Have the Cosmos reached the limit of their universe?


For those who love a random fact, if each of the five boroughs of New York City were a separate city, Brooklyn would rank as the third-most populous city in the whole of the United States, behind Los Angeles and Chicago, with over 2.6 million people within its borders.  The second biggest borough is Queens.  It was also the birth place of the credit card, the first US roller coaster and Brooklyn Beer.  If you want (and can) live in New York then Brooklyn isn’t a bad spot, as my good friend Luge Pravda can testify.

22806797358_53dda10aea_kAnd testify he did as we headed back from a borefest at the MetLife Stadium where we had witnessed the LA Rams beat the New York Jets by 9 points to 6.  It wasn’t proper football as the conversation went, highlighting our very British view about the game to try and get some audience participation on the train ride.  Alas, everyone seemed to be in a degenerative state of boredom thanks to the last 3 hours of NFL.  Whilst that may have been their weekend sporting highlight, we still had the prospect of watching the cumulation of the North American Soccer League season as the New York Cosmos faced Indy Eleven in very unfamiliar surroundings.

At the start of the season all of the teams in the NASL had to submit venues for all potential dates including the play-offs.  Unfortunately, Hofstra University, the normal home of the Cosmos,  told them nearly a year ago that the stadium couldn’t be used in the second weekend in November.  The club could have rented another suitable venue but it would have been on the off-chance of making the final.  They couldn’t “wing it”.  They had to submit firm details of a venue even though they had no idea whether they would need it.

The club looked at a host of venues, including MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, which is rumoured to be the Cosmos’ next permanent home.  However, they would have to cover up the Baseball diamond at a significant cost, so once again that venue was dismissed.  There’s no news as to whether the club actually approached either the RedBulls to hire the RedBull Arena or New York City, although the costs of hiring the Yankee Stadium would have been prohibitive, as too would have been the Met Life, albeit being the spiritual home of the club.

There was a last-ditch attempt to negotiate the use of Hofstra University again but even with the potential of midweek dates agreed between the play-off teams, the talks came to nothing and the only option the club had was Belson Stadium, a three sided university soccer field, built on top of a car park, which could only hold 2,600 fans, 30% less than the Cosmos’ average home attendance this season.  Hardly the season finale they had planned.

These factors all added up meaning that the venue was really unsuitable for the game, unwanted by the NASL and deeply unpopular with the fans of both teams.  Oh, and a pain in the arse to get to, with no public transport in the vicinity, meaning everyone, which in our case, I, had to drive there.

25349765629_f11437307b_kFor those who have read The Football Tourist 2: The Second Half, you will be very familiar with the Cosmos story in the chapter “Twice in a Lifetime” – if not then I would thoroughly recommend buying it now otherwise the next bit won’t make any sense at all.  It is quite scandalous how their heritage counted for nothing when the MLS were considering a second franchise in New York, and it appears that there is very little chance of them getting an opportunity to join the elite, any time soon.  In February 2014, MLS commissioner Don Garber named three other markets as candidates for the final expansion team that would get the league’s stated 24-team target by 2020,, which did not include New York and on April 25, 2014, he told Associated Press’s sports editors that there would not be a third MLS team in New York, effectively ending any hope on the Cosmos gaining a place back at the top table, on merit rather than on politics, which essentially made the whole NASL Championship a little bit of an anti-climax.  The Cosmos could win the league and the play-offs for the next decade and still not get a look in.

Since my last visit in 2014 the Cosmos had been almost unstoppable. They finished the 2015 spring season unbeaten, finishing in first place, although the second half of the season saw them lose four times and finish in third place.  However, they went on to win the Soccer Bowl, beating Ottawa Fury in from of a NASL record crowd of 10,166 at Hofstra.  The game also marked the final career appearance of Spanish legend Raúl, who had chosen to age gracefully in New York, resisting the offers from the MLS to play with the Cosmos.  They also reached the fifth round of the US Open cup in June 2015, losing to New York Red Bulls over in New Jersey, although in the previous round they did beat New York City 4-3 on penalties in front of 11,940, a record attendance at the James M. Shuart Stadium, a very bitter sweet moment considering the situation with the New York expansion franchise.

This season has seen them go from strength to strength.  Whilst the playing budget was cut, although most of that was down to the retirement of Raúl, they could still boast a squad of 12 different nationals.  They finished the first half of the season in 2nd place behind Indy Eleven, although the two teams finished on the same number of points, the same number of goals scored and goals conceded, with the team from Indianapolis awarded the title based on their 2-1 victory over the Cosmos early in the season. However, in the fall season the Cosmos were dominant from game one, finishing 10 points clear of Indy Eleven in top spot.

The play-offs went according to plan, with both the Cosmos and Indy Eleven winning with ease, interestingly in the case of New York in front of over 5,000 fans at Hofstra, setting up the fourth meeting between the two sides of the season.  As we took our seats we could see and hear the two sets of fans at either end of the stadium trying to generate an atmosphere, which was tough considering the capacity for the 3-sided ground was just over 2,000.  To our right were the Cosmos fans, made up of the Borough Boys, La Banda del Cosmos and The Cross Island Crew, whilst at the far end the travelling Indy Eleven fans made the noise.  Even stevens on and off the pitch it seemed.

New York Cosmos 0 Indy Eleven 0 (4-2 on pens) – Belson Stadium, Queens – Sunday 13th November 2016
It’s fair to say this wasn’t a classic.  It seemed relatively obvious from early in the game that there was little between the two sides and the game would be decided by a moment of magic or madness.  Alas, the game lacked examples of either and was finally decided by some poor penalty kicks by the visitors to give the Cosmos their third NASL Championship in the past four seasons.

During the two hours of football there were only five shots on goal, although the away side came the closest to scoring in the ninety minutes when Nemanja Vuković broke down the left and his cross was met by the impressive Don Smart on the half-volley, which hit the bar and bounced to safety. Despite Cosmos having the most valuable player in the league in the form of Juan Arango, denoted by his Golden Ball award at half time, they created very little in the game.

Full-time merged into extra-time with no real delineation between the stages of the game.  By the time we got to half-time in extra-time it was blatantly obvious the game would be going to penalties.  We did have some late drama when Arrieta crossed from the left to Diosa in the centre of the penalty area. His first touch escaped him, but Diosa stayed with the play, turned and hit a right-footed shot that just skipped wide of the near post.  The final whistle put us out of our misery.

Indy went first in the shootout and Nicki Paterson, a Scot who 16 games with Clyde no less, beat the Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer with a shot inside the far post. Jairo Arrieta stepped up for the Cosmos and smacked his shot off the far post and in. The majority of the crowd gave a heavy breath out that was soon replaced by cheers as Eamon Zayed’s spot kick hit both posts and someone stayed out.  Another Scot, former Elgin City star Adam Moffat coolly slotted the ball straight down the middle and the pressure was on Indy Eleven.

In a somewhat surprising decision, veteran keeper Jon Busch stepped up but blazed the ball high and wide, almost handing the title on a plate (or in this instance a bowl), to the Cosmos.  It was left to Ryan Ritcher to take the decisive penalty for the home side, making the final score 4-2.  Cue the wild celebrations that included a flare or two being set off in the Cosmos fans, leading to panic among the Campus Police (really) who had never had to deal with such an event.

On my last trip to see the Cosmos I said that I couldn’t see what the future holds for them, and two years down the road I still don’t understand where they can go next.  They need to test themselves against better opposition each week, they need their own stadium so they can attract more commercial revenues and of course fans.  Their “once in a lifetime” opportunity seems to have been and gone, so now they are most definitely a very big fish in a relatively small pond.

Two weeks after the game came the news that the NASL may be no more and with it would go any opportunity for the Cosmos to carry on in their current form.  This story may not end here and it is unlikely when it does to be a happy one.

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US and them


We are very keen on eulogising about the magic of the FA Cup in this country and quite rightly so.  It is the oldest football competition in the world, full of nostalgia and goosebump-inducing moments.  Every fan of every club will have a story, a moment in history that they will never forget.  Some of us have experienced the elation at seeing our team win the trophy, such as I did as a ten-year old when perhaps the last ever second tier side, West Ham United, won the trophy. Some have had the despair at losing in a final, perhaps none so cruel as on penalties (stand up again West Ham fans for the last final to be settled in this way back in 2006). Today, with football dominated by money at the top-level of the game, many fans of Premier League clubs may not care about the FA Cup anymore. The Football Association themselves showed their true colours by selling naming rights and moving the semi-finals to Wembley Stadium, scheduling kick-off times when fans can’t use public transport to get home.

Many fans don’t know that the tournament actually starts before the Premier League kicks off in August.  Why would hundreds of thousands of fans want to know that?  After all, they are only interested in when their team plays – which for the most part is the Third Round on the first weekend of January.  By then, on average, there will be one “plucky” Non-League side left in the competition.  This season 736 teams entered the cup, with the first game being played on Friday 15th August when Hebburn Town kicked off against West Allotment Celtic.  The 182 winners in the Extra Preliminary Round back in August all received £1,500, whilst when Arsenal scooped the trophy in May they walked away with a cumulative sum of £3,737,500 which is not quite a drop in the ocean to them but enough to keep Jack Wilshere in tabs for a few more weeks.

Our national treasure is slowly becoming blighted by the same disease that has tainted the top-level of football in this country – money. Whilst the winners of the tournament pick up a cheque for £1.8million for lifting the trophy, Emirates will sponsor the tournament from next season for £10m.  Does the world’s oldest football challenge cup really need a sponsor?  As with most of football, if it has public recognition, then it can be sold.  FA Cup semi-finals are now played at the convenience of the global TV audience rather than so fans of the teams involved can actually easily get to and home again.

As luck, or more precise, work would have it, I was back in New York this week.  Of course I did my research into what sporting events I could attend post work.  I seemed to have chosen a good week – The Mets and Yankees were both at home, but more importantly it was the Fourth Round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup, the American equivalent of our FA Cup.

Now in its 102nd year, it is an older competition that the Super Bowl and the NBA Championship Play-Offs.  Whilst early winners such as Bethlehem Steel and St Luis Simkins-Ford are no longer around, it was the first tournament that united “soccer” in the country.  Last seasons winners, Seattle Sounders pocketed just $250,000 for winning the trophy, but they had already kissed goodbye to this year’s challenge, losing 3-1 at home to bitter rivals Portland Timber, finishing the game with just seven men.  Even better was the sending off of Clint Dempsey who then proceeded to snatch the referees notebook and rip out the page featuring his misdemeanour.

I had the choice of two games.  Tuesday had the New York RedBulls hosting Atlanta Silverbacks and Wednesday saw moneybags Manch…sorry, New York City travel to Long Island to play the legendary New York Cosmos.  Alas, whilst I would have loved to have seen both, I promised to be a little bit social and go out for dinner with the team in New York so it came down to a coin toss (which is ironically how they decide who will play at home in the US Open cup).  The RedBulls won.  Part of me was a little disappointed but in terms of logistics it was the better choice.

18852242056_a32ecb4972_kWhilst New York Cosmos actually play in New York State rather than the RedBulls in New Jersey, it is a pain to get to.  Subway, then train into the heart of the ‘Burbs of Long Island then a school bus to Hofstra University where the James M. Shuart Stadium is.  Tickets were selling for over $50 on StubHub, which would get you a small place to park your bum on a metal bench, with no shelter from the forecasted storms heading in from the Atlantic.  You could also bet that Man…sorry, New York City wouldn’t be fielding “designated” players David Villa or Frank Lampard for the game.  Instead I paid the grand sum of $7.77 for 3 tickets for the RedBulls.  It was only fair that I treated Luge Pravda (of course) and TBIR rookie Tom Wells, who for those of you who want to be nosy, is the 13th different picture of “Tom Wells” on a Google Images search.  Generous to a tee.

RedBull Arena sits in Harrison, New Jersey, a twenty-minute train ride from Manhattan.  I’m not sure what else would bring people to or from Harrison as alighting from the train all you can see is derelict buildings and parking lots that were once derelict buildings.  Since the 25,000 capacity stadium opened in 2010 the area around the stadium has remained, to put it politely “undeveloped”.  Whereas new build stadiums in this country always seem to be quickly surrounded by bland, uniform retail parks, the Americans, who love an out-of-town mall, seem to be missing a trick here.  There’s not even a spot to have a beer.

18690660598_6a98567ab8_kThe tickets I’d procured were in the name of Joey Levensberg.  As we entered the stadium we got a very warm welcome – “Welcome back Mr Levensberg.  Enjoy the game” – either he was a known name in these parts or the staff were simply very happy to see someone, anyone come to the game.  I had a feeling that based on previous experience that the crowd would be on the sparse side.  Back in 2012 I made my first trip here to see the RedBulls take on “rivals” DC United.  The place was rocking and both sets of fans gave a great account of themselves.  A few months later I returned and saw Sporting KC visit.  The official crowd that day was 11,000.  I’d estimate there was around a tenth of that in the stadium.  Apparently, the crowd was so low because the Yankees were playing on the same night.

Last year I was lucky to get a ticket for the World Cup Warm Up game between USA and Turkey – once again, superb atmosphere.  For this one we could choose which section we could have to ourselves.  I appreciate that the cup doesn’t hold the same interest as the league – that is a reserve of Germany and Germany alone it appears these days and that the Atlanta Silverbacks, who had just finished the Spring Season of the 2nd Tier NASL rock bottom weren’t the biggest draw, but surely the club could have given tickets away to local schools or community groups to boost the attendance?

18255958174_51fc4905a0_kThe visitors were managed by the English duo of ex-Enfield, Aylesbury and Welling United player Gary Smith, ably supported by ex-Leicester City winger and one-cap England wonder Steve Guppy.  However, with miserable league form had only been brightened up by an extra-time win away to NPSL (Third Tier) side Chattanooga in the previous round.  The RedBulls weren’t taking any chances and whilst across the Hudson and the East River, MLS rivals  New York City would be resting “designated” players Villa and Lampard, and Steven Gerrard wouldn’t be included in the LA Galaxy’s squad for their game against PSA Elite, their English star would be starting.

Many people may be surprised to hear that alongside the English duo, plus global stars Villa and Kaka, the MLS also features Bradley Wright-Phillips.  Son of Ian and brother of Shaun, it is fair to say he has been a bit of a sensation since he pitched up at the RedBulls in 2013 after leaving Charlton Athletic.  33 goals in just 51 games tells its own story.  Wright-Phillips can arguably call himself the most valuable Englishman in the MLS at the moment.

We waited for kick off which was supposed to be 7.30pm, but as usual in US sports when the time arrived, nobody was where they should be.  Luge had gone to sniff out some IPA whilst a small group of the RedBulls hardcore fans at the far end struck up a version of Twist and Shout.  At 7.39pm we got underway.  A couple brazenly came and sat in our section, although quickly apologised.  Apparently the low crowd was partly due to the Mets being at home and a new episode of Orange is the new Black on TV.

New York RedBulls 3 Atlanta Silverbacks 0 – RedBull Arena – Tuesday 16th June 2015
With fifteen minutes on the clock, Ronald Zubar tapped in from close range to put the home side 2-0 up and effectively end the tie.  The RedBulls had come out of the traps flying and dominated the opening exchanges with another ex-Charlton Athletic player, Lloyd Sam stroking home on 7 minutes after great work from Wright-Phillips and then Zubar in the right place at the right time.  It could have been an embarrassing night for the Silverbacks but the home side took their foot off the gas until the closing stages.

Bizarre licensing laws meant that despite even our poshest English accents couldn’t get us a beer after the 67th minute and our last cheer of the evening was reserved for Sean Davis (not that Sean Davis) scoring his first ever professional goal with just under twenty minutes to play.  It was time to leave and head back to the big city.  The official crowd had been announced as 5,585 – even the most ardent Red Bull fans would have scoffed at that number.  But it is what it is.  The US soccer fans seem to have the same attitude to the cup as those football fans in England, Italy or Azerbaijan.

Two days later the draw was made for the next round and what would you know, the Cosmos, fresh from beating New York City on penalties who make the trip to New Jersey to play the RedBulls. Let’s hope there are a few more fans in the stadium for that one.

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The best things about football in 2014


So here it is – our final award for 2014, despite the fact we are now six days into 2015.  But football is the gift that keeps giving so here is my last offering for this year.  My three favourite moments from my footballing year.

3rd Place – New York Cosmos
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Back in August on a regular trip to New York I got the opportunity to tick not one, but two things off my lifetime wish list.  An opportunity to see the famous New York Cosmos was obviously the main agenda item here (complete coincidence that they were playing in the very week I was over), having grown up reading about the mythical team from the 1970/80’s in the NASL with Pele, Beckenbauer and of course Barrow’s finest, Keith Eddy.  Now back in the second tier of US football, the good times could be coming back, especially after announcing the signing of Raul.  But this wasn’t a night to remember.  A dull 0-0 draw played in a school’s athletics stadium but it was still “the Cosmos”.  And the second thing?  Getting to ride on one of those yellow American School buses I’d seen so often in films.  Oh, and I took a pretty good picture.

2nd Place – Lewes v Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United
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2014 hasn’t been the best year for The Mighty Rooks but for five glorious days back in March we were the best team in the world.  Well, perhaps in the Ryman Premier League anyway, as the top two came to The Dripping Pan and were both dispatched goal less and point less.  Luck?  Nope – I’m putting it down to the fact we (OK, I) scouted them both on a number of occasions.  Being taught how to scout is like being tutored in how to drink a fine wine.  Once learnt, you will never watch a game of football in the same way, unable to make remarks incomprehensible to the people around you such as “look at how the number 9 leads with his left arm” or “the keeper won’t come if it’s 6 yards out”…And I bloody love it.  The warm, satisfaction you get after the team has put in place tactics based on your knowledge and won!  That’s why those two games are so special…we wont talk about Grays or Wealdstone away though.

1st Place – The World Cup 
14268867827_784aff2d77_kFor four years I moan about our elite players, their attitude and generally the beautiful game being corrupted by billions of pounds.  Then, every two years a major tournament comes along and everything is right with the world. I came very close to being in Brazil.  Very close in an all-expenses paid trip to Sao Paolo to write about it, sort of way, but passed up the opportunity and Rookery Mike went instead. We haven’t spoken since.  Due to my travelling schedule I spent nearly the whole of the tournament in various corners of the world.  Germany’s demolition of Portugal in their opening game of the tournament was shared with a couple of hundred German fans in a bar in Singapore at 1am then being featured on local TV.  Watching Australia and then England make their early exits from the World Cup at 5am in the morning in a Melbourne casino, with an endless supply of Coopers Ale or watching the Brazilian demolition in a bar in Eindhoven with a German Hen party.  The actual games weren’t bad too.

Our highlights of 2014 can be viewed here, all in one handy little spot.

So see you all next year – one year older, one year wiser, one year damages by poor performances by our respective sides on the pitch.

Twice in a night time


14872309423_d2ca07abff_zIt’s not often you can tick off two things from your “bucket list” in one evening without it involving whipped cream, a private room at Spearmint Rhinos or Holly Willoughby but last week I managed to achieve it without really breaking into a sweat.  It’s also not often that many visitors to New York would even think of trying to get to see one of the 50 Teams That Mattered (An excellent read from the pen of David Hartrick) in the development of the beautiful game. The New York Cosmos’s impact on the global game we see today cannot be underestimated.  They were the first global marketing machine, realising the pot of gold that was on offer when selling football in the domestic market and abroad not as a ninety minute game but as a two to three-hour event.

The North American Soccer League, formed in 1968, was designed to try to win the hearts and minds of the attention-deficient Americans.  The 1966 World Cup in England had surprisingly fueled interest in the game in the US, coupled with the strange United Soccer League which had seen European teams such as Stoke City, Hibernian, Sunderland and Cagliari imported into the US to play under the names Cleveland Stokers, Toronto City, Vancouver Royal Canadians and Chicago Mustangs respectively.  The concept of Franchise Football was copied straight from the models adopted by the National Football League, Hockey League and Major League Baseball with 17 teams ranging from Atlanta to Vancouver taking part in the first season. The franchise from New York, “The Generals” lasted just one season, playing at Yankee Stadium, thus leaving the biggest city in America without a team.   Three seasons later in 1971 the league accepted an application for a new team, paying the princely sum of $25,000 entrance fee.  And so the legend of the Cosmos was born.

14665808209_1bdf60aab4_zThe NASL still needed to sell football to the North Americans, which was then completely foreign to the majority of them. A number of rules changes were made in those first few years to try to keep the fans attentions.   A clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 90 minutes was standard at all grounds.  In 1972 they implemented the 35 yard line which meant that players couldn’t be offside unless they were in that final zone.  But the most famous rule change was the introduction of the Shootout in 1974.  The US didn’t do “tied” games – the concept that you could play for a couple of hours and still not have a winner was just as alien as referring to underwear as pants or not pouring porridge over bacon for breakfast.  The concept of the shoot out was that a player had a five seconds to score from running from the 35 yard line.  They could take as many touches or rebounds as they wanted but as long as it happened within 5 seconds.

The Cosmos became the NASL to many youngsters like me.  They realised that the way to market the team overseas was to bring in the players everyone knew.  Queue Pelé, Beckenbaur, Carlos Alberto and England star Terry Garbett (of course, Terry Garbett, ex-Watford and Middlesborough star midfielder) arriving to a great fanfare in the city.  For a short period of time, they became the most talked about sporting team not only in New York but also the whole of America.  But just like the dreams created by Pan-Am, TWA and Ronco, the NASL and consequently the Cosmos burnt itself out.  By 1984 the dream had died.  If you want to understand the who’s, the why’s and the wherefore’s of the Cosmos and NASL then grab a copy of Gavin Newsham’s excellent book Once In A Lifetime.

Ironically, the new reformed Cosmos would return to Long Island, forty years after they left in 1973 having won their first Championship (of five) in 1972.  Their home would again be the James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University, some 45 minutes east of Manhattan.  Now you can understand why Andy and me are sitting on one of those yellow School Buses, winding its way through the ‘Burbs of Long Island.  Tick one – Seeing the Cosmos, tick two – a ride on an American school bus. I felt like I was on the set of Charlie Brown, Forrest Gump, American Pie and every other American film, although the fact we were sitting on it drinking bottle of Honkers Ale meant we were probably breaking a thousand laws.

14665803359_bd4ebca731_zIt is fair to say that the announcement of a new franchise to be created in New York City a few years ago set pulses racing in the Cosmos camp.  With the New York Red Bulls actually being camped across the Hudson in New Jersey (ditto the New York Giants and Jets), the opportunity for the re-birth of the Cosmos was never more alive.  The club had been reformed through the efforts of ex-Spurs director Paul Kemsley, ex-Liverpool CEO Rick Parry and of course, Pelé in 2010.  However, without a stadium, a league and more importantly a squad, the only hope the Cosmos had of playing was on FIFA 11.

The significant event in their re-birth was the decision that the Cosmos would be the opponents in Paul Scholes’s testimonial game at Old Trafford in August 2011.  By that time Eric Cantona had been appointed as Director of Football, and although his squad for that first game included the likes of Viera, Neville, Pires and even Robbie Keane (obviously playing for the club he supported as a child), the Cosmos were back.

Alas, the dream of a return to the top tier of US football was dashed in May 2013 when the MLS announced the new franchise team in the city would be New York City FC, a joint venture between Manchester City and the Yankees.  The Cosmos would stay forever in the second tier of US football, ironically now called the NASL.

In their first season at this level the club won the Soccer Bowl.  With the season split into two halves, the Cosmos won the “Fall” championship and then beat the “Spring” champions Atlanta Silverbacks to claim the title. Building on the success from last season they claimed second spot in the Spring championship.  However, it was in the US Open Cup (the US version of the FA Cup without any need for sponsorship from poor brewers) that the club have once again grabbed the nation’s attention.  In their first season in the competition they drew the RedBulls out of the hat and proceeded to smash their richer, more caffeine-boosted rivals out of the park.  They then took MLS Philadelphia Union to extra time before they lost 2-1.

Being in New York for business, it was a 100/1 shot that the Cosmos would be at home (honest) but once I saw they were, I had to be there.  This would be like finding a Bejams or a Berni Inn, a chance to revisit something from my childhood.

New York Cosmos 0 FC Edmonton 0 – Shuart Stadium, New York – Wednesday 6th August 2014
Our big yellow bus arrived at the Shuart Stadium at 7.30pm, kick off time.  Of course, being in America meant that the game didn’t actually kick off at the official time, but some 7 minutes later once the faffing had been completed.  Whilst the official attendance was announced later as 4,524, there seemed barely half of that in the stadium.  With the sun setting over Manhattan in the distance, the majority of the crowd’s applause was reserved for the impressive sunset rather than anything happening early doors on the pitch.

14665737820_72b4396e41_zA handy guide produced by the Cosmos Media Team meant we understood the players from the visitors from Edmonton, with full pronunciation guide (Tomi Ameobi is:- Am-E-O-Be for your information), although every single event that happened on the pitch was announced to the world by the PA.  He didn’t have a lot to talk about though during the ninety minutes as neither team could break the deadlock.

In the first half the highlights were three yellow cards and then the pint of Samuel Adams beer in the Beer Garden (a roped off area behind the Main Stand where we still had to prove we were adults.  The second half  saw the Cosmos try to break down the stubborn Canadians, having fifteen shots although the main talking point was the missed penalty in the 50th minute by the Cosmos when Senna saw his spot kick almost take out a flight departing from JFK.  With the clock ticking down, Tomi Ameobi, the middle of the three Newcastle United Ameobi brothers, put in a two-footed challenge on Szetela which saw him red-carded.

The draw was a disappointment for all involved.  The Cosmos fans including the Borough Boys behind the goal had kept up the beat during the game but even they had to admit defeat in the entertainment stakes.  But football is never about just 90 minutes on the pitch.  The evening was about catching up with old friends over a beer and taking a step back to my childhood and imagining what could have been.

 

Above us only stars….


In just under a year’s time, a famous name from the past will once again begin to shine in the public domain.  The New York Cosmos are back, and who would bet that in a few more seasons they will dominate US Soccer, just like they did some 35 years ago.

In 2013, The Cosmos will join the North American Soccer League, the “second tier” of US soccer. They will be playing alongside teams such as the Carolina Railhawks, Puerto Rico Islanders and San Antonio Scorpions in a league that still has no automatic promotion to the MLS.  Whilst these teams are relatively new, they will be playing alongside old rivals Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

As of yet they are still to confirm where they will call home, although it is rumoured it will be at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York state – a far cry from the heady days of sell out crowds at the old Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford.  In an interview with the New York Times on announcing the plans for next season, the club put forward their plans.

“It had long been thought that the Cosmos would gain entry to Major League Soccer, but those efforts have obviously not come to fruition, at least not yet. M.L.S. remains committed to expansion and has said it would like to place its 20th team in New York City. That is still possible if the league and New York can reach an agreement on where to put a new stadium — with Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (site of two past World’s Fairs) at the top of the list. Once a stadium is more than a pipe dream, it stands to reason that several groups, perhaps including the Cosmos, would start a bidding war to land in M.L.S.”

Wearing the famous white Umbro shirt will be all the rage in Manhattan once again.  In fact, since the club relaunched a few years ago, the Umbro clothing range of retro shirts and tracksuit tops have been some of the best sellers in sports retailers across the globe. We picked ours up a few months ago, online from Zalando who are one of the biggest online retailers in the UK.

It is yet to be revealed what the Cosmos shirt will look like for 2013 but in terms of design it is hard to beat the retro number we bought, of course complete with the No.10 representing the world’s greatest player, Pele.  If football shirts could be called timeless, then this would certainly fall into that category.  You cannot walk further than a few hundred yards in New York in the summer without now seeing an English Premier League shirt, so here is your opportunity to “beat them at their own game”.  The 100% cotton shirt is perfect for the blistering hot days of the English summer, which as we know always hits us in late September.

Double Ginger Action


And the excitement of Christa Norman’s excellent piece on the pre-match New York Cosmos press conference, we sent James Boyes, Lewes Man Of The Year along to Old Trafford to watch the game itself.

“Train in the morning, pick up my children from school, play with them, have tea, put them to bed and then watch a bit of TV.”

This doesn’t sound like the typical day of your average Premiership footballer, but when you’ve been described by Xavi as “a role model” then you’re not really an average footballer anyway. Paul Scholes is definitely not one of those.

The last time Scholes played for Manchester United was as a second half substitute against Xavi and his Barcelona teammates at Wembley last May in the Champions League final.

It didn’t quite go to plan for the Red Devils who were made to look fairly ordinary by one of the best club sides ever to have graced a football pitch, but in his heyday, Scholes could have quite comfortably worn the colours of the European Champions.

One thing about Scholes is how highly regarded he is by other players, both past and present. One former European Champion Zinedine Zidane described him last year as “almost untouchable.”

“There is no doubt for me that he is in a class of his own,” said the Frenchman. “I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get.”

Scholes’ manager Sir Alex Ferguson describes him simply as “an absolute genius of a footballer,” so it’s fairly obvious then that the boy is pretty useful.

The midfielder’s only weakness is his tackling – he is the third most booked player in Premier League history with 90 yellow cards and has been booked the most times in the Champions League – but it’s a sign of his overall ability that he hasn’t been labelled with a “dirty” tag despite Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger suggesting that “there’s a little bit of a darker side in him.”

Despite this though, he’s a player that most supporters would want in their own side although interestingly, United never once had any interest for his signature from another club, partly because they probably knew he wouldn’t want to leave anyway.

In what seems a fairly unusual situation these days, Scholes not only played for his hometown club but also played with them for his entire career.

Contrary to popular belief, Scholes wasn’t a supporter of Oldham Athletic in his younger days – he only went to Boundary Park with his father because it was easier for him to get tickets than Old Trafford.

He was a member of Oldham’s School of Excellence but left when he was 14 to sign for United. His debut in September 1994 at Port Vale in the League Cup saw the local MP complain that United had dropped Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis and were fielding an under-strength team of unknowns.

Scholes lined up alongside a number of United youngsters including David Beckham, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt and marked the occasion with both goals in the 2-1 win.

At the time, Scholes was a notable striker, netting on his full league debut, a 3-2 defeat against Ipswich, and going onto score seven goals from ten starts in his first season, and 14 goals from 18 starts in his second season.

Eventually he moved into midfield, playing in arguably one of the best quartets in Premier League history alongside Beckham, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs, becoming United’s fourth highest appearance maker (676 games) and lining up alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy as the club’s joint ninth highest goalscorer (150 goals).

His roll of honour includes ten Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and two Champions League medals, although he was famously suspended for the 1999 final when United beat Bayern Munich 2-1 to clinch the treble.

Scholes won 66 England caps, scoring 14 goals under four different managers from May 1997 to June 2004. He decided to retire from international football after the 2004 European Championships at the age of 29, frustrated at being played out of position, and ignored the advances of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and even Fabio Capello last season to reconsider his decision.

He announced his retirement from football three days after this year’s Champions League Final defeat with the news coming when Scholes and his family were out the country on holiday, far away from the media gaze.

Manchester United v New York Cosmos – Old Trafford – 5th August 2011
There was no escaping that last Friday night at Old Trafford though, when Scholes made his final bow in front of a sell-out crowd for his testimonial game.

He had invited New York Cosmos along to be the opposition, but given the fact that they only currently have a developmental side, the team was made up of a number of football legends including Fabio Cannavaro, Michael Salgado and Patrick Viera, and a splattering of former United favourites in Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Dwight Yorke.

Cosmos not only brought along Honourary President Pele but also Director of Football and ex-United striker/hero/legend/god Eric Cantona, who is a not insignificant figure around these parts.

With due respect to Cosmos, a player of the stature of Scholes ought to have guaranteed a big name club as his testimonial opposition, but with Cantona and Pele involved in building the club to rival its standing of the 1970’s, maybe in time it will be seen as a shrewd choice.

The same could have been said about the musical accompaniment, but Scholes kept that fairly low-key too, with singer and ‘Corrie” actress Kym Marsh blasting out a rendition of “Que Sere Sere” but cleverly changing the lyrics to “Only One Scholsey.”

The PA system was ramped up before kick off, as if the imminent arrival of United, Pele and Cantona wouldn’t have had the fans at fever pitch anyway. However, tracks from the Stone Roses, James and the Happy Mondays are entirely appropriate whatever the occasion. And being in Manchester makes it even more authentic for a southerner like me.

The players lined up to welcome Scholes and his kids onto the pitch, with the word ‘Genius’ held up in the North Stand, before a presentation by Ferguson and United Chief Exec David Gill.

Moments earlier, a massive cheer greeted Cantona’s low-key arrival, joining Pele in presenting Scholes with a Cosmos shirt before finding his seat.

The game itself was never likely to be a classic, but some players still showed they were more than capable, with Salgado and Cannavaro bossing things for Cosmos and Yorke proving he hadn’t lost his touch.

Scholes also impressed, pulling the strings for a full strength United side and pinging balls around like he was playing with his kids in the back garden.

They would have been impressed with their dad when he unleashed a screamer to open the scoring from the edge of the area, a fitting goal for his last at Old Trafford, which had the stadium rising in appreciation.

The supporters weren’t so appreciative for the second goal though, playfully booing Wayne Rooney who stepped up to take a penalty when everyone else wanted Scholes to score.

A number of substitutions changed the flow of the game in the second half as a younger United side attacked at will, although the party atmosphere following Danny Welbeck’s goal was ruined somewhat by Viera’s introduction, who was booed every time he touched the ball until the end of the game.

The fun returned when Neville replaced Salgado, and with half an hour left, a brief Mexican Wave fluttered around the stadium a few times as supporters tried to entertain themselves, a 6-0 win obviously not being enough for them.

Scholes thanked the crowd at the end of the game, and said that he hoped he had brought them some good memories. But a fitting end to a great Old Trafford career saw him salute the fans on one last walk around the stadium with his family, who no doubt will be seeing more of him in the months to come. And that’s just the way he likes it.

More pictures from the game can be found here.

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