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?

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?

Five things from….France 0 Germany 1


We had a bet at home that the 1982 Battiston incident would be mentioned within 30 seconds of the TV coverage. We were wrong – it was 45 seconds and then it seemed every 10 minutes under Jonathan Pearce’s commentary. He did tell us though that Germany have never won the World Cup wearing anything but black shorts.  Thanks JP.

In terms of intrigue, this game promised a lot. Neither team were particularly fancied in the run up to the tournament. Both teams themselves would have played down their chances, claiming their young squads needed a tournament more under their belts for experience.  Whilst France comfortably brushed aside Nigeria in the Second Round, Germany were taken to extra time by an impressive Algeria, whose never-say-die spirit would have sapped the Germans energy.  Couple that with a Lasagne-gate style illness in the camp and you would have to say France came into the game as favourites.

1. Ridiculous ceremony – Why subject the players to all of this ceremony and public displays of unity on important areas of racism and homophobia when if someone is found guilty they will get a risible fine and a pathetic slap on the wrist.  How do you stamp it out of the game?  By throwing the book at offenders. Making players stand behind a sign has what effect exactly?

photo 4 (5)2. Camera angels – I am in love with that camera that zooms across the pitch at grass level as the teams walk out…I want to see more of those camera angles during the game, tracking the runs of the players.  Apart from the annoying super slow motion replays I think the camera work in the tournament has been outstanding.  Loved the little interlude of the shot of the stadium and Christ the Redeemer as well.

3. Jaunty yellow boots – The French and their fashion style.  Just seven of the starting line up sported the bright yellow boots, and three had the dual colour ones made by…..oh yes, Nike.  At least they haven’t decided to both play in their away kits tonight.

4. Official top stats – David Luiz is the top player of the World Cup, according to FIFA stats.  What tournament have they been watching? Betting sites do not even have him in the top ten – in fact Jozy Altidore at 500/1 is ahead of him.  He has been his usual inconsistent self in the middle of an inconsistent defence.

5. Girl cam – The TV producer must have been snoozing for this game because it took them a full 26 minutes before we had the gratuitous shot of the pretty girl in the crowd.  This time, it was a French lass, looking very pensive who, when she saw she was on TV, gave a nonchalant flick of her hair.

The Beer World Cup

No content here – a fridge-full of German beer with one of the little “stubbies” of Saint Omer beer.  Stick to chocolate, wine and cheese.  The better team won on and off the pitch. Even armed with a Becks Vier this was a walk over.

Germany 4 France 0

 

Five things from….Germany 2 Algeria 1


“It was the best of times, it was one of the worst of footballing crimes.”  Paul Doyle’s opening line in the Guardian two weeks ago took us back to darker World Cup days when skullduggary was all the rage and no-one ever mentioned the “M” world (Matchfixing).  The Germans back then obviously had a “West” as company in the 1982 World Cup but no one was prepared for their defeat to the Algerians.

Fast forward thirty two years and eight World Cups and the Africans would have an opportunity for revenge.  The German machine had simply re-invented itself every few years and whilst they were quietly confident coming into the tournament, few would have backed them to go all the way, especially as they are in the top half of the drawer, putting them on a collision course with the hosts in the semi-final.

I had a feeling this would be the game of the round, so I invested heavily in the Früh Kolsch and sat back, preparing to be entertained.

1. Why do goal keepers always seem to stand next to the captain? – I only noticed this on Saturday but since then almost every keeper when lining up for the national anthems has stood next to the captain.

BrZ6C9lIEAA0BPS2. Photographer with the hat – 16 minutes in and Algeria attack again.  What a cross from El Arabi Soudani, Islam Slimani gets ahead of Jerome Boateng to fire in a low header in off the post.  Alas he is offside and we get a close up of the linesman raising his flag.  But hang on. The photographer behind him is wearing a Mexican hat.  A bloomin’ big green wide brimmed Mexican hat.  Arriba, arriba, andale, arriba! (thanks to Dan Campbell for sending me a screen shot).

3. The problem of sock tape – Stupid rule number 1332 from FIFA was the one about the tape that players use to keep their socks up has to be the same colour as the socks themselves. So can you use red tape on white socks if there is a red bit at the top of the socks, like Germany’s? What if you want two bits of tape, one at top and one at bottom?  Do you need two different coloured tapes?  And what about tape used around fingers for rings?  Shouldn’t that be skin-coloured?  FIFA once again not thinking through the really important aspects of these law changes (that was irony for the benefit of my German followers).

4. The cavity search – Mustafi falls awkwardly and lays face down as the German medical appear to be checking all his cavities. The TV cameras focus on his wincing face and then the physio’s gloved hand going up his shorts. Grown men around the world looked away in agony.

5. Neuer centre-back – Time after time the German keeper came off his line and out of his box to act as the last defender. His timing was impeccable, risking not only a goal if he missed a challenge but also a certain red if he took out the player. A sure sign of problems at the back for the Germans. Would a better side have taken advantage? Who knows…

The Beer World Cup

Like the earlier tie, there was never going to be any competition in this game.  I could have chosen one of two hundred German beers (not that I have 200 different ones in my beer fridge, but you get the idea) whilst I have never seen an Algerian beer, let alone try to buy one.  I went with a cheeky Kölsch option for tonight – light, smooth and less likely to give me a hangover than a Paulaner.

Germany 7 Algeria 0