Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Coastal Resorts Cup (NW Group) - Morecambe vs the Mighty


I recently read a very persuasive article about how football should bring back local competitions like the Lancashire Cup as an antidote to the world where the biggest teams have annexed all the glory. 

I agree and I'd suggest a twist, with a tournament along the lines of the 'Coastal Resorts Cup' where teams like ourselves, our opponents today, Southport and perhaps New Brighton and Silloth FC could play in a group to be the North West kings, before playing against the winners of a different group, featuring Brighton, Eastbourne Borough, Torquay etc. You get the idea. If you've got a beach and a B+B, you're in. If you don't, fuck off and play inland football.

I'll write to FIFA as soon as this blog is done. 

I live quite nearby, so today is easier than a home game for me. The train across is fun with Pool fans merrily serenading their fellow passengers. Everyone always agrees football fans are jolly good fun on trains. I'm early and I don't fancy daytime drinking, so I go for a walk around the West End. Whilst not quite as commercially successful as its London namesake, there's an incredible faded beauty to Morecambe. It might literally be the coastal town they forgot to close down and it might have slumped even further since Morrissey shot his video there, but it's got some incredible buildings and a timeless quality to it. 

Every day might be like Sunday, but it you don't have to wish it could Christmas every day in sunny Morecambe because it really is. 


Think of the glamour the Coastal Resorts Cup could bring to world football... 

Once at the ground, it seems for a few minutes as if there's a chaotic set of circumstances. The card machine isn't working. The turnstiles don't scan the tickets. There's only one gate open. There are long queues and a few frayed tempers. Once inside though, the away terrace is a decent spot and as new build grounds go, I like the Globe Arena. Each stand is different, it doesn't have the feel of being built in one go, even though it more or less was and it has a bit of character, my favourite bit being the open terrace to the right which appears to have a bus stop perched on some concrete for no discernable reason. 


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There's a good turnout and a decent noise at kick off. Pool start in the expected manner. We control the first 15 minutes. Keshi looks bright as usual but he doesn't really seem to have the end product which worries me a bit. I really want him to step up and be as good as he threatens to be. Demi has a decent shot. Yates links up nicely with others but doesn't really get much chance to shoot himself. At Southport, the proximity to the pitch made me realise how good Garbutt's delivery is, here, it's a thrill to see Grant Ward's touch up close. Whilst he doesn't have his greatest game, his ability to cushion the ball and the way he glides about is something. The only way I can describe it to say, it seems as if his boots are softer than everyone else's. 

Morecambe don't offer much beyond dogged and organised resistance for a while. Their manager is very involved and alert, coaching from the touchline. He looks like the absolute archetype of a football manager. If you wanted someone to act like one in a TV drama, you'd show them Stephen Robinson. He's got the pointing, the gesturing, the bodily responses to the way the game unfolds, the leaning forward and shouting. At one point, Mike Garrity, who likes a good shout himself, trips over a bit of tape in the dugout then tries to act like he didn't. Exactly like a cat would. 

The opening stages are played at a decent pace before it settles into a bit of a preseasony (that's a word) rut and very little happens. I watch Keogh quite intently. He has a habit of receiving the ball, wandering forward but going in a massive circle and ending up where he was before making the pass he could have made before going on a wander. He does this about 5 times. He's decent in the air and he plays a few sharp balls forward where others might have hoofed it but I'm not alone in noticing that the one time he gets run at, he's like an old Ford Granada getting overtaking by a superbike. He leads with authority and organises well though. Time will tell if he's a masterstroke or not. I think to myself 'we wanted Dan Ballard back, but we got Dan Ballard's dad instead' and then feel a little uncharitable. He is definitely the oldest looking Pool player since I don't know who. Brett always looked ancient, even when he was young, but he ran like whippet. My mate who comes with me (who isn't a Pool fan) comments that 'he runs like an old man' and I can't argue.   


We make the odd chance, they go over the top or straight at the keeper. CJ (again played mostly on the left), Demi and Keshi keep not quite breaking through. The rare occasion that Morecamble come forward, we snap quickly back on the break and look impressive in our ability to go the length of the pitch quickly but we haven't brought the cutting edge with us today. 

When Morecambe do score, it's a bit of soft goal. Garbutt has possibly wandered a bit out of position and is done by a neat ball played behind him to an overlapping Morecambe player. Husband comes across but can't get a tackle or a block in and the ball is turned across the goal and then home with the minimum of fuss. Perhaps they're better at breaking than us after all. 

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There's nothing particularly wrong with the way we've played but again, we don't look to have much creative spark. I don't think we're especially well balanced either. Garbutt and Husband (despite the goal coming from their flank) are starting moves, but Keogh and Connelly don't really work in the same way on the other side. I still yearn to see Connelly in the middle where his skills just seem to fit. At full back, I'd say it was fair to suggest Turton got forward more naturally. Connelly steps out like a centre half, rather than hares wide like a full back. 

Reece James hasn't had a mention so far. He does OK. He looks a competent player. Everyone looks sort of 'tidy' and that's kind of the problem. It's not that anyone isn't any good, it's that no one seems to have that pass or that run. It's preseason though. It is what it is. It's like everyone is Grant Ward today. Grant Ward is great. I love Grant Ward, I absolutely adore Grant Ward but 11 Grant Wards?

(Don't mention S---- K-----) 


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One change at half time as Jimmy departs and Big Marvin comes on.  What we didn't need was Demi 'all of the goals' Mitchell to go down injured but that's what we get. He gets up and seems ok, but then, as he trots back on, he seems to worsen the injury somehow and then he really doesn't seem ok. That's not good as definitely, again Mitchell has been the biggest goal threat and also, surprisingly shown a nice deft touch in the air a couple of times. 

Bowler comes on and he immediately gives us a bit of something we've lacked thus far. It's his lovely ball from the right that creates our goal, a well weighted and early ball into the path of Keshi who belts it, it hits the bar, bounces down, someone (Jerry?) piles in and the ball is hacked away again, only for CJ to slot home the third effort and score the first non Demi Mitchell goal of the year. 

I wasn't sure first time I saw Bowler, but I think he takes his chance quite well today. He makes a couple of chances, he has a half decent shot and he looks willing to run right into the box. I thought his delivery was quicker and less frustrating than last time I saw him and I've got to be honest, from what I've seen of the preseason games, I'd be starting him as he seems the most likely player to unlock things and create space even if he's the player who will probably lose the ball more than others. Risk/reward etc. 

Garbutt has a decent free kick tipped over. We have some more subs. Sonny Carey doesn't do a great deal today. He's out wide, where he doesn't seem so natural as he did in a deeper role against Southport or in a no 10 type role against the Clampetts. Lavery does impress though. His closing down of the keeper and defenders makes Jerry's seem almost half hearted. He's an absolute terrier and he gives a defender no rest. He looks a great example of a player making the most of his attributes and he has one great effort on the turn, running towards the ball, then twisting to shoot and getting real power behind a shot that most players would probably trickle towards goal. Is he a championship forward? I don't know, but I like his style. 

John-Jules is a bit less noticeable but links nicely enough with Lavery and has clear technical ability. There's one turn where he leaves his defender tackling air that signposts his pedigree and his movement looks intelligent. 

It looks for a while like we might take control and go on and win, but then as the game drifts to a close, we make several weird mistakes at the back. Marvin gets away with one. He and Casey don't seem to have struck up the kind of telepathic partnership we were used to last year. There's a really good bit of defending by Connelly from a deep cross that draws applause, a terrific stop from Maxwell after a load of hesitancy in the box then a last minute near calamity where we gift Morecambe the chance to run through the middle and again Maxwell saves the day. 

Not what we needed...

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It was a good atmosphere and a reasonably full blooded friendly. There was some great baiting of their sub keeper for reasons I don't quite understand but enjoy anyway. Someone gets escorted out for going on the pitch when we score as well. It's had a decent vibe. I think deep down, everyone knows it's the Coastal Resorts Cup and it *matters* (even though I only invented 30 mins ago when I started writing this) 

Morecambe emerge from the draw with a lot of credit. At a glance it looks like they've ridden the disaster of losing the promotion winning manager and kept the fighting spirit that got them up. They had a lot less of the ball and used it pretty well when they got a chance to do so. 

We struggled in the way we struggled against what we might patronisingly call 'lesser' teams almost all through the season. Come on to us, and we'd unpick you. Make us try to break you down and we'd sometimes run out of ideas. It was a bit like that again. It's probably not very typical of the challenge of the championship but I think it's clear we're missing the King (of course we are...) and are a full back short. I'm not so worried about Connelly defensively, I just don't think he looks natural going down the flanks at all and when we're probably set up to counter, that surely matters. At the back, I think it was telling that I heard someone say 'Where's Thorniley?' Marvin doesn't quite look to have ever played himself back into the imperious form he was in when he got injured. 

I've got a feeling that Madine is going to be more important than we think in the coming months. Yates, Lavery and the new lad all seem fairly skillful players, better on the floor than winning it in the air. Again, Yates was a little isolated and like early last year, it felt like at times we needed that focal point. If Madine's operation leaves him fit, I'd say he could surprise us and that all three of the other strikers might enjoy playing off him. Lavery in particular looks like someone who might relish chasing Gaz's back to goal blind passes and flicks. 

Are we ready? Not sure. Are we the finished article? I don't think so. Will we be reet? Of course we fucking will! It's pre season, everyone is playing within themselves and we've still got loads of players out to return and likely more to come in (and go out)  

Onward. 

utmp

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Sun, fun and the glorious roof of the Warwick Road End: Carlisle United vs the Mighty

 

Heading up, the fields are gasping for rain, the verges dry and yellow. The usually sodden moorland shimmers like a tinderbox desert. Carlisle itself is heaving. A sea of leopard print, false eyelashes, muscle shirts and hormones. Lads and lasses move in packs, primped, plucked and painted. One group shouts to another across the traffic lights. Lads step into the flow of cars paying little heed to their own mortality. Several have pint glasses in hand in the street. It's barely midday. 

'Edgy' photo on what was actually quite a nice street

Walking up Brunton Park, my lad says 'Carlisle is very repetitive isn't it?' - I think about this and he's right. It's a warren of terraced streets outside the city centre. I always forget that, surrounded as it is with the Eden Valley, the Lakes and all of that picture postcard second home pretence, Carlisle is a proper place, more, say, Rotherham or Wigan than you expect when you're in the rather bijou centre or the well to do world that fans out beyond it. 


The floodlights tho. When I am king, all the grounds will have floodlights. Carlisle's have character. Brunton Park has character full stop. It's a hangover from the past and still, even with all the modern limitations holds over 18,000 when full. I've always liked it and as time goes on and renders grounds like this more and more rare, I like it even more. Mismatched stands, one end of the newest stand hanging weirdly behind the goal line, a remnant of Michael Knighton's failed ambition of rebuilding the whole thing 50 yards to the north. Cumbria should be designated as the national centre for football stadium heritage, Carlisle, Barrow and Workington must be three of the most evocative, nostalgic grounds left. Cumbria's relative lack of success in footballing terms has protected from the need to upgrade and modernise I suppose. 


Pool warm up and I notice McCall involved. He looks relaxed, he's very attentive as he runs a drill, watching the players carefully, joking and smiling but studiously evaluating their performance. He seems to have settled in quickly. His hair is still very much the colour it always has been. Has he found the perfect shade of Just for Men or is he eternally youthful? 

There's a player I don't recognise and with the help of the team sheet I identify as Tayt Trusty. We seem to have loads of coaches. I'm not sure if I like the blue tops the backroom staff wear. Steve Banks is warming up the young sub keeper Charlie Monks who doesn't get on in the game, but looks to have really good handling and to be well built for a lad of his age in the warm up.


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Pool dominate the early stages. We have lots of pressure and seemingly win the ball back at will. Trusty has an early escape when he takes a touch to many and is tackled, but he does brilliantly to snap back and reclaim the ball. He looks good. Physically, he doesn't look out of place alongside the experienced pros and similar to Cameron Antwi, he seems to have a really good sense of where to be to receive the ball. He also does well in the air a few times, winning duels with more gnarly old pros. Once he gets the early misjudgement out of his system, he's really impressive. 

For all the possession, we don't really produce many clear cut chances. The only really notable moment before we score comes when CJ (who starts unusually on the left, before swapping to the right) uses his pace to get away from his full back and his left foot to slide it across for Keshi who hits a rasping drive that draws a good save. 

It's not like we're lumping terrible crosses in. Garbutt gets forward well and delivers a fair few of them, so they're there or thereabouts, but it feels like we're not really finding or reading the final ball. It's clear we don't really get out of second gear and are coping with Carlisle without too much fuss, but it's also clear that the knife blade will need sharpening before we're ready to take on the championship. (note to self - it's far too early to mention the lack of a certain S____y K___i so I won't. There. I didn't.)

When we score, it's a routine but well taken goal. I look up from glancing to see who the subs are to see Demi running on to a ball over the top. He takes a touch, and another and bursts between the defenders, he's that fast that by the time he's run 20 yards, he's got what seems like enough time to to roll a fag, cadge a lighter off someone in the crowd and have a couple of drags before anyone catches him. He makes no mistake with the finish, drawing the keeper and sliding it home into the corner. 

Demi 3-0 Everyone Else. 

Jimmy Husband is looking impressive at centre half. He's probably had harder afternoons to be fair, but he's really calm and uses the ball beautifully. Trusty shows a bit of vision and ambition with his passing. He's continued to impress throughout the half. Marvin is looking a bit less calm than Jimmy if I'm brutally honest (at one point he gets away with what looks like a nailed on hand ball to me.) Whilst Connelly does very little wrong, there is one point where he is beaten for pace and a Carlisle man goes round the outside and gets a dangerous cross in. I'm not sure he's a full back. 

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Pool completely deserve to lead, but it's been a sleepy half lacking in many thrills and spills. Very competent though. 


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Trialist replaces Trusty. I don't know who he is (I am told later that he's Mitchell Clark, from Leicester) and he plays at right back with Connelly going into midfield. CJ bursts through onto a lovely flick from the lad who is probably Clark but a heavy tough lets him down. The trialist does OK. He doesn't really shine defensively but he has a couple of nice interchanges with others that suggests some ability. I'm not sure he stakes a place to be first choice right back, but then, he also doesn't look hopeless. It would be a dickhead thing to do to decide his ability on 45 minutes, where 30 minutes of them he's playing with kids. 

CJ scores a goal that is almost identical to Demi's except he's offside. It is none-the-less, pleasing to see him running freely and burning off defenders and seeming back to full fitness. Demi nearly gets a 4th pre season goal as Keshi tees him up, delaying a pass on the far side off the box then sliding for Demi to blast. It glances off a defender and goes wide. Keshi was again probably the nearest we had to a lockpick today. 

Critch then makes a million subs and the age of the side plummets (except for Keogh). The youth team aren't as good as the first team but then, if they were, they'd be freaks of nature. Carlisle (not surprisingly) really come into the game from this point but there's some nice football from Pool's future prospects and it's clear to see that the kids play a similar style to the first team. 

I immediately really like the look of Luke Mariette. He looks technically very able, his ball control is really nice and he plays with his head up and a degree of ambition, looking to get play moving forward. He had good balance, he plays some nice one touch stuff. Like Trusty, he looks unphased. I'd like to see him with the first teamers as I think it would be interesting to see how his game looked with the movement and pace of Yates, Mitchell, Anderson etc. Sometimes you just take to a player.

Sonny Carey immediately looks classy, though as Carlisle take more control he struggles to make an impact further up the pitch. What I do note is him getting a bit riled and twice pushing a Carlisle player who'd been a bit rough with him. It's good to see a bit of fight I guess. I also think Bange looks an intriguing prospect. He'll win no awards for gracefulness but he wins a few wrestling challenges with his centre half and his work on the floor was excellent. He's one of those players where what you see isn't exactly what you get.  

We make even more subs and it's noticeable how much more mix and match Bash St kids the youth teamers look in comparison to the much more uniform physique of the first teamers. When Critch brings the diminutive Michael Fitzgerald on, I'm amazed to see him trotting to centre half but then anyone replacing Marvin and standing next to Richard Keogh is up against it in terms of 'not looking a bit smaller than the lads around him' 

Carlisle are wasteful. They really should equalise, but they don't. We might play the last 30 under much more pressure, but there are a couple of lovely passing moves that show the promise of the kids, the best of which is put just wide by super Ollie Sarkic. I really like how when we'd conceded a couple of chances, we responded by very deliberately playing football in our own half and retaining possession, trying to establish a grip on the game. It was brave and showed a bit of brains. We've also get to consider that, whilst it's obvious we've left out Madine, Stewart, Dougall, Bowler, Thorniley, Lavery (and the rest,) some of the best younger players (like Apter and Antwi) also didn't feature. 

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In the end, it's a run out. The first team looked able to manage the opposition easily enough and some of the youngsters looked like they could mix it with Carlisle and that suggests they're ready for some football in the league with someone. The sun shone, no one got injured, there was terracing on three sides of the ground.

What more do you want from a pre-season friendly? 





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Thursday, July 22, 2021

BSG Chemie Leipzig



Fuck me, it's hot. Hot, hot, hot, hot. It's too hot to do anything and if you do anything, it makes you bad tempered and if you go anywhere to do anything, it's inevitable that there'll be about 2 million other people trying to do it at the same time as you which just makes everyone even more stroppy. There's also no football to speak of and just some weird fake cricket where test matches should be. Also, everyone is still radging about Covid and that's depressing as fuck. 

So, with this in mind I got myself a really long book to distract myself from the existential misery of being quite warm and that. Obviously, the best way to distract yourself from the ills of the present day, is to read an in depth study into East German football and what it reveals about the everyday society of such a fascinating state. This post isn't a book review (it's very good, but not a 'light read') but without the book, I'd have not gained the knowledge that will lead me to the point of the post so it's only fair to credit it. 

Being the age I am, I can remember Eastern Europe as 'a thing' that 'just was.' It was only after the wall had fallen and the hammers and sickle flags been folded away, that it dawned on me that having half of Europe ruled by a totally different ideology and much of it hidden from Western view was in retrospect, a bit mad when you think about it. 

Footballs clubs that represented these nations had and still have, for me, a certain mysterious cachet. I can recall a few seasons when European and international competitions would briefly lift the iron curtain and let daylight in on the dark and mysterious world that lay beyond it. Exotic names, gifted players that would sparkle for 90 minutes, then vanish back beyond the checkpoints into the unknown. 

I'm not, by nature an adventurous soul. I'm happy enough to look at the world around me and try to see into the history of it, to find the exotic on my own doorstep, but 18 months of being largely confined to the same portion of north Lancashire has taken it's toll. The other day, I went to Morecambe (4 miles away from me) and it felt a bit 'other' - I think I need to address this... 

I've long held a desire to go and watch football in some far flung places. I admire people who do the ground hopping thing, but I simply don't have the time. I can barely understand how people schedule all the football on telly into their lives and support a club, let alone manage to go around the world watching the game. 

I'm getting older though. One day, I'll wake up and think 'Fuck me. It's too late. You never did do any of the stuff you meant to get around to. What was it all for?' and that will be that. 

To try and avoid that happening, I've decided, in the style of the kind of football hipster that I fucking hate (i.e. myself) that I will try and make a list of teams in various places, that take my fancy and then by keeping tabs on them from afar, try and build up a version of the drive I feel to go and watch my own club and thus force me out of my own comfort zone into the rest of the world.

So... back to what was once East Germany and the book... amidst the many fascinating stories, the team that leapt from the annals of history were BSG Chemie Leipzig. Why? 

1) The club, like many clubs in East Germany has a vastly complex history. It has been known by many names, disbanded and dissolved, reformed and merged over the years. As far as I can tell, it can trace its roots back to 1899 and a club known as Britannia Leipzig. The name of this club reflects the British roots of football in Germany and also, the club is source of one of my new favourite random facts - that the founder members of Britannia Leipzig signed a secret pact (why secret?) to swear off cigarettes (ok, fair enough, probably wise for a sporting team) and lemonade (why? what has lemonade done to anyone?)

Chivista, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2) I really like the 'Chemie' name. There's something tremendously nostalgic about all the Dynamos and Lokomotivs but not all of them have retained their names in the post-communist era. It literally translates as 'Chemistry Leipzig' which fills me with alternate visions of a team of boffins in white coats with mad hair or a side that play such slick marauding passing football that they ended up with the moniker. I know neither are true, but it doesn't matter. 

3) Like everywhere else, Eastern Europe has gradually lost the distinctive feel of its football grounds. Just as Britain has very few example of Archibald Leitch architecture left, the days of grim open concrete bowls are ending, with stadiums in places like Budapest, Tirana, Moscow being rebuilt in a style that makes them barely distinguishable from the Emirates or the Etihad, stadiums which themselves say little or nothing about place or history. 

BSG Chemie Leipzig play at what appears to be a relic of a different era, a ramshackle stadium, consisting of a stand, quite a lot of terracing (including a magnificent two tier affair), what looks like a house perched on one side (which presumably functions as changing rooms/offices) and a massively reduced capacity for safety reasons. Whilst the days of mass crushes and collapsing staircases are nothing to be celebrated, it's lovely to see a ground with character. I miss the old Bloomfield Road. It was a shithole, but it was a shithole that stank of history (and piss) 

4) Their glory years are roughly the same as Blackpool's. All their honours come between 1951 and 1966. What the honours list doesn't tell you is that in the hugely complex political world of the DDR, this also includes a time in which they were disbanded and their players handed to a more politically favoured Leipzig based side. When they were reformed, they still didn't get 'first dibs' on the best players in the region, but in 1964 pulled off a massive shock, by winning the league. There's something magic about a side that wins out against the odds, everyone loves an underdog and when the Goliath is the political will of the DDR then the David gains a certain amount of credit that say, Leicester City can't ever compete for. 

5) Football in Leipzig is dominated by RB Leipzig who are the ultimate in 'plastic' football clubs. Both Chemie and their DDR rivals Lokomotive who are the 'traditional' or 'legacy' clubs, play in the 4th tier of the German system. Despite that, both retain decent hardcore support and a serious and quite frightening level of rivalry. It looks like a club not entirely divorced from the 'edgier' elements that follow it. Put it this way, I don't think there's a 'tunnel club' 

Chemie have graced both the European Cup and the Cup Winners cup and as recently as 1987, Lokomotive reached a European final. To put this in context, it's a bit like looking up Birmingham City and Aston Villa and discovering that they now play in the Midland combination league and a team called 'Coca Cola Brummy Bears' that took the registration of Nuneaton Borough are in the Premier league. Sort of.  

6) I like their kit. 

7) I also like the look of Leipzig. My grandad was notorious in our family for not really ever wanting to go anywhere especially exciting. His mantra went something along the lines of 'why drive/fly all that way, when you can have a lovely walk along the prom.' As I've aged, I'm finding myself more and more falling into a similar mindset, something that Covid has probably accelerated. 

I need to kick myself up the arse and move beyond my immediate confines from time to time. Perhaps if I write it down, it'll make me do it. 

Further Reading from the web: 

https://radicalterraces.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/bsg-chemie-leipzig-from-leftovers-to-legends/
https://www.soccerbible.com/design/art-and-illustration/2017/the-world-of-bsg-chemie-leipzig-by-przemek-niciejewski/
https://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/5554-bsg-chemie-leipzig-lok-leipzig-15-12-2018.html
https://fromboothferrytogermany.com/2018/07/01/leipzig-football-clubs/




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Monday, July 12, 2021

Don't bother: England vs Italy

A lovely butterfly I saw on a walk yesterday. Cos it's soothing. 


The highlight of the build up is Lampard, Shearer, Lineker and Ferdinand explaining that they were all just as likable as this England team, just no one knew it because they didn't have twitter. There's a barmy light show where actual magic happens and then some lad from Portugal carries the cup out with the solemnity of a pallbearer. 

There's the traditional and moving folk ritual booing of the opposition anthem which is, as everyone knows is a particular banger this time. Chiellini, of course, looks like he's having the time of his life, like he's playing a game on a holiday tour with his Sunday league club after a right good knees up in a nightclub last night. England look very serious about the whole thing. Mancini sips his water, then grimaces. Maybe someone had a wee in it for mind games? The car. Oh, the little car. How we will miss the little car.

We're off. 

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Harry Maguire gets us off to a great start, passing it out of play for a corner for no apparent reason. England's legendary team spirit is apparent as Maguire blames Pickford and Pickford blames Maguire. The corner is easily cleared. Kane has it on the half way line, he plays a beautiful diagonal, Trippier takes it, he composes himself with a little touch out of his feat, like a solo violinist about to launch on a virtuoso demonstration playing a quick note first to check the tuning, then he crosses, and what a ball it is, drifting over everyone, and falling perfectly at the far post for Shaw, who absolutely buries it, first time, driving it low and hard, almost through the near post. 

Then the rest of the game is a mush in my head. Sterling floats past people a few times, but bounces of the final man or overruns it. Declan Rice has some quality galloping runs, he looks like he would be at home playing for Derby County in 1963, such is his sturdy running style. England don't really threaten a lot at all. Stones stretches and can't meet a cross. Someone heads it just over. Phillips has a couple of efforts from distance that don't get that close. Close enough for me to go 'oooh' but then far enough away for me to feel a bit silly when the replay is shown. 

The Italians start really slowly. The goal doesn't seem to shake them up for a good twenty minutes. England look to have this sewn up. Slowly, but surely, their class begins to assert itself. When they finally start passing, they can't find the final ball, but they do manage a couple of moves where they knock it about for ages. They're forcing England backwards, slowly, compressing them into flat lines, reducing their ability to play out because if and when England win it, everyone's in the defensive shape and there's nowhere to go. 

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Second half is more of the same, only the Italians look more threatening, putting chances on the end of their possession. When they do score, it felt like it was coming. Pickford nearly saves it, he makes a quite brilliant reflex stop from the first effort, but Bonnuci can't miss with the rebound and Pickford wafts at air as the ball goes past him. He's terrific tonight, making a mockery of people who wanted him dropped because they didn't like the vibe he gave off against Denmark. Whilst the abuse of the black players is something that deserves to be met with a lump of wood, it's also notable how many people seem perfectly happy to dismiss Pickford (an obsessively hard working pro who clearly thinks about his game) as 'a thick chav' as if that somehow is a legitimate opinion on goalkeeping. 

Once Italy score, there really doesn't look to be a way back in for England. Saka and Henderson don't make a huge amount of difference. Saka isn't at his best, that mesmeric magnetic quality of his dribbling isn't quite their, the ball doesn't quite roll for him and the one time he gets the rub of the green, Chiellini just reaches out and pulls his shirt then gives everyone a lesson in pragmatically accepting his booking with a matter of fact shrug. Henderson runs about pressing but not really doing anything that Rice wasn't already doing. 

--- 

Extra time and finally Grealish comes on. He runs with it, his close control is switched on. England fashion a few chances and I wonder what world were in where we take football so seriously that we don't pick the best attacking player in case he loses the ball. I read a glowing tribute to Jorginho on twitter, then 30 seconds later he decapitates Grealish. 

For a lot of the match I watch Chiellini. How does a bloke with no real pace play so well? It's really striking that in the first half, he's under pressure and losing the battle against Kane and looking worried about Sterling, but from about 25 minutes, he's usually to be seen just inside England's half, just stroking the ball to someone else, comfortable with either foot and reading the game incredibly well. England cant get at him at all, and when they do, usually via Sterling, his timing is something else, an extra time interception deep inside his own box is particularly notable for the absolute precision of the tackle, giving Sterling no chance of either emerging with the ball or any reason to leave his feat. It's like a dad allowing his little kid to dribble about then flicking the ball from him at will. 

__

Penalties seem somehow inevitable. Italy go first and that has a 60:40 advantage. Italy win 3-2 and the success rate is 60:40. Shit happens. I've had enough. I've written 175 pointless things about football in the last 18 months. This is another. You probably watched the game. You know what happened. 

--- 

1) Melts that can't lose can fuck off. The English mindset has elevated a functional, pretty decent team into world beaters and then rages when they don't beat the best team in the tournament. We couldn't keep up with Italy. They were very good. They are very good. We've been pretty good, but we're not Spain 2008 or Brazil 1970. We also didn't get the rub of the green with some decisions. It happens. This isn't losing to Iceland. The end result isn't 'under performance' and it's not shameful. 

2) I wonder sometimes if the joy of victory is just the absence of defeat. I then wonder if that means anything... 

3) If we want an attacking England team, we can't rage if they don't win every game. This side hasn't actually lost a game of football in the tournament. Teams that play all out attacking football usually fail at some point. It's harder to knit the disparate players together into a fluid and relentlessly aggressive style than it it is to create a functional unit that works from the basics that they all are coached in anyway. 

4) The little car should definitely have brought the ball for the penalties. It would have lightened the mood. 

5) What we have actually done if we'd won anyway? 

6) Social media is a bit depressing innit? 

7) Life goes on. 

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Glorious English Summer: the Mighty vs Southport



This is definitely the big game of the weekend... I can't think of anything else going on that would detract from the spectacle.

The highlight of the drive across is a sign lashed to a lampost that says "stop giant mushroom farm domination" I can only wonder... Problems with mushrooms? Let's leave it there... 


When we get there, we mooch about Southport's back streets for a bit and I see a building that takes my breath away, all crumbling red brick and victorian splendour and then a really rusty van marooned on the drive of a rather nice house. The tires have rotted where it sits and another, equally as dilapidated car is squashed beyond it on the otherwise neat and highly middle class street. In other news, Southport seems to have more 1970s style launderettes than the 1970s itself but none of the shops sell bacon fries which the lad has a not to be satisfied craving for.


We walk up to Haigh Avenue and just as we get to the point where it would take longer to walk back to the car than carry on, the heavens open. Srsly. It rained like fuck. We try to get into a pub just beyond the ground, but it's closed. Myself and another wet person wonder why, but neither of us can fathom the reason. It all feels a bit like a metaphor. Standing in the rain, wondering why a door is closed and yet the lights are on inside. It's all gone a bit Franz Kafka all of a sudden hasn't it...?   

If this doesn't move your soul, you are actually dead inside

Haig Avenue is lovely. Its heritage as a league ground is apparent and as my personal enemies Wigan replaced them, I feel a certain sympathy for the Sandgrounders, cast out into the non league wilderness to let a Rugby League team in instead. 

Once inside, we shelter inside one of the unused turnstiles for a good 25 minutes. It's really that wet. My lad has never had the joyful fun fun fun open terrace in the rain experience before, so I consider this a major milestone in his life. A point he'll look back on with wistful nostalgia in his later years. I look at him. He seems a bit underwhelmed if I'm honest. He'll learn.

 

--- 

The first half is mostly memorable for the brilliance of a really wet corner of the pitch . It means the Mighty don't really bother attacking down the left as it's just about physical impossible. The goal does comes from that side though. CJ falls over quite spectacularly, gets up, and in the next bit of play, gets the ball back, pops it square to once headless and now ace Demi who swivels and tucks it away. 

I can't remember that many other chances. Antwi has a nice shot from distance. He looks quite strong in the flesh and spreads play well at times. He shows a lot for the ball too. Southport play quite well, most of their attacks are down their left, against Jack Moore who looks decent enough and puts a few nice balls down the line, seems happy enough to receive the ball and slides in with enthusiasm on a couple of occasions.


I was pleased to see Marvin seemed quite composed, Jerry looked like Jerry and to my relief, wasn't toting a beer belly, Grant Ward was perfectly Grant Ward-esque and so on. Other may disagree, but I like watching Thorniley. He's so determined to be a libero and yet he has the physical mannerism of a Sunday league player, all shoulders and heavy breaths. 

The new lad Reece James looked quite tidy with the ball in attacking play, but seemed a little hesitant in the challenge once or twice. To be fair, getting injured for the cause against Southport isn't really a good idea so we'll assume he's a football genius for now.. Brad Holmes looked promising, his link play was very aware on several occasions and he used his strength well to win the ball in the air. He had one effort I remember, that whistled a few yards over the top after a decent run through on goal where he held off the defenders nicely. 

---

Half time and anticipation is building in the stands... It's practically fever pitch... It's the chance we've all been waiting for... It's the first physical sighting of Ollie 'what position does he actually play?' Sarkic, a man whose playing style I would best describe as 'like a really, really, really faded photocopy of GTF.'

Critch plays in goals for the warm up of the new XI but he doesn't put much effort in if I'm honest. I bet Mikey G would have been diving all over the place if he'd been allowed to put some gloves on. Maybe he's been sent to the dressing room bogs to practice staring like Colin? 

Wor Ollie looks keen to impress, so much so that at the end of the warm up, he goes to slam the ball into the top corner of the now Critchless net, but puts it over the bar and over the terrace behind, where it skips off a kitchen extension roof and into some lucky soul's back yard. 


--- 

Second half and Pool look really good until Stewart goes off. It's almost certainly just a precaution but I think he really needs to take over the 'fragile' moniker from not so fragile any more Luke. Garbutt is really, really good at crossing. We knew this, but somehow, in the intimate surrounding of this ground, it's more apparent than ever. Keshi looks absolutely brilliant, at his mischievous best for ten minutes but is nullified a bit when we go down to ten men and therefore can't overload as much. 

Lavery has a lot of Yates about him, but he seems a bit more of a sniffer than Jerry. He's unlucky not to turn a near post cross home with a deft touch. Physically, he's a little stocky fella, but, I don't know if it's just me, whilst he doesn't play at all like him, (he's all bustling and running angles,) his posture, his build and his hair remind me of Charlie. He gets the second goal, a tidy finish from good work on the left from the player I'm predicting to be this year's marmite player, Josh Bowler. 

The ex Everton lad (that really doesn't narrow it down tbf) is all about the dribbling. He fucking loves to dribble. There's a nagging doubt in my mind that he can't do anything else and he's all one foot, but he does look good. Fans of Tom Ince and Martin Bullock will like him a lot. Others may find themselves going 'Bowler, fucking pass it, for fuck's sake!!' then turning to the person next to them and muttering 'he just doesn't pass. He doesn't pass it' as if they can't believe that he's done it again. I think I liked him. 

What of the others? I also liked Sonny. He played a lot deeper than I imagined and looked really composed. There was the odd moment where he slipped up, but he saw a lot of the ball and I thought he looked a bit Grant Ward like, which wasn't what I expected at all. His close control and use of the ball in tight situations was very good, he read play nicely for the most part and linked with others with ease. He had a driving run and a good firm shot as well. Sadly Ollie Sarkic couldn't turn the rebound home, because that's what we all came to see after all! Sarkic does ok when he comes deeper, but he still looks a bit out of place. He gifts Southport a chance on the edge of the box as he's not great in the tackle, but equally, he's very alert to the pass and play several really canny balls that others might not. I still don't really know what he is. 

The new keeper had one fumble, but otherwise looked really impressive. He was decisive and in control of himself and I think he looks a step above Fotofit and Simms for sure and if I'm honest, on the two halves, I felt much better with him than Moore. Maybe that's just bias, based on their respective career trajectories. Connolly largely escaped my notice. He seemed, as you'd expect, to be a competent footballer. As for  Casey, a lad near to me said 'he looks just like Cathcart' and once he'd said it, I found it hard to disagree. In a way, like Cathcart, he looks a bit skinny to be centre half. There's the same rangy, slightly gangly style and the same obvious bit of class.

---

The sun shone and it was lovely on the terrace in the second half. Pool were stymied a bit by going down to ten, which was a shame as the 11 were looking like they were getting into a groove. After a season like last year, which in terms of live matches, boiled down to two incredibly emotive and intense games for me, it was just nice to watch a game that didn't really matter that much, in the sunshine, with a hum of chatter around me.


It was normal and normal feels nice. There'll doubtless be the normal over excitement and the normal prophecies of doom. These players will be hyped as 'fucking amazing' and declared 'not nearly good enough' and everything in between. Ultimately, it was a run out and to be honest, it was hard to really tell much from a game where we strolled about, barely in 2nd gear. I enjoyed it.

Now for tomorrow... 

utmp


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Friday, July 9, 2021

The feel good hit of the summer?

In a nutshell

I’ve fucking loved this Euros. Well, I did until the inevitable penalty failings and the unedifying events surrounding the final. Being totally objective and forgetting the wider context, the final was a brilliantly tense game, a suitably wrought occasion that put the icing on the cake of some fantastic football in the lead up. 

It would be easy to say ‘that’s cos England did well’ but I really enjoyed the last one where Norn Iron and Wales were decent as well. I probably enjoyed the one before that and the one before that and I definitely enjoyed the one where England didn’t make it and I seem to recall enjoying the ones where they were really shite pretty much as much as the ones where it looked like they finally might not be shite for a bit until they were. 

I can’t really remember details. I’m getting older and my memories are less crisp about stuff that happened in the gap between a) my childhood and b) now. Once I believed I’d remember everything about every football match forever and ever and ever, now they turn into a blur of memories, things a decade apart mashed together into a Frankenstein’s monster of a tournament in my head. Anyhow, this one. I can still largely remember the last few weeks I think.

What I want to write about is the way, me, a football cynic, a miserablist, a joyless voice forever complaining about 'this' and 'that' and 'the other' - someone who could be accused of writing lyrical hyperbole along the lines of "football is a washed up corpse drowned in the sea of small minded corporate ambition" has found this tournament fabulous

I then want to move onto complaining a bit. Of course I do....

Remember when Owen Hargreaves popped up and everyone was like 'Who the fuck is Owen Hargreaves?' 

---

First: Sunshine. 

I approached the new format with caution, but overall, I thought it worked. Although some would argue the initial group stages lacked drama, there was enough tension in some of the final round of group games to make up for the ones where there wasn’t much at all. The format also gave everyone a chance to ease into it, for us to get to know the teams a bit before writing them off or hyping them up. I quite liked it. It was comfortably bloated, like the feeling after a one off slap up meal, rather than the horrible weight of long term obesity.

It seemed that almost every game I watched had something. The final might be between two ‘giants’ of the game (albeit one that didn’t make the last World Cup and another who hasn’t made a final in 55 years) but there were plenty of plucky underdog stories and therefore some notable bloody noses for teams amongst the favourites. You could make an argument that an ideal tournament is one where good teams get to the end, but along the way, it looks like they might not. That's kind of how this one has worked. 

Highlights included: The Swiss being surprisingly watchable and aggressive in their intent. Hungary briefly flickering back into life on the world stage after being awful for about 7 decades in a row, nearly beating Germany despite being to all intents and purposes a division 3 team with a big lump up front. The first set of quarter finals were possibly the best set of back to back games at any tournament ever. Italy captivated me from the off, by playing the opposite of Catenaccio and by playing a ‘false 3’ in a move that was so good, it’s obvious anyone who has a fast full back will now try to copy it, probably with hilarious consequences in Div 4. 

There was loads more. I haven't even mentioned Denmark and their literal Lazerus impression, both individually and collectively coming back from the brink of elimination to seemingly rude health. The fact the tournament has seemingly transcended its brush with mortality and the grubby voyeuristic fascination with which an intensely personal drama played out so grimly publicly speaks of the quality of the football.

Purists might say that this wasn’t a technically wonderful tournament and that it lacked the overall quality of other years. I say ‘get in the sea’ - it was terrific. A good game is a good game. It doesn’t matter what the statistics say about the player’s individual aptitude - It matters how well matched the teams are - matches like Italy v Belgium, France v Germany and a good number of others were absolutely spellbinding. 

Over to Peter Walton to speak weirdly formally like someone doing an answerphone message when answerphones first came out. 

I even (and it takes a lot for me to say this) didn’t mind the VAR that much as they seemed to resolve to use it to check a few things quickly and only intervene if it was a truly shocking decision. People moaning about the Sterling foul (as the most recent example) are missing the crucial point that it *was possibly* a penalty (no, really, it was) and there is no way it *definitely* wasn’t (don’t argue, you are wrong.)

In order to establish whether it was or not, we’d have had to sit through minutes of frame by frame analysis from millions of angles and come up with a decision that was still at its heart, a human decision where the possibility of an error remained. It would therefore still be subject to tedious argument and debate. VAR is far better with a simple rule - if you aren’t sure, go with the ref and make the decision quickly.

 I’d still rather be without it every minute of every day, but this version is more palatable than the OCD version we’ve had in England. It’s closer to the concept of ‘umpire’s call’ in cricket than the idea of a god in the sky spotting minor things the ref has missed. It’s truly a misunderstanding of football to believe that replaying stuff slowly allows some kind of pure objective truth to arise. It doesn’t and VAR is better for accepting its own limitations.

Whilst Sam Matterface has not been a tournament highlight, in the media in general it has been genuinely lovely listening to analysis of football that (outside of the kerfuffle about England’s conversion to the Bolshevik cause and their attempts to secretly storm the palace and install Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis as the divine Protectors of England) that have been about football and football alone. 

I for one welcome our new overlords. 

That sounds daft when Football is a 24/7 media storm, but when we’re talking about domestic football, we’re so often really talking about the financial implications of promotion or relegation, a contract saga, the inner politics of the boardroom at a particular club, a takeover, a sponsorship deal and so on and so forth. With international football, the most important factor is, there’s no significant financial consequences for failure. Take Scotland - going out in the first round or making the final doesn’t really materially impact on their ability to qualify for the next world cup. They don’t get some huge prize, they can’t buy more Scottish players. They can’t bankrupt themselves in an attempt to ‘stay up’ in the world rankings. All they can do is do the best with what they have.

The stakes and rules are pretty much the same for England. It’s only our own perceptions of where the two nations should be and realistically appraising the pool of available footballers that separates the fact that England going out at the same stage as Scotland would be a disaster, whilst for the Scots, it’s a marked improvement on recent history. Belgium’s defeat was a sad one - not because Lukaku will now leave for Italy and De Bruyne go and play for Holland instead but because their squad was a freakish glitch of talent in one generation and age is inexorably catching up on them as a collective. There is no option to cash in on these player, no ability to sweep the globe for the next crop. If they ain’t Belgian, they ain’t playing and that’s the beauty of it.

I'm not saying there isn't wealth involved, England's Premier League money has paid for an incredible array of facilities and programmes, but ultimately, the consequences of victory and defeat are both tangible but amorphous. They’re pride, glory, disgrace, shame, joy, disappointment, frustration, relief, ecstasy, agony and so on. Not £250,000,000.

Have we as supporters and onlookers missed that money? Has its absence detracted from the narrative? Did you think ‘Ah, well, there’s no money riding on this?’ when England had a shaky spell against Denmark? Did you think ‘I don’t know why their so pleased, it’s not like there’s much TV money at stake’ when the Swiss put the French out?

I certainly didn’t.

Cheers Gazprom. 

It would be, of course naive to suggest the whole tournament isn’t a money spinner, dominated by corporate interests and staged to maximise revenue. It is. However, unlike domestic football played across Europe, the actual shape of the tournament has remained beautifully simple. Everyone plays the same number of games. For North Macedonia to win, they need to overcome the same hurdles as Italy.

They play the same number of qualifying games, they play potentially the same number of matches in the finals. They get equal coverage in terms of the number of matches televised. There’s a certain symmetry in that when it’s finished, everyone goes back to square one and has to qualify for the next one (hosts aside) on an equal footing. Despite growing exponentially in size over time, the basic shape and concept remains unaltered. Ok, the calculations of the ‘best 3rd place team’ is a bit tricky, but compared to the domestic European competitions, it is blissfully simple.

I loved it. 

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Now for the clouds. 

The Champions League by comparison doesn’t captivate me at all. Having been glued to this tournament, I wondered why I don’t seem able to rouse myself to watch it's domestic equivalent. It *should* be something that I love. I like seeing exotic teams, new players, different grounds, unfamiliar kits and yet, I can barely find the interest to check the scores online. I think it’s because of the painfully convoluted structures and the way they preclude the sort of drama this tournament generated.

Why do I think this?

A: Excuse me? 
Official: Yes? 
A: Why do I have to run further? 
Offical: Because he's Spanish and you're from Albania. That's the purity of competition for you. 

Firstly, we see a host of qualifying games taking place which gets rid of half the field. This seems strange, given the field have all qualified by achieving a position in their domestic league. It’s not like they can just move to another league in order to avoid the pre qualifying. It’s akin to asking a nation to play an extra tournament to demonstrate they’ve the right to be a nation. It’s not akin to the qualifying for an international tournament, because the domestic season plays that purpose. The pre qualifying teams have often WON their league, where as those who enter later often haven't. Is anyone confused yet? The champions of Albania don't qualify, but the 4th place team in Spain do. Is that clearer? 

So why are these teams, with less resources, playing more games? I really enjoyed watching the ‘smaller nations’ take on the bigger ones. I was one of the few that actively enjoyed the knife edge of Scotland vs England for example. The Champions League seems hellbent on avoiding Shelbourne vs Liverpool or Bohemians vs AC Milan at all costs. Ok, Liverpool and Milan will win 9999 times out of 10000 but the one time they don’t will be glorious and written in football history forever.

The argument would probably come down to 'playing too many games', but we can soon put pay to that. After we’ve got through the ‘sorry, you’re not from a rich enough country you’ll have to qualify again stage', we get to the ‘now we’re going to have a needlessly long league stage stage’ where any chance of a shock is ruled out by the fact that if, by some miracle, Shelbourne have qualified, they then have to play 8 games against the bigger teams, home and away, to ensure that even if they win one, it won’t have any real consequences.

Not only are the bigger clubs bigger, richer, fitter, we need to remember, they’re also kept in cotton wool, not playing any games in the tournament until this point, so their advantage is compounded.

Less games, more resources FC vs Less resources and more games FC (*8)

This might come across as moaning, but I’d invite you to imagine if we’d all watched the opening round, enjoyed it greatly and then say, Switzerland had had to play a France team that hadn’t featured in the group stages at all, receiving a bye to round 2. The narrative around the tournament would be so much less compelling. The simple beauty of it: 26 players, X number of games, everyone with the same demands, same potential for injuries, fatigue etc. It just doesn’t apply in the Champions League. We’d surely feel that France had an unfair advantage.

 The ‘we can’t let the little teams play, because there’s too many games’ argument also fails to hold water when you look at the qualifying rules. The ‘elite’ countries get more clubs into the competition than others. Some countries get 4 teams automatically into the group stages, others get 1 team into the pre qualifiers.

Now, ok, we might want to see ‘quality football’ played by good teams, who doesn't?... but just consider this thought experiment… (I’m assuming you’ve a) enjoyed this tournament and b) have enough imagination to follow a simple alternative reality…)


What if nations were allowed to enter their B, C and even D teams on the basis of their previous performance? A reward, if you like, for their success in past years? Would that have improved this tournament? You could make a strong argument that Germany or Spain B, C or even D would be ‘better at football’ than say North Macedonia, Scotland or Hungary.

It stacks up mathematically, the bigger nations with larger populations and bigger diasporas to draw upon can logically provide 3 or 4 teams worth of players better than the standard of the smallest ones. Why don’t we do that? Stop bothering with borderline developed nations from Eastern Europe and messing about with teams like Scotland and Wales and raise the standards? Who wouldn’t want to watch Spain B? They’d be better on the eye than some lump with a razor blade in his sock up front for a post communist country trying to wrestle the ball in the goal…

That is, in my opinion, a reasonable, if blunt and reductive summary of the ideology behind the Champions League.

We have lots of teams who aren’t ‘the champions’ playing lots of games against other teams who also aren’t ‘the champions’ whilst teams who are ‘the champions’ are culled so those teams that aren’t ‘the champions’ don’t have to play against the teams who are ‘the champions’ As a result, the tournament lacks a genuine integrity or a compelling simple journey.

The "finished in the top 4 of certain leagues vs the champions of other leagues league final" (On BT Sport)

It might be ‘quality football’ but it is contrived football. It’s a construct. It is theatre in which I can’t suspend my disbelief because the stage hands of UEFA are trying to act as if they're invisible but they keep taking my attention from the football because their handling of the scene changes is so obviously visible and clumsy. To this extent, I preferred the ESL - at least the stagehands were up front about it and I knew exactly what to expect. If it's a construct, be honest and I'll watch it as such. 

As we’ve mentioned before, in the last few weeks, Holland, Belgium and France were eliminated and go back to square one. Just like everyone else. For say, Chelsea or Inter Milan, for Real Madrid or PSG, elimination often happens at a point where they’ve almost certainly qualified for the next tournament - because the barrier of finishing in the top 4 of the domestic league is so low in comparison to the resources of the clubs. There's almost always a 'next year' and almost always a path straight to the latter stages.

If England lose, it will be crushing because we might need to wait another 55 years for the same chance. That's what makes the game so big. It's a distinct possibility we may not even make it out of the group next time or heaven forbid, not even qualify. Can you say that for 6,7,8,9,10 or even more clubs in domestic European football? I honestly don't think you can. Only by making it a competition for Champions alone could you raise the stakes and bring a similar meaning to the possibility of defeat. 

The last time I really followed an English club in Europe was when Leicester got through and before that, it was probably the crushing failure of Everton in 2005 - why? Because there was a genuine excitement as neither club were likely to get there again as a matter of course the season after. Scarcity brings value. It’s a simple economic fact.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Belgium play Italy and I almost certainly will never see a high stakes game between the two featuring Chiellini and Vermaelen (and probably some others for whom age is catching up with them) - to me, that’s a good thing. It makes that game a must watch. Something unique. It’s not going to happen again for at least 2 years, if not many more and those particular teams will be different next time around. 

What I find turgid about the Champions League is it feels more or less the same tournament played out over and over and over. It doesn’t value scarcity at all. It’s about packing as many of these games in, as often as possible and to do so, it takes the simple beauty of cup/tournament football and warps it into a bizarre shape.

Essentially, this piece is to say ‘well done’ to Uefa for not fucking up the Euros. By doing so, I’m also saying ‘see, look at what you can do’ and inviting them to apply the same standards that have made this a terrific tournament (watched by record breaking TV audiences) to their domestic tournaments.

This may not be what the global mega brand clubs want, but if UEFA really wanted to grow the status of the game culturally and economically in places like Ireland, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and so on, it would remove the absurd and unsporting concept that (rich in football terms) countries like England and Italy get more teams in the European Cup than (poor in football) countries like Poland or Romania AND THEN get rewarded by their coefficient improving because obviously, they are more likely to achieve success, being richer and having more chances of success.

Countries a) for whom the latter stages of the Champions League are an automatic reality, season after season and b) are likely to win it. (Porto and Ajax aside)  

This really has felt like a festival of football from across the continent. The Champions League really doesn’t.

The fact we can remember teams like the Czech Republic, Greece and Denmark reaching finals, even winning the trophy and we've seen the potential for similar feats this time round tells us everything. Look at recent semis and you see Turkey, Wales, Russia, Sweden... Can UEFA honestly say they can see Brondby or AEK, Besiktas, Spartak Moscow, Connah's Quay or Sparta Prague lasting long in the Champions League? Getting to a final or a semi final? It seems less likely by the year that anyone other than the big five will win, or even get anywhere close. Doesn't that tell us something about the competition?

Why is international football more exciting? Why can giants be slain in competition A) but habitually stamp all over their puny foes in competition B)? It's got to be about structures and the way those structures shore up the status of the teams that win financially, so thereby repeating the cycle ad infinitum.

I genuinely can't understand why UEFA seem to be making the Champions League even more convoluted and even more skewed in favour of certain teams when they also seem capable of producing a belting tournament of classic simplicity. It seems to me, incredibly simple to produce something similar from domestic football but the exact opposite seems to be the plan. 

EURO 2020 felt like a competition where possibilities were alive. The Champions League feels like a trudge of fixtures staged in the most interminably boggy manner in order to produce a largely predictable outcome.

It’s up to you UEFA.

You can give us a football competition based on simple, elegant rules, open to all in Europe on an equal basis, or you can take the money and continue your closed shop complexity and illustrate that you value five or six countries above all others because of the value of their brands. 

We know you can do both. So no excuses. 

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I don't usually ask for shares, cos it's usually about Blackpool (and therefore not that exciting for the rest of the world (who don't know what they're missing out on as TANGERINE LIFE IS LIFE tbh)) - but I really wouldn't mind a share if you've got a place to share it cos it's pretty fucking hard to get anything read on topics like this amidst all the memes and noise and endless 'banter' and the point of writing stuff is for people to read it. 

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Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...