Promotion? No thank you!

By Leigh Sanders

It seems to happen every year. When you get to March the Football League Championship title race becomes a sea of bottlers all stumbling over each other in the race to stay in the division they are in and forego the grandeur and financial reward of Premier League football.

Clichés state that one team should drop away at that point as injuries, pressure and sometimes a lack of real ability take their toll. There is also another team that always puts together a blockbusting end-of-season run to sneak in to the playoff places and secure an unlikely victory against a team that has been up there all season.

Two years ago (and very possibly this one) we had Burnley. Last year was Blackpool’s fairytale rise at the expense of my beloved Cardiff City. The less said about that tearful day the better.

But it has also come to light that while these usual twists and turns are occurring that another pattern starts to emerge: everyone panics.

The Football League

In 2006-07 this flurry of panic was first noticed. Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers were battling it out at the top of the table whilst Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Derby County, Cardiff City, Southampton and Preston North End were breathing heavily down their necks.

Cardiff had in fact led the division for much of the first half of the season but then they suffered the greatest panic of all. Enduring a frankly terrible second half to the season they plummeted down the table finishing in a dreadful thirteenth position. Wolves were another to stutter as they dropped to fifth while Sunderland managed to overtake Birmingham and take the title by two points.

2008-09 was another such season. Late season jitters again attacked Cardiff and they missed out on the playoff places by one goal scored on the final day of the season which resulted in further heavy heartache for the Welshmen.

Wolves clinched the title and promotion to the Premier League much more convincingly on this occasion but Birmingham only just pipped Sheffield United to automatic promotion as just about every club stuttered to their final positions via a whole host of draws and late goals.

Now, this season, everybody seems to be at it again. Queens Park Rangers are our leaders this time around but they have recently hit a little sticky patch. While it’s not exactly catastrophic they have seen wins over Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace punctuated with a loss to Millwall and draws with bottom club Preston and promotion rivals Nottingham Forest.

Forest have perhaps been the worst offenders. Their only win in their last nine matches has come over…you guessed it…Cardiff. The Bluebirds have also had a decidedly mixed bag. They haven’t won in three and have only beaten Hull and Leicester in their last seven. Before that they had gone unbeaten in six.

Then you have Leicester City who were making a huge surge for the playoffs under the stewardship of Sven Goren Eriksson. Saturday’s 3-0 victory away at struggling Scunthorpe halted a run of four games without a win. Before that they had won five in a row.

This weekend saw only QPR and Leicester out of the teams mentioned above win. In fact only those two and Hull in the top ten won (although Reading did not play due to FA Cup commitments).

At a time of the season when every point is so crucial all the top teams should be churning out results knowing that Premier League football is so close to being theirs. That alone should be incentive enough for victory.

But football is never, of course, that easy. Teams at the opposing end of the table are also fighting for their lives as they look to stave off relegation. But surely those at the top should have enough mettle and talent to prevail having got to the position they are in in the first place?

Norwich City now have the chance to take advantage of everyone else’s latest cock ups by moving in to second place should they overcome Bristol City at their Carrow Road home tonight. But with The Robins looking to move further away from relegation trouble and being on a good run of their own this isn’t exactly a given.

It’s all part of what makes football so exciting to watch. But it remains a betting man’s nightmare. I myself am praying that Cardiff’s jitters don’t ruin it again for us this season as I’m not sure just how much more my little ticker can take.

But, equally, I wouldn’t be so surprised if we win the battle of the biggest bottlers and then have to prepare ourselves for another gruelling season in The Championship. After all, this is where most of these teams appear to want to be playing next year.

Europe’s Top Competition Blighted by Petty Rows

By Leigh Sanders


It’s supposed to be the most beautiful exhibition of European club football yet this week the UEFA Champions League has been the centre of controversy as some of the game’s biggest names locked horns in verbal sparring.

First of all we had the Barcelona-Arsenal encounter. Leading up to the game Barcelona continued their assault on Arsenal who they probably, quite rightly, view as beneath them. While both are exceptional passing sides there is no doubt that the Catalan giants are just a cut above their London-based counterparts.

Pep Guardiola

Manager Pep Guardiola continued the Spanish side’s assault on Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire. The youngster’s game has got up the noses of the Barca team somewhat. A good attacking force he also possesses a sound defensive mind and isn’t afraid to stick his leg in where it hurts.

“Wilshere is a top player, and has been a big, big surprise,” said the former Barca, Roma and Brescia midfielder. “I didn’t know him at the start of the season. In the first game he had a really good performance.

“He can be great player for Arsenal and England, but we have many types of player like him in the second team. He’s lucky, as Arsenal have time. There is not the pressure to win titles as quickly as possible.”

Does he have a point? Would Wilshire get in to a side possessing the attacking talent they do? I don’t think he’d oust Javier Mascherano from that holding role just yet. But whether or not this is true are the mind games really necessary? Why not concentrate on the feast of football we were all hoping for?

Then, after the game, came Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and striker Robin van Persie’s assaults on the referee. While he may have been incorrect in his decision to send the Dutchman off the quotes from both men continue to show what little respect the authorities hold among players and managers currently. French midfielder Samir Nasri also got involved and he and Wenger face charges from Europe’s governing body over what was said.

“If you play football at a certain level you cannot understand this decision,” Wenger said. “It killed a promising, fantastic match. If it’s a bad tackle, OK, but frankly it is embarrassing.”

Then came the build-up to the Tottenham-AC Milan encounter. Same again. Both sides were still a bit sore from the bruising encounter at the San Siro three weeks previously and Milan in particular were not afraid to voice their opinions. Considering the kicking they gave Spurs on the pitch and the disgusting conduct of captain Gennaro Gattuso afterwards they seem to have little right to complain.

Former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini spoke out of his belief that his tackle on Vedran Corluka, which has left the Croat out injured since, was justified. He saw nothing wrong with his two footed lunge at shin height.

“Football is a physical game and sometimes things like that can happen,” the 25-year-old said. “I went to the dressing room after and apologised, what more can I do? When you play at this level there is full commitment and it’s not your aim to injure someone. I give everything on the pitch and my style will never change.”

What is true in both cases is the shame that such exciting games are just marred by petty spats and bad blood. It takes everything away from the prospect of such a beautiful game.

Let the Underdog Have It’s Day

By Leigh Sanders

It is the oldest, probably the most famous, cup competition in the world. Yet this weekend the English F.A. Cup faced bucketloads of scrutiny as the big clubs showed more perceived disrespect to it.

Manchester United’s second string just about scraped past non-league Crawley Town 1-0. An inexperienced Arsenal side slipped up to a late Leyton Orient leveller meaning they will replay the tie at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal barely made it

Everton held Chelsea at their Stamford Bridge home and eventually beat them on penalties while Manchester City needed two attempts to beat a plucky Notts. County side that had previously dispatched Sunderland.

They say that the big clubs no longer care about the competition. The Premier League and the Champions League is where it’s at. But what exactly is ‘it?’ The football? Or the money?

There have been calls recently to change the cup format to suit the bigger sides and lessen the burden on the fixture list.

There has been talk of the kick off for the final being 17:30 this year and not 15:00 to suit a worldwide audience. This would simply spit in the face of the traditional 3pm Saturday kick off and fully consign it to the trash heap after Sky Sports have been desecrating the idea for years.

The Cup Final was once the pinnacle of the sporting calendar, the only live football match shown on television throughout the year. At 3 o’clock on that Saturday families the length and breadth of the country huddled around granny’s TV set to take a peak at a steelworker’s son from Sheffield become a national treasure.

Moving it to accommodate foreign spectators is a farce even in the age of globalisation. What little tradition will we have left in sport if such events occur?

There has also been talk to scrap replays in order to reduce the fixture list for larger clubs. This despite the idea of the cup being that the smaller sides can earn a lucrative and enticing day out to Old Trafford or Anfield or Upton Park, such as the near 9,000 Crawley fans did on Saturday afternoon, on the back of a hard-fought 1-1 draw in their own back yard.

Just ask Barry Hearn, the outspoken chairman of Leyton Orient, who when he heard of the proposed plans said: “No replays? Why? Because rich Premier League teams have too many fixtures? Tough s***, they are all on £1million a day. You cannot put a value on the history of the FA Cup and it is madness to dilute it.

“Sometimes you get so close to something you don’t realise what you’ve got – like a good wife,” he continued. “I wonder if the FA realise how good their competition is. I never thought I would be getting ready to face Arsenal in the last 16 when we were 2-0 down against Droylesden with 13 minutes to go and only 10 men on the pitch in the second round – so why spoil the journey?”

And he’s correct too. What was equally shocking were the comments made by Mike Parry on the BBC’s renowned football phone-in show 606 on Saturday as he and Robbie Savage oversaw the country airing their ecstasy or agony over that afternoon’s results.

Parry, who recently quit TalkSport after disgraced Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys nabbed his breakfast show, said that the final should be played by the two greatest teams in the country every year as this is what the world wanted to see. He angered the fans of the other 88 Football League Clubs by claiming that their being in the final devalued it and made it a farce.

He said the likes of Portsmouth, Cardiff City and Millwall, all recent finalists, getting to Wembley devalued the competition. Why? The whole point of the Cup is to give the likes of these guys who can’t keep up with the financial clout of the big boys a shot at silverware and glory.

The thought of his proposals to seed the cup in order to keep the big guns apart till the latter stages is both preposterous and unfair. What incentive is there for the little club? They will just turn up for their pay days against their illustrious opponent and that is it. Knowing there is no chance of a big quarterfinal or perhaps a semifinal appearance at Wembley takes away the whole magic of the competition.

To kill off all chance of an unlikely finalist makes the cup null and void. It merely becomes another money spinner for Football Association shareholders and the rich boys who have their eyes on European glory.

Perhaps another snippet from Mr. Hearn will sum up the argument in favour of history quite nicely: “I have jumped on stage when Steve Davis won his first snooker world title at the Crucible, and got blood and Vaseline all over my shirt when I hugged Chris Eubank after he beat Nigel Benn – those are the moments you live for in sport.” The underdog having his day. Quite right sir!

There is only one Ronaldo

By Leigh Sanders

This might not be true with so many Brazilians seemingly recycling nicknames as more and more are used up. I distinctly remember one game of Football Manager a few years back where my assistant manager at, I think, Wrexham compiled me a list of free agents that may be interested in joining the club. My heart skipped a beat when the name Ronaldo appeared on it. Alas, it was only a below-average and, strangely, Chinese left-back.

But I digress. The “real” Ronaldo to anyone over the age of 16 is not the prima-donna Portuguese wingman, but a now slightly portly Brazilian striker who ten years ago was the best around.

In fact I have noticed that in mediums such as Twitter the Real Madrid star has begun using his first name rather than his more famous surname. Perhaps an attempt to remain un-synonymous with a man who, quite simply, was the best player of his generation neck and neck with Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo

Better than Louis Figo, better than David Beckham, better than Paolo Maldini. Ronaldo was a feared name throughout every major league in Europe and was coveted by all the top clubs. He, in fact, played for most of them.

Yes, it can be a little unfair to compare players of differing positions. And, yes, it is undoubtedly true that strikers often gain a lot more exposure than their teammates due to being the forefront of the attack.

But in the case of this man no superlative is a step too far when describing him. He had pace, he had power, and he had balance and stamina. He had a ferocious shot; he was decent in the air. He was a predator, yet had the turn of skill to fashion a chance out of nothing.

So, take the speed and instinctive finishing of Michael Owen. Take also the upper body strength and aerial ability of Emmanuel Adebayor. Drop in the poise and quick feet of Wayne Rooney and mix that with the lasting power and dogged determination of Carlos Tevez. This was Ronaldo.

The facts and figures speak for themselves. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima burst on to the scene with the increasingly successful Brazilian club Cruzeiro. 14 matches and 12 goals later he found himself in the midst of Rotterdam on the advice of compatriot and former PSV Eindhoven striker Romario. Playing for the same club, he notched 30 goals in his first season and although his second was marred by a terrible knee injury he still managed to bag 12 in 13 games before sealing a multi-million pound move to Spanish giants Barcelona.

Still only 20, he managed 34 goals in 37 games in all competitions and helped the club to the Copa del Ray, Supercopa de Espana and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Next came five years at Inter where he managed 49 goals in 68 games, which could have been much, much more had it not been for two separate ruptures of tendons in his right knee.

During this time he also helped Brazil to the final of the 1998 World Cup in France where he was made to play despite suffering a convulsive fit the night before the big match. His performance was understandably drab as ‘the Canrinho’ crashed 3-1 to the hosts. But with his knee problems seemingly behind him he was back in full force for the 2002 showpiece in Japan and South Korea where he top-scored with eight goals as Brazil lifted their fifth Jules Rimet trophy.

From there it was to Real Madrid for a mouth watering fee of €39m, scoring twice on his belated debut in October 2002. He led Madrid to the La Liga title that year scoring 23 goals along the way. But the longer he stayed at the Bernabau the more problems he had with injury, loss of form and his weight. With Real going three years without a trophy, boss Fabio Capello became impatient and snapped up Dutch hit man Ruud Van Nistelrooy from Real Madrid. It was the beginning of the end for Ronaldo.

So in the January of 2007 he moved back to Italy, this time to AC Milan. He certainly wasn’t one to worry about crossing divides. During his stay here Ronaldo became the first player to have scored in a Milan derby for both Inter and AC (Zlatan Ibrahimovic has since become the second). Further injury worries and weight grievances dogged him but he still managed 9 goals in 20 games. What would be most distressing for him is the fact that AC Milan won the Champions League that year but having already played for Real Madrid in the competition prior to joining ‘I Rossoneri’ he was cup-tied and ineligible to compete. It meant that for all his glory the Brazilian never captured Europe’s top title during his career.

The next season he ruptured the kneecap tendon in his left knee having previously done so twice in his right. He missed most of the 07-08 campaign and that summer left the club after his contract expired. It would mark the end of his career in European football. He returned home to Brazil to finish with Corinthians.

All in all, Ronaldo has an emphatic club and international career to show the grandkids. For Brazil he won two World Cups, two Copa Americas and a FIFA Confederations Cup. He has two Brazilian cups and two Brazilian league titles. Two Dutch cups, three Spanish Cups and a La Liga title. He also has one UEFA Cup and one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and a FIFA Intercontinental Championships.

Individually he has many goalscoring achievements including two World Cup Golden Boots and one European Golden Boot. He has been both the European and FIFA players of the year and in 2007 was voted Serie A’s Player of the Decade.

For me he holds many great memories. His goalscoring exploits, and dodgy hairstyle, at the 2002 World Cup stick out as well as his explosive pace which made Barcelona and then Inter Milan such must-watches of the European game during the late 1990s.

While the debate now rages over who is better between himself and his namesake Cristiano one thing remains certain. CR has not set the world alight at FIFA’s main showpiece competition and that, for me, leaves him on the plain below Brazil’s goldenboy at the turn of the new millennium.

Recession? What Recession?

While the world over is trying its hardest to keep up with the consumer trends which have emanated from Western society in recent decades, football has once again blown the boltholes open with a day of manic spending which makes a mockery of David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s predictions that Great Britain may be about to enter a ‘double dip’ recession.

For while the British population tries to tighten its purse strings further in fear of something which doesn’t sound too dissimilar to a tasty sweet, the world of football shows once again how far it has removed itself from the working man’s favourite pastime of yesteryear.

The main protagonists were wearing the more traditional footballing colours of red and blue.

Chelsea, bankrolled by the seamlessly bottomless pit of Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich, pulled off two of the tastiest deals of the season in English football. While “oop norff” Liverpool pulled off the surprise deal of the window, splashing out £35m on the relatively untested Andy Carroll.

Starting down south, Carlo Ancelotti had once again been stressing that there was no real need to strengthen. The current (and ultimate in Abramovich’s eyes) “Yes Man” continually pointed out, quite rightly, that he had one of the strongest first 11s in the world. True. But wage cuts meant that last summer he lost the ageing but still talented legs of Deco, Michael Ballack and Ricardo Carvalho with the club visibly struggling to replace all three.

Recession? What recession?

They splashed the cash on the Brazilian midfielder Ramires. Yet, other than the odd glimpse, he hasn’t really shown anyone quite why they believed he was worth £18.5m. Then there have been the niggling injuries affecting key players like John Terry and Frank Lampard while Didier Drogba has really only just begun getting over his bout of malaria.

So, whether with Ancelotti’s permission or not, Abramovich threw his financial clout about as he began seriously fearing that Chelsea may not make next season’s Champions League. First of all came the £21.5m signing of Brazilian defender David Luiz from Benfica of Portugal.

Now Chelsea’s interest in him has been no secret. Ancelotti has been a long-term admirer and Chelsea had already attempted to sign him twice during January. It is hoped he will fill the Carvalho-shaped hole in The Blues’ backline which both Alex and Branoslav Ivanovic have valiantly tried to fill but injury has robbed them both of successful long-running mainstays.

Chelsea also finally ended their long-running chase for Spanish star Fernando Torres who finally got his wish to leave the beleaguered Liverpool FC. Torres had become increasingly more disinterested in life at the Anfield club. His lacklustre performances and child-like attitude were becoming increasingly tiresome and the dynamite finisher of recent seasons was visibly missing.

A proven talent he cost his new owners a whopping £50m. £10m more than the Venky’s Poultry Group paid for Blackburn Rovers; an entire football club. The big question now is where does he fit in? While Drogba is 33 he is still one of the world’s deadliest hitmen. He is the spearhead of the club’s favoured 4-3-3 formation with Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka either side of him. Many see Anelka as the man who will drop out but I’m sure the ‘Incredible Sulk’ would be far from happy with that.

It is also questionable whether Torres himself would relish a wider role. He is viciously dangerous playing off the shoulder of the last defender he can so easily outpace and outmanoeuvre and playing the support role to Drogba might not be his style.

An alternative is to play Torres and Drogba together. Perhaps with Lampard tucked in behind them in an advanced midfield position leaving Malouda and Soloman Kalou on the flanks providing the ammunition from out wide and Michael Essien anchoring in front of the back four.

Liverpool fans could not give a toss however. They have two new strikers of their own to mould in to shape. In response to losing Torres they decided to splurge £62m in replacing him. The prolific Luis Suarez signed on from Ajax in Holland while Carroll was made the most expensive British player in history.

Suarez has stated that he chose to join Liverpool due to its large Spanish contingent of players who will be able to help him settle quickly. The Uruguayan was phenomenal during his time in the Eredivisie notching 111 goals in 159 games. People can say what they like about the strength of particular leagues but that is an outstanding percentage at any level.

He could have been the man to compliment Torres but may benefit further with the robust Carroll alongside him, having completed his own move from Newcastle United. Having only six months’ experience of the Premier League the Gateshead-born Carroll finds himself with 11 Premier League goals to his name and as the new England No. 9. Not bad for a man who this time last year was a Championship striker with four goals to his name trying to fill the expectations of a football-mad public comparing him to no less than Alan Shearer.

He now finds himself facing a wave of fury from the men who two weeks ago idolised him. But is it fair? He claims he was pushed rather than he jumped due to the giant cheque being waved in his club’s face. Only a couple of weeks ago he said he wished to spend the “whole of his career” at his hometown club. That didn’t prevent the supporters taking a “Judas Carroll” banner to their recent game at Fulham though.

His main problem appears to be his off-field behaviour which often ends in well-documented alcoholic binges and street fighting. Without the idolisation of the Geordies behind him he may have to watch his step out and about in Liverpool. There will be countless thugs looking to garner a reaction from him and there are undoubtedly less people willing to cover for him or dismiss his behaviour as “laddish” due to him no longer being the local hero.

What is certain is that the next few months should be fantastic. With a record total of £225m being spent on players this transfer window (the previous record was £175m in 2008) there are plenty of new prospects to get our teeth in to.

It has been a strange old season in the Premier League and it remains to be seen whether these signings help things to return to “normal.” Fans of both the Reds and the Blues will be hoping so as both of them have been suffering unfortunate years by their own high standards.

Or we could be about to look at four of the most expensive flops in world football history. I think this scenario would be much more fun!

Taxi for Maxi

By Leigh Sanders

It seems a little harsh to pull someone up on something like this on a weekend when the English Premier League saw a record haul of goals. But Maxi Rodriguez was unfortunately the man guilty of a horrendous miss when his Liverpool side travelled to Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon to take on Chelsea.

As a cross from Stephen Gerrard sped across the six yard box the Argentine international stabbed out a foot at the back post fully expecting to see himself give The Reds an unlikely lead.

Instead, it rocketed straight up on to the cross bar and there wasn’t even a defender or goalkeeper in sight.

Liverpool of course went on to win 1-0 which delighted the fans who had dreaded the journey to see their old talisman and new £50m Chelsea signing Fernando Torres line up against them. But such a miss opened up the memories of some fellow footballing shockers….

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo Sky High:

Many believe Mister Ronaldo to be the best in the World, if not God-like (none as much as himself). But here he shows he is merely human with a truly unforgiveable miss. Some great hold up play on the right from Wayne Rooney sees him play Ryan Giggs in at the byline and his pull back across the six yard box leaves Ronaldo standing with even more of the goal at his mercy then Maxi against Chelsea. The result? A conversion fit to grace the Six Nations rugby championships.

Tevez Shows Anyone Can Do It:

This one is perhaps worse than the previous two because of how much time Manchester City captain Carlos Tevez has compared to Messrs. Ronaldo and Rodriguez. It’s Sunderland vs. Manchester City and the hosts are leading 1-0 thanks to a Darren Bent penalty. Yaya Toure bursts in to the box with a defender for company and the Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon rushing out to block him. Rather than going for goal he slides the ball across to the supporting Tevez who is unmarked. Goal, surely?

Just Tap It In Son:

It’s not just the top pros either who are guilty of some shocking misses. In the lower echelons of the British game, at semi-professional level, Halesowen Town are taking on Bath City. A cross is swung in to the area where Bath’s Mark McKeever arrives at the back post to nod it in. Or does he?

It’s Called Football For A Reason Kei:

MLS action next and the Kansas City Wizards are taking on the LA Galaxy. With The Wizards on the attack a scramble ensues when the Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts tips an effort on to the post. The energetic Kei Kamara dives in to tap the ball home unmarked but throws his body over the top of the ball. His trailing arm knocks the ball in, and full credit to the alert linesman who spotted this.

Forlan: WC2010’s Best Player:

Diego Forlan might be a feared striker across the world right now after some terrific displays at the 2010 World Cup coupled with his goalscoring exploits in Spain’s top division. But this wasn’t always the case. In 2003 as a young player struggling to make the grade at Manchester United he is playing against Juventus during a pre-season tour of the United States. A mix up between the defence and the keeper leaves Forlan with a simple tap in. But….

International Debut Blues

Chris Iwelumo is a striker who’s been around the block and after finally getting his chance in the Premier League and impressing he receives a call-up from Craig Burley’s struggling Scotland. Thrown on in the second half of a crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway he finds himself free in the six yard box after some great work from Steven Naymsith and Scott Brown but is too scared to use his weaker left foot. He hasn’t received many call-ups since.

Feed the Yak and He Will Score:

So goes the chant sung by Portsmouth/Middlesbrough/Everton/Leicester fans about the portly Nigerian international Yakubu Aiyegbeni.. But it is not always the case as this shocking miss in last year’s World Cup match against South Korea shows. He can’t even blame the pace of the pass or a bobbly pitch for this one. Just a loss of concentration.

Ronny Rosenthal, The Original:

Still the original howler and a piece of footage on every bloopers DVD around the world. Liverpool’s Israeli international Ronny Rosenthal races on to a poor back pass against Aston Villa and rounds the keeper. Instinctive and precise striker play you think, until he actually takes the shot.

Croatians Can Do it To:

Action now from Dinamo Zagreb’s match against Cibalia Vinkovc in 2009. With a team-mate’s cross-cum-shot falling at his feet a mere three inches from the goal line Ilija Sivonjic proceeds to step on the ball and direct it away from goal where a thankful defender clears. Watch the video and you’ll see that the original effort is in fact going in.

No Adrian for Rocky:

Rocky Baptiste is a name English football romantics will know well from many FA Cup upsets along the years. A proper journeyman of lower league football here he is in action for Harrow Borough during their 5-3 victory over Waltham Abbey. After rounding the keeper and dribbling nonchalantly towards goal he decides to blast the ball in to the net with hilarious consequences.

YouTube and other such websites are chock-a-block with similar incidents and videos you could browse for hours on end. These are just a few to tickle your fancy for a short while and feel free to add any we haven’t included underneath.

Gray Day For Sky’s Top Commentators

By Leigh Sanders

Women and football. Women in football. It is one of the longest-running arguments engaged in by inebriated men in pubs and bars across the world. Do women have a place in football, a man’s game?

Written down like that, it looks an incredulous argument. And it is. In the twenty-first century the fact that this debate is still raging shows just how archaic the mindset of many men is. What is worrying about this whole episode is just how old-fashioned the thinking of men so high up on the ladder of British sport is.

For those of you unaware of what I speak about, check out this report on the Sky News website and watch the video of Messrs. Andy Gray and Richard Keys in action. For those of you not familiar with the British television sports broadcasters: Richard Keys is the main sports anchor for BSkyB’s Sky Sports which holds most of the rights to broadcast Barclays Premier League matches in to British pubs and homes. Andy Gray is a former footballer who can count Everton and Aston Villa among his employers. He has been Sky Sports’ main co-commentator and match analyser for years working alongside the esteemed Martin Tyler and running the rule over countless gargantuan matches over the past 15-or-so years.

In a nutshell, both are mainstays in British football broadcasting whose views and opinions have reached millions of ears throughout their glittering careers. Yet this weekend comments made when they thought nobody was listening have led to the downfall of one and the near decimation of his good friend.

If you followed the link to the Sky News (sister channel to Sky Sports News) website you would have heard Gray and Keys making lude comments about female linesman (the rarity of the role means a feminine name is yet to reach the mainstream) Sian Massey, who they believed wouldn’t fully understand the laws of the game; chiefly the offside rule.

The offside rule is often used as a yardstick of intelligence for females interested in watching the sport with their boyfriends/husbands/friends. While not officially being a measure of intelligence, culturally, if a woman can explain the offside rule to her male counterparts without any incorrect statements it is acceptable for her to participate.

The fact they were even questioning her is deplorable. Ms. Massey would have been working at that career for some time now. Every linesman, irrespective of gender, has to begin their career in the lower echelons of football. Often youth and amateur games. They progress up the ladder, taking charge of matches with larger and larger profiles until the cream of the crop find themselves calling the shots on Premier League, European and even international matches.

To find herself running the line at the Wolves-Liverpool game she will have had to show the authorities that she has the nerve and the ability to make the big decisions that can often earn/cost these clubs millions in revenue. Her main incident of the day was the build-up to the first Liverpool goal where she, rightly, ruled that the pacy Raul Meireles was onside in the build-up.

I bet Gray and Keys are wishing they’d kept their traps shut now!

So having questioned the integrity of Ms. Massey before even allowing her to showcase her talents the digging began by the famous celebrity-bashing British media. Comments about Ms. Massey’s appearance between Gray and pitchside analyser Andy Burton were uncovered where they described her as ‘a bit of a looker.’ Innocuous comments to some, but, to women who face such ratings and discrimination on a daily basis in their respective careers not so.

Then there were further comments made about West Ham United’s vice-chairman Karren Brady’s claims that sexism was indeed still rife in football. By dismissing them as clap-trap Keys proved her right. His sister, Susan, has leapt to his defence claiming the comments were tongue in cheek. Yet I feel even if this is the truth the context of the conversation changes his comments and he faces defeat on that argument.

I used to be a big fan of Andy Gray. I found his insights interesting and his ability to analyse every situation riveting. Not so much now. Unfortunately he appears to have become another man to fall victim of the “legend in his own mind” situation. Now every match is punctuated by comments on his own career. His over-analysis of everything using his giant iPad-like devices has become tedious and self-indulgent. And his belittling of those around him is another sign of how highly he views himself.

Yet my views on Gray are irrelevant, what he did was wrong. And in a society which now strives for political correctness he is a dead man walking. I hope his lawyers fail to clear his name and Gray is consigned to the rubbish bin of disgraced commentators alongside Ron Atkinson and Rodney Marsh. For if men like Gray are allowed to continue their prejudices then the hard work by the likes of Kirsty Gallagher, Georgie Thompson and Gabby Logan in fighting their way to the parapet of a largely male-dominated profession will have been wasted.

It is time these dinosaur ideals are binned for good and football becomes a truly global game. Not just one enjoyed by the smaller male population of this fine earth.

Wayne Gretzky Turns 50

 By Alex

A few years back Sports Illustrated came out with yet another Special Collector’s Edition – of which I’m always a sucker usually slamming down the cool $15 on the counter of a book store while screaming “I’ll take it!” – titled Greatest Feats.

In it, they determined Wayne Gretzky achieved the greatest feat stating: “(Gretzky’s) career may be the greatest body of work in sports history, and his record for career points will last several lifetimes.”

Points? Try assists alone. Gretzky has 1 963 assists. Just to put that into perspective, that’s more than Mark Messier’s (second all-time)  total points 1887! Someone has to amass 1963 points just to get pass his assist totals. Amazing.

I know people have tried to dismiss Gretzky’s feat by asserting he played during a time when scoring was high. This is true but that on to itself is not proof of anything. When you crunch the numbers to adjust them to any era, he still manages to remain at or near the top. The thing is, you need to account for “dominance over your peers” in any given era, and Lord, he was beyond everyone else. It wasn’t even close.

I defy anyone to challenge this. No one owned, with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, a record book like The Great One did. He is the greatest hockey player in history. Debating it is a little like that guy who tries to be different by proclaiming The Beatles were overrated.

So. “It’s fitting that Wayne is turning 50 but only looks 39,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a tribute to Gretzky’s 1981 feat of scoring 50 goals in 39 NHL games, which smashed the previous 50-in-50 record.”

The PM was alluding to Gretzky’s still unbroken 50 goals in 39 games record.

Listening to the radio, reading the papers online, and watching TV, it truly is remarkable the national treasure Gretzky is to Canada. I don’t think Americans can ever quite grasp the importance of Gretzky to Canada.  I mean, really, the country almost came to a stand still for his wedding to Janet Jones. Like a woman scorned, the nation wondered about who she was. It was manic.

And in 1988, the unthinkable, unfathomable happened. He was traded to Los Angeles. I swear, if a nation had a heartbeat, that day Canada’s heart stopped. I was in California at the time and I still remember the jolt. Wayne Gretzky…son of Canada…Brother of Zeus…Son of Athena…Cousin of Mars…distant friend to Sam Steele…traded?

To California of all places? Well lemme tell ya, I’m not sure the scars are closed in Canada let alone Edmonton.

***

When 99 burst onto the scene I hated him. Mostly because I didn’t understand and mostly because the Edmonton Oilers – one of the greatest dynasties in sports history – swept the Montreal Canadiens one year. My hatred stemmed from the fact they were great and the Habs no longer were. The main source of pride was our ability – led by Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau – in shutting down the sick Edmonton offense. The second coming of the “greatest show on earth.”

The league now belonged to the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers with really one true team capable of mounting a fight: the Philadelphia Flyers and to a lesser extent Edmonton’s provincial rival Calgary Flames. The Habs were good, very good, but their dynasty had come to a close.

Watching Gretzky obliterate hockey was surreal. I wasn’t sure if I could trust what I was witnessing. He was too great and in Canada, total greatness is an allergy. Of course, it wasn’t like that for everyone. When I was around 10 years old I remember going to play hockey one day and a player had an Oilers jersey stating Gretzky is the best hockey player in the world. He went on to become a doctor. Smart kid.

I still have mine somewhere...I think.

Me? I loved Mats Naslund. No shame in that. He was a super Swede. Many people loved Mats.

Despite all that, my mother took me to see Wayne Gretzky when he visited Laval, Quebec. 99 was endorsing GWG jeans and came to a local mall. I remember anxiously waiting in line and when my turn came he said, “Any of you speak English?” No one around me did but I wasn’t exactly a vocal or assertive child so I eked out a Tweety Bird like “Me” but by then he was already signing someone elses autograph and I was ushered off the stage.

My sole brush with the Great One.

And so time and legend have passed and converged. Wayne Gretzky is 50. I’m older too though significantly younger but we’re both entering a different stage in our lives.

But for a brief moment in time we shared the same universal plane, as I, we,  watched the greatest hockey player to ever play the game

Cutler Reaction: The Anti-Favre

By Beaker

My apologies for any lack of posting on my part.

Like you care.

Just been busy that’s all.

However, something did pull me out for a brief second to offer my piece of shit thoughts. That’s the whole idiotic “controversy” about Jay Cutler. If Bret Favre was the cum that covered splattered over the media that willingly swallowed it, Cutler is the condom that left them unsatisfied. I don’t know what I just wrote. 

Fuck it. I’m owning it. Hear that LeBron?

In any event, I don’t think I ever witnessed such unsubstantiated retardedness in all my useless life of watching sports.

Anybody who took a “Maurice Jones-Drew” position is a boob with a wart on their eyeball. I don’t care that Jay Cutler is an “asshole” and may even be have a low pain tolerance. It’s nobody’s business to make a comment from their comfy couch.

And if you’re going to do it, make damn sure that the slander you’re hurling is backed up by something called proof to back your venomous bull. And no, chiming in with a “oh, he’s standing on the sidelines on his knee ergo he can play” is not legitimate.

It’s a logical fallacy rooted in circumstantial perception.

It reminds me of the losers who somehow attempted to connect that moosebush Sarah Palin to the Tuscon murders. What a bunch of decrepit intellectual morons.

Apparently, slander without proof is all the rage now as long as it makes a stretchy point in your private defunct mind.

As you can tell, I’m annoyed. A tad.

***

All this tough talk by athletes makes me puke. Not that it matters, but I played soccer on a torn ACL and all it proved is I was an idiot for damaging it more. I even played on a badly twisted ankle (ah, the miracle of cortizone), dislocated shoulders and even a loose tooth during a hockey game. Bobby Clarke eat your heart out. Basically, I played sports at maybe 60% during most of my life. I know, wah-wah, life stinks and sucks.

What I’m saying I kinda get the whole thing.

Yeah, I know, I didn’t have money at stake, but I had everything equal to any competitive bastard and that’s the desire to damn play and WIN. Sports is all relative. Whether you play AAA or big leagues, athletes all share the same DNA: To play and win. Playing with an injury that’s preventing you to slug your way to victory sucks big time.

The one thing I learned in life is no matter how much you feel something, if you can’t prove it shut the hell up. There’s no way to judge Cutler. An MCL sprain is not something one can easily quantify. Because one person decides to play on a bum PCL or MCL doesn’t mean another can.

There are degrees to it you know.

I don’t care about Jay Cutler. While I don’t think he deserves the insane attacks,  he’s a big boy. What I care about is the pressure we put on kids to go out and play on serious injuries lest we deem them “pussies.” Also, if you have a serious injury, you’re, more often than not, rarely helping your team or mates.

The real pussies are the ones who can’t face an injury with maturity. Or the ones who don’t own their Twitter comments.

That all being said, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you have to play through pain. No doubt about it. It’s just that with the Cutler thing, fucking injured players were slamming him. Effen media jumped to all sorts of conclusions – journalistic integrity my ass. It just wasn’t cool.

Speaking of the media, I don’t get these guys sometimes. One minute they’re urging teams to take injuries like concussions seriously, but somehow a knee is not important?  I guess it didn’t matter he was thrown around and sacked like a cheap potato all year.

Let it all play out. If his own teammates come out and slam him or facts come out suggesting he wasn’t that hurt and he quit, then we can revisit it. Until then…

Shut up.

martin-o-neill-300x193

Avin It Behind My Back

By Leigh Sanders

Martin O’Neill was left seething after certain British newspapers linked him with the West Ham United job despite Avram Grant still being in the hotseat for the time being. O’Neill believes it is dreadfully unfair to plot the downfall of a man so publicly.

So it’s perfectly acceptable to meet the Israeli’s employers behind his back then and discuss taking over his job without his knowing?

What struck me most about this story was the complete lack of a reaction from Grant himself, a man who has stayed impeccably well-mannered throughout this long-drawn and very public debate over his stewardship at Upton Park.

The club has become a sickeningly media-hungry juggernaut since former Birmingham City owners David Gold and David Sullivan took charge and they have fought tooth and nail over every column inch they could garner, particularly since the summer.

Their figurehead and vice-Chairman Karren Brady spoke out in November saying that Grant would “almost definitely be in charge of the club at the end of the season.” Yet every week the football club, its associated internet messageboards and supposed emergency boardroom meetings have become like a bloated reality TV show with viewers voting every week to keep Grant in a job or not.

Yet 55-year-old former Israel, Chelsea and Portsmouth boss has faced the same post-match questions from journalists and TV pundits week after week and has always vowed he will never quit the post.

“You shouldn’t spend all your time watching your back in football even though you need to do it,” bemoaned grant to The Mirror before the 3-0 reverse at home to Arsenal on Saturday. “You should concern yourself with what you can do not what people tell you that you cannot do.”

And, ideally, he is right. But football does not work that way anymore and every single decision a player or manager makes is scrutinised by television cameras, pundits, journalists, statisticians, performance indexes. The list goes on and on.

For Grant to remain so stern under such intense pressure is highly commendable. Many managers have crumbled under far less. Many managers have been sacked for much less.

But, despite the increasing harassment, Grant’s recent form has been promising. Despite West Ham remaining deep in relegation trouble the club lies 13th in the form table having taken eight points from their last six matches. They lie above the newly Kenny Dalglish-led Liverpool, Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers and if you ignore the despondent losses to Newcastle United and The Gooners they have been performing pretty well during matches too.

Any team driven by Scott Parker and with a goalscorer in the mould of Carlton Cole has the potential to score. It is just shoddy defending which has let The Hammers down on numerous occasions.

Former England full-back Wayne Bridge, who Grant worked with in his Chelsea days, has come in to help shore up some of the holes and Gold and Sullivan have been shouting their mouths off to the press about backing their man financially so now is the time to do so.

Whatever you think of Avram Grant and his performance in East London is irrelevant. What is certain is that a man who is paid to do a job and given a contract for a certain period should not be left to the media wolves to tear apart each week. He most definitely should not have to face questions and read articles about a possible successor being interviewed behind his back.

Can you imagine if that happened to you in your chosen field? How long would you stick it out?

It is the same treatment that Mark Hughes received from Manchester City when they were courting current coach Roberto Mancini. The country immediately, and rightly, chastised the City board’s treatment of the Welshman and slammed the club for such cheating behaviour. So why not now?

Grant will never have a legion of adoring fans as his dour and staunch demeanor leave a lot to be desired for many supporters of a ranting and raving Kevin Keegan-esque leader. His lack of support among neutrals seems to be helping the media crusade to tarnish his name and, unless his employers speak out to back him for sure, this will continue.

Another episode like the one with O’Neill and I’m sure even Grant would be willing to backtrack on his words and walk out on his ungrateful employers.

Because there aren't enough sports blogs