Post-season Blues….and Citizens and Spurs

A weeks after the end of the season used to be the reserve of testimonials for long-serving players and club officials. Football has moved on, and the likelihood of a player staying at one club for 5 years, let alone a decade is very rare. Look at the final top four in the Premier League – John Terry at Chelsea (11 years since debut) is the stand out exception to this; Man City could boast Micah Richards (10 years) although 179 appearances in ten years and spending the last season on loan to Fiorentina, whilst Arsenal of course have the £2m a year forgotten man (by most outside of the Emirates anyway) Abou Diaby who made his debut in 2006.

This week Crystal Palace honoured the service of their long-serving keeper Julián Speroni who had made over 350 appearances since joining the club in 2004 with a testimonial against former club Dundee. However, Palace appeared to be the exception rather than the rule of playing post-season games with any altruistic meaning.

Yet twenty four hours after Palace honoured their keeper, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were due to play games of their own. This time it wasn’t to honour a particular player, or reward any member of the club for long service. In fact it is hard to think of any reason apart from a commercial obligation why they would be heading to Canada and Malaysia respectively.

The clubs will argue it is all about building a fan base in new markets, but does that really stack up? With the Premier League season done and dusted less than 72 hours previous, why would Manchester City decide it was a good idea for their squad to fly 3,500 miles to Toronto? Assuming they left on Monday, that’s quite a strain on the players having just completed a full season, and one that was proceeded for many of the players by the World Cup in Brazil and also included a mid-season game in Abu Dhabi against Hamburg. Straight after the game in Toronto they then head to Texas (a mere 1,500 miles) where 24 hours later they take on Houston.

Tottenham Hotspur haven’t exactly been brimming with joy at the prospect of another Europa League campaign next season. Back in April Mauricio Pochettino admitted the Europa League is a hindrance to a Premier League club’s domestic aspirations, yet the club have already headed East for a game in Malaysia on Wednesday before flying onto Australia to take on Sydney on Saturday. They will be joined down under by Chelsea who also take on Sydney on Tuesday night after a stop in Thailand to play the”All Stars XI” on Saturday. It’s hard to have sympathy with the clubs when they complain about fixture congestion then take off on such trips.

What makes these trips even more strange in terms of their timing is a number of the players will be included in International squads for friendlies being played on the 6th and 7th June.  England, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, France, Argentina and Ghana are all due to play that weekend, putting further strain on the players.

These post season games seem to be a growing trend. Not that it detracts from their pre-season games – Manchester City will be heading to Australia to take part in the newly expanded International Champions Cup, taking on Roma and Barcelona in Melbourne, whilst Chelsea play in the North American edition against New York RedBulls, PSG and Barcelona. Spurs will be one of the other four current Premier League sides heading Stateside  as they take on the MLS All-Stars at the wonderfully named Dick’s Sporting Goods Store Stadium in he equally brilliantly named Commerce City in Colorado.

Football is a highly competitive global game on and off the pitch, but do these post-season games really help the players, who are the profit generators when viewed with commercial glasses on? Do you think Mourinho, Pellegrini and Pochettino have the same enthusiasm for these trips as adidas, Samsung, Nike, Etihad, Armour and AIA have? In some instances the club’s have to perform based on clauses in hugely profitable commercial partnerships, underlining the shift from the people’s game to a game dominated by money. That’s not a surprise. Tomorrow’s avid Chelsea or Man City fan is just as likely to live in Shanghai as he is in Streatham or Stretford, snapping up all the club have to offer in a digital format such as the ability to watch these games exclusively in the club’s online TV channel.

Tickets for the games in Thailand and Malaysia aren’t cheap. When Chelsea play in the Rajamangala National Stadium on Saturday in the Singha Celebration Match (Chelsea’s Global Beer Partner), tickets range from around £10 to close to £80, which is almost a third of the average monthly income in Thailand. Even Arsenal cannot boast that price to income ratio yet! Meanwhile over in Selangor where the average Malaysian earns approximately £900 per month, tickets for the AIA Cup (Spurs shirt sponsor) game will cost between £10 and £75 although there are no concessions at all.

I’m sure the fans who are following their teams across the world will enjoy the opportunity to visit some new cities, whilst the marketing officials and PR companies will do their best to get players to look happy at choreographed public appearances. The clubs will stand firmly behind the pretext of building their brand in new markets, but does this simply add more weight to the stealth plans of Game 39 once more?

Postscript – 28/5 – Man City’s game at the BBVA stadium in Houston was postponed after the team arrived in Texas due to issues with the pitch.  Well, that was worth it then.

Home form the key for Burnley

Tonight Chelsea open their Premier League campaign with a very tricky away game to newly promoted Burnley.  For those who have never experienced it, Turf Moor is not an away day for the faint of heart. The ground has gone through some huge redevelopments in the past decade or so, with two new stands, but it is still the away end that gives visitors a feeling of what the ground was late three decades ago.  Seats are of the cold, wooden variety, and leg room, should you try and sit down, is designed for people under five foot tall.

The David Fishwick stand was recently hammered by Championship supporters in a poll of the worst away ends by the Trinity Mirror newsgroup. Not only were its poor facilities criticised, but supporters were hardly complimentary about the surrounding area either. However, could the lack of luxury on offer to visitors work in Burnley’s favour this season?

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to Turf Moor – although have been lucky to go there when the weather has been pleasant.  My one experience of being an away fan at Burnley was on a Tuesday night ten years ago when West Ham won thank’s to a late Harewood goal. Great, passionate fans who will not make Turf Moor an easy place to visit.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche admitted this week that the transfer market was proving tricky to navigate as he desperately tries to add a bit more quality to his squad. His struggles in attracting new talent mean his options are limited and he will doubtless be relying on the team’s home form to give them a chance of avoiding relegation.

Last season the Lancashire club had the second best home record in the Championship, just behind Leicester, winning 15 out of 23 games and losing just twice on their own patch. The Clarets also had the best defensive record in the division last term and look set to stick with the same backline that served them so well.

The stats suggest that going to Turf Moor this season will not only be an unpleasant experience for the fans but for the opposition as well. While they shouldn’t cause Chelsea too many problems on the opening weekend, Burnley can be expected to ruin a few people’s football accas over the course of the year.

At home will be where the fight for survival is won and lost for Dyche and co. Last time in the top flight they recorded all seven of the victories they managed at Turf Moor and they will be counting on recording a few more to make sure it is Premier League fans dreading coming back in 12 months time.



Chelsea leave it late to give Rafa a going away present

The Daggers Diary team have a nose for getting tickets for most big games so it is no surprise that they were heading off to the Europa League final for the fifth consecutive year.

Way back in August, both Benfica and Chelsea would have harboured hopes of progress in the Champions League. Benfica were drawn in a group containing Barcelona and Celtic, while Chelsea would have fancied their chances of progressing from a group containing Juventus, Nordsjaelland and Shaktar Donetsk, especially as they went into the competition as European Champions.

Benfica were undone by some very impressive Celtic performances, but the problems encountered by Chelsea during the first half of the season were many and were the subject of many column inches in the printed media. It cost the coach his job, and the replacement has been the subject of almost as many articles as the failure to get out of the group stage of the Champions League.

As the competition progressed, it became apparent that we were getting dangerously close to an all-English final. For a while, it seemed that Gareth Bale (or Spurs as they are more commonly known) would get to Amsterdam, and in doing so, provide their head coach with the chance to win this competition for a second time in three years.

However, quarter final defeats for both Spurs/Gareth Bale and Newcastle meant that the European Champions were still in with a chance of holding both major European trophies at the same time. So, with the European Champions getting past Basle in their semi final, and Benfica progressing at the expense of Fenerbache, we got a final that promises to be a really good game.

Of course, the idea of having teams that fail in one competition, only for them to turn up in the apparently lesser competition after Christmas is one that provokes much debate. Quite why the powers that be at UEFA felt the need to devalue a competition that already attracts less attention that it should do is open to question, but at the present time, they are the rules, however much they may seem abhorrent.

935686_10152820465140223_1281274735_nThere are certainly two sides to this. For the teams that started the season in the Europa League, it may seem a bit on the harsh side to have clubs that have essentially mucked up their other competition to be allowed to compete in this one. For the clubs who have “dropped down” into the Europa League, then it presents a chance to retrieve their continental season, although there are plenty out there who feel that having competed in the Champions League at the start of the season, that this is a come down from which there is no glory to be had at all.

For me though, as a bluff old traditionalist, I think its all wrong. The league champions of each country go into the Champions Cup, while the cup winners (and three or four teams via the league) go into the Europa League. None of this “fourth placed team playing in the Champions League” rubbish. And if you muck up in one competition, then that’s it. No second chance. Continue reading

Let the music play on…or not!

It can only be a week or so before we hear what song is going to be the “official” anthem for Euro2012.  In the past we have had the likes of Anastacia, Nelly Furtado and of course our own Baddiel & Skinner but this year will we get a joint Polish and Ukraine version.  Certainly there hasn’t been any Euro 2012 betting to cover this aspect yet.

One of the most amusing match day incidents I see these days at Lewes FC is the battle between our groundsman and one of the directors in what pre-match music is played over the speakers.  It has now got to a point where dirty tricks are the order of the day.  Two weeks ago when we hosted East Thurrock United I took my place in the office and awaited the fun to start.  First up at 2pm came Ed, the man with the Lewes financial plan.  From his inner pocket came a copy of The Queen is Dead, the Smiths Gold-selling 1986 album.  He smugly popped open the CD tray and loaded up a thick slice of Morrissey and Marr.  Volume cranked up to 9.

Little did he know that Roger, the groundsman, had been hiding in the changing room next door.  Ed leaves, Roger enters and out comes the Smiths and in goes The Prodigy, smacking their bitch up all the way to 10.  And so the tribal dance went on for the next forty five minutes.  Frankly, Mr Shankly, then Breathe.  Bigmouth strikes again then Serial Thriller.  I attempt to mediate by suggesting a nice bit of Kenny G or Vangelis but it is too late even for Kofi Annan to get involved.

A truce is eventually called when the discussion turns to run out music for the teams.  Or, in Lewes’s case walking down the steps music,  Sussex by the Sea seems to be the preferred choice but two problems.  First, Lewes is not by the sea and two, no-one has a copy of the song.  So we make do with a Pjanoo by Eric Prydz. Fortunately we are not a traditional club.  We do not play “We Will Rock You” when we score a goal, or even have a copy of “The Best”.  But music at football is still an emotive subject.

Fifteen years ago I visited the Stadium of Light for the first time, just a few games into its birth.  It was the first time I had experienced a club building up the atmosphere before the game with loud music.  Republica’s “Ready to Go” was followed by Prokofiev’s Dance of the Night from his Romeo & Juliet concerto.  Simply spine tingling.

But some clubs are still stuck in the 1980’s.  Tina Turner must be set for life in hairspray thanks to the royalties she earns from English football for her “anthem” The Best.  I still find it ironic to hear a club who are bottom of Ryman League South playing that as the teams run out.  The Best?  At what?

Other clubs have changed the words to classics…Wolverhampton Wanderers interpretation of Hi Lo Silver Lining always goes down a treat at Molynuex whilst overseas the use of the club anthem such as Barca’s, AS Roma’s and Legia Warsaw’s provide the crescendo for the fans colourful displays and often it is only when these have finished do you realise the players are actually on the pitch.

Some clubs still feel that playing music when a team scores adds to the whole match day experience. Leicester City used to play Fire by Kasabian, Rotherham for some bizarre reason played Chelsea Dagger and Leyton Orient apparently “speak no Americano”.  Awful, just awful.

Football fans on the whole hate this American crap.  However, music during the game has become an ingrained part of Cricket and Rugby Union for years. Often, because a trying for instance may not be clear, the music is the sign that there has been a score.  Cricket has adopted it well, with each player in the Twenty20 version of the game having their own walk on music.

But it is really important?  How many Chelsea fans today know who Harry J and his All Stars are, let alone the name of the song the club have adopted.  Fortunately, this is something that Abramovich hasn’t been able to mess up since getting involved with the club.

Every club should have an anthem, a piece of music that is associated with their team.  Bubbles, Blue Moon, Annie’s Song, Local Hero, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Z-Cars.  All classics and instantly recognisable as to which club they belong to.  So my campaign for proper songs for every club starts here.  Supporters of teams who still use Tina Turner, The Piranhas, Pig Bag or Blur rise up and seize control of the CD-Deck.  And whatever you do, keep it locked during the game.

Heartbreak hotel at the Liberty

There are few more disappointing things in life than conceding an injury time equaliser – well perhaps an injury time winner.  As a Lewes fan I have been used to seeing both this season, but Abi Davies hasn’t had the privilage…until the 93rd minute yesterday.

Heading into the game on the back of consecutive away defeats, Swansea City were hoping to return to winning ways when they welcomed Chelsea to The Liberty on Tuesday night.  Condemned to just a solitary defeat at home so far this season, Swansea should have had optimum confidence going into the fixture against Villas-Boas side.

Having made 10 changes for the weekends FA Cup tie at Bolton, Brendan Rodgers restored the side that started Swansea’s last league game at The Stadium of Light.

The visitors, without John Terry due to a knee injury, lined up with a centre back partnership of Luiz and Ivanovic. A highly perplexing decision given Chelsea’s recent signing of Gary Cahill, who had to settle for a place on the bench despite Villas-Boas stating that the Londoners would be a far greater force to be reckoned with, due to the recruitment of the English defender. Continue reading

Swansea have a Torres time at Stamford Bridge

Abi Davies loved her trip to London so much after the Arsenal game two weeks ago she came back this weekend.  Unfortunately her trip co-incided with Chelsea banishing any early season wobbles.

Swansea went into Saturday’s fixture at Stamford Bridge still searching for their first point away from home having been condemned to defeat at The Etihad Stadium on the opening weekend of the season, before being unfortunate not to come away from The Emirates with a point two weeks ago.

Swansea had no fresh injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s game and were bolstered by the return of Danny Graham who recovered from the injury that kept him sidelined for the Swans first Premier League victory. However Swansea’s record signing had to settle for a place among the substitutes as Brendan Rodgers named an unchanged side to the one that comprehensively brushed aside West Brom last weekend. Continue reading

Pompey chime the Chelsea chief

Brian Parish heads down the M3 for the first game of the new Villas-Boas regime at Chelsea.

With the Daggers making the long trip westward to play a pre-season game at Mangotsfield United, Dan, Liam and I have made the trip south to Portsmouth to watch them take on Chelsea in a re-run of the 2010 FA Cup Final.

Portsmouth Football Club has had, what can be only be described as an eventful few years. Big name and big money signings preceded the 2008 FA Cup win, against Cardiff City at Wembley, which meant qualification for the last UEFA Cup competition. However, when Harry Redknapp left the club for a second time (this time to join Spurs), the club appointed Tony Adams, whose time in charge lasted a couple of months before he was removed from the post. Within two years of winning at Wembley, the club had become the first side since the formation of the Premier League to have points deducted, and were then relegated. Despite another FA Cup Final appearance in 2010 (beating Redknapp’s Tottenham side in the semi final), the club almost went out of business last season, when rumours circulated that they were just a few hours from extinction. Continue reading