For sale – one England goal keeper’s kit – as new


16767042859_ae286e4fe1_kWhilst the biggest cheer in the second half came at Wembley in the 70th minute when Harry Kane scored with his second touch in international football just eighty seconds after coming on to replace Wayne Rooney, the most significant moment came a few minutes before. With 68 minutes on the clock Joe Hart got his hands on the ball for the first time since the break, and the third time in the whole game.  Even in the most one-sided of FA Cup games where Non-League minnows are pitted against a Premier League side the keeper will see more of the action.  Welcome to modern International football.

Hart actually got 3 touches of the ball in the first half, although 2 of those were in relation to back passes. At the other end, England scored four and could have easily got double that.  Nobody will really care though as 4-0 sits in that “comprehensive, yet respectful” result bracket that still allows managers to roll out quotes such as “There’s no easy games in international football”, “they were tough opponents” and “it was a professional performance”. It the grand scheme of things it mattered very little.  Since Platini got his way in increasing the size of the European Championships to 24 teams, or putting it in a statistical way, 49% of the nation’s affiliated to UEFA, England only really needed to avoid defeat in their toughest group game away in Switzerland.  That game was the first in the campaign and the Three Lions won with ease.  Since then San Marino, Estonia, Slovenia and now Lithuania have been brushed aside with efficiency rather than with panache. By the time they return from the game in San Marino in September I’d wager (if I was allowed by the ridiculous FA betting rules) that the 21 points will have already guaranteed a place on the Dover-Calais ferry for the finals in June 2016.

Hodgson will have learnt more from the friendly games again Scotland, Norway and the forthcoming games away in Turin and Dublin than these games.  The calls for Kane tonight started as soon as Rooney had smartly headed England ahead in the 7th minute, but Hodgson ignored the growing calls from the crowd for the nation’s latest great hope until the 70th minute. Kane waited 80 seconds before he headed home.  The Spurs fan next to me jumped for joy. “That’s my boy! Wizard Harry!” As he sat down a more dour chap reminded him that both Dennis Wise, David Nugent and Francis Jeffers also marked their debuts with a goal.  Harsh words indeed.

It was good to see the team keep possession of the ball so well and for long periods of time.  Passing at times was crisp and pacy – today’s coaches earn their Pro-licence money by trying to integrate often self-centred players with egos the size of small planets, who are used to playing for every million-pound point in the Premier League into a different style than at international level.  You can’t fault some of the approach play which saw the Lithuanian defence carved open time and time again. Each of the four goals showed touches of training ground moves rather than individual brilliance and that would please any coach.

16765523988_e22825595b_hThe news that Hodgson may be given a new contract should be welcomed.  He has affected a quiet revolution in the approach of the squad, failing to pander to the media.  His experience at managing at the top-level in different countries has given the squad a more humble approach.  There may have been a temptation to listen to those journalists who yearn for one last hurrah for the “golden generation”. Terry, Gerrard and Lampard have all been touted as coming out of retirement to play this season. That would be a massive backward step.  England looked assured with Jones, Henderson and Delph.  Clyne played with maturity at full back and Welbeck seems to raise his game on the International stage.  It is more than possible we will go through qualifying with a 100% record which will then translate in some quarters of the media to an arrogance that we have a God-given right to win the European Championships.  Whilst the Premier League may be lauded as the best league in the world by many, the truth (as borne out in some ways by the failure of any English team to reach the last 8 of either European club competition this season) is that it isn’t.  We have to accept that we are a solid, sometimes explosive team, that on its day will perform well.  We are no Germany, Netherlands, Spain or even France where decades of investment into coaching has put them on a different level to the English game.

Things are changing though, and with patience and most importantly an attitude from the top clubs to develop AND play home grown talent, we will start to close the gap.  Southampton and now to an extent Liverpool should be applauded for the investment they have made in their Academies as well as giving the youngsters a chance.  One day, Man City and Chelsea will realise that buying their way to the Premier League is actually damaging the national game.

16333126293_f4deb7f4b8_kThis was my first trip to see England at Wembley in almost three years.   It was good to see a few things had changed.  The tie up with EE meant that a mobile signal was actually possible during the game.  The whole concept of integrating the crowd into the event via social media worked well.  “Upload your Wembley selfie using the hashtag #WembleySelfie” saw thousands of fans posing, whilst the post match chaos at Wembley Park was managed well and within 15 minutes of the final whistle we was on a southbound tube.

Alas there are still some things that never change.  Sitting next to the bank of “corporates” behind the dugout (the ones that face the cameras and are always empty post half-time) it was disheartening to see people stumbling back to their seats twenty minutes into the second period, with no interest in the game at all. Half and half scarves seemed to be popular, selling at £10 – a 100% mark up from a respective Premier League version.  Oh, and the band.  They were still there, occasionally breaking into an out of tune version of Self-Preservation Society or God Save The Queen before giving up as no one joined in.  And talking of joining in, adverts run by Mars around the pitch encouraging fans to start a Mexican Wave? Please! Stick to making chocolate.

It was a great night for Harry Kane, a good one for Hodgson and most of the 84,000 (!!!) fans but my man of the match had to be Joe Hart.  How we kept his concentration is beyond me – a true professional performance.  At least the Kitman doesn’t have to wash his kit for the Italian game on Tuesday!

The Lord’s work


14718895028_80db023387_zWith the snow gently falling in South London a few weeks ago and another Rooks game coming under threat I looked around for alternatives. Having been away for the past few weeks I thought it might be a good idea to have my Plan B as sitting in front of TV with a warm cup of tea. Scanning the fixtures I noticed that Real Madrid were playing Real Sociedad at 3pm. That’ll do me I thought but then I couldn’t find any details of the game when scanning through the Sky Sports schedules. The media giant televises a Ronaldo sneeze, and with British interest not only in the form of Gareth Bale but also in David Moyes, now managing the Basques, surely there had to be a mistake?

Alas not. Television companies in England are not allowed to show a live game between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday. The ruling dates back over 50 years and was the result of a petition raised by the controversial Burnley chairman at the time, Bob Lord with the Football League. He argued that televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would have a negative effect on the attendances of other football league games that were not being televised and as a result reduce their financial income. Fifty years ago this made sense, but today is it still relevant?

In the last few months Ofcom have become vocal about reviewing the legislation after a complaint by Virgin Media, who feel that the restriction means the bidding process for TV rights is artificially high. The Football Supporters Federation have weighed in, lending their support to keeping the Saturday blackout.

“It’s very important to retain the 3pm window and we’d have major reservations about a further significant increase in televised football,” said Clarke. “A 3pm kick-off on Saturday is part of the tradition of English football.”

Of course this ignores the fact that on most weekends half of the games are played outside the blackout window for television purposes (more when the weekend falls after a European club competition week) yet nobody is objecting to that. Whilst I can see an argument for the blackout for games in England, why should it extend to European competition?

The same rules do not apply in other countries and other sports. The best supported football league in the world is Germany’s Bundesliga with an average attendance of over 43,000, 20% higher than the Premier League yet they show a live Saturday afternoon game. The ability for the broadcasted to choose more games to screen increases the rights, with more flowing down into the lower leagues. Germany’s football league structure is similar to England’s and a comparable ranked league to the Ryman Premier League such as the Regionalliga will still see crowds of up to 1,000 on a Saturday afternoon. BT Sports and Sky Sports also screen live rugby union at 3pm on a Saturday without any complaints despite arguments that it could cannibalize both rugby and football attendances.

You only have to look at the situation over Christmas to see the negligible effect of the ruling. With a relatively full programme on Boxing Day (Friday) and on Sunday 28th December, Sky were able to show live matches between 2pm and 5.30pm despite other games being played at the same time without any impact on attendances. Nobody threw their arms up in the air at the fact they screened Southampton v Chelsea AND Newcastle United v Everton on the 28th December whilst six other Premier League games kicked off at 3pm.

This archaic ruling is the source of controversy around the grey area of pubs and clubs showing live games from overseas broadcasters at 3pm on a Saturday. Technically, they are free to show games as long as they have purchased the equipment and subscription legitimately, but are in breach of the blackout regulations rule if they use it to show a game live at 3pm.

The new TV rights deal for the Premier League will be for 168 games a season, up from the existing 154 matches.  The additional 14 are being created by shifting some games in non-European club competition weeks to a Friday night, which will mean 44% of all of the games in England’s top division will be available to watch live – which by a simple deduction means at the maximum, 56% will be shown at 3pm on a Saturday.  Friday night football was the norm back in the 1980’s when live games first hit our TV screens but the new deal will cause pain to most away fans.  The police will be loathed to allow the high-profile local derbies to be held on a Friday night due to the drain on resources from policing the alcohol-fuelled High Streets of broken Britain, and the TV companies will not want their prestigious games to be shown when people traditionally go out for the night.  But then again,  the Premier League has long held the actual logistics of getting to and from games with as much regard as the Football Association with their legendary scheduling of FA Cup Semi-Final matches so that one set of fans cannot actually get home.

So for now it’s fingers crossed that the snow doesn’t settle and we will have a game to watch. Otherwise I may be forced into a trip to Bluewater – now that’s definitely something that should be banned at 3pm on a Saturday!

A love of Tembling Madness


downloadI’m showing my age by sharing a joke from my adolescent years that is tenuously connected to this year’s annual Northern Capricorn adventure.

“What’s the difference between Joan Collins and a KitKat?”

Answers on a postcard to the usual address and if you don’t know who Joan is, have a look in your Dad’s shed in his collection of video tapes in those fake book covers for The Bitch or The Stud. If you need to Google what a video is then give up now. As a hint, KitKat has either two or four fingers of chocolate-covered wafer.

After the excitement of Hucknall Town, Sheffield, Farsley and Jarrow Roofing Borough in recent years, Northern Steve and I had gone all upmarket for our trip this year, dipping our toe into the Football League with a visit to York City. It’s been over 20 years since I’d last visited Bootham Crescent, in which time the Minstermen had been taken over by a mad American chap who seemed to think he’d bought an American football team and tried to rename them York City Soccer Club, almost gone to the wall, been relegated from the Football League, almost gone bankrupt again, renamed their ground after a chocolate bar, played at Wembley and lost, played at Wembley and won the FA Trophy, bounced back in the words of Alan Partridge and finally regained their place in the Football League.

Memories of York City? Has to be Keith Houchen’s goal in the mid-Eighties to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup. Back then Arsenal were a poor side, frightened by the looming presence of the opposition’s goal and constantly moaning that their artistic flare was being stifled by brutish tactics from the opposition. So nothing’s really changed.

16302323235_8ed47d705a_kThese days York is a trendy weekend break city for tourists (shameless plug for our new non-football website). Quaint lanes lined with Ye Olde Worlde-type shops rub shoulders with some superb pubs, whilst the traditional industries of the city, railways and chocolate, are honoured with respectful museums. The city is watched over by the Minster, making sure all those boys and girls on their nights out behave themselves.

Our annual January trips follow a similar pattern. We deposit the Current Mrs Fuller and Sister of CMF at a ‘classy’ bar in the city centre (by SoCMF standards, classy means they wash the unused cherries they put in drinks before re-using them), pop along to the nearest Step 7 or below football match, return to hotel where the girls will have tried, but miserably failed to do the whole minibar (it’s always the rum that does them in). A slap up meal somewhere before we end up in a nightclub that plays Now That’s What I Call a Music 13 on a loop whilst Cyndi Lauper impersonators mime out of time on a vomit streaked dance floor. Harsh? That’s what an afternoon in South Shields can do to a rational man.

16301470792_14048c50ce_hBut York was going to be different. We, well CMF and SoCMF had family in York. Aunt, an Uncle and cousins who love nothing better than trying to take the piss out if our southern ways, accents and mannerisms whilst looking jealously at how we could use a knife and fork. Of course they’d be joining us in our Saturday night out – who in their right mind could refuse that opportunity although they were less than eager to join Steve and I at Bootham Crescent. Dave (Uncle) even went as far as saying he was going to see Grimsby Town v Barnet. As if anyone would believe that?

This was also likely to be my last trip to Bootham Crescent as the wheels now appeared to be back on the new stadium bandwagon after 10 years of delays. The new stadium at Monks Cross would be a similar design to Princes Park in Dartford but with a 12 foot Viking instead of the Wooden Man I assume. Planning permission for an 8,000 capacity ground was submitted late in 2014. Whether the notorious Jorvik Reds would be welcome is another question after a spat with the club a few years ago.

16300532721_765221ee86_kYork has a fair few decent pubs including a Ossett Brewery outpost and possibly the best named pub in England, The House of Trembling Madness and England’s most haunted pub, the Golden Fleece where ghostly apparitions still happen on a nightly basis, especially after ten pints of old Wallop. With a few hearty lunchtime Yorkshire ales inside us, we headed along to Bootham Crescent, ready to watch some Viking fire. And drink beef-flavored hot drinks.

York City 0 Stevenage 2 – Bootham Crescent – Saturday 17th January 2015
16302340645_9aeb09bc97_kUnless they were completely blinded by the low winter sun, there could be few York fans who wont begrudge the visitors all three points.  As a few Stevenage fans started a conga at the far end, the York fans put their heads down and walked out into the night, shaking their heads about another performance where they simply weren’t at the races.  Two superb shots, one that found the cross-bar and was then followed in, and another that flew into the top corner saw Stevenage’s fine recent run continue as the home team fell a few steps further down the ladder towards the Conference Premier.  York’s manager, Russ Wilcox summed up the mood in his post match interview:-

“Not good enough, that’s the bottom line really. I feel for the supporters. The last two home performances have been outstanding, but today we just didn’t perform.  The lack of quality today was eye-catching – we just looked lost and it was a really bad day”

Despite being fairly well matched in terms of possession and early chances, Stevenage just seemed to want to win more than the home side.  I’d taken the opportunity to grab a Bovril when the crowds “oooh’d” in the 39th minute as Charlie Lee’s superb volley hit the bar.  Adam Marriott looked to be in an offside position when he headed the rebound home, but there was no doubt in the officials mind.

16116492777_75638e0d6a_oThe York fans tried to raise a pulse from the team with the beat of their drums early in the second half.  Three quick corners produced some scary moments in the Stevenage box but then Stevenage re-asserted themselves in the game and wrapped up the points when Tom Pett, playing for Wealdstone in the Ryman Premier League this time last season, struck a peach of a shot into the top corner in the 64th minute to wrap up the three points with the only attacking chance from York coming in the 85th minute when Morris’s shot was somehow kept out by the keeper and a post.

Whilst none of the York fans will want to return to the bizarre days of Soccer City or the dark days of Conference football, they probably do want to be playing League Two football as and when they move to their new stadium. For now there was the bitterness of defeat but as the fans filed into the fantastic pubs in the city centre, the beer would soon soothe all of those pains.  It is only a game after all.

I heard it on the Twitter Vine


Football has much bigger things to worry about than six second videos being shared across Social Media hasn’t it?  Well not if you read some of the more recent news stories and official comments made by the governing bodies that run the game in England.  Statements using words such as “crackdown”, “unlawful” and “infringing” have elevated the issue to headline status with organisations including the BBC, Bloomberg and The Financial Times covering the story in depth in the past few weeks.  But is it all just a storm in a tea cup?

It is important to take a step back and understand the context before we can really pass any judgement.  The facts on face value are simple.  Any distribution of copyrighted material, irrespective of the medium, is piracy. Back in the day it used to be confined to taping the Top 40 off Radio 1, finger ready at the pause button to avoid Mike Reid’s voice.  Technology has presented us with so many opportunities to take our media with us wherever we go in a digital form, but that has increased the problem of piracy to untold lengths.  Illegal distribution of latest film releases is still a major issues for film studios as well as cinemas who need to constantly police their theatres to ensure nobody is covertly recording movies.

Vine-LogoVine seems to be the latest problem child.  The app, designed specifically for the smartphone, allows users to make their own 6 second “movie”, condensing video and pictures, then sharing with the world at the touch of a button.  Formed in June 2012, the start-up was acquired by Twitter before it even officially launched for a reported $30 million having been seen as a natural rival to what Facebook were trying to do with Instagram.  Today, with over 40 million users, Vine is a platform for those with creative vision, challenging users to make those six seconds unique, compelling and above all worthy of sharing on Social Media.  According to an article published by US Library of Medicine earlier this year, our attention span has dropped to just eight seconds on average, meaning that Vine is becoming the perfect media for advertisers who want to grab the attention of Internet users.

The fact that the word “vine” has now entered the modern day lexicon along with Tweet, SnapChat and Like shows how we consume digital content.  So why is there a problem?

During an average 90 minute football match, the ball is only actually in-play and live for around 50 minutes.  Out of that period how many minutes are taken up by goal mouth action or incidents?  Five minutes at the maximum?  You only have to watch the final game every Saturday on Match of the Day to see how brutal an editor can be with a mediocre game, reducing 90 minutes down into 90 seconds.  So if you are able to compartmentalise the key moments, Vine becomes the perfect medium to share the action.  With our short attention span, do we really need to see the same incident for every angle or just be able to pause and rewind it ourselves?

The Premier League is the richest football league in the world. The excesses in our national game have been driven by outlandish commercial deals, spiralling ticket prices but above all, multi-billion pound TV deals.  Having invested so much money into these deals, broadcasters such as Sky have to get the return on their investment in terms of subscribers.  One way to get new viewers and keep the old ones coming back month after month? Invest in the technology.  Sky Plus, TiVo boxes and hard disk recorders are all now staple items in living rooms up and down the country allowing us to record, pause, rewind and access additional content as standard.  By being able to rewind the action to the point where the latest action starts, Vine users can then simply take a screenshot of the action then press publish.  Seconds later the goal can be seen on timelines of millions of people across the world on Twitter. This has been the catalyst to the high-profile issue that the Premier League want to clamp down on.  So in summary, the commercial rights that they put on the table have essentially fuelled a problem they now want the broadcasters and Social Media to stop.

So what exactly is the issue?  In its simplest form it is one of copyright infringement.  Everything that happens on a Premier League football pitch is copyrighted, owned by the clubs, the governing bodies, the advertisers, the broadcasters or the sponsors.  Even taking pictures within a stadium can get you ejected or even arrested – the use of any device that can capture or distribute digital content is explicitly banned according to the stadiums conditions of entry, although few will mind you taking the odd snap or two.  The reason is that every time you capture an image it will contain copyrighted material.  A shirt sponsor, a perimeter board even a player’s face themselves.  Companies pay millions to have exclusive rights to be associated with the players, the clubs and the stadiums and they take a dim view of anyone else having a free ride.

Good old technology again has made the professional production of instant highlights possible and so the Premier League has been able to offer additional rights packages to commercial partners.  Last season the Premier League sold the online digital rights for the distribution of goal action to News International to mobile devices. Their paid-app product touts “almost immediate” access to every goal in the Premier League.  Yet before they can push the net-rippler out, thousands of people have already shared the moment through a Vine on Social Media.  What is the value then in a subscriber using their service if they can get it quicker, and cheaper, elsewhere?   If existing subscribers simply walk away from the paid service, what value are News International getting from their significant investment and are they likely to renew it?

Match of the Day used to be our only way of seeing the day’s main action.  Today, before the famous theme tune starts just after 10.30pm on a Saturday, all of the day’s main talking points have been shown around the world thousands of times. What football fans want to see are those incidents that the TV broadcasters never show.  Take the example from the opening day’s Premier League game between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.  An eventful game with two sending offs, a missed penalty and a late winner for the visitors.  But the main event which was shared across the world via Vine was when a pitch invader ran on the turf and took a free-kick on goal that was being lined up whilst being pursued by stewards.  Yet that one incident will never be shown on Match of the Day, Sky Sports or BT Sports. Why?  Because it may encourage others to do the same? Maybe, but the main reason is that it could be deemed to undermine the value of our game to those commercial partners.

So what can the Premier League do to enforce the laws on copyright infringement on Vine?  Practically, very little.  The one aspect here is one of the fundamental principles of English law.  To be found guilty of an offence the perpetrator has to demonstrate the “mens rea” and the “actus rea”- the guilty mind and guilty act.  In theory, if someone didn’t mean to do something wrong, they can’t be found guilty of an offence.  It is not always as simple as that but does someone who takes a Vine of Aaron Ramsey’s 90th minute winner for Arsenal versus Crystal Palace doing so because he is intent on infringing the Premier League, among others, image rights or because he wanted to share the moment with millions of fellow Arsenal fans across the world?

Once infringing content has been identified, there is still the issue of removing it.  The beauty of Social Media is that it’s instantaneous.  I can quickly search using hashtag for the material I want and see immediately.  But if material needs to be removed there is a set process that has to be followed and that takes time.  The reason why hundreds of millions of people use Twitter is that it allows free speech.  If it was heavily policed then people would simply move elsewhere.  So whilst the Premier League can request that content is removed for legitimate copyright infringing reasons, it will have been seen by thousands of people already.

So is this just sabre-rattling by the football authorities, or will they genuinely crackdown on users sharing illegal content?  Brand and reputation monitoring solutions are becoming more effective every month but they would still need to justify the investment in a comprehensive solution would be effective in eliminating the problem.  We see technology advancing all the time, so who is to say what medium we will using and consuming in six months let alone six years.  Football has far too many other issues that need to be addressed before it can genuinely think about policing social media to stop these issues.

PS – I wrote this a few weeks ago.  On Saturday I noticed that a very well-known ex-Premier League footballer who is now a commentator on a national commercial radio station tweeted a “Vine” from the Liverpool v West Brom game whilst it was still in-play to his hundreds of thousands Twitter followers, breaching the rules.

Bigger than the Intertoto Cup


Being a Lewes and a West Ham fan doesn’t really give me many opportunities to watch my team play overseas.  Going continental means crossing the respective bridges for our league games in Canvey Island and Swansea City.  One of the great things about the “bigger teams” not taking the domestic cups seriously has been the opportunities presented to sides who may not have had a look in a a decade ago.  Hull City, Swansea City, Wigan Athletic – heck, even Arsenal, have benefited in the past few years, qualifying for Europe thanks to their cup exploits.  Am I jealous?  Absolutely.  Who doesn’t want to go on a European tour watching their team?

The last “proper” trip for West Ham fans was a short-lived UEFA Cup run back in 2006.  And when I say “run” I actually mean was a two-legged game against USC Palermo which will be remembered more for events off the field than anything that took place across the three hours of football.  Like many others, I paid £400 for a day trip to Sicily through West Ham’s official channels in order to get an official away ticket to watch a limp Pardew-inspired performance whilst the main talking point was the huge fight in the city centre the previous evening between locals and some of the more “old school” West Ham fans who had come out of retirement for the trip.

14629783778_99168a9a66_zChanges in the way that pre-season preparation are run has meant that English clubs tend to disappear to all four corners of the world in mid-July, returning just before the start of the season to play one “prestigous” friendly.  This used to be a slot reserved for a testimonial, but few players in the top leagues last five years at a club these days, let alone ten. In fact, the last West Ham player honoured in such a way was Steve Potts back in 1997.  Current first team squad player, Dan Potts, son of Steve was one of the mascots that day, aged three years old.  That is how rare these games are.

This year West Ham took in Australia, New Zealand, Stevenage and Germany for their warm up games before returning to play in the inaugural Marathon Bet Cup Final (formerly known as the Display Systems Trophy, the Bobby Moore Invitation and the “if you have the cash then you can sponsor it” Shield) against Sampdoria.  Germany though, eh.  A four team tournament hosted by Schalke 04 at their impressive Veltins Arena. Far too tempting to miss that one.

So that is why I was sitting in a Wetherspoon’s pub at London Stansted at 8am along with ten other football fans.  I blame my brother 100% for this.  Sitting alongside Stag Do’s, Hen Do’s, Grannies on a “sex tour of Shagaluf” (their words, not mine) and other football fans including Chelsea fans heading for Bremen and Newcastle fans also heading to Gelsenkirchen gives you an interesting slice of life.  My brother recently took redundancy from a job he had done for twenty five years.  His reward, a life of leisure hoping around the world, finding the most bizarre things to do, and arranging trips like this.

14626287460_c523315fbd_zIt didn’t take him long asking around his local pub to find seven other West Ham fans, plus Malcolm the Newcastle fan.  It took even longer to convince one of them, Nick, to splash out on a box for the day in the Veltins Arena.  All the beer and bratwurst we could consume, hence why we were taking it easy so early in the morning by only drinking Carling.  One short fifty five minute flight later and we were disembarking into the sunshine of Dortmund (officially hotter than Greece at that moment), ready for the day, and night ahead.

Schalke 0 West Ham United 0 – Saturday 2nd August 2014 – The Veltins Arena
You can dress up the fact that West Ham won this game on penalties all you like but in truth it was a terrible exhibition of football.  You would have hoped that with a bit of silverware on offer, West Ham would have at least tried to get the ball out of their half.  Having seen a picture of the Veltins Cup, it would have at least been more impressive to have in the trophy cabinet than the thumbnail-sized Intertoto Cup that we won back in 1999. It was a good job that penalties were used to decide after ninety minutes rather than extra time, to stop the majority of fans falling asleep.  Yes, it was only a pre-season friendly, but surely this should be the time when the manager is being brave, trying out things that could work.  So far this season we have seen very little of that in the draws against Stevenage and Ipswich Town and the defeats against Sydney FC and Wellington in New Zealand.  With just two weeks ago before the Premier League starts, the club are still desperately trying to bring in some more firepower.

14626366469_6123008bbc_zWe arrived at the stadium just in time to see Newcastle fall behind to Malaga in the first game.  I’d been to the Veltins Arena a few times before – yet never seen the home side play.  Tickets are incredibly difficult to come by so I had been forced to experience one of the best new build stadiums in Europe during the Champions League Final in 2004 and then in the 2006 World Cup Finals.  However, it seems that the locals weren’t particularly interested in the Veltins Cup either.  A handful of Malaga fans, a smattering of Schalke fans on the huge terrace and in the far upper corner, around 500 Newcastle fans who were already realising in the same way the West Ham fans had, that this Premier League season may be “problematic”.

After the third Malaga goal went in just before half-time (The Daily Mail summed it up by saying that “even” ex-Man Utd flop Obertan got on the score sheet) a few of us headed out of the stadium to where a few hundred West Ham fans were drinking.  Few seemed particularly interested in the game, here for a weekend away and experiencing a more “grown up” footballing experience (terracing, beer, sausages and no heavy-handed policing or stewards).

14629751869_7ab7ceb2d5_zWest Ham lined up with three up front, although you can hardly ever call Stewart Downing, with four goals to his name in the last four seasons.  Carlton Cole, maligned by many outside of the club (and some inside it), was also in the starting XI.  You know where you stand with Carlton and if we had players with the same work ethic we would have a lot less to worry about.  But it mattered very little.  The game was tame, with Schalke coming the closest to breaking the deadlock when they hit the post twice.  The five hundred or so West Ham fans spread out across SudTribune tried to rally the Hammers but it seemed penalties were inevitable.

Fortunately, 39 year old Jaaskerlainen was still awake and made two excellent saves in the shoot-out, the final one from Borgmann in sudden death to win the game for West Ham, meaning the game 24 hours later against Malaga would determine the first ever winners of the Veltins Cups.

The night was young for us.  We were one of the last groups to leave the stadium, getting our full money’s worth of Veltins beer before heading to the bright lights of Dortmund.  It was only a pre-season friendly, but it did give us a taste of how the other half, well top seven Premier League clubs, live.  It’s only August.  Who knows, this year could be our year….please?

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?

Five things from….England 1 Uruguay 2


“Give me joy in my heart….” Knobhead was on the table already.  It was midnight, two hours before kick off and it appears that some people have already had enough.  The issue with the game kicking off so early/late is that some people had been drinking from 6pm, although Melbourne isn’t the cheapest city in the world to enjoy a beer in.  With Spain, Australia and Cameroon now out of the competition, the main worry was that England could well be joining them if they lost this one.  It was no surprise that the majority of the pub were supporting the South Americans – in fact the number of Ashes comments as I waited at the bar suggested that the locals would be happy to see us fail (again).

But England are made of stronger stuff.  Who can forget that epic win over Egypt in Italia 90 when our backs were against the wall?  Or Lineker’s hatrick to get us out of the mire four years earlier in Mexico.  Limping through the groups in major tournaments is quintessentially English, and we are proud of it.

photo (2)1. Sleeves – Look closely at Joe Hart’s shirt and you will see he wears a green undershirt and appears to have taken a pair of scissors to his keepers shirt and cut off the cuffs…I’m sure Nike will be pleased with that.

2. What is the point of Glenn Johnson? – As a defender he was time and time again caught out of position and the Uruguayans soon realised this and started to exploit the gap when he pushed up too far to try and make a tackle (and often missed), leaving a whole behind. OK….he did set up Rooney’s goal with a great run, although I’d still question what he was doing there in the first place.

3. Camera speed – Earlier in the tournament I noted the continuing use of super sloooooooooow motion camera work for important things like players spitting or fans in the crowd picking their nose.  What struck me tonight was the lack of Benny Hill-esque fast camera work – perhaps showing us run rings around ourselves in midfield.

4. Face painting – Why?  And why have a half/half look.  These are the people who buy half and half scarves, constantly start Mexican waves and leave with 15 minutes to go to “avoid the crush”….Who are they supporting?  Of course, it is more than possible they have been planted there by FIFA to show the happy, smiley face of the World Cup.  Like coloured boots, musical instruments and Mexican Waves, they will be immediately banned when I run world football.

5. Offside or not offside? – Suarez certainly appeared to be a yard or so off when the ball was played from certain angles, although played on by a Gerard header on others, but even so how was he given too much space?  It’s not as if the two centre-backs were playing against someone who they have never faced or heard of, yet they let him wander in between them.

So we are almost certainly heading home in five days time.  Defensive discipline has been our downfall – no clear leadership at the back has been the question mark over three of the four goals we have conceded so far.  Whilst we never expected to pull up trees, the lack of real threats on goal shows that we are simply a “functional” team rather than world beaters.  Oh how we crave a Michael Owen, a Gary Lineker and I hate to say this, but even a John Terry.

The Beer World Cup
Whitewash for England as we stuck to “home” brews  such as London Pride, Courage and Australia’s Coopers Ale, which also surely counts as English?

England 7 Uruguay 0