Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Old Gold Sunset - Wolverhampton Wanderers vs the Mighty

From the moment I leave work to the moment I park the car, this drive is not the kind of drive to prompt poetic reflection. The traffic speeds up. It slows down. There's diversions. There's random queues at junctions. There's a nosebleedingly complicated route to the car park that culminates in being stuck behind a standoff betweeen a little old lady and a massive gangster 4*4, neither of whom are prepared to give way. 

Several times, I consider whether this was a mistake. I'm already knackered and books like 'How to ensure you are mentally and physically healthy in order to maximise your productivity in a world where really, your only value is your ability to work' suggest things like yoga or having a walk and looking at a duck in order to overcome tiredness. Those kind of books constantly outline to you that your mental health is up to you and you alone. You must rest and play in spiritually nourishing ways! It is is what the ancient Tibetan gods of management bullshit demand... 

Nowhere in owt I've read does any guru suggest 'get in the car after work and drive a long way to watch an almost meaningless game of football that your team are pretty much certain to lose when you've got to be up again at 6.30am' as a means of 'being kind to yourself'  

Even the walk up is fraught, a lad on a bike falls off in busy traffic. There's the horror moment as you think you're about to witness something horrific. Thankfully he isn't squashed by a vehicle. It looks as if his handlebars snapped. Passers by rush to his aide. He's ok.  

As soon as I get in the ground though, it all disappears. I'm so glad I came. Molyneux is glorious. The sun setting behind the stand is the perfect tone to offset the old gold and black decor. It's a rare treat these days to be in a ground with four different stands. It's a new old ground and it retains some sense of place and character. The pitch is perfect, the home end looks fantastic with the rail seating looking like a proper terrace if you squint a bit. There's more than I thought here, and the atmosphere, is, by football standards, relaxed and convivial. 


I hope this game might suit us - maybe Critchball 3.0 will come to life against a side who, whilst technically gifted will play in a different way to what we're used to. Perhaps we'll see what it is we're going for tonight. 

Those hopes are quickly dashed. After a few minutes of fairly equal sparring, Wolves assert themselves and score a goal that has a faint air of 'everyone watching whilst the ball moves quicker than they can handle' 

Then we actually press and harry and disrupt Wolves. The ball breaks to Dougall and he hits a most glorious effort, swinging away from the keeper and smacking the base of the post. Maybe this could be good after all? 

It's a false dawn. Wolves crush us without any great sense of going through the gears. A clinical move is finished after Lyons concedes possession twice in a row. A swift counter attack is nodded home after a floated slow motion cross. The fourth resembles a goal you'd score on FIFA against someone who doesn't know the controls. The fifth is a lucky defection after a spell of quite lovely passing, all acute angles and constant movement. 

At points in between those goals, a few other things happen. 

Callum Connolly takes a ridiculous free kick from miles out. It smacks the bar. It would have been more than worth coming if that had gone in. 

Carey and Beesley both struggle to make any headway at all. 

Andy Lyons has, to be frank, a pretty ropy night. Thommo does ok and looks the play with the most energy at times. It is noticeable how we don't seem especially desperate to chance our arm and really go for it. It's understandable that Wolves are better than us, but there's the same, well, sameyness about our play. It's really hard to identify anyone as a particular 'danger' to the opposition. 

Oakley Boothe comes on and makes one really good tackle. He weirdly ends the night playing up front. I'm not sure why. 

There's gallows humour as we laugh at the idea of CJ bagging 4 on his own from the subs bench. There's confusion as the story of a fight in the concourse is relayed round the crowd. There's a PA system that keeps making me jump because it's really loud and the announcer leaves a little oddly timed gap before shouting 'Goal for Wolves.'

Rob Apter comes on and I love watching his constant movement, he bobs around the pitch in little sideways skips, always turning and changing direction, constantly scanning play, pointing and offering himself. He immediately causes Wolves a different problem. He's determined to burrow through their defence but also clever in how he offloads at the latest possible moment. He's the first of our players to really look like he backs himself to make something happen. My overriding thought is 'how, when we're drawing 0-0 against significantly worse teams than this, do we not bring this little bundle of energy and ideas onto the pitch to try and win the game?' He looks like he has more ideas in about 15 minutes than some of our players have had in the last year. 

He perks everyone up a bit, on and off the pitch. He plays like it's fun to do so, whereas the others make it look a bit like office work. It says a lot about the homogeneous functionality of the majority of the squad that Apter is the only real reason I stay to the end.  


To be honest, I don't feel any sense of anger or even particular frustration. This game just confirms that, exciting 20, gifted and energetic year old Scottish age group internationals who really should be getting more game time aside, there is no magic bullet in our ranks. There is no player waiting in the wings to magically change it all. We've got more honest pros who will do their pressing and stay in lane, but no horrendously overlooked wizards ready to set a tempo and drag us to glory. 

As far as you can enjoy being comprehensively outplayed by a team in cruise mode, I did enjoy it. It was weirdly low key on a warm late summer night. It was good to be outside if nothing else.

I think there's probably a certain usefulness in realising that we're short of what we need, regardless of how the opposition play. We couldn't withstand some nice passing, moving and breaking by technically able players who didn't really have to try too hard - we lost in the same way we've struggled against the more rugged stuff in our own league. The opposition changed but our game seemed more or less the same. 

We weren't criminally bad and, in fact, at times we played some quite nice stuff but overall, we just look well short of being a real team (as in an effective combination of players) to me at the moment. It's all very safe. At one point I note that Wolves get 7 players in and around the box on a break. When we try the same, our front players are isolated. We get maybe 3 at most to where they were at the same point when we broke.  

It is what it is. I sense change is coming. I hope so at least. I can't see how we can not roll the dice a bit. An exotic wonderkid who doesn't do defending is a decent start. Imagine him and Apter spinning magic. Fuck defence. We can just attack. We can only dream... 


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Monday, August 28, 2023

It's one of them Chizz: A reflection on anger and football.

I've not written anything about football in more general terms for ages. I miss doing that. I think maybe it's because, like all 'content providers' (a term that makes me want to bounce my own face off a solid object until I can feel nothing anymore) I've become trapped in a loop of my own making. 

I try not to follow the numbers and tell myself I'm beyond that shallow thinking... but it becomes a kind of inevitable mild mental illness. It makes you feel good to get reinforcement - you chuck this shit into the universe and it's nice when a small part of it reacts. Without meaning to, you end up subconsciously doing more of the same. Pieces about CJ Hamilton cast as a comedy character in a film where a lovable but hapless fella accidentally becomes a professional footballer get more responses than pieces about the socio-economic trends of society being reflected in football. Hence, you get more pieces with ever more elaborate descriptions of CJ not quite pulling off the moment of genius we all secretly are hoping he will and less about say, Radcliffe Borough's importance as beacon of local identity. 


I read a piece today that really made me think and prompted me to write something in a different tone than I've done for ages.

That's what I like about fan writing (another term that knocks me a bit ill to be honest) - sometimes you come across stuff that yer actual media (Gary Neville, Henry Winter and that) can't say. They're not and never will be, cognisant of the experience of fandom because, they'll never understand how it feels to waste loads of money and time on a thing that makes you profoundly unhappy sometimes. Football may make them unhappy, but it also provides them a living and they've got an
inherently different relationship that, whilst not at all disqualifying them from comment on players, tactics, managers etc, does make it a bit hard to take them seriously when they talk about fans and football culture. 

I've never put ads on this or asked for donations or owt, partly because I'd probably get about 8p a month and it would be pointless, but also because I really don't want the thing I genuinely really like doing (going to games and then talking a bit of shit about it) to become something where I have to start 'looking for an angle to sustain the numbers' or even worse 'doing because I have to' - that's the fundamental difference between me and Henry Winter or whoever. I don't have to do this. It's not my job. I can write, say and do what I want (or not) - that's where sometimes, I think fans* can write some insightful stuff - because they're free to just do whatever. 

(*in general, not me in particular, though I do think my groundbreaking piece about the Fonz ringing someone's nan has been overlooked by the literary world unfairly) 

The piece I read is here:

What it made me think is below: 

Firstly, the notion that as Blackpool fans, we're somehow a unusually 'toxic' fanbase, I don't think holds true. I think we are a bit mental compared to some and frankly, that's no bad thing, but in terms of hyperbolic tendencies, probably no more prone to them than anyone else.

I heard on the way back from Lincoln, an Arsenal fan literally screaming into his phone on Talksport because Arteta has played a player out of position. Words like 'clueless, disgrace, stupid' thrown like septic water gushing from a particular fetid tap. The article is about Bournemouth - a club that have 'punched above their weight' for a while and we often look at with some envy - yet, there's a really negative undertone to it all. These are clubs who have had good experiences of late. Outperformed expectation in the top league! 

We think 'oh, if we were actually up there, it would be fun, not angry' - but would it? I think the world has turned, even since the last time we got there.

Would it not be an amplification of all the rage and anger. Would it not be even more desperate when we're doing badly? Even harder to shake off a defeat, because the noise that surrounds it is even louder?

I'm not suggesting at all that we all just give up on wanting success - that would basically defeat the whole point for following any team in the professional game - but I'm questioning the idea that actually, 'toxicity' (such as it is) is unique to particular clubs and is banished forever by success.

'Fans just want success' is a cliche' that the professional voices often trot out. It was a stick used by ignorant voices during our own fights with our owners (yes Mark 'Clem' Clemmit, you, you fucking prick) and there's no doubt a grain of truth to it - it's rare to see a club embroiled in crisis whilst winning a quadruple. It's only a grain of truth though as what we see in the twitter comments and hear in the phone in voices, is often a level of rage about the temporary absence of success that is quite irrational. Liverpool fans fury as outlined in the article is a bizarre phenomena.

I'm not suggesting that top flight club's fans don't have things to be discontented about - but in general, the things I would empathise with them over such as the touristification (I made the word up) of their grounds, the relentless kick off changes, the increasing prices and the general ever growing distance between clubs and the communities they were birthed by and are sited in aren't really the kind of things that gain traction on the spaces where fans' views are heard and seen. The fact you've not won the Champions League EVERY season doesn't seem to be that much of a burden to carry.

It's part of the global aspect of football. The 'armchair' supporter of the 80s and 90s was part of how the biggest clubs built their power base financially. Football fans would mock the Slough based Manchester United fan but their voice and opinions rarely reached our ears. We'd chuckle at Liverpool shirts in Surrey and look down our noses. They were 'missing out' and would never be as important as us who actually went to games. They only wanted wins. That was their literal reason to follow the team. Reflected glory. They'd never get it.

How little we knew. The income from global rights and subsequent opportunities to advertise on a global scale is now more important than the income from match going supporters by several orders of magnitude. It's more important even than domestic TV rights. Football has gone global.

With social media connecting the world, it means that it's not just the fella in a Candy shirt in St Albans in 1991 who has an opinion on Liverpool. It's people in Jakarta, Christchurch and Rio and almost everywhere beyond and in between.

Those voices massively outnumber the season ticket holders on the Kop. They outnumber even the 'plastic' glory hunters from the home counties. They're many millions in number and they're loud. If the fella from Taunton in a Man U shirt is only about glory, then that's even more true of people from further away. There's no sense of pride in place or tradition or routine. No 'I'm here cos my dad took me' or whatever the narrative we use to understand why we turn up each week. It's a raw bet on success. It's a brand relationship like any other.

If you buy a fancy car to up your street cred and it breaks down, you get angry. If you have a much loved old banger passed down to you, then you kind of accept it. This isn't a million miles away from the difference in the way the 'new breed' of fan supports their team as compared to the traditional (legacy) fan. There are of course, exceptions. There are thoughtful and objective supporters from all over the globe. Absolutely there are. I've literally talked to them. There's also lots of people who've made a kind of consumer bet on Man Utd or Chelsea or Liverpool at a particular point and are very pissed off when that bet doesn't work out.

Perhaps, it's somehow easier, when distanced from things, to glibly trot out loud opinions. Perhaps it's easier, when you don't actually see the players in the flesh, not least because they're on another continent, to forget that they're people as well as objects for critique. Maybe, if you aren't in anyway part of the 'community' of the club (in any physical sense at all) easier to not really understand the impact that relentless critique has on the atmosphere around the whole affair. Anyone who actually attends games regularly will understand that, yes, whilst we go to watch the team win (ideally) we also find some joy in the collective experience. Triumph feels good, because we're experiencing it together. Disaster is perhaps best mitigated by us sharing our frustrations and finding a black humour in the experience.

I love the notion that the article cites about the idea that a lot of the loudest internet voices and the comments that sustain them are actually just classic 'internet trolls' - that's a category that has always been around from back in the day on the web - they lurk and hype up stuff and post controversial things for responses. They're not 'football fans' first - they're internet trolls first - and perhaps they don't and maybe never have, actually gone to games.

Why are they always sat at home, in a home studio, reacting too games? It's weird! Could it be, they've just latched on to a thing where it's easy to get responses - Internet trolls will often attach themselves to bizarre places if there's good responses to be had. There's an entire internet community on a message board, dedicated to winding up the users of Mumsnet for example. It's easy fishing... Football is already quite emotive and prone to a bit of trigger happy response - so for a troll, for whom eyes on a screen actually equals income and even a career, football is a perfect platform.

If we're not convinced about the validity of that, then there's certain media figures who've built an entire career out of essentially just being angry about things they're not actually angry about on a daily or weekly basis. That's as true of football (I'm looking at several presenters of national football phone ins over the top of my glasses with a disapproving look) as it is of social and political commentators.

If we went back 30 years, the idea of anyone being interested in the view of some random fella in his bedroom being furious about what substitutes Arteta had made would be really, really weird. It would be practically incomprehensible. He's not even there?! He's not even from London?! WHY ARE WE WATCHING HIM WATCH A GAME???

Now, there's a whole shift in the way football is viewed by the world and actually, being totally disconnected from the game by geography is by far the most dominant form of spectatorship. That person has a whole audience of people for whom he is 'a voice' and 'a face' - he represents a wide range of fans and he's mad as hell and he wants them to be too because ANGER = COMMENTS and COMMENTS = CASH in a world of internet grift. 

There's loads of good, constructive, creative fan media (I would say that wouldn't I?) and some great twitter accounts and interactions you can have on message boards etc but that stuff is generally a bit of an anomaly compared to the overall tone. 

How much has actual yer football fandom been shaped by that? How much has the way we all behave before, during and after games been impacted by the presence in our discourse of people who aren't actually, in any traditional way at all, part of the cultural group of 'football supporters' as we'd classically understand that to be. Most clubs aren't quite in the global spotlight in the way Arsenal and Liverpool and even Bournemouth are... I think it does still have an impact.

Most of us will engage in some form of social media post match (or even during match) That becomes in some ways, the dominant way we receive our analysis - more so than the papers for certain and even a tabloid ghost written column is far, far, far, far more considered and thoughtful than 'Fuck player X cos he is a cunt and should die' type analysis. There's a huge number of posts on any given day that just say 'Player X is god' or 'Player X is shit' - It's all very binary.

You don't see many viral tweets that say 'player x has a range of strengths and perhaps today wasn't his day and maybe we should also consider a range of factors including the work of his teammates, his personal life and the inherent and inevitable fact that sometimes football goes wrong and it's not your day because if it didn't, it wouldn't actually be football at all'

We used to laugh at the cliche's like 'its a funny old game' and 'at the end of the day' but we'd recycle them ourselves in the way we thought about the game as that was the dominant kind of reflections we heard beyond our our own 'pub chat.'

Now we're recycling each others rage and amplifying our fury simply in order to be heard above the din

I personally adore Brett Ormerod as a footballer and also as a person. His in game analysis isn't always as incisively analytical or deeply data driven as it might be. There's something really quite glorious though about his go to phrase of 'It's one of them Chizz'

That annoys people sometimes, I know... but... sometimes, it IS 'one of them Chizz' - sometimes shit just happens and that's the way it is. Especially on a football pitch where the whole appeal of the game is that a load of fellas are crammed into a small space with a ball and the rules of the game are literally designed to make some 'shit happen' at regular intervals. Sometimes, that shit goes against you and it's 'one of them Chizz' - if we can't collectively accept that, then rage and fury are the only possible results from football. 'One of them' will inevitably come along sooner or later. Even if you're a Man City fan. Eventually.

I'd rather take my cue from the laid back and philosphical ex footballer with warmth in his voice and a bit of a smile in his heart than some weird raging, sweating, angry, humourless fella with a pseudo Sky Sports set up like he's living out a strange childhood fantasy of being a furious Steve Ryder. These people are weird as fuck. They chuck rage into the ether to feed rage and they make money out of it.

You and I, we don't make any money out of anger. We just end up feeling shit. I think that's worth thinking about sometimes. The whole social algorithm is tweaked towards generating fury because fury makes money for someone somewhere. That someone isn't us. 

As the article above points out there's a very real and quantifiable mental health crisis and football is a kind of boiling pot where those things can burst out. Football is not and never will be separate from society. It's an incredible thing that you can lose control at a football game. It's one of the reasons why I love it deeply. It's like nothing else.

It's perhaps not so incredible if that cathartic release of anger becomes a prolonged and repeated pattern of ever increasing frustration and rage that goes well beyond the confines of a stadium or 90 minutes.

You don't always win. It would be weird and hollow if you did. Fuck's sake Pool. Imagine never saying that again. You'd actually miss it. 


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Saturday, August 26, 2023

Out of ideas? - Lincoln City vs the Mighty

Wake really early. Get away. What else is there to do. Might as well tick off the seconds to death somewhere else eh?

From west to east. Upwards. Steady climb. Patchwork fog over Saddleworth. The world smudge grey then suddenly light. Dark heather ripe with dew, thrown into instant contrast before the fog claims the view again.

Motorway bridges can be magnificent. 20 miles of nothing then a perfectly formed arch hangs between steep sides. Another twenty miles. The aerial sprawl of a junction where concrete pathways that seem to be heading skyward interlace and shoot off in different directions before curving gracefully back to earth. A sculptural moment of choice.

Downwards now. Post industrial sprawl gives way to fenland. Coppices and hedgerows the only thing that disrupts a land so flat in looks as if it's been rolled. Deeper into it now and an occasional recurring but endlessy varying pattern of hay bails and cut straw serve to colour the landscape like abstract modern art.

If I believed, I'd say such mornings are like stepping into a gallery of God's work. I don't, so 'it's just mad what shit there is when you remember to look' will have to do.

Lincoln. I can't work it out. It's full of trendy farmers. High fashion UKIP. I love the little rough back streets by the ground with their terraced houses that are all stuck together but yet not all the same. I can't tell if I love or hate the town. It's so fucking English in that ITV drama English way that I don't feel like it's English. Is this my England? I don't know. Whatever it is, it seems to have a disproportionate number of aging heavy metal fans and people who seem to be either endless variations on Jeremy Clarkson/farmers wives or people who went to art school in the 70s. Maybe Lincoln is an experiment to see what happens if you put a particular gene set into an infinite variance machine? I realise later that actually most of these people probably aren't from Lincoln and it's like calling Blackpool people a bunch of Glaswegians on a stag do.

I find a shit street with a cash converters. I feel less underdressed. A bit more at home. Then a fucking steam traction engine drives by like that's a perfectly normal thing and then everything goes twee and and strange again. I still don't know if I like it or not.

Oh, you want football?

We've signed the little big man and the old fella who used to be good. I'm excited about the first and confused about the second. The second one will probably play and the first one will probably go on loan to Crawley or something.

Please fucking score. Or just attack sometimes.

Critch knows. He must know. I know he's a big (actually, fairly small) boring turncoat etc etc etc but he's also the most hardworking and intelligent manager we could probably get without taking a wild punt and hoping it works out. This is his absolute speciality. An away day to somewhere miles away. Smash and grab. Play the best stuff when no one's watching. You know what? Today, I'm begging him for a fisting.

(To be honest, I'd like to think I was better than that on both a personal and literary level, but fuck it. It's a shit blog about shit football in a shit league and you've got to get your kicks somehow)


Things start ok. There are chances. Then... Marvin's mental slide tackle. It's like he's broken. He stops. He jumps. It's like a skipped record. A missed frame in an old film. Static. Pounce. It's all wrong. Jerky. Fucking hell. Grimmy waves and dances to no avail. Fucks sake Pool.

We play ok again. We make some chances. The closest we come is when Marvin nearly scores with what looks to me, like his back. I think that sums it up. There's some oohing and groaning and some playing it across the face of goal and some not quite getting a shot off and generally a sense that we're a bit scared to put our foot through it or if we have a chance it'll probably be Callum Connolly who it falls to and he's not going to score anyway. It never really ever feels like anyone will.

Probably our best chance sees Lavs run free and then inexplicably (at the time) stop and square it to Beesley who isn't there and looks quite flustered when he realises he is expected to be. It turns out Lavery has done his hamstring and thus stopping was quite explicable after all. Rhodes comes on and does ok but he's not really got the vibe of 'pacy lad who scares the shit out of other teams defence'

Then the old fella who used to be good is left running desperately back after a Lincoln player who seems to have a force field around him as everyone dives out the way to avoid tackling him and then he slaps it home. It beats Grimmy easily but someone tells me it hit Marv. I don't know. Don't really care to be honest. Either way it's a goal. 


My other favourite things about this half that to be honest, I'd rather forget.

I liked the bit when CJ got possession and went at his man and then *didn't do any sort of trick, feint, sway or anything even remotely designed to get the ball past the defender and just fell over after losing it and then looked a bit sad/confused* I also liked the bit where *the ball hit him in the face* as he tried the weirdest bit of control ever. Oh CJ. CJ. CJ. CJ. 

On a cathartic level I sort of enjoyed going 'for fucks sake Bees' when he watched the ball and expected CJ to come and win a header as if he'd never heard of the idea of 'a big lad being on the pitch to head stuff that comes near him' and obviously thought CJ was better in the air than him as if he'd never met CJ before. Then I felt a bit tight, cos I always stuck up for Gaz when he didn't jump but, well, Bees isn't Gaz.


I don't know. We've been arguably better than them. We're also 2-0 down and some of our play has been woeful.


Critch is hopping mad and has subbed everyone. I think he might have sent a note to some of their mums saying he's disappointed too.

Dale, Carey, Lyons all join. That's some technique and ability. Maybe this will be the masterclass bit.

Carey has the best shot of the game, a low fizzing drive the keeper stops well. CJ has a gilt edged chance he makes look less inviting than it was by putting it into the stand. Norburn wellies one 8 foot over the top. Rhodes I think shoots as well but overall it's all a bit hopeful rather than intense pressure.

It's fizzling out anyway when Hubby, Grimmy and Norburn combined somehow all get a touch but can't stop their lad, so Ollie chops him down and gets sent off and they score another pen and I've no more words about this game to be honest other than that because, well, we lost 3-0 and there's nothing really to gripe about or rage against other than ourselves.


It's tempting to say things like 'actually, we were the better team for a lot of the game so it'll come good' but that's not how I feel. I mean, in many ways, we were but that kind of makes it worse. We were ok in terms of possession in harmless places, but we couldn't defend and we really couldn't attack. The only time I felt like we'd come really close was the Carey effort and though you could see Rhodes had some quality and was willing to have a go at goal, he didn't really seem to look like someone who was going to change the dynamic massively and give us major new options.

Everything in front of goal look scuffed, laboured. We didn't run in straight lines, we didn't show aggression. We seemed to be doing everything to keep possession, but with no obvious sense of getting the ball to a particular player or with any real belief that it would get us anywhere. No one wanted to take on anyone. CJ got the stick from the crowd, but as bad as he was, I thought he showed as much intent as 2 or 3 others combined who just played it safe, safe, safe. CJ doesn't make the right decisions, but it's not his fault he hasn't got the technique or confidence and that when it goes wrong it tends to have a farcical quality to it.

I very rarely go to 'lack of effort' when I write up a game because, actually, I think it's very rare, as much as fans tend to cite it, that we don't try but there was little intensity to our play. It felt kind of directionless. Risk free.

We were the better team in some metrics, but we did so little with that. Some of our players looked a bit lost or played it safe. We looked robotic and stiff. There was no instinct from some of them. It felt as if, not for the first time this season, that we were playing a training ground exercise that was foiled by the other team rudely not following the instructions on how they should play.

We made a load of subs, but we kept the same shape because we seem to have lost the pages of the manual that have other formations drawn on them. CJ probably the one player who worried them. That's what is genuinely concerning. Marvin is out of form for sure and he had a terrible afternoon, but Pennington can come in. CJ needs to be relived of wing back duties but I genuinely don't know who else will run at the other team from wide or has any pace. Beesley is (lets be diplomatic) not in the form of his life, but how do we swap him out when no one else wins a header other than the centre backs?

I don't see the quality at the moment to make the system work but I don't see the option to change it either. We've got too many samey players who are in a rut around the midpoint of their careers. We've got some good players who don't have the right system/options and we've got a few that just need to go.

We've won 6 times in 10 months I think. We look like 10 nice lads and a grumpy fella (who is now suspended) on a geography field trip with the head of Yr 10 in a tracksuit.

We need to shake it up.

I don't normally go on about transfers cos frankly, there are better thinks to wank about than the money rich idiots with egos spend on footballers to sate the appetites of football fans who take their self esteem from some kind of bizarre show of reflected financial power, but honestly, straight up, not even lying or exaggerating, we really do need a load out and a load in. Critch needs to get the Fabreze out quickly, cos there's a smell of mothballs and hangovers. Too many games lost in legs and too many similar players half of whom know they won't play much at a point when they need to be.

This system needs an upgrade in quality in at (very) least two positions to start to work. If we can't get that quality then we need to change the system and to change the system we need players we don't have. Either way, the dice needs to be rolled.

On the way back, the setting sun lit the underside of the clouds over the moors. It was beautiful. I wanted to stop and watch them change shape, shifting within and upon themselves whilst the pinks turn to darker reds and burnt orange then fade to night because why not? Out there is the atmosphere and beyond that a universe so vast we can't even hold it in our minds.

It's only football and we're not long here are we? There's all of time and space and all of existence and in that light, we're truly privileged to be the few sentient beings in all of that everything and forever who get to see CJ as an inverted wing back. When you think about it that way, it's kind of a wonder of the age really.


 You can follow MCLF on facebook or Twitter or use to get posts sent to your email If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand. Home-Start Blackpool Food Bank

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Same, same, same... : the Mighty vs Leyton Orient

Right. Enough of last week. Boring games happen. It's just a fact of life. We all just want it to be *a bit more interesting* and it's definitely going to be this week isn't it? 

Inside it's all very casual. They've only brought a few and the sun is shining It's still mid August. Time for some sun soaked football magic. 

No one seems to make that much of Richie Wellen's presence either. There he is, padded jacket incongruous in the warmth, looking like he's barely aged since he made his debut (from my distance anyway.) Everything is set for a good day. 


They are terrible. For the first 15 minutes, we're all over them. They can't pass, when they try to run with it, they look sluggish. Their central defenders' use of the ball makes Marvin look like prime Pirlo. 

We're busy and playing with intent. Lavery smashes a snap shot and draws a good save. We're happy enough with an open game and better for it. 

There's a scramble in the box following a corner and Jimmy hits one well and there's another tidy piece of keeping. 

I wonder in my head after we have a shot 'Will Critch be pissed off that we lost possession?'

For all that we play in the first spell, we then hit a long, long patch where we just, well, don't. It's like a sailing ship becalmed. Orient stop being shit and start to do basic stuff in a vaguely competent way. 

That has us baffled. Repeatedly the ball ends up with Marvin who looks like a lost child in a supermarket, who doesn't know what to do, turning one way then the other as if searching for a familiar face but seeing only a sea of strangers. The general discontent at this is probably not helping his sense of inner calm. 

We offer next to nothing and thus we start to concede chances. Grimmy makes a brilliant instinctual stop, Grimmy dives tidily to his right and keeps out a drive. Grimmy bends himself backwards to get a touch on one that loops up and drops in front of an empty need and somehow Casey (I think) gets away with strong arming their lad off the ball and the ball is levered away. 

We're second best for a long period, until, as if fearing the half time reaction we decide to have a little go at attacking again as if fending off the boos. 




We come out all guns blazing and score immediately, fired up by a new found self belief and bolstered by two attacking changes, releasing some of our pent up young players into the game to finally have their shot at glory. 

Oh. No. That didn't happen. Instead we labour manfully and the game basically continues as it did before. 

It wasn't quite as shit as Tuesday. Beesley wins a few headers. We have the odd corner but it's not like we're establishing ourselves in their half and battering the door down. 

Morgan drives it. Their keeper sprawls, Lavery charges on to the loose ball and cracks the base of the post. Things calm down. Time for that definitive attacking change ..

"Replacing number 15, Jensen Weir, no 17, Matty Virtue...' 

Jensen Weir has been fine. He's a kid. He's done ok, he played a couple of nice passes, had a shot or two blocked. The ball has mostly sailed over his head. Matty Virtue is on. 

Now, let me be very clear about this. I like Matty Virtue. If you're going to do ok, you need some Matty Virtues. He's honest, he's bustling, he can pass a bit, shoot a bit and there's nothing at all wrong with him. But... Him coming on is just the most Critchley change in the world. We're struggling to break down a fairly limited side (relative to our stated ambitions at least) and we've made the same fucking sub we make every week. 

Matty Virtue isn't an agent of change. He's the kind of player who is good at keeping things the same. He's not the man you give the ball to to make the magic. He's the man that goes and gets the ball and gives it to the magic man. 

We've no fucking strikers on the bench. We're basing our game on pressing from the front and yet we can rotate out a striker and bring on fresh legs. Owen Dale isn't Messi but he's as close as we've got and he sits gathering splinters. Rob Apter is somewhere else, being 'developed' for when he's finally ready at the age of 29 to come on in a game that matters. Brad Holmes isn't on the bench because we need space for all the other Matty Virtues. It's like we're a team of Matty Virtues. All of them are variations on Matty Virtue. I like the actual Matty Virtue, but when you've got about 15 of him, then it's hard to get overexcited about him coming on. To be fair, he does ok. He does what he always does which is fine. In and of itself. 

You can probably tell I've had enough. Leyton Orient do some stuff. We do some stuff. Our stuff includes a few scrambles in the box, one in which Beesley waves his leg at the ball in possibly the most unconvincing attempt at a finish I've ever seen and the other sees super Jimbo unable to get it out from under his feet. 

We make a fundamental tactical switch, throwing caution to the wind and chucking Marvin up front and pin Orient back. 

Actually, we don't do that - we swap Weir for Sonny and carry on the same but (check this next level shit) we swap the full backs over. It has little impact. 

We're better than them. Aren't we? Surely? I'm not sure. 9 minutes injury time... 

A ball, Lavery, onto it, he's fighting, he's winning,he's cutting inside, he's through and he's putting it past the far post.... 

I never felt like he'd score. I never felt like we'd score. I never really felt like they'd score. We're trapped in a never ending 0-0. 

Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackpoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiil Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeytooooooooooooooooooooon Oooooooooooooooooooorieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeent NiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiL 

It's like time has slowed down. 


It's not that it's *all* shit. 

It doesn't even have the tragicomic appeal of a shit show. Casey and Jimmy were again good. Norburn is perfectly suited to his role. Morgan is kind of almost really impressive but somehow not quite yet there, Weir looked like there's something there if we can work out what to do with it (basically, see Sonny and extrapolate the same conclusions) Lavs ran hard and kept at it from first minute to last. Beesley is a curious blend of physical and timid. He'll win one really well and then look like he's pulling out the next. To me, it looks as if anything above waist height, he's more than fine with but as if he's jumpy about certain challenges on the ground, yet he's also quite neat with his feet. He works hard, he gets about but I'm struggling to pinpoint what he is. 

We know what we lack. A Gaz and some magic. It feels like we've built a platform but forgotten to actually put anything on it. 

It's all so functional seeming but lacking the key element - on one level, it's impressive we haven't conceded and yet, the architecture of an oil rig is impressive but also kind of pointless without the drill. 

We're a white painted wall without any artwork. We're a town square that is just paving and no fountain or statue, we're a chilli without any spice. A fireplace laid for decorative purposes with no actual airflow. We're breeze block without the plaster coating. We're beige.

It's not 'disgraceful' football. It's just boring, so much so that I found myself wondering if we have to lose to force us to learn to try to win. 

I've not got many problems with the players in the team beyond the fact a couple of them aren't quite good enough ('suitable' might be a kinder description) for the role they're playing. It's more a yearning for the two or three players that make all of this make some sense. We are surely looking for them... 

It isn't good enough but... let's take a deep breath and see where we are at the end of the window... 


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Friday, August 18, 2023

Shit Preview - the Mighty vs Leyton Orient.

It's possible to hold two ideas in your head at any one time.

Right now, I've got 'Critchley is a boring snaky snake whose idea of wild bacchanalian excess is a golf putting machine and a can of shandy who is going to stifle the hell out of any possible joy in an attempt to stubbornly force his ideas onto the squad regardless of the evidence of their strengths and the fact we've looked toothless for 75% of the games is testament to that' and I've also got 'Critchley is a tactically astute manager who will put the building of a system ahead of the immediate temptation to 'make the best out of what he's got' thus resulting in a more sustainable long term project and ultimately greater success and the fact we've already looked a million times more solid is testament to that' competing in my head. 

I don't know which is true or if part of both are true. Any manager of any club can be shit or good even if they were previously good (or shit.) Yeah, Pep is never shit but he just buys another set of great players and spouts pseudo philosophy in shit knitwear cos he knows that he's one for the mums and that's not what I want in a manager.

Frankly, I didn't want a bloke who looks like he manages a leisure centre in Wilmslow turning up with a petrol station bunch of flowers and a look of 'Sorry, what am I like? Can I come in?' on his face but (can I surprise you?) Simon Sandler (sic) doesn't ask me for advice. I know! You'd think he'd be on the phone all the time, but I guess he's got the Jontster and co.    

Anyway. I got over myself I'm trying to see it through Critchley's eyes. I'm being all grown up (even though I KEEP bringing it up in every blog suggesting that possibly I'm not over it even if I'm telling you I am. You'll have to be the judge of that, it's the privilege of readership, it's always easier to analyse others who aren't yourself innit?) 

What was I saying? Oh, Critch... It's not easy winning ALL the games of football. I don't know if you know this, but all the other teams have managers too and they're all plotting masterclasses and signing exciting players who've done badly on loan at Lincoln and even doing that running over cones thing that only footballers ever do for reasons no one knows. They practice stuff and everything. 

A season is a long stretch and the not knowing is what keeps it exciting. We don't know if Critch is going to work. We wouldn't know that any manager was going to work. Expectation and reality diverge and often there's fuck all we can do about it except speculate about what might happen and pointlessly discuss what we might do. 

What I (a shite blogger with no particular qualification to comment on, well, pretty much anything) think we need is this: 

1) A full back with the quality to get forward and join in. CJ is not doing it on purpose. He's just CJ. He works hard. He actually does ok if you don't put all your focus on the points where he obviously doesn't. The thing is, he's not a wrong footed wing back. He just isn't. That's a really hard role to play. If we're persisting with it (and the fact Thommo wasn't even on the bench last night for Port Vale would suggest so) then I think Lyons has the attributes to make it work, but CJ doesn't. Connolly can probably do a defensive job, but I'd be deeply concerned about what he'd add going forward. So, for me, that's the position that is clearly vacant. It's empty. There's no one who can realistically play it well going forward, at least until Gabriel comes back and we partially abandon it. 

2) Joseph to get fit so we can have two strikers harrying and running. We also probably need a big lad. Our lack of out ball is murdering us. We're not actually conceding many chances, but we're absorbing pressure because we can't hold a ball up. Lavery is a runner. Beesley isn't dominant or fast. He's kind of damned by being 'reasonable' but not really definitively anything. He'll do a job of sorts. Like Lyons he can grow into a role. I've not seen enough of him to be sure he can't. Ideally though, we'd have someone brutal to get on the end of things and disrupt at least as an option in the squad. I'm not even messing when I say, I'd keep Doug Tharme on the bench with the idea of chucking him on up front in lieu of anything else. 

3) Some risk. Here, I am again, a fucking prick who changes his mind every other article trying to tell Neil 'withandwithouttheball' Critchley what to do. The front of it! The sheer lunacy of me thinking I know anything. I should be shot. At dawn. Left in an unmarked grave, dug up by dogs, eaten, shat out, washed away by the rain into the gutter, falling into the sewers and then out into the depths of the oceans to give some swimmer e coli...  and even that's not good enough for me.... but... 

I genuinely don't care if we concede a goal in the act of attempting to score a goal. I think Critchley is right about the squad needing to get used to new things and shake off the negative vibes of last year. I also think they need to learn to enjoy themselves again. To enjoy football  (unless you're a defender) you have to play with some instinct and relish the challenge of unlocking the opponents. That's the fun. It's literally the point. To score a goal. 

I know it's ludicrously simplistic but if (and however unlikely that would be) I was the manager on Saturday, my approach would be to say 'I don't care if you come back having lost, I don't want you back in the dressing room if you've not taken a risk to get us up the pitch and in on goal... Not you though Marvin... Definitely not you.' 

For me, that includes the speed with which Grimmy throws out, the way the defenders run into the space in front of them, the midfielders not running to offer an extra man, the wing backs positioning and so on. 

If we're going to get anywhere, it has to be at least a little bit this way. He's not stupid. Far from it. He knows it. He knows that bawling them out after Tuesday would serve no purpose. other than to risk their fragile confidence gained from the clean sheets He knows we need to be quicker. He knows that we need a bit of fearlessness. How can he not?  

This is where fans have to decide what they want. you can sit on the sidelines and critique every mistake and point our what a player 'should have done' after something has gone wrong - but generally, in order to break down the kind of side we'll face over and over again - tough, physical, well drilled, men behind the ball, you need someone to try and dribble or hit a risky pass or try a shot. If we want that, we've got to support the intent, even when the execution is off. These players are not full of confidence. There's quite a high proportion of water carriers amongst them. The manager is possibly a little bruised from his experiences last season. It's a natural human inclination to avoid doing things which might lead to criticism. To play the safe pass. To not make the run yourself. Over to someone else. Sideways, sideways. Pass. Sideways. 

It's like we're knocking politely on the opposition door and being told 'no thanks, not today' and then retreating into our own half waiting for tomorrow to ask again. It's patient, yes, but it's also exactly what a lot of teams would like us to do at home (and perhaps away at times) because a point is a point and we're a bigger fish now. 

Critch is Critch is Critch.

Can we just enjoy football? If it's boring as fuck again can we ole Jimmy to Marv to Casey to Norburn to Casey to Grimmy to Norburn to Jimmy to Casey (etc) and cheer wildly whenever it ends up with Grimmy putting his foot through it?  Can we appreciate Matty Virtue burrowing through and then slipping as he shoots because at least he tried? Can we make Bees feel like ten men cos he's the nearest we've got to one and half men? Can we fucking chant Jimmy Husband's name because he's been one of our best players this season probably and he's played hundreds of games for us and never shirks or lets up? 

I know we need new players, I know the summer nights are starting to draw in and autumn is standing in the shadows with a cloak of darkness and decay. I know life is often grey and we want colour and joy from our football, but hey. This is League One. Sometimes you just have to make your own fun.

To take a productive risk you need to feel safe.

Get behind them. They're ours. 

Leyton Orient. I dunno. Barry Hearn, Clapham Orient. Richard Wellens. I always liked Wellens despite him being a panto villain these days. We could really use him now in midfield (even though we've got 800 players for that position.) I've nothing more to say on them really other than it's weird how they're a London club but they've never been bought out by some investment fund. They must look at someone like Brentford and think 'fucking hell, what have they got that we haven't got? - How come we got fucked over and they got the Premier League?' 

I always assume every London club is just a heartbeat away from being bought by a Texan or Saudi billionaire and building a 75,000 seater stadium. I really like that Leyton Orient is just about the opposite of that. Every time I go to London, I'm always a bit taken aback that actual people live there who aren't supermodels or investment bankers and bits of it aren't that good and are kind of like Blackpool (or indeed Layton) with a tube station. They're kind of the Port Vale of London so to speak and again, I'm good with that. 

Why are they called Orient* though? It's another good thing about them. Aston Villa (what villa? whose villa?), Billingham Synthonia (it's an ICI product). Castleton Gabriels (angels?), Blackpool Mechanics (are they still mechanics?). Oswaltwhistle Immanuelle (ok, they're a cricket club, but it's still a good name) and so on - I love a club with a weird name. When football inevitably collapses in on itself into a league of global franchises then there won't be a fraction of the poetry in names like 'London Lions' and 'Riyadh Royals' 

Give them hell. They're not ours. 

Blackpool 27-0 Leyton Orient


*It's because the O from off of P+O Ferries (the 'Orient Shipping Company' which would later merge to become Penninsular and Orient Steam Company) was partly behind their origins financially. So, in a way it's very modern. It's like a team starting up in a random place and being called 'Peckham Uber' or something. We'd probably all get well het up about that and how it wasn't traditional. Goes to show. What I'm not sure... 

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

'On the front foot' - the Mighty v Port Vale.

A picture that possibly suggests a degree of drama that really wasn't present. 

On the way to the game, I saw a bloke riding a bike. He had a massive carrier bag on one handlebar, a lopsided backback on and he was ranting into a phone. The bike was a racer, with those old fashioned rams horn type drop handlebars. His situation was a bit precarious. He wobbled, he lurched and then he shot off suddenly towards a wall and had to turn in an impossibly tight circle to avoid hitting it. With one hand. He set off again. He repeated the feat. I had to admire his manic balancing act. 

That was probably the most exciting thing about tonight. I bet Neil Critchley ALWAYS keeps two hands on his handlebars and any luggage appropriately tied on with bungee cords on the designated carrier. He'll have both reflectors and lights. Probably in the day light. Can't be too cautious. 

I imagine he cycles in a very sensible manner, whilst planning his tactical masterclasses and deciding whether he's going to spend Sunday at Dunhelm Mill or Laura Ashley. They both do great beige things. It's a tough choice. 

I imagine him ringing Mike on a break, taking a swig from his water bottle (weak lemon cordial) and removing his phone from the waterproof and reflective strip clad bumbag he's wearing with his keys and stuff in before dialling him up... 

'Big Mike! Yes, it's me. I've got it! You know how Port Vale lost 7-0? Well, the last thing they're going to expect is us to keep everyone deep and defend. If we do that, they'll get bored then Sullay will do a bit of magic' 

'Boss, I'll double check with Steve's blue folder, but I don't think we've got Sullay anymore?' 

'Why not?' 

'You let him go...' 

'Oh. Right. Well, that's no problem. I'll just play Josh. Josh will have one of his moments and we'll be home and hosed quicker than you can say 'we do a lot of work on shape, both inandoutofpossession - ask Ian about it will you' 

'Boss I don't know where Ian is. I last saw him on Monday but he had a disguise on and said 'don't tell anyone you saw me' and disappeared looking a bit worried, you know how he is... also there's one problem with your plan, I mean, it's great as usual boss, but...' 

'Don't tell me we haven't got Josh either!... Oh, bloody hell. Well, don't worry, Jerry will come good. I'm telling you Mike, we just shut up shop and one of our trickier lads will get the goal' 


In the first half we were inexplicably timid. It was really boring. I can't remember very much. I'll do my best. Sideways. Sideways. Back. Sideways. Lift it up and over. Shayne runs on. Hard luck Shayne. 

Sonny is trying some little flicks and looking to make something happen. The rest of the team stand on the halfway line. Why isn't he passing it backwards? He gets booked for diving for being tripped. 

Marvin does a weird thing where it looks as if he's stuck in a loop, just rubbing his foot on top of the ball like a horse pawing the ground for ages before making a horrible pass. I think he's probably been standing too close to Grimmy and his cloud of smoke. 

Vale score. It's offside. 

We give the ball away. Vale flash a shot just wide. 

We have a little spell when (checks notes, nope, it's right, even though I haven't actually got any notes) Jimmy Husband comes and joins the attack and even though Super Jim isn't the worlds greatest attacking player, the novelty of having a left footed player in a position he's comfortable to deliver and receive the ball in makes us look threatening for a little bit. 

There are not many thrills and spills. 


The central midfield was way too deep. Every team in the division seems to have had the note about 'Marvin will pass it to Norburn' and we're caught out thus several times. Morgan and Dougall are nowhere near Sonny. There's no point playing him as an actual striker cos he isn't an actual striker but we seem to have done so. Shayne makes runs, Sonny drifts about, but no one at all goes in any of the space they open up. We look about as potent as a queue for a Viagra clinic. 


Things improve a bit. Morgan has definitely got more advanced. We have a bit more intent. We do some things that could be described as 'attacking' 

It's a struggle though to recall that much. I remember thinking 'this is a bit better' and then looking at the clock and realising ten minutes had gone without anything really happening. 

Lavs (I think) flashes a header just over, or onto the bar. Beesley comes on and gives us a bit more presence. He gets onto the end of a cross (I think from Jimmy) and puts it narrowly over. 

Lyons gradually comes into the game and has a couple of far post runs. CJ does CJ things like making a really nice run but leaving the ball behind. He works hard. Virtue comes on and crashes into people and tries to make something happen. Jensen Weir comes on and has a shot that is encouraging in it's intent, even if it doesn't make it to the goal line. CJ has a shot that gets an 'ooh' in the South until we realise it's actually missed the penalty area and possibly ended up further way from the goal than it was when it left his boot. 

Marvin makes a brilliant run and challenge to halt Vale's only real threatening moment. In another attack, they look as if they might be away, but they're not. I watch Grimmy, he reads it beautifully, he's chasing ready to come out, but then he just stops. Dead. Steps back. It's like watching an animal, he's so in tune. He's fucking ninja or something. Love Grimmy me. With his big shorts. 

Marvin measures one of those diagonals and puts into row 12 of the east. There is general disgruntlement.  

Time ticks by. Jimmy is immense. He's on the left wing. He's at centre back. He really is very good. Casey is decent too in a similar vein but I think Lyons' quality makes the left flank more productive. 

We're attacking but we don't think we're going to score. I don't think we're going to score. There's one more effort at the keeper. It's right at him. We don't score. 


One of the reasons why I wasn't hugely keen on reading Critch part 2 is that I know the story. It's about solidity. It's about percentages. It's about process. I feel like I've written this blog about 30 times already. It was dismal as a spectacle. It was flat. It wasn't 'front foot football' and there was neither death nor glory. 

I also know that, actually, we've got a very effective defence, on the back of a season where our defence was so hideous that records should be locked in a concrete vault under the sea forever, like nuclear waste. I know that football is made of fine margins and we were a couple of feet away from winning both this and Exeter and Grimmy hasn't made a meaningful save in either game. I know we need better players in certain positions (wing back for certain and without a fit Joseph, a striker at least) and that Critch is long term thinker who will plan for what he wants and get the fundamentals right so those players slot into a system that already functions. 

I know all that. I've already read this book. We always struggle against sides that come for a point and are physical. I hope we can skip to the bit where we're a tight, coiled attacking spring a bit quicker than last time because we just lacked both belief in our own attacking ability and the individual (be it Madine, by force of presence and brute will or a player (Keshi, Bowler, Embleton, Kaikai etc) with a moment of impudent improvisation or the fearlessness to just get at them. Jimmy Husband really, really, really was the best attacking player. 

Perhaps overlapping centre-backs are the new master class? They're certainly fucking difficult to mark. 



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