or focus.

Jerry scores goals, Sullay spins magic, Dan Ballard, a granite hewn collosus, Maxwell a spring loaded panther, Garbutt a left foot to die for, Mitchell a sprinter and on and on but Ward knits it all together. Ward lets others play. Ward starts, prompts, probes. He tidies, he rescues and he goes again. Shows again.

Last night he was magnificent. He played so hard that by the end, he couldn't walk. He gave everything, he left nothing on the pitch. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. 

A metronome of a player. The steadiest beat imaginable. Smart, intelligent, silken but steely, an athlete. Rarely, the star but always just behind them, in build up, winning the ball, playing the pass, starting the break, stopping the break. Finding space, always there, always showing. The heartbeat of the team

Grant Ward is magnificent

Grant Ward is tangerine. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Sullay screamer and Maxwell magnificent: Sunderland vs the Mighty

It seems only a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how good we now were. That's because it was only a few weeks ago we we were. For whatever reason, we've not been that good recently, but tonight it ends and we're back to WIZARDRY. I promise.  
I've been guilty of being a bit unreasonable and falling into the trap of expecting us to win every game, like one of those absolute deluded spoilt utter fucking bellends with a home counties accent who rings 606 when Utd come 3rd and demand everyone is fired into space and genocide committed against the players and their families. This is the curse of our Jekyll and Hyde season (see diagram) - We started ugly and were frankly crap for a bit, then we've been pretty good for ages. Had we adopted a pattern of win 2, lose 1 all year, then we'd probably have taken defeat with a more sanguine shrug of the shoulders, but when we've had long good runs and long bad runs, it's all a bit more melodramatic. Me included. 
The irony is, tonight, might just be the day for the cautious solidity of our recent games. Sunderland haven't got a lot to play for, but their season is alive enough and their recent history of calamity enough motivation to mean they're going to want to put all doubts to bed and seal a play-off berth. They've got a score to settle, having possibly unjustly lost to us at Bloomfield and are under a bit of pressure from the more, er... 'demanding' members of their fanbase. 

I frankly have no idea how we're going to go tonight but it's going to be a different test than it was against Rochdale and friends. They're not going to set out to stop us, but back themselves to score more than us and as such, maybe the tactics that didn't work three times against sides who aren't like Sunderland might work against a side that is. You can't get more like Sunderland than Sunderland I guess. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain about what the best plan is tonight to be honest. 

Then the team sheet is out and, blimey, Neil certainly has spun that roulette wheel. In come Turts, Husband and most excitingly, Ethan Robson. A player with no goals or assists to his name doesn't seem an obvious catalyst but we've seen stuff we liked in him, all be it ages ago. Can he grasp this chance? Has he been begging Critch to play for weeks, just to show him what he can do? What's the formation? Not a clue...  


We're off and bizarrely ifollow is offering a choice between commentary on Accrington vs Pompey or silence. Sullay seems to be central, Ward on the right and Pool sitting quite deep. We spend the first three minutes mostly defending apart from a toe poke forward to no one from Robson. McGeady miss-hits a free kick as a siren wails in the wider Sunderland environs. The bigger the ground, the more weird the atmosphere is. 

We defend some more. Here's a thing. Every single player is wearing an undershirt on our team. Why not just make long sleeved kits? Is Neil dressing them now I wonder? Is this some sports science thing about keeping your arms warm? Pool randomly get a corner from absolutely nothing. I admire the Archibald Leitch lattice work in the stand behind the goal. The corner comes to nothing at all and eventually the ball rolls out of play. Critch trudges across and knocks it back, looking like a man walking his dog kicking a ball away that comes into his path grumpily. His kicking style is curious, a bit like you'd expect a politician to be, awkward, not very effective. 

This is looking very much like 4-4-2 at times. There's the most fuss ever about taking a free kick from deep. It takes about 3 wayward passes to get the ball in the right place, then the ref blows and has it retaken. Eventually it's nodded away after Jimmy finally lofts it in. We do some of that passing at the back that we all love so much and then finally give it away. We look we might break, but (and you'll never believe this, Turton checks back.) Eventually, after a long spell, Husband plays it from the back and the keeper comes and gets it. At least we've got a bit of the ball now. 

Sullay has a break and plays it to Yates. He dances but a tackle takes it off him. We pass, pass, pass again and Husband lofts, Robson chases and away the ball rolls, over the line. When we haven't got the ball, it looks very much like a 5-3-2. We pass it about and go back to Maxwell. Sullay has a bit of space, but there's no one to pass to. Robson plays a raking ball but again, over the line it goes. Ward wins it in midfield, plays it to Jerry, Jerry has done a different run though. It's very much like that. 

Sunderland clip one over the top, O'Brien stretches but it's a tame effort, where it looked as if he might have chipped him. Jerry gets a bit of space with a trick, slides in Turton, Turton skids a low cross, no one is there.

Critch bursts into applause. I like to think that he's just witnessed his ultimate football image. Some of us like passes, some of us like goals, some of us like flying saves, but our impish one is brought to his feet by a good bit of pressing by Grant Ward. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't reveal what Critch makes of Ward's next action, harrying McGeady on the touch line, following him, not giving his space to breath, deflecting his cross up in the air, then watching the ball down and completing the clearance. Neil probably needs oxygen after that. 

Again, we spend ages over taking a free kick. Eventually the topknot god decides just to pass it backwards to Ballard who boots it into the stand. To be fair, I might sound critical so far, but literally nothing has happened in the game and we've had more control than them. It's been cagey.

Sunderland muster a cross, Wyke twists and leaps but heads it way over and wide. They manage a few more, but find Thorniley's, then Husband's heads. We play a nice ball to Sullay who instinctively cuts it back first time and we win a corner. Nothing happens except one of their big lads goes down and Dougall hits it into the top tier. The Sunderland player looks in pain and somewhat uncharitably, my main thought is that I don't fancy injury time at all, not wishing to extend this match at all, such has been it's turgid nature. 

Sullay turns his man, feeds Yates, but it's just half a yard too early. Sunderland get called offside. Then, my lord, we have a shot! A shot! It's a long ball from Maxwell, Sullay chases, the defender wins, but it takes an awkward bounce (or possibly Sullay does get a nick), sits up nicely for Yates who smashes a volley straight down Burge's throat. We then follow up the shot with a genuinely inventive attacking move. Sullay plays the ball of the game, a lofted cross field pass to Turton. We work it well, very well, Sullay having a couple more good touches, but Husband puts a terrible ball in and the move is over. 

Sunderland make a chance, a cross from the right, Wyke looks to have beaten Ballard but the ball ends up in Maxwell's hands. 


This is either dreadful or 'a fantastic tactical battle' or both. It's not exactly end to end at any rate. We've definitely had the better football, long periods of possession and passing, but they've looked more incisive, eschewing possession for getting it into the box and using what we haven't got, which is genuine presence up front. Put it this way, if this was an early season game, you'd be screaming at them to do something (both teams) and wondering why no one seems to want to grab the initiative. With so much at stake and Sunderland needing a spectacular implosion not to reach the play offs, it makes more sense. Still a bit shit though to race home, slam my tea down and then get served a game where neither side seems to especially want to win. 

C'mon POOL! 


There's no surprise at all that Critch hasn't changed it. I decide to leven my misery by looking forward to more of the same. We'll unlock them sooner or later. They're a load of lumps and we're wizards after all.  

Wizardry is in short supply as Sunderland win a corner, it's flicked away, but Max Power takes it down on the edge of the box, drives it hard and Maxwell makes a very good stop, flinging himself low to his left and getting firm hand to it. 

Sunderland play a very untidy ball, Robson is on to it, his control lets him down, but he slides in, keeps it alive, Garbutt picks it up, the move still might be alive, but then the ball is behind Sullay and it's cleared. 

Sunderland seem to have decided to have a go, several times they stretch us with deep balls, the Mcgeady half magics through, half gets a lucky deflection, then he blasts it over. The ref gives a corner though and from the corner, Maxwell has to collapse and scoop the ball of the line from a Wyke header. It is a very good save. 

Sunderland are playing with more pace, they're taking throws much quicker, hitting the ball forward earlier. We react with patient play. Ward and Turton work a shooting chance, Turton blasts into a defender and we've got a corner. In it comes, it's nodded away but wait, here's Sullay. What the actual fuck? He's lashed it, you can barely see the ball as it explodes from his boot, it's got a white hot comet's tail behind it, it's blasting past the keeper, it's nearly bursting the net. It's a piece of absolutely fucking magic.


Sunderland put pressure on down the flanks. They win a corner. That goal though. They win another corner. It was unreal. Perfect body shape, perfect execution. We clear the corners. The bring on Ross 'very big' Stewart. We break, when Sullay is on, he's the best player we have, the best we've had for ages. He spreads a clever ball to Ward, he's in, but then he isn't and instead he sweeps a cross that is cut out before it reaches Yates. 

Mcgeady makes a horrible little foul, Ward is streaking away, McGeady doesn't just clip him, but turns as he does, making sure Ward feels the contact. We're looking nice on the break now. Husband spreads it for Ward, he can't quite control it. Sullay kills a long ball dead and lays it for Robson who misses the run of Yates. 

Then Sullay goes down. Then Sullay goes off. I'm absolutely gutted. All year, he's shuttled up and down the left, where he doesn't belong, then finally he goes in the middle, scores the goal of the season, looks to be in pure piss taking, sheer magic, no one can touch him form and then he crocks himself. I actually could sob for the lad. I really could. 

Demi comes on. Sunderland loft a ball to the back of the box, The Sunderland no 5 is all on his own, he heads it down and across, someone gets a touch, Maxwell makes an astonishing save and somehow we're still a goal up. Can we go back to the first half now. I'm on very much on edge. 

We have a lovely spell, keeping Sunderland pinned back, relishing the space that has opened up. Dougall scuffs a shot, but we win it back and build another move, we work it with such intricacy and Husband goes on the overlap, points exactly where he wants it, gets it then, then loops it past the far post and out. 

It goes back to the same pattern, Sunderland trying to bully their way through, us heading away and closing down. Grant Ward deserves a bonus for the way he chases Mcgeady down. Ballard gets a battering, but stands up to it. I decide Luke O'Nien looks like he's won a local schools competition to play centre half. He just looks too small.. Ward deserves another bonus for his work in the other direction, bursting down the right, winning a free kick. The free kick bounces about and is cleared. Robson plays a lovely ball back in, Demi is free, his cross isn't the best but we win another corner. C'mon Pool! The corner comes to naught, but a minute later, a brilliant little cushioned header from Demi sets Yates free, he's got two with him, but he goes between them and slams in just past the post. 

Sunderland have a shot after good hold up play from Stewart. It's not that close, but it's terrifying. It starts absolutely pissing down. It's not that Peter Kay fine rain that soaks you through, it's that God's wrath mental rain that causes a flash flood. Sunderland seem to be immune from the offside flag. A dinked ball needs a frankly incredible header from Dan Ballard, back peddling, looking beaten then kind of falling back and jumping at the same time to take it away from the two or three Sunderland players queing up to bury it. 

Turton loses it. He knows it and he fouls to slow it down. They take the free kick quickly and look away anyway, so Ballard charges out and doesn't even think about the ball. Heroic stuff. The rain has eased and  then come back with heavenly vengeance. Garbutt lofts it, Robson runs on to it, holds his man off, he has it under control, but not quite decided what to do, will he shoot? Burge closes the angle and he changes his mind, squares it to Jerry, but the indecision shows in a timid pass that is never going to reach the sniper. 

At the other end, it's lifted in, Stewart nods down, shit, Mcgeady is in, he pulls the trigger, but from nowhere, Thorniley slides across the greasy turf and deflects it away. More balls come in, more clearances are hammered away. Somehow the ref gives FIVE MINUTES of extra time from nowhere. Then, he doesn't let us make a sub. COME ON POOL! Then Maxwell makes another outrageous save, a flick header, he takes a step, he springs like a panther and claws it away. It is as stunning a stop as Sullay's goal was a goal. 

Yates feeds Ward. Ward who has been magnificent today, literally can't move. He's barely hopping, he's completely hobbled and Kevin Stewart is finally allowed on. Again Sunderland get in. The pull it back across goal, Husband runs into it, it's going in... except it isn't and it rolls past the post. Lee Burge comes up. The keeper coming up! Where has this game come from. IT's fucking wonderful. The corner swings in, we head away and headless actually fucking brilliant Demi races away, there's no keeper, it's one on one, but the Black Cats man just beats the flying seasider and we're denied a moment of wonder. 

Maxwell comes, gets gloves to it, but can't hold it, it's his first error of a brilliant night, and we hack it away anyway. It's chipped in again, Gooch throws himself at it, Ballard is there again. Corner. The keeper up again but they hit to the near post, with the luminous yellow shirt at the far stick - there's a decent header, it's over the top, not by much but then.... the sweet, sweet sound of the whistle.


Fucking hell. What a win! Critch actually looks happy for once. Not even he can contain the emotion here. Sullay can walk, which is good and the impish one ruffles the enigmatic geniuses hair, then gives thumbs up to whoever is in the stand. He looks absolutely made up. The twinkle is back. 


The second half was biblical stuff, everything the first half wasn't. The same pattern is true of both periods, we played better football, they were more direct, but that was magnified in the second half. Maxwell gave one of the best performances I've seen from a Pool keeper in I don't know how long, 4 or 5 magnificent stops. The centre backs were incredible, especially in their last ditch work, Grant Ward was simply superb and Sullay's goal. That goal. I might get it tattooed on my face.  

If I was a Sunderland fan, I'd be concerned that their plan A looked hopeless and their plan B (lump it to Stewart) looked far more effective. On balance, objectively, being fair, at the end of the day, they probably merited a point, but fuck that. They also seemed to own the linesman and be allowed to hit our players in the face, so there's no reason to get all gentlemanly about it is there? They'll be in the play offs. They just need a kick up the bum. 

Anyway enough of them, it was magnificent. Not the return to super sexy football perhaps, but a performance full of character, heart, endeavour and one moment of sublime skill from a player who deserves that because, for all people doubt him for what he isn't, he's just about the only one who tries that sort of stuff and that is exactly what we need in amongst the effort, the shape, the ball retention. All of that is grand, but without the unpredictable magic of a Sullay Kaikai, what sort of a game is football? 

Take a breath. Savour it. Magic. 



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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Mourning the Super League. The best terrible idea ever.

Blink and you missed it. 

Sunday nights are normally a bit shit as work is looming over the horizon and the carefree bliss of not being dragged from your bed to live the life someone else wants you to lead is ending. This was no ordinary Sunday night though. This was brilliant. 

It started at about 9pm when I made the mistake of 'just checking twitter before bed' and saw 'Super League' was trending. How unusual, thought I, people have finally caught on to fat blokes from Wigan and Warrington running at each other and grappling for fun. That, it turned out, wasn't the case (as well you know.) Rugby League remained a niche sport and in fact, billionaire skulduggery and shenanigans was all over the place.

Sadly the world at large hadn't just discovered Eddie Waring...

As someone who has been telling people since 1992 (with very little impact, it has to be said) that football is heading for a disaster, this felt like the coming of God to smite the world with fire must feel to the weird bloke with wild hair who stands and shouts on street corners* Finally, it was happening. The game was all set to eat itself. Brilliant! 

*Is it me, or do you not get so many of them any more? 

The first thing I noticed was the idea seemed comically poor. Replace the Champions League with a worse competition which thinks it's better, only because it has more money. It didn't seem very well thought through and that made it all the more fun to imagine. It seemed a bit like the Zenith Data Systems cup had won the lottery or some weird pre-season trophy that a minor TV channel would buy the rights to and try to hype into something it clearly wasn't. 

Genuine Legacy fans: 1990 ZDS Cup final

I frankly couldn't wait for it to get started, particularly as it was apparent that the rest of English football weren't going to put up with it and, to their credit, neither were many supporters of the teams involved. 

It seemed a very real prospect that we might be starting next year (or even finishing this) without the influence of Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham. Not only would that definitely mean that someone fun could win the league and cup but it would also see the TV deal devalued significantly. That would in turn mean a drop in player wages, a lowering of the cost of running a club and an opening of the door to local money. Take Newcastle for example. Their value would inevitably plummet without the scale of investment from Sky and it might be possible to imagine a buy out from their fans, or, failing that a local person with a stake in the area and the community. 

I bought Toon for a quid from that Mike Ashley now everything has gone to shit for Sky. Canny like. 

For a fan of a side like mine, it meant dreaming again. If the cost of the game comes down, there's a prospect that clubs from outside the major cities might be able to compete again as the scale of investment needed falls. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Blackburn and Wigan as town teams who've won anything in about a million years. That could actually change! 

What fun this new world would be. And, where would all the big 6 fans go? Ok, some of them would follow, sheep like and begging to spend their money on the pay per view premier player porn promised by their owners, but many wouldn't. Would we see widespread adoption of non-league clubs or local lower league sides? Would Utd fans decamp to Salford, Stockport, FC United, Altrincham, Oldham etc? Liverpool fans to Tranmere or Marine? Would they set up new clubs? Would we see non league clubs starting at step 10, the size and scale of which we'd never seen before? Would we see multiple sides created out of the ashes of what the billionaires had destroyed? Would it be like the Victorian era all over again, community owned clubs rising from nowhere with wonderful names like 'Woolwich Arsenal Legacy' that in 100 years time would have an origin story that went down in the game's folklore? 

This might look like an old photo, but it's actually just some hipsters having a game 

By Monday, I'd spoken to several fans of the big clubs. All of them declared they'd 'had it' with their team. Both Liverpool fans I spoke to said they were off to watch non-league. This was really happening. This was not a drill. Crystal Palace were suddenly in a European place according to the adjusted league table cropping up all over twitter. What a way to go for Woy - the Croydon boy, delivering Champions League football at the end of a long, long career. Who could fail to be absolutely electrified by this? 

Rage poured out of every bit of the internet. People started talking about VAR and how the Premier League was shit anyway, how we'd be better off going back to one league and how dull the last 20 years have been. This was weird. I had to check this wasn't a dream. It's like I'd fallen asleep and now everyone was me. 

'Actually, it's already a cartel' 

Sky and the Tories weighed in. You couldn't do this, they said. English football is English football. You can't just waltz in with a big fat cheque and buy it. This seemed to me, to miss the mark somewhat. In the early 90s, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster (and the cover up of that) the advice given to football the Tories was, that if it got its house in order it had a ruddy bloody good product that it could only jolly well go and sell. Sky were the people who bought it as we all know. 

There was something all a bit hollow about seeing the way their leading pundits rushed to twitter to decry the deal. All frothing about 'the fans' and 'competition' as if they'd never chucked loads of money at a structure that disenfranchises all but the fans of the self same clubs that wanted to leave, nor had they ever moved a kick off time or anything like that at all.  

By Tuesday it was all looking shaky. It turns out that Man City and Chelsea are the good guys. Salt of the earth English football types. Proper football sorts, who'd only gone and shat on the entire rest of the pyramid because they were worried that if they didn't, then they'd be left having to play games against them and stuff like that. That explained it. It's ok to act like a cunt, if bigger boys make you do it or everyone else is. Glad we've got that cleared up. I'm off to rob some houses 'for fear of being left behind' and I'm sure you'll all forgive me for that. 

By Wednesday it was over and everyone was doubly happy. One because it meant no one embarrassing like Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton or god forbid, Sunderland, would ever win anything after all. Thank fuck for that. Where's the ratings in that? Two, because Gary Neville is now king of the world on the basis of being a footballer who can talk AND take orders from his Sky bosses about what to say. 

The fans had 'fought' and 'beaten' the 'bad guys' (which seemed to have taken just a bit of a shout outside the ground and some twitter rage for a few hours.) Call me a misanthrope if you like, but I was a bit suspicious that actually, the new Champions League deal had just slipped in place of the Super League and actually, the billionaires had decided that they were happy enough with that shite and gone home with loads of money anyway. 

It would be a bit mad if they actually won something tbf. 

I was a bit down at the mouth now. My 'peoples clubs' had been formed and disbanded in my mind in just 3 days. Tangerine dreams of cup wins and top flight glory days in tatters on the floor. The radio seemed to be telling me that it was actually a REALLY GOOD THING that instead, we could once more dream of bankrupting our owner in an attempt to finish 17th in the Premier League, that we could reignite a dream of 'being like Burnley' (i.e. not winning anything and getting beaten mostly then flogging ourselves to some random Kazakhstan money launderers*)

* I can't actually remember where the Clampetts new owners are from. But you get the point.  

By Thursday, I was wondering. Once you've realised that your billionaire owner is an absolute psychopath who has played you like a fiddle for years and then dumped you, without so much as a text message first, on live TV, is it that easy to let them back into your life? Would the bond between club and fan be reparable? Would things go back to normal? 

Take me back? I didn't mean it. Honestly. 

The media seemed happy to applaud the show of strength by supporters and by and large, it was impressive to see, for once (and it does feel like it's never actually happened before at this level) people put aside their club colours and really boring twitter banter and talk of 'ratios' to unite behind one thing. It was impressive to see that for most fans, their clubs getting even more money wasn't as important them competing properly. 

If we extend that thought (that football sans competition is shite) only a tiny little bit, it's worth replaying the debate of the last 29 years. If a Super League is the WORST THING EVER because it's got no relegation and it's a false competition that gives the teams in it a ludicrous advantage in their domestic leagues then.... how far removed from that are our own structures as they stand? Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the 'big 6' haven't been under any threat of relegation in many a year (Man City were shit about 20 years ago, but they weren't rich then) and aren't likely to be so either.

What's more, most of them are all but guaranteed a top half (or likely much better) finish every season. Usually, they take all the Champions league places. You might think that's hyperbole, but of the last 60 available places, 59 of them have gone to one of the 'big six' (Leicester being the one exception, since Everton in 2005/6.) The arrangement by which you are paid by the place in the Premier League advantages those sides and the deal is made considerably sweeter by the fact you get a lovely wad of cash for getting to the Champions League - with English clubs being guaranteed a place at very least in the lucrative group stages... it's lovely work if you can get it. 

It's no coincidence that these clubs are the same ones that Sky reward with more live matches (and more money) because they're the big global draws. It is therefore, in the interests of global broadcasters to ensure they stay successful and therefore n the interests of the Premier League to create structures that make it pretty hard for them to fuck up and nigh upon impossible for them to not be competing for at least something year upon year. 

United, getting relegated: 1974

Now, call me a cynic, but that doesn't sound like the pure tradition of the English game. That sounds a little bit like EXACTLY the same motives that kicked off the Super League in the first place. The desire to create and control a 'product' that could place big 'brands' in the global market place. It absolutely defies logic to think that Sky's pundits 'speak for the fans' - they speak for Sky's market share and we need to see that plainly. It might not sound like it from this article, but I quite like Gary Neville. He's not a bad man and to be fair to him, he's touched on some of the stuff I've mentioned - but we need more than a pundit to speak for fans, more than someone employed by the very broadcaster whose marketing of the English game to the globe made football into the marketable commodity that it's become, the broadcaster who, hand in glove with the games authorities, laid the ground, raked it over and watered it, ready for the seeds of a super league idea to grow.  

What we've got to now see, is, will the supporters of the big six be mollified by more of the same stuff they've experienced for the last 10-15 years. Will their boards get them onside by signing Mpbappe or some such global star. Will all of this be forgotten? Or will the shock of realising exactly what the game is to billionaires wake enough of them up that the realise that actually, competition is good, it's satisfying. Precariousness in sport is what gives it its thrill.

Will they too, come to think that actually, the stasis and domination of the game by a few teams in a financially rigged structure, played out in front of ever more corporate boxes, more and more for the benefit of the global TV market, is actually, on balance, a bit like the thing they've just been in the street and protested about and all together a bit shit? 

I miss the Super League. I miss the possibility of change that opened up in everyone's head for 2 days. Then Man City won the league cup again, despite not even giving a fuck about it and everything was as it was before.

Or is it?  

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Megson in! - The Mighty vs Shrewsbury Town

A horrible traitorous man, who could, at least, beat Shrewsbury...

I hope this is one of those games where I go at the end - "I was wrong" as it feels really odd that over recent weeks we've seemingly ditched a formation that we looked really good in, that suited our flair players, saw us create a shed load of chances and that looked more like we thought 'Critchball' would than anything we've seen to date and gone back to playing 4-4-2 which seems the opposite of what you'd imagine 'Critchball' to be. 

Anyway. You'll note the lack of intro. We're pretty much straight in this week as I've been doing what 2021 calls 'self care' and 1996 calls 'going for a walk on a sunny day.' Luckily, where there is normally a load of rambling digression, I've had another call from my source and can bring you a further exclusive extract of Critch's diary to keep us bang on the mark of 'topical match related information'  

What a shitshow. Every time Simon turns up, we play like that. I had to tell Colin he couldn't 'punch them all into next week' as we need them next week. Anyway, on the way home, I got a call from a sheepish sounding Mike...
"Boss, it's me, Mike"  
"I know Mike, your name comes up on my phone, we've been through this about 30 times"
"Yeah, I forget... There's something I need to tell you, you know you sent me to Macro for a load of those Lucozade energy tablets for before the game, well, I just double checked and I actually bought Kalms herbal night time sleep tablets - I was playing Candy Crush on my phone, so I wasn't really looking and I've only gone and handed three each of them out to all the lads before the game"
Well, that explains it doesn't it? For fucks sake Mike! On the way home, I rang Jurgen to see if he fancied a job here, what with all the super league stuff going off. I explained Mike's role (shouting, nipping to Macro, writing things in a black book and carrying cones) but he didn't fancy it. Never mind. I'll stick with Mike. He is very good at shouting and carrying the cones, and his handwriting is excellent. Talking of the Super League, I don't think there'll ever be anything to match the beauty of a 0-0 draw in the u23 academy league when the high pressing of both teams cancels each other out. Sheer joy. Football at it's finest. 
My advanced data metrics team told me not to worry about Rochdale. They said 'Hi Neil, look, we've been on Twitter and everyone says we always lose to them, so there's nothing you could have done about it.' Then they dropped the bombshell that we don't often play very well against Shrewsbury either. That second message rather spoiled the bowl of All Bran I was having at the time (Janine forgot to buy the low salt Muesli at Aldi, so I will have to send Mike out today, though he'll probably come back with Sugar Puffs the daftie!) 
Anyway. We got our heads together and tried to develop a plan to overcome this so-called 'hex'  
Mike said we could say the name of their old ground in snide voices and giggle and nudge each other. I wasn't certain, but when Sullay said 'c'mon boss, that's below even an immature 12 yr old' I decided to move on. 
Steve said 'don't ask me, I'm just the goalkeeping coach' and went off to try and persuade Stuart Moore that he does actually exist and to explain again to Alex Fotijeck why the fuck we bought him. 
Colin said 'We could slay their first born children in the night and then wear their skins around our shoulders like the spoils of some ancient timeless war' Big Gaz thought that sounded like 'mad craic' but pointed out he had a booking at the snooker club so he wouldn't be able to join in. I decided that probably went a bit far and might seem a bit, well 'mad' (not as mad as playing Ethan Robson mind) so I ruled it out. 
In the end, we decided we'd lift the curse by ritually sacrificing a shrew and leaving it in their dressing room. 
Did a bit of training then sent the lads to look for a shrew to sacrifice. Mike went to Macro but they didn't have any. Demi found an old brick and Garbs unearthed a dead pigeon in the gutter of the portakabin new modular training facility. We got really excited when Jimmy thought he'd seen one, but it turned out to be a sock that had been left in the undergrowth.

In the end, we put the pigeon in their dressing room and Turts had the bright idea of sticking a post it note on it, saying 'this is a pigeon, but imagine it was a shrew
That will show them we mean business. In all this hullabaloo I forgot to think about my masterclass for the week, so I'm just going to do the same thing as Tuesday, but I'll personally check they're lucozade tablets this week. Might even go to Macro myself for them. It'll all work out. 
Last week's masterclass is still a masterclass after all! 


As the players come out, loads of lads with forks run out with them. This could be a really canny plan. If they look like scoring, spear them on a garden tool. Jerry claps like mad and psychs himself up. They run out really late. It feels somewhat strange to be wasting the sunshine indoors, peering at the game on a laptop. 

There's something missing. Wait a minute, there's no Chissy! This is brilliant. You can hear everything. Some genius shouts 'Come on the Pool!' as we kick off and screams of 'Sull, Sull!' accompany the enigmatic genius as he makes a couple of early runs. Simms nicks it, touches it to Yates, who finds an onrushing Kaikai. His cross from wide left has a nice shape, but is half a yard too high.  We've started ok. 

Then Chissy appears. Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone and the commentator-less feed was wonderful. You have to watch the game properly without someone (mis)interpreting it and telling you Sullay is shit and Ollie Turton is the world's finest human being ever, ever, ever every five minutes. Hearing the shouts and the sound of the boot through the ball made it all seem a bit more visceral. 

Simms has nice hold up play, Sullay is a wizard in a one-two with Dougall. Yates spins at the end of the move, but is robbed of the ball. We look better than them but nothing much has really happened. 

It takes 12 minutes for a shot. Embleton's short corner leading to a low drive on an angle from Fragile (but not as fragile as he was) Luke. The keeper clutches but takes it over the touchline. Garbutt takes the corner, it's swung to the far post, Yates nods it back and it bounces for Dan Ballard about 9 yards out. He swings, hits it hard as he can but it balloons high up into the stands. 

At the other end, Ward loses it, the Shrews go through the middle. A low shot that Maxwell has covered is turned into a looping effort that looks to be going in by a deflection from Ballard. It hits the underside of the bar, Thorniley clears and then it looks worryingly like Gabriel cleans out one of their players in the box but the ref lets it go. It's livened up. 

Sullay has a shot blocked, then does a little give and go with Simms and his second touch is heavy. He looks lively, fired up, he's more expressive than he normally is in his body language as he berates himself. Embleton isn't really getting into the game though. Garbutt repeats the far post cross from earlier. Jerry again gets his head on it, but it flies almost straight up and lands on the roof of the net. There's a lovely moment where everyone is static, watching it go up, and then down. 

Embleton threads a ball through to no one then gets clattered. Gabriel knocks two players over on a run to nowhere. We've had a few little spells where it looked like we might take control, but we haven't yet done so. I have one of those moments where I wonder if Critch reads this, as we launch a long throw, a tactic we never, ever seemed to use, but suddenly seem to have adopted in the last few weeks after I wrote that I didn't know why we never do them. 

Harry Chapman is on the end of a sweeping Shrews break. Gabriel is left for dust and it takes a heroic slide from Ballard to save the day and divert it for a corner. Chapman then produces a devastating inswinger and Maxwell does well to punch it, diverting it away from goal as it fizzes dangerously waiting for a touch. 

Sullay makes one of his dreamy little touches in to Simms and races free, looking for the return but Ellis instead turns slowly and has the ball hacked away from him. A great header at the back, a lovely touch from Ward, a shimmy from Sullay and a crisp ball to Embleton who has time and space to run into but instead tries to send Jerry away and his ambitious pass is read by their defence. That's what we've been like. There's been some nice stuff, but the end product isn't there. 

Finally it almost is. Sullay to Embleton who plays a lovely reverse flicked pass, Simms touches it off and Kaikai hits it first time from the edge of the box into the arms of the keeper. It's a nice move, even if the finish wasn't there. 


We've been the better side, but without creating a lot. So far, Kaikai is the pick of our attacking players and I'm still not at all convinced that having Embleton central (he's not looking comfortable on the right side) and Demi out wide wouldn't give us more options than playing two strikers does. 

That's the frustration. We're clearly (Harry Chapman aside) better than them but we've not really made that quality count. 


There's no changes, which isn't a surprise and is I suppose better than seeing Turton come on for Gabriel or something like that. Harry Chapman causes more trouble which Ward does very well to cut out, then as we break, Simms looks like an academy player as he turns straight into trouble and loses the ball, trying to play football far to deep. 

Then Simms looks world class as he chases a ball from Gabriel, to the byline, charges two defenders out of the way, crosses for Yates who is just beaten to it. Sullay keeps it alive, thinks about a run then lays it to Garbutt, his ball is good and again Yates is there at the near post, meeting it in a collision of bodies and just not quite turning it in.

Minutes later, it's Gabriel lifting it over the top, it's a sensational ball, up, over and down onto a sixpence and Yates movement is superb, he takes it down perfectly and he rifles it at the near post corner, the ball clipping the wrong side of the post. 

It's been our best spell, but after a slip from Gabriel, Shrewsbury get down the pitch and have a corner. They cross it, head it and score. It's the easiest, most simple goal you could ever see. Pennington just steps in front of his man and in front of the keeper and heads it in. I'm slightly in shock over how straightforward the goal was. 

C'mon Critch. Roll the dice man. 

Embleton is dispossessed just as he's about to shoot. We pass it about quite a bit. They have a break. We have a few moments where it looks like we might, but we don't. We end one move with Ballard lifting a heavy ball over the top for Sullay. Not the man you want chasing a high ball, nor the man you want playing one. 

Shrewsbury make a sub. They are winning. Neil! NEIL! NEIL! We are losing. I'm all for patience, but c'mon. Demi is warming up and finally Demi is coming on and we're finally switching to the formation known to the world as 'the one we discovered at half time against Burton and used for a while and looked dead good' (or 4231) 

Immediately we pass and move. As we go wide, Sullay comes inside, Garbutt finds him, he does a beautiful trick, stroking the ball away from his man with one foot, then hitting it hard from 20+ yards with the same, forcing a diving save. Demi has a little run and then lashes it over the top. 

Ethan Robson is coming on. So is, more confusingly, Ollie Turton. Gabriel makes way as does Embleton. Mike Garrity has his sleeves rolled up looking like a man fixing his car in the sunshine. Critch is looking a bit aggrieved that we seem only able to muster balls from the centre back clipped over the top for them to clean up his arms folded. A curmudgeonly looking imp. 

We try and play triangles in the corner, but it looks like we've all got a different idea of what sort of triangle it is in our minds. Demi wins a free kick. Garbutt hits into the wall. But it's lashed back in, Yates nods it back, Robson swivels and hits it hard but it's blocked by the keepers legs, there's Jerry, racing in and lashing it home. Yes! But no. It's offside. Fucking hell. 

Mike Garrity is running into their technical area to retrieve the ball. Good lad Mike. It's getting tetchy. Dougall gets smashed in the face by the ball. Norburn seems to have taken an instinctive dislike to Demi and the two of them seem locked in a permanent scuffle, like a pair of dogs who don't get on. Ballard concedes a free kick and his angelic face is red and furious as he hurls the ball down into the turf. 

Dougall is replaced by Brad Holmes. Come the fuck on Pool! We have a free kick. Sullay takes. It hits the man at the near post. We get a throw and then contrive to pass it out of play on the other side of the pitch. Yates and Holmes link up, The young lad does well to get it back to Jerry, but he gets it tangled up under his feet. Sullay nips it to Holmes, he goes down the left wing, but he can't quite chase his first touch. Was he held back? He doesn't look shy as he claims he was. Nor does he look overawed as he shouts for the ball, showing up, joining in well. 

Holmes looking a footballer aside, it's frustration itself. We have a twenty pass move that ends with Demi getting away and a ball in, but of all people, it finds Ollie Turton who just sees it hit his legs and dribble wide. 

Sullay takes a decentish corner, which grazes about three heads as it flies across the box. It's with Robson, wide, he strokes it back to Ward who neither shoots nor passes, lifting a loopy ball to no one over the bar. We spend the remains of extra time wrestling and trying to fight them out of the corner. When we finally do, we pass it sideways on halfway in a way that has me simoultaneosly apoplectic with rage and thinking 'they're letting the centre back get up' and when Garbutt finally launches it, someone wins it, it falls for Robson who has shot. It's weak though and the keeper has all the time in the world to kneel and collect. It's not only a textbook example of how to get your body behind the ball, but he had time to read the textbook first just to gen up on how to do it. 


Not going to write much here, but it's again, like early season Pool. Whether it's fatigue or actually, we aren't as good as we thought we were I don't know. There was so little creativity it hurt. Sullay did ok and we made a few chances here and there, but the side that was tearing things up and dominating only a few weeks ago looked nowhere to be seen. Shrewsbury, like Rochdale before them didn't really look up to much. The goal looked to be a defensive error, but a side of quality should be able to concede the odd goal here and there.

We looked ponderous going forward aside from a little burst for 10 minutes at the start of the secod half and with little lads up front, we found ourselves so often having Dan Ballard, aiming a ball, not very accurately at one of them and looking increasingly out of ideas as the game progressed. 

We've lost for the second week in a row to a side that offered very little and that's frustrating as fuck. I'm not sure what we're so scared off about these sides? Why can we go and pin a top side back relentlessly, but faff about against mid table and lower half sides as if they're going to murder us if we attack? 

Masterclass gone wrong. Megson in. (no, never. Megson out! Fucking prick. Hate him)




Tuesday, April 20, 2021

We've been better...: Rochdale vs the Mighty

Been a bit of a week hasn't it? It's time for the Rochdale Rams vs the Tower Power Tangerines on the irradiated wastelands of Mars. Wait. That's not happened yet. That's football 2035 and the next big plan, to beam the games to outer space to see if any as yet as to be discovered life forms might want to buy a pay per view subscription but for now, from one legacy fan to another, let's just enjoy our plain old common or garden league 1 football live from the traditional surroundings of Spotland The Crown Oil Arena

What of tonight? It's (as the diagram below shows) logically a comfortable win for us. Rochdale like to play a bit, but aren't very good, need the points and therefore probably at some point need to attack. We're very good at picking teams off who do that. We're bang in form, results would suggest we have better players and we've got squad players starting to return to fitness that give us options to freshen up the side.
Insight into tonights game via the medium of grey circles

If only football worked like that. Relegation may be an outmoded and unprofitable concept, but the threat of it can spur teams on to heroic and unlikely deeds. It's one of the strange quirks of football that we'd possibly rather be facing a side higher up the league, than a side scrapping for their life. One with everything to gain and nothing to lose... Also, we never beat Rochdale at Rochdale, which is also ridiculous logically as players and manager come and go and the only thing that remains is us and the badge. But never the less, it's Rochdale away, so we believe we're doomed... We're surely better than that now, aren't we? 

Critch brings back Jordan 'Honestly Jordan, I never had a problem with you' Thorniley for the Viking and Embleton comes in for Demi. Other that it as you were and pretty much as expected. The Cure plays on the tannoy and inexplicably I want to burst into tears. Then iFollow interrupts that moment by bollocking me about piracy and I have a word with myself and the feeling is gone.


Is it me or do our shirts look redder than normal? Chissy summons a weird image of Michael Jackson sat on his shoulder 'for covid reasons.' We knock it about a bit till Garbutt puts a great cross in. Yates gets penalised, so I'm free to imagine Chissy as the captain of a marauding sailing ship, plundering treasure and making Colin Greenhall walk the plank. His gains, he would of course bury 'on the island' and mark with an X. 

We pass it about nicely some more. I wonder if Chissy has a hook for a hand? Our passing comes to nothing and they do some passing instead. I don't really imagine Michael Jackson as a parrot. Brett, yeah, I could run with that. They get a corner. We clear it easily enough. I imagine Chissy training Brett to say 'pieces of 8' 

Then I imagine me getting a real parrot and training it to say stuff Chissy would say. 'Once of this parish' 'We wish him well' 'Terrible from Kaikai' and so on. How would I explain this to people (i.e. most normal people) who didn't know who Chissy was? They'd think I was mentally ill. Maybe this year and this blog is taking its toll on me and I am.  

We faff about on the right and look quite good but the final ball isn't quite right. They have a few attacks, then they nearly score, A curling ball from the left beats Ballard and is met by at the far post with a low stabbed effort that Maxwell has to make a very sharp stop to keep out. 

Dale have another attack. It's weird. The ball is bouncing about. We keep watching it till they shoot, we block. It bounces again out to the near post and Maxwell has the make a Schmeichal-esque stop, making himself as big as he can and leaping out to narrow the angle 

Our attackers might as well not be playing so far. Sullay plays an awful pass after charging forward, picking up the ball from good work by Grant Ward. Embleton looks like he's put his boots on the wrong feet. 

Dale get in again on the right, we just seem to stand off and watch as they come forward and it takes an excellent challenge at the last moment from Thorniley to turn a goal bound shot into a corner. At the other end, Yates muscles his way on to the ball, spins and spreads it to Embleton. We look to have men over, but instead of a cross or shot, we end up working it all the way back to Dan Ballard. It's odd. I can't really work out why we're not playing. It's not like Dale have pressed us or kicked us out the game. Their appears to be space for us at times, but we've used the ball really badly. 

Finally, we win a corner. Sullay takes a good in-swinger and Turton meets it with a spring and a glance that sends the ball not so far wide. A bit better. A collection of things happens, the Dale keeper looks injured but he's ok. We have a few more attacks that turn into retreats. Yates chases a through ball. Maxwell catches then drops then falls on a corner. We pass it all up the right hand side of the pitch, go across the box, move it down the far side and then across the halfway line. It's a perfect rectangle of football, then finally, we finish the move by booting it long and out of play. It's sort of like an artistic statement about the futility of life in football form. 

This is definitely not Super League stuff. When we finally have a shot, Sullay fires it cleanly enough, but Simms wanders into the frame and the ball hits him and bounces back from where it came from. 


After romancing about the blood and thunder qualities of 'real' football, this has been cagey, limited and frustrating. Which, lets be honest, we all know football can be like that... We look leggy. The runs aren't happening. We've got that tired vibe, where you see players reacting after the ball is passed, not before. Simms (who I confidently tipped to score 2 tonight) has had about 3 touches and we look desperate for a bit of energy and an extra man in midfield.

I think this is ripe for a half time change. Not just tactically, but because they look flat. Ideally we'd be 2 or 3 up and you'd bring of Jerry, but he's looked as sprightly as anyone, so I think it's got to be Simms for Demi and Embleton or Sullay going into the centre. 

We looked shaky initially and we've taken more control of the game as time has gone on, but we've really not looked like doing any damage with that. Maxwell is by far the player of the half and that's without Dale even playing especially well. 


Blow me down, it's the same team. Who would have thought it? I shouldn't complain as in the last few months, every time I've made a sub in my head, Critch has out done me. I get over excited about it. Subs are an event when things are dull. Give it 10 more minutes of this and I'll be wanting Marvin on up front. As a an expert shite blogger, I'm convinced that managing a football club is all about making the right subs at the right time and that I am so sensitive to the rhythm of a game, I can perform magic with the right change at the right time. It's probably harder than that. 

Yates chases a long clearance from Maxwell, he reaches it, but he can't quite burst beyond. He holds it up, it seems to take about 10 seconds before anyone gets up with him, but when they do, Yates finds Garbutt who goes to the byline, then returns it to the shirtless one, in space he's found cleverly in the box, Jerry goes for a clipped effort, connects well, but his sight is off on the sniper rifle and he places it into a gangway of the stand, not the corner of the goal. 

Dougall drives it forward, it's deflected, and Simms picks up the loose ball 25 yards out, turns, advances and unleashes a fierce drive from the edge of the box that the keeper saves well. The big man is generally more involved in the first 10 minutes than he was in the first 45. Pool are better in general. Garbutt is getting forward and looking influential. Sullay is having one of those games where he looks like a someone in a foreign bus station who can't quite decide which bus to get on as he can't read the language on the signs and Embleton hasn't yet swapped his boots to the right feet. 

Demi gets ready to come on, but then he doesn't. Dale make some subs and have a little spell. The earlier promise of the half has fizzled out. Then it gets worse. Dale score. A throw is held up, then laid back. Ollie Rathbone picks it up, cuts inside and curls a very good finish right into the corner. Fucking hell. 

Our blitzkrieg starts with Garbutt putting a free kick into the wall, Embleton crossing into a defender and then Ballard letting the ball through his legs and Thorniley having to make a very good saving challenge. 

Finally we get subs. Sullay has gone, Simms has gone with him. Gabriel and Mitchell come on wide and Embleton goes up with Yates. I think we're going to see Brad Holmes. Shots are blocked, crosses are cut out. Embleton looks much better in the middle. Demi is energy. Gabriel is the same. A ball just misses a Pool head. Thorniley plays a Hollywood ball and Gabriel is just a fraction away from control it and racing free. 

Dale take a bit of control back. One of their players who looks a bit like a fella who does Bee Gees impersonation act in a tatty Spanish resort engages in some top class shithouse time wasting, holding the ball when we want to take a free kick and shouting sweatily through his beard for a while about nothing. 

I was right. Holmes is coming on. Embleton lifts a free kick in. The keeper flaps, Jerry jackknifes but he can't reach it. Gabriel drives it hard, it's deflected over. The corner is stroked to the edge of the box, all across the grass, like a snooker ball, before Garbutt leathers it. It just won't go in though. Demi runs through the entire team and just stumbles at the end. It's not happening

Ward is replaced by Robson. Embleton comes on for Holmes. A long throw, it's flicked on and Holmes has a sniff. It's belted clear before he can strike... Chissy decides Ethan Robson is Brad Holmes then he corrects himself and identifies him as Garbutt. It's sort of a metaphor for the evening. 

Gabriel surges forward and is clipped. A yellow card is a small penalty for stopping the flow of the move. 5 minutes of time is called as we wait to take the free kick that's small compensation. Ethan Robson tries to remind us who he is and what he does by trying a shot but it's rising and sails 3 or 4 yards over. 

Holmes jumps for a long ball, it's a satisfyingly meaty challenge that quells any thought that Brad might not be up for a man's game but it's merely a chance for Dale to lie down for a bit and take a few seconds out. Yates sets Demi free but he can't quite get it out his feet. A long throw is headed out but not even Ollie Turton and all his majestic attacking prowess can complete the spectacular first time volley into the top corner that he attempts and Dale break. We muster one last foray forward, Yates making space from a long ball, Demi not quite able to capitalise and as the ball is nipped away the ref blows. 


Flat for 70 minutes, too late to change it and done by the greater energy of Rochdale would be the critic's summary. The sympathetic view would be that we looked absolutely goosed and it was one of those nights at a ground that functions a bit like a hex upon tangerine. It's exhausting producing conclusion after conclusion when basically we see three kinds of games.

1: Where we play really well and everyone's ace. 
2: Where we don't play that well but get the result and the spirit and desire is evident
3: Where we're a bit shite and the fundamental issues with the squad (all squads have issues that repeat) can be trotted out. Tonight, the issue was a lack of a play in midfield to dictate and unlock. Ward and Dougall always run up and down, but we spent a lot of time with those two players, back to goal in our own half and combined with very out of sorts wide play (Demi and Gabriel lifted things, without really causing major panic) we didn't really look like scoring. Like September/October all over again. 

It is what it is. We were way off what we can be. Maxwell and Thorniley played well, Yates tried but had once clipped effort wide and that's it, Garbutt got forward a bit but didn't deliver consistently at all and looked clumsy and Turton got forward and delivered the sort of balls that make people go 'for fuck's sake Turton' which is bit harsh as he also has to play in defence as well and when the rest of the side don't really provide any threat, I think it's a bit missing the point to blame the full backs. 

The frustrating thing was, Dale didn't look that brilliant and I thought other sides have given us a more torrid time. It looked like we needed to just find a gear we never really got into to get at them. Against Accy, I wrote that I was in awe of the job they did on us in terms of their effort and pressing and how they knocked us off our stride. Tonight, we just never got on the stride to get knocked of it. 

There we go.

No point raging about it unless you want to set up a league of our own where we only play teams who let us win and call it 'the best league' or something. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

6 go mad in Europe

Sir Henry Norris who blagged Arsenal into the top flight in 1919 despite them not winning promotion. They've been at this sort of shit for years... 

Apparently, 6 English clubs think it's a mad good plan to join a new league. And stay in the English league at the same time or something. If you want the finer details, read the FT or Shoot or something, their journalist got paid to write the article so it's probably better than this.  


It's not the first time they've intimated this is their end goal and whilst this proposal is possibly doomed, that's not the point.

The self appointed top 6 is a bit of an odd bag. (history tells us, the all time top 6 would include Everton and Villa and the current top 6 includes Leicester and West Ham, none of them are represented), but let's roll with the one that includes Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs (the latter is a particular comical presence, being neither in the historic, nor current top 6) and play along with their delusions... 

Aston Villa (not big) 

In this article, I'm making the presumption that they make a clean break or our FA chuck them out. That's far from a given as I imagine the point of this grandstanding is to try and force through changes to their domestic league structure that allows them to keep a foothold in their league of origin but with a lot less 'low yield' games to play (i.e, a top flight of significantly reduced size and the reduction or end of domestic cups) - thereby securing two TV markets and not totally alienating their traditional support base. (Rearrange the following. Cake Have Eat Your Can't And It.)  

Their aim is clearly to get to roll around in trough of money so deep you'd need the submarine they used to film the Titanic wreck with to get to the bottom of it. The key point here is - these 6 clubs will further ruin the structure of the English game by having income from 2 leagues, whilst everyone else has 1. Do not by the 'solidarity' payment bullshit. The FA must kick them out. It must not negotiate with terrorists so to speak. So, I'm assuming they've gone themselves or been booted out...

With that established, let's consider the winners and losers in this circumstance and decide whether on balance we should be grovelling at their feet shouting 'Don't go! Please don't take your wonder from our lives' or whether we should actually just shrug and go 'whatevs m8, in a bit. Bring us back some duty free tabs will you?' 

Losers: Sky/BT/etc 

You can bet your bottom euro that a new league set up by the clubs will operate under a different broadcast model. Why would you want a third party when you can sell direct to the market yourself? Pay per view is where its at and without question, the big clubs already have the set up, the facilities and have acquired the data over the last few years to push this to their multinational fan bases. TV rights have to be negotiated and shared out. That's a real pain in the arse when you could just flog direct and rake in the money yourself.

Essentially, it'll be like a dolled up and much more glam version of iFollow, albeit probably without the eccentric local radio coverage, which on balance, is a shame.  

It's an absolute disgrace, the traditional values of the Barclays Monsanto Lockheed Martin Premier League are what all supporters want and this is just a horrible exercise in corporate greed. Now time for the news, sponsored by Amazon... 

Losers: Actual fans of big clubs

It's all very well assuming that the only people who watch Man Utd are sat on a sofa, nowhere near Manchester (possibly Kent, possibly Kenya) but there are some *actual supporters* of these teams. Not everyone who watches Chelsea is a city worker called whatever people who used to be called Tristan are called these days (maybe Tristan?) who is inviting his coworkers to the 'soccer game.' Some of them are actually just normal people who happen to support Chelsea or Man Utd hard as it is to believe!   

For the people who go to games, this is rank shite. Half their matches are in another country, historic games are no more. Are Spurs really all that much bigger than West Ham? Have we forgotten that actually, Everton built Anfield and were there first? Isn't Chelsea vs Fulham a thing? Imagine paying through the nose to go and see the big rivalry with er... Espanyol or Porto...? It's all a bit weird. It's a bit like telling me (a Blackpool fan) that I'd be more excited to play whoever is 5th in the Spanish third division than I would to play Bolton or Preston. Sort of... 

What this proposal, even if it is a double bluff, reveals in plain sight is, what we've probably known all along. That the people who run these clubs don't really give a fuck who watches them and where. The names of the teams are merely a brand to them. The identity maybe Liverpool or Woolwich Arsenal but if you can make more money on a permanent peripatetic tour of the globe, then lets crack on and roll in that filthy lucre. How long before the European league is inviting a side from a 'new market' in? How long before the leading Asian clubs are invited? Wouldn't the Chinese market be a nice one to crack? And so on and so on. 

I don't support a big club. I obviously support the BEST club, but not the one with as many fans/money/trophies as the self appointed big 6 so I can't really speak for what they want as fans, but the limited number of them I know aren't salivating at the prospect of playing yet more European games in a league with little or no jeopardy.

Why would you? European football is great, but it's great because it's exotic, it's hard earned and the chances of being knocked out are pretty high. If it's not earned, nor exciting, then why go abroad, when you can play a boring game of football up the road anytime. It's magic if you win because it's a once or maybe twice in a life time thing. It would be like having birthday cake every day. It would start to taste a little sickly. You'd yearn for something a bit more bland.  

Whilst a European run is great craic (I imagine!) when it happens, the season upon season cost of following the club just further elevates football into the realms of a lifestyle activity, not something normal people can afford to do. If I supported one of these teams, I'd want my owners head on a spike, regardless of what a sugar daddy they've been if they signed me up to 20 away games a plane flight away at the cost of visiting the clubs I could get to on a bus, tube train or in a car.

You going to Oldham away? 
Nah, saving my money for thirty years time when we've got to remortgage to get to games mate. 

Losers: The football authorities

Along with Sky, the Premier League, La Liga, Seria A and UEFA are in high dudgeon about the plan.  The speak nicely but the subtext is a loud "How VERY DARE THESE UPSTART CLUBS SPOIL OUR BRAND?" The words of the authorities (and the outrage for money by Sky pundits) all seems a bit like 'hang on, this is OUR gravy train... I mean, won't someone think of the supporters...?' 

I often wonder what football authorities actually do? I can see they hand out fines occasionally and inconsistently, don't do very much about racist attacks on players or rapist owners that rip a club to bits, they generate a fixture list and presumably keep an eye on the league tables but beyond that, I'm a bit lost.  I once ran a bit of mini league between a few teams of lads with my mate. It wasn't that taxing. Ok, I'm being glib here, but the elevation of the EPL and to a lesser extent EFL into brands of their own, with huge turnovers and swanky offices, marketing strategies and highly paid CEOs is a bit mystifying. 

The game's authorities have got cushy, comfortable and fat on the commodification of the sport. They've stood back and waved through the global capital. They've smiled benevolently at the cutting of ties with local communities and created a world where over half the clubs in the country are owned by foreign money. I'm not being xenophobic here. I'm saying, it's hardly a surprise when global capital wants to take the game for itself, wants to move it into a global sphere and beyond the remit of the archaic traditions of the FA. Why are we surprised. Global capital destroys the local. That's just what it does. Look outside. 

The biggest irony of all is UEFA whining about the 'uncompetitive' nature of these proposals when their own plans for the Champions League are to make an already shit competition (that precludes just about all but the biggest 15 or 16 clubs from getting anywhere in it) even shitter (and makes anyone not from Spain, France, Germany, Italy or England getting anywhere in it, even less likely)

It is frankly outrageous that someone else should think of a bloated and boring European competition in which the same teams play each other over and over and everyone is mostly bored. Where's the sport in that if it doesn't have the Champions League music eh? 

Losers: The wages paid to players. 

I don't blame the players one bit for earning the money they do. Football has a market value and when you see the rights to watch you play being flogged for billions, it's fair to ask the question 'where is that money going, if not to me?' If the answer is 'to the orphans' then you're probably a bit of a cunt to ask for more money, but if it's 'into the pocket of an even richer person than you' then I think it's fair game. 

What will likely happen is, without the 'big' teams, the value of domestic TV rights will plummet and probably the sponsorship opportunities too. This will mean a decline in wages. It has to. Without it, there will be no way of paying the kind of highly inflated sums that have become the norm. 

Statistic: Average annual first-team player salary in the English Premier League in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2019/2020, by football club (in million GBP) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Here's an interesting thing. It will hit the wages in the top flight harder than it will lower down the league. The higher you are, the more dependent you are on TV money. Oddly, a team with 30,000 supporters might see a far greater need to slash wages than a team with 5000, simply because the proportion of money received from TV revenue falls considerably as you go down the divisions. That's not to say it's cushy being Morecambe or Accrington. It's not, but those clubs have already worked extraordinarily hard to make themselves pay. They are *well run* and many clubs above them in both league position and income really are not. 

Winners and Losers: The also ran clubs (in a financial sense) 

There's a tier of teams who have banked heavily on breaking into either the Premier League or the top 4 and reaping the rewards of that investment. On a financial level, having their pot of gold whipped away from the end of the rainbow might be very problematic. How likely are their owners to remain invested in a dream that no longer exists? Everton... I'm looking at you with your half a billion spent on nothing and a solid gold stadium to pay for. 

However, what might be the flip side of this is the prospect of actually winning things. If you don't collapse under the imploding finances, there's a very real prospect that Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds and others could find themselves as the biggest clubs in English football, suddenly in the role of top dogs after decades of playing second fiddle to the teams who have just left. Lets face it, if they went tomorrow, West Ham, Leicester and Everton would be in a three way title battle. That seems weird, but lets remember, Wolves were once one of the absolute best in Europe, Everton are the third most successful club ever. Leeds are a one club city in a big city and Villa won the European Cup. The point is, would it be that bad? Why are Chelsea or Man City 'big' - simply because of investment. Nothing more.

Hurray. Another cup we didn't want. It's like when your gran buys you a sweater. Smile and look grateful then shove it somewhere and forget about it. Next year, repeat. 

It would also be interesting to see whether the prospect of a ban from all other football prompted an exodus of players from the clubs involved. Would we see a situation akin to the rebel tours of South Africa or the Packer revolution in cricket, with some players choosing to put money first and others refusing to take the dollar and turning up in less likely circumstances as a result?

As it stands, you'd expect the big German clubs (their fans say 'nein!' to the breakaway) to be very excited at the prospect of making offers to some disgruntled Premier League stars, unhappy at having their careers meddled with, but also some of the mid ranked Premier League clubs hanging around outside the gates of Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and the rest with signs marked 'Come and play for us! You won't get banned!' 

Winners: Fans of other clubs

I don't buy that the point of supporting a smaller club is to look forward to the day in the sun when you get to play Man United. It's a shame if we lose the big names, because by and large they're teams you'd love to beat and love to hate, but there's a sense that over the last thirty years, that the prospect of getting one over them has become more and more difficult to envisage. It feels with every passing year that those 'lesser' sides are more and more, mere cannon fodder. It's statistically verifiable that all the major competitions have less variation in winners in the last twenty years in this country and certainly in the other major league involved as well.  

In short, if you don't support the big six, it's becoming ever less likely that you will (possibly ever) see your team win anything. There is an unprecedented monopoly on trophies that is even harder to take when you consider that the FA Cup and League cup seem to get won by accident most seasons. Yes, through the 70s and 80s Liverpool seemed to win everything, but at least they were trying to win everything and not playing weakened teams and winning anyway... 

What is the point of football if we can't at least imagine glory? With a significantly devalued top flight TV deal, an absence of the dominant clubs and a greater reliance on match day revenues , then the balance of power could shift somewhat and we might find a game, shorn of a few big names (both in terms of clubs and players,) but invigorated with a new sense of possibility. 

Winners: Fans in general

As above, with TV deals inevitably much smaller and the domestic game competing against the Super League format, the authorities would perhaps look to free to air TV. IF the Super League is behind a paywall (and lets face it, why wouldn't it be?) then fighting it with free to air TV would be logical. Sky aren't going to pour 9.5 billion quid into a league without the biggest names but if the games are on terrestrial TV in front of big audiences, then there's a chance you can maintain the interest of sponsorship. 

What's perhaps even more significant is the relationship of the clubs and the sport in general with it's most committed followers. The ones who actually turn up at the ground and sit in the seats. With reduced incomes from TV, the game will have little or no choice but to listen a bit harder to what fans want, be it in the form of ticket prices, their desire to stand, the kind of atmosphere in grounds or the horrendous weeping canker sore on the face of the beautiful game that is VAR. 

Ask yourself. When a player scores a goal for your club, do you really give a fuck if he's on £500 a week or £500k a week? Does it matter? If the value of the domestic game falls, we're not going to see people stop playing football (or if we do, are they the people you'd want at your club anyway?) and we might see more opportunities for local players, the global market playing less of a part. Ok, the big six would be able to take your players, but the kicker is... they do anyway. So what really has changed?

'Big' is a question of perspective...

Winners: Ownership: 

I wrote a very lengthy piece about how the English game has performed an incredible trick of pricing itself out of the game. Look at Newcastle. There is literally no one in Newcastle who wants to buy Newcastle who can afford to buy Newcastle. Even if everyone puts their hand down the back of the sofa and chucks all their change in a bucket every week and all their ex players chuck in and a big local business help out, they can't come close to matching the kind of money offered elsewhere. 

Look at Wigan. When the Whelen family sold up, the club went through a double ownership change and a hellish period of turmoil before being bought by someone as far away from Wigan as you could imagine. This story repeats time and time again and whilst there's nothing wrong with money from anywhere in particular, there is something troubling about the fact that these clubs which still mean an awful lot to the people who support them and the communities where they are are now beyond the pockets of even the wealthiest people. 

What chance is there any sort of more equitable, community based or socially minded model of ownership if even a multi millionaire can't stomach the thought of the ever rising costs of a football club? 

Wouldn't it actually be good if football was a bit cheaper? Wouldn't it be a good thing if fans could buy clubs, or if you're sceptical about that, people from the locality with a bit of money and an interest could do so? Why are so many clubs in a precarious situation? In short, because football costs a lot and too many people with not enough money own them and the number of people who want to own them seems to be declining judging by the challenges of finding ownership faced by some our 'crisis' clubs in recent years. 


The problem we have as fans, is that it's likely the football authorities, the broadcasters and the general football world with its nose in the trough of 'the way things are' won't see the situation the same way we see it. Whilst it's a minor shame to imagine Blackpool's 2024 top flight victory won't include the slaying of a few big names (and Spurs), it's a small price to pay for the prospect of imagining we could actually compete one day. Even if it is in our wildest dreams. 

The only way most clubs will ever challenge is if the costs are reduced. The Premier League has become very, very rich by creating an image of itself as a global league. It saw what Serie A did and did it bigger and better and unlike Germany and Italy, more or less wiped out the fan culture as well. It now faces an existential crisis. For nearly 30 years, it's zealously self promoted itself as the biggest and the best. It's told you it's the ultimate show and that it deserves all the money, it deserves all the attention, it deserves all the hype and the costs are worth it, because it is the ULTIMATE. If it loses that status as the most glamorous league to an actual multinational league, it's value to external markets will fall. Costs will fall with them. It will make relatively little difference to us as English football fans aside from the slight sense of loss over a few clubs and the memory of their history. It will still be our top flight. It's the global audience and armchair fan who will bemoan and switch over to another 'product.' 

The very real danger here is not so much that these clubs break away. The biggest risk is that after some brinkmanship and threats, the football authorities will capitulate to their underlying demands and we'll see the worst of both worlds. A domestic game structured even more obviously in the interests of a few clubs, a landscape sculpted to allow them to both have their cake and eat it. I don't want to live in a world where we're scrabbling from the crumbs from the fat, engorged faces of global capital stuffing themselves sick on never ending TV exposure in every market possible, stopping only to vomit their next demands over the rest of us. 

There's 86 clubs who aren't them. We do not need any more of the above. So, whilst I feel sorry for their supporters, my message is, good riddance to all you've wrought on our game and in the nicest possible way:

Fuck off, take VAR with you and close the door on your way out. 


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