Write Barca off at your peril

History?  You want history?  What about the mighty Barca crashing out of the Champions League after a humiliating lesson in football in Milan?  That was sure to be on the cards as Dagger’s Diary Brian headed off to the Camp Nou on Tuesday…..

This trip represents a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first midweek trip to Barcelona, and also my first Champions League game here. While Dagenham Dan will be at the Daggers game against Torquay, I am here on a solo trip for the first knock out round game against Milan.

Barcelona are going through a bit of a wobble at the moment. A 0-2 first leg defeat at the Guiseppe Meazza three weeks ago has left them with a rather large challenge tonight, in order to progress. If that wasn’t enough, a league defeat at Real Madrid (coupled with a cup defeat to the same opposition) has reduced the lead at the top of the league.

Of course, even the best teams can have a bad run of form. The Milan defeat has been put down to just an off-night for the side, but the drop in form has also come along at the same time that the coach, Tito Vilanova has been in New York, recovering from cancer surgery. While those who have stepped up to lead the team are obviously giving it everything, the loss of the team leader is clearly having a negative effect on the club. While the president has said that the health of Vilanova is the main priority for the season, losing such a lead in the division, as well as the Cup and an early exit in the Champions League would mean that, in a world that demands success ever more impatiently, no trophies would signify failure, no matter what the moral issues of the time.

100_5939 Recent performances have not quite reached the high standards of the last few years, coupled with the results. Not keeping a clean sheet in the last twelve games signals a problem in defence, and the reliance on Lionel Messi for goals suggests a rebuilding exercise for the club in the very near future. However, Messi, Puyol and Xavi have all recently signed contract extensions, which should keep the side together for the next few years at least.

This game against Milan though is one that, even at this stage, will go some way to defining the club’s season. If they can succeed tonight, then the resultant boost from recovering such a negative position should provide enough to get league campaign back on track. Defeat, and the nervous looks over the shoulder at the approaching Atletico and Real Madrid might just turn the last couple of months into nerve fest which Vilanova might not appreciate, especially given the health scares of the last few months. Continue reading

Arsenal’s defeat no laughing matter

As Arsenal stumbled at stuttered to their worst ever Champions League defeat last week, the medium of choice for the clinically insane, Twitter, light up like a flare launched from the bowels of the San Siro.  Spurs fan Peter South analyses the effect.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic completed Arsenal’s humiliation by claiming the fourth goal of the night, a penalty after Johan Djourou had invited the former Barcelona forward to tumble to the ground, but by then the Gunners had already been embarrassed on the grandest possible stage. Even casinos mobile pundits were watching.

“It was a shocking result and a shocking performance. It was of those nights you never forget,” said Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger as he examined the ashes of another failed Champions League campaign.

“There was not one moment in the 90 minutes we were really in the game, and it was always the same problem, balls over the top and we were well beaten.”

The Frenchman added of his side’s chances of progressing to the quarter finals: “We don’t play in dream world. There is maybe a 2% or 5% (chance) statistically.”

What struck most however was not the obvious pain of a man who is desperately trying to prop up the house he has spent 16 years building, but the enjoyment some took in his humiliation.

Is there any point in wasting energy at another club’s expense so vigorously that some supporters seem to enjoy it more than a victory for their own team? Is there much enjoyment to be taken from seeing an English side fail so dramatically on the European stage, in front of millions of watching spectators?

Wojciech Szczesny  was open to the most amount of criticism having claimed before the match, in reference to rivals Tottenham’s victory over Milan at the same stage of the competition last year, that if they could do it, so could Arsenal. Cue much mirth from the white half of north London at the Polish shot-stoppers expense.

As ever, Szczesny fronted up after the game, coming out to do a post-match interview as he so often seems to do, and was, as ever, honest and fair in his assessment of the game. For that alone, after a game such as last night’s, surely some credit is due.

There was nothing satisfying about watching a once great side humiliated. There was also nothing to fawn over as one of the greatest men to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt, Thierry Henry, was forced to bawl and scream at his lost team-mates on quite probably his last ever game for the club while Milan run riot, seemingly able to score at will.

Social networks were set ablaze with the cruel tone of mocking and satisfaction in their failings, but I see no reason to celebrate and laugh at their shortcomings, if only such energy was put to positive use. I’m a Tottenham fan, and took no joy whatsoever in Arsenal’s public capitulation.

The proudest moment of my life…apart from the birth of my daughter

I may have seen the greatest football match of my life the other week. I have supported Tottenham Hotspur my entire life, not because of any family loyalty and definitely not for any glory but mainly because of the Moss Man figure from Masters of the Universe but that’s a different story altogether.

The Peter Crouch headed goal at Eastland on 5th May last year guaranteed Spurs a place in the Champions League. This would be the first time in my supporting life that I would get to see my team playing in Europe on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and not on Channel 5 on a Thursday.

I’m not one for nostalgia but I do recognise the history of the club I support and have been filled with a sense of optimism and excitement as well a deep sense of pride for the achievement last season. Many talk about the European pedigree of the club and of 1984 but I am just too young to remember that let alone feel part of it, this is my time and I want it to count. Continue reading

How I broke my European football weekend cherry

We all remember our first time don’t we?  We all look back now with fondness on that first time, the thrill of seeing it all for the first time after years of just looking at pictures in magazines, or dare I say it on the internet.  Those mistakes we made, the feeling of when things appeared to be going well but really we were doing it all wrong and doing it with someone who had never done it before as well.  Losing our cherry together….Still with me?  Want me to share my first time?  OK then, here goes.

We are talking European football right?  There will be no confessions of any other sort here thank you very much.  It would be unfair to talk about THAT first time in such a public way, especially as she is now a Hollywood star (that’s got you thinking hasn’t it!).  I know some of you are still virgins in not having watched a game abroad, wondering from afar how you can do it.  But I hope on these pages, and those of Danny Last’s European Football Weekends and Huddo Hudson’s Gannin’ Away amongst others will have wetted your appetite.

For someone who has travelled so much it may surprise you to know that my first ever European match was in January 2000.  There had been a few near misses – weekends away where there was no football on, or it had been moved for TV purposes but this weekend was a birthday treat from CMF and specifically for watching a game.  The destination ? Milan.  The game? AC Milan versus Lecce.

The internet wasn’t as advanced as it was today – in fact the website of AC Milan eleven years ago had only just added English content.  There was no way of buying tickets online so it was with some trepidation that we flew to Milan on a very chilly Saturday morning.  Our plan was to find the AC Milan store, buy our tickets there thus giving us virtually all day Sunday to sight see.  Great plan, but not for the first time we were thwarted by the ridiculous beaurocracy of Italy.  When we eventually found the store we were told that I should have faxed (faxed???) my bank details to them in advance as they could not accept my foreign credit card.  They wouldn’t even tell me how many tickets were available, and that our only avenue was to get tickets from the ticket office at the ground. Continue reading