On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

Gareth Bales on us

It’s not often you get the opportunity to travel from one end of the footballing spectrum to another in just a few hours.  But today was one of those days.  After the highs of Lewes’s win at Wingate & Finchley yesterday it was a rude awaking at 3am for the trip to Madrid, on the first flight out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport.  So early was the departure that I had the BA lounge to myself for a good 15 minutes.  Still no Marmite though, but that is another story.  As the plane hugged the Atlantic coast of France I looked back on my previous trips to the Spanish capital, each memorable for different reasons.

9893199025_1e372f1884_b (2)In 1998, the Current Mrs Fuller and I made our first ever trip to Madrid on Debonair.  Remember them?  They flew from London Luton and went head to head with Easyjet for a number of years.  We pitched up in the middle of the Summer, not realising how hot Madrid could be.  A tour of the Bernabau raised temperatures even more, although the roof-top swimming pool of the Emperador was certainly a bonus (Madrid tip number 1: Not only an excellent rooftop pool but a huge buffet breakfast).

Two years later and we were back again.  In lieu of Christmas presents to each other we had invested in four consecutive weekends in European destinations that just happened to have four of the biggest football teams in Europe.  Milan, Madrid, Munich and Rome.  What an outstanding month.  Only it seemed such a good idea when we booked it in July.  Come January time and CMF was “just” five months pregnant.  Not handy for walking up to the top tier of the San Siro but she was a trooper and so I decided to treat her to a seat in the lower tier at the Bernabau.  Oh how she enjoyed sitting in the Fondu Sur with flares for company.  Nobody has ever mentioned that passive flare smoke is bad for unborn babies so that is OK.  In those days the East side of the stadium only had three tiers, rather than the five elsewhere.

Four years later and I was back to help Spain celebrate their 500th fixture.  And how were us party guests treated?  With water cannons in the streets around the ground, unprovoked baton assaults on the fans in the stadium and the racial abuse of Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.  The actions of the Spanish police went unpunished although their FA were fined $87,000 for failing to act on the abuse from the crowd. So that makes it all alright then. Continue reading

The Civil Service and Real Madrid: A mismatch made in Heaven

imagesToday the term the Civil Service is still one that is mocked by comedians and commentators alike as a lapdog for the latest Government. Red tape, bureaucracy and corridors full of greying plastic furniture in nameless, faceless buildings sort of sums up the stereotypes still in existence from decades gone by. But 150 years ago it was the place to work, something to aspire to as well as an employee who offered some real social and recreational benefits. Job security was what everyone craved after the war and the Civil Service offered just that. As governments came and went, the only positions that were seen a sacred were those that existed in the corridors of Whitehall. But before the monochrome of this story depresses us, let’s rewind to the middle of the 19th century.

In 1863 the newly formed Civil Service club was playing football under both Association and Rugby rules in an informal way, often rotating between the two codes every week. They became one of the founding members of the Football Association in that year and in 1871 they were invited to be founding members of the Rugby Football Union as well. In the same year a posh invitation popped through the letterbox of a certain Mr Warne at the War Office, inviting the “Civil Service football team” to take part in the FA’s inaugural national tournament, the FA Cup. They readily accepted the challenge and in the draw they were picked to play away to Barnes FC. Continue reading

El Clasico

Ten years ago the game between Barcelona and Real Madrid held little interest outside of Spain. But thanks to the arrival in Spain of David Beckham (and of course Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate), the coverage of La Liga on our TV’s and of course the rise to worldwide dominance of Barcelona, it has today become the biggest club match in the world.

Ironically, over this period, the animosity between the players seems to have been replaced by hype in the media. This has been quoted as one of the reasons for the success of the Spanish national side in the past five years which has seen them win 2 x European Championships and a World Cup. For many years the reason for their capitulation in major tournaments was said to be the divisions in the squad between the Castillians and the Catalans.

However, today the Spanish are undoubtably one of the greatest international teams to have ever graced a football pitch, and those divisions have disappeared (10 of the 11 starters in the 2010 World Cup final played for the two teams). But that hasn’t stopped the game capturing the eyes of the world.

Over recent years the teams seem to have played each other more and more, and with characters like Jose and Pep in charge, not forgetting some of the world’s greatest players such as Ronaldo and Messi, it is more than just a game. Fortunately, this excellent book, written by Richard Fitzpatrick has come along just in time for the first high-octane meeting of the two Spanish Giants in the Super Cup.

For anyone interested in the history of the rivalry, both in terms of the political and geographical context then this is a must read. It contains some fascinating interviews as well as a page turning history. If you have read Morbo, the history of Spanish football by Phil Ball, then you will certainly enjoy this. The book also packs some serious facts and stats at the end which would put John Motson to shame.

Fitzpatrick’s advantage of living in Spain, covering football for a living allows him to get under the skin of the performers and audience of the greatest show on earth. He examines some of the classic games played between the two, and the impact the results had. The 1974 5-0 win by the Cruyff-inspired Barca team in 1974, for instance is put into context, along with the more recent encounters under Jose and Pep.

Whilst it is hard not to see that Fitzpatrick takes the Barca side in some of his debate, it is still a great read and one that should be slipped into every piece of hand luggage for those travelling, or downloaded onto the Kindle for those delayed train journeys. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon here.

Gone and forgotten – Part 4 – Nelson FC

Ninety years ago, Northern Lancashire had a wealth of teams playing in the Football Leagues.  The powerhouses of Preston North End, Burnley, Blackburn Rovers and , er Accrington Stanley fought out keen local derbies.  All four of these sides are today still doing battle at various levels of the footballing pyramid.  Some pretenders have come but all have since disappeared.  The names of Darwen and Blackburn Olympic are etched in footballing history (as covered by David Hartrick in his excellent book 50 Teams that mattered) but one name that came, saw and then went again is Nelson FC.

Nelson is a small town on the edge of Burnley.  It is notable for having some of the lowest house prices in the United Kingdom, where you can still buy a two bedroom terrace for less than £30,000.  But for ten years the town could also boast a Football League side that went on to beat one of the biggest teams in the world.

After forty years in the Lancashire Leagues they applied to join the Football League when they announced the expansion of the divisions to accommodate the new regional third tier.  They had the requisite facilities, with their Seedhill ground holding 15,000 but it was still surprisingly for many the application was successful, especially as the previous season they had only managed a 17th place finish in the Central League, and they kicked off their life as a league side on 27 August 1921 in front of 9,000 against Wigan Borough, taking the lead in the 2nd minute of the game when Billy Halligan scored, before falling to a 2-1 defeat.  However just a few weeks later they gained revenge on Borough with their first ever league win, coming away from Springfield Park with a 4-1 win which saw them top the league for the one and only time that season. Continue reading

La Beuna Vida

After a totally depressing week watching the daggers lose again who can blame Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan for wanting another change of scenery.  So as a treat we sent them off to Madrid to take in a weekend of La Liga action.

Booked several months ago, I am torn as to whether this is a good time to be going or not. At least we will know how we get on before our first game of the weekend starts. It is a tough choice; jet off for a couple of games in the sunshine, or watch your team (possibly) struggle in a game they simply have to win. There is a part of me wishing I was staying in the UK.

Before we get any further, one quick thing; did you know that, on an Android phone, when you try to type in Madrid, it offers the word “masturbated” as well? Honest, its true.

As with most of the airlines that don’t allocate seats prior to boarding, the crowd starts to build up early for the scramble to the departure gate. I had to stop myself doing a pit walk, a la Martin Brundle, because once the gate number appeared, it was like the start of a grand prix. As we approached the first corner, I was certain that we would have at least one coming together. After all, that’s why most watch formula one, isn’t it?

The flight out is also made more eventful by the presence of about forty Spanish school-kids, which means that, as one fellow traveller remarks just as we are about to board the plane, this could be a painful flight. Luckily, it isn’t too bad, and despite leaving Gatwick late (because the fuel truck hadn’t shown up in Madrid on an earlier flight), we land in Madrid just after the scheduled time, and about forty five minutes after landing, we are safely ensconced in our hotel. Let the football begin! Continue reading