Liverpool have weathered the opening third of the season admirably, and following the frenetic recent Merseyside derby, Brendan Rodgers’ side now face a series of what their increasingly optimistic fans will perceive as winnable games.
Certainly, since Rodgers took charge at Anfield, his teams have been far more capable of dispatching the so-called smaller sides in the league – especially at home – with the ease one would expect from genuine title contenders.
However, unlike under his predecessors, Kenny Dalglish and Rafa Benitez, the Northern Irishman has struggled embolden his players with the self-belief to exert their dominance over the sides around them at the top of the table. dThis inability to establish the required consistency has been Liverpool’s biggest problem ever since their last title challenge in the 2008-09 campaign, and with Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea lying in wait for the Reds over the festive period it is key that they pick up maximum points between then and now.
Liverpool now travel to Hull ahead of home fixtures against Norwich and West Ham, and will be wanting to add nine points to their tally before entertaining Andre Villas-Boas on December 15th in a game.
With Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge showing such fine form in front of goal – both players currently being backed heavily by Betfair customers to finish the season as leading scorer – and the return of the mercurial Phillipe Coutinho to pull the strings behind them, Rodgers will be quietly confident of still being in the hunt for Champions League football by the time January rolls around.
Betfair.com offers a wide range of competitive odds for those that agree with that opinion, and with United and Spurs both struggling so far this season, this may finally be Liverpool’s year.
This week marks an important anniversary in my life. Five years ago, on the 22nd November, I attended my first ever game at The Dripping Pan. Lewes were taking on Grays Athletic in their ill-fated single season in the Conference Premier. I’d never really paid any attention to the club and it took an email out of the blue from Danny Last which invited me to sample some of the fine hospitality the town, and more importantly, the club had to offer. These were the days when Lewes were still to hit rock bottom both on and off the pitch.
In that first season I was an irregular visitor at the Pan, watching them fall out of the Conference Premier with a bang. The following season I gave up my West Ham season ticket and started going to the odd away game too. By year three I had my first ever Season Ticket and when the time came, became a life member of the club. The rest, as they say is history. I still think I have seen us lose more times than we have won at The Pan, but that ratio is slowly changing. Continue reading
The immortal words of JFK, who was killed 50 years ago next week sum up the feelings around the Dripping Pan this week. Today marks a welcome return to Saturday football for Lewes FC. It’s been three weeks since we saw such action thanks to our elimination of both national cup competitions and a postponement all too quickly last weekend at Grays Athletic. We’ve had some midweek action in that period, with one of the worst refereeing performances ever recorded on Tuesday night away to Bury Town seeing us fall to a 97th minute goal. But the mark of a great team is how they bounce back. As the 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy was immortalised not for his good work as the most powerful man in the world, but rather by his public and contraversial death. However, whilst he was in office, he was the king of the one liners that are still used today to motivational effect.
“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction”
Since we were last here, beating Margate back in October, everyone at the top of the table have been busy having their apple cart’s upset, including the visitors at The Pan today, Lowestoft Town, who bizarrely lost 2-0 at home to Cray Wanderers last Saturday. Lewes’s next visitors at The Pan on Wednesday had just two wins prior to their visit to Suffolk last week and had conceded on average over 3 1/2 goals a game. AFC Hornchurch’s home defeat to Harrow and Maidstone’s home point against Leiston are further proof that no-one wants to win this league.
Back 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.
In five months time Non-League fans will be up in arms about their teams having to play three (or even four) games a week in order to meet the ridiculous deadlines imposed by their respective masters. Some of these clubs will be paying the prize of successful cup runs whereas others are simply having to pay catch up because matches earlier in the season were cancelled far too quickly. Today was a classic case in point.
The weather forecast this week didn’t look good for Saturday, and sure enough the rain started falling late Friday night. Come Saturday morning and pitch inspections were taking place across the south-east. Lewes’s trip to Aveley to play Grays Athletic was one of the first to fall to the conditions of the pitch at 10.30am meaning I had to re-plan my day. And it wasn’t only my day ruined. The original plan was to be dropped in the throbbing metropolis of Aveley by CMF whilst she went shopping in Lakeside before she picked me up some hours, and some beers later.
Fortunately I had a back up plan, although it changed every few minutes as further games were cancelled. Yet what struck me, looking out of the windows of TBIR Towers, was the clear skies and calm forecast for the rest of the day. With four hours to kick off, how many of those pitches would be playable come 3pm? Interestingly, both Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace took decisions to delay the kick offs in their games so that conditions had improved. Why didn’t other clubs take that decision? Would it have mattered if Grays v Lewes would have kicked off at 4 or 5pm ? Surely it would have been preferable to play it today rather than now having to fit in another game somewhere in midweek when players may struggle to get time off work to travel 80-odd miles each way to play the game. As it stands, the Rooks already have four midweek games scheduled between now and Christmas, with two more possible if respective cup games end positively. Continue reading
Next year Jeff Stelling will celebrate his 20th anniversary in the hot seat of Sky Sports Soccer Saturday. The Saturday afternoon programme has become an institution for all sofa surfers over the years and has produced many fantastic and memorable moments. The concept, taken from Italian television where TV coverage on terrestrial TV meant they could only describe what was happening on private streams of the games, rather than being able to show the games themselves has become as bigger part of our game today as Ceefax page 303 was thirty years ago.
To celebrate the anniversary, Anchor Bay have teamed up with Sky Sports to produce a DVD called “Cheers, Jeers and Tears”, just in time for Christmas, of the best moments of the last twenty years, available in all good retail establishments on Monday 11 November. The DVD, presented by Stelling himself includes some of the funniest moments in the show, although few can come close to matching the incident in April 2010 when Chris Kamara refused to believe a player had been sent off in the game he was covering at Fratton Park.
Those good chaps at Anchor Bay have given us three copies of the new DVD, Cheers, Jeers and Tears to give away to you lucky lot. Simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Cheers, Jeers and Tears” in the title with the answer to the following question:-
“Which Football League side does Jeff Stelling support?”
Include your name and address in the email and we will pick three correct entries on Monday 11 November at 5pm.
The debate about the status of the Conference Premier has been raging for many years. Take a look at the league at the moment and you cannot fail to notice some very familiar names. Cambridge United were once a few minutes away from the top-level of English football and after what seems like years in the Non-League, are now leading the pack in the Skrill Premier. Not far behind them are fellow Football League exiles Grimsby Town, Luton Town, Kidderminster Harriers and Barnet. All of these clubs could essentially slot straight back into the world of the SkyBet, or whatever it is called, League tomorrow, competing on and off the pitch.
Take a look at the average attendances in the league so far this season and the best eleven supported teams are all ex-League teams. In fact all of these apart from Halifax Town have a higher average attendance than Accrington Stanley, Dagenham & Redbridge and Morecambe (all of who were until recently, Non League sides). But there are a couple of new names appearing towards the top of the table. Alan Devonshire’s Braintree Town are punching well above their weight in 4th place, surviving on crowds of around a thousand. Salisbury City and Nuneaton Town are new-boys in the league but both have relatively good catchment areas, free from the distractions of bigger sides.
And then there is Welling United. Sitting in ninth place in the league, just one win off fourth place, the Wings are enjoying life back in the top-level of Non-League football. Whilst they have been here before, from 1986 to 2000, the world of Non-League football has moved on, so their achievements in winning the Conference South last season was remarkable to say the least. I say that based on some local knowledge. Living just 4 miles away I have been a regular visitor at Park View Road over the years. Earlier this year I was at the top of the table clash with Chelmsford City. Whilst Welling were demolishing a fellow title-contender on the pitch, off it were collection buckets encouraging fans to “dig deep” for Jamie Day’s, the player-manager’s budget. A year on from play-off final defeat away to Dartford, Welling won the Conference South and took their place with professional clubs who had tasted victory at Wembley when they were Football League sides. With average attendances of just over 800, few expected anything more than a season-long fight with relegation. Instead, impressive form at Park View Road has seen them already find their feet in an ultra-competitive league. Continue reading