A silly post, but it’s a rare week that the Observer’s Said and Done column doesn’t throw up a marvellous nugget from the world of professional football. Weekly proof, if proof were needed, that it’s not just British sport which is fatally polluted by a plague of morons. Here’s Gigi Becali – for some reason I find this quote somewhat charming; I don’t know why I do.
Posts Tagged ‘football’
I’m not sure if I feel so concerned and upset about Patrice Muamba because of basic human sympathy, because I was watching the match where he suffered a sudden and unexpected heart attack, or because on some level I consider myself part of the larger football ‘family’ – but concerning and upsetting it certainly has been.
I was watching the game on my secondary monitor while I was using my computer on Saturday afternoon; my attention was only half on it, and I had the volume down as I was listening to an old Showbiz and A.G LP. I half saw Muamba collapse, but didn’t make anything much of it until I glanced back and saw that he was face down, with his arms folded underneath him. Only moments later I saw the obvious distress of the players near him, and moments later the fans themselves, who seemed incredibly quickly to ascertain the seriousness of the situation – unsurprisingly given that Muamba was by this time receiving CPR.
Well, I won’t milk it by describing the whole thing, but suffice it to say that in not far off 30 years of watching football games, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad and relieved that his recovery appears to be in progress. Like almost everyone I’ve spoken to, I feared the worst and found that prospect difficult to contemplate.
When I was about ten or eleven I used to go and watch Barnet FC play every week at the Underhill Stadium behind High Barnet station. In those days a child ticket cost £1.75 and the Bees were on the verge of promotion to the Football League. One week me and my friend Anthony stood by the advertising hoardings at the corner flag at the far end of the pitch. Two players (my memory tells me that Barnet player was Geoff Cooper, but I might be wrong) hurtled towards the flag in pursuit of a loose ball. The pitch was wet and as the opposition player slid in, he went hurtling off the pitch and hit the hoardings hard, right where we stood. We heard a bang and a crack, and him scream. Geoff Cooper, or whichever Barnet player it was, went white.
As we leant forward to crane our necks over the hoardings and see what sort of state the player’s leg was in, the Barnet player turned to us and, very firmly, said ‘Don’t look, boys’.
We turned around and didn’t look again until the player had been removed on a stretcher. I hope he played again.
It would be so staggeringly obvious – were I to write at any length about racism in football – what I was going to say, that I don’t think it’s worth it. Suffice it to say that my interest in the sport is sustained despite severe provocation from a great many examples of witlessness, both on field and off by players and supporters alike. And John Terry and Luis Suarez may be the only the most recent poster children of football’s least appealing side, but it would be a struggle to say neither was fully deserving of their current ubiquity. It’s an exercise of restraint not to wish them each the worst.
That said, in the interests of balance, I do think that this post, about an unhitherto witnessed caring side of John Terry’s personality, is worth a read. It’s by Sam Tillen, a young man who once played football at Chelsea, and, although obviously biased, it suggests a rather more complex character than Terry’s repeated (and inexcusable) boorishness suggests.
Here’s the whole thing – extract below.
The year 2002 I was 17 and had been injured for eight monts. I usually had to train twice as much to be in form. I trained with several players during rehabilation and since John Terry was facing injury as well I trained a lot with him. We trained together for 3 or 4 weeks before he began to play again and prove himself as the number one center back in the first team. After this John always observed how I was doing with my injury and he wished me good luck for my first game after 11 months of rehabilation. Unfortunately in that first game I got heavily injured again and had to go to surgery 3 days later. When the physio came to visit me he said that "JT" had asked if I could get vacation and he even asked Graeme (Le Saux) if they could use the "discipline fund" (money if a player comes late to a training and such) from the first team to pay for my vacation. I couldn’t believe it.
After staying home for ten days I went to the training ground and John was there. He asked how I was doing and then said "Me and Graeme have arranged for you to go to a vacation, you can go wherever you want, with your friend or your brother, you deserve something good. Just think about where you want to go, this isn’t your money! Just let us know how much it costs and we will arrange it.
I didn’t know what to say other than thank you. I talked to the youth and reserve coaches and they told me it was probably best for me to take the vacation. One of the reserve coach said that I still had that "hospital color" because I was as white as a ghost. I lost a lot of blood in the surgery it showed in my face.
My mother had also just had surgery so she could use a a little break from work. That’s why I wanted to take her with me. It was october so I needed to find "some place hot" like John advised me to do. The one place close that was hot enough was south spain and because this wasn’t my money I didn’t want to take advantage of the generosity from John. So the next day during practice I said to John "Is it okay if me and my mother go to Sevilla over the weekend?" His answer was, "Come on Tills! You can go wherever you want for free, why do you want to go there? It won’t even be hot. Look at it again, go to the caribbeans or something, you can sit at the beach without having to worry how much it is going to cost, we will make sure of it."
So I went and checked again and found a good offer for a trip to Tobago. I talked to my physio for a few days and he said "It’s fine, just talk to JT." I still felt bad spending other people’s money, I had never done that before. So naturally I was a little nervous when I was talking to John, telling him about the trip I had in mind. And what did John say?
"No problem, good choice! Just give me the info and we’ll pay it."
Interesting stuff. Drawing no conclusions from it, but if it’s true, I’m pleased to hear he’s not quite as relentlessly unpleasant as he seems.
Well, this is obviously the best thing to have happened in 2012 so far. Last night, in Tottenham and Liverpool’s 0-0 bore draw at Anfield, a cat got onto the pitch. A really cute one, too.
Because he chose to go and sit next to the away stand, naturally the visiting supporters sought to adopt him, chanting “You’re Spurs, and you know you are”.
In a deal illustrative of Liverpool’s slightly confusing transfer policy (which seems to be to overpay for players with Premiership experience, even if they’re as yet unproven at higher levels), they have just signed Blackpool’s impressive (but not world-beating) central midfielder Charlie Adam, for about £7.5m. Charlie Adam is a pretty decent player, in the box-to-box midfielder style, and is surely the latest in a long line of okayish players who get overhyped and overpaid because they make people nostalgic for a certain type of British player we see less and less of (cf. Lee Bowyer, Danny Murphy, Kevin Nolan, Scott Parker). Anyway, like I said, I don’t know much about him, so it’s possible I’m underrating him. But at least Liverpool have placed some handy facts about him on their website, for those of us trying to keep up. This is my favourite by some distance:
3. Adam then returned to Ibrox in the summer of 2006 and was handed his opportunity to shine by gaffer Paul Le Guen. He admits to changing his diet on the advice of the Frenchman. “I’d never really thought of eating salads before,” he said during an interview in 2010.
I am strangely pleased that my football club failed to join in the mass scramble for transfers at the end of January’s transfer window. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because they took a moral high ground and refused to join in the repulsive carnival of avarice which transfer-day spending has turned into. It was rather that they made several insane bids of their own but luck conspired against them and they didn’t get accepted. Well, good. I’d rather come sixth and miss out on Europe than join this ludicrous rush for overpriced, overpaid players. (To be clear, I’d have been very happy if the club paid a reasonable fee for an excellent player – just not £35m, even for a handsome Geordie).
Meanwhile, the club I supported as a child – as much out of deference to geography as anything – are planning to move East and abandon their own neighborhood, which is one of the poorest and least well invested-in in London, desperately needing the club’s ongoing presence.
Sometimes football is shit because the commentators can be such imbeciles. Sometimes it’s shit because the players are neanderthals. Sometimes it’s shit because you’ve been beaten at home by Arsenal. And sometimes it’s just shit. I don’t want my club to win at any cost, to sell out their own community, to pay exorbitant fees and wages for players who don’t merit it. The lamentable stadium plans aside, I don’t even think my club is particularly bad; our players are generally a comparatively likable bunch, our manager is dependably comical, and the director seems to do his job well – but for a modern football club to be competitive it must play this awful game – this money go round. It’s the game that’s ruining the game.
There’s never been a footballer that I loved watching play as much as I did Chris Waddle, and he’ll always be my all time favourite player – he’s perpetually rated below the likes of Hoddle and Gascoigne, but for me he was perfect – the most joyful, relaxed, languid of footballers. He had all of Gascoigne’s irrepressible energy and humour without his team-mate’s many flaws. And he was a Geordie, too.
Of course, until now, it’s always been hard to express pure admiration for Waddle, because of the stain on his career which was his ill-fated duet with Glenn Hoddle, the terrible pop single ‘Diamond Lights’ (although at least Chris had the good grace to look thoroughly ill-at-ease throughout this TOTP performance, unlike Hoddle, the over-confident chump).
However – I’ve just discovered this. Makes up for Diamond Lights at a stroke; witness ‘We’ve Got a Feeling’, recorded with his Marseille team-mate Basile Boli.
The analysis of England’s (so far) dramatic underperformance at the World Cup has really interesting. The common diagnosis for the team’s poor form and listless body language has been – logically – that they are traumatised by fear-of-failure. The bewilderingly high hopes of the media, the fact that several key players seem scarred by past failings and their perpetual inability to take worthwhile risks seems to support that.
The second point is the one I keep returning to. The core of the team – the likes of Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Beckham and Lampard – are accustomed, in domestic football, to realising their ambitions and winning medals, and yet international success continues to elude them; it remains the lasting blot on their copybooks. Some have not yet won the Champions League, but their doing so in the next few years is a far more realistic possibility than their winning a major international tournament. Their performances seem to suggest that they have already accepted that fact. As such, their hunger is depleted. Their only hope is that they play to the absolute height of their powers and don’t put a foot wrong. But this notion is intimidating, making every touch, every pass or shot, terrifying. It might go wrong. I might be blamed.
This is a powerful proposition – but surely it’s nothing that Fabio Capello and his team of sports psychologists won’t have already thought of, and taken steps to address. And given that the confidence boost that followed his appointment seems to have dissipated entirely, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether the problem may have as much to do with the manager as it does the players. In this excellent speculative post, James Hamilton (a sports writer with a background in psychology) wonders whether the players have gone on ‘psychological strike’ in protest at a manager whom they cannot get on with. Hamilton gives some powerful examples of the ways in which the players might feel let down by Capello. It’s a brilliant read.
For Capello, the players-as-pawns strategy is a given. It’s what he’s always done. The principal advantage to the players is its simplicity: as a player,you are to focus on getting your game right, you are responsible for that, and, by and large, your shirt depends on it. During qualifying, English players always had something to play for: it was quite clear what they had to achieve. But I suspect that, unlike the manager, the players saw all this work and discipline as something with a natural end-point. The prize on offer to them was qualification and a recovery of pride after the McClaren debacle, then, that achieved, a place in the squad. And, with a place in the squad achieved, the proper work could begin. The real business of the World Cup would get underway with a squad secure in the knowledge that they had won their coach’s esteem and trust.
It didn’t work that way. The squad arrived in South Africa to find nothing had changed between themselves and their coach. In a sense, the prize wasn’t the World Cup, not at first: what they wanted was the trust of Fabio Capello. But it wasn’t granted them, nor will it be, that trust: the players understand this at an intuitive level. Despite qualifying so well, what they felt was meant to be punishment for the sins of the McClaren era grinds on, with no sign of an end.
Speculating on what’s causing the malaise won’t, at this late stage, help. I actually really want England to win today’s game, despite having misgivings about some of the players and the tactics they employ. I’d personally like to see a very different England set-up, one which stops trying to emulate the short-passing game of the top European clubs, and starts playing direct, purposeful, attacking football. We should be tougher in defence and in central midfield, and more ruthless on the wings. I’d much rather we emulated the tough, purposeful football of Uruguay or Serbia than aimed fruitlessly to replicate the triangular-passing of Brazil. But for the time being, I hope the squad can sort out their differences and turn around their fortunes. The analysis will have to come later.
Hope we win.
(Hat tip to Marbury for directing me to James Hamilton’s blog).
My football team, Tottenham, has several players I can’t help but like; Gareth Bale, who has suddenly arrived fully formed, marauding and determined. Aaron Lennon, who is all kinks and jinks. Luca Modric, who is a footballer whose every decision oozes intelligence. Peter Crouch, who when asked what he’d be if it wasn’t for football, answered ‘a virgin’.
But I have a special affection for Benoît Assou-Ekotto, because, unlike pretty much every footballer I can think of, he makes no professions of love for the beautiful game. In fact, he’s not a football fan at all. In a recent interview, his manager, Harry Redknapp, noted that “he’s a strange boy … He’ll turn up Wednesday and play great, but he won’t know we’re playing Fulham until someone tells him. That’s how he is. He’s unreal. He walks off and he’s thinking about the music he’s going to play when he puts his headphones on”.
He’s interviewed in the Guardian today – it’s a lovely read, where he lays into the bland, anodyne culture of British football and the fake badge-kissing that its overpaid footballers so regularly indulge in.
“I arrive in the morning at the training ground at 10.30 and I start to be professional. I finish at one o’clock and I don’t play football afterwards. When I am at work, I do my job 100%. But after, I am like a tourist in London. I have my Oyster card and I take the tube. I eat.
I don’t understand why everybody lies. The president of my former club Lens, Gervais Martel, said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn’t care about the shirt. I said: ‘Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?’ Your shirt is red. I love it. He doesn’t care. The first thing that you speak about is the money.”
He calls himself a mercenary – and the implication of that is negative. But really he just talks honestly about his job, and shows a refreshing contempt for his fellow footballers, so many of whom have been dragged into disrepute in recent months and years.
“I know that they lie, and I hate lies. Me, I am not like that. I am honest all of the time, although the truth is not always good to say.”
Benoit, in case you wondered, is a really pretty good left-back. He’s hard working, slightly pissy, consistent. You get the feeling he’d rather be on the tube, using his Oyster card. I like him.
There’s a lovely bit in the first series of ‘The Office’, where David Brent, in the middle of a performance review, is caught out by Tim, and accused of reading aphorisms from a carefully hidden piece of paper.
“If we’re facing in the right direction”, Brent advises, “all we have to do is keep on walking”
Tim: “Yep, very nice. You’re quite a philosopher”
David: “Well, it’s just that… I think that our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall”
Tim’s patience snaps. “Are you reading these?”, he asks.
David: “Am I what?!”
Tim: “Reading the quotes”
David: “Sort of…”
I was reminded of this watching football on the telly this weekend. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this, but football commentators make quite a thing of dropping learned references into otherwise anodyne punditry.
On Saturday, I was idly watching Portsmouth – who are currently in horrific financial straits – playing Birmingham in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. Winning the cup nearly bankrupted the club last time they did it (because of all the stratospheric win bonuses in the players’ contracts) but it’s hard not to wish them well at present, given that their fans have so little else to cheer about. And happily, they were 2-0 up after about seventy minutes, at which point I enjoyed the following comment. It’s only really funny, I think, because of the way the sentence is constructed, as if part of a conversation, a spontaneous observation; when it is rather obvious that, in reality, Peter Drury had a few smart comments written down on a piece of paper, and was reading them out.
“I think…”, he said, as if he couldn’t quite remember, “I think it was William Hazlitt who said that while prosperity is a great teacher; adversity is a greater”.
You think it was? If only Gareth Southgate had done a Tim.
Gareth: “Are you reading these?”
Peter: “Sort of”.
Strange going ons in the world of football. For those of you who have no interest; you’re missing out – this is a peculiar and interesting season for a number of reasons – the big clubs are struggling, the smaller clubs are contracting and expanding, playing rich, rewarding football on the one hand and spitting out managers on the other. Adapting to face new commercial realities, and creaking under the weight of the grim hold that capitalism exerts on the game.
And old certainties are no longer quite so certain – I can no longer find it in myself to hate Sol Campbell for leaving Spurs all those years ago, for example, and I find myself inwardly applauding the dreadful Joey Barton for claiming that footballers ‘are knobs’ on Radio 4, of all places. Grand old clubs like Man City, Portsmouth and Notts County, meanwhile, have futures which are suddenly, truly, completely unknowable. Glory or bankruptcy.
This isn’t the prelude to a review of the year in football or anything; just a few notes before I sling off a couple of interesting links I’ve encountered in the last few weeks. The first concerns the afore-mentioned Portsmouth, for whom every moment seems a drawn-out agony, for all that (actually) they have an OK team, who play nice football. Their problem is not that they look dead-certs for relegation (actually, that’s the least of their problems) but rather that they tried to compete with the big teams financially and messed it up, before taking the hand of the first person who promised to clear up the mess without checking him out properly first.
If anyone wants to formulate an argument about capitalism ruining football, they should board the train to Fratton. Jamie Jackson, writing for the Guardian, delivers a damning indictment of Portsmouth’s profligacy.
John Utaka was Portsmouth‘s record signing when he joined from Rennes in July 2007 for £7m. In two and a half years, he has become their record waste of money.Utaka has started 31 Premier League games and scored seven times in all competitions. Since claiming five of those goals in his opening season the Nigerian’s form has declined disappointingly. This season his highlight was scoring against Hereford United in the Carling Cup five months ago. Despite Portsmouth’s well-documented problems – Avram Grant has only 17 outfield players, and is operating under a transfer embargo – Utaka has started only twice in the league, back in August. Not only was Utaka rejected by Nigeria for the Africa Cup of Nations that starts tonight, he did not even get into the 32-man preliminary squad.
Portsmouth are debt-ridden and threatened with administration. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs served a winding-up petition on the club just before Christmas, and Portsmouth cannot find the £10m required to lift the transfer embargo. Utaka, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the rewards of his four-year contract on a barely credible £80,000 a week. If he stays to the end of his term, the total cost to Portsmouth will be about £23m. That would be enough to secure their immediate future.
If that tale of excess isn’t enough to momentarily divert you from the small pyre of wicker bankers which you are absent mindedly building at your desk, a slightly more jolly tale from Manchester, where at Man City, meanwhile, things could not be more rosy since they shacked up with their own – somewhat more credible – Saudi sugar-daddy, and made the decision to sack Mark Hughes.
Football being football, they elected to do so in an entirely dishonourable fashion, and earned the condemnation of many in the game for their methods, but, football being football, they’ve won every game since (under the stewardship of the handsome Roberto Mancini), so everyone has forgiven them. Except for Mark Hughes, presumably.
Even I’ve fallen under the spell of Mancini. He’s just so sophisticated. Look, here he is bemoaning the food culture at his new club. He wants the players to eat better before they run out onto the pitch.
“I will calmly make corrections to what they eat before matches,” City’s manager told the Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. “You need more chicken, pizza, carbohydrates. As well as a glass of wine, which isn’t being served.”
Brilliant! He wants his players to eat pizza and drink alcohol before they play!!! I love this man. When his time comes, I hope his petty, fickle, nouveau-riche employers treat him better than he did his predecessor.
And, more importantly, last night’s game between Liverpool and Reading was just fantastic, fantastic stuff – a genuinely deserving smaller team, a huge team in a state of crisis, and a great finale. Here’s Dan, rather pleased with Reading’s performance.
Silvio Berulusconi has come out in favour of a salary cap in football, saying that the high wages earned by professional footballers “are unacceptable, distant from the real economy in which we live in a difficult time like this. They are outside every parameter.”
Be honest. Of all the people you would have expected to have made a moral stand against capitalist excess, Berlusconi would not be high on the list.
I love this picture. When I’m old, I want people to look at old photographs of myself and think, god, yes, that’s him.
I think I’m going to miss Bobby Robson.
Is it alright for me to blog about football if I pretend that I’m blogging about architecture?
Actually, I think I am blogging about architecture. The football back pages are buzzing at the moment with the news that my club, Tottenham Hotspur, have announced plans for a new stadium, which is being built on the existing site at White Hart Lane. What makes that interesting to non-Spurs fans, I think, is that the plans for how they’ll do it are really rather interesting. The intention is to start building the new ground directly behind the current stadium, and progress as far as they can with it before demolishing the current ground and moving the pitch up into the new building. At no point during the process will the capacity drop below it’s current maximum (36,000) but at the end the club will have a shiny new ground with room for 60,000 people. The pictures below – which are the real reason for the post – demonstrate the process. Kind of fascinating, and oddly pretty too.
PHASE ONE: New stadium build commences to the north of the existing ground. The stadium remains in use at full capacity.
PHASE TWO: Out of season, the North Stand of the existing stadium is demolished and the new pitch is laid.
PHASE THREE: The partially-completed new stadium is in use for one season. The remainder of the existing stadium is demolished.
PHASE FOUR: Out of season, the remainder of the new stadium is completed, ready for the start of the following season.
Just hope the new stadium doesn’t turn into an anonymous, atmosphere-free dome like the Emirates. Unfortunately, looking at the drawings, it looks very similar.
Anyone else developed a bit of a crush on Slaven Bilic, the Croatia manager, during the course of Euro 2008? I think he’s terrific; quite apart from the fact that he plays lead guitar in a rock group whose song for the tournament was titled ‘Fiery Madness’, he has a kind of innate charisma and a combination of authority and approachability, as well as being really bright. Something tells me he has the right blend of characteristics to go a long way, and I hope we see him in the premiership before long.
On the subject of charismatic leaders, my friend Dave sent me a really amazing article on K-Punk, which compares the incomparable Brian Clough with the incomparable Mark E. Smith – and does so with aplomb; a really insightful bit of writing.
“At a certain point, though, the sorcery stops working: self-belief becomes arrogant hubris, motivational techniques become mere bullying, everything dries up, apart from the drinks, which keep on coming. The fearless leader who inspires loyalty becomes the drunken Lear surrounded by sycophants. It happened to Clough, it happened to Smith.”
This is an old Bjork quote, I think, but it’s one I’d never heard ’til today; it’s quite lovely.
“Football is a fertility festival. Eleven sperm trying to get into the egg. I feel sorry for the goalkeeper.”
This is extraordinary, and I’m almost disinclined to believe it – but then it’s not April Fool’s Day, is it? Hmm. Well, this is straight off the Guardian site:
“Guardian Unlimited understands there are serious reservations in the government about the Premier League’s plan to take matches overseas for the first time from the 2011-12 season. Ministers will not at this stage oppose the audacious proposals to extend the season from 38 games to 39 to allow every club to play one extra match abroad, but they are not yet convinced that the move is in football’s best interests and there are concerns around supporters, sporting integrity and the impact upon other national leagues and competitions.
The deal has not been agreed yet, but the league and the chairmen of its 20 clubs are known to be enthusiastic about the idea having agreed to explore the proposal in London today. If the deal goes ahead, the 10 overseas games are expected to take place in January providing there is space in the calendar, with points awarded for the extra match in the normal way. The top five sides are likely to be seeded so that they do not meet each other, but otherwise the fixtures will be drawn out of a hat and played in cities around the world.
New York, Beijing and Tokyo are among potential venues, and they will have to compete with other cities for the right to stage the games. Five cities would be chosen each year, with each venue hosting matches on consecutive days. A certain number of games are likely to be played in third world nations, with the Premier League keen to use football as a development tool.”
What a bizarre, and terrible, idea.
This is lazy blogging, I know – but it’s irresistible nonetheless. Here are some choice Kevin Keegan quotes from the annals of history. Wonderful stuff.
“He can’t speak Turkey, but you can tell he’s delighted. “
“I know what is around the corner – I just don’t know where the corner is. But the onus is on us to perform and we must control the bandwagon. “
“Hungary is very similar to Bulgaria. I know they’re different countries… “
“In some ways, cramp is worse than having a broken leg. “
“The 33 or 34-year-olds will be 36 or 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around, if they’re not careful. “
“It’s understandable that people are keeping one eye on the pot and another up the chimney. “
“I’d love to be a mole on the wall in the Liverpool dressing room at half-time. “
“Argentina won’t be at Euro 2000 because they’re from South America. “
“You don’t get two chances at this level, or at any other level for that matter.”
“The Germans only have one player under 22, and he’s 23.”
“I’ve had an interest in racing all my life, or longer really.”
“We managed to wrong a few rights.”
“I’ll never play at Wembley again, unless I play at Wembley again.”
“He’s got a heart as big as his size, which isn’t big, but his heart’s bigger than that’
“You get bunches of players like you do bananas, though that is a bad comparison.”
“Nicolas Anelka left Arsenal for £23million and they built a training ground on him.”
“As far as I’m concerned, Danny Tiatto doesn’t exist.”