Available NOW…May I introduce you to The Football Tourist?


Friday 6th September 2013 was a day that will long be remembered.  In years to come you can tell your grandchildren about the day and what part you played in making history.  Because, ladies and gentlemen, that is the day that those good chaps at Ockley Books will publish The Football Tourist, my long-awaited follow-up to Passport to Football (well, I have been waiting a long time anyway).

The Football Tourist Cover_AW-page-001Two years worth of travels around Europe (and let’s not forget our cousins in the United States of America) condensed into 20 chapters of disaster, strange and mysterious characters and the odd football match.  From Arbroath to Zagreb, this really is an A to Z of how not to spend your precious weekends and some of the people to avoid being stuck with in a train compartment with at 3am in Serbia.  It even includes a “not a dry eye in the house” forward written by a professional footballer.  Real tug at your heartstrings stuff.

At what price, I hear you say?  Well, just £10.99 which for all you Premier League fans is the equivalent of 19 minutes of being told to sit down, shut up and eat your Gunnersaurus burger.  And get this, we (well, Ockley) are producing a version you can read on a computer no less! An E-Book or something.  That’s the future, so I am told.

You can now order it already if you want from Amazon as the Kindle version, from the Apple Store as an E-Book or direct from Ockley Books here.  Go on, give it a go and help me fund years of travelling in Europe and not spending Saturday’s in supermarkets.

The Djurgarden of Eden


Just over a year ago I was lucky enough to attend one of the final football matches played in the Olympia Stadion in Stockholm.  In normal circumstances, clubs move elsewhere because they have outgrown their grounds and they can gain greater financial rewards by moving to the out-of-town, identikit stadiums.  In the case of the Olympia Stadion, and its then tenants, Djurgården IF, it was a case of them being told they could no longer play games there.  The iconic stadium is a legacy of a past era of watching football, with wooden benches, poor sight lines and a creaking infrastructure and the Swedish FA, after giving them a few stays of execution, finally told them that 2013 would be their final season in the ground.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_zFast forward twelve months and the Järnkaminerna are now firmly at home, with their slippered feet well under the table at the Tele2 Arena in the Johanneshov area of the city.  Average attendances have gone from just below 9,000 in the last decade to over 15,000 in the first year, with over 25,000 for the explosive derby matches against AIK.  As you would expect from a brand spanking new arena, with thousands of shiny metal plates attached to the outside and a sliding roof that moves with the action of a CD player at Tandy’s (Partridge gag).  Transport links are excellent, with a number of train stations around the ground – who would have thought of that when building a stadium eh!

After numerous troubles on and off the pitch in recent years the club is at last able to look up.  Coming into this game, nearly at the half way point in the season, they seventh, one point and one place behind the visitors, BK Häcken.  A little run of form now and they could be putting pressure on city rivals AIK who sat in second place, jut six points away.

10837676685_f17af0b580_zWork done for another day I took my place in the new arena which looked relatively similar inside to the stadiums in Cardiff and Düsseldorf.  Three things were lacking for me. One was a beer (Swedes and their crazy alcohol rules for you), two was any flares from the home fans – especially as I had seen their displays in the past at the good-old Råsunda and last year in the game at the Stockholms Stadion and finally was any away fans.  In fact there were 8 of them, with a flag between them, perched in the upper tier.  Whilst it is a fair way from Göteborg, it wasn’t a school night.  Still, at least there was probably room on the team bus for them to get a lift back home.

Djurgården IF BK Häcken – Tele2 Arena – Monday 21st July 2014
After collecting my media pass I followed signs to the press seats which takes you up a tunnel and onto the edge of the 3G pitch which was enjoying a liberal watering.  With ten minutes to kick off the DIF fans were in full voice and it was tempting just to stand there and get a close up of their pre-match display.  Alas, a friendly steward pointed out to me that I was likely to have things thrown at me if I did so I took refuse up in the stands.

14730122413_5f5d42bebb_zTen minutes on the clock and with their first attack the visitors forced a corner.  The ball bobbled around the 3G pitch before Carlos Strandberg häckened (too good an opportunity to miss) it home from close range. The DIF fans behind the goal didn’t miss a beat, simply turning up the volume a notch, launching into the Swedish version of “Build a bonfire” (well, the same tune at least), bouncing choruses between the Ultras behind the goal and a section standing under a banner that said Östermalms Gentlemannaklubb, which Google translate told me was not family friendly nor was it open for breakfast.

Twenty minutes later and another mix up led to Martin Ericsson being allowed to sneak behind the defence (as they were all positioned to look the other way – fact from my scouting course) and he side-footed into the corner of the net.  Two-nil and for a full thirty seconds the stadium was silent.  The truth was that the visitors had only had two forays into the DIF area and scored on both occasions, whilst at the other end the Häcken keeper, Källqvist had to be on his toes to keep out chances from Jawo, Radetinac and Tibbing. The noise slowly built again and the whole stadium rose in unison, with a symphony of “ooohs” as Stefan Karlsson’s rocket was tipped the bar.  It looked like being one of those nights for the home side.

As you would expect, DIF came out fired up for the second half and created a number of chances in the opening fifteen minutes.  But try as they might, and willed on by a wall of noise they simply couldn’t break down the stubborn Häcken defence.  It’s also fair to say that the half-time substitute Prijovic had an absolute stinker, somehow managing to connect with every part of his body bar his head or foot when in a dangerous position.

14709960342_461a2c57ee_zFinally in the 74th minute they got their slice of luck.  Martin Broberg beat the offside trap and with only the keeper to beat managed to slice his lob sideways into the path of Fejzullahu who walked the ball into an empty net.  What effect would that goal have on the team? In short very little.  They took the tactic of trying to stretch the visitors, looking to get in behind them and to the by-line but the pace of the artificial surface often took the overlapping runners by surprise.

So in the end it was a missed opportunity to gain some ground on those above, whilst the visitors closed the gap themselves with AIK to just 2 points.  However, there is more to football than just a result and it had been an entertaining game, in a very impressive new stadium.  With a loyal fanbase that oozes passion and now a brand new home it can’t be too long before DIF will be challenging for the major honours again.

 

 

Spanish eyes aren’t smiling today


During the summer months my licence to roam to watch football carries a few endorsements.  I have to factor in “family time” around any games I want to get to, and my wanderlust desire is relatively muted – after all who really wants to drive 5 hours to Bangor City on a Thursday night just to watch some football (that’s what I told myself after I lost a coin toss a few weeks ago).  Last weekend, with the sun shining brightly I suggested a trip to the Outlet Shopping Centre at Hatfield whilst I went to watch Stevenage v West Ham United, and next weekend there is the small matter of tickets to see the “is she/isn’t she up the duff” Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo whilst I go to watch Hearts v Annan Athletic.  This weekend it was all about a trip to Hastings.

Despite being the birthplace of Erasure’s Andy Bell, everybody’s favourite comedian Jo Brand and Neil Ruddock (now listed on Wikipedia simply as “bankrupt”) it did give the world the genius talents of Alan Turing, Spike Milligan and Suggs.  Oh, and Anna McNeill Whistler, better known as Whistler’s Mum for all you Mr Bean fans out there.  It also has a pier, arcades, fish and chip shops and some amusements that look more dangerous than they really are, especially as a parent AND that they appear to be the same ones, with the same operators from when I came here as a child back in the 1980’s. Oh, and a football team who coincidently happened to be playing Lewes on the very day I suggested a Fuller Family day out. Funny that.

Alas, the mother of all storms on Friday night had driven the littlest Fullers under their beds, still not emerging by breakfast time on Saturday and the BBC weather forecast clearly said rain from 12pm to 5pm.  Perfect football weather.  So the family fun day was off (boo), but I was still able to go (yah!).  It was still only a friendly, and we had lost our previous two, including one last week to Sussex County League side Hassocks.  We all know it is all about the performance not the result at this stage of the season…unless you win of course, when it is vice-versa.

cropped-14692633105_6708776470_k.jpgHastings United’s The Pilot Field is a cracking old ground.  Once upon a time it hosted Speedway and Greyhound racing (not at the same time of course as that would be silly) and you can still see remnants of the track today. You can also see the overgrown old grandstand on the upper pitch, once the home of Rock-a-Nore FC on the walk down Elphinstone Road.  Today, with its cavernous grandstand and tall covered terrace it is showing its age.  Three years ago Hastings United reached the Third Round of the FA Cup, losing to Middlesborough, although there appears to be little in the way of a legacy of that brilliant cup run (and the significant prize money) apart from a half and half scarf above the bar.

Whilst the two clubs are both in East Sussex, there is little in the way of animosity between them.  Both seem to enjoy the challenge of beating Eastbourne Borough, sitting almost equidistant between the two towns.  Of course I say this with the fact that Hastings have had the better of the most recent games against the Rooks despite our different league fortunes.

14692344702_d3d2264174_kOf course when we finally arrived in Hastings, after a tortuous 3 hour detour to avoid the bane of modern motoring, the over turned caravan, the sun was shining.  The BBC weather app was still telling me that right now I should be cooling off in a heavy shower, rather than standing on the veranda (such a colonial word), enjoying a cold pint of MasterBrew as the teams emerged.  Modern technology can tell us who scored the opening goal in the game between Tammeka v Paide in the Estonian Meistriliiga within seconds of the ball hitting the net (Nigerian-born Jasper Uwaegbulam as you asked) yet ask it to report what is going on above us in the sky and it is rarely right.

Hastings United 2 Lewes 1 – The Pilot Field – Saturday 19th July 2014
Most games will throw up one main talking point, with both sets of fans arguing the toss for hours.  Whilst this game was only a pre-season friendly, it was a game of football and thus was played under the rules that the FA set out.  So I do not buy the “it’s only a pre-season game” when controversial issues are discussed.  In normal circumstances, and by that I mean in any other game refereed according to the laws of the game, Hastings would have gone in at half-time down to ten, possibly nine men.  That’s taking nothing away from the result – Hastings’took advantage of two pieces of calamity defending to win the game – but without their first choice keeper for over an hour, the result may have been different.

The first incident happened when new signing Elliott Romain chased what appeared to be a lost ball over the top but got in front of the defender and knocked it past the on-rushing Hastings keeper, who simply brought the Lewes forward down.  Clear penalty, clear professional foul yet the referee didn’t even produce a card.  Jack Dixon stepped up, and put the ball in his favoured corner.  1-0.

A few minutes later and veteran Sean Ray appeared to strike Romain in the face with his arm.  The Lewes forward didn’t make a big deal of it, although the referee decided to take the Lewes player to one side to have a chat.  A few minutes later the referee sided up to Ray and said something…no guesses what it was.

14505964729_feeb73921c_hHastings equalised just before the break when a corner was dropped under pressure by Rikki Banks and the ball was finally bundled home by Sawyer.  Even-stevens although the Lewes bench were clearly unhappy with the lack of action about the two incidents.  In normal instances we would have all gone down the opposite end for the second half, but our viewing position was more than adequate in the sunshine and close to the bar.  What else could you want in Non-League football?

If they weren’t bad enough then the Hastings keeper decided to try his luck again, this time flattening Romain outside the box when he was clear on goal.  This time the referee pulled out a yellow card.  What’s the point in that?  If he gave nothing for either incident in first half, why caution the player in the second?  He was never going to send him off in the game so it simply because a gesture that had no meaning.

With fifteen minutes to go Hastings once again capitalised on indecision and inability to clear the ball in the area and substitute Bankole had a simple job of turning the ball in.  The result gave the home side some local pride, although it counts for very little once the season gets underway.  Overall, a very pleasant afternoon on the Sussex coast.  It may not have been hotter than the Mediterranean but we did feel the pain in Spain…..*

*The referee, David Spain, isn’t that well liked in Lewes due to a number of refereeing performances in seasons gone by…let’s just leave it there.

Five things from….Argentina 0 Germany 1


So this is it. 30 days since it all started, over 15,000 words written on this blog and countless beers in the name of World Cup research.  The two best teams in the world?  Possibly not.  The two best teams in the tournament?  Maybe.  But when has the best two teams ever competed in the final?  That is the beauty of the tournament.  But here I am with split loyalties.  My head and heart says Germany – I think they have had the right attitude from the first game against Portugal with incredible teamwork.  I also had a top night with the German fans in Singapore on the night they played the Portuguese.  But my stomach says Argentina as my department at work got them in the sweepstake and if they win we get a free lunch this week.  My choice of beer?  Icelandic White Ale of course.

With the global ban on football for anyone involved in a club due to come into force this would be my last chance to bet.  I’d put a cheeky £5 on Müller to the top scorer at start of the tournament so I followed that up with a £5 on Germany 1-0.

photo 1 (28)1. Rio the Easyjet Steward- Footballers never look comfortable wearing ties but Rio has taken this smart look to a new level, with his blazer and orange tie, last seen on the Easyjet flight from Malaga to Liverpool.  Surely, someone in wardrobe must have said to him he looked a little silly? Or did he simply buy the outfit on eBay from Luis Van Gaal?  And why did they need to dress up anyway?  It’s the last day of “term” – they should have brought in board games, party food and all worn t-shirts that the rest of the group could sign.

2. Concussion – Why do team doctors always wear suits?  That was one of the things I noticed last night in the Dutch game?  They walk on confidently and all of the players immediately stand back, giving them the respect they deserve.  Tonight the German man was called on to look at last minute replacement for Khedira and then was on the end of a sickening collison when he ran into Garay.  Immediately the commentators assumed he was concussed – a superb diagnosis from the TV gantry where there is often no external visible signs.

3. Goal face – Is there anything funnier in football than seeing a player run away in celebration for half a minute or so when everyone else in the stadium has seen the linesman’s flag raised?  That is unless it is your team that has scored.  A perfect DVD compilation for someone to release just in time for Christmas, voiced by Alan Partridge in his “Crash, Bang, What a video” voice.

4. If Townsend is bad enough – I think we have tolerated Mark Lawrenson during the tournament because he was marginally better than Andy Townsend.  But faced with an either or option it really is hard to take.  It is incredible that both played football at the same time for so long yet can add absolutely nothing tactically to the commentary.  All they both do is tell us what we can blatently see and try to make cheap jokes.  “Some village has just lost his idiot” he said towards the end of normal time.  Not sure if he was talking in the 3rd person or about an unseen pitch invader. I’d rather have Harry Hill commentating – and I cannot stand him.

photo 4 (5)5. The best team won – I may be in the minority but I love watching German football and the team have been a pleasure to watch in this tournament.  Right from the maverick confidence of Neuer (you know that one day he will make an almighty clanger), the cool-headedness of Lahm, the warrior-like never say die attitude of Schweinsteiger and the attacking threat of Müller. Bear in mind that the squad was missing Marcus Reus, one of my favourite attacking players in Europe.  Five of the players now have a World Cup winners medal to go with last year’s Champions League winners medals.  Who would bet against them adding a European Championship one in two years?

So that’s it.  The World Cup candle has gone back into storage for four more years.  It’s been the best four weeks ever, having watched games in six countries at all hours of the day and night.  Let’s do it all again in Russia in four years.  I’ll bring the beer.

 

The Golden Generation of German football


There has been millions of words written about the most remarkable game in the history of the World Cup Finals.  The six or so first half minutes when Germany scored four goals in Belo Horizonte stunned 60,000 fans in the Estadio Mineirao, the 200 million Brazilians watching on TV and hundreds of millions more around the world.  The Germans showed little mercy for some appalling defensive play, yet they came into the tournament not even favourites to win Group G, let alone progress to the latter stages.  Their opening game thrashing of Portugal made people sit up but nobody expected the utter domination of the Brazilians.  Irrespective of if they go on and beat Argentina today in the World Cup Final, that one game has re-defined the notion of Brazil as one of the best teams in the world.

The records came tumbling down in just an hour and a half of football.  Brazil’s first competitive defeat at home for 39 years, their biggest ever defeat, the biggest margin of victory in a World Cup Semi-Final, Germany’s biggest away win outside Europe and so on.  Is our shock at the result due to the strength and ruthlessness of the German side or the lack-lustre performance of the Brazilians?  A bit of both I’d say, although the home nations weak performance in the 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands four days later would suggest that they were rabbits caught in the headlights of 200 million fans.  The Brazilian media have naturally focused on the weaknesses of their squad and team management rather than the German performance.  Is thatSAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA fair?  Perhaps not.

Ten years ago the English media waxed lyrically about our “Golden Generation”, the core of players who would go on to dominate world football.  Beckham, Ferdinand, Lampard, Owen and Rooney. We went into the 2004 European Championships in Portugal full of hope that this time we would get it right, finally delivering some glory after nearly forty years of wasted effort.  Unfortunately injuries once again were our undoing (as well as penalties) as we crashed out in the Quarter-Finals to the host nation on penalties after Rooney, the 19 year old talisman of the England team, was injured early in the game.  Two years later in Germany it was déjà vu as Rooney was sent off in the repeat performance against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen and England crashed out on penalties once again.  The Golden generation slowly faded as age caught up with them and off the field issues became distractions.

So who would replace these potential world class stars?  In theory they should have been already moving up through the ranks, gaining experience in the England Under 18’s, 20’s and finally Under 21’s.  Stuart Pearce was working very closely with Fabio Capello in nurturing the young talent.  In June 2009 Pearce took his young squad to Sweden for the UEFA European Championships, full of confidence that they would come home with the title.

Two wins and a draw from the group stages took England into the Semi-Finals where they raced into a 3-0 first-half lead against the host nation.  The English media in the stadium couldn’t dream up enough superlatives for the team, already pencilling a number in for Capello’s World Cup squad the following year in South Africa.  In an all too familiar story, England then conceded three second half goals and had to rely on penalties, winning for once, to progress to the final where Germany would be waiting.  The only black mark was that keeper Joe Hart would miss the final having picked up a second tournament booking needlessly in the penalty shoot-out.

Hart’s absence would be crucial.  On the 29th June in the impressive Swedbank Arena in Malmö, nearly 19,000 fans saw the unfancied Germans destroy England.  The final score was 4-0 but it could have easily been double that, mustering 17 shots to England’s 6.  The star of the game was a small midfielder of Turkish descent, Mezut Özil.

Fast forward five years and six of the starting line-up from that game in Malmötook the field in Belo Horizonte.  A seventh, Thomas Müller, scorer of four World Cup goals already in Brazil wasn’t deemed good enough to make the squad back in 2009.  From that same Swedish night, only James Milner had made the squad for England’s squad in Brazil.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhilst the likes of Martin Cranie, Nedum Onuoha, Mark Noble and Michael Mancienne have failed to progress further than the Under 21’s, the Germans have continued to produce young talent, constantly pushing them into the national team if they are deemed good enough.  In the squad that got on the plane for Brazil, nine were aged 24 or less.  Some players, such as the Bayern Munich trio of Müller, Kroos and Götze with an average age of 22 have over 30 caps.

So why have the Germans got it so right?  The whole issue of the number of coaches has been discussed before, with Germany having over 30,000 qualified coaches to England’s less than 5,000.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  We have some decent young players in England.  The issue is that they simply do not get enough game time to progress and develop.

Many Premier League teams have simply abandoned the principals and process of bringing young players through their Academies.  The chances of ever seeing anything like the Class of ’92 at Old Trafford is about as likely as Arjen Robben staying on his feet for more than five minutes.  Today, Premier League clubs seem more likely to invest in overseas players rather than investing in the development of their home-grown youth players.  Consequently promising youngsters often ending up with a career moving from club to club on loan.  Look at the example of Michael Mancienne, still a Chelsea player when he took the field as a second half substitute in the Under 21’s final back in 2009.  He went on to play just four times for the Blues, including two cup games where they fielded weakened teams.  He was forced to go on loan into the Championship to get game time, finally leaving Chelsea in the summer of 2011 for a fee of £1.7 million to Hamburg.  Since then he has played 40 times in the Bundesliga, but is nowhere near an England call up.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERACompare that to the likes of Kroos and midfield anchor man Bastian Schweinsteiger.  They have Bundesliga and Champions League medals to their names despite their relatively young age.  The German model of building their teams around young home developed talent is now reaping rewards for the national side.  Seven of the squad have been regulars for champions Bayern Munich over the past two seasons, with an eight, Marcus Reus only denied a place through injury.  Just over a year ago Germany’s two biggest clubs faced each other at Wembley in the Champions League Final.  Seven of the German squad played in that game.

The introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) is supposed to ensure that the best young players have access to the best facilities, although many see it another way for the big clubs to simply hoover up the best young talent at an early age, stockpiling them to stop anyone else getting them.

We have a number of promising youngsters playing at the top level, with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxley-Chamberlain playing regularly at the highest level of the Premier League.  If English clubs can realise the error of their ways then there is hope for us yet.  Could the next “Golden Generation” be waiting in the Premier League wings already?

Matt finish saves Hammer’s pre-season blushes


At the end of last season many West Ham fans faced a dilemma.  Premier League survival had been assured, which of course was the prime objective of any club outside the top seven every season, especially with the increased revenues available from the overseas TV rights but the team had gone backwards under Sam Allardyce.  In the previous season the club had finished in 10th spot, and with the big money signing of Andy Carroll, expectations were for a push towards a Europa League spot.  Instead a dreadful run of form between November and January saw them lose nine Premier League games and be eliminated from the Capital One Cup at the Semi-Final stage by Manchester City, shipping in nine goals without reply over the two games.

Questions were asked of Allardyce’s stewardship, not only in terms of the results but also the style of play that was still not winning over the fans.  His relationship with the supporters had dropped to an all-time low as he often mentioned that the failure to get behind the team in difficult times was one of the reasons why their form was poor.  In April 2014 during the away game against West Bromwich Albion, a section of West Ham fans expressed their distaste at the style of football played under Allardyce by displaying a banner which read “Fat Sam Out, killing WHU”.  Owners Sullivan and Gold took an unprecedented step of almost undermining him by insisting he employ an attacking coach for this season to “ensure the team provides more entertainment”.

14635690272_14b416929c_kThe club moved quick to appoint former player Teddy Sheringham in the role, although he is yet to finish his coaching qualifications and has no background in similar roles which suggests it was more of a move to appease the fans rather than to assist Allardyce.  The main issue is that Allardyce had built a squad to play in a certain way, his way.  You simply cannot change the style a player plays just by coaching them for a few weeks.  So Allardyce has been given the cash to bring in some new faces.

So far four have arrived.  Argentine forward Mauro Zarate, Senegal international Cheikhou Kouyate, highly rated full-back Aaron Cresswell from Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic’s teenage midfielder Diego Poyet.  These aren’t the signings on paper that would have me purring with excitement at a new look, attack minded team.  Allardyce (and the owners) transfer record in bringing in overseas forwards has been shocking to say the least.  Let me throw some names out there and see whether you can say what impact they had on West Ham or English football in general:-

Maroune Chamakh (2 games, no goals), Modibo Maiga (31 games, 3 goals), John Carew (21 games, 2 goals), Brian Montenegro (2 games, 0 goals), Papa Bouba Diop (16 games, 1 goal), Pablo Barrera (2 games, 0 goals), Marceo Borriello (0 games, o goals)

Last season all the attacking eggs were placed in the Andy Carroll basket.  Carroll’s strike rate through his career has been just less than 1 goal in every 4 games.  So over the course of a Premier League season, even if we had changed our style massively by using two wide me, such as Jarvis and Downing, we would have only expected to score a dozen goals.  Hardly enough to push us into the top eight.  Alas, Carroll picked up an injury and missed over half the season – the reason that Allardyce continued to trot out as to why we were struggling.  He was forced to resign Carlton Cole who for many games was the only striking option we had.

14632781351_e28cdcbd53_kThe first opportunity for the new dawn of the Hammers was to be away at Stevenage in a pre-season friendly. Whilst these games can be dismissed as irrelevant in terms of a barometer for the season ahead, it would be one of the few opportunities Allardyce would have to demonstrate his new attacking intent before the Premier League season got underway. However, in an all too familiar story, Carroll, Cole and new striking option Zarate would not travel up the A1(M) for the game.

Whilst not in the same financial bracket as a Non-League team hosting a big club, this would be an important game for Stevenage and they hoped for a bumper crowd.  Their relegation back to League Two at the end of last season had dented the momentum the club had after winning promotion to the Football League back in 2011.  Two seasons later and they were on the verge of a place in the Championship after reaching the Play-Offs, only to lose to Sheffield United.

This was my first visit back to Stevenage since they lost their Borough a few seasons ago.  I’d first been to Broadhall back in 1996 when they played Hayes in the FA Cup first round.  I’d stumbled on the ground by accident after visiting our prospective wedding venue down the road and celebrating by buying our first ever PC (an Intel desktop that cost a whopping £1,995) in the Industrial Park just off the A1.  Having seen a number of football fans parking outside Comet (RIP) I managed to persuade the then Future Mrs Fuller (FMF) to go to the game.

14635563612_4ef65c1a55_kEighteen years later and she was dropping me back in the same Industrial Park opposite the ground.  Alas, with the two little Fuller’s in tow she wouldn’t be joining me, opting for the shopping option instead.  The fans were out in force, with all those hopes and dreams for the season still in tact.  Whilst one day would not make them fade and die, they could start to plant those seeds of doubt that sit in all football fans.

Stevenage 2 West Ham United 2 – Saturday 12th July 2014 – Broadhall Stadium
Whilst we all know this is all about the performance, rather than the result, if it wasn’t for Matty Jarvis West Ham would have left Hertfordshire with their tail firmly between their legs with a defeat to a spirited Stevenage side.  His 84th minute header brought the Hammers back into the game then set up Stewart Downing to score a 90th minute equaliser much to the relief of the fifteen hundred travelling West Ham fans.

Without any first choice recognised strikers, Allardyce, sporting an American Hustle look with three (THREE!) shirt buttons undone, was forced to start with a first half side utilising Kevin Nolan and McCallum up front.  New signings Cresswell and Poyet also started, with youngster Leo Chambers playing alongside Winston Reid at the back.  Despite the wishes of the board, the opening exchanges simply saw the Hammers punt the ball long for the likes of Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison to chase, rarely troubling the Stevenage keeper, Sam Beasant, son of ex-Wimbledon legend David.

14450407710_0806dace44_kThe opening exchanges were unsurprisingly cagey, and played at a sedate pace, yet bang on 22 minutes the referee blew his whistle for a water break.  Ridiculous.  We were in Stevenage not Salvador.  During the break, both benches were on the field, coaching the teams.  You can see this playing right into the hands of the TV companies if this is allowed to continue, being able to sell more advertising slots in prime time TV.  Five minutes later, after the referee had been prompted as to where the game actually stopped from, Stevenage had a player down injured.  Once again, manager Graham Westley was on the pitch, obviously now the club doctor.  And the role of the fourth official is often dumbed down.

West Ham’s keeper Adrian had a torrid first half and was at fault for the opening goal of the afternoon.  Cresswell headed back to Adrian and as the keeper slid out  to gather, he dropped the ball at the feet of ex-Wealdstone winger Pett who said “Thank you very much” and tapped the ball into an empty net.  Adrian did what all good goalkeepers should do in that position – he appealed for a foul then started holding his wrist as if injured.  He then faffed at a low cross from Deacon and pushes the ball into the onrushing Stevenage forward, who couldn’t believe his luck and slammed the ball against the post.

14449338290_45762b6c6a_hHalf time and wholesale West Ham changes saw a brand new starting XI with Downing and Jarvis brought on to give the team some width.  However, it was Stevenage who struck again when that old favourite “A. Trialist” turned neatly and beat Jaaskelainen to double their lead.  It looked like being a miserable afternoon for West Ham until Jarvis threw himself at a Demel cross to score a rare headed goal.  Even rarer was a Downing goal, let alone a header but it was his nod, from Jarvis’s cross in the 90th minute that gave West Ham a share of the spoils.

So what would Allardyce have learnt from the 90 minutes?  There were certainly some positives – Winston Reid looked sharp, Jarvis positive and it was great to see assured performances from the young trio of Lee, Potts and Chambers.  On the flip side where must be some worries over the goal keeping situation, Tompkins looked very shaky against League Two strikers and the lack of strikers saw Nolan huffing and puffing away chasing long hoof balls.

 

 

Five things from….Brazil 0 Netherlands 3


We all know this is the game that neither team really wants to play. I’m sure a lot of the Dutch team would want to be on a beach somewhere, enjoying a week or so of R & R before they all sign for Manchester United (well, apart from RVP of course).  For Brazil they can’t go anywhere – they have to live with the crushing disappointment for the rest of their careers.  But history has shown that this game tends to have some drama.  Hakan Suker’s 11 second goal in 2002 against South Korea, Sweden scoring four in the first half against Bulgaria in 1994 and five goals in South Africa four years ago.  Surely there was no drama left in this tournament?

1. Homer – 90 second in and you couldn’t have asked for a clearer professional foul as Thiago Silva brought Robben down, although of course he went down as if he had been shot. No doubt it was a foul yet there was still some hesitation from the referee.  That wasn’t in the plan, you could see him thinking.  Straight red for Silva?  Er no, a feeble yellow.  Good to see Brazil’s tournament will end as it started with dubious decisions given by referees about penalties.

photo (2)2. Side Show Bob – Nothing like being in the spotlight to really show your qualities.  I remember punching above my weight when I played for a number of sides in my youth.  You naturally raise your game.  But here is David Luiz, fresh from leading the Brazilian defence into the worst defeat in their history, perfectly setting up Blind for the second goal with the most ridiculous header.  The PSG owners must be trying ever trick in the book to get the €40 cheque stopped.

3. Big Phil – Why?  Why is he called that?  He is less than 6 feet tall.  Granted that is taller than your average man, but he is hardly a giant is he?  In terms of other Phil’s, he is smaller than Thompson, Windsor and Oakey.  Big head perhaps, or just a made up nickname by the media to give him some colour.

4. Premier League – Best Premier League player in the World Cup Finals?  My shout would be Tim Howard, who was outstanding for the US although when I asked Twitter, the hands-down answer was Ron Vlaar.  Can’t fault him for his solid defensive performance but can you give the award to someone who essentially has been an unmoveable object?

5. ITV v BBC – “Join us tomorrow night for the World Cup Final, with Andy Townsend”.  If there was ever five words to make you shudder in fear it is “World Cup Final” and “Andy Townsend”. Fortunately, BBC are also showing the game which means 75% of the watching British public will choose the advert-free, Chiles-free, “it’s going to be emotional”-free BBC.  I’d even welcome Robbie Savage on my screen over Townsend.  Sorry ITV but BBC have been the winners again in the footballing stakes.

 

Football back for the Daggers


Last season exceeded most of the expectations of the Victoria Road faithful. Pre season favourites for the drop, home form played a big part in that apparent change of fortune, and as the campaign progressed to the half way point, we found ourselves in a comfortable mid table position. After three years of trying to avoid relegation, this was a very welcome change.

The second half of the season bought a complete reversal of home fortune. After beating Wimbledon on January 1st, it would be another two and a half months before we registered another three points at home. As the hangovers subsided that wet New Year’s Day, little did we realise that we had just witnessed our penultimate home win of the season.

It was fortunate then that our away form, disappointing up until December, came to our rescue. Just one defeat was sustained on the road after January 1st, and so when all the points were added up on the final day of the season, the daggers had finished a very creditable ninth place, and Wayne Burnett had been nominated for the League Two manager of the year award.

IMAG1312Despite the very good league season we had enjoyed, I felt nothing of the kind. In fact, apathy would be a very good way to describe the feelings I had as the season lurched to its conclusion. Home games now became something to endure, rather than enjoy. I can take the team losing, but if there appears to be a lack of effort or they just don’t appear to be bothered, then I get annoyed. The home game against Portsmouth on April 12 was awful. Cheered on by an away support that nearly matched the number of home fans in attendance, the visitors cantered to a comfortable 4-1 win.

That was bad enough, but the last home game topped the lot. Ok, we didn’t have much to play for, while Northampton Town needed the points to stay up. But the capitulation on the day (we lost 0-3 and it should have been more) meant that, as he team came round for their lap of honour at the end of the game, around 80% of the crowd had gone home. I had to think twice about staying but I did, because no matter what had happened that day, the campaign overall had been a success. Continue reading