Best Song Ever

“And we danced all night to the best song ever.
We knew every line. Now I can’t remember
How it goes but I know that I won’t forget her
‘Cause we danced all night to the best song ever.”

No, I haven’t gone all One Direction on you, my opening lines are simple an aide memoire to a top night out and a heated discussion on what the Best Song Ever in the footballing world.  For those who haven’t yet read the story behind the weekend (yes, I know we are all busy) then let me set the scene.  After an afternoon of football in New York, Rotherham, we had made our way down the A6178 to Sheffield (not Sheffield Pennsylvania, Alabama or Missouri mind).  An evening on Kelham Island beckoned with a host of football’s finest from Twitter.  Our main objective of the evening?  Well apart from trying a bucket load of local ales, it was to decide whether The Greasy Chip Butty song is the best football song ever.

You Fill Up My Senses
Well, for senses, read stomach.  Our special beer stomachs.  Kelham Island is a former industrial area that is now best known for its brilliant pubs.  First up was the Fat Cat, a tiny pub adjoining the Kelham Island Brewery which had the smallest bar I had ever seen, with 4 (FOUR!) bar staff multi-tasking to keep us in beer of the year, Pale Rider, Kelham Island Bitter and my personal favourite (read “I had at least three of them”) a Chocolate Digestive Ale.  Oh, and a pork pie…and some Jalapeno pretzel pieces.  Senses filled up.  Bubbles surely has to be up there?

Like a Gallon of Magnet
Note to Danny Last – it is MAGNET not MAGNERS.  Stop two, no more than a stumble away was the Kelham Island Tavern where we met Eddie the Shoe.  Those who travel in horse racing circles need no introduction to Eddie, who had kindly provided a tip earlier in the week that provided the financial assistance for my round of Deception.  Eddie is a big Fulham fan – at 7 foot something there is no other word for him.  An hour later we had just about consumed the gallon (8 pints for those who didn’t do O-Level Maths) and onwards we went.  You’ll Never Walk Alone?  Spine-tingling.

Like a Packet of Woodbines
Tricky one this as neither of us smoke.  But as we headed up the hill to the Shakespeare we were puffing for air like a pair of very unfit, middle age men that we were.  A couple of Aecht Schlenker Rauciber Marzen’s later, with its distinct aroma of smoked sausages and bacon, and an aftertaste of banana (tastes better than it sounds). Talk was now getting serious.  Danny’s adamant that Sussex by the Sea is a contender.  We aren’t so sure as he can’t remember anything past the third line.

Like a Good Pinch of Snuff
The younger generation today would look at you very strangely if you said “I’m going out to enjoy some snuff” but back in the day we all enjoyed a bit of ground tobacco that you shoved up your nose, didn’t we?  Gave you strange hallucinations apparently, which was similar to our next stop at DaDa’s.  It was if we had walked into a set of Ashes to Ashes albeit with beer prices from the year 2525 (80′s based music joke there).  I had some very dark, very thick and very sickly Thornbridge Wild Raven.  A continental chap suggests that Barca, Barca, Barca sung by 100,000 fans in the Camp Nou has to be on our list, but we can’t take him seriously as he is wearing a scarf inside a room that is hotter than Greece. Continue reading

The night the World Cup winners came to Telford

Sometimes you see a slice of history that makes you double-take.  Last month I was watching the excellent BBC series, The Seventies, written and presented by Dominic Sandbrook.  He was focusing on football violence that was on the rise in the decade before mentioning a game that was played at Telford United in 1976.  It appears that the full England 1966 World Cup winning team came to Telford’s Bucks Head stadium in October 1976 to play a friendly.  Just as Dom appeared to be ready to go into lengthy detail, the programme cut to a story about another “bloody strike” and I was left hanging.  A search on Uncle Google revealed very little detail – in fact the official history of (AFC) Telford United devoted just 18 words to the game.

I couldn’t let the story go back into the hidden cupboard.  I had to find out more but it seemed everyone wanted to forget about the game.  An email to the FA drew a blank, and as this wasn’t an official game,  there were no records to be found in their archive.

Interestingly, England ran out in a white Admiral kit, without the Three Lions on their chest.  Whilst I cannot find an official source, it appears that the FA refused to sanction the game and thus banned the team from wearing an official kit.  A few months earlier they had allowed another “unofficial” England game to take place when they played in the “Bi-Centennial” Tournament in the USA.   The tournament, won by Brazil also featured Italy.  The day after England played Team America in Philadelphia, the Football Association said it was regarded as “a training game” and that caps would not be awarded to the participating players. Accordingly, the FA does not include the match in its list of full internationals. The associations of both Brazil and Italy, on the other hand, listed their national sides’ matches against Team America as full internationals.  Of course, if someone would have been sponsoring the tournament and there was prize money it may have been a different matter (must remember not to mention Trinidad and Tobago at this point).

But back to the 11th October 1976.  Telford United (long before they gained the AFC) were managed by Geoff Hurst which may have something to do with the game taking place.  Hurst also arranged high-profile friendlies against Chelsea and West Ham United during his stint in the hot seat at The Bucks Head.  All of the starting XI from July 1966 had agree to play in a game to celebrate the centenary of Telford United.  One question from me at this point.  Telford started life as Parish Church Institute in 1872 and then seven years later to Wellington Town.  They didn’t actually change their name to Telford until 1969 so what 100 year anniversary were they actually celebrating?  I would hasten a guess to say it was a liberal usage of the word “centenary”.  But the local’s didn’t care and came flocking to the ground, taking every space possible before Bobby Moore led the “England” team out.

The former internationals won 4-1 with goals from Jack Charlton (from the penalty spot), Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball and of course Geoff Hurst.  Which of course begs the question which side was he really playing on?  Did Geoff do the team talk for his Telford United side dressed in the kit of the opposition?  Did he deliberately change the tactics and then exploit them?  Surely his actions could have opened the doors to possible match fixing allegations these days?

It seems a real shame that such a match has been hidden from the world for nearly forty years.  For those present on the night it must have been an amazing experience, but for the rest of us including Uncle Google, we will simply have to live in ignorance for the rest of our lives.   Hurst stayed at Telford for a couple of seasons, combining the role with a coaching position with Ron Greenwood and the England side before he went on to be Chelsea’s manager.  Hurst was replaced at Telford by fellow World Cup winner Gordon Banks.  However, like Hurst, Bobby Charlton, Stiles, Ball and Moore, he was more cut out as a player than a manager.

Once we were warriors

my-senior-teamBack in the day (which means more than 5 years ago) I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sven Goran Ericsson, Steve McLaren and Stuart Pearce as a manager of our national teams.  Whilst they got luxury travel, five star hotels and a pool of the “golden generation” to choose their teams from, my experience was slightly different.

In 2005 I was appointed player/manager of the England Fans Senior team, the high point in my otherwise low level playing career in the various leagues up and down North Kent and Middlesex. England Fans are the official supporters group controlled (and I use that word correctly) by the FA.  Unless you were a member, obtaining tickets for major tournaments and away games was very very difficult.  That all changed in 2008 when we failed to qualify for Euro2008 and hundreds of members simply had enough of the way they were treated by the FA and didn’t rejoin.

I held the role for 3 years, overseeing spectacular defeats in Croatia, Belarus and Estonia, and only missing one away game which coincided with our first win (in Israel).  It was a bit of a pain to be truthful carrying shin pads to such exotic locations, and even harder to explain to the security on the turnstiles why you would have a pair of size nines and some vaseline in your bag.

But the highlight of my time is still the trip to Macedonia where I think our importance and status was someone lost in translation.  We were given a police escort through the streets of Skopje to a top league game where a crowd of a few hundred (higher than average for the top level in Macedonia) and TV cameras awaited our arrival.

For the first time, footage of the game has been released.  It’s not pretty, especially when a 40 year old 22 stone opposition player runs rings around your defence but makes a perfect stocking filler for Christmas.

Champions League Nights: Part 2 – Sofa United

Manchester United vs. Real Sociedad – Champions League – Venue: my couch by Luge Pravda
A7cShDyCQAArcV3Anyone who knows me well enough will know I am able to watch more live football on the weekend than I was ever able to back in the UK (thanks to no Saturday 3pm embargo; and now new US rights owner, NBC, showing every one of those 3pm game on what Americans like to call TV ‘real estate’). One casualty though has often been the Champions League ties, being as they are in midweek and in slap bang in an Eastern seaboard afternoon. Of course, for many ties there was a purely coincidental increase in ‘business meetings’ in my calendar at around 3pm Eastern Standard time, 8pm back at home: meetings between myself, a pint or two and a TV screen at the local soccer showing bar in Lower Manhattan. The best kind of business meetings if you ask me. However, as I am currently on a sabbatical I have no such worries about work inconveniently getting in the way of an afternoon European tie. At least not for the time being. Perhaps in the knowledge I would be watching the match in full, Stuart asked me if I would like to write a review of the match and who was I to turn down another slice of The Ball is Round.

First things first, I liked the look of the team the team: Jones getting a chance at center back; a chance for Kagawa, and to a lesser extent Hernandez to show what they are capable of (Chicharito could well score a hat trick but he ain’t going to usurp RVP when the latter is fit, let’s face it); and Giggs in midfield. Moyes must have expected less of an emphasis on protecting the back four – and for periods of the match this was the case – but Fellaini, who has looked off the pace and prone to wayward passes in recent weeks, must have been a tad disappointed. On the subject of Kagawa, there appears to be a ‘movement’, a body of fans railing against the club, or more accurately Moyes, for his exclusion. To those people I say this: do you see him every day in training? Moyes clearly sees something; or maybe he is simply not fully fit. And you know what Klopp, you can keep your opinion on you ex player to yourself too. Thanks.

United flew out of the traps: the first move of the match results in a goal: a wonderful snaky wriggly run from my favorite player – Rooney (despite everything that has happened or not depending on who you believe) – before the pinball confusion in the box results in an own goal from Martinez. And while I am on the subject, can we all refrain from referring to Rooney as ‘rejuvenated’ now please? I think it is fair to say that Moyes’ greatest achievement to date (sorry Community Shield apologists) is the form of the Utd number 10. Headband or no headband. But rejuvenated? Come on he never became a bad player, he just seemed disinterested at the fag-end of Sir Alex’s reign.

The atmosphere in the early minutes seemed a world away from that which descended over Old Trafford for the Southampton draw. This has something to do with the ‘singing section’ so I am told on Twitter. I would be keen to know exactly what constitutes this section and how it differs from the rest of the ground, because I genuinely don’t know. And, perhaps as a result, Sociedad seemed genuinely shaken. This bodes well for a good performance from the home team I say to myself. Continue reading

Popping my Cherry…again

9283753010_e72eb97b42_bHow much is too much to watch a football game?  I know people who have paid hundreds of pounds to watch Cup Finals and World Cup matches, but would you pay four times the average ticket price just to watch a friendly?  This was certainly the question being asked on the South Coast a few weeks ago when AFC Bournemouth shocked the footballing world by announcing they had secured a friendly against the mighty Real Madrid.  Shock soon turned to disbelief when it was announced tickets would cost £60 for General Admission.  £60 to watch a friendly???  Even Chelsea wouldn’t have the cheek to charge this!

But it seems the Cherries had done their Economics homework in terms of supply and demand as this week the final tickets went on sale and were snapped up within hours.  Every one of the 10,783 tickets had been sold.  Instead of running out against Woking next weekend, Eddie Howe’s first XI will be lining up against Ronaldo and Kaka at Dean Court whilst the Directors will be counting their £600-odd thousand pounds of takings.  Who has egg on their face now?

But first up they had a small matter of a visit from West Ham.  I’m sure if tickets for this game were £60 each then it too would have been a sell out, but a £10 price tag obviously put your discerning Hammers fan off who only buy high price tag items now such as Andy Carroll and the Olympic Stadium.  But I wasn’t complaining.  After all I was getting a chance to take the Fuller family to the English sea-side as well as see the game.

Football fever has gripped Bournemouth ever since they won promotion back in April.  In one short season they would be going from taking a few dozen to Hartlepool United and Tranmere Rovers, to welcoming the likes of FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic, Reading and Leeds United.  And of course there would be the return of Bournemouth’s favourite loveable East End rogue, ‘Appy ‘Arry as he brings his QPR team down the A27, stopping off no doubt for tea and biscuits at one of his Sandbanks residences. Continue reading