Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Why shit players are great! A love letter to the hapless, hopeless and not quite good enough.

I just want to say... 

At my club, we're currently getting rid of 'deadwood' and cleansing our squad of players we no longer need. Good riddance. Shut the door on your way out. Thanks for nothing. Etc. 

The precise identities of these particular players doesn't matter. Lets not name names. Let's not be nasty for the sake of it. Life is short and whilst my particular nan didn't say 'if you've nothing nice to say then don't say anything at all' it's a maxim that people might want to reflect on sometimes in the world where being right or wrong matters less than fashioning a facsimile of a character from some shallow but strident opinions. 

Anyway, this isn't about my club - It doesn't matter who you support - you'll know the sort of player I mean. They came, you probably didn't see them very often and they certainly didn't conquer. The misfits, the misfiring, the misfortunate. Sometimes frustrating due to a lack of commitment, occasionally both talented and tormented, but more often than not, simply not quite good enough.

There's a tendency in football, especially in what we very vaguely term 'modern football', to get really angry about anyone who doesn't live up to a particular standard. A pundit shaking their head and saying 'they've got to do better there Alan...' is just the polite tip of an iceberg made of tweets and forum posts echoing and amplifying blame. "Not good enough" "Dogshit" "Get out of our club" "worst player in history" and so on. If you could harness the energy of the streams of vitriol unleashed by a fractional misstep by a defender, a slip at the wrong time by a forward or a goalkeeper who gets his angles wrong by half a degree, then you'd probably reduce the world's reliance on fossil fuels by a good amount. 

Football is really hard. It's the most popular sport in the world. It's the best sport in the world. It's totally accessible to literally billions of people and many millions of those fancy themselves as potentially half decent footballers. Any player who even gets close to being pulled to bits on twitter is something a bit special really. Any player who manages to get through all the age group football and to the end of their youth deal and then walk away a footballer has done thousands of things right up to the point of their mauling. 

I squandered my youth on trying to look windswept and interesting to girls that probably just found me weird whilst mostly drinking cheap white cider and occasionally livening it up by consuming shit drugs. I toyed with a few ideas of doing summat with my life and then just got swept into the great wave of mediocrity with everyone else because I wasn't brave or strong enough to actually let myself commit to being good at anything.Maybe because I wasn't actually any good at anything. Who gives a fuck, lets get smashed again etc. 

The drink of also rans

The players we wave goodbye and shout good riddance too, whether in January or June, whether after being hauled off with catcalls in their ears for the last time or just banished unceremoniously to the stiffs, leaving just a ghostly name and number on the squad list did not live their lives like this. They didn't drift into the mundane world of the everyday. 

They faced up to what people must have told them, were impossible odds. They survived in environments that make the competition of the stock market look tame, prospered as hundreds and thousands of kids tried to convince coaches they had what it took at trials and u10s, u11s, u12s, u13s (and so on) games. They made the step up and the next step up and the step up after that. They kept going, kept climbing no matter that the path kept getting narrower and steeper. 

And yet... these players are, in the modern parlance, 'losers' - worthy of scorn and derision. They scrambled up Everest but struggled for breath on the final ascent. They headed for Mars but only made the moon. In any respect, they're remarkable. It's 2022 though. The world is for winners and we only want people with the winning mentality to win, win and win some more. We are the champions, no time for losers and so on. 

I never liked Queen much. Overblown shite in my view. Each to their own. I hate that line though. I'm not advocating for a group hug before every match and for all games to be a draw and at the end of the season everyone gathers in Wembley and lifts one big cup because 'we're all winners!' as palpably, we're not, but it's a simple statement of fact that every winner requires a loser. 

It's also true that the more we respect the people we beat, the more we value our own achievements. Tyson Fury might call his opponents 'bum dossers' in the pantomime run up to a bout but after the fight, he's always a complete gentleman and respects the efforts and abilities of the person he's just floored. Fury knows that had he actually fought a bum dosser, then his victories wouldn't be the remarkable feats of pugilistic skill that they are but just the pointless assault of a violent bully on a weaker human. 

One of the things I always liked about Peter Reid is despite the fact he was ridiculously fit, he had the vibe of a player with a couple of L+B tucked into his sock turnover. More of that sort of thing please. 

Players find their level all the time. Take one of the most famous moments of football. Maradona skipping through England's midfield and defence and sliding the ball home. Amongst the players left sprawling on the turf looking baffled were Peter Shilton and Peter Reid. Taken out of context, we could conclude that Diego is a winning name and Peter is a name reserved for only the most pathetic of losers. Watch the clip - everyone looks utter shite except for the little cheaty genius. Perhaps they are all just completely hopeless? Look at the context though. Peter Reid is probably one of Everton's all time first XI and Everton are probably one of football's top 50 all time clubs globally. Peter Shilton is almost certainly in the top ten or twenty keepers ever, anywhere. Brian Clough no less, declared him his best ever, ever, ever signing. These aren't hapless players with no place on the world stage. 

The point is, these players found a level that they couldn't compete with. It was a particular moment at the very top level going and good as they were, excellent as they were, in that game, they were left wanting, even though they were, by any measure, really, really good at football. Reid won the league twice, plus FA Cups and European honours. Shilton has not one but two European Cup winners medals and played for England across three decades. Yet, Maradona made them look, essentially, shite. 

The line is so thin. I'm assuming none of you reading this are professional footballers (if you are, hi and you might want to imagine you aren't to make the next bit work.) I want to do a little thought experiment. Let's imagine that you or I were to turn up at training one day. We're kicking a ball about and doing stretches and stuff, copying what we see on the pitch every week. We go into a little 5 a side and it's almost certainly true to say that we wouldn't even get close to our teams absolute worst player. 

We'd be so bad at football, that essentially, even the kid who the manager misjudged and misguidedly gave a pro contract to, who has gone of the rails a bit, who everyone knows isn't going to get another contract when his deal runs out and who will likely spend the next 4 or 5 years scraping round for short term deals and having failed spells at ever more obscure clubs until he finally gives up the game and trains to be an estate agent or a plasterer or whatever would be effectively Maradona in comparison to us. And he's a only a right back. 

The gap between us and them is so vast that we'd not really notice much difference between him and Diego. The gap between footballers is much, much thinner but it's writ so large in the pressure of a game, under the microscope of our attention that it looks massive. 

The players who aren't quite good enough, make the players who are special. They're a permanent fixture. They're always there and always will be. Whatever the level is, there'll always be someone who doesn't quite make it. Goals come from chaos but somewhere along the line, someone has to put a foot wrong for the events to begin to unwind. If all players were perfect then we'd just see an endless stalemate played out. A terrible, never ending cold war of sterile tactical clinical perfection. Stalemate. 

If he'd tracked that run, if he'd seen that pass, if he'd put his head there, if he'd kept his head, if he'd have stayed on his line, if he'd got his head up... Dogshit. Spineless. Headless. Brainless. Pathetic. Gutless. Stupid. Rash. Terrible first touch. No awareness. Naive. Not Fit. To Wear. The Shirt. 


Yet, without the human flaws, the game would just be detente. It would be nothing. No one is interested in Manchester City. I sometimes think Manchester City fans aren't even that interested in Manchester City because they're just kind of flawless. 22 perfect players in a perfect system that more or less eliminates mistakes. They're a silent boa constrictor of a team, gliding perfectly across the pitch and squeezing the life out of the game. 

I'd honestly rather watch a park game full of howlers that swung back and forth than watch City dispatch another midrank side 5 or 6-0 or brush aside someone around them 2-0. Mistakes and errors don't ruin football, they make it. If there aren't any, then the logical extension of that is, the side that kicks off never loses the ball. Repeat at half time. That would be shit. It wouldn't be football. For Manchester City, so pure is the vision of perfection, that 'having a shot' if the XG is not in your favour is now a grievous error, punishable by Pep getting a right cob on and looking like a man who instead of only winning 2-1 against Norwich, is someone actually has some problems. If the City machine doesn't purr mercilessly, Pep gives off the vibes of a lad who's just been made redundant in the morning, in the afternoon discovered his car has failed the MOT, and in the evening that his house roof is leaking into his kids bedroom and that he's forgotten to renew the house insurance. That's not fun. It's not what football is. You win, you lose. Get over it Pep. Miserable twat. 

Dear Pep. Not everyone has the assets of a questionable state behind them and the opportunity to live out their life long dream of stifling football to death through relentlessly not giving the ball away till the other team fall asleep and all the fans have gone home. Some people just want the game to be fun and that. Cheer up la. Love, MCLF x 

Let's move on. Pep sulking is making me rage. Think instead of the magic of the player who is shit, and yet somehow, rises above it. It might be the one time they do that. That one goal off the bench, that one time they summoned every bit of will and played above themselves. It might be a treasured memory of a single high point or it might be that they make a career of it, of simply trying harder and using every single ounce of what they have. Where some players have a range of skills that come easily, these players get by on mastering one or two things and just doing them harder and more intensely than anyone else.  

They're often the players who get the most love, who forge the strongest bond with fans. They're the player who we can see ourselves in. We, who were never big enough or quick enough but maybe could see a pass or make a tackle (but perhaps not both) can't ever really identify with Messi or Ronaldo or Man City. We can gawp in amazement, we can acknowledge their skill, but can we ever really feel what it must be like to just cruise through your career, never really hitting your level? Only age can ever bring the true greats down and for the rest of us, that's just alien. 

Seeing a player who has clearly hit their ceiling but decided to punch through it is always gratifying. They don't always play well. They sometimes get shown up. Yet, there they are. Doing it. Surviving. Achieving, despite of their baseline ability and not because of it. I don't understand people who only worship talent or only worship 'the best, the winners, the cream of the crop' because I can't identify with that at all. I go through life on a wing and a prayer, never quite convinced of my own worth or ability. I don't find stuff always comes easy to me and sometimes just to get through a day of work (or life) feels like walking through treacle. I have to try. Most of us do. 

I love a player who dazzles of course, but I also love a gritty player who has to grit their teeth and roll their sleeves up and try that bit harder than everyone else as well. I love that sometimes the talented player gets brought to their knees by the less talented one. I love that sometimes, effort prevails over skill. I love that football is played in different ways and that not all of them rely on having the 11 most technically gifted players to be successful. I love the relentless nature of the game that makes mistakes inevitable and means that no player cruise and I love, how yet, you occasionally find a player who is so good, they can. Football is the best game because it isn't uniform. All tennis players seem basically the same to me. Variations on the same model. Footballers less so. 

It's a beautifully perverse thing about football, that despite the sponsor festooned official media outlets telling us we love watching 'the best league in the world' and celebrating 'the outrageous skill' on offer and pundits adopting solemn tones about gaffes and poor showings as if speaking about a defensive mistake or missed chance is a kind of unfortunate and socially awkward diagnosis of illness, we as fans, actually recall the worst mistakes and the most out of depth players pretty fondly. 

I would be willing to bet that in the case of my club, the names 'Scott Darton, Saer Sene, Neil Whitworth and Chris Malkin' are spoken far more regularly on the internet than the name 'Ian Hughes' 

You might not know these players but it's suffice to say, the first four weren't very good, (and one of them possibly didn't actually even exist,) whilst the latter was a pretty long serving, eminently competent and quite successful leader for us. The first set of players won nothing, Ian Hughes won things. It's not that Hughes isn't remembered, it's just he's not mentioned as much as the other lot despite being better than all of them combined. I'm sure you can think of your own examples. 

The names of the hapless and hopeless ring louder through time than those of some decent players. Why? I don't know, but perhaps it's because football isn't just about a relentless search for perfection and grinding the opposition down week after week after week. Perhaps it's because that's really, actually, a bit boring.

I can't remember all that much from the 1993-94 season but I can remember Neil Whitworth spinning round not knowing where the ball is whilst everyone shouted at him and he looked absolutely lost. It was funny. The ball was in the air for ages. Whitworth had no idea. Someone headed it up again, Whitworth still had no idea so just staggered around in a circle and jumped fully 5 or 10 yards from where the ball was. He went off at half time. Humour is cruel, it's just tragedy happening to someone else. It's absurdity and in that moment, Whitworth looked so bad, his experience looked so nightmarish that the only thing to do was laugh. 

He went on to do fine, to have a career and find his level. I'm not laughing at Whitworth by the way. I'm laughing at the way, in many ways, we're all Neil Whitworth, searching frantically to find a football that we've lost track of. Jumping hopelessly to head a ball that isn't there. We're not Ronaldo, gliding away and scoring week after week and living a life of relentlessly managed glossy perfection. We're actually struggling in the mud sometimes, missing our challenges or fluffing an open goal. Standing hands on hips, waiting for the goal kick, in the calm at the centre of the storm thinking 'how the fuck did I get here and how do I cope with what comes next?' 

That's ok. We take a deep breath, we go again. We get stuck in and jump for the ball. This time, it might land for us. This time it might break. We don't give up. We keep going. We find our level. Today we might get hauled off, head bowed, breathing hard but next week, we might score a hat trick. Next week, we might be Diego and someone else might be trailing in our wake. 

Football is the ups and the downs, it's the winner and it's the loser. It's a beautiful game. It's perspective. It's joy and it's tragedy. We should appreciate it all because if we don't, it's only going to make us angry, frustrated and bored. 

Plus Ronaldo is weird as fuck. To say the least. We'll leave that there. Give me Dodgy Darton (hapless ex Blackpool left back Scott Darton) any day. 

The line is thin... Ok, it's not that thin. But who would you rather have a pint with? 

Whilst we're at it, City are boring. They're conservative, cautious, they're scared to give the other team a go. Give me some fight and end to end football played by people who aren't robotically perfect. Give me a great goal by an otherwise awful player that serves as a moment that reminds us that life is never quite as predictable as we think. Give me that over yet another relentlessly predictable finish from the same player yet again. 

We all want better players, we all want to win, but no matter what level we get to, no matter how much money is spent, no matter if every single club in every league spends billions and billions and billions guided by the perfect transfer policy and the most powerful data science and scouting someone has to not quite be good enough for it to all work. Someone has to lose. Someone has to, by, whatever measure we choose, be 'shit' 


(back to match blogs next week. What a fucking performance and RIP to Paul the Fulham fan) 

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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Job done: the Mighty vs Millwall

I've got a theory about Millwall (correctly pronounced Miwlwawwl). I reckon that actually, they'd be happier in the shitty north with the rest of us, getting not levelled up and having no ambition or whatever it is that makes us not worthy of things like transport and street cleaning. Millwall feels like an anomaly of a club, an enclave of grim, grimey un-fashionability amidst the glass towers and radioactive investment banking fall out that has made much of the capital unlivable in unless you have the mutant Russian oligarch or psychopathic entitlement gene. 

Thus, in my plan for the future, I would propose moving Millwall (Miwlwawwl) somewhere near Doncaster, or perhaps, better still, give the club to Warrington which is a place that feels as if should have football club with a bit of reputation and yet doesn't. You might think that's daft and will imbalance the universe as well as leaving a big hole in Sarf London but I'm going to be exchanging it for Alderley Edge or some other sort of nightmarishly successful place that doesn't really fit into the North.

Everyone would feel far more at home. The Alderley Edgers could swap tips on granite kitchen worktops and lifestyle enemas with their fellow rarified types in South (formally Saaaarf) London. Meanwhile the last 132 remaining working class people in London (who all support Millwall) could just crack on in a normal place that is a bit like Millwall used to be. I bet there's eels in the Mersey or the Ship canal as well. 

If anyone from the government planning department is reading, you can contact me in the comments section. That's just the tip of the genius iceberg - I'm willing to offer further ideas for a hefty day rate. 

Talking of ideas, I'm slightly concerned the team might have a lack of them without the Lord of Finesse and King of the Unlikely and Unexpected. Yes, Josh Bowler can belt it down the wing but what will anyone else do? What if Josh is thinking of Nottingham and has one of those games where it's like his shoelaces are tied together? Will we be able to get across the halfway line? 

The team is what it is. Connelly plays in central midfield even though Critch hit Ethan up on Facetime  and told him to come home. When Ethan asked him excitedly if it meant he could play in the Championship now, Critch obviously mumbled something Ethan didn't quite hear and looked a bit shifty then pretended he had a connection issue... I'm imagining Ethan on the train up to Blackpool on the phone saying "Yeah, I get to play in Division 2 mam! That's like, nearly the Premier League! Can I tell Dad now?" - Poor ol' Ethan... CJ is playing again and whilst Dougall and Bowler are decent enough, I uncharitably think the midfield looks all a bit '8th place in league 1.'


The opening stages are best described as 'cagey' which is a word that people who do match reports for more august journals than this one use to avoild saying 'shite'. I notice that Gary has a beard, or more of a beard than normal. I think he's normally got a bit of stubble but there's definitely more body to his facial hair. A dreadful clearance from Dujon Sterling, all wrong angles and rushing is all that really interrupts me thinking about whether this development means Madine is turning hipster. On balance, I'd be surprised if wor Gaz was into drinking Eritrean single source coffee out of recycled paper cups in a shipping crate cafe decorated with vintage film posters, but then again, pistachios have a certain cachet to them and his mam is a big Pink Floyd fan, so you never know.

Keogh step outs of defence beautifully, shrugs off a few challenges and plays a great ball to Bowler. We indulge in a lot of passing and finally Dougall has a shot charged down. That was a bit better but when the centre half has been the best attacking player, you know the game isn't that lively. Another bad clearance from Sterling. He looks like he needs to practice kicking a ball, which is a bit worrying for a player on the books of an elite football club.

Garbutt trots forward and lofts a delightful pass to put CJ in, he's not messing about, cutting inside then pulling pull back. Madine hovers but it's Bowler who hits it, he hits it hard, it takes a deflection and their keeper, who has a very long name makes a very good save. We float the resulting corner over the top of everyone. Millwall break. Keogh is racing back which is never the one on one you really want. The ball comes in and CJ has done very well to get back. It's a corner to them.

We wait for an age. The North stand and a Millwall player exchange some views. Perhaps they're chatting about tram timetables or what's on telly tonight. Finally it's in and this time it's Pool who break, Lavery racing forward and finding Bowler, who drifts between two and shoots just as he's challenged, the ball ballooning over the top. We have 2 more corners. We're doing ok here.

Then we nearly aren't as Connelly has a really lax touch and it takes a tremendous last ditch tackle from Dujon Sterling to save his blushes. Kenny 'please stop hoping he'll turn out to be a creative midfielder' Dougall stuns a nice pass though the middle, Lavery bursts on to it, goes wide into space, belts into the box and cracks a low hard shot from a tight angle that's well parried.

Millwall make a great double mistake, a loose touch is chased down by their left back who controls it before it goes out of play but then with his second touch just toe pokes it over the line. We had a little flurry of excitement before, but it's died down a bit again. The linesman keeps giving fouls for no clear reason. Bowler robs possession and feeds Dujon. The flags waves in outrage. Shayne turns his man and sprints away. Again a huffy flourish with the flag. Perhaps he's pissed off he's on the line and is making a point about how great he'd be with a whistle?

Tricky Dickie Keogh is playing really well, he makes a great challenge to deny Millwall a break. Garbutt makes a really ropey one shortly after to earn a yellow card an give them a free kick. They load the box. The ball in is loopy, it's flicked on, it falls for one of their forwards who takes it on the turn and fortunately lashes it wide.

There's a really awful 4 or 5 minute spell before half time. Mistakes abound, Connelly is lucky to get away with an unspotted handball. It dawns on me that Madine appears to be playing off Shayne. Lofting it to the little lad to flick on for the slow lad to run onto is unconventional even by Critch's creative standards.


It's not that we've been that bad, it's just that we seem to be in second gear. Millwall look as if they're delighted to sit back and do very little and try and pounce on the break and we're sort of pawing at them unconvincingly instead of going for the throat. I'm going to whisper this as it runs against everything I've built here but...

Gary Madine hasn't had a very good first half

I'm not entirely sure what I'd do were I Critch, but it doesn't matter as Critch will obviously send the same team out as he always does. --- Wait, bless my hat! what the fuck?! Critch has made three subs! Not really. Obvs. Lol. As if. Mad Banter. Etc.

We're loads better though. Bowler goes on a mad run. Mad run is not doing it justice. It's demented. It's the kind of run that should be committed to an institution. It's absolutely fucking brilliant. It ends with Lavery having an effort deflected.

A corner swings in, It reaches Lavery who nods it down at the near post, he connects well, the goal gapes, the ball bounces and spins up, past the post. We're getting closer.

CJ is looking pretty good. A bit of confidence in him, some purpose, some decision making. He's looked dithery, panicky, he's snatched at thing this year, but the gliding upright sprinter is back as he surges down the left, knocks a good low ball across, Lavery dummies, Gaz pulls a toe poked snap shot out from under his feet, a funny little flicked stub of a finish that is going to be a goal until a Millwall player defies physics by getting a desperate touch that sends it just wide. Gary goal denied.

CJ does well again, fiddling it out from a tight spot and knocking it to Madine. If CJ does well, then wor Gaz does magic. The ball is hit to him quite hard, so he flicks it up, then brings it down with his right foot, and with his left, caresses a dream of a ball into the exact space CJ has hared into. There's no time to appreciate Gary's nonchalant magical, keepy uppy, one foot to the other feather soft touch of genius though... as the sprinter is sprinting, the sprinter is shooting, the keeper is saving but the ball is breaking for Lavery who turns and cracks it home into the bottom corner. YESSSSSSSSS!

Lavery has deserved that. We've deserved that. They make a load of subs. We just carry on. Bowler pulls a run out of the bag that is as near as I've ever seen to a football comic on a real pitch. He leaps over tackles, he changes direction, he sways and shimmies and he just keeps beating people. You can practically see it in frames with speech bubbles like 'Yikes!' and 'aaaargh' coming out of the defenders mouths.

Garbutt goes down. Fragile Luke once got injured taking a throw in. No, really, he did. He then had a period of being not as fragile as he used to be, but he seems to be fragile again. Which is sad. It's also sad that we've not got any left backs now, even though we've got millions in the squad, so Gabriel comes on and Sterling trots across to the left.

Slowly, the Millwall pressure builds. We look a bit like we've got got caught in the mud. Legs look heavier. WE stop making quick decisions and we start dithering and slicing clearances. They put a horrifying ball across the box, but somehow their forwards run past it or round it. They scoop it back from the other side and one of their many big, square muscly lads hits an absolute piledriver that looks like it might go in before one of our players risks life and limb by blocking the cannonball effort.

Mysteriously, a low flying, swirling mob of seagulls churn in the air, below the level of the stand roofs. There's a lot of them. The dusk is falling. The gloom, the birds, the tension. It all feels a bit threatening. They go down the left. It's a decent move but it's made to look all the better because no one one wants to tackle them. Even Jerry (on for Lavery) shouts at the defence to get a foot in but no one does. It's stomach churning watching everyone stand off and their lad come inside and take aim and then fire convincingly towards the corner of the net. There's the now obligatory brilliant Dan Grimshaw save though. Low, full stretch and getting a full palm on a ball that was swerving away from him. Outstanding. Again.

They break. Two players race back. One is a defender, one is Bowler. Weirdly, the defender lets Bowler track the winger into the corner. Even more weirdly, Bowler makes an awesome sliding tackle, putting player and ball over the touchline, then gets up as if he does this all the time. Yes. You read that correctly. I know! I'm as surprised as you are. He was superb today. He can't leave.

Keogh dives and heads. He sweats and points. He's been magnificent. A little island of calm in an increasingly panicky Pool backline. Pool are hacking it clear. Connelly several times could slow it down as he's in space and the ball is coming to him in a way that should be easy to handle but he just belts it away and gives it them back. Breathe! Have a look Callum! If Callum is fretful Grimshaw is calm, claiming it above his head. Getting his whole body behind it on the line. He does only what he needs to do. He's so unfussy, so simple in his technique. He really is a keeper.

Sterling is manfully doing a job at left back. He really does like defending. He's got their air of a veteran sometimes. The heavy shouldered trudge of a much older player after a tackle as he sets himself for the throw. CJ is dead on his feet. He's doing his best, but he can barely run any more. Owen Dale comes on. Dale isn't exactly a game killing type player. Come on Pool! Hold on! Millwall loft it it again. Grimshaw and Gabriel form a kind of double body human shield, throwing themselves out in front of the Millwall player as the ball drops at the far post. We survive.

The whistle blows. YES!

It's not been vintage, but who gives a fuck? It was a good, gritty win and what pleased me most was that we turned it on in the second half and recognised the game was there for the taking and went and took it. 

There were some superb performances, even though, overall, it wasn't a superb performance. It was enough though. Bowler and Keogh played as well as they ever have in a Pool shirt and whilst I was baffled to see Sterling start, he did very well after a dodgy opening spell. We all know what our shortcomings are but we also know that there's some teams we can beat in this league, even without the creative or dominant midfielder we need. 

It was also really good to see CJ play well and do so on the left where previously, he's looked a bit ropey. He's no Keshi, but he was direct, he worked incredibly hard and he put some decent balls in. This CJ looked as if he has a place in the squad, which is probably the first time we've seen him look like that since he got injured about a year ago. Last year, we kept losing players and people kept taking their chances, CJ took his today. 

We struggled with Connelly and Dougall both wanting to do the same job and we did invite pressure at the end (when do we not?) but fuck it. We won. We deserved it. The North Stand serenaded Millwall with 'You're fucking shit' on the way out. It's the simple pleasures that make life worth living. We scored a goal and conceded none and we had some shots and everything and we didn't implode in on ourselves without Keshi. We've got the creative player we need anyway. You don't need a no 10 when you've got a no 14... 

Fulham? Who the fuck are they? We'll batter em! If they get 7, we'll get 8. 


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Monday, January 10, 2022

Finesse required: apply within

It hurts just to look at pictures of him. 

I didn't go to Hartlepool this weekend. I am but a mere part timer. Burn my shirt, for I do not deserve it.  Someone else can do the match blog. It's a team effort lads. It probably doesn't need to say much more than "shite". Talking of shite, here's a random collection of thoughts. 

Firstly, whilst I'm not going to do a proper blog on it, I did watch the game, whilst doing some much needed stuff I'd neglected to go to football matches. Things like attacking a sofa with a saw and wiring in a new oven. I've never felt so fucking manly. It was an electric saw too. Sofa murder. Cut the fucker up and put it all in bin bags and dumped it at the tip. Here's a thought: If you dumped a body in bin bags in the unrecyclable goods skip at the tip, would anyone check? Sometimes the best hiding places are the most obvious. Answers on a postcard. 

The one thing I do want to discuss about the match itself is the horrifying moment when I realised Keshi Anderson was properly injured. It was like the moment when you realise that your much loved partner who seemed such a steady and reliable part of your life was actually having the 'it's not you it's me' conversation and then telling you 'I'm sorry, but I think it's best we spend some time away from each other' - just minutes earlier, everything seemed fine, and now they're walking away. Keshi is leaving, so slowly, with only a sad backwards glance as if he wishes it could be different but he knows it can't. We're watching on in horror, but nothing we can say or do can change this. 

Clearly, it doesn't quite work as an analogy cos I don't think Kesh is going to be having a few days off then shacking up with another team, but the cold horror of realising how much I'd taken him for granted struck me. Without you, I'm nothing etc.

Maybe Critchley felt the same and was muttering to an awkward Mike Garrity on the front seat of the coach...


NC: "I should have known Mike, I should have played CJ and let him have the Saturday on the bench in a quilted jacket. It's my fault Mike. I just thought it would be ok."
MG: "CJ's a nice lad Neil. Maybe he'll.."
NC: "He's a nice lad, Mike. But he's not the same" 
(silence aside from maudlin music played over the coach stereo) 
NC: "What about that other lad, the old no 10, the one who wellied it in against Sunderland? What about him Mike?" 
MG: "He's in Africa Neil and you let him go anyway" 
NC: "So I did Mike, so I did. Why did you let me do that?"
MG: "Well, Colin wasn't around so...."
NC: "Mike, shut up...tell me there's someone else. Tell me." 
MG: "There's Ollie Sarkic boss" 
NC "Mike. Don't talk anymore"


Without Keshi, I'm more than slightly concerned that we're going to be actually shite. It's not just the second half against Pools. It's that we've got a midfield consisting of Kenny Dougall, Josh Bowler and some other lads who mostly can tackle or leg it and not much else. To be fair, whilst we love him and you need that sort of player, Kenny is very much in the footballing category of 'win the ball and give it to someone else' and Josh wouldn't be best described as 'a calm mind to bring a touch of class and control to a midfield' 

Maybe the other team will just put four players on Bowler and let everyone else pass it square between themselves? Am I overreacting? I'm sorry. I'm not myself. I miss Keshi. He knew exactly what we needed. He fit us like a glove. He completed us. It's not the same without him. The squad feels so... empty. 

If that's not bad enough, apparently everyone who is anyone now wants to sign Josh Bowler who is the only fit player we have who can attack. Ok, he's frustrating sometimes but he goes forward, not sideways and does crazy things like shooting at the other team's goals or passing it to the strikers (or at least trying to) 

If I was programming him into Football Manager I'd have his stats look something like this: 

Dribbling: 20 
Pace: 20
That mad skill where he kills it out the sky and runs with it in one move 20
Heading: -10
Being in the right place: - 2 
Tackling: LOL. 
Passing and crossing: Maybe getting a bit better?  

The point is, he's really exciting to watch. His two purposes in life are to run at the other team and keep his hair tucked behind his ears. The former he's brilliant at, the latter, he doesn't seem to have fully mastered what with him having to deal with stray strands every few minutes or so. Sometimes he's even doing it when he's probably supposed to be doing boring stuff like defending and that. He should look at Jimmy who always had his top knot neatly and securely tied but went a step further by adopting a surprisingly Snoop Dog look at the weekend. Whatever the merits of it on an aesthetic level, it's more practical than having curtains like you're channelling Madchester 89 and an ineffective headband. 

I've lost track of what I'm on about. Where were we? Is Bowler any good? Of course he is. Players like this tend to split opinion and get described as 'luxury' players. They're either a great asset because they can do things no one else can or a waste of space because they don't do stuff everyone else does depending on who you ask. 

Football in the modern age is increasingly technical. We analyse everything like it matters. Every goal we concede has to be acted upon as if it was an aberration. The truth is, goals conceded come from randomness as much as they come from errors. Players like Bowler lift the game when get they get the ball because you don't know what is going to happen. We need him more than ever because he creates randomness. 

Keep him. Keep him. Keep him. 

We've signed Jake Beesley. We need someone else who isn't Jerry or Shayne and that's all I can say. I saw him play against us last year but I have no recollection of him. That's not a sleight on his ability cos by and large, I don't really remember the opposition unless they're an outfield player who goes in goals or they look like a normal person cos they're a bit tubby or something. 

With no midfield, maybe the plan is to play Gary AND Jake and hoof it at them. Imagine one of them flicking it on for the other to head it home. Lovely stuff. Perhaps Keogh could come forward for a corner, flick it to Jake who flicks it for Gaz who heads it home. Maybe that's 'the Blackpool way' now? Get into em! 

Putting fantasies of playing a game based on the position of maximum opportunity aside, we desperately, desperately, desperately need some midfield quality. We're not big enough or drilled enough to play a limited game into the channels and there isn't the technical ability to play a passing game in the middle of the pitch either. Having lost Wintle and Keshi within a week has suddenly left us with an identity crisis. How do we play now? 

I really don't know. 

Everyone has their shopping lists and I'm sure people will be keen to point out that we'll probably go and buy someone and everything will be fine, but right now, at this moment in time it feels like we could get all the wingers, left backs and centre halves in the country but without a midfield it's pretty pointless. Keshi is sort of a winger, but he's much more than that. He's the intelligence that makes the difference. He is in his own words, the 'finesse' that turns us from being quite lumpen into something a little bit more. 

He must be a fucker to mark cos he turns up all over the place. He manages to go and wander about without compromising the shape of the team. He scores stupidly impossible goals. He makes outrageous assists. He also tackles and stuff like that. He's no luxury. He's an essential. He's the player who has really not only come to the party, but brought the music, poured the drinks and got everyone else dancing. Replacing him is not a simple task. 

Can anyone reading this play midfield? Does anyone know anyone who can play midfield? 

We'll be reet. Calm down. Deep breaths. The more players we lost last year, the better we got. Somehow, it feels we're going to need more than just team spirit though. To keep things in perspective, our next opponents are covid riddled and conceded 4 to a 10 man Barrow on Saturday. There has to be a midfielder who isn't shite who needs a game or two knocking around somewhere... 

Every challenge is also an opportunity. (That's the kind of blithe crap people trot out who've never been in a position where they're absolutely fucked and sometimes something is just unequivocally minging and no one should ever feel guilty for not turning their shite into gold like life is one of those misery memoirs where it turns out that all that suffering was just character forming...  but it makes a good end to the blog) 

(Panic) Onwards! 

(And get fit and well soon Keshi - you're a fucking diamond) 


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Saturday, January 1, 2022

Happy New Year (especially to Gaz and Daniel): the Mighty vs Hull City

I find New Year's day to be a strange experience. Maybe I don't cope very well with change or something. It's a sort of pseudo celebration. It's normally too cold to go and do something really nice, like lie on the bank of a river and sleep, but there's no presents or owt to compensate for the fact it's winter. Everyone's sick of having fancy food so yer mum does what she calls 'a buffet' and yer dad says things like 'well, I'd better get on with the tiling/changing the brake pads/sorting out the garage' 

Your new stuff has lost a bit of it's dazzle by New Year's day. You've had Streetfighter 2 or Championship Manager 93/94 for a whole week and your eyes are blurred and dry from staring at the screen. No one really believes that everything is going to change just because the calendar has ticked over from one year to the next. Change things do though. Slowly, inevitably and endlessly. Before you know it, your the one sorting out the garage and trying to get your own kid to tear their eyes away from a screen for five minutes. It's you who is now thinking things like 'really, we should go for a walk' after taking it easy on New Year's Eve instead of drinking yourself to within a few millilitres of liver failure. 

When did that change all happen? I don't know. Talking of change - Lavery comes in for Yates. Wintle is back for Connolly and Bowler replaces Gretarsson, though happily a shift from a back 5 to a back 4 means ol' hairband Josh isn't playing in central defence. 


Pool start well, they're straight into Hull and looking likely to score any moment. Good stuff keeps happening and the sleepy New Year's Day atmosphere is soon replaced by slightly hungover roars (growls?) of encouragement. 

Bowler glides away, he finds Keshi. He puts it wide... Madine controls then hooks it over over his shoulder beautifully. Madine can play a blind pass better than some players can hit a sighted one. Bowler is away, he hares free then stubs a cross into the arms of a grateful keeper. 

Madine flicks on. He flicks on again. Lavery, Bowler and Anderson hoover up this service. It must be magic playing next to Madine when he's on song. 

Keshi runs at the corner of the box, he teases the defender with the thought of him going inside, but then slips in Husband, whose curling ball to the far post is beautiful but for the fact all our forwards have surged to the near post which makes Jimmy look a bit daft even though he's probably just put in the best cross of his Blackpool career. 

Hull have an injury and I avail myself of the facilities. When I return it looks as if they've changed to 5 at the back. That puts a spoke in our wheel. We find it harder to attack at will and they get into the game for the first time. 

One attack sees them cut through us as if we aren't there only for a Marvin sliding challenge to save the day. Another sees a double Grimshaw save after a poor kick from him put us under pressure. The first is routine enough, but the second is brilliant, the ball seems past him, but he throws an arm back and drags it out. 

We're getting a bit bogged down. Bowler can walk on water (and a bog is quite wet) when he's good though and he picks up on the right, kills the throttle, the opens it up, bisects two defenders like an F1 driver making an outrageously audacious overtaking maneuver, he's burst between them but then gets sandwiched a bit, one man grabs at him, the other goes for the challenge, he shakes off the grab but goes down in the tackle. Whistle. Penalty. Lets not question it too much... 

Gary picks up the the ball. He waits for the penalty like he's a van driver who has to wait for his slot to collect a delivery. It's a no biggie. It's a chance for a breather. Just sit in the van for ten minutes with a brew, a tab and a quick peruse of the Daily Star. Hands on hips he waits, his eyes set on the middle distance. We're ready. Deep breath. In he comes. A Sherman tank of a forward rolling in and striking it. Straight. Down. The. Middle. 

All goals are great goals but Gary Goals goals are the best goals of all. YES! 

Roles are reversed, Shayne flicks and Gaz chases it down, he's not quite through so finds space wide and knocks a beautiful ball to Keshi with one foot. Keshi has nowhere to go, so goes back to Gaz, who uses his other foot and his 360 vision to find Dougall (who no one else had noticed) who cuts inside and lashes over the top. 

Then it's (I'm not making this up just to fit my own Gary loving narrative, I promise,) Madine again, with a deft lofted pass, barely a look up and dropping it exactly, perfectly onto the spot where Anderson can take in his stride only for Keshi to hit the keeper when he should probably have done better. 

Still time for a flick or two. This lad once cost £6 million. Signed him on a free. Oi Oi Oi. 


A pretty decent half. Could be further ahead. 


Husband shows either good vision to find Bowler with a long curling ball or he just whacks it away and it happens to find the mid 90s indie kid. Bowler does the sensible thing and knocks it to Sterling who puts it in. Keshi has a go, it comes out to someone (Bowler again?) who smacks it, it hits Keshi and balloons over the top.

Tom Eaves (or as I like to hilariously call him - 'the pound shop Andy Carroll') comes on. I don't like it. He's one of those players that seem to turn up against us. 

Grimshaw comes to meet a long ball. It bounces, he seems to leave it very late, he ends up kicking it away with a kind of martial arts style roundhouse kick that you have to feel an outfield player might get penalised for cos his foot ends up very close to the forward's head. I can imagine Grimshaw in a shellsuit, skulking into a leisure centre in Hulme or somewhere to do martial arts. He's got the air of the quiet kid on a rough estate who no one fucks with cos he's got some kind of training in that sort of shit and can break your arm if you go at him. Someone once pulled a knife on him to try and nick £50 his gran gave him, so he put them in casualty with three moves. Never lifts a finger in anger. Only self defence. 

I digress.  

We have wonderful move on the left, Keshi hasn't been at his finest today with his passing, but his ball is good, Madine steam in, jumps and heads it into the advertising boards. That would have been a magical Gary Goals goal.  

Hul are showing more ambition and leaving themselves open to breaks now. 

Firstly, we counter like lightning and Keshi can't quite find Lavery. Then Bowler beats what feels like everyone on the pitch including the referee, the linesman and the ball boys and then ends the move by conceding a foul, because of course he does. Next, Keshi goes up the left channel, gets himself in a perfect position and slides it behind Yates. Finally, Dujon Sterling makes a great tackle, Yates picks it up, charges forward, knock it to Gaz... Gaz tries to drift inside and shoot, but just drifts a bit aimlessly, like a boat cut free of its moorings on a lazy river current and has the ball taken off him. The fella a few seats down says 'Fucking Madine, he's garbage' - I simmer quietly to myself. 

Hull have been pressing with no real threat but a diagonal falls for Eaves who turns onto it and drives one wide. I didn't like that. I don't like them getting down the line either and fizzing in a ball that Marvin does sensationally well to not only block but control and clear. 

Bowler drives forward though, he surges, he explodes. He turns pressure upside down in a few seconds. Jerry takes over. He runs, he cuts back, the defender buys it totally, he's made space but then he makes space again and in doing so makes time for a defender to get a block in. The second just won't come. We're almost trying too hard to score. 

Subs. Connelly for Bowler. Fine. Sit Callum on the right of midfield and shore things up. Hang on. Grettarson too! For Keshi. This is 5 at the back again... I don't know if I like this. Who will run out of defense with it?  

Hull are really going for it now. It's taken till injury time but they're putting pressure on. They swing in 5 crosses pretty much one after the other. 1 is terrible. 1 is headed away by Keogh, 3 are nodded away by Jimmy. The first of his clearances is a far post Husband special, stretching every sinew to glance it over the on rushing striker. The last one is a terrific piece of work,, moving his feet, shifting his body, timing the jump to not only clear it but to cushion it out to Yates who is free on the left. I don't know if he meant the long ball earlier, he absolutely meant that... We'll be ok now. Jerry - take it easy. 

Jerry doesn't take it easy. I get a feeling that they might have watched the Demi Mitchell mistake on video and Jerry got the wrong end of the stick thinking Critch was modelling what he wants them to do. He runs into the next available man. The ball is with Hull. Husband is having some kind of PTSD trauma as he finds himself shadowing someone cutting in on the right again, with the match on the line. In it comes - here's a Hull man. For fuck's sake. Not again. I do not fucking believe this. It's only football, but this is taking the absolute piss. For fucks sake. 


Somehow Grimshaw has got across and down to the ball. It's a simply breathtaking save, not only cos he made it from far to near post but cos he read the shot (which was low and hard) and got a palm to it. It's a moment of genius. 

Grimshaw doesn't have time to soak up the praise from the crowd though, because the same thing is now happening at the other post and this time he follows the cross, reads the moment and rushes out and smothers the shot, like some kamikaze hero throwing themselves on a hand grenade thrown into a nursery. It's again, a brilliant save, it's instinct yes, but it's brilliant reading of the angles and play as well. He's not done though. A third ball comes in and he throws himself out, headlong into a crowd and punches it. There's a ruck. The whistle goes. Finally, relief. 

Second later the whistle blows again. This time finally. Grimshaw's name rings round the ground. He's calm as fuck. Raises his arms kind of sheepishly. As if that's just what he does. He was inspired. He might never have as magic a 60 seconds as long as he lives. If he makes a habit of making saves like that, this lad is something special. He's got the art of making keeping look unfussy but he seems to have a very good sense of angles and what's going on about him. 


After a scruffy 3 points I'm getting carried away. Grimshaw is the new Neville Southall (unkempt, sullen and brilliant at goalkeeping) and Madine is worth £6 million quid again. Bowler is the most exciting player in years and everything is rosy. Obviously, that's ridiculous hyperbole but we deserved the win today and we've deserved more than we've got in the previous few games too where we probably played better than this. 

I thought Wintle was a welcome returnee, but I also thought he looked (not surprisingly) a little off his best. I hope he's staying. Keshi was probably guilty of trying too hard to make something happen, which isn't something I want to condemn, cos someone has to try to make things happen but a relaxed Anderson (i.e. one not playing with a sense of the injustice of the previous few defeats) might have found the magic more easily he did today. Bowler doesn't seem to play with any pressure in his head at all and showed today why he's a necessity as opposed to a luxury because of that. I've been reading stuff on coaching and how modern thinking is about working on a players cognitive functions as opposed to technical skills. I don't know if they've put Bowler through a load of decision making drills but he's linking far better than he did and also, still has that unpredictable edge where he'll do something mad (in a good way) that makes him special. He'll never do the defensive work especially well, but then Callum Connolly or Kenny Dougall will never run a full back ragged or flick the game situation from heads to tails in one mad sprint. 

Husband and Sterling put a really good shift in defensively, but Jimmy struggled with his touch going forward. Sterling was excellent and delivers a nice ball but doesn't often get in a position to do so. For all that Husband did struggle going forward, at least two of the three headers at the end Reece James or Luke Garbutt just isn't making and arguably, whilst less spectacular, they were as important as Grimshaw's saves. Can we talk about Grimshaw's saves again? Unreal. 

Hull weren't very good. I don't say that with relish or to wind them up. It just felt a bit aimless from them. To be fair, they didn't have much luck with injuries but like Peterborough, it did look a bit like we'd moved on from League 1 a bit quicker than they have. At times today, we played like we did when we were on song last year, but we didn't have the end product to take advantage of that. 

A win though, is a win. A win is a win is win. It felt fucking fantastic. Yes. Yes. Yesssss! 


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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 ...